On Visiting Auschwitz

Editor’s note: As much as I have enjoyed writing about baby Karis this past week, I must take today’s post to break away and talk about something different. For regular blog readers this will be a departure from my usual tone and focus, but I felt I needed to write about what I did today=. This will not be graphic, just simply getting my thoughts down on paper so to speak. I will return tomorrow to our regular scheduled programming.

Today I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp (1940-1945). Even though it’s only a one hour drive from our house here in Czech, I don’t think I’ll be going there very often–maybe even once is enough. It was something that my father-in-law and I had been talking about doing, but since it would just be he and I we weren’t sure if we would have the time. An opportunity presented itself this afternoon and we decided to go and take a standard 3.5 hour walking tour. It’s a sobering place, but looking back on today I am very glad we were able to go.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

In his travel book, American travel-guide, Rick Steves, answers the question “Why visit Auschwitz?” He writes,

Why visit a notorious concentration camp on your vacation? Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of the most moving sights in Europe, and certainly the most important of all the Holocaust memorials. Seeing the camp can be difficult: Many visitors are overwhelmed by a combination of sadness and anger over the tragedy, as well as inspiration at the remarkable stories of survival. Auschwitz survivors and victims’ families want tourists to come here and experience the scale and the monstrosity of the place. In their minds, a steady flow of visitors will ensure that the Holocaust is always remembered— so nothing like it will ever happen again. Auschwitz isn’t for everyone. But I’ve never met anyone who toured Auschwitz and regretted it. For many, it’s a profoundly life-altering experience— and at the very least, it will forever affect the way you think about the Holocaust.

After visiting the sight today I can only agree with his assessment. To walk the grounds, visit the buildings, and hear the detailed history is humbling, overwhelming, and saddening. It’s only as a Christian who knows that the Lord is sovereign over history that I could really make sense of it. Within the first few minutes I found myself pondering Ecclessiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Auschwitz is a house of mourning and today I laid it to heart.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

I took very few photos and even the ones I did take aren’t too heavy. Mostly I just wanted to listen and take it all in. The tour is well planned and very informative while not being overly emotional. I’ve been to the Holocaust museum and memorial in D.C. twice and I think it was way more intense than Auschwitz is, at least by design. Our Polish tour guide was very calm, quiet, and that’s how it should be. Even the lighting inside isn’t so intense. What struck me was that even though we live in a digital age and we love to take photos, I could tell that generally people were limiting their use like I was. And really, other than a few snaps for this blog, I’m not exactly sure what I would do with a bunch of photos of a place like Auschwitz.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

There are two parts to the tour. The first takes you through Auschwitz I which was a Polish army base that the Nazis converted to a concentration camp. The second part takes you to Auschwitz II which was built completely by the Nazis using prison labor. Like most Americans I had to study this horrible place in school, but today as we entered Auschwitz II I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the facility. No picture will do justice to just how big the camp is. The electric fence lining the perimeter just seems to go on forever, along with the railway which runs right down the middle of it. Below are two photos I took from the guard tower which give a little context but still the scale is hard to capture.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

In the second photo above, if you were to follow those tracks to the very back (more than 1/4 mile–far!) there is a memorial that was erected for the more than 1.3 million lives that were taken at this place. On the ground beneath an artist’s sculpture are large placards written in every language that was represented at the camp (there must have been 10-12 of them). Below is the one in English.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

For the sake of my wife and others who might read this, I’m leaving out any details about the buildings and actions taken inside. If you know the history, then you know what happened. But I just wanted to say that standing in the rooms and seeing what the Nazis did caused me more than once to consider the sinfulness of my own heart. As much as it is right to be angered by the atrocities that took place at Auschwitz, it was the work of men just like me who did these things. They were just like me in the sense that they have the same sinful heart that I do. Mark 7:21-23 records the words of Christ when he said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” I guess that’s what I meant when I said earlier that I was taking it to heart. How could I not?

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

One of the last things that we heard today was about the liberation of the camp on January 27, 1945 (for some perspective, my own dad turned one year old on Jan. 28, 1945). The Russians were able to free the camp and about a week before this the Nazis (knowing the Russians were coming) began to destroy as much evidence of their crimes as they could. They blew up buildings, burned things to the ground, etc. and then fled. As I sit here tonight and ponder those events I’m actually thinking about the glorious and wonderful gospel which liberates our hearts from the penalty of sin. I don’t have to run from the Lord in fear like the Nazis did from the Russians, but my soul is liberated by the horrific death of Christ on a cross. The Nazis may have outrun the Russians (only 10% were convicted of their crimes), but unless they knew Christ and trusted Him in faith, they were never (or are never) able to outrun the God who judges their souls. It’s only in the Gospel that I can make sense of Auschwitz. Christ died for the men, women, and children who were murdered there as well as the men and women who ordered their deaths. He also died for my sin and your sin. As overwhelming as a place of death like Auschwitz is, I am equally overwhelmed by the place of life given to me and many others through the work of Jesus.

As Rick Steves said, “Auschwitz isn’t for everyone,” but the Lord used it today to remind me of His amazing work. For that I’m eternally thankful.


Heart Day and When the Youth Pray

Heart Day (2/14/15)

Bethany always does something special on Valentine’s Day, especially for the kids. It started this morning with heart shaped Swedish pancakes (above) and this afternoon it was heart shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (below). It was really fun and the kids are always so excited to have different shaped food. Beyond the food, we didn’t do much else today for V-day other than rest. The kids are still getting over being sick so their noses are running and they’ve got lingering coughs. I had fun playing with them in their Thomas the train tent thingy and we all snuck in some early afternoon naps which was nice.

