I was in the middle getting the summer schedule set up for my youth group in Tábor. I had chosen to stay in Czech rather than spend the summer in the US on furlough so that I could be with the youth group. For the first time in 13 years I had no English camps scheduled. I was just going to hang out with Tábor kids all summer. That's when my coworker in Ukraine called me and asked if I could come to Ukraine in July and help with an English camp. They had an American church cancel on them and only a handful of American interns to lead the camp.
That was the last thing I wanted to do when I had sacrificed my furlough to be in Tábor. Then he told me to bring a car-load of Czech kids with me. I invited Eliška, Filip, Vítek, and Paja to come with me. It was our first youth group mission trip. I'm used to bringing kids from my own American culture into a foreign context. This time it was the Czechs who were dealing with language headaches and culture shock. What at first seamed to be an absurd idea turned into the best opportunity to mentor kids in my youth group.
They learned to accurately explain the gospel, share their testimonies, and got to serve outside of there Tábor Christian bubble. I'd known Filip as a kid at camp for several years. This past year I've noticed a hunger in him for a deeper walk with Christ. In Ukraine he served like I've never seen before. He purposefully hung out with the guys at camp and prayed for opportunities to share Christ with them. Vítek, the worst English speaker of our group, boldly shared his testimony in front of the whole camp in English. Eliška courageously stepped away from our team so that she could build relationships with the Ukrainian students. I constantly saw Paja talking with other girls at camp. She has such a heart to reach out to them. And I just plain enjoyed the camp. I had no other responsibilities than to mentor my team, bless my American coworkers, and hang out with the campers. Those are my favorite parts of camp. This is why I stayed in Czech for the summer. I've posted pictures in the upper right-hand corner of this web-page if you would like to read and see more.
Last winter I came up with this idea of taking a bunch of the youth group guys hiking somewhere. I wanted us to experience something challenging together so that we could draw close to God as men. I asked Honza, a friend in my church who loves anything in the mountains, to help me plan a trip. Filip, David M, and David K joined us for 3 days in the Austrian Alps. Filip was in his element. He kept telling me how much he was loving the trip. David M sits in front a computer designing web pages and playing games all day, so he was physically pushed to the limit. David K had never been in the Alps before and was soaking up the mountain atmosphere. Honza took us to a less traveled section of the Alps.
We didn't see a single person for the whole three days once we set out on the trail. Our route was a bit tougher than we were used to. We ascended and descended over 3,000 vertical meters (9,842 ft) over the 3 day trip. But each of the guys, including David M, kept voting for the more difficult options. Each morning I would give them a passage from the Bible to study and send them off to read and pray for 30 minutes. We would talk about it throughout the day. We read about being connected to Jesus, the true vine (John 15), seeing God's character in nature (Psalm 19 + 104), and using our strength for the benefit of others (Philippians 2:1-11). Our third and final day was the only day without sun. The clouds had rolled in the evening before and it had been raining since.
We packed up the tents and headed up the side of the mountain into the clouds. About 500 meters (1640 ft) up we reached the final ridge. Our car was waiting 1200 meters (3,937 ft) below us. The last trail marker we saw pointed down a near vertical gravely slope with a cloud blowing up over it. Our choice was to head down into the nothingness with only a map and compass or go back and find another route that would double our distance and vertical climb. We all chose to go down. Honza looked me in the eyes and said "this is dangerous". Not what a youth pastor wants to hear when he is entrusted with the sons of several mothers in the church. David M was like a zombie descending down the slope. Filip kept exclaiming what a trip this was. David K just faithfully trudged along. After descending 400 meters (1312 ft) through a thick cloud without trail markers we finally intersected the main trail leading to our car. We were all so relieved. It was a bonding moment for us guys. God was with us.
Originally I had planned on being in the US for the whole summer. I had left the English Camping ministry and began teaching in the youth pastor internship, so Summer was the ideal time to head to the US for a furlough. But then a friend of mine challenged me that Summer is when the best youth ministry happens. I decided to forgo a summer furlough and spend the summer being a youth pastor in Tábor. Even if we didn't have a big summer program I wanted to be in Tábor to be around the kids.
Program provides a skeleton for youth ministry, but the meat comes from just spending time with the kids. Program gives you an excuse to hangout. I planned a couple of activities and then told my team to do the same and spend time with the kids. In June Poky and Filip set up a Saturday of paintball and cooking meat over a fire. During the campfire Milan, a friend of mine in our church, shared his experiences as a soldier in Afghanistan and how God protected him. Because I had decided to stay in Tábor for the summer I was able to go to a nearby village one Friday night when our sister youth group invited us over for swimming, trampolining, and BBQ. While just hanging out there I had a fantastic spiritual conversation with Eliška. Being present and available is foundational to good youth ministry. There are a couple of guys that I hang out with regularly who aren't a part of my youth group. Vaclav just likes hanging out with me and asking life questions.
One morning I went to the lake with him and a couple of neighbor kids. We just sat on the beach watching the kids and talking about life. These things only happen when you are in town and available. I got to do lots of other things like taking a bunch of guys hiking in the Alps, going on a mission trip with a bunch of kids to Ukraine, and rafting with the youth group in Southern Bohemia. It's been a busy and exhausting, but very good summer.