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Year: 2007

November Newsletter

November Newsletter

Vrbovce Winter Night
Originally uploaded by themoltron.

The Longer I am here in Slovakia the quicker time seems to pass between my newsletters. I am definitely getting used to the culture. I am still struggling with the language but I am more comfortable making conversation in Slovak. I’m enjoying the mostly meat and potatoes diet of Slovak food and getting used to the short winter days and long winter nights

My time here in Slovakia has not been all work. I have had time to travel to several places. At the beginning of November were All Saints Day and Reformation Day. I was given time off because of the protestant holiday. Oliver, Flo and I traveled to Štrba and Liptovsky Mikulaš near the Vysoky Tatry or High Tatras. This time was also a National Remembrance time similar to Memorial Day. More on that later. Vysoky Tatry are amazing, when I see them I am reminded how small and I am really am compared with the rest of the world and just big and Magnificent God is.

When we returned that Sunday the Celebrated a service at the cemetery in Chvojnica (A near by village) and Vrbovce. Every year people visit the cemeteries and pay their respects by decorating graves of loved with flowers and candles. It was a treat to be on holiday seeing this happening over various parts of the country.
On this occasion our small parish has a brass choir and they played during services on Sunday. One thing I enjoy about Vrbovce is the many hidden talents. So many people I find can sing or play piano, trumpet or guitar. It has been a pleasure sharing the universal language of music with these people.

As part of the many duties I have here is Vrbovce, I am asked to help with the youth group once a week. I enjoy hanging out with the youth and I am constantly improving my language through conversation. Youth groups in Slovakia range from people 13-30 so there is quite an age range. I have struggled trying to read the bible or to have discussions because of my lack of language skills but, also because of a lack of guidance. The pastor is very busy and often does not make planning youth group a priority. We also struggle because on average only 3 or 4 youth show up on a given week. These problems seem to be typical of problems in America as well. I have had some success in working with the other volunteers here in Vrbovce and trying to plan youth group around simple bible passages and having Zorka (the vicar) help translate some things. I have been learning that we can’t always wait for guidance but we have to be the guide sometimes. I’m discovering that life in a parish can be a struggle to balance the needs of its members especially youth who are in most need of Spiritual guidance. I may not know all the answers or see the fruits of my labor now but God is there in my efforts.

One of the other things I do here is Vrbovce in my work alongside many of the down and out. The church he provides various work projects 3 or 4 days a week for members of the community who are unemployed to collect work credit for Slovakia’s social well fair system. I’m not sure how it exactly it works but I have learned a lot from these people. Many of them are Alcoholics or have other problems. We work on the same projects often ranging from cutting wood to helping renovate the Culturing Dom (Culture Center). I am reminded of the story in Matthew chapter 9, when the Pharisees complained about Jesus eating with sinners. Jesus responds with “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘ I’m after mercy, not religion. ‘ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Matt. 9:12-13 The Message

Often times we have such a high view of ourselves that we fail to see the faults we have. We look upon people with problems or who are on welfare with disdain because we think we are better and most of the time many of us are so far removed from their situation. We live in neighborhoods where everyone can afford 2 or 3 cars. What makes us think we are so much better? We fail to see that others suffer and we fail to see that we are all sinners. If one of the many things I am learning and continue to learn is that we are all sinners and by working beside these people I have come to see them as friends, fellow sinners and humans being.

On a lighter not, it has snowed in Vrbovce several times. I have enjoyed the seeing the white snow and how different the village looks although the drop in temperature is taking some time to get used to.

Here are a few things are fun about Snow in Slovakia
– the business as usual attitude– so no mad rush to the supermarket. People are here just not seem to mind they still run buses to everywhere and a snow day off at school is unheard of.

– driving and sometime hiking in the snow to deliver lunches– Sometime we have drive up hills and then the car gets stuck. So it becomes easier to leave the car and hike up the hill to deliver the lunches.

– Snowball fights with the local school kids after lunch– After lunch is when most kids have free time or are coming back from lunch at home. I enjoy throwing snowballs and then getting ambushed by 10 or so kids later.

– Sledding on amazing hills- the hills near the village are amazing and when it get dark the view of the village with lights is amazing too.

– being huddled around a wood burning oven after a freezing day– We have a wood burning oven to head our room during the winter. I enjoy having to start the fire and being huddled around it.

Thanksgiving is not a celebrated holiday here in Slovakia but we had our 3 months retreat to discuss who each of us were dealing with culture shock and compare notes about placements. Kristen, who lives in Velky Slavkov works at a center for Cigansky Chlapci or gypsy boy. There is a lot of prejudice toward the Gypsy population. Much of it has to do with the fact many are uneducated, some by choice, making it difficult for them to find work and integrate themselves. The center helps provide work and some education to confront the poverty many of these people face. It has been interesting seeing all the different aspects of Slovak culture through all the various experiences we are having.

During some of free time in Bratislava we spent a day and traveled to Vienna. When we got off the train it was like mini-culture shock because we were surrounded by German. It may not seem significant but when you are surrounded by Slovak all the time it comes as quite a shock. We saw many beautiful Cathedrals and monuments. It was interesting to see how the dialect in Vienna has adopted several Slovak words. Such as Paradjky which is a tomato

During this retreat we celebrated Thanksgiving with other missionary volunteers from several places in Eastern Europe and Asia. It was a blessing to be able to see other English speakers as well as hear all the stories of what God is doing throughout Slovakia and the world.

After the retreat I felt like if I had gone home to America I probably would not have come back. There are times when I feel like I want to come home but also times I enjoy speaking Slovak and being surrounded by a culture that is starting to become more familiar. Culture Shock is never easy and everyone goes through phases. I’m still adjusting but, I know I have a purpose here and knowing that makes the not so great times easy to get through.

Thanksgiving usually makes you become more aware of the many things you can be thankful for, especially for me here in Slovakia. The many friendly and hospitable people in Vrbovce, that the German volunteers Oliver and Flo put up with me when I’m blaznivy (crazy) sometimes and that despite being surrounded by a different language and culture I can worship the same God anywhere in the world.

God’s Blessings and Peace be with you,
Christ’s Servant in Slovakia

Mark Molter

October came so Fast

October came so Fast

DSCN0308.JPG
Originally uploaded by themoltron.

Ahoj and Greetings from Slovakia. I can’t believe it is already October.

I want to again thank all of you who have and continue to support me through prayer. It helps to know that we are together in the Lord despite however far apart we may be. Please continue to pray for me and the other young adult volunteers around the world.

I have been writing some other updates on this Blog and I also have many more pictures available at http://flickr.com/photos/themoltron

Having been in Vrbovce for about 2 months, I am starting to become familiar with the people and customs. I feel like I have a place in the village.
Here is a small list of things I enjoy about living in Vrbovce.
– Seeing many of the same faces all the time
– The music and announcements over the village loudspeaker system 3 or 4 times a day
– When ever you are invited anywhere you will have some Slivovica (Plum Brandy)
– Delivering lunches to the old ladies most everyday in the old car
– The made up language I have with the other volunteers. Oliver and Flo, a mixture of Slovak, German and English

As I struggle with learning the language one word that I keep hearing and repeating in my head is “Pomaly” or slowly/gently. The word has made me think a lot about how I think about and do things. We all have a tendency to want things fast and in a hurry. I am enjoying the slower pace of life and learning how to enjoy the small moments and experiences. I am learning to spend time with people, listen even if I don’t understand very much and take things as they come instead of trying to stick to a schedule. I am reminded of one occasion when Oliver, Flo and I were on our way to the school to eat lunch when one of the neighbors needed some help. So we stopped and helped her haul several bags of potatoes. It was a rather small favor. She then invited us for Kava (coffee). Not being masters of the language we couldn’t politely say we had to go eat lunch at the school. So we had coffee, which then turned into lunch. I am often overwhelmed by such kind and random hospitality. I can see Christ reflected in the small things, like being invited for coffee and it turning into lunch when we didn’t even do very much to deserve it. This is only one of many such stories.

I have never been a huge fan of wearing sweaters. As the weather gets colder I am finding the layer system quite wonderful, which often includes sweaters. One of the big things in Vrbovce is the Cultural Hall. Every village in Slovakia has one. The one in Vrbovce is rather run down and is right now being used for storage of the many things donated from Germany or other parts of Europe. These items include useless medical equipment, beds, furniture, lights, and clothes. We are often asked to move things or thrown things away as the process of cleaning up and renovating the culture hall is starting to take place. The villagers are appreciative of any work that we do and often give us cookies, cakes or Slivovica. Many fun times have been had looking at old junk and sometimes taking things for our own use. One time we made an imaginary car from some old junk and proceeded to make fun of our daily lunch run. Many things are rather ridiculous but, a warm sweater is a warm sweater and a nice couch is a nice couch. I look forward to helping in the renovation process and seeing what will happen.

