I’m now a year and a half into my two-year stay in Prague, and slowly but surely reaching the twilight of my work in student ministry. I have to admit, this fills me with some sadness. Last week I was in Poland for the IFES North Central Consultation, an annual conference for staff and students from countries in my region, ie. Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Estonia etc and found it a hugely encouraging time.

International Christian conferences are always great, I love meeting believers from other countries and hearing their stories. I find this is particularly true when I chat to a Christian from a country I know next to nothing about, say, Latvia or Lithuania. I naturally feel detached from these sorts of countries generally, yet upon talking to a Hungarian or Lithuanian Christian the gaps can be seamlessly bridged. It’s great seeing the warmth in their faces as they speak about what the Lord has been doing in their lives and ministries, even if communicated through imperfect English. Evidently Jesus doesn’t have the ignorance I have concerning many countries; He knows all of them inside out and is concerned with gaining glory for Himself from them; it’s good this includes raising up mature Godly men and women who can teach this self-righteous Brit a thing or two.

As great as the conference was, a sense of sadness was still lurking in the background. The more I enjoy IFES events, the more I realise there won’t be any more after this year. No, after this year I’m exiting the world of volunteer student ministry (of which when I finish I’ll have been involved in for 3 years), leaving Prague, and returning to the UK to enter the ‘real world’ of full-time employment. This will be a rough transition; leaving Prague, and all the friendships I’ve made with people in the Czech Republic will certainly not be easy; especially since I’ll be trading Prague most likely for a terraced house in Salford. In one sense, it’ll be great to go back to Manchester – I have many friends and a truly awesome church waiting for me, but the move involves a lot of stresses.

Not least of these is getting a job. In 2/3 years time I want to pursue full time ministry and go to Bible college, but in the meantime I’m going to have to try and enter secular work. It’s not an easy time to find a job, so I’ll just have to see what I can get, whether that’s a job back in retail (I worked 3 years part time in Debenhams during college and university) or in something else. Either way, I’ll need to start looking before I move back to England.

I have a degree in Graphic Design, and of course if I could get a job in the design industry that would be ideal. It’s not easy though; design is a notoriously difficult field to get a job in, and many better designers than me are not working in industry. So it’s going to be hard anyway, but add to that the fact I have no experience and also that I have been away from the design world for 3 years and an already tough task seems impossible.

Or is it? At the beginning of the year I went to an Expat-Expo in Prague, ie. an exhibition of companies/services that would be helpful to expats, and I happened across a design firm, Firefly, who had a stand. They seem quite a big company; they have offices in Prague and New York, and have done work for such big-name clients as UPS and Samsung. I thought I’d ask if they offered unpaid short-term placement opportunities to graduates like me, and they answered in the positive. They said that if I was interested I should email them and send them a link to my website/portfolio.

Now, I would have done this straight away, but to be honest my website/portfolio is frankly not up to scratch. A lot of work on there is sub-par and I know I can do better now, so I need to have a bit of a rehaul. I couldn’t do this until this past Christmas because I needed to access files I had left in England, but now I have those files. Upon returning to Prague after Christmas I realised what a huge job I have to do. I’m going to have to be very disciplined and work hard in order to get things right in my portfolio.

The potential benefits are huge, having recent experience at a reputable design firm in Prague could be the difference between working in design next year or stacking shelves in Tesco. That said, it’s all or nothing. Even if I work really hard and get my portfolio/website to the highest standard I can, that doesn’t mean I’ll get the placement at Firefly. They might just not like my style. And even if I do, that far from guarantees me a design job in Manchester. In the end, the experience might not even make any difference.

The idea that so much hard work could be for nought is demotivating; and if this plan has any chance of working I need to start work now, and work hard. Of course it’s all in God’s hands, and he will provide all that I need over the next year, but since I have this glimmer of an opportunity, I should probably be focused and get on with it. Prayers would be appreciated.

Another poster for another evangelistic event, happening soon…

As if you needed more proof of my insanity, a skit we filmed to promote Capture the Flag at Camp.

If ever there was a perfect event to put on in central/eastern Europe, guaranteed to coax students out of their bedrooms for a week, then it’s a summer English Camp. Camps are generally popular in this part of the world anyway, and since being able to speak English is a much wanted ability putting the two together is always a winner. Apparently, this summer in the Czech Republic around 100 such camps are being held, for campers of varying ages.