Heart Day (2/14/15)

After lunch I spent some time reading my Bible and studying a little bit of Czech. I’m really not trying to allow any day to go by where I don’t spend a least a few minutes working on Czech, even if it’s just reviewing or going over my vocabulary flash cards. I WILL learn this language!

Study Hard (2/14/15)

Speaking of language, I had the opportunity to join our church’s youth at their English Camp meeting this afternoon before youth group tonight. They are gearing up for the summer ministry and camp is a big event for them. The entire meeting was done in the Czech language, but one of the young people (his name is Daniel) was kind enough to translate for me. This year’s theme is “You Are Here” and follows the life of Paul in the book of Acts. Basically, the idea is that you might be at one place in your life, but you shouldn’t stay there. God is calling you to “move” from the place you are to where He wants. My team at Josiah Venture helped create this year’s theme and my church had a poster we did out on the table during the meeting (below).

Youth (2/14/15)

The one thing that struck me today during the meeting was that these young people love to pray. You would think a big camp meeting would be a bunch of planning, but it was actually minimal today. Mostly, they wanted to meet and pray AND plan to pray more. Not only did we spend an extended time asking the Lord to bring many unbelievers to camp, but later they setup a time that on Wednesdays at 9:30pm they would all seek to pray either together or alone for the camp…every single week until the summer. Ondra, the leader of the youth ministry, gave them a charge to continue to pray and stay in the Word of God as they prepare for the summer ministry. I was encouraged and challenged. Here’s a photo I got as they all prayed in their native tongue.

Youth (2/14/15)

At youth group tonight (after the camp meeting), we spent more time in prayer. I was able to sit with the two young men, Ondra and Marian (who lead the music), and listening to them share their hearts was just incredible. Marian shared that his vision is to see another 35-70 young people join the youth ministry through evangelistic efforts. He said he wants to go out in to the community with the other youth from the church, play music, share the gospel, and invite young people to church. I’ve been doing youth ministry for a while now and I don’t remember an 18-19 year old with that kind of vision. Not only that, he setup a time next week to do just that and has sent out invitations on Facebook, inviting lots of unbelievers. We prayed they would come next week. Lord, make it so.

Youth (2/14/15)

I had a great time building relationships with the youth at our church and I left so encouraged. Their heart to see their community reached with the gospel is inspiring. Their passion to see Christ exalted is exhilarating. And their desire to pray and bring it all to the Lord is humbling. Do I pray like that? I couldn’t help but think, “What happens when the youth pray like this?” What happens when the young people take the gospel to their unreached friends with fervor and compassion? I have no doubt it’s like a fire that can’t be stopped. Oh sure, Satan with do whatever he can to stop it, but we serve the King! The war has been won by the Savior and we can all go out boldly. When young people pray like this, asking for God’s help and His grace, I know God will give it in abundance.

Pray with us for these youth. I was so encouraged by them tonight and we want them to see their vision realized. In the end, it means more souls in the Kingdom of God and all glory to the King of Kings.


Finishing and Moving Forward

This post was originally sent to our email newsletter subscribers.

Wow. Time flies. It’s been a week and half since our plane landed back in California and we feel like we’re just getting settled back in to our routine (especially sleep!). The Lord was so gracious during our trip! With over 48 hours of travel time (there and back), a 9-hour time difference, a 7-month old, and severe jet-lag, we had energy throughout and really felt your prayers. That said, we wanted to follow up and tell you what the Lord did at camp.

Finishing Up At Camp

One story that still breaks my (Shay) heart was while I was sitting in “cabin time” after the Wednesday night talk on sin. The young men I was with were asked a question about whether they have ever felt hopeless and what that was like for them. As they began to answer, and as the translator began to share what they were saying, tears started to roll down my cheeks. Five out of the six of these 14-year-olds shared how they all had gone through a difficult time at some point, and all of them had considered suicide as an answer to their problems. This is just an example of the despair and hopelessness in Czech Republic. The need for the Savior is great!

We asked you to pray for the Thursday night camp meeting (aka: “Gospel night”) as the students heard the gospel, many of them for the very first time. That same night they were given an opportunity to respond and by God’s amazing grace, 8 out of the 40 students professed Christ and a few others desired to know more–praise the Lord! 8 is an incredible number, especially in a country where God is a distant thought on the hearts of many. What a blessing to see God change the hearts of these young people! The following week (after we left), the Czech youth leaders (who were also the leaders at camp) invited these new believers to go to church with them the following Sunday, right after camp. This gave the students an oppurtunity to experience church without the intimidation of going alone, or not knowing anyone. We are excited about what the Lord will do with these changed lives in the future.

One of the blessings of camp was the we felt like we “fit” while we were there. Both with the leaders and the students, we saw a connection and trust that God was working through those relationships. This was a huge blessing to us and really helped confirm our ministry there. Everything from playing games, doing crazy things with the students (e.g. Shay and 9 other guys stuffing themselves into a shower to make a “steam room”…don’t worry, we were wearing shorts), and having open conversations which led to deeper relationships were all part of what made camp a great experience and a God glorifying time.

Long-Term Ministry

As we have been home and thought and prayed about our future ministry, our desire is to move forward with full-time ministry with Josiah Venture in the Czech Republic. Would you continue to pray for us in this process? We are praying that the Lord would open up the soonest possible timeline for us to be there full-time. A lot has to happen, but we are trusting the Lord’s timing in all of it. Please pray that we would be wise as we make decisions, as we work alongside our own local church, and as we push forward with what we believe the Lord is calling us to. We look forward to keeping you up to date in this process. Thank you for praying and for your continued support of our family and the work the Lord is doing in Czech Republic and Eastern Europe.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot