Introducing the Team!

Hello friends! The month of May is the start of a special time for us — Camp Season! From May 20 – 25, Keifer and I will be kicking off camp season by running our very own Business English Camp for teenagers in the Czech Republic. We are excited to be leading this special program, and excited to be bringing together our own unique team of Czech and American volunteers to help us run the camp. Our American team has been working hard to prepare materials and raise the money to join us, and I wanted to give them a chance to introduce themselves to you. Please pray for the American team as they finish their preparations and prepare to fly, and for all of the leaders and attendees at Business English Camp. We are excited to see what God is going to do! — Caity Lucchi

Addison Lucchi — Business Team Leader

“Serving at Business English Camp in the Czech Republic this May has been the #1 event I’ve been looking forward to this year (especially now that I have all of my lesson planning done!​ 😉 )​ I am so thankful for this opportunity to work with my awesome brother and sister (in an awesome country) and use what I have learned to help others. I’m especially looking forward to getting to know the Czech students throughout the week, and to seeing how God works both in them and in us. I would love prayer for sustained energy, health, and wisdom as I teach and serve, and as I’m preparing! My greatest goal for this camp is to be a light to these students, and to demonstrate Christ’s love in my teaching, in my service, and in all else — it’s definitely going to be an adventure​!”

Emily Meissner — Sports Team

“I am very excited to be able to participate in this Business English Camp. This will be the first time that I have been overseas, and I look forward to seeing the world and the people that God has put in it. I had the chance to visit Mexico on a mission trip in high school and the thing that I remember about the trip was having a hard time wrapping my head around the greatness of God — that He was still the exact same God in that place, that the songs they sang praised the same God, and that the relationship they had with Him was just like mine. With this trip, I want to be able to grasp how God is the same great and awesome God everywhere, and to be able to serve him in the Czech Republic by loving His people there.”

DJ Meissner — Sports Team Leader

“There are many things I’m looking forward to about going to the Czech Republic: international travel, riding on trains through the countryside, and doing street photography in a different country. But the thing that I’m looking forward to the most is building relationships with the team that I’m going with and the people I will meet.

“Jesus, before he ascended into heaven, commanded his disciples to, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). I am a Christian, a follower of Christ, and as such I have been commanded to go out and make disciples. What does making disciples look like? It’s all about building relationships. It is about following God together, living life together, learning together, and waiting together for the Lord to return. I am going to the Czech Republic so that I, through the way I live my life and through my words, proclaim the truth of scripture — that our sins can be forgiven.”

Cari Meissner — Business Team

“I am excited for Business English Camp because I get to have so many new experiences. I’ve never been out of the country, even though I love traveling, and now I get to go to Europe to see my sister and brother-in-law! I’ve done many summer camps before, so I am happy to be able to help with this one, specifically with the business part and a coffee workshop. I’m hoping to reconnect with some friends and meet new ones while learning more about the Czech culture and language, and some ways to better pray for the people there. Please pray for us as we do something so new and crazy!”

Christy Meissner — English Team

“Ministry has been an important part of my life ever since I was young. Over the years, I’ve gained more experience by volunteering with different organizations and acquiring the tools necessary to run and lead youth programs. Youth ministry has become more and more of a passion for me, and I think that out of every aspect of ministry relationships are the most important to me. I am so excited to help with the Business English Camp and connect with the youth of the Czech Republic. Please pray that all of us on the team will be able to overcome the language barrier and create relationships with the students as we seek to show them the love of Christ.”

Winter Camp – February

On February 17, Keifer and I went to a weekend camp run by Josiah Venture. This was the first camp that we’ve attended since being back in CZ, and it showed me just how much I’ve grown over my time in the Czech Republic.

Friday night we packed our bags, and in the morning we headed to the train station, where we met up with the students and other helpers. Together we made our way to the campsite in Frydlant. I was a leader in the girl’s cabin, and Keifer was a leader in the guy’s dorm in the main building. The theme of the camp was “Upside Down.” Each of the evening discussions was about how the Christian life often seems “upside down” to others, and how Christ calls us to do a lot of crazy, upside down things. I thought this was humorous, since moving to the Czech Republic has been a crazy, upside down kind adventure for me, far removed from anything I ever thought I’d do on my own. It was fitting that my first camp of the year would celebrate this. God’s ways are amazing. 🙂

Teaching English at Winter Camp

Each day at camp, Keifer and I taught an English class. The groups of kids were different each day, so we were able to use the same lesson plan and tailor it to the needs and skills of the students. Keifer’s favorite way of teaching English is through interactive gameplay that gets the students talking and builds their confidence while also allowing them to have fun. We played two different spy themed games, and also a game where the players created different inventions and had to “sell” them to another player. The inventions the students came up with were super creative, and I loved how they adopted the role of salesman. After each game we discussed the activity with the students, and any vocabulary that was new to them was written up on the board and defined. I think I had as much fun each day as the kids themselves.

One of my favorite parts of camp was the creative games that the entire group did every day. The first day was relay races, involving toilet paper snowmen, balloon antlers, and ping pong balls passed back and forth with spoons. The second day was full of outdoor adventures, like “swimming” through the snow, pulling people uphill on a sled, and breaking a secret code. The last day was a round of winter “olympics,” from building a cardboard bobsled to skiing on cardboard skis, as well as a very competitive “balloon stomping” tournament. Our team managed to win the winter olympics, and we were called forward in front of the other groups and honored with a candy prize. You can see by the looks on our faces that we were pretty excited.