Just one of those was put on by IFES Czech Republic (UKH) last week, which I had the privilege of being a part of. I had heard great things about last year’s camp, which unfortunately I had to miss due to a wedding, so before camp started I was very interested to see what it would be like. Thankfully, it was a lot of fun. Altogether there were around 40 of us up in the mountains of the North, a mix of Czech students (with a few Slovaks for good measure), and a team consisting of Czechs, Dutch, Brits and a token Australian (who is half Slovene). The weather was glorious pretty much all week, very hot with the exception of a few showers. Needless to say, the windows in my room were constantly left wide open.

The English lessons were split into 3 groups; beginner, intermediate and advanced. I had the joy of helping to teach the Advanced group. Now, teaching isn’t exactly my forte (unlike seemingly everyone I know, I’m not going to go down the PGCE route after Prague), but I had a lot of fun anyway, thanks to the well prepared and organized Sara, who led the lessons. Our lessons consisted mostly of practising discussion, so it was great not having to go through grammar and exercise books, but instead just watch videos and listen to music, before discussing them. My kind of lesson.

There were plenty of fun activities going on at camp. On two nights, Craig and I orchestrated a game of Capture the Flag, which everyone got involved in. We also had a day where we went for walk, in 3 groups. This was another wonderful opportunity to have chats with the students and get to know them better. Often in the afternoons there were also games of volleyball, ultimate Frisbee etc. Classic camp fare.

The (extremely loose) theme of the camp was ‘High Definition’, linking to the idea of seeing life as it truly is, ie. through the lens of Jesus. The spiritual input of the week consisted mainly of an evangelistic talk each night, taking campers through the identity of Jesus, what he came to do, and what our response should be. My two evening talks were on the topic of Grace and Discipleship. I think both talks went well, particularly the first one. I had non-Christian students give positive feedback after both talks which was a huge encouragement. Craig took on the topics of ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘What is my response?’ which he handled very well. Tom Uher, UKH secretary, spoke on the Cross, which was very well explained and illustrated.

In addition to the evening talks, there were seminars throughout the week, on the topics of God and Suffering, Relationships, Why Trust the Bible, and Christianity and Science. It wasn’t mandatory to attend these sessions, but each one was well attended anyway. I did the God and Suffering seminar, which had a really useful question and answer section at the end. Even the guy who runs the camp facilities turned up. Rocking.

The camp experience was great overall. Many of the unbelieving students commented on the friendly and loving atmosphere throughout the week; and I was encouraged by the number of Christian students going out of their way to get to know the other campers. It was a real testimony to God’s grace. We feel we saw many of the non-Christians make a lot of progress spiritually throughout the camp too, and we’re hoping God will work in their hearts throughout the next year, and perhaps bring them back to camp next time.

Once again, I’ve been on poster duty 🙂

“But alas, how little fit for heaven are many who talk of ‘going to
heaven’ when they die, while they manifestly have no saving faith, and
no real acquaintance with Christ. You give Christ no honor here. You
have no communion with Him. You do not love Him. Alas! what
could you do in heaven? It would be no place for you. Its joys would
be no joys for you. Its happiness would be a happiness into which you
could not enter. Its employments would be a weariness and burden to
your heart. Oh, repent and change before it be too late!”
– J.C. Ryle

Over the past few months the topic of heaven has kept cropping up in my thoughts. Whilst I was in Manchester last year I had the chance to study topics related to the new creation, and I heard a sermon by Wayne Grudem where he put forward his views on the subject. He talked about how he sees the new earth actually quite a lot like the old one, minus the curse/sin/death etc. So, according to his view in the redeemed Earth we will have hobbies such as football or playing cards, we’ll be able to learn instruments play music, and create art etc etc. We’ll live in cities, we’ll make technological advances, all sorts of things you would find in this Earth, only better, without sin, and all for the glory of Jesus.

Now, I have to say this vision of heaven sounded very attractive to someone who had classically not been as excited as a Christian should be about eternal life. If I was honest, heaven according to my pre-conceptions sounded, well, boring. I read passages such as Revelation 4:8, and I was too scared to admit to myself or anyone else that the idea of repeating the words ‘holy, holy, holy’ forever didn’t fill me with joy. Surely the same old song might lose its novelty 45 billion years into eternity. One primary image of heaven in my mind was of a bunch of people staring at the ‘glory of God’ (which I pictured as a very bright white light, obviously) constantly forever. This wasn’t exciting.

