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Last Newsletter from Slovakia…for now?

Last Newsletter from Slovakia…for now?

Last Photo in Vrbovce before I said Goodbye

Last Goodbye
Originally uploaded by themoltron.

Ahoj and Greetings from Slovakia.

I apologize for such a long delay in my newsletter. A lot happened in June, July and August. Summer is a season where more than just the temperature and daily routines change. It has gotten warmer and my usual routine is being replaced by many summer activities. I had my final seminar, done some traveling, finished teaching English in the school, and helped with youth camps. It was rather exciting and at the same time realizing that my time is quickly coming to an end faster than I wanted. And then my leaving came and went. As I reflect on this past year, I have lasting memories of places and people I will never forget.

I also have many more pictures available at
http://flickr.com/photos/themoltron

In the beginning of June I had my final seminar with all my fellow Volunteers in Slovakia. It was fun and didn’t quite feel like we were leaving. We had enjoyed our time sharing memories and frustrations. We shared pictures and experiences and realized each of had a unique story to tell.

After the seminar a few of us took a trip to Prague, Czech Republic. What a beautiful city. It is a mix of old and modern. It quite crowded in places. The Prague castle with its huge cathedral in the center was inspiring. We were there for only for a few short days and there was more than we could take in. We arrived around the time of the European Cup for Soccer. So it was great seeing all the football fans throughout the city. I took a night train from Prague to arrive in my village so I could attend a gathering of all the Church choirs in the district, despite my tiredness I enjoyed the celebration of music and faith and seeing many friends from other parishes.

After this I spent some time working various projects we had started and not completed and preparing for the next big adventure Camp. The pastor in Vrbovce owns a small Cabin or Chata in Kova?ova. It is near several spas and water amusement centers. This particular camp was for adults learning English or German. It was a fun experience. It was nice for a change to have students who were eager and interested in learning and speaking English. It was a challeng trying to teach a moment because my mind would be thinking in Slovak so I would switch words randomly. For example Once upon a time because Once upon a ?as. Of course I had some help from the lovely vicar Zorka. I didn’t spend all my time teaching. We enjoy going to the pool and spa. On the last time we went to see an Opera in Zvolen. The entire week was a great experience and I made many new friends.

Upon my return from camp I had to prepare a short sermon to present to the church in Slovak non the less. With alittle help translating from Zorka I gave a simple lesson on love, how the simple things make all the difference. How through people opening their homes and hearts I have learned to accept grace. I stumbled through some of the words but, everyone was thrilled.

My parents came to visit me in July. I was wonderful for them to see, hear and meet all the people and things I have been sharing about this past year in person. We spent time in Bratislava and in my village, Vrbovce. Most of the people who met my parents commented on how young they look. They stayed with one of my favorite people who was a like my slovak grandmother Kristina. We took some time to explore the hills around the region and visited a few castles. We then spent a few days in Vienna. I think most slovaks assume americans are fat and wrinkly. My parents thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

I spent two weeks at Kova?ova again this time with Youth. The ages ranged from 4 to about 16. It was difficult at times to control such a diverse group. Luckily I was alone. There were about 3 students from the Seminary in Bratislava there. They were a fantastic group mainly because their slovak was much better than mine. We sang song, played games, went to the pool. At the end of the week they had a special festival where all the kids got to wear a costume. Some kids brought theirs, the cabin a a box full and other made their . Many of the costumes were rather creative. I chose to be a Mexican Merichi and I sang La Bamba. They got a kick out of that. Camps in Slovakia are less structured than they are in the US. But, we weren’t lacking in Fun.

After camp I spent time packing and reflecting about my time in Slovakia. My time here has changed me. It has opened by eyes to a variety of things. To how to the world works and a desire for a simpler life. A desire what is important. I have learned to worship and hear God’s voice in new ways.

On my last night in Vrbovce we had a small going away party. It was fun to just sit around and share stories. Saying Goodbye was difficult but, it had to be done. The following day I left with my friend Oliver to spend some time in German with his family before I headed home. Miroslav(the pastor) gave me a bottle of Slivovica for my future wedding.(we’ll see about that one). I said my goodbyes and I left for Germany. In Germany I traveled to Wittenburg and saw the Luther house and then to Liepzig and saw St. Thomas church where Bach was cantor. They both we spectacular. I was only there for 2 days and then I caught my plan to the US from Berlin.
I had a stop in Frankfurt, I almost got bumped from my flight but, at the last minute they gave me business class. Needless so say they 8 hours over the Atlantic were bliss.

