czech republic missionaries

First weeks in Czech, Jan-March 2004

The lowdown on mission life in the Czech Republic
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Wednesday 31 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Practices for the drama on Friday night are going really well, reports Varya. After a few tweaks to Stephen’s soundtrack it’s just about perfect, and features the vocal talents of Pavel, the OM CZ leader, narrating over a Linkin Park and Iona mix. Nice.

czech study

Monday 29 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

This morning we took Benjamin to Jesle, a sort of kindergarten. The OM leader was going to accompany us in on the 1st morning, but he didn’t turn up so we just headed in ourselves (no-one there speaks any English...). First step was to put him in "jesle clothes"—they provide a complete change of outfit as well as providing all meals. All we had to provide was slippers (bačkori) and nappies.

Benji survived! Though his wee face crumpled up as we left him, by the time Va picked him up he was playing happily, and on the way home was asking her "what’s the Czech word for ...?" over and over. He even wants to go back on Wednesday. Phew.

We still know more Czech words than Benjamin.

We had our first language lesson this morning. Fantastic! We were far further ahead than Petra our teacher had anticipated. Petra doesn’t speak any English, but teaches French as well as Czech, so Varya and I found ourselves conversing with her in school-day French as well as Czech. How cool is that? We are still buzzing with excitement about our lessons. We’re sure we’re going to make rapid progress—it’s an answer to much prayer. [NB: Steve only slipped into Japanese once...]

Sunday 28 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Again doing the rounds of the (few) churches in Ceske Budejovice this morning, we visited the Baptist church. It’s grown in the last 2 years: last we had heard they had just 7 members, but now there must be about 20, and 2 pastors including an American missionary and his family. Although we probably won’t go to this church we felt right at home here—it was relaxed, a few kids, very friendly, quite a home-spun feeling. And it was great to worship the Lord together in a mixture of Czech and English. We’re sure that we’ll have more to do with them even if we join a different church.

Friday 26 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Next Friday night OM is doing a presentation to a youth group from CB. OM frequently does this sort of presentation and is very professional about it. Most members of the team are involved in some way: either doing a drama, giving a testimony, giving a sample "English class", or preparing supper.

Varya is going to be acting in a sketch called "Hands" (click for text and soundtrack) which illustrates the fall of man and the gospel message quite powerfully. Steve is creating a sound track for it which bucks the trend a bit... instead of the normal Christian or classical backing that is usually used, he’s planning a "nu metal" version to suit the target audience. In fact it combines Linkin Park (nu metal) with Iona, one of Varya’s favourite bands (Celtic, slightly rocky at times). Unusual, yes. Excellent, yes!

We’re both in our element, both being creative in our different ways, serving the Lord together. Aaaah.

Thursday 25 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

After a couple of weeks of great Spring weather, the snows have returned! Had a couple of inches last night, it has snowed all day, and now the streets are a slushy mess. Never thought I’d say that I don’t like snow...

Wednesday 24 March 2004, Ceske Budejovice

Benji is in to kindergarten! We’re so thrilled, as he really needs the social interaction and chance for language learning. This is also going to make such a difference to our own capacity for language study! He starts next Monday morning, and will provisionally attend Monday, Wednesday and Friday till midday. The type of kindergarten he is going to is called "jesle" (as opposed to školka), and as far as we know it’s a particularly good type. But we don’t really know how it all works except that it’s heavily subsidised by the City, and we pay only 47 crowns per day (about £1).

Another fantastic answer to prayer for us is that OM has found (and financed) a Czech teacher for us! Instead of basically having to make our own way through the language, with a teacher once a week, we now have a professional Czech teacher twice a week, and another "language helper" once a week. So on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we’ll both have our heads down and be learning properly. Fabulous! Will be hard, no doubt, but it’s so great to have this opportunity to make a real go of the language. Conversationally we’re doing ok at the moment, but we expect to start making rapid progress real soon now.