As part of getting to know the culture I have joined the local futball team (soccer in the US), We practice once or twice a week and I have made many friends and I am getting to know and use the language. I am not that greatest at futball but, the rest of the players appreciate my efforts and we often joke about it. I have enjoyed the exercise as well as the opportunity to have a more active part in village life. I also sing in the Choir, which has been a very much enjoyable language lesson. I may not understand all I’m singing but I’m learning to pronounce it correctly. We sang one of the songs we have been practicing during the birthday of the church, “Mam Velkeho Moceneho Krala” which means …I Have A Great Mighty King

I teach once a week at the local school where I assist with 2 English classes and I am teaching some of the local village youth how to play drum set. Both have been an interesting experience. I am struggling to understand and communicate with the children but I am understanding and speaking more everyday. Many of the kids try to joke around with me and are interested mostly in learning “Dirty Verbs” as they call them. I try my best to teach them proper and clean English.

There are 3 girls, Monika, Dominika and Veronika (they happen to be triplets) who on occasion spend some time tutoring me and the 2 other Germans volunteers in Slovak. It has been nice making new friends and learning to have more detailed conversations in the process. I have made 2 observations in regards to dealing with the village kids. 1) All kids are the same: Silly, Loud and Mischievous 2) Simple is always better

One weekend Vrbovce had its annual Jarmok (Market). The center of town was filled with many people and vendors were selling things on the streets. Clothing, Food, Handicrafts, etc. I saw many familiar faces from the school and from church. The night before we had decorated cookies with the youth group which were sold at the market. I had the opportunity to buy some raffle tickets from the school. I didn’t win anything but; standing in the cold weather surrounded by tons of people listening for my number to be called in Slovak was exciting.

I look forward to sharing many more stories with you as the year unfolds.

One of the things I have been asked to write about is how I see my role as a Missionary. I have been reading some essays by a theologian Thomas Morten. I have found a quote that I think sums of what mission is:

“Christ has planted in the world the seeds of something altogether new, but they do not grow by themselves. Hence history has never yet really had a chance to become a Christian creation. For the world to be changed, man himself must begin to change it, he must take the initiative, he must step forth and make a new kind of history. The change begins within himself.” Thomas Merton

As much as we want to change the world we must first let Christ transform us. God has chosen US to be a part of global transformation. It isn’t easy; it is never easy to change. Christ’s ultimate goal is that hearts are transformed by his grace. We start by learning to really love others and ourselves as Christ loved.

I am here in Slovakia not to change the people around me but, to let Christ change me so that his love may be shown to those for whom I am called to witness.

“This is real Love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But, if we love each other, God lives in us and his love has been brought to full expression through us.” 1 John 4:10-12

Learning to Be Loved and To Love. Learning to see Christ in others and ourselves. Dying to sin and being Raised again to Live in God’s Mercy. That is what we are called to as Christians. That is our Mission.

God’s unbounded love be with you.

Your Fellow Servant and Brother in Christ
Serving in Slovakia

Mark Molter

Culture Shock!!! Part 2: Language Barrier

Culture Shock!!! Part 2: Language Barrier

Shocked - as only a muppet can be.
Shocked Muppet
Originally uploaded by MegaGoosey.

So here is part 2 of an ongoing series about Culture Shock!!! In this particular entry I would like to address the Language Barrier issue.

The Language spoken in Slovakia is Slovak. During my first 3 weeks in country I spend 2 weeks in the village of Velky Slavkov studying Slovak. I learned a lot about conjugating verbs and declining nouns (which is very difficult if you’ve never done it before.) The course was very fast passed and I thought that I would be able to pick-up enough to get by. This was not the case. I found when I arrived in my village that I was back to square one. Simple phrases that I thought I’d be able to understand or speak we’re difficult.

Much of learning a language is based on context. I am learning new words everyday and forgetting them just as fast. It is a lot to absorb and it takes real effort and practice to get the basics. With a new language I am finding that I do more listening than talking. I can usually pick-up a small fraction of a conversation based on body language and expression. Being is this context my language skills are reduced to that of a child. I feel like I should be understanding some of the simplest things. It is difficult to have in-depth conversations, which is frustrating for me. I am meeting many members of the village from Children to Older Adults who are fascinating. I only wish every-time I see them that I could understand and communicate with them better.

