As I’m walking through the 90 degree heat of a summer afternoon that doesn’t seem to be cooling off, even with the rumblings of a storm overhead, I’m trying to remember when the last time was that I sang in English. Oh, certainly, anyone who knows me can attest that I sing all day long in a variety of languages and so-far unidentified squakings. But when was the last time I sang a hymn in English? I ask myself because, until this week, it wasn’t something I realized I missed about home.
Last week was English Camp – the highly anticipated, intensively planned, universally relished event of the summer here for the Church in Modřany and for her friends.
I don’t even know where to begin with this.
About 150 people in attendance – may be 30 of those people are Americans (and one passionately vegan Brit). Nightly skits and worship program. Daily English lessons, sports, games, crafts and the occasional sweet-shop excursion. Plus the annual cornhole tournament, the first round of which, despite partnering with one of last year’s semifinalists, I lost promptly and without closeness of margin. And all this was done in the Czech mountains, in a hotel decorated with a “Call of the Wild” theme by hundreds of hand-painted water color clip-art prints and a blow-up deer.
I had very few responsibilities at camp. I was an assistant in two morning classes and I helped herd children up to the field above the hotel one afternoon for the Frisbee game, but that was the extent of my pre-established duties.
The only thing I really had to do was run the evening program for the 8-14 year olds.
Great. Bible story, play some games. Keep them out of trouble until their parents come get them. Not so hard, right?
Firstly, let me say that the 30-ish kids we had on any given night were extremely well-behaved compared to what I’ve had to deal with in school for the last year (God bless my students, but they are rascals). Secondly, I should add that, although we had some tough evenings, they were never, never because the students, the helpers or anyone participating decided to be a stinkhead.
I chose to go over the attributes of God. The Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic nations in the world and I figured the first step to faith is learning who God is. How can we understand our faith, our world or ourselves if we do not first understand God?
In this order, we covered God’s:
- Goodness (Creation/Fall of man/Promise of Redemption)
- Power (David and Goliath)
- Holiness (Isaiah in the Temple)
- Justice (Lot’s Wife)
- Mercy (Abraham and Isaac/foreshadowing of Christ on the cross)
- Love (Psalm 86, a prayer of David)
- Sovereignty (Paul on the way to Damascus)
From the first night, we had questions so simple and so subtle and so obvious that I struggled to answer some of them.
- Why didn’t God kill Satan at the beginning?
- If God gets glory from everything, does that mean it’s okay to sin?
- Did God kill babies in Sodom and Gomorrah?
- Does God care more about nature than people?
- Do Old Testament sacrifices wipe away sin?
- If Jesus knew he was going to rise from the dead, why was it such a big deal to die on the cross?
- Does God need us to believe in Him?
- Will I see God?
- Will I go to hell?
We explained through translation that the Bible doesn’t explain all of God’s decisions – but what we know to be true of God can help us answer these questions. We explained that since Adam and Eve lost direct communication with God in the garden, man has been searching for his creator, even if we don’t realize that we are doing so. We explained that because God is holy and just we cannot stand before Him and live, but because He is loving and merciful He sent Christ to stand in our place.
And eventually we had to boil down our answers to match their simplistic ponderings – yes, you will go to hell if you don’t believe that you need a savior and that the savior is Christ. Yes, your hearts are black with sin, even as babies, and you will come under the full wrath and punishment of God without the intervention of Christ’s blood. I don’t believe in watering down the bare truth of the Gospel, even for children.
When was the last time you told a ten year old he was going to hell?
We had some pretty rough nights.
But the fact is that they were asking questions we ourselves often need to review. Why does God allow sin or bad things in general? Why was Christ’s death so powerful, so necessary, so loving? Will I see God?
The questions my kids had during the evening program often spilled over into the following day on hikes, during lunch time or around the campfire as we roasted buřty and marshmallows. And people who don’t believe in God felt the unavoidable prodding of the Holy Spirit to seek His face.
It’s active, the effort to find God – not that we ever find Him on our own. He reveals Himself to us. But we must come to Him.
“Come near to God and He will come near to you.” James 4:8a.
I love listening to people ask questions.
I love being able to answer questions.
Some questions I can’t answer. I can’t tell those kids that they will see God – I can only say that those who love God and are adopted as His children will one day see His face and that the communication lost in the garden – the relationship with our Creator – will be restored.
After English Camp, when the American Team (plus the vegan Brit) were back in Prague, we finished our evaluations of the week and then went to a restaurant in Zbraslav called Škoda Laský. It is famous for the song “Roll Out the Barrels” and every time we go, we sing a round of it just for fun. Then we sing the doxology before eating and finally the staff will ask to sing one more song and we usually pick “Amazing Grace.” I sang along because I love to sing, but this time I also closed my eyes and just listened for a verse. God made some incredible voices and they were all singing of His incredible love and mercy and grace.
So as I’m walking through the forest to the post office, listening to thunder growl and watching lightning bolts crack across the dark sky, I’m listening. Leaves are blowing around my feet down the path like the very breath of God is sighing over the hot surface of the earth.
And I see Him. Not in His full glory, it’s just a glimpse. But I see how great and how good my God is. Just like I see Him in the praise we lift up in song, just like I see His Spirit working in the hearts of small children who ask big questions.
I know that one day I will understand fully, even as I am fully known, and those questions I cannot answer will be laid to rest.
But it gives me so much hope to see my Creator in small ways. And because I know He knew I needed hope today, I feel like this thunderstorm is just for me.