Tuesday 23 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Using ideomatic Czech is harder than it seems. With our host family, we learned the phrase "spi sladce", literally "sleep sweetly". Today Varya was with the rest of the team, and one of the Czechs was feeling unwell and headed off for bed. As he headed out the door, Varya wished him "spi sladce". He turned around with a look of horror on his face... "Do you want me to die or something? Put me in a coffin?". He’s from Moravia (Eastern Czech Republic), and over there it is only used as an inscription on headstones! Locally (South Bohemia) it can be used to wish people goodnight.

Monday 22 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Heard today about the Alpha weekend finished yesterday. Everyone buzzing. Several new commitments, several people asking for prayer for the Holy Spirit, several Christians renewing commitments. Awesome!

We’ve started the process of getting Benji into kindergarten. No mean feat. Involved appointment with a doctor, stamped forms from our employer, a visit to a magistrate at the town hall, and stern warnings that we have to get our Visa as soon as possible. Theoretically he should not be allowed in till we have ALL the paperwork in order, but when you trust in God, anything seems to be possible!

Sunday 21 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Skipped church, slept in, all feeling a bit grotty. Made it out this afternoon to a local play area and all-important sandpit. Amazing how much fun you can have with a few yoghurt pots and a toy tractor! Met up with a nice couple and their wee son - talked to the son but not the parents (much). Hope we’ll meet them again in the park - sure to talk more next time now the ice is broken.

Monday 15 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Got telephone connected today. HOORAY!!! Please see contact page for new numbers... and fantastic cheap phone rates from the UK! Just 1p per minute to call us... hint hint.

Big downer though: found that some of the papers required for our Visa application require an extra stamp from the UK Govt. Oh no. So we can’t get all our luggage till we have at least applied for the Visa, and we can’t do that till we get send the forms off to the UK for the stamps, then get the whole lot translated. Hey, no-one said this was going to be easy.

Sunday 14 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Today’s church was the Evangelical church, where a number of the other OM’ers attend. It’s probably the biggest Protestant church in CB, if not the liveliest! It was rather like a Presbyterian church in style, with orders of service, robes etc. But the most interesting thing was that 30 minutes into the service it transmogrified into an Annual General Meeting, replete with elections, campaign speeches, voting, and minutes being taken by someone at a computer! We left before it got to the acceptance speeches...

Spent the afternoon with Sung Mo and Su Jin and their children, OMers from Korea. They had spent some time in NZ before coming out here, so we saw lots of lovely photos of Godzone :-)


Friday 12 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Varya led the English Bible Meeting tonight. It was on Jesus calling the first disciples. It was a sort of cross between an English lesson and a Bible study, with vocab on the board, bible reading in English and Czech, followed by group discussion. The concept of the EBM is that it’s somewhere between the English classes and the Alpha course, and it’s working really well.

need we say more?

Saturday 6 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

OK, so maybe this flat isn’t perfect after all :-) A few days ago when I said "decor is slightly 70’s" I should have said "completely". Take the lounge. Carpet is coffee-brown with an animal-type print, walls are off-white, there are net curtains topped with an orange curtain. A large coffee table off-centre in the room has a smoked glass top, and above it from the ceiling hangs a large glass light-globe, at about chest height. Varya had the bright idea of moving the table to the side of the room to create more space, then promptly brained herself on the light after bending to pick up a ball. I shouldn’t have laughed... 10 seconds later I did exactly the same thing! The coffee table is now back in its rightful place.

Colour is starting to appear in the lounge now with the addition of three primulas, sitting in three of our nice new blue pudding bowls. Much better. We’re enjoying injecting some colour into the flat.

In true Czech fashion, tonight we hung our clothes out on the back balcony—in the falling snow! The air is so dry that things dry anyway (even though they also completely freeze, and you have to carefully bring them inside to gently defrost on the radiator in the morning...)

