12 Dollars of Christmas: Barb Iverson

This post is part of the 12 Dollars of Christmas series I’m doing, sharing with you about different charities and people who are making a difference for God’s kingdom and asking you to join me in praying for them and in giving $1 dollar (or more) to each of them.

Barb is one of a rare breed. She has a way of asking questions that really make people think, and sometimes that can make people uncomfortable. But, I love the way Barb thinks – she isn’t content with the status quo answers. She likes to take people places that challenge them and cause them to look at things differently. She likes to think, and get other people to think, outside the box. I love this about Barb.

Barb works with Young Life in Prague and I thought it would fun to interview her today for you all J

ME: We’ll, start off with some easier, fun questions. So, Barb, tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you lived before Prague?

BARB: I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. Went to school at University of Illinois studying English and film, and then spent about five years in Walnut Creek, in the Bay Area of California. All good places to live! Walnut Creek is my home base when I’m in the US now, but I travel around to see people too.

ME: I know that you really enjoy movies and have a movie club with your students so could you tell us what your favorite movie is and why?

BARB: Oooh, the favorite movie question. I don’t have one favorite movie. I used to tell people “Some Like it Hot” was my favorite but it’s one of many. How about this: Five Recent Movies I’ve really enjoyed: “Bottle Shock,” “Enchanted,” “Bobule” (it’s a Czech film), “Iron Man,” “Burn After Reading.” I have a bit of an eclectic taste. Love independent films.

ME: How long have you lived in Prague?

BARB: I’ve been living here since October of 2001, so just over seven years. But I spent about a year here before that, spread over three different trips in about 5 years. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do here.

ME: Describe Prague and your impressions of the Czech Republic in a few sentences.

BARB: Prague. Hard to describe meaningfully, I think. For sure it’s home and my heart is here. I love other European cities and secretly want to move there, but there’s something about Prague that has implanted itself in me and won’t leave. Yet, at least. It’s a beautiful old city with terrifically ugly places. It’s trying to find its identity still, I think. It’s not sure it wants to just be the beautiful tourist magnet. And Czech too? Wow, that’s harder. Partly because I’m so firmly entrenched in Prague, which is quite unlike the rest of the country. It seems to me a kind of sleepy place that wants to develop and move into a new future, but isn’t really willing to get off its ass and do the hard work. There is a lot of potential greatness in this country, but a very real hopelessness that things can change – be less corrupt and more functional and, well, good. It’s tough to get people to work together (the key, I think) when they’re jealous and suspicious of each other. Now, I say these things with love, as an editor slashes red through a page to make it better than it is. I have a critical eye because of my deep love for this place.

ME: What originally brought you to Prague and what has made you want to stay for so long?

BARB:  The first time I came was in 1995 after graduating college. I wanted to live in Europe and teach English for a couple years. A school in Prague offered me a job before I got on a plane so I took it, knowing nothing about Prague or the Czech Republic. I had no idea what I was in for (the shock of moving away from what you know plus a really depressing Prague fall, and the fact that Prague in 1995 was nothing like Prague in 2008!) and left after the longest two months of my life. Didn’t think I’d ever come back, but I had a chance to after my life and faith were changed, about two years later. So I did. And experienced the city and culture and people in a totally different way that made me want to stay and live. If I’m really honest I’d say that God chose Prague for me and brought me here. I had another trip in there after the second one when I was teaching in a Czech high school. That was miserable because I had to be an authority and teacher and not so much a friend to the students, which is what I preferred. But that trip led me to discovering Young Life and realizing what a perfect fit it was for me. The last seven years have, in a sense, flown by, but I can also feel the length when I see my friends’ kids in the US and how much they’ve grown. Didn’t know I’d stay this long. But it’s good. And I feel I’m just getting started here, believe it or not.

ME: How did you come to follow Christ and what has it looked like for you to follow him over the past few years?