I’m currently working for the ELCA Global Mission until mid November as a Short-term recruiter. I will be promoting the many vocational opportunties Global Mission has to offer and sharing my experience. It will be a great experience. I spent a few days at home and then headed off to Chicago for 2 weeks. I got to help orient the new volunteers in the YAGM program and make contacts for my recruiting position. So now here I am at another chapter in my life. I am just now starting to adjust to being back in the US.

The hard part of living in another culture is coming back to your own with new eyes. One of the first things I noticed was the vast amount of choice. 14 different kinds of ketchup…what for? I was sorting through the boxes of things I had packed before I left a year ago. Half of it I don’t need. I had lived for a year with two large suitcases of stuff. Why do I need more. I’m sure I’ll discover more things as I continue this strange new journey in a familiar land.

A part of me is still in Slovakia. I’m adjusting to what was once normal but, seems alittle foreign right now. I’m straining to hear Slovak at every corner just because I’ve grown to love this once alien langauge. I grown to love the people hear as family and I think of them often and I can see them again. I’m hungry for things I didn’t even know existed before like Halušky and knedla (potatoe dumpling noodles and Dumplings). So this now is a new faith journey, Learning how to take my experience share it and continue learning from it.

Thank you all for your Prayers, that have helped me in ways that I’m not even sure I’m aware of yet.

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

Mark Molter

A VERY VERY LATE APRIL NEWSLETTER

A VERY VERY LATE APRIL NEWSLETTER


VRBOVCE CHURCH & FLOWERS
Originally uploaded by themoltron.

Ahoj and Greetings from Slovakia.

Well April has arrived quickly. Spring has arrived. What an experience to see Life coming back into the surrounding hills. Green leaves and flowers of every color. It has been so much fun seeing kids playing outside. Sometimes after-school I play soccer or hockey ball with the kids. It is nice getting to know some of my students when I don’t have to teach them English. I am meeting new people and getting to know friends better. I’ve celebrated name days and birthdays. I’ve started to call this once completely foreign place home. And in that there is something significant.

I also have many more pictures available at http://flickr.com/photos/themoltron

Spring in my Village has to be the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. All the houses have flowers and the hills surrounding the village are filled with green and yellow pastures. The trees have blossoms and will soon bear fruit. Almost every house has a Slivka or Plum tree.

In the Slovak Culture there is a name celebrated on everyday and mine was on April 25th, Marek. The name day or Menniny is celebrated like a small birthday. You receive little gifts, cards and blessings from everyone. I had a fantastic day. It was also great seeing the kids in the Village named Marek too and we celebrated together.

Another small event that was really enjoyable was Pan Zigmund’s Birthday or Narodenniny. We celebrated at Spevakol or Choir Practice. He brought his Accordion and we played and sang a bunch of traditional Slovak songs. It was amazing. I’m not sure how old Pan Zigmund is but he is so young at heart. He is one my favorite people in the Village. He, the other volunteer Oli and I keep the bass section of the Choir going.

I’m not sure of what else to share this month other than with what I am struggling with internally. I’m realizing how close it is getting to the time I will be leaving. It seems like the weeks get faster and faster. In one sense I’m glad to be going home but now I’m just starting to get to know people and grasp the language. I feel like my heart and my head are often in several places. In some small way I’m starting to grieve leaving. The people, the language and this place have become a part of me. My return home will be another journey all together.