Thursday 4 March 2004, Ceske Budejovice

Today we moved into our new flat. It was really hard saying goodbye to our host family in Svatý Jan, but time moves on and the next stage has arrived. This afternoon Varya went shopping with Drahuš, the OM leader’s wife, for all our basic household necessities, as our main shipment of household goods won’t arrive for at least a few weeks. She came home loaded up with cooking and eating utensils, food, and bedding, including, unfortunately, Czech-style pillows (the only type available). These are twice the size of the ones we are used to, and in our last place we didn’t sleep too well on them. I nearly wept. No-one said being a missionary was easy! On the bright side (literally!), she also brought back beautiful purple duvet covers [most unlike Varya, I am sure those who know her will agree!].


view from back

Wednesday 25 February 2004, Ceske Budejovice

Awesome! This afternoon we went into CB to see our new flat. We move in next Thursday (4th March). We’re really so sad to be leaving our host family... but it’s awesome to be preparing to live on our own again.

The flat is owned by a University professor and his wife who we met, along with Pavel, the OM leader. For most of the visit to the flat Pavel was talking to Petr about God, about faith, about how pragmatism and faith can co-exist... and invited Petr to an Alpha course! But you were asking about the flat...

2 bedrooms, quite large, particularly Benji’s one. His room has bunk beds and LOADS of cupboards which he has had great joy in exploring and hiding in! We have been talking to him for so long about "our new house..." and preparing him for it, so he just loved being there.

The lounge is quite big, the kitchen acceptably sized, and really loads of cupboard space everywhere. Decor is slightly 70’s, but fine. BUT THE BEST FEATURE... THE VIEW! We have balconies front and back (we’re on the 2nd floor), and the back overlooks the river Malši and some football pitches. Oh, and the Samson beer brewery next door! Local legend has it, apparently, that negotations took place as the flats were being built to see if a pipe could be put in from the brewery and attached to a 3rd tap in the kitchen!

We are so grateful to God for this amazing answer to prayer. The flat is on a main bus and cycle route into town and into the OM office, and is everything that we could have asked for it to be. It was awesome to sit with Pavel in the car afterwards, and praise God together for his provision for us.


Monday 23 February 2004, Svatý Jan nad Malší

Oh no, the rot has set in. For the first time, Benji knew a word in Czech that Daddy didn’t. Daddy to Benji: "what are these in Czech?" (pointing to slippers). Benji: "Bačkori". Benji can also count to 10 in Czech, as well as to 20 in English. How many other 2 1/2 yr-olds can do that? :-)

maskari and masopust dancers

Saturday 21 February 2004, Svatý Jan nad Malší

Today, a village event takes place marking the start of Lent, and the coming of Spring. It’s called "masopust" (the name for Lent), meaning "without meat". In the early afternoon we hear a crowd gathering, and hear some musicians playing a jaunty tune on sax, flugel, sousaphone and accordian. Soon, brightly coloured dancers, covered in strips of colourful fabric and led by a man (maskari) in a mask and loooooong nose do a dance in front of a house, kissing the occupants of the house on the cheeks, smearing their faces with bright red lipstick!

On and on the dancers go, trekking around the village in the bitter cold and lying snow. They are warmed with swigs of Slivovice, Czech plum brandy. Following the procession is a cart with a "photographic studio", complete with fake cameras and a contraption under the seat the pokes you up the &£$^ when you’re least expecting it! For a couple of crowns donation to the drinking fund, one is given a fake "photo" and great hilarity is had by all.

in the square in Ceske Budejovice

in the square in Ceske Budejovice

view from Svatý Jan

Friday 20 February 2004, Svatý Jan nad Malší

Varya and I have worked out today that we learn language in different ways.

Varya: "If I just keep talking and repeating words then I’m sure I can avoid having to learn all that nasty grammar. I’ll just pick it all up by speaking."

Steve: "If I just get my head into these books and learn and understand all this grammar, then I won’t have to bother talking."

