Sunday, May 10, 2015

Marriage Retreat in Prague

If you have already read Samuel's previous post, you know that our family recently made a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. However, the reason and point of the trip was rather vague.  So I will fill in some details to the story. In February, we received an email from our friend and regional director of the Central and Eastern Europe and Mediterranean region inviting us to a marriage conference, April 23-26. Our interest was immediate and desire heightened even more after meeting four couples at the SHARE conference who also had plans of participating.

It took us a month to come to a decision seeing as we had ministry obligations to consider leaving, the cost and just the fact that Jonathan had already been away four times in the span of three months.  But on the other hand, it was a unique opportunity for us to take some time to focus on our marriage, which is often hard for us to do while on the field away from the support network where help to watch the kids is available. The retreat organizers realized this need and therefore, offered to make child care available for those families that needed the option in order to attend. On top of that, donors from the US began to give to underwrite the cost of the conference (in the end all conference expenses were covered for everyone!). Really, there was no reason to not attend once our ministry schedule cleared on its own without us having to cancel or move anything around. 

This time it was cheaper for us to rent a car and drive than it was to fly. The 9.5 hour drive is doable in a day, just like driving from Michigan to Pennsylvania or driving with California, except in Europe we can drive through 6 countries in that same amount of time. Of course, we kind of cheated and went off course so we could add Lichtenstein to the list just for fun since it borders Switzerland and Austria, with the river being the dividing line. We crossed over the river to get gas and eat our picnic dinner and can now say we have been to the sixth smallest country in the world!

Castle in Lichtenstein

We had originally planned on leaving early in the morning the day the conference started, but then we received the schedule and saw that our first night was full of activity until 11pm and we didn't think we would be quite coherent for participation after that long of a drive. A week prior to our departure we decided to leave a day early and drive more than half way to Munich, Germany and spend the night. This plan would also allow us some time to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp, something we have always wanted to visit. Noella's grandfather was a part of Paton's Army that liberated Buchenwald Concentration Camp (northwest of Munich) 70 years ago, so seeing something of this historical magnitude reached into a part of our family history as well. I will have to write a separate post on our visits to Dachau and Flossenb├╝rg.

There was never a dull moment of scenery on our drive!
German country roads when we weren't on their awesome Autobahn!
The conference kicked off on Thursday night with 22 couples in attendance. Don and Becky Smith were the keynote speakers from the Bridge to Life ministry based out of the West Michigan area that seeks to build and restore marriages and also provides training for couples to minister to marriages. They took us through their 12-week study in two and a half days. It was a bit like drinking out of a firehose, but there was very valuable and helpful information that we now need to process as a couple. 

There was a good balance of sessions and free-time to have as a couple and also with others.  Bowling and a game night were times to get to know other couples. Apart from the 6 couples we knew already, everyone else was new to us. We were thankful for their warm welcoming as the sole Western European couple from our mission.

There were lots of fun surprises throughout the weekend. Upon arrival we received a welcoming bag filled with little goodies from the US, flowers and a stack of cards from people in our sending church. What a special thought someone had to arrange the delivery of special notes to everyone in attendance. Truly it was a huge encouragement and blessing to read the many notes and to know people were praying for us over the weekend even though we had not made it known in a newsletter. Thank you GBC for your love, support and prayers for us! Packages of spices and mixes were daily door prizes and everyone got to take home larger prizes after a friendly game of competition between couples. Jonathan and I won our game and got to take home a gift bucket of Bath and Body Works items and a Starbucks gift card, which of course we used to buy a collector's mug. Our name was also drawn to take home a table centerpiece. They warned us about saving room in our luggage, so it was a good thing we drove!

Even the gift tags were personalized
Adding to our Starbucks "Mug Hoard" as Samuel calls it
Our kids had a very special time with their caretakers and small group of MKs. Emma is working on a post to share more about their time. But here is a sneak peak of the crafts they made for their parents...

We thought that maybe the kids would be hotel bound for the entire weekend so we took them out on a boat tour when we had a few free hours on Friday afternoon.  We went along with another family that brought their kids and since our kids already met in February the whole weekend was a fun little reunion for them. The Venice-Prague boat tour was just long enough and a winner for the kids since they got soda and ice cream, while we drank a cup of coffee.

March across Charles Bridge in memory of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (right)

On Saturday, we finished our sessions mid-afternoon and then were free to go out on the town for a date night. Jonathan and I first headed to Bethlehem Chapel where the early Christian Reformer, Jan Hus (1369-1415) preached and served prior to being burned at the stake for his beliefs. We were the sole visitors of the chapel at the time which was great and honestly, it was a nice to see a non-Catholic church for a change.
Outside of Bethlehem Chapel

 We walked through Old Town Square which was overly crowded and very touristy.

(left) Astronomical Clock (bottom right) Jan Hus monument
We then headed to our 3-hour guided walking tour of Prague. We both love history and thought that the tour would provide us a good overview of a city we were unfamiliar with. As it turned out, this tour is not very popular because of its length of walking required, so we got our own private tour. That was nice! We saw lesser known places away from the hustle and bustle of the major tourist attractions before heading up to Castle Hill to view by night. We ran into some friends at the end of the tour and they tagged along with us before we all headed downtown again. It was a lovely evening despite the drizzle that came towards the end.

Jonathan standing outside the house where Amadeus was filmed
(Bottom right) View of the little "Eiffel Tower" on the hill
Castle Hill by night...

We are most grateful for our time away! More could be said, but I will stop.

1 comment:

Mom Kleis said...

What fabulous pictures! So thankful you could have this experience.

Love you all,

Mom Kleis