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Though we have been in OIomouc for only two months now, it seems like we have lived enough to fill volumes.

We left the Little Rock airport on Oct. 28th amidst a cloud of knotted and confused emotions, already missing the promise of familiarity but excited about the uncertain future we were now writing. And so we arrived in Olomouc, worn out from countless legs of travel and me fighting the fiu that would drag me under for a couple of days. But after taking things lightly for a few days, we found our footing quickly enough and reoriented ourselves to life in a new world.

For the first couple of weeks our movements found a rather simple rhythm: making round after round to realty offices and their available apartments, scouring furniture stores for the perfect components, and trying out every new restaurant in the city we could find. But it took us a while. to adjust to the cycles of night and day because here the sun goes down at 4pm during the winter and rises at about 8am. Thus we found ourselves utterly exhausted by 7pm and wanting to sleep much later than normaL But once we adapted we began to train ourselves in ways that seemed 'more Czech,' lingering longer at restaurants, slowing our paces between destinations, and modifying the ways we dressed. And of course. we still feel l.ike impostors to a degree, but cultural recognition moves slowly and we are learning to be much more patient in the face of things we don't yet fully understand.

. So after thiS two weeks of acclimation we took a train out to Berchtesgaden, Germany for the AMEN retreat, an annua.l spiritual hub for American missionaries and military families living in Europe. And being unfamiliar with quite how far-reaching is the of expats living in Europe,

this was a profoundly awakening experience for us. Somewhere between 7am breakfast calls and late night game. marathons a more

robust appreciation for what familv It~lr~1 could mean dawned over us) ';I

closing down any fears of isolation we might have had and helping to ~."...., keep at bay the emotional reminders of the recent separations we had endured. Therein the shadow of the Alps we breathed deeply the air of loving encouragement and confirmation of purpose, and we carried these. back to Olomouc with bursting hearts.

Two days after our arrival back in Olomouc (the 25th) we observed

Thanksgiving, needing the actu~a~llr day to simply recuperate from s I:, a packed week at the retreat And with help and Ingredients from the Karneses (the campus minister and his family from the University o~jf~~~ • ., Arkansas) we gorged ourse on a ba. nquet of It I holiday

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favorites, ranging from turkey and chicken to sweet potatoes and Mitch's green beans, with cranberry salad and pumpkin pie to push us past capacity.

Over the next week we brought an end to our furniture search and went about putting our apartments in order. On several occasions we held 'furniture parties,' during which we would descend upon boxes of furniture with hammers and screwdrivers, assembling much more inhabitable living environments with great efficiency and a haze of sawdust. When Christie arrived on the 30th we put her hands to work when jet lag didn't claim her. But aside from her skills as a laborer, having Christie rejoin us filled a noticeable gap that had persisted since October To deepen the relationship with her supporting church she had been living in Nashville, ~ut when her

stride soon joined our own we felt the uneven balance shift back to normal. Within days she had secured all of the things that had taken us weeks, but her respite was to be short-lived, for the following Monday we began language school.

As we expected, the Czech language makes few concessions for foreign learners. The most difficult I.anguage behind Mandarin Chinese, the intricacies of its grammar and syntax know no limits, such that both our heads and tongues ache at the end of each class. To make matters more interesting, we have not one but four different teachers, each with his or her own teaching style, but to our surprise two of them have professed that they are Christians at local congregations. This greatly encourages our hopes for future ministry opportunities on campus and around town, and we look forward to putting to these teachers our many questions about outreach and Czech spirituality.

On December 16th we made a trip in to to attend services there at our sister

congregation. The Prague church was home to my first mission experience ago and thus holds a special place in the formation of my pursuits, so renewing ties with these friends meant a great deal. After the service we jockeyed for

optimal positions around a Czech-style potluck dinner and ate until we could hardly find the notes for singing a few Christmas carols afterward. When we managed to stir later we took to the streets and wandered with wide eyes among the public spaces that had been reclaimed by quaint suburbs of the North Pole. Everywhere were wooden huts selling all manner of holiday goods, but none so powerful as to detract much attention from the enormous Christmas trees in each main square. This popular center for tourism had transformed into something truly magical, and we soaked it in with every sense we could.

And so Christmas came to the seven of us with mixed emotions. Though we were excited about instating new seasonal traditions, we could not help but replay over and again the poignent memories of our previous years. But with a little surprise help from our parents we were able to Integrate our twofold worlds into something deeply sentimental and satisfyingly new. To that effect, we all spent the night at the Bealls apartment and woke up to the opening of our Secret Santa gifts and a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and biscuits. The rest of the day found us lounging around in front of favorite holi movies and digging through the loot of our stockings. So while the weather denied us a white Christmas, it was as warm and meaningful a day as we could have hoped for.

From the beginning of our planning as a team, the way we imagined our work taking shape revolved tightly around a whole body of stereotypes. During our discussions and brainstorming we would build up 'straw Czechs' in order to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our models and ideas. We drew upon our own experiences in the country and from the accounts of former missionaries in order to sketch out a 'type' because we needed a believable paradigm in which to address some of the missiological problems that arose before ever leaving the States.

In many ways this exercise proved quite fruitful because our caricatures met reality at multiple points. We knew that Czechs would likely be skeptical toward religion (especially from outsiders) and that their tumultuous history had forged a complete different set of social norms and ethics. But our entrance into

...... _~u is culture

has also revealed the numerous flaws in our preconceptions.

One of the biggest assumptions we had carried over was the notion that Czechs are by definition a colder, less approachable people in the social arena. From our encounters in Prague we assumed waitstaff to be less patient, shopowners less inviting, and conversations on the streets to be more curt than we were used to. Also, the home is considered sacred space; only the closest of friends and family are allowed access into this most private and holy of sanctums. So we knew that our progress in establishing credibility and trust would take time and require great attentiveness to each relationship.

But since our arrival, our expectations of a cold reception have been thawed significantly by the Czech warmth and hospitality that we have received. At every turn we have enjoyed the willingness

of our Czech neighbors to meet us halfway, bearing patiently with our creative attempts to speak their language and excusing our illiteracy in all things 'normal.'

For example, my and Mitch's landlord has taken great pains to make sure we are set up well in our apartment, to the extent of offering to replace our shower and drMng us around town to help us locate just the right one. On several occasions the Bealls' landlord has offered to help fix up things around their place, and Corey has been invited up to his neighbor's apartment a time or two to simply chat in broken English and Czech. Even beyond our homes we have been blessed with the smiles and laughs of others. We feel comfortable in asking grammar questions of our waiters and making small jokes while making change at the grocery store.

"' Our transition here has been eased greatly by the simple erosion of incomplete truths, and we are learning almost daily new ways to live and move within this fresh reality.

Contact info:

Graham Kervin Mozartova 33 Olomouc 779 00 Czech Republic

Mobile phone: (+420) 607 967 055

Email: onehandhigh@gmail.com Blog: www.grahamkervin.net Team site: www.teamolomouc.com

Before coming over we had lifted up the idea of 'weakness' as a worthwhile principle to be filtered through all of our activities while in OIomouc. Taking our cues from Paul's biographial advice in 1 Cor 9:22, we sought to "become weak" in virtually every aspect of our lives here. In so doing, we hoped to employ these weaknesses as actual strengths, using very real things of uncertainty to open doors and allow people to help us.

But like all good emigrants, we inadvertently brought with us our American sense of do-ityourself. From working with realty offices to locating items in the grocery store, we fought against the impulses to reveal our ignorance, wanting to prove that we could operate smoothly in another culture. We have wanted our strengths to be seen for strengths and not admit that we can't figure out this culture thing. And so we have found great difficulty in actually living out our root principle.

Slowly, though, we are learning to overcome this ingrained desire for automaticity. We are asking where things are even though we know right where they are; we are asking our landlords how to operate fuse boxes despite knowing which fuse belongs to which circuit; and asking for Czech perspectives instead of drawing our own incomplete conclusions. It is and will remain a challenge. to my pride for quite some time, but we are strangers to a new place and cannot pretend to have it all mapped out. Baby steps are In order, and through vulnerability we earn more credibility,

. so authenticating the message we bring.

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Pieced together here is a working model of my and Mitch's apartment, a 3+1 arrangement (2 bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen) situated on the bottom floor of a three story complex. It sits in an older but much quainter part of the city with ample greenery lining the sidewalks, and only four blocks separate us from a gigantic park. A kindergarten faces us across the street, and a convenience store occupies one corner while a restaurant claims the other.