Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sharing God's love in Czech Republic!

Ahoi!!!  Translation - Hello in Czech, but as I write this, I am back in Bahrain trying to close my eyes and picture all the GREEN I got to see in Ostrava.  Yes, another journey God has blessed me with and just what my soul needed!  Once again, He has proven to me that His ways are beyond my understanding, but always for my good.  He sent me to the Czech Republic to help on a Service Project/Mission Trip for Military Kids; at least, that's what I thought I was doing - going to help.  It wasn't until I got home that I realized that in the end, God was giving me the help I needed.

I promised that I would wait on the Lord and allow HIM to fill my days and time here in Bahrian according to His will.  That meant not rushing in to volunteer for all the things I like to do or what I thought I should be doing; I would not make a move unless He first moved me.  Which is why when they announced at the Chapel that a new Youth Group would be formed on base and that they needed volunteers, it was all I could do but smile and think, "God, is this a test??"  Dave squeezed my hand but I just smiled and oddly enough, I didn't feel that twinge in my heart; that longing for Youth Ministry that I had after I left it for good seven or eight years ago.  Back then, my heart still agonized over my decision to leave Lifeteen for CSS, but I knew it was God's plan and eventually, my heart accepted it and obviously, healed.  So no, I would not volunteer to help start up this Youth Group; there are lots of parents with teens who would be more than perfect for that job.  My job would be to sit and watch and wait to see what God had in store for me.  And then the little box on Facebook flashes telling me I have a message! 

"Marie, this is Gabe.  I just landed in Bahrain and I've been told you are here.  Can we get together soon?"  I've known Gabe - or should I say, I've known about Gabriel Rivera for many years.  It was through Lifeteen that I first heard about him.  He was a musician at St. Matthews who led the Lifeteen Choir and led Praise and Worship at several retreats and events.  Although I had referred my friend Nydia to him when she was working on a Children's Mass for St. Joseph and they ended up working together, we had never actually met or had a conversation.  So imagine my surprise to get a FB message from him telling me that he was in Bahrain!!!   It turns out that the organization in charge of the Youth Group they were starting had sent him to Bahrain to kick off Club Beyond and promote their annual Service Project in the Czech Republic.  Gabe had been touring Europe with MCYM (Military Community Youth Ministries) doing Praise and Worship at different camps and before he could head back home to the States, they asked if he wouldn't mind one last stop in the Middle East.  Who wouldn't jump at that chance??? ;)

So in walks Gabe and we connect as if we've known each other for years.  He actually stayed with Dave and I for several days while he was transitioning into a new apartment and he just felt like family from the start!  We invited him to the Cenacle and they all embraced him and we saw him at mass every week.  We both kept saying how amazing it was that God would put us here in Bahrain at the exact same time!  I remembered the saying, "For such a time as this..." and I would be reminded of it again after we returned from our trip.  You see, Gabe was sent with a very important but difficult mission.  He had to come in and convince people he didn't know to send their teens to the Czech Republic with him for a week!  And as if that wasn't hard enough, he also had to recruit a woman to go with him as an Adult Leader to chaperon any girls that might sign up.  Being that he needed a volunteer right away, he asked me if I would be willing to go.  I had told God that I would not necessarily volunteer for anything unless they "needed" me - that is very different from me wanting to help.   I want to help all the time, but people don't always need my help so that was the deal.  "Let them ASK me Lord; I will wait for them to ask..." and here was Gabe, asking for my help.  I knew right away that the answer would be "Yes".  And then my initial thoughts were, "What did I get myself in to?" 

There were times when I wondered if I was really needed - Gabe found some great adult volunteers for Club Beyond shortly thereafter.  I began to wonder if I really wanted to go back to work with teens; am I too old for that now?  Maybe I wouldn't be able to relate.  And then there was the physical work involved; it would mean little sleep, hard work and lots of teenagers!!!  I started asking God to please correct my mistake if I had indeed made one; please let Gabe tell me that he doesn't need me. 
I still don't know if Gabe really needed me at all; but what I do know is that I needed this for me
Arriving in Prague

The work was not that physical; we had great accommodations; I got plenty of sleep, ate well, and I met great people.  We were there to serve the Roma people; the Roma community.  They are often referred to as "gypsies" and suffer much discrimination throughout most of Europe.  In Czech, 82% of Czechs refuse to acknowledge any form of "special care of Roma rights."  83% of Czechs consider them asocial - or not suitable for society; not able to conform to social norms and 45% of Czechs would like to expel them completely out of the Czech Republic. The Roma people suffered much during WWII at the hands of Nazi German mobile killing units and in camps such as the ones at Lety and Auschwitz.  90% of native Roma died and the Roma there now are mostly post-war immigrants from Slovakia or Hungary, or the descendants thereof.  They are segregated and live in very modest neighborhoods.  It made me think of places in the US where you have the blacks on one side of the track and whites on the other.  While I'm sure this was present in my own lifetime, I can honestly say I have never experienced this type of discrimination myself and it breaks my heart to know that it is still very real and present today.  I feel blessed that MCYM chose to share God's love with them through our service; my prayer is that our presence was just a slight glimpse of the love God has for ALL of His children and how He wants them to know He is with them always, sending His love to them through the love of others; even if it seems it is just a few. 

The other sobering fact I learned is that only 2% of the Czech Republic is Christian!  Communism wiped out religion and those who were believers had to suppress their faith.  Consequently, they did not bring up their children in the faith and while there are multitudes of old religious statutes and icons of Christianity, more specifically, Catholicism, many know nothing about their past.  The amazing thing is that young people are heeding the call of Christ!  Some of the Czechs shared with us that their parents are not believers.  One of them shared with me that she only revealed that she was a believer to them and her friends a few years ago and many do not understand.  Thankfully, they have organizations like Young Life and Lifeteen making a presence and impact on them.  They are the ones who hosted these service projects in conjunction with MCYM and will continue to hold camps for Czech teens throughout the summer.  And you can see that they have a true heart for Christ; they are searching, trying to live their faith the best they can and somehow I believe that their parents will come to know Christ through them one day.

The language barrier was really evident; I kept slipping into Spanish when they couldn't understand me in English, as if somehow they would understand that?  It was funny.  The Czech language is hard and it really made me sad when I tried to ask some of the Roma kids about the rosaries and crucifixes some of them were wearing around their necks, but they just didn't seem to understand.  I had my crucifix on and pointed it out to them but they just smiled and I really didn't get a response, so how much they know about Catholicism I'm not sure.   Fortunately, warmth and smiles and hugs and laughs are universal; they need no translation and there was an abundance of that for sure!!  The teens were so good about playing with them and interacting with them; we also worked hard at painting and sprucing up the two community centers set up for them by a wonderful organization in Ostrava who makes it a priority to provide classes and social activities for the Roma children and their families.  We did our best to plant the seed of God's love through VBS lessons each day and while we are not sure how much they actually knew what we were talking about, they understood enough to know that our love for" someone" named Jesus is what brought us there to them.  The main project was setting up a playground in their community and the joy on their faces when it was completed was priceless!!  Now they will have a place where they can just be children; play together and be carefree.  My prayer is that it will instill in them a sense of being loved.  That others loved them enough to want to share something good with them because they are precious and loved and worthy of good and nice things; worthy of love and respect and the dignity that God desires for each and every one of us.

That was our mission for the week and we completed it.  I will never tire of saying that it is the greatest privilege to be allowed the honor of serving God and to be His hands and feet here on earth!  No greater privilege!  And the rewards are indescribable!  One would think that just that knowledge would be enough, but God doesn't stop there!  He is the most loving God who wants to shower us with even more blessings, and shower me He did!  You see, I went to give His love to others and in the process God gave Himself to me.  Once again, He knows my heart and every need and He blessed me by allowing me to receive Him in the ways that are most meaningful to me; in the ways that He knows I respond more completely to and that is by being in the company of faithful believers who love Him as much as I do and by being able to participate in Praise and Worship through song, which we were blessed to do every night at the end of our day.   Yes, I have a beautiful faith community in Bahrain which I am eternally grateful for but I needed that special connection I get from P&W.  We all receive the Holy Spirit in different ways and for me, there is something about music that fills me with a presence of God that makes my heart want to explode!!!  I don't know how else to describe it but that's how I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit most powerfully.  And God gave Gabe this incredible gift of drawing us closer to Him in prayer through song and it was powerful!   We also had small group discussions re: our faith and how to live it and it took me back to my Lifeteen days when we would go to the Steubenville Conferences in the summer and I would be refreshed and renewed and strengthened for the rest of the year!  I had not had that in a long time and God knew I needed it!
 Gabe leading us in Praise and Worship

The Holy Spirit was in the house!

I feel refreshed; renewed!  I feel blessed, peaceful, grateful, amazed and more than anything humbled.  Humbled at the fact that God knows us so well; He knows the deepest most intimate parts of our hearts and He always provides what we need.  The only thing we need to do is be open to the opportunities He gives us and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to say "Yes" to this trip.  Grateful that God put someone I knew here in Bahrain to accomplish this trip; Gabe!  And that God put it in Gabe's heart to ask ME to go along.  If it had been someone other than Gabe, I would not have been asked; and even though it was Gabe, he could have asked anyone else.  As a result, I have made a lifelong friend in Gabe and I have been fed, nourished and once again renewed in faith!  My heart is full; my cup overflows! 

As for the Roma Community in Ostrava; I have to believe we planted a seed.  I keep reminding myself of Isaiah 55:11  "so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."   Please pray for them and all those who are outcast and treated as anything less than the children of God that they are created to be. 

I am still relishing all the memories of last week, thinking and pondering what it all means.  Today, our Holy Father's tweet just confirmed what my heart has been feeling.  He said, "we pray for a heart that will embrace immigrants.  God will judge us upon how we have treated the most needy." 

Blessings from Bahrain!

*If you have a FB page, there is an entire album titled Ostrava Service Project where you can see pics of our entire trip.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Marie

    You know that children's song..Jesus Loves me this I know!
    After 29 years of living in the Middle East,and seeing (many times realizing afterwards) GOD work in my life, I KNOW THAT JESUS LOVES ME AND YOU AND ALL HIS PEOPLE!
    God places us where HE wants us and gives us the Blessings to do his Will and his Work.
    I knew in my heart that you would be Blessed when you went to Bahrain. I am so happy for you.
    Tu Amiga