So when this fresh idea of the new creation was introduced to me, I was amazed. Suddenly heaven sounded exciting, and I started to look forward to it. Grudem recommended a book from where he had got a lot of his ideas on heaven, the cryptically titled ‘Heaven’ by Randy Alcorn. I went out and bought it, and looked forward to reading about whether we’ll have pets in heaven, and whether I’ll be able to learn the mandolin for a thousand years before moving onto new hobbies. What I was most interested to see however, was the theological backing. As far as I was aware, Scripture had seemed fairly silent (save some passages I thought were ambiguous) on the specific details of the new creation, and I really wanted to see how Alcorn was going to back up his ideas.

Now, this article isn’t meant to be a critique on the book (that’s not the main point I want to put across, as you’ll see in a minute) but as I read it I was left frustrated. Without going into details, I’m not convinced that Alcorn has enough backing biblically for some of his views (although without doubt I would agree with some of his foundational ones: that the new earth will be a material place, we’ll have material bodies etc), in particular in some of the details. I feel he has done quite a bit of extrapolation, and realising I hadn’t found the biblical backing I was looking for I was saddened. The idea of doing things like dancing to redeemed trance music had sounded too good to be true, and I was slightly gutted that I didn’t feel there was enough biblical evidence to back it up. Now, I’m not saying the new earth won’t have any of the things Alcorn or Grudem suggested – they may well do. But I concluded that we just can’t be sure biblically on some of them, and this was a great shame to me. Heaven didn’t seem as exciting anymore, and I was left having to grumblingly accept that, as many people say, ‘we just can’t imagine what heaven will be like’. But how could I be excited about something I couldn’t imagine?

I was left frustrated for quite a while, and once again the topic of heaven left the forefront of my mind, that is, until a few days ago. And since recently, there has been a paradigm-shift in my thoughts on the subject. How? Blame it on John Piper:

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—
is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the
friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and
all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties
you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no
human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with
heaven, if Christ were not there?”

A crushing question. As I read this in ‘God is the Gospel’ I realised that I had not been looking forward to the ultimate Joy in the all the universe at all when considering heaven, but rather merely His gifts. I had been acting as if being able to dwell with my Creator wouldn’t be enough. What sin! The joy of looking forward to heaven isn’t the prospect of days on sunny beaches, it’s beholding and seeing the face of Jesus, and dwelling with him! Everything else is utterly secondary, and inconsequential in comparison to being in the full presence of He who has made, saved, and sustained me since my birth. To finally see Him in His glory will be the ultimate thing, not anything else. In my previous frustrations concerning those uncertain details of heaven, I had totally missed the point.

This has been a massive challenge to me, and I’m still thinking it through. Now though, I know that I don’t have to know whether there’ll be graphic design in heaven to be able to be excited about it…all I have to know is that I will be able to behold Jesus and see Him ‘as He is’ – this is the primary thing to look forward to. After all, only God can truly satisfy the heart of man, no amount of other gifts. So of course I can be excited about heaven; it’s great to be in communion with God now on this Earth – how much better will it be then?!

I’ve very recently just got back from the Muchan conference held in Berlin, the first conference of its kind created to attract Young Adult Messianic Jews from around the world. All in all it was an incredible experience with far too many things to comment on here, so I’ll just focus on the trip we all made as part of the conference into Poland to go to Auschwitz.

There was a decent mix of people at Muchan; mostly Jews but there were quite a few Gentile believers too. The main countries represented were the USA, Australia, Israel, Russia, Germany and the UK (there were 7 of us which was great, for a while I was worried it was just going to me!) so a good selection from across the world, all travelling together to the infamous death camp. What was particularly encouraging was the presence of German Gentile Christians who wanted to support the Messianic movement and go through the experience with us – I know I speak for the rest of the Messianic Jews at Muchan when I say I’m very glad they were there.

We arrived at the town of Auschwitz after dark in the evening and the coaches drove us to our guesthouse where we would stay before going round the site in the morning. In the evening one of the speakers gave a lecture on the Holocaust, its historical context and how it happened, which was very informative if not disturbing. Obviously this was quite emotional for many of the participants there, Jew and Gentile alike, and thankfully we had a chance afterwards to pray together in small groups and share our anxieties with each other about going round the camp the next day. Despite all the sadness and apprehension however we proceeded to have a great time of singing praises to God. We sang songs which spoke of God’s holiness and also expressing the fact that we are to always give Him our thanks, extraordinary things to state at such a time. It was a massive encouragement to me personally how everyone saw fit to give God glory at that moment through song, reaffirming that the reality of the Holocaust under no circumstances diminishes His infinite glory, holiness or justice. I’m sure those moments will stay with me for a long time.