Another of my favorite parts of camp was when the music started playing for the “camp dances.” Now, I am not a dancer myself. I don’t know the first thing about dancing. But the kids LOVED the camp dances. Whenever the music would play, the kids would rush to the group and start doing the moves along with the leaders. The freedom and camaraderie they had to just “be themselves” together made my heart glad. It was like a little taste of heaven.

I caught a cold on the last day of camp. It came on strong and lasted for several days after we were home. I was pretty miserable, but it gave me a chance to compare my experience at camp with a similar camp experience last spring. Looking back, I can see how much more confidence I have now than I had last year. I’m less afraid to meet new people, more comfortable in new situations, and able to actually do some teaching now instead of just helping. It’s encouraging to see growth, and even more encouraging that I’ll be able to learn and continue to grow here. By this time next year, who knows how far I’ll have come!

Until Next Time!

 

New Look, New Team, Same Mission

Hi everyone, and hello from the Czech Republic! Keifer and I have been back in the country for three weeks now (yay!) and we’ve been busy settling down into our life here.  A lot has changed for both of us since we got married. We’re living in a new flat, adjusting to a new schedule, and working on doing ministry, not just as individuals, but as a couple. Since this is the first blog post of the new year (yay!) I’d like to talk about how some of these changes affect the blog, and how God is moving us forward.

New Look

I’ve been working on giving the blog a “new look” since the beginning of the year, and I’m pretty excited about the changes. I’ve updated the site’s look, and we have a new address  — http://www.toczechwithabackpack.com — which should make us more accessible and easier to find. I’ve also created an instagram account to share photos about our work here. You can find it in the sidebar, or on instagram @cslucchi. It’s given me a chance to practice my photography, and to share glimpses of the life that I love.

I’ve also updated the site’s pages! The “About Us” page and the “Partnering with Us” page now have information that reflects our life as a couple. 🙂 Feel free to check them out.

New Team

The biggest change of all (for me at least) is that Keifer and I are now officially a team. 🙂 It’s been awesome to have a husband I can work, pray, and minister with. He encourages me in all of my hard, culture-shock moments, and helps me reach goals I wouldn’t have reached before. I have been truly blessed.

Being part of a team means that Keifer and I will be sharing tasks we originally did on our own. I’ve asked him to share posts on the blog from time to time, so hopefully you will see more of him here. We’ve also decided as a couple to move most of our newsletter information over to our email newsletter, which Keifer will be running. This will give me a chance to write blog posts that are focused less on news and more on specific stories and details from our work here in the Czech Republic, something that I know I will enjoy. If you are not connected to our email newsletter yet, and would like to be, please let me know! We can get you connected as soon as possible. And if you’re already connected, you’ll be able to find blog updates both through the email newsletter and through my Facebook page.

Same Mission

The good news is that, even though many things are changing, our original goal remains the same. Both Keifer and I have a strong desire to love the people of the Czech Republic the way that God loves them. We are both passionate about working with teenagers and young people, and we want to partner with Czech Christians as well in as many ways as possible. We both love teaching, whether Bible stories or English lessons or just everyday life lessons. And we both want to make sure that all of you are able to remain connected to our ministry through formats that work best for you. Knowing that you care about our work and are praying for us is a huge encouragement. We couldn’t do what we are doing without you.

I’m looking forward to being able to share stories with you throughout the year!

Until Next Time!

A Traveler’s Tale

I was asked by Caity to write a few words about the time I spent in the United States this fall. I guess you may have heard of me, know who I am, where I am from, and why my English is so good. Some of you might have even met me. If not, here is a little bit of an introduction: My name is Max, I’m 21, and I’m helping Keifer and Caity with their mission work here in the Czech Republic (now known by the horrendous name “Czechia”).

I was invited to travel back to the United States for a month and a half with my dear friends Keifer and Caity Lucchi. Keifer wasn’t sure whether the trip was going to happen or not, since I needed a fairly big (by European standards) amount of money, but God provided for me and for all the expenses I was going to have. We flew from Prague to Frankfurt and then to San Francisco, where we were supposed to attend a conference organized by Keifer’s mission organization. At one meeting several missionaries from around the world were speaking about their service in different countries, and I got to help Keifer and Caity share more about the Czech Republic.

After the conference we all took part in a minister’s retreat in Mi-Wuk village, where I played *the air golf thing* (disc golf) for the first time. At this point I was jet-lagged and experiencing culture shock. I have been in the States before, but this was a whole new level of experience. It was nothing like the time I was there before. During the retreat I got to know the people who run the mission organization better, and I got to walk under the stars, talk, and worship with them. One of the most thrilling things I got to do during the retreat was to visit Yosemite National Park, which that day was open for free — what a coincidence. God is good and He spared us some money. I got to see Bridal Veil Falls, and Keifer and I went climbing up towards the falls and here is some good advice: don’t climb waterfalls when you’re tired and on jet-lag. The results of climbing were Max and Keifer 0, waterfall 1. I got all wet and Keifer hurt his rib at the top of it, but we both agreed it was worth it. Long story short, I liked California a lot, and I’m thankful for all the people and experiences and growth I experienced during that time. And one more very important thing — in California I tasted my first street taco. It was an instant love that lasts to this day, when the taco-trucks appear only in my dreams. 😦

“Max played all the worship songs at my wedding and he did an awesome job.” — Caity

After the conference in California we flew to Kansas City, where I was to spend the rest of my time in the US. I attended another ministry conference, met a lot of cool people, and, last but definitely not least, attended Keifer and Caity’s wedding. I stayed most of the time with Keifer’s brother Case and his roommate Kyle. Case introduced me to his cooking skills, which I greatly enjoyed, secretly being thankful that I don’t have to live with them forever since his food is really delicious and just irresistible. Case, Kyle, and Keifer showed me several coffee shops and introduced me to barbecue, for which Kansas City is very famous. In Kansas City I experienced more growth, and the whole time I was learning how to do what God wants me to do at the moment and learning how to abide in the Lord. I got introduced to a lot of people, some of whom I had heard about long before I actually met them. Let me recognize at least a few of them. The Schwabauers, who are awesome people, how awesome I don’t even fully know yet. Some other cool people from the OYAN (One Year Adventure Novel) community, who have the word “STORY” written all over their faces without even knowing it. I got to meet Keifer and Caity’s families, and I’m happy to say that I have gained new brothers and sisters in them. I’m thankful for every single one of the people I got to meet and talk to. At one point I was asking God about the purpose of the trip, because I didn’t want any more goodbyes in my life, or more people that I am going to miss. But still, I went, and God knew why He wanted me back in America, even though I still don’t fully understand yet.

Long story short, it was a blessing to be back in the US for a while, whether we are talking about the spiritual side or the physical side. I’m very blessed and I hope that somehow God used me as an instrument of His good will, because that’s what matters.

May God bless you all and may His face shine upon you.

Mission Update – October 

Hello everyone! 🙂 October was quite the month for Keifer and I. Not only did we celebrate our first month of marriage (yay!), but we also got to make a two week trip to the Czech Republic. We had so many adventures in CZ, from paperwork to puppies, from moving into a new apartment to “mountaintop” experiences in Slovakia. If you enjoy stories and pictures, then keep reading. I’ve included some fun ones.

Establishing Ourselves

So why two weeks in CZ? Well, our most important reason (though perhaps the least exciting…) was that we needed to report our marriage to the Czech government within a short period of time after receiving our marriage license. Keifer, Max and I spent an entire day running between seven different government offices in three different cities. Even though we didn’t have one particular paper they needed, we received grace and favor from the government official to bring it back with us in January. We felt really blessed.

Our second reason for returning to the Czech Republic was to establish ourselves as a married couple there. When Keifer and I returned to America to get married we still had two separate apartments in two different parts of ValMez. We were living like single people with separate lives. Well, we still have two different apartments, but now we have two right next to each other on the SAME floor in the SAME building. We will be living and doing ministry in one, while the second, smaller flat (which used to be mine overlooking the river) will also be used as a ministry space and guest apartment. We are excited about this big new step, and the chances it will give us to grow our ministry. The way it all came about was truly a gift from God. Not only did the apartment open up at just the right moment, but we were able to see it and agree to it in just the little bit of free time we had before coming back to America for our wedding. We have the most awesome landlady who has been super kind to us. She consulted me about paint colors on our trip back and is even planning to remodel our kitchen while we are away. She, and all the friends who helped us move Keifer’s furniture to the new place, have been such a blessing. We couldn’t have done this without a huge amount of help and love.

View of ValMez from the New Apartment

Friends, Great and Small

Since our apartment wasn’t livable right away, we needed a place to stay. The Steel family, now temporarily back in America, let us stay in their home  until ours was ready. When we reached their house in Hostašovice, we found their two small dogs, Bianca and Sophia, waiting to greet us. Bianca and Sophia have always been an important part of my trips to CZ. They love to cuddle, and during the worst bits of my culture shock they’ve always been there to minister to me by curling up in my lap and letting me stroke them. But this time it was my turn to help. Both dogs were very lonely without their owners around all the time, so I took it upon myself to pet and cuddle them as much as possible. I jokingly referred to it as my “puppy ministry.” But it actually became an important part of my trip. It’s easy for those of us who minister to only want to do the big, exciting things that get us noticed and sound good in our newsletters, but often true missionary work is paying attention to the small things (in this case, small dogs) that need our love and attention.

Towards the end of our stay at the Steel’s house we decided to travel with Max back to his home in Slovakia for a visit. Since we couldn’t leave them alone, we took Bianca and Sophia with us. If you had told me a few years back that I would one day be taking a train through Europe with two fluffy dogs on my lap, I would have said you were crazy. I mean, I still think it’s crazy, but as you can see from the above picture, that’s exactly what I did.

Slovakia is a gorgeous place to be in Autumn. The leaves were just starting to turn colors and the weather was gorgeous. Max’s family lives on one side of a town nestled in a valley amidst a ring of hills. You have to climb down one hill from the train station and climb up another hill to get to their house. It was great to see Max’s mother, sister, and brothers again. They’ve become family for Keifer and I as well.  Max took us on several walks around his home, showing us the cultural heritage of his town. My favorite place was the “Jerusalem Hill” overlooking the city. You could see for miles all around, and there were signs pointing out particular sights. One sign, though, was pointed in the direction of Jerusalem, a reminder for me of ancient times and of Christ’s desire for us to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” The spot was beautiful in the daytime, but also at night, when the clouds blew aside and gave us an awesome view of the stars. I remember praying about my time back in America, and that God would bring me back to this same place again someday. If He does, I know I’ll be able to look back and see the many ways He’s been changing me. This became my “mountaintop” experience.

