czech republic missionaries

Czech Diary, September 2005

The lowdown on mission life in the Czech Republic
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Wednesday 28th September 2005, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

Travelling to Prague? Puzzled about how to get from the airport to the city or train station?
Getting from Prague airport to train station

Benji is a Ludo fiend. He beat me 2-1 today, and in a game with all three of us playing he beat Varya and I hands down! And we don’t even help him with strategy any more. Is this a portent of things to come?

Today is a public holiday in the Czech Republic — St Vaclav day. He was the first Christian King in the Czech lands, and died in the late 10th century AD. He’s considered very important in the Czech Republic.

Given that we’re leaving the CR in just 3 weeks time to return to Scotland, we’re trying to visit as many friends as possible. So this afternoon we visited a woman who we know from English classes, & her husband. Perhaps I am just lazy, but I recognised their desire to practise their English (the hubby is off to England for a couple of weeks of English tuition next week), so enjoyed just communicating in English.

I love asking Czechs about their experiences during the last years of communism (up to 1989), and talking about how things have changed for them since then. So here are some snippets from today:

  • if you were a Christian (or at least attended church), you were not allowed to be a teacher. You might influence young minds.
  • for many jobs, a pre-requisite was that you had to be a Communist Party member. If you weren’t already a members, you would receive a form for applying to be a member of the Communist Party, along with the job application form!
  • Christians and non-Party members could not get promotion. They could never become managers or supervisors.
  • for many people, not being a Party member, or because they were Christians, they had no choice in career at all.
  • Communist policy pretty much dictated the way things were. There was only one right way to do things, the way dictated. According to some, there are still vestiges of these thought patterns in Czech society today — some feel that Czechs are uncomfortable with debate, with choice, with the fact that people can have differing opinions. This may explain a few things about Czech politics! And people’s attitudes towards politics.
  • One of the things that Czechs most wanted to do once the wall fell was to travel. For years, the Party line was that in the West there was very high unemployment, and that anything good that people heard about the West was Western propaganda. Of course a lot of people were sceptical of the official line, but not everybody. It was quite a revelation for many to travel to the previously forbidden West for the first time (often just across the borders to Austria or Germany).
  • Unemployment in Czechoslovakia (as was) was 0%. Everyone had a job. But human nature being what it is, some people did not want to work. But they could not be sacked. There was no point in punishing them, since they would probably go and sabotage the machinery... so basically, another member of staff would have to go around after them to do the work. But it didn’t matter too much... you got paid whether the work was done or not, and in any case, many factories were producing goods that no-one even wanted. Hardly an incentive for working at all.

Varya, 6 months pregnant

Steve, Varya and Benji in Cesky Krumlov

New play park in Cesky Krumlov

Belt maker in Cesky Krumlov market
traditional belt-maker, Cesky Krumlov markets

Cesky Krumlov, Vltava river, Autumn 2005
Cesky Krumlov castle (left) and old mill (right), on the Vltava river


Sunday 25th September 2005, Cesky Krumlov (Steve & Varya)

We love Cesky Krumlov. A medieval town just 30 minutes from our place, nestled into a bend in the Vltava river. We just wanted to give it one last visit before our time runs out. Glad we did today. Though Autumn has begun, the town gleamed in the warm sunlight, and we sought out some new nooks and crannies along the river, and visited a different restaurant.

Picture this scene:

We walk into a Chinese restaurant, right on the town square.

In Czech, Varya asks the Chinese waitress for sparkling water. [which is on the menu]

Waitress: “Slightly Sparkling?”.

Varya: “No, sparkling”.

W: “Still water?”

V: “No, sparkling.”

W: “We don’t have any sparkling water, only slightly sparkling.”

V: “OK (sigh), and some cherry juice please.” [which is on the menu]

W: “Apple or strawberry?”

V: “No, cherry juice please.”

W: “We don’t have any cherry juice.”

V: “OK, black currant juice please” [which is on the menu]

W: “We don’t have any black currant juice. Apple or strawberry?”

V: “Oh, ok then, strawberry juice please. And a small 10degree Budvar please” [which is on the menu]

W: “12degree Budvar...”

Steve: “No, 10degree please”

W: “We only have 12degree.”

S: “Ok, fine, 12degree will be fine thanks.”

(Aside to Varya: perhaps we had better have a plan B and plan C when we order the food...)

W: “And what would you like to eat?”

V: “Sweet and sour chicken with noodles” [which is on the menu]

W: “...Sweet and sour chicken with rice”

V: “No, with noodles please”

W: “We don’t have noodles”

V: “OK, rice will be fine then”. [As Varya pulls a face and starts to dissolve into a fit of the giggles that lasts about 5 minutes]

At this point, Steve deduces correctly what will and will not be available, and manages to order Kung Pao Duck WITH RICE. This is on the menu. It is also available. Success.

Saturday 24th September 2005, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

I have vacuumed, scrubbed, polished, scraped, cleaned and finally re-tyred Oskar the Octavia (fantastic Skoda car, by the way, we want another one!), and this afternoon took it off to AAA Auto, the “biggie” car dealer in the Czech Republic, to see what they’ll give me for it in cash. Hoping for 175,000 Kc and a salesman who won’t try to rip me off... we bought it for 214,000 Kc a year ago but 175 seems like the going price.

So the guy offered me 170,000 in cash for it. Fantastic! Just hope that he’ll be willing to offer the same when I go back with it in 3 weeks’ time, and that the 170,000 is not just an opening gambit to keep me interested. We’ll see...

Meanwhile it feels like we’re driving a brand new rental car! Remind me why we’re selling it again...? Oh that’s right, a left hand drive car doesn’t mix well with the UK’s right hand drive system. Bah humbug.

I should note that the normal way of selling a car in the Czech Republic is either to sell it privately in the “Trade & Exchange”-type paper (Auto Anonce), or to let a car yard sell it for you. That is, the yard does not buy it off you, but you maintain ownership of it while it sits on the lot. Each month it’s not sold, they reduce the selling price by a fixed amount until it sells, then they keep a percentage of the sale price. Not a bad system.


Friday 23rd September 2005, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)


Removal companies. The search has begun. What did we ever do without the web? Luckily, since Prague has opened up so much to foreign travel and business, there are plenty of companies available. We even have a friend who’s a freight forwarding agent suggest that we simply pack it all up and put it on a pallet ourselves, and he could arrange pickup of the whole thing. Yeah, right.

So there’s the company which is prepared to dodge VAT for us by mis-labelling the destination of the goods, the one which is double the price of the others, and the one offering such additional services as “help with cultural adaptation in the destination” and “a lady packer to pack a woman’s more personal items” (!!!).

We like the sound of the latter company. Just in case anyone’s interested, it’s costing a bit less than 1600 euros + VAT for about 9.5 cubic metres (very little furniture), from Ceske Budejovice to Glasgow. Oh, plus insurance, of course, for what good it might do...


Saturday 10th September 2005, Prachatice (Steve)

setting up the band in Prachatice

above: Setting up on the street in Prachatice. right: band members Jenda, Miša and Vaclavka

Jenda, band memberMisa and VaclavkaIs street evangelism dead in the Czech Republic? Sometimes I think so. The euphoria evident in the year or so after the velvet revolution (1989) led to crowds of people flocking to anything happening on the streets — Christian, cult, or otherwise. These days, it’s (usually) a completely different scene.

Just as well there are still days like today. Our church band was invited out to Prachatice to where a small independent church was taking the gospel to the streets of their home town. So just off the historic town square we set up our sound system, and interspersed Christian worship songs with short evangelistic messages. “We’ve received a gift, a free gift, and we want to share it with you...” Though we didn’t draw a large crowd, there were quite a number of people listening, and it felt great to be able to proclaim the word of God out loud, in a public place!

Earlier this morning there had been a group of enthusiasts doing some historical battle re-enactments in the main square — I’d snuck off to watch them for a bit. When they finished they came by us and stopped to listen for a while (unarmed, and without armour this time!). “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12)


Friday 9th September 2005, Ceske Budejovice (Steve and Varya)


Benjamin (4 yrs) had been telling Mummy that left wasn’t always left, and right wasn’t always right. Mummy referred the matter to Daddy. Sitting around the kitchen table we all pointed to the right... in different directions! Part satisfied, part confused, Benjamin exclaims “If my right hand was my left hand, and my left hand was my right hand, my thumbs would be in the wrong places!”. Bright lad.

(Varya) Some of you may have read my rant concerning a recent (and frustrating!) visit to the local hospital. . . Well, having seen my doctor yesterday, and having explained the situation to him, in detail, he was also somewhat surprised that I had been sent from one clinic to the hospital, clutching my blood samples, and then had been instructed to take said samples to different ends of the hospital, which I was unable to find, etc., etc. .

He gave me new and CLEAR instructions of where to present myself the following morning, for two more tests. Armed with a Czech-English dictionary and paper and pen, and a sense of confidence mixed with a slight sense of dread, I presented myself to the haemotology dept., and 20 minutes later I was walking home again! Praise God for my wonderful doctor (who speaks fantastic English :0) and the efficiency of that department’s staff (who spoke no English, but were patient with a struggling foreigner :0)


Monday 5th September 2005, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

all 3 of us

Scotland, here we come!

While it’s tremendously sad to be leaving the mission field, and to be leaving the many friends we have made here, we getting more excited about being back in the UK again.

I’ve just booked our tickets.

We’ll be leaving Prague for England on the 20th of October, staying with Varya’s Mum for a while, and flying in to Glasgow on the 3rd of November.

On the (excellent) advice of OM, we will spend the next three months on furlough; a time to debrief, get through the reverse culture shock, reflect on our 2 years in the Czech Republic, and have the time to ease back into Scottish life without having to stress majorly about a job from the day we get back.

Just in case you thought that it should be easy slotting back into life in Scotland again, consider the following: have to find house to rent (no way to quickly get mortgage after being out of the country for a while, and with no job), we won’t have any furniture, new baby is due at end of December (or beginning of Jan — we’ve now been given 3 possible dates, so who knows?!) , Benji will need to enroll in new school in January (for start in September), he’ll start going to a new pre-school, we’ll have to sort out all the utilities, we’ll need new car, there are double-taxation issues to sort out, and there’s a strong possibility that we’ll suffer a good deal of reverse culture shock.

But God is good, and we trust him that he’ll provide all our needs.


Sunday 4th September 2005, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

Czech Factoids!

Ever wondered what it’s really like to live here? See our page Life in the Czech Republic.

“Big Brother” has made its way to the Czech Republic, and tonight was the first eviction. Or at least the final shortlisting of candidates for the eviction. We’re not quite sure — that’s the joy of watching a reasonably familiar format in a foreign language :-(

Some Czechs speak very clearly. Some don’t. There are a couple of the contestants whose Czech is completely impenetrable! That’s not to say that we’re watching much of it... but it makes for interesting language study :-)


Thursday 1st September 2005, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

bye bye Mi Kyung

One hard thing about working for OM is that the team you’re working with is constantly changing as people arrive or leave. This week we have lost two of our friends and team-mates.

Milan looked after the cafe, and was a constant and irrepressible force for cheekiness. He also taught us a lot of Czech that couldn’t be found in our textbooks!

Mi Kyung (pictured left with Varya) faithfully cleaned the cafe and guest flat, and worked with young people in the local Baptist church. Entering OM with scant English, she returned to South Korea two years later able to communicate in both Czech and English — no mean feat!

We’re going to miss them both very much.

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