Saturday, March 24, 2007
Ahoj! from the Czech. I've just recently returned from spending 11 days in the Czech Republic in Central Europe. We had a wonderful trip. Matt Rawlins, Assistant Director for Light Ministries, and I led a team of 13 students from Liberty University to partner with Ron and Brenda Barnes and their team from the Association of Baptists for World Evangelization (ABWE), a missions organization based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
This was my first missions trip to the continent of Europe. I've now been able to lead trips, preach, and share the Gospel on every continent (with exception of Antarctica). There were many goals/purposes for this trip. One goal for this trip was to expose Liberty students who are interested in missions to the needs and opportunities that are available in Central Europe. Another goal was to be an encouragement to the Barnes family and their team. A third goal was to serve their ministry any way possible while showing and sharing the love of Jesus Christ.
This trip really opened my eyes to the spiritual needs that are present in Central Europe. The predominant religion in the Czech is atheism and over 60% of the population claim atheism as their personal religion. Spiritual darkness envelops many of the places you visit. In fact, it is one of the least evangelized countries in the world. It is a land that is in desperate need for others to come and be able to practically share the truth of the Gospel. There are over 11 million people in the Czech and less than 2,500 Baptist Christians according to the material that was shared with us. The country is essentially split into 4 sections: Western Bohemia, Northern Bohemia, Moravia, and Southern Bohemia. In Western Bohemia, Northern Bohemia, and Moravia, there are only 32 Baptist churches. In Southern Bohemia, where the Barnes' have moved to, there are ZERO (0) Baptist churches. There are ZERO (0) Baptist Theological Seminaries, few international church planters, and even fewer national church planters.
The Barnes family recognizes this need as well as sees the opportunities for spiritual growth and development that are all around. Originally from the states, the Barnes family has spent the last 7 years ministering and planting churches in Hungary. Last fall, God led them to the Czech Republic to be a part of new and developing ministry. So throughout the week, we had the opportunity to be exposed to their ministry, witness the limitless opportunities that lay before them, and hear of the needs that are present. Ron and Brenda have 3 children: Ronnie, Victoria, and Sophie. Jen Thigpen is also present in the picture and is a short-termer who has committed to being with the Barnes family for 2 years and serves as the teacher for the kids.
The Barnes family is working specifically with the first church plant in all of Southern Bohemia: Ceske Budejovice Baptist Church. It has recently been planted within the past few years. It is the first plant in the southern 1/3 portion of the country and is about 2 1/2 hours from the nearest Baptist church...which is quite different from begin here in Lynchburg, Virginia where one church is seemingly at most 2 1/2 minutes from one another. Ron shared with us there is documentation that shows Christians 95 years ago were concerned that there was no solid evangelical church in Southern Bohemia...and now, approximately 95 years later, there is the first. It was so incredible to get to witness the fulfillment of believer's prayers from nearly a century earlier. The church now has approximately 40 members. So on Saturday and Sunday, we were able to minister with the youth from the church and another church that is about 3 hours away. So total, we had about 10 youth. We played all kinds of games, several students shared testimonies, we sang and worshipped our Living God, and challenged one another in the faith.
Sunday morning I was given the opportunity to preach before the church. It was a wonderful opportunity. Members from our team were able to connect with the younger kids during children's church where they sang songs and told Bible stories using flanelgraph. Afterwards, we fellowshipped over a variety of snacks, cakes, and danishes which was encouraging because Czechs in general can tend to be very personal, very private. I attribute this to being under Communistic rule for so long. In 1993, communism was done away with in the Czech and though it has been 14 years, there are still grave effects that can be visibly seen from that form of government; one of which is the way they keep to themselves and have difficulty opening up to one another and enjoying relationships. Sunday afternoon was incredible because our team split up into different groups and went to the Czech church member's homes for lunch and just to build relationships.
We were able to see many facets that are involved in moving to a new country and beginning a new ministry. One of the biggest challenges is learning the language. On Monday, we were able to have our own private 2-hour Czech session. The Barnes' language teacher helped us learn basic words, numbers, and concepts. Currently Ron and Brenda go to language school about 3-4 times a week for 5-6 hours a day. It was tough for 2-hours, I can't imagine trying to master a whole other language. It is important, however, for them to learn the language quickly so that they can more effectively communicate and so that their ministry can be enhanced.
Not only can learning the language be difficult, but it is also difficult not being able socialize and interact with others as much as you would like to. So, Monday afternoon we wanted to spend time with just Ron and Brenda's kids so that we could just love on them and have some fun. We ate, went bowling, and Brenda organized a scavengar hunt throughout the town square in Ceske Budejovice. It was a blast...although awkard as 15 Americans ran around trying to locate things in the city without begin able to speak the language.
Throughout the week, we were able to visit several places where God is visibly at work. In the past few months, God has provided the finances and building to begin the FIRST EVER Baptist seminary in all of the Czech Republic. It is currently being renovated and in the fall hopes to open with 10 students. We spent one day helping with landscaping, cleaning, and construction around the facilities. There are many financial and personnel needs that still exist. They have been renovating the facility in order to turn certain sections into dorms for the students. An additional $35,000 is still needed to finish renovations. Please pray with us for the provision of those funds. Secondly, there is a need for educated professors to commit to teaching and training nationals through the seminary. Please also pray that God will provide the right people.
As the church plant has grown there are believers who already recognize they have a responsibility in taking the Gospel to their country. Milan and Misa Pis are a couple from the church that will soon be starting another church plant in Ceske Krumlov, a city that is about 30 minutes away from Ceske Budejovice. While we were there, Milan and Misa actually received the keys to their new church building, a room about 20'X25' located at the base of a community of flats that house about 5,000 people. We spent time praying for them and for the task and responsibility that lies ahead. Please pray for Milan and Misa as they begin this new ministry.
On the last day of the trip we were able to visit Prague, a beautiful city. The architecture was beautiful all throughout the country. The buildings were amazing. There were even tons of little bands sitting on the sides of the streets playing music...and so I was inclined to dance. Yep, they were Czeching me out.
While in the Czech, I celebrated my 25th birthday! I've now celebrated my birthday on 3 different continents. One of the unique opportunities that is presented when your birthday falls during Spring Break. On my back is my new b-day present from my wife and Mr. and Mrs. B. Thanks so much guys! The pack is awesome.
This trip really helped me and the rest of our team understand the spiritual needs that are present in the Czech Republic. God used this trip in great way in many of our students lives. Out of our team we have about 6-7 students who are interested in returning for a longer time from 1-2 years to fulltime. It was wonderful to be able to be a part of a ministry that is just getting started and to imagine and dream of the potential and the possiblities that are present. I ask that each of you join with us from wherever you may be in helping constantly lift up the needs, the Barnes family, and the ministry that is going on in Czech to the Lord in prayer. God is passionately pursing His people everywhere and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be exposed to His work in the Czech and help others realize the needs as well. If you are interested in keeping track of or finding out more information about the Barnes family or the work in the Czech Republic, you can visit www.abweczech.org.
Thank you to all of you who are consistently supporting me through prayer!