Slovakia

Our trip to the Czech Republic would not have been complete without our Rock Solid family. 🙂 Since we left, the Rock Solid Club had changed locations from their rooms in the nearby school to a different building they’ve named the “Aquarium” because of its windows all around. We had a wonderful time seeing the young people again, and seeing how much the club seemed to be flourishing since moving to its new location. I loved helping with games and practicing my Czech vocabulary, and Keifer taught the Bible story one night through a translator.

Keifer Teaching and Hanka Translating

The next day, several of the Rock Solid leaders showed up at our place and prepared a huge feast. Since we couldn’t have our wedding in CZ, they saw to it that we had a wonderful Czech reception instead! Other leaders and friends from church and a bunch of the Rock Solid youth showed up after everything was ready. We played games and talked and ate, and they even gave me a bouquet they had made to look just like the one I’d carried at my wedding. Before everyone left they prayed for us and our marriage and for our time in America. Saying goodbye was hard, but it is good to know we will see each other again. There are many more adventures ahead.

From CZ to Iowa to Kansas City

I cried the morning we boarded the train and waved our last goodbyes to Max. I hate leaving family behind, and Max is a truly wonderful brother. Keifer and I traveled by train to Prague, and from Prague to London and then Chicago. A wonderful friend let us stay the night with him in Chicago, and the next day my siblings picked us up and took us back  to Iowa. From there Keifer’s brother and sister picked us up and carried us back with them to Kansas City, where we will continue to live in temporary quarters until we move back to the Czech Republic in January. Please continue to pray for us as we adjust to marriage and prepare ourselves for life on the mission field. Pray that we could connect with our friends and family and supporters while we are here, and that I could move forward with my Czech language lessons as well (I’ve started Duolingo’s new Czech course and I’m pretty excited!)

I hope to keep you all updated in future posts.

Until Next Time!

Mission Update – August and September!

Hi everyone! The last two months have been busy, and I wanted to catch you up on what’s been going on. 🙂 Since my last newsletter at the beginning of August, I’ve traveled between three different countries, attended two conferences, changed my last name, and settled into a temporary home in Kansas City (a place I’ve always wanted to  live.) If you want details and pictures, then keep reading. I’m excited to share all that God’s been doing.

Kids, Camp, and Family

I left Ireland on August 16 with mixed emotions. On the one hand I was excited about seeing Keifer and all my friends in the Czech Republic. On the other hand I was really sad about leaving my friends, the Marriotts, in Ireland. Their love for me and the way they’d opened their home for me during my time in Ireland was such a huge blessing. In such a short period of time they’d become my family, and leaving yet another family was hard. (It’s still hard.) I hope to visit them again someday. Part of my heart now has a home in Ireland.

I know many of you had been praying for my visa to come so that I could return to the Czech Republic. I posted on Facebook that I ended up having to cancel my visa application. There was no horrible reason for canceling, so please don’t feel bad. The amount of time it had taken to get my paperwork together and apply, coupled with the quick approach of my return to America and my upcoming wedding, meant that I simply did not have enough time to keep waiting for my visa to come. I canceled my visa knowing that I would be able to apply again after marriage. Thank you all for your prayers and support during my time in Ireland. Even though God didn’t bring me my visa in the way I’d hoped doesn’t mean your prayers were wasted. I still need a visa, and I’m trusting that, the next time I apply, I will receive what we’ve been praying for.

I landed in Prague on the 16th with newfound confidence. My time in Ireland had made me much more comfortable traveling alone. I felt like a new person as I took the bus to the train station, found the ticket office, bought my own ticket, found the right platform and boarded my train. Instead of heading to ValMez, I took the train to Brno, where Keifer picked me up and took me to the last half of the Rock Solid Camp. I spent all of Thursday and Friday at camp, plugging into the activities wherever possible. I helped peel potatoes and bread zucchini for lunch, helped blindfold kids during a game and guide them around obstacles, and I twice played the villain’s henchman, once in a game of hide’n’seek tag, and once in a game of paper ball war. I loved being with the kids and seeing how much they’d grown and changed over the summer. And I was there at camp the evening four of the girls gave their lives to the Lord. What a blessed time!

One thing I loved was seeing how all the kids crowded around Keifer whenever he was working on the camp video. Each day he would film different parts of the camp, and each afternoon and evening he would add the clips together into the music video he was making. Whenever the kids noticed him with his computer and heard the music playing they would crowd around to watch him work and see what new funny videos he had taken. At the end of camp he showed the movie to everyone at once. Seeing everyone gathered around Keifer’s computer, watching them smile and laugh as they saw themselves and other friends in the movie, is a moment I will always treasure. We were one big family. I remember crying, knowing that in just two days I would leave them to return to America.

I have family in many place now: America, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. I can’t be with them all at the same time, and every leave-taking hurts. But every time I leave, I know I’ll see them again someday. Family is forever.

Travel and Conferences

Keifer and I left the Czech Republic for America on August 21, and we brought our friend Max with us. Max has an amazing heart for the Lord and for Christian service, and an incredible English vocabulary. 😉 Keifer’s supporters generously pitched in to help Max afford the trip, and we were excited to take him with us to our Grace Covenant conferences, and introduce him to our friends and family in America.

After an eleven hour flight, we landed in California, where we spent the next few days at the Grace Covenant Mid-year conference, and then at their minister’s retreat. We enjoyed the chance to worship and receive ministry from our fellow leaders, as well as share with our ministry family in California about what the Lord is doing in the Czech Republic.

At the end of the conference we returned to Kansas City, and a few days later I got to return to Iowa and see my family. It was a joyful homecoming, a little pool of calm before the craziness to come.

After all, I only had two weeks left, and I still had a wedding to plan……

Our Wedding

I wish I could say I was very calm and collected before my wedding. I wasn’t. I have never been more nervous in my life. But with massive amounts of help from friends and family, our wedding day was amazing. I loved being a bride. I loved seeing everyone. And I loved doing it all with Keifer at my side. Our relationship has been quite the journey. We’ve come through long-distance between two separate countries while we each made innumerable life changes to follow God’s call to missions. Our wedding was a celebration of the love, friendship, family, and perseverance that brought us this far. Thank you to everyone who was able to attend, everyone who sent us gifts, and everyone who prayed us through to this point. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Upcoming Plans

After a short honeymoon in Missouri, we came back to Kansas City to begin settling into temporary lodgings and to attend Grace Covenant’s Ignite conference. We will be living North of Kansas City until we return to the Czech Republic in January.

But before we move back to the Czech Republic, we get a chance to visit! Keifer and I will be making a two week trip to the Czech Republic at the beginning of October. Keifer has important paperwork to do regarding our marriage, and we’ll also be using the time to reunite with friends and work on our apartment. Max will also be traveling with us, and will stay in the Czech Republic when we return to America. He has been such a blessing to have with us. He never misses an opportunity to lead worship (he led worship during our wedding!), and he’s always ready to help when needed. I will definitely miss him.

Please pray for us all as we travel, and pray for Keifer and I as we move forward together into life as a couple. We’re excited for this chance to work together and find out what God’s vision is for us as a team ministering in the Czech Republic. I’m hoping I’ll be able to share some of our combined vision in my next post.

Until Next Time!

Update – Northern Ireland

So, I’ve waited until now to post this in the hope that my visa might show up and I’d have good news to share, but since the week is almost over and I haven’t heard anything from the embassy yet, it’s time to move on and share with you some of the adventures I’ve had over the past month. 🙂

Czech Embassy – Dublin

In my last blog post, I’d just returned to Ireland from the Czech Republic with the three papers I needed to fulfill the requirements for my visa. I arrived on June 29 and spent the weekend with my wonderful friends, the Marriott family, at their home in Mullingar. On Monday morning I took an early train to Dublin to revisit the Czech Embassy. I was super nervous. I kept wondering whether my paperwork would be enough this time, or if something would be wrong and the whole process delayed all over again. As I walked from the station to the embassy I prayed that God would go with me and direct my steps. And while I was praying a van drove past with the words “Gotcha Covered” printed on the back window. I laughed so hard! I can’t claim that it was a direct message from God, but it made me feel calmer inside. My reception at the embassy was much better than the previous time. The woman I’d met before received me kindly, had no fault to find with my paperwork, and even told me she hoped my visa would come quickly so that I could attend some of the camps with the kids this summer. I left feeling so encouraged. I know a lot of you were praying during that time, and I’d like to thank you. Your prayers were definitely heard.

Drop Inn Ministries – Northern Ireland

The next day, Independence Day, I traveled from Mullingar up to Portadown in Northern Ireland to connect with some friends of Keifer’s and spend time volunteering for Drop Inn Ministries. Drop Inn raises money to help those in need around the world through thrift stores, coffee shops, and donations. There are even some Drop Inn centers located in my home state, Iowa (though it took coming over to Ireland for me to learn that…). Over the next two weeks I helped at several locations in Armagh and Portadown. I worked in two different thrift stores in Portadown, organizing, cleaning, helping customers, and running errands. One of our biggest projects was sorting through donated clothing, putting aside tattered and stained items for recycling and hanging new and like-new merchandise out on display. My favorite project was the day we received several boxes of books which had to be organized and put out on the shelves. But whether I was dusting, sweeping, or organizing, my favorite part of the job was seeing the many people who loved the thrift shop and found exactly what they needed at prices they could afford.

Along with working in the thrift stores, I also helped at two different coffee shops, one in Portadown and the other in Armagh. I have coffee shop experience from my time in America, and it was fun to get back into the familiar atmosphere. I loved all my fellow workers at both shops, and I even started recognizing some of the regular customers after just a few days. Washing dishes and restocking the pop fridge were all jobs I was used to. Something I wasn’t used to was arranging vases of fresh flowers for every table. But while I was there I did it twice and loved it. It really brought out my creative side. 😉 One of my favorite experiences at the shop in Armagh was when we carried drink samples outside and set up a little stand to attract passersby. It was a cold gray day, but I think we made some lives a little happier. If I have the chance someday, I would definitely go back and do volunteer work for Drop Inn again. The experience I had was invaluable for my own ministry career, and the friendships I made are some that I hope will continue even while I’m gone.

Ballyards Castle – Armagh

Prayer Room at Ballyards

While volunteering for Drop Inn Ministries, I was able to make my home base at Ballyards Castle. I stayed in a dorm space with two other girls, attended morning prayer times in the castle’s special prayer room, and attended meal times with the other people living at the castle. While I was there I got to meet Ronnie and Carolyn Dawson, the founders of Drop Inn, and their family. I also made friends with the other volunteers and interns, some who had come from as far away as Brazil or Belarus to work with the ministry. There was even a fellow Iowan there, Jesse, who, with his wife Anastasija, helped me settle into the program and saw that I never wanted for work or a friend to talk to.

Fun with Matt 🙂

But it was Matt who made my time at Ballyards really special. We bonded over movies and books and a whole host of other nerdy topics, and our friendship took off from there. Matt is a great conversationalist, super informed and thoughtful. The amount I learned from him about Northern Ireland, the Irish people, and about Ballyards Castle itself helped me get a better understanding of the culture than I would have had on my own. His joy in pathfinding and the tour he gave me around the woods and grounds at Ballyards will always be a favorite memory. It isn’t often that I meet someone and we become best friends instantly, but it was that way for me with Matt. I’m really thankful that the Lord took me to Ballyards. It’s an experience I will never forget.

Special Visitors – Belfast

On July 18, Keifer and his friend John flew over from the Czech Republic to Belfast to visit me for two days. It had been three weeks since I’d seen Keifer last (which, when you’re engaged with a wedding coming up, feels like forever), and I cannot begin to express how thrilled I was that both of them would spend the time and money to come and see me. We didn’t really do many touristy things while they were there except walk around Belfast, but we had a blast just being together. I’m really grateful for friends like Keifer and John, and I can’t wait to see them both again. 🙂

Future Plans

Several people have asked me recently what will happen if my visa doesn’t come in before I go back to America for my wedding. If the visa doesn’t come, we will have to cancel my visa process and try again after the wedding. I will still be able to fly back with Keifer and Max to America on August 21, but I will NOT be able to be in the Czech Republic for the last Rock Solid Camp of the year, say goodbye to my friends, pack up my stuff, or try on my wedding dress to see if it needs alterations. For now I am waiting in Mullingar, praying that my visa will come in within the next week so that I can finish up strong in the Czech Republic. If you would continue to pray also that God’s will would be done, I would very much appreciate it.

Thank you to all of you who have been reading about my adventures and supporting me on this mission trip! I will continue to keep you updated on Facebook about my visa, and the next monthly mission update I write will be written from America!

Until Next Time!

Mission Update – Ireland

Whenever I make a new blog post, I start by creating the title picture. I want an image that encompasses the subject matter — in this case, the month I spent in the Republic of Ireland. I had planned on using this image of an airplane, NOT as an advertisement for Ryanair, but as a way to capture all the traveling I’ve done between the Czech Republic and Ireland during June. However, the real moment that stood out to me this past month, the moment that repeatedly shaped my decisions and caused me to draw closer to the Lord, was the brief period of time I spent by the ocean near Dublin. For all of you who have been waiting for an update about my ongoing visa process … well, it’s finally time!

The First Try

Due to several complications, it took me longer than I’d hoped to collect all the forms I needed to apply for a long-term visa for the Czech Republic. But God brought everything together in an exciting way, and by the end of May I finally had all my paperwork together. Keifer and I flew to Ireland at the beginning of June to stay with friends while I applied for my visa at the Czech Embassy in Dublin. Before we left the Czech Republic, I called the embassy and set up an appointment for June 6. But when Keifer and I arrived at the embassy, we found, much to our dismay, that they didn’t have an appointment for me. Worse still, they’d never heard of the man I’d spoken to on the phone, who had introduced himself as “Patrick,” spoken Czech, and set up my appointment. Keifer even checked the number in my phone’s call log, and it was the same number as the embassy. We were flummoxed. The embassy kindly set up a new appointment for me on June 21, the day I was supposed to fly back to the Czech Republic, and Keifer and I beat a hasty retreat. I’ll admit I was very upset. But instead of letting our day be ruined, Keifer suggested we make the most of it. We took a tram to the ocean and spent about an hour walking along the beach, discussing what we should do next. We also did a lot of praying, asking God if I should stay in Ireland and apply for the visa, or if He had another path for us. God spoke to both of our hearts as we looked out over the water, reminding us how His paths aren’t always easy, but how they’re always an adventure. Together we chose that I would stay in Ireland and apply on the 21st.

The Second Try

So I stayed. And it turned out to be a blessing. The family who had taken me in were supremely kind and loving. They saw to my needs and made sure I never felt unwanted or alone. I loved being able to play and spend time with their three kids, two boys (8yo and 6yo) and a girl (3yo). It reminded me so much of when my siblings were young, and I was the oldest and the ringleader. We did everything from Lego to jumping on the trampoline, from cooking imaginary food with play dough to watching Spy Kids for the first time. (Their first time. Not mine!) When I left their home on the morning of the 21st, I felt supremely refreshed.

Helping During Sunday School

As soon as I got to Dublin I went straight to the embassy. The moment I stepped inside I knew I was in for trouble. The woman helping me was tense and terse, like she was having a really bad day. She looked through the pile of papers I’d carefully prepared and told me I didn’t have everything I would need to apply. This was disappointing in itself, but understandable, and something I knew I could fix. But then she spent the next hour telling me how I was crazy to try and apply for a visa, how my visa could take months to come, how I was wasting my money, and that I should just go back to America. That was when I got discouraged. The things she was saying were, again, not untrue, and obviously real possibilities. I actually toyed with the idea of calling it quits. But then I remembered the people praying for me, and those moments by the ocean where I’d chosen to try and apply for my visa despite everything. Instead of quitting, I convinced the visa worker that I did want to apply, no matter what. She told me I had two weeks to bring her the three documents she wanted. Then I ran outside, jumped in the taxi my friends had called for me, and was raced to the airport just in time to catch my flight back to the Czech Republic.

And Now … The Third Try

I arrived back in CZ supremely discouraged. I didn’t know how I was ever going to be able to move forward. But with the help of Keifer, Max, Zuzka, my landlady, an awesome translator, and the kind employees at the US Embassy in Prague, I’m now back in Ireland with all the papers I need. I’ll be taking them to the Czech Embassy in Dublin early next week. Please pray that this wouldn’t be a dead end, and that my visa can move forward. I’ve seen God working in so many ways over this past month, and know that much of it is because of your prayers. Though Ireland may not be my “home,” it’s the place where God has called me for now. As I wait here during the month of July, I’ll continue to minister however I can in whatever ways I can. I can’t wait to see the new adventures the Lord will bring. Stay tuned!

Final Thoughts

Thanks to Zuzka, I now have a wedding dress! I can’t show the real pictures of it, since Keifer isn’t allowed to see them, but here are two that I didn’t choose. You can tell by my face that I wasn’t “in love,” but that changed the moment I found my dress. 🙂 Now I can’t wait until September for the big reveal! Well, and finally being married of course. 😉

Traveling Alone for the First Time

With all the craziness going on lately, I’ve finally had to overcome my fear of riding on public transit alone. Instead of always being afraid of jumping on the wrong train and ending up stranded in some unknown place, I am now the master of my fate. I can buy my own tickets, check my own train timetables (in Czech and in English!), and … I haven’t taken a train in the wrong direction yet. 🙂 I feel much more competent and grownup now, like I’m finally adjusting to a new culture. I’m excited to see what other changes are waiting just down the road.

Until Next Time!

Mission Update – End of May!

Mmmmmm….. Pizza!

May has been a month of many “firsts” for me. I participated as an active leader at a week long English camp (led by Keifer and Karna) for the first time, taught my first Bible story at the Rock Solid Club, and… I discovered my new favorite pizza — Hawaiian with french fries! I really don’t know how we managed to stumble on this ridiculously delicious dish, but I’m certainly glad we did.

Rock Solid Club

May was a busy month for our Rock Solid Club leaders, particularly for my roommate, Zuzka, who spent the whole month studying for the final exams for her Bachelor’s degree. (She passed the test on Monday with flying colors. Congrats, Zuzka! 😀 ) It was also a busy month for the kids, as several of them were taking tests and preparing to move on to high school. To help fill the gaps left by everyone’s schedule, Keifer and I each took a turn to teach at club.

Keifer Teaching at RSC

An Exciting Point in the Story

I have to admit it — I’ve always loved telling Bible stories. Sure, I still get nervous beforehand, but once I’ve started talking it’s hard to stop. While praying about which story to tell, I felt the Lord directing me to John 3 and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a quiet man who wanted answers. He came to Jesus at night after all the crowds had gone home, and together they discussed where Nicodemus’ head-knowledge about God failed, and where his heart-knowledge needed to begin. While many Czech people have heard of God, or have some head-knowledge about the Bible, it takes time for that knowledge to really penetrate their hearts. Nicodemus became an example of head-to-heart when he helped take Jesus’ body down from the cross (John 19:39-40). This quiet man became an ardent, unashamed follower of Christ, and as I was teaching this story I realized that is my hope for the Czech people as well.

English Club – Zubři

We have a great bunch of kids involved in the Zubři English Club. I love spending time with them and seeing what they’ll do next. We started May off with an exercise that involved the kids creating pretend Facebook profiles on paper to practice writing about their lives, likes, dislikes, hobbies, families, etc. We thought the exercise would take them maybe 20 minutes. Instead, the kids got so involved that they used the whole class period for it. Some of them even took their profiles as homework and turned in the completed sheet the following week. Their hard work, and the quality of their artwork, was super impressive. It was a disappointment to me to be sick during the last class of the month and have to skip it. (Though I definitely preferred skipping to giving someone else my cold. It was a nasty one!)

Business English Camp

The Rough Materials

The week of May 13 – 19 we spent in Malenovice at Business English Camp. I’ve participated in two small weekend camps before and done small jobs, but this was the first time I’d ever actually taken an active role in preparing and leading a camp. We based the camp around the Game of Life. Each day involved different life challenges, like caring for a child, building a house, getting a job, keeping to a budget, and thinking through life goals. I spent the week before the camp helping to prepare the craft supplies, and spent the week of the camp organizing, prepping, and cleaning up those same supplies. Since I love working with crafts, I didn’t mind it in the least.

The Life Wheel Starting to Take Shape

In honor of the Game of Life, I built a working Life Wheel for the students to spin each day. The Life Wheel determined each team’s salary, where to built their homes, and the amount of chocolate egg children they had — two sets of triplets, and two adoptions! There was only one chance in ten for triplets, and you should have heard the prospective parents groan when “triplets” was spun twice. They took pretty good care of them, though. Only one triplet ended up with a sizable dent in its chocolate forehead and became the subject of a court battle (in which I was an important witness). The parents were fined and all ended well, and at the end of camp the egg children were messily devoured. (Here are some pictures of the egg children in all their glory. The one in purple was made by my group and named after me.)

      

As much as I loved doing crafts, I loved being with the students more. I really enjoyed connecting with the teens in my small group as we practiced our English, participated in the challenges, and discussed everything from politics to air sickness to God’s involvement in our lives. Please continue to pray for the young people that attended the camp, that they would continue to learn and grow and that God would bless their lives.

Moving Forward

June comes with a bit of a change. This Saturday, June 3, Keifer and I will be flying to Ireland to apply for my long-term visa. The process has been long and challenging so far, but it has been exciting to see God at work. I couldn’t have come this far without Keifer’s help, and without the help and prayers of my Czech and American friends and family. I have an amazing support group!