I’m starting to get to know people more and I wish I’d had these opportunities earlier. I’m trying to value every moment I have to speak Slovak and these people who are now part of my life. There are other moments when I think these people are crazy but, then a kid says something funny or one of the old ladies tells me I need to find a Slovak girl and then I’ll learn perfect Slovak. It is strange to think at the beginning of my journey here, I wasn’t sure what to expect and I still not sure. I am different person. Not only because I’ve gotten used to the Slovak Culture and Language but also, because God has molded my heart to be a little more like Jesus in some small way. I’ve learned to see people through eyes love. It is said if you climb the hill of struggle you suddenly find, the hill you thought was so hard to climb has become a blessing. A new favorite song of mine by Sanctus Real describes how I am feeling and how important it is walk this journey with God is

“Whatever You’re doing inside of me,
It feels like chaos but somehow there’s peace,
It’s hard to surrender to what I can’t see,
But I’m giving in to something heavenly…”

The Biggest struggle for me is not knowing what I am going to do next. I feel torn between home and this new place I call home. Will I come back? Will I not? Will I forget the Slovak I learned? Will these people remember me? Will I remember them? These are all really tough questions that only God knows the answers to. So as I struggle, I’m learning what trust is and embracing my fears about the future. If you expect to share the Gospel and not be changed yourself then you are not sharing the Gospel. If God is love then the Gospel is Love. Love can be painful sometimes. God has a habit of turning people’s lives upside-down. It has already since I’ve arrived in Slovakia. I’m not so sure I want it to happen again. On the other hand God’s journey are always the most exciting. If I could have one wish for all of you it would be that you would trust God and let him turn your life upside-down a little. That is when you experience the Gospel.

Please continue to pray for me and the other Volunteers around the world.

Lord,
Love is a crazy thing,
It is Joyful and Painful,
Help us to embrace the unknown,
Help us to realize that life changes,
Give us peace about the future,
Shack up our Lives a little,
That we may live for you and not by Fear.

Amen

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

Mark Molter

Feb. Update– The Mid-Point

Feb. Update– The Mid-Point

kids’ church.JPG
Originally uploaded by themoltron.

Greetings,
Here is my feb. Update enjoy

Mark Molter’s Missionary Notes February 2008
News about what God is doing in Slovakia

Ahoj and Greetings from Slovakia.
February has been an interesting month with comic and frustrating moments. There were
moments when the month seemed to take forever and moments when it seemed to fly by very
fast. This marks about the mid-point of my year here, it is hard to believe. Thank you all for your
continued prayer and thoughts. Please pray for all the other people who are serving in various
places around the world as well.

I also have many more pictures
available at http://flickr.com/photos/themoltron

For me February is usually the month where things seem to drag on and you feel like somehow
that the great new beginning of a year had in January is long gone. For me this month has been a
time when many of cultural frustrations are starting to come to the surface. I’m also realizing that it is about that time I have to start considering what I will do when I get home. Despite all these things this month has been fun.

February has been interesting because we’ve been catching up on the some of the smaller projects around the village. The Kulturny Dom (Civic Center), which is being renovated, is full of junk and old clothes. We have cleaned, burned or thrown away most of these things making it easier to get some of the larger work done. In the process we have found old newspapers and others antique things. It is interesting seeing how the village and cultural has changed. In the Stara Škola (Old School) where we live, we have been doing some small repair projects that involve some electrical work. Much of the stonework around the
church is starting to fall apart this includes the front steps to the church. We have been working making some to concrete steps. I am not an expert but we take our time and think things through we end up making really nice work. When projects are more of a mental challenge it makes the work that much more enjoyable.

The youth group has been going well, although sometimes we ended up planning things at the last minute. One of these last minute plans was the week before Valentines and we talked about what it means to love and what love is. Discussion is not a very popular thing in Slovakia for some reason. So our conversation was somewhat brief but I think they got something out of it. We then made Valentines for people they might not usually give Valentines to. We encouraged them to not just say love your neighbor but show it. As much as I want the kids to get out of youth group, I find planning and preparing a source of spiritual renewal.

The following weekend I had the opportunity to take a mini-vacation to Velky Slavkov and Hybe where some of the other American Volunteers are. It was great to see them and see some other Slovak faces than the ones in my Village. One fun thing we did was visit and Wild West Tavern in Poprad. (On a side note: Most of what the Slovaks know about the Wild West is from German author Karl May who was never actually in America.) Nothing like the Wild West in Slovakia. In Velky Slavkov I visited the home for Gypsy Boys. I helped Kristen and Jessica (the volunteers working there) with an English class and had some interesting conversation. In the area I live there is not a very large gypsy population. So it was interesting to interact with
them. Getting to know them as people instead of just those Gypsy boys.

