It's official--I'm back in Czech! There are so many things I want to share with you, but first off, I want to share about the journey. Even though I've been a Christian for most of my life, I'm still amazed at how God provides. He truly knows exactly what we need at every moment of our lives (which is good, because usually I don't know what I want, much less what I need). Though I've traveled to and from Czech before, I've never done it completely on my own, so the few days leading up to my departure last week were a bit nerve-wracking. I knew what to do in theory, but from what I've experienced these past 23 years, reality can pan out quite differently. Not to mention, I've found that saying goodbye does not get easier the more you do it. At least not for me.
Thankfully, God blessed me with amazing parents, who were so thoughtful as to drive me to Chicago and thus decrease my travel time by one less run through security. Though it was an inconvenience for them, it definitely helped to lessen my stress (minus the saying goodbye part...that part gets me every time). After getting to my gate, which for the record, was much too small for all the passengers planning to board a flight across the ocean in a large metal tube, I managed to get twenty minutes of free Wi-Fi, a.k.a. hello Facebook! During this magical twenty minutes, I found out that a friend and student of mine was going to be in Prague the next day as well. Yes, Martin, I'm talking about you :-) I planned to call him when I arrived at the airport just as my free Wi-Fi said goodbye.
How do you pass the time at an airport gate when your access to internet is cut off? Do you sleep, listen to music, find the nearest bathroom, or...God forbid, talk to other passengers? Now, some of you may have a hard time believing this, but while my father can talk to strangers for hours, I'm the shy one. In fact, after a year of rarely making small talk with strangers (as is usual in Czech culture), I found it quite difficult to involve myself in typical American small talk this summer. For a moment? Fine. But for an extended period of time with a stranger? Strange and uncomfortable.
Well, I don't remember how it happened, but I actually managed to start talking with the two passengers nearest to me. One was a woman headed back to Jordan, where she'd been living for the past ten years with her husband and three children doing ministry with a Christian organization. We didn't have a chance to talk for long, but that brief interaction alone was so encouraging!The other woman next to me lived in Phoenix (just 30 minutes north of my grandparents that I visited this summer) and was heading home to Algiers to visit family. We ended up watching each other's stuff during bathroom visits to preserve our seats in the packed-full gate area.
Once on the plane (praise the Lord, I had an aisle seat!) I was seated next to a friendly German woman and her son who were heading home with her other two sons and Canadian husband. I don't remember who struck up the conversation first, but she was fascinated by how an American could live and work in a foreign country and wanted to know all the details of how I got to Czech, what I was doing there, how it compared with America...the whole nine yards. When I started sharing about how my job is a ministry, I was worried that it might stop our conversation right in its tracks. However, not only did that not happen, but the woman actually wanted to know more! She asked how my students responded to my faith, especially with such a low percentage (1.8%) of professed believers in Czech. It was so encouraging to speak with someone from a different country who shared my faith and could see both the perspective of a Christian and a non-believer in terms of my ministry.
I didn't manage to get any sleep on the 8-hour flight due to my previously mentioned conversation and a lovely touch-screen multimedia center on the back of the seat in front of me (hello on-demand movies, tv shows, map with flight status, and games galore). Once in Frankfurt, I didn't have to change terminals or go through through any security checkpoints other than a quick glance of my passport at passport control, which made for a very relaxed morning. My Lufthansa gate even had an area with newspapers and a free coffee machine that treated me to two surprisingly delicious latte macchiatos during my 5-hour layover. The 1-hour flight to Prague was practically over before it started, and suddenly I was grabbing my luggage and making my way to the shuttle that would take me to the train station for the last leg of my journey. Boy was I glad to only have one suitcase.
Once at the train station, though getting there through construction in downtown Prague was quite precarious, I had the privilege of meeting Martin for a short while. It was so nice to see a familiar face after such a long trip. The usually difficult process of getting my luggage (in this case, 50 lbs. worth) up the steep steps of the train and out of the way once a seat has been found was made much easier due to 1. two women who pushed my bag up from the platform as I attempted to pull from on board the train, and 2. a seat just inside the door with plenty of space for my suitcase to sit right next me against the empty wall. Hooray! The hardest part was over. Since it was a Wednesday, the train wasn't packed full, which made for a much more relaxing time. I even managed to sleep for an hour. When it was finally my stop, a friendly Ostravian even offered to carry my suitcase down the steps for me. What a nice chap. But the nicest surprise was that the escalator from the platform to the main walkway (as opposed to at least 30 stairs) was actually working for once! Hooray! I wanted to kneel down and thank the Lord right there, but since there was a line, I sufficed for a silent thank-you while riding it instead.
My fellow city-teammate, Jess, met me upstairs and was kind enough to let me stay with her for the night since my flat was completely void of life, and more importantly, food. She provided dinner, a bed to sleep in, and pancakes the next morning. What a pal. I'm so blessed to have four other teammates here in Ostrava. I can't imagine living here completely on my own. God made us to have relationships and live in community. He made us to need human companionship. And during my journey and the past week, He has certainly provided it!
Now that I've written quite a novel of an entry, I think it's safe to say that I could boil down all previous paragraphs to two main points.
1. I made it to Ostrava safe and sound.
2. God is so good!