While we’re in Ireland, Keifer and I are hoping to help with the Irish branch of Youth for Christ. Keifer will be flying home after a week, and I’ll be returning to the Czech Republic on June 21 in time for Zuzka’s wedding. The day after the wedding, it’s off to Bulgaria to participate in a camp hosted by Josiah Venture. What a lot of traveling! But I’m excited to get some experience working with new ministries and experiencing different cultures while I wait for my long-term visa to come in. Please be in prayer for Keifer and I as we travel. Pray for fruitful ministry for us, and for a speedy and safe visa process.

Thanks everyone! Until next time!

 

Mission Update – April

Spring has sprung here in my little area of the Czech Republic! And just as the world is bursting forth in new life, so my new life in Valašské Meziříčí is just beginning. Here are some updates from my first three weeks on the mission field!

Moving Day!

I took the first plane of my trip from Kansas City to Chicago on March 22. It’s weird how long ago that seems now. Almost like another lifetime. Keifer took a separate plane an hour or two later, and we met up in Chicago for our international flight to Berlin, then Prague. At first they put us in seats across the aisle from each other, but we were able to ask for adjoining seats, and they kindly obliged. I can’t express how happy it made me to have him as a traveling companion. My face may not show it here, but I was pretty pumped.

Preparing for Travel

Because of the seven hour time difference, we arrived in Prague in the morning, had lunch with a friend in Pardubice, and then took the train to ValMez. I got to see Keifer’s apartment for the first time, and then we hauled my suitcase across town, where I was introduced to my own apartment. Zuzka and the Steels were there to meet us with a welcome banner on the door and food for dinner. My area of the apartment was quite a mess for several days while I settled, but I finally did settle and find space for everything.

Organized Chaos

I plan on sharing more photos of the house and photos of the area in my next blog post, so stay tuned!

Financial Situation

In my last mission update, I was in a financial bind. It was just a few weeks before my move, and I only had $835 of monthly support pledged out of the $2,100 I needed. I remember thinking how crazy it was for me to continue moving forward without full financial provision, while still trying to trust that somehow God would make a way. Well, as you can see from the chart below, He definitely did! Some very kind and dedicated supporters contacted me in those last few weeks, and what they pledged brought me to within $80 of my goal.

I cannot begin to express how thankful I am for all of my financial supporters. Because of you I can pay rent for this apartment, buy food every month, purchase the things my little home needs, and pay the extra fees and expenses associated with starting life in a new country. Thank you for your faithfulness and kindness in giving! The Lord is definitely using you here.

Ministry

I’ve only been in the Czech Republic three weeks today, but in that time I’ve managed to jump back into ministry with Youth for Christ at their Rock Solid events. The Rock Solid Cafe (below) is a special drop-in center on Mondays that gives kids a fun, safe place to hang out with their friends and with some of Youth for Christ’s leaders. Since I’ve been back, we’ve built connections over card games, video games, music jam sessions, and time spent outside playing catch and soccer.

Jungle Speed!

Friday evening is the Rock Solid Club, which, since our group has several young Christians now, has become more about discipling than ever. Because of the season, we’ve recently been able to share the gospel through an Easter presentation. I also got a special birthday surprise at club when Zuzka walked in with a mountain of pizzas and all the kids started to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. It was a very happy moment, not just because of pizza (though I do love pizza) but because of the love and friendship that went along with it.

Happy Birthday Pizzas

Echoooooo – Weekend Camp

On April 7-9, several of the Rock Solid Clubs throughout the Czech Republic got together for a special weekend camp. We stayed in an old church in Sobotin up in the hills, and over those three days we ate together, sang together, did early morning wake-up dances together (they were so funny!), shared testimonies and stories and prayed together, and played tons of games. The young people were split up into four different groups, and each group had to navigate through a bunch of challenges that tested their mental, visual, and auditory capabilities. I personally got to help with one of the challenges by standing at the top of a forest path while each group of kids stood blindfolded below. I had one of those musical instruments known as a triangle, and I rang it repeatedly as the blindfolded kids made their way up the steep hill toward the sound. Only a few of them strayed off the path and had to be guided back by leaders. It was a lot of fun!

Outdoor Games

Indoor Games

The kids weren’t the only ones who experienced “listening” challenges that week. I did, too. I hadn’t realized how overwhelming it would be for me to be around a group of people who were all speaking a language I couldn’t understand. My ears were overstraining themselves searching for words they could comprehend, and I was getting exhausted from the effort. The Lord reminded me how hard it is sometimes to listen for His voice, and how important it is to keep trying. He might seem unintelligible and confusing at first, but in time understanding will come.

Moving Forward

As I move forward there are a few things on my mind. First, I want to continue to be able to minister here in the Czech Republic with all my heart and soul. I’ve been experiencing some homesickness and uncertainty, so please pray for courage for me. Second, I’m in the process of preparing paperwork so that I can apply for a visa here. Pray for guidance and wisdom as I move forward. Third, I’m still adjusting to life in a new country, with all the lessons and challenges that brings. I’m learning to shop for myself, manage my time, and I’ve even started Czech language lessons once a week. Please pray for me as I continue to grow here. And let me also say, thank you for praying. I appreciate the many dedicated prayer supporters the Lord has sent my way. You guys are awesome, and a true encouragement.

Finally, I’d also like to take a moment to say…. Happy Easter, everyone! He is risen! 😀

Until Next Time