BARB: There’s quite a long heritage of following Christ in my family. My maternal grandfather was a pastor and an uncle is a theologian. So church and God and the Bible were always a very present part of my life as a child. I wouldn’t say it was forced on me but it was just something that was there and sort of not going away. And then, like many people, I went to college and started questioning why I was part of this thing and did I really believe it and maybe I wanted to identify myself some other way. So I went in the other direction and hung out with the unholy journalists and didn’t tell anyone about my background. And that worked for a few years. After graduation, life wasn’t going the way I had hoped and one night I had what I would describe as an encounter with God. I heard him speak to me. So weird, I know. But it changed my life and inspired me to leave the past behind and jump into a very unknown future. Which meant moving from Chicago to Walnut Creek and starting life over there. One of the best and most important decisions of my life, for sure. In the last few years I think my understanding of God has really grown. My religious views statement on my Facebook page says this: We’re gonna need a bigger boat. Movie fans will know that’s from “Jaws.” It also kind of sums up what I think about God and Jesus. Two things. We’ll need a bigger boat because God is way bigger than we know and the boats religious folks like to fashion to place their gods in aren’t big enough for this great God who wants to know us. I used to be rather conservative and dogmatic in a lot of my views about God and doctrine, but that has really changed dramatically over the last few years. And honestly, I feel like I’ve let a big rock fall off my back, or that I’ve been let out of a cage. Dogmatism, insistence on knowing things of God with certainty (a dangerous word, that) and wanting to make sure everyone else is lining up behind you is a very dangerous thing. And I think it’s most corrosive in the heart of the person doing the organizing and line-straightening. And it’s a lot of work. So I’m enjoying not having that burden anymore. Sometimes I pick it up again but mostly I remember to leave it for someone else. Like God. The other thing the statement means is we’re going to need more room on our boat for the people who love God but whose love and worship doesn’t look like what we think it should. And this goes hand-in-hand with the paradigm shift I described above. Some people think of belief as a boat you have to get on to be “in.” I don’t like that picture, but at least needing a bigger boat is a step in the right direction. Figuring out who loves God is not and never will be my job. But I think it’s up to me to make space for them, welcome them, and love them as well as I can.

ME: Tell us a little bit about the work you are doing here in Prague?

BARB: The work I've been doing through Young Life has been to get to know high school students. I've done this by volunteering as an English teacher for a few classes a week. When I get to know some students a bit we've started Movie Clubs, where we get together weekly to watch movies in English and then discuss them. It's been a great way to get to know the students and what's important to them and how they see the world, and it's been a sort of safe and open space for me to share also with them how I see things--which is usually a viewpoint and perspective they haven't heard or considered before (usually relating to matters of faith). It's been really great, and I have very strong friendships with quite a few students. The relationship is the key more than trying to convert someone to believing something. Students need loving, caring adults in their lives who want the best for them.  I’m currently in a transition period. I’m going to develop a new side of Young Life here in Prague – for university students. The students I know the best are now in university and I’m going to focus my energy more on them, their friends, and other university students. I’m not really sure what it’s going to look like but I’m excited about the future, with all the possibilities.

ME: So, what are your dreams for the future?

 BARB: I love that my life is about having and building significant relationships with people. It's tiring and sometimes frustrating, but it's amazing, too. I want to see these relationships continue and grow, and I'd love to see students make significant steps toward God, whatever that looks like for them.  I’d love to live by the beach at some point. Thanks, God, for placing me in a landlocked country! (yes, that was sarcastic.) And I’m being seriously encouraged, even kind of prodded, to open a bakery in Prague. That would be a beautiful thing: a place where I can feed people delicious sweets and get to know them while they sit and eat and relax. If you have some capital you want to invest in this project, let me know. Lol.

So, that’s my friend, Barb. Thanks, Barb for telling us about yourself and what God’s called you to here in Prague.

As part of my $12 dollars of Christmas campaign I encourage you to join me in praying for Barb Iverson today and to join me in sending $1 (or more) to help support her and further the work God is doing through her. To do that please go to the Young Life web site https://giving.younglife.org/starthere.aspx and click on one time gift, then designate the gift to go to “A Young Life Staff Member’s Ministry” and search for Barbara Iverson.

Lord, thank you for Barb and her involvement in our community and in Young Life. Thank you for the many ways you have worked in her to bring her to this place at this time. I pray that you would continue to call her towards yourself in authentic truth and use her to draw others towards you as well. I pray, Lord, that you would bless her as she moves into new ventures of ministry. Continue to bring people into her life who are questioning and hurting and allow her to show them your truly unconditional love.

Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman

Photograph by Beth Stedman