So we are prompting each other to both do more study, and both do more talking :-)

Thursday 19 February 2004, Ceske Budejovice

This afternoon was our first team get-together at the OM base in CB. Some folks we knew, some we had corresponded with but never met. Had a pretty crazy time playing games and talking talking talking. In English. Yippee!

Looks like Steve is into the computing and creative type things already; has been seconded to produce a 5 minute digital video of OM life in CZ to show to OMers coming off some other fields. Hope to persuade them to come to CZ! Another team member has a digital video camera, so together they will get footage and put it together.

Sunday 15 February 2004, Cesky Krumlov

He turned up to church this morning! Seemed to be listening intently! Praise the Lord!

Saturday 14 February 2004, Svatý Jan nad Malší

Happy Saint Valentine’s day! Yes, they celebrate it here in the Czech Republic, too, although it doesn’t seem as overly commercialised as it is in the UK and elsewhere.

Today has been a really hectic day of food preparation (involving all the family members) and language learning, for us. Benjamin is now getting on much better with the other children, after a few territorial difficulties over the last few days.

This evening, some relatives visited our host family, and it was fantastic to be able to chat with them, in a variety of languages (Czech, English, French and German!), and to laugh a lot over misunderstandings, etc. We were told that the husband who visited had never been to the family’s church, although he had been invited for 10 years: he left this evening, after chatting with us, saying that he would see us at church tomorrow! :0) Our missionary work has begun... !


Friday 13 February 2004, Svatý Jan nad Malší

You would think that being so far away from the UK, we would be able to escape certain cultural phenomena. Alas, it is not to be. On a trip into CB today we saw a billboard featuring Jordan, a C-list celeb/model in the UK, and adverts for Kappa, the attire of choice for Glasgow’s "Ned" ("Westy"/"youf") culture. Ach, ye cannae escape.

Tonight Varya has been away at a youth group, talking to them about what we’re doing, and sharing some scriptures. Had a great time, and came home beaming.

in the snow in Svatý Jan

Tuesday 10 February 2004, Svaty Jan nad Malsi

At last we have internet access again! We’ve felt a bit lost without it—unable to let everyone know how we’re doing.

Today we had our first walk around part of the village, as the weather has cleared and we’re not in white-out conditions any more! Benji is getting the hang of making and throwing snowballs and takes great delight in doing so. The wind chill factor made the -3 degrees feel more like -10, but the scenery around here is glorious: the new picture on the front page of the web site is taken looking over towards the hills around Ceský Krumlov.

We feel like we’re making headway with our Czech language. We’re both taking slightly different tacks in our learning. Varya is learning phrases like "so how’s your mother doing?" (our host mum went to see her mother today), while Steve is getting on with the verb endings! In fact, both of us are concentrating on the important stuff, like times, dates, question words, numbers and counting.

The emotional roller coaster of the last few days is subsiding slightly as we begin to feel more at home. The kids are lovely and full of fun, and even the young ones are helping us with pronunciation. It’s a musical family (piano, guitar, cello, flute, singing), and we’ve spent some lovely times around the piano learning and singing Czech songs. What an answer to prayer!


Monday 9 February 2004, Svaty Jan nad Malsi

We’re becoming accustomed to lots of new foods and ideas of when to eat what. On Sunday morning we were surprised to be served doughnuts and chocolate cake for breakfast (mmm!), but we wonder if it’s a pattern developing: we got the same this morning :-) Maybe it’s just that we’re guests? But the kids seemed to treat it as normal. We’re more the cereal and toast type of people...

Today also saw our first meal of knedliky, Czech dumplings. Though they can be a bit on the heavy side, these ones were really delicious, filled with ground pork, and served with cabbage and onion.


Saturday 7 February 2004, Svaty Jan nad Malsi, Czech Republic

At about 4PM this afternoon we cross the Czech/German border in an OM van. The 6 hours of driving from Mosbach have gone pretty fast, with beautiful blue sky, clear frosty weather and stunning scenery as we ascend a high mountain pass. At each turn there are alternately evergreen forests, and snow shrouded alpine villages nestled high into the hillside.

Descending slightly, we at last spot the border crossing, guards on duty, and our spines tingle. Could this smiling border guard have been one of the ones who searched bible smugglers’ vehicles in days gone by? In the event, our passports are handed back to us unstamped, and we are waved on our way.

It’s at this point that the pent up excitement makes its way to the surface: we shout and cheer and praise the Lord that we have finally arrived. It’s the culmination of 5 years of planning, but the start of a whole new chapter...

We’re surprised by the immediate changes in everything we see around us. Same mountains, yes, but the housing is often ramshackle, the roads are pitted, even the grass is less luscious.

Less than an hour later we turn onto a road that we immediately recognise, the road to Ceské Budějovice. Out towards Ceský Krumlov, and up another hill, and we turn into the small village of Svaty Jan nad Malši. By this time our emotions are on a roller coaster, and we don’t know whether to be elated or scared out of our minds.

Our host family is large, and the house larger still! We don’t quite know what to do with ourselves, but we’re welcomed with open arms and hearts (the host family are believers), and we know this will be home for a few weeks to come.



MOVING CHECKLIST (short version)

  • sell house done
  • get rid of all junk done
  • give away Lenka the dog done
  • contact Inland Revenue, National Insurance, life insurance, solicitors, gas and electricity company, pensions, banks, credit card company, AA, pet insurance, car insurance, house insurance, magazine subscriptions, council tax and phone company to cancel policies and change address done
  • pack suitcases for 5-week trip done
  • sell car oh how we wished! ended up leaving for a scrap merchant to pick up
  • arrange removals company to pick up all our stuff on Tuesday 27th done
  • clean house top to bottom with help of friends done
  • stay at friends house overnight done
  • 0815 flight to London Stansted cancelled due to snow at Stansted
  • 1145 flight Stansted to Frankfurt Hahn missed
  • rethink travel plans: go and stay at a hotel for a few hours to catch some sleep before a direct flight from Prestwick to Hahn done
  • 1635 flight Prestwick to Hahn done
  • 2hr bus to Heidelburg done
  • arrange someone from Mosbach to come and pick us up (1hr drive) done
  • retain sanity ???

Thursday 29th January 2004, Mosbach, Germany

The last 2 weeks have rushed by in a whirlwind of organisation, packing and moving: of telephone calls and emails, of letters and meetings, of high organisation and high farce [turning up to the airport, finding that our baggage allowance is not 20kg but 15kg each, paying the fine, struggling through checkin overloaded with hand luggage, only to find that the flight is cancelled because they’ve run out of antifreeze at Stansted and can’t move the plane!].

Moving house and country was emotionally much harder than we had ever anticipated. Some things were easy, like giving away lots of items to friends and to charity, but others were much harder: goodbyes to family, jobs and friends, all the paperwork (extricating ourselves from the UK...), and the physical process of packing and moving possessions. The emotional impact of all of these things in a very short space of time has left us reeling. We could not have coped, emotionally or practically, without the help of some very special friends: in particular Stephen and Lucy, John and Joan, Margaret, our very special neighbours Tom and Margaret, and in fact all of our friends in the church home groups in Neilston. Thank you all very much for your love and support in so many ways.

At last we’re in a gentle haven here in Mosbach. Benjamin is sleeping, and all 3 of us are recuperating from exhaustion. We’re at the Missionary Training School with half a dozen others going to other Central European fields, and it’s great to be able to gradually move ourselves out of our frenetic house-moving mindset, and start to focus on the future. Snow has been gently falling for most of the time we have been here, and the sights from our window of a snowy Mosbach nestled into the valley and hillside are stunning.

older diary items: September 2003 to January 2004

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