As I have been updating my blog the past couple of days I realized that it sounds like I am leaving Josiah Venture and the ministry in Czech. I want to clarify that Kori and I are full-time missionaries with JV and we are preparing to move back to Czech in April. Josiah Venture has told us to spend our first year of marriage (May 2012 - April 2013) in the US. We totally agreed with this based both on other newly-wed missionaries' experience and what we felt we both need as a couple. I am still a full-time employee of Josiah Venture. We are officially on home assignment until we return to the field next April. This means that our ministry has a differnet focus than when we are on the mission field in Czech. As a full-time employee of JV my responsibilities are 3-fold. First is focus on Kori's and my marriage. Second is support raising. And third is study. My study includes both preparing for ordination (I'm starting the process for ordination as a pastor by Friendship Church) and studying materials that JV and Sonlife Ministries have been writing and focusing on this year. I'll be focusing my full-time on these responsibilities. Kori will be substitute teaching in the fall part-time (while in Fairbanks) and joining me in support raising.
We'll be in Fairbanks this summer and the first part of the fall. In mid-October we head to Minnesota for a couple months. I want to introduce my bride to as many people as possible. This is our tentative schedule for the next 10 months:
Our new budget is:
Monthly: $6,200 (current level = $3,200; need to raise = $3,000) This includes salary, medical insurance, and ministry expenses.
Out-going one-time: $37,000 (none of that has been raised yet) This includes moving expenses, car, airfare, and pre-field training.
We are looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible while we are on home assignment.
My neighbor, Pepa Janoušek shook my hand, thanked me for my service in Czech the past few years, and drove off. He was driving off in my little station wagon. I was leaving it with him to sell for me after I moved back to the US. I watched my old life in Tábor and jumped on the train. My mind and heart were flooded with a host of emotions. Lukáš was with me.
The last few weeks in Tábor were so good and filled with tears. The whole month of April was filled with goodbyes. Life got simple for me... and busy. Pack all of my belongings into a garage, say all of my goodbyes, and help Kori plan our wedding. It seemed like every meeting I had was with someone I would never see again. My friend Adam threw a going-away party for me. We grilled Czech sausages over the fire, played croquet on the church lawn, and talked. Towards the end Adam interviewed me in front of the group. People expressed some sweet things to me through out the afternoon. That evening Štěpán and I sat on the square one last time. He was one of the first students in Tábor that I connected with.
The next day was my last Sunday in Tábor. I had a bunch of the guys over to help me load up the trailer. We all went out to the pub by the river afterwards. Vítek, whom I had discipled for the past two years, came with. Philip was there too. I met him when he was a rebelious middle schooler. Now he's one of the most mature 19-year-old believers I know. Jindra, another of my old neighbors, showed up later in the evening. He has a bad habit of taking money out of people's wallets, so we all checked to make sure we knew where our wallets were. Even though we've confronted him on this he still knows he has our friendship. Štěpán and Adam were there too. This was such a sweet finish to my time in this wonderful city.
How do I sum up all that I have said goodbye to? It was in this city that had my first experience as a Czech youth pastor. It was in this city that I fought with the Czech language and won. It was here that I made my first real friendships in the Czech language. I learned to preach in Czech here. I wrestled with God here. I wept over this city. Tábor became my home.
As hard as it was to say goodbye to my South Bohemian home, I know that it was time. My friend Poky had capably taken leadership of the youth group from me. All of the kids I had been discipling were graduating and going off to college. And most importantly, my beautiful bride Kori was waiting for me in Alaska. This was a sweet, hard, and wonderful time for me. I am so thankful to Jesus for giving me the privilege of serving His body in Tábor for the last 3 1/2 years.
Lukáš had a sad tone in his voice with a hint of excitement to get my call. I was heading up to Prague before flying to Alaska the next morning and needed help carrying my luggage on the train. He met me on the square that morning and he helped me run a few last-minute errands. It's hard to wrap things up in the community I gave my heart to for 3 1/2 years, so having Lukáš with me was nice. On the train ride he told me what it was like to be back in Tábor after being away for 8 months at Teen Challenge. It wasn't as nice as he had pictured it. He was living with his brother in a small apartment in town. His brother, Pepa was heading down the same road Lukáš had travelled two years earlier, leaving the orphanage and striking it out on his own. Money was drying up quick. Pepa has a bad temper and that was really making it hard for Lukáš to live there. He told me that he wanted to move back to Teen Challenge. He said it in the same way he said it to me a year ago, "next week." That meant who knows when in the not-so-real future. In Prague after hauling one year's worth of luggage to my hotel we had lunch together. He seemed depressed. He was torn between his need for help and a sense of responsibility for his little brother. We talked about admitting you can't do it and finding strength in Christ. We hugged and said goodbye.
I haven't seen or heard from him since that day two months ago. It makes me weep. I had so much hope for that boy. I still have hope for him, because he has the Holy Spirit living in him. I believe his confession of Christ was real. Because of that I can entrust him to his Heavenly Father. Several people in my little Tábor church have a heart for Lukáš's growth and wellbeing. Lukáš has all the resources he needs.
Thank you to all of you who have prayed for Lukáš these past couple of years. God has used you and me to impact him. Let's keep praying for him.
I have an introduction to make. I’ve written about my fiancé Kori in my last update and many of you met her when we were in Minnesota over Christmas. But, I don’t think I’ve really outlined for you what our plans are. Here’s a synopsis of our story (my version at least) and plans:
I moved to Czech in 2006 as a single man in his early 30s. I made the decision to follow Christ here knowing that it would significantly reduce my chances of finding a wife. Not a lot of women want to live the life of a missionary. Ministry here has been rich and exciting. My job is to disciple teenagers and train Czech youth pastors. That’s about as cool as it gets in my book. But giving up your native culture and language and taking on another one gets lonely. I wanted to do this with someone. So I prayed that God would give me a wife, someone to pursue this calling with.
Last summer Kori Smith, an old flame of mine, showed up with the American team at my church’s English camp. I’ve gone out with a few girls over the years since I moved to Czech. Each of them were awesome women (I happen to think that I have a talent for picking out great woman). But, there was always the lingering thought that they weren’t Kori. Now, Kori had already made it quite clear that she had no intentions of dating me. But things started happening at camp. We found ourselves with plenty of opportunities to talk. I watched her hanging out with the students. She noticed how the kids loved hanging out with me. I kept thinking “if only…”
After camp was over we ended up having a day to hang out together. We were driving back from Prague to Tábor with the plan to spend the day visiting castles. Nothing was said of this being a date though. On the drive to Tábor I noticed a sunflower field. I new she liked sunflowers so I seized the opportunity and pulled over. As we wandered through the field she got this funny look in her eyes. Kori asked me if I was over her. My first thought was, “man, she’s dumping me again.” But she didn’t look like she wanted to do that. I answered “I was” purposely in the past tense. “So, do I have a chance with you?” I asked. Her answer was “yeah, a lot.”
Since then I’ve asked Kori to marry me. We’re getting married on June 3rd in Fairbanks, Alaska where she is from. We’ll live there for a year while we get used to being married to each other and raise support for the ministry here in Czech. Kori really is the woman I have been praying for. She is a true life partner, someone I want to serve and worship Christ with. She is the person I want to build a home with, a home that is a safe place for teenagers. When I proposed to her I read to Kori Psalm 34:3. “Glorify the Lord with me, let us exult His name together.” She is the one I want to glorify Jesus with.
I will move to Fairbanks from Czech on May 8th. I will officially be on home assignment as a fulltime employee of Josiah Venture. We will spend this next year developing our marriage, going through new missionary training, and raising the necessary funds to move back to Czech as a couple. If you’re not already a part of our support team and would like to be click this link: Support Greg and Kori in Czech. We’ll be spending a couple months in Minnesota this fall and the rest of the year in Fairbanks.
I first met Poky when I was helping out at the Tábor English camp in 2003. He was 19 and starting out as the leader of his youth group. As he doubted this calling we talked about him either stepping down as the leader and finding a replacement or stepping up and learning how to lead. I was so proud of him when he chose the later. Since then Poky has become one of the most equipped and prepared youth leaders in Czech. He’s been through every training we offer, walked through the desert of failure and rejection, and emerged as a humble man with the tools to shepherd youth to Christ.
When I moved to Tábor 3-½ years ago Poky had just been asked to step down as youth pastor because his leadership was frustrating a lot of people. He humbly stepped down, allowed the pastor to take over leadership of the youth group and continued to serve on the youth group team. It’s funny that Poky’s last name “Pokorný” is the Czech word for “humble.” Even when the church asked me to take over leadership of the youth group Poky continued to serve faithfully and humbly. Poky and I met regularly every other week and talked through things. Last summer I told the church that I wanted Poky to become the leader of the youth group again. I felt that he was ready, more mature, and well equipped for the task. The church agreed and I handed over the reigns after our summer English camp finished.
I’m now getting ready to move away from Tábor. This summer will be my first time not being at the Tábor English camp in 9 years. I’ve left the youth group in good hands, but I will miss working with my friend and co-laborer.
I’ve had a heart for teaching boys how to be men for a long time. The past couple of years I’ve had the privilege of fleshing out that heart by leading a Bible study for guys in our church. It’s simple. Girls typically need only to sit down and talk in order to connect. You put them in a room that is nicely decorated, some nice snacks in the middle, a few candles and you can typically have a Bible study with deep discussion (I know I’m oversimplifying, ladies, but it’s just to prove a point). It’s not that way with guys. We need something to do, some common experience or task to bond us. A couple years ago I took some guys to the Alps for a hiking trip. Our struggle up the mountains bonded us and led into meaningful discussion. For my guys group I fire up the grill and tell them all to bring some meat to cook. When there is fire the men will congregate. As we sit down in my living room with a plate full of meat there is lively conversation and bonding over our creation. Then we drift into the topic of the day. We’ve talked about anger, sex, marriage, being a gentleman, and what does it mean to be a man. It has been so cool to see these boys and men ask questions and struggle with the topics.
Filip has been coming for the past two years. He always brings a new marinade for the meat each week. He first started talking to me about being a man when he started dating a rather attractive girl from the youth group who was 2 years his senior. Jirka is my neighbor. He’s been bringing his 12-year-old son Tomáš to the studies. Kryštof is growing up in a very godly home and is at the point of deciding to make his faith his own. Štěpán has been coming to church his whole life and is discovering what it means to have his own faith in Christ. Pray for each of these guys as they seek to become men of God.
Vítek and I have been hanging out regularly for the last couple of years. I got him hooked on studying the Bible last year by taking him through the book of Romans one chapter at a time. A few times I took him back to the Old Testament and showed him the passages that Paul was quoting in Romans and how they connected (like Romans 10 and Lev.18:5; Duet. 30:13-14). That convinced him that he needed to go through the Old Testament with me. It was so fun to watch him explore the word on his own, ask questions, and struggle with stuff he didn’t understand. His eyes light up when he discovers something new about God.
As we began studying the Old Testament this year I told him to invite others to join the study. Martina (on the left just after her baptism) started studying with us last January. She soaks in whatever she can. She also challenges what I teach her. Martina keeps me on my toes. It’s been a pretty quick survey of the OT. I choose passages that give the gist of a section and have them read it ask questions. We then plot it out on an Old Testament timeline. It has been fun to see students discover that the first ¾ of the Bible actually are interesting and have application to daily life. Vítek grew up in an atheistic home and so never heard the Bible stories from the Old testament before. He is discovering them for the first time. Martina has been reading the Bible a bit longer than Vítek, but she comes from an atheist background too. What a joy to lead these two in searching the deep truths of God.
Lukáš has been at Teen Challenge now for over 8 months. When I first dropped him off I knew that a miracle had taken place to get him there. But I also knew that it would take a lot more miracles to get him to stay. Sure enough he tried to run away his 3rd day there. He went on a beer and cigarette binge and tried to find friends to stay with. Each friend said “no.” He finally called me in tears saying that he was going back and was going to stick it out. He’s been sticking out since then. I’ve gotten to visit him a couple times since then and he still needs miracles. But, Lukáš is a changed person. He regularly talks about his memory verses and the things he has been learning from the Bible. He has regular work that he is proud of. He talks about making it through the program at a faster rate than originally planned. He has hope. His hope is not based on the scheming that he used to do. It’s based on Jesus and the work that Christ has already done in Lukáš. So many of you have been praying for him. He still desperately needs your prayers. I will probably get to visit him one or two more times before I leave for Alaska for the next year. My leaving will be hard for him since I have been the closest thing to a father for him over the last year and a half. Pray that the church in Tábor takes ownership of this boy. Pray that Lukáš continues to seek Jesus.
It's been a week and a half since camp ended. Most of the students I work with are off on family vacations or are at other camps. It is quiet in the city where I live. So much has happened. I'm still thinking and reminiscing about it. Many of you know about my struggle and heart break with Lukáš, how he ditched me so many times when trying to get him into Teen Challenge, or when he'd show up at my door step drunk or high. At camp he trusted Christ. He has never been loved the way he was loved there. He's never experienced a community where he was completely accepted. When we were saying goodbye at the train station to our American team from Friendship Church he started sobbing. I've never seen him cry before. He couldn't contain himself. A few days after camp he told me he was going to Teen Challenge. I'd heard that before, but this felt different. Sure enough he showed up at my front door ready to go. He told me he wanted one more cigarette before leaving. He would be back in 5 minutes. My heart sank. This is how he ditched me the last time. We prayed. 5 minutes later my door bell rang. Lukáš stood before me with a big grin and the lingering smell of cigarette smoke. We promptly began our 2-hour drive. When we arrived at Teen Challenge Lukáš began with an orientation meeting. 30 minutes later I had to leave. Lukáš had a depressed look of shock on his face. "So many rules, Greg!" We talked about it and I was on my way. Victory, so I thought. Our whole youth group was praying for him. That was Thursday. Saturday I got a call from Teen Challenge. It was Lukáš. He told me that he couldn't make it 18 months without cigarettes (and a few other things I think) and was leaving for Tábor. I'd see him sometime that day. As my heart sank one more time I reminded him that it was Teen Challenge or nothing. He couldn't stay with me. He said he would figure it out. I hung up and prayed. About an hour later I got a text message from him. He was in a town near Teen Challenge and had changed his mind. After calling three friends for help and hearing "no" from each he finally realized that Teen Challenge was his only option. He then called me and told me through tears of how he thought of me as a father and he was going to make it through all 18 months of the program. Lukáš is a new boy. He is a boy making steps to genuine manhood. I saw him again on Tuesday. He had a completely different demeanor. He showed me verses in his Bible. We talked about spiritual things that he brought up. He talked about making it through the program. I'm not allowed to visit him at all for the first three months of the program, so I will need prayer as well. Please keep praying for Lukáš. This is only the beginning of another journey for him.