One of the most difficult things for me to deal in regards to the language barrier is participation in Church. I am very fond of liturgy and music, I find the many words and phrases help me to understand and worship God. It is difficult to participate in something such as worship without really knowing what is being said or what I am singing. I often zone out because paying attention when someone is speaking and you have no idea what they are saying is difficult. (The average Slovak 2 hour church service is daunting enough). I have this intense desire to understand but, there is no magic pill or formula to solve the problem. Only time and study will help.

I look at this difficulty as a challenge and opportunity to expand my faith. I can only imagine what it was like for the early church trying to assemble a fledgling faith in a time and area when they were vast amounts of languages and cultures. The thing that gives me hope is that despite this challenge God send his spirit to help break the barrier. We read in the very first part of Acts how the holy spirit descended upon the apostles so they could speak in many languages. I am confident that despite my lack of Slovak language skills God will give me his grace, patience and understanding to eventually understand share the Good News.

So ends Part 2…Check back later for Part 3

The joys of playing with Junk

The joys of playing with Junk

Car Ride
Originally uploaded by themoltron.

Hello, this is will be a quick post.

Recently Flor and Oliver (the germans living with me) and I were getting rid of a lot of junk around the parish. They were having thier once a year large garbage pick-up in Vrbovce. We came across some stuff and we got bored. So we made this pretend car to pass the time. It was very funny and I felt like a kid again.

Here is the link for all the pictures I took
http://www.flickr.com/photos/themoltron/sets/72157602497904053/

Culture Shock!!! Part 1: Distraction

Culture Shock!!! Part 1: Distraction

What could it be that is shocking this man?

Shocked
Originally uploaded by liber.

As my time in Slovakia grows with every passing minute, I would like to share with you some of the things that are happening related to Culture Shock!!!
I am hoping to make this an ongoing series of entries. So I guess this would be “Culture Shock!!! Part 1”

Culture shock by definition “is the feeling of disorientation when someone is suddenly subjected to to unfamiliar culture, way of life or set if attitudes”- Oxford American Dictionary. Needless to say I am feeling a little disoriented. I have been in Slovakia for about 6 weeks. I am still getting used to the language and to life in a small village but, I am enjoying my time. There are of course times when I ask myself “Why am I here?” or “How much longer is this year going to last?”

When you are in a somewhat disorienting experience such as Culture Shock, you tend to cling to the things you are familiar and comfortable with. These for me have been Books and Television. I brought many books and several episodes of my favorite TV shows on my computer. These can be blessings when you use them occasionally and in moderation. For me though I have been finding myself going beyond moderation and into mild obsession. I don’t spend all my time reading or watching TV but, I am missing many opportunities. When I think about what I’m doing, I realize that I am not using my time to study the Slovak language or to spend time getting to know the people I am living with. I am escaping from my reality to be in a familiar one. So, I realize I have a problem. And the old saying, “The first step toward recovery is recognizing you have a problem.” is starting to ring clear in my head. It also helps that during ELCA missionary training they drove many of the culture shock symptoms into our heads.

In many ways I am distracting myself and refusing to answer the many question I have for myself. “What exactly is my mission?”, “How can I be more effective in demonstrating the Gospel when I am a fish of water?” The more I ask these questions, the more I am realize I am dependent upon God’s grace for any glimmer of an answer. I am challenged to receive the hope He gives and learn how to share it ways that seem foreign, frustrating, and without immediate results. And of course this reminds me of one of many words I am learning in Slovakia, “pomaly” or gentle/slow. Learning to do things slowly with patients and focus. What can be more true, God’s grace is an amazing gift, we sometimes distract ourselves from it because we just are not feeling it, or feel like we don’t understand it right away, or because God’s grace can seem so distant and foreign to us. We must learn to be gentle and patient in understanding God’s grace. It is something we must remind ourselves of and learn to how to live by everyday.

In the end and by God’s grace I can put down my books and turn off my computer to take the opportunities He has given.
In the words of Saint Francis “Always Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” It is hard to do that alone in your room.

On the brighter side of things. The more time I spend in Slovakia the more I see the similarities. I can drive down a road in the Slovak hillside and see cows in a field and it looks very similar to many fields I’ve seen in my home state of Virginia. I can teach and play with kids and realize they act the same way in any culture or language setting. It is a blessing to realize they God’s in control. Despite that fact that I’m in a different culture and far away from home God is in the details. He is in a laugh that sounds the same whether it in the US or Slovakia or in the green grass in Slovakia that looks so much look a hillside somewhere in Virginia.

So Ends Part 1…Check back later for Part 2