The next day we walked around the camp. It had been snowing heavily, and the bleak grey and white tones of the environment around us seemed fitting in an eery way. We all wrapped up warm with layers to protect us from the cold, knowing that our ancestors were forced to do manual labour in the same temperatures with nothing but a pair of pyjamas. Guides showed us round, pointing at this and that, giving explanations and information on the way. There were lots of exhibits containing huge amounts of one particular item that had been confiscated from the prisoners upon arrival; for example there was a huge collection of shoes, then pairs of glasses, then various kitchen implements, even locks of hair that had been shaven from Jewish women. The collection that stood out to me the most though was one of a vast number of suitcases, all of which had names on them. Most of them Jewish names, ones that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to hear today. This particular exhibit made the owners of the items that much more personal.

We walked round living quarters for prisoners, underground prisons, and even round a gas chamber where we knew thousands and thousands had perished. We stood outside in the yard where Jews were told to strip naked before walking to their deaths in the chambers, thinking they were getting showers. We held a one-minute silence by a wall where many had been lined up and shot by the SS, and also saw various points where prisoners would be hanged naked as a public example. It truly was a place of horror.

After going to Auschwitz 1 we went to Birkenau, another part of the larger Auschwitz complex. This was very different in feel to Auschwitz 1. It was a lot bigger for a start, nearly a mile long in length. It felt a lot less ‘commercial’ too, not lots of museum exhibits or signage, just the camp exactly as it was, a vast landscape of desolation and monotony. Hut after hut, fence after fence, guard tower after guard tower for hundreds of meters, all exactly the same. I thought about how the monotony of the surroundings must have added to the dehumanizing of those kept within, any hint of individualism crushed. Birkenau for me evoked a stronger mood than Auschwitz 1, despite me even walking through a gas chamber at the latter. Birkenau is probably the most barren place I’ve ever been. We ended the trip by saying the Jewish Mourner’s Prayer together in Hebrew and English, and then by blowing a shofar (ram’s horn) at Birkenau as a symbol of God’s sovereignty over the events of the Holocaust.

So how did I feel? Well, when on the previous night we’d met up to discuss our anxieties, mine was that I would feel nothing, and be almost unmoved by what I would see. Unlike many at the conference, I was unaware of any family members dying there; my Jewish ancestors moved to England from Poland long before the Holocaust. The prospect of being numb scared me, and I felt ashamed at the thought of it. Luckily for me I wasn’t the only one who felt like this (even though I thought I would be), and in God’s sovereignty I ended up praying with someone who had similar worries, and we were able to share our burdens with each other, and in the end walked round the camp together too which was a big encouragement.

To be honest I couldn’t really get my head around what had happened at those sites during the war. I couldn’t grasp the fact that I had been standing in the place where a million of my people had died, and so I wasn’t moved as much as I felt I should have been. I suspect at points I may have hidden behind my camera too much, detaching myself from the experience. But even so, I expected to arrive at the camps feeling some form of ‘oppressive mood in the air’ or something, but there wasn’t one there. It was just…barren and lifeless. Of course, I’m horrified at what happened in the Holocaust, but part of me wanted to cry or show some emotion, and it just didn’t happen.

That’s not to say I didn’t take anything away from the trip though; on the contrary I learned something very important. One quote by a historian on the Holocaust goes like this: ‘The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved by indifference’, referencing the indifferent nature of many nations during the war that could have done more to stop these terrible events. This stuck with me and challenged me as I look at the indifference in my own life – of which there is plenty. There have been far too many examples of my apathy preventing me from doing the right thing, whether that’s maintaining communion with God, helping out a friend in need or any other number of things. Indifference is a massive problem for me, and its frightening to think that indifference can let something as profoundly evil as the Holocaust happen. May we fight indifference with all our might.

Of course the one immense encouragement about the Muchan trip to Auschwitz was the fact that we exist! The Nazis planned to eradicate our people, but the fact that an international group of Jewish believers could stand together there, years after the Holocaust is a massive testimony to God’s grace and faithfulness. Praise God that not only do the Jewish people still live, but that there are many such as us at Muchan who put our trust in Jesus as our promised Messiah.

Here are a couple more posters I’ve designed for groups in the Czech Republic.

Out of the two I prefer the first one, which was a response to a request for a poster that would stand out to students amidst the masses of other posters on notice boards. In Czech it says ‘This poster could change your life’.

That should do it.

On Sunday I got back from a Film and English weekend that UKH had put on as an evangelistic event for students. It had been a while in planning, and Craig, Linda and I had been involved in putting it together. The idea was that students could come along to practise their English, and also to enjoy watching some films in English too. We prepared the lessons, and chose films we thought had themes with which we could present the Gospel through.

