A letter from Karen Moritz in the Czech Republic
One of the most challenging parts of my work here in the Czech Republic has been learning Czech. I’ve studied several other languages before, but I’ve never had to learn any of them well enough to converse, read, write, and think in them. Everything we do here at the Central Church Office of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB) is done in Czech (well, except for the occasional meetings in German). When I visit our ECCB congregations it is also important to be able to understand and speak some Czech. So with this in mind this past year I have been studying Czech with a teacher. In order to supplement those lessons I took an Intensive Czech Course for the month of August in the town of Jihlava. Jihlava is halfway between Prague and Brno, about one and a half hours outside Prague.
We had formal classroom lessons Monday through Friday from 9:00 am until 12:30 pm. We talked about all kinds of things: the geography of the Czech Republic, other nations and nationalities, using Czech names, the weather, visiting the bank and post office, things related to school and learning, and the history of Jihlava. We also had a cooking course and spent a lot of time learning about language related to food. I learned “vím co nevím!” In other words, “I know what I don’t know”—and that is a lot!
Following lunch together we made excursions to various parts of the Czech Republic near Jihlava. We went to historical sites in Trebíč, Telč, Polná, Žd’áru nad Sázavou, Pelhřimova, Želiv, and Dalešice. We saw castles, many chateaus, town squares, and museums. We visited the Jewish Quarter, the synagogue, and the Jewish Cemetery in Trebič. And we certainly saw a lot of churches! One day during our outing we went to an open field that had two interesting stone carvings, one of an eagle and one of a lion. This spot is the line where the two traditional parts of the Czech Republic come together, Bohemia and Moravia. We also saw the sights in Jihlava, which is one of the oldest towns in the area. We saw the remnants of the town wall, a couple of churches, the local museum, the library, and we got to know the town square well. Jihlava began as a silver mining town and gained much of its wealth and fame from that. It is also famous as the home of the well-known composer Gustav Mahler. During these excursions we spoke Czech and we went on tours done in Czech.
However, a lot of my learning came not only from class but also from my home stay. One of my co-workers, who used to live and work in Jihlava, made arrangements for me to stay with one of the women in our ECCB congregation. Libuše was incredibly kind and patient. Since she doesn’t speak English we had to speak Czech. We chatted every morning over breakfast before school, every evening after the activities of the day, and she often helped me with my homework. We talked about all kinds of things. I even had to figure out how to explain the English comedy group "Monty Python" to her in Czech, which wasn’t easy but I think she knew what I was saying. One of the joys in staying with her was that I got some cat time—she has a Ragdoll cat named Kabuki. He’s a very clever cat and he’s bilingual—he understands Czech and English.
During my stay in Jihlava I also had a chance to attend our ECCB congregation for worship on Sunday. I can understand more and more Czech in the service, but I still have a long way to go. We worshipped in the parish house because the church building is under reconstruction. Following worship we did what most churches do—we had food and fellowship, and the pastor, Jan Keřkovsky, opened the church building so we could all see the progress being made on the reconstruction. The worship service was packed and some people had to stand. Everyone is very excited about the work being done in the church building and they are anxious to be able to worship there again soon.
In addition to being well known as the home of Gustav Mahler, Jihlava is well known for something else, something dear to the Czechs, a brewery. Jihlava is home to the brewery (pivovar) that makes Ježek beer. It is believed that the origin of the name Jihlava may be related to Ježek, so the hedgehog is a prominent symbol in Jihlava. In addition to adorning the beer bottles he can be seen in the town coat of arms and in many places around the town.
It was an intense month but one full of learning. I was so grateful for the hospitality of Libuše and of all those I met. Jihlava is a beautiful town to visit and I hope I came away knowing a little more Czech than when I arrived.
I invite you to pray for me as I continue to learn Czech.
Pray for the ECCB and the PC(USA) and our shared partnerships.
Please pray for the churches in Europe as we continue to strive to be a witness to the presence and power of Christ throughout the continent.
With warm wishes,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 200
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 279