I play a game with my students at school. I call it ‘Conversation Questions’ and the point is to get them thinking and talking in English. Some of the questions are real stumpers like, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” or “How would you describe your best friend?” But my personal favorite is, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?”
In the most atheist country in the world, where the majority of young people don’t know about God, much less believe in him, this one little question can be tricky.
From my seventh to my ninth graders, answers have spanned from, “What will my future be?” “Am I pretty?” and, amid the laughter of his friends, “Who is my future wife?”
Today, seventh grader Lenka drew the question from our conversation box. She leaned back in her chair with a half-cocked smirk and quizzical eyes. Her girlfriends whispered suggestions to her in Czech – one I understood was, “Jak se máš?” which is informal Czech for, “How are you?” Kinda like, “Hey God, what’s up? How’re you feeling today?”
Finally, Lenka sat up straight and gave me a square look.
“I would ask him how old he is,” she said.
I smiled – not because of how sweetly simplistic a question this is, but because it is the second time one of my students has wanted to know the answer.
Maybe I have taken it for granted, growing up in a Christian home and raised in a godly church – maybe I take it for granted that I know who God is. I know that God is eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, etc. I don’t find myself wrestling with an unidentified need to know God more. Here all these kids want to know is if God likes the way they look – do they even understand that he wove the together in their mother’s womb?
I know my American friends and family are gearing up for Thanksgiving so I’d like to share my Thanksgiving story.
You’ve all heard my stories about moving away from home. Review: homesickness, discouragement, spiders, getting lost, not understanding anything anyone says ever…and homesickness. (It sometimes looks like I’m a negative person if you read my blog – that’s only because my stories about getting on the right bus and showing up to work on time are not super interesting).
Anyway, I’ve been accumulating a list of things I would like to have since September. A grocery list of things to smuggle out of the States when I next get the chance, you might say. It includes items like: a coffee mug to use in my school office, creamy peanut butter, Advil, nail polish, special American candies I can bribe my students with, etc. I’ve also been compiling a list of things I actually need to survive here such as: long pants (can you believe I moved here with only one pair? Californians…), sweaters thick enough to keep me from frosting over in my sleep (again, all my sweaters from home are ¾ length which sort of defeats the purpose I’ve discovered), scarfs, hats…warmer socks.
I am in no way living off pennies here, however, a large part of my finances are from the support of churches and friends and I want to use that money wisely. I’m sort of a non-committal type shopper anyway, but I spent several weeks looking for pants or shoes or jackets that would be the best use of my investments (‘How many places can I wear these without looking like an idiot?” has been my purchasing standard). . . I haven’t ended up buying a lot.
I held off writing home about all of this because I couldn’t figure out how to say, “Moooooooom, I need sooooooocks” in an email and still sound like an independent world traveler. But the funny thing is, I didn’t even pray about any of this either. I let it chill in the back of my mind and add some unnecessary worry to my daily routine instead of turning it over to the Lord. For someone who knows the attributes of God catechistically, I certainly don’t always act like it.
But because God is gracious, he overlooked my feeble attempt of self-control. This month I have been flooded with letters from home, gifts from neighbors and packages from people who spent way more on postage than I deserve.
A friend’s mom here in Prague gave me two bags full of hand-me-downs from her sister. Three pairs of pants fit perfectly (when do hand-me-down pants EVER fit perfectly?) and I’m wearing one of the sweaters as I write this.
A friend in San Diego sent me a box with a hand-made hat and scarf, tea and a coffee mug among other goodies.
Some friends of the family where in Prague for the weekend from Germany and the Mrs. brought me two huge bags of American goodies, cold medicines, massively fluffy socks (sent over from friends in California) and a birthday gift – nail polish!
Literally, while I was carrying the bags up to my room I stumbled over a box left on the stairs. It weighed a ton and I nearly burst into tears when I read the address label: BYAF (Bonita Young Adults Reformed Fellowship – my church youth group). Inside was lined with mini-size American candy bars, snacks, pie crusts and fillings for Thanksgiving and two jars of creamy peanut butter.
I just sat on my bed beneath a foot of gifts I didn’t ask for and most likely don’t really deserve and felt an overwhelming wave of humility sweep through the toughened, hardened areas of my heart. For all my complaints and all my determination to stick out the difficulties, I never asked God for help. And yet he helped me anyway.
This week I’ve been telling my students about Thanksgiving and we sit in a circle and say things we’re thankful for. I get a lot of, “I’m thankful for pizza,” or “My mom,” or “Saturdays.”
I also heard a couple, “I’m thankful for life,” “For the sun,” “For everything.”
Then they ask me, “What are you thankful for, Mary?”
“I am thankful for God,” I tell them. And because they don’t understand, I explain why. “Because he protects us when we’re worried, and he makes us feel better when we’re hurt. He gives us friends and family and all good things. And he loves us always.”
I’m learning a lot about my savior as I live away from the fold.
God is eternal, but his mercies are new every morning. And he is good. God is so good to me.
Then Jesus came to them and said,“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”