The films we chose were Match point, Pay it Forward and Seven Pounds; and between the three of us we each took a film and presented some thoughts on the themes within each film, and how they relate to the Gospel. For example, Matchpoint presents a very nihilistic worldview and leaves the viewer wanting justice by its end, so Craig was able to lead discussion on where our sense of justice comes from, and whether there can be any justice in a nihilistic world.

I got the honour of doing a talk based on 7 Pounds, which I have to say is an awesome movie and I highly recommend it to anyone. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but it contains themes of guilt and redemption, which I got the chance to talk about after the film. I talked about how Jesus deals properly with the issue of our guilt before God, and how he secures a much better and fuller solution of redemption than the one presented in the film.

On the whole the weekend went really well. The venue was a school out in a rural part of Czech Republic, half an hour drive from Prague. The school is run by Christians, and used to serve firstly as a monastery, and then a prison (!) before becoming a school. All together there was around 10-15 of us, a mix of Christians and non-Christians, and the dynamic was very laid back and fun. Unbelievers heard the Gospel, so that’s something to praise God for.

I really enjoyed being a part of this, I have to say I have a great love for film so to be able to incorporate that into my job and then talk about the Gospel through it is a dream. Its also really encouraging to see how the message of Jesus is so relevant to contemporary culture, whether that is film, music, literature etc. People often say that Christianity is irrelevant in this modern age, and that we don’t ‘need’ it or any other religion anymore, yet if you look at the cultural expressions of today I think we see that people haven’t changed that much over human history. We still cry out for the same things people did 2000 years ago; love, peace, meaning, justice, redemption, forgiveness. These themes come up again and again in music and film, it shows humanity isn’t quite satisfied despite its progression in thought and technology. That’s why I think its really important that Christians engage with the culture around them with a view to presenting the Gospel.

Hopefully there’ll be plenty more opportunities to do events like this while I’m here in the Czech Republic.

Christ2banner

Prague’s famous Karlův Most (Charles Bridge) is known for being lined on each side with statues of various figures, including this one of Christ. Now, I’m not really one for getting over-excited at statues of Christ on the cross, but this one in particular caught my interest; mainly because of the fact it is decorated with Hebrew letters.

In many ways it is very odd that a statue of Jesus would be decorated in this way; it certainly doesn’t seem typical to me when I think of other such statues depicting the Messiah. What’s even more interesting is the translation of the letters, ‘Holy holy holy, the Lord of Hosts’, a phrase from Isaiah which Jews even today recite in their prayers. When I was researching the origin of this strange sight, I found out according to another blogger, “these golden Hebrew letters were part of a humiliating punishment assigned to a Jew at the end of the 17th century who’d been accused of blasphemy. He was forced to pay for them, and it made it seem that when the Jews said this prayer, they were referring to Jesus.”

Perhaps, given the treatment of Jews in Prague (and everywhere else for that matter) in the past, I shouldn’t be surprised that the presence of these Hebrew letters was originally due to anti-Semitism and an attempt to humiliate and degrade the Jewish people. It has to be said that this statue is still controversial today amongst the Jewish community in the city.

However, despite realising the negative origins of this peculiar statue, it still symbolises for me as a Messianic Jew a much greater and ironic truth, which is proclaimed far louder than the original statement of humiliation it was meant to. For although in some ways the statue is odd, in a far more profound way (in my opinion) it is very fitting: for Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. He was (and arguably, still is) the archetypal Jew, promised through Hebrew Scriptures to be the Saviour of the Jewish people, and of course the Gentiles as well. It is only right that Jewish people should refer to Him as Lord, as it is only right that we should remember his Jewish identity.

When I think about this statue it brings to mind the Jewish community as a whole on this earth. The vast majority of them do not believe that Jesus is their Messiah, and so are still under God’s wrath for rejecting Him, like every other unbeliever, and are destined for eternal judgement. The Apostle Paul displayed genuine anguish at this fact (Romans 9:1-3, 10:1).

However, whilst not wanting to turn this post into a theological debate on eschatology or the relationship between Israel and the Church (on which I respect there are many diverse views), I do believe that there is hope for the Jewish people yet, but that can only be through Jesus. May God bless abundantly the work of Jewish evangelism. I pray that many Jews would have their eyes opened to the Gospel by the Holy Spirit, repent of their sins, and that they would genuinely declare Jesus as their Holy, Holy Holy Lord.