After my short trip it was back to work. This particular week the students we out for vacation. Because of this we were invited to several families to eat lunch instead of going to the school. I don’t think I have ever been more stuffed in my life. Slovak’s enjoy eating and feeding people. One of the other Volunteers hears quite often “Food is for eating” implying you should eat even when you’re not hungry. It was an enjoyable week visiting and talking with the various families. I feel like I’m getting to know the village more and sense of appreciation for the work I am doing here.

As I’ve mentioned before Language is a constant struggle. I am learning something new everyday and the more I learn the more I find I don’t know. The struggle now is trying to learn and communicate beyond just getting by. Some days I just don’t want to speak Slovak, some days I do. One of the things I’m learning is that this year for me has been an exercise in listening. Learning to understand and really listen even when I don’t have a strong desire to so.

One of my other struggles is related to Alcohol. They have a very liberal view of Alcohol and
generally most people drink in moderation. It is not uncommon for everyone to have a shot of
Slivovica (Plum Liquor) before lunch or dinner. The struggle I have is with how they treat and
ostracize members of the community who are Alcoholics. It happens in America too but here
because Alcohol is such a commonplace thing for everyone being an Alcoholic is common and to
find recovery or help of any kind is non-existent. One such man is Ivanko; he is unemployed and
works at the church doing various things on occasion. The other Volunteers and I have tried to be his friend and encourage him when he sober. There is really little else I can do. I pray that he
finds hope in the situation and that my actions will make others see how to love their neighbors.

One of the small things I do on occasion is assist (or should I say lead) the Kid’s Church. The Pastor has asks us to fill in when he can’t find someone at the last minute. It is difficult but, we try and the kids seem to enjoy it. During the sermon the kids leave the church and have a small lesson for about 30 minutes or so. It is quite a struggle to keep about 15-20 kids entertained and
teach a bible lesson when you don’t know the language. Many of the kids we know from teaching school or from guitar and drum lessons, so they help us. For all of you who say they can’t lead a kid’s bible study try doing it in Slovak.

As I am passing the mid-point I can’t help but think of home more often. One of the many things
that give me a sense of home is music. Especially one particular song during my times of struggle and longing.

“So if I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through
And if I can’t let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you
If I sing let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs
But if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home”

This Chorus from a Jars of Clay song has spoken to me and given me strength.
The last line particular speaks to me especially, I am here enjoying my time and serving the Lord
but I am a man longing for his home. I am thinking about and craving for the familiar. Hot Dogs,
Peanut Butter, Baseball, Family, Friends, English Language. I began to think about what home
means to me. It’s not just a place. It is people, small things and cultural quirks. It is a feeling of
being accepted and loved for who you are. I then began to think, what about our Heavenly home?
Do we as Christians have a sense of what our Heavenly home will be? One Vision of heaven is
described in Revelations,

“The main street was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a temple, for the
Lord God – The Sovereign-Strong – and the Lamb are the temple. The City doesn’t need sun or
moon for light. God’s Glory is its light; the lamb is its Lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City. Nothing dirty or defiled will get into the City, and no one who defiles or deceives. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life will get in.” Rev. 21:21-27

What a description of Heaven. A whole City in the presence of God. We should be people who
are longing for a heaven home, a place of God’s Presence. A place of love, forgiveness and grace.
When the early immigrants came to the United States they set up communities to reflect a sense
of home. You can see it in the China Towns and Little Italys. It just feels like you are walking
into another culture sometimes. This sense of making a home in a foreign land is reflected in the
bible during Israel’s exile in Babylon. God commanded the Israelites to make homes in the place
they were. “Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare, Pray for her wellbeing.” – Jeremiah 29:7

Later Jeremiah announces “[God] will show up and take care of you as
promised and bring you back home” in verse 10. Jesus showed us how to live and through his
death and Resurrection made it possible for us to be citizens of heaven. God’s command is not to
twiddle our thumbs but, to make a heavenly home here on earth so that when he comes in full
glory we will be that much more familiar, that much more prepared.

What are we doing to reflect a sense of our Heavenly Home? How are we conveying Forgiveness
and Grace? I am realizing this longing I have for home is a reflection of a deeper desire for my
heavenly home and deeper desire to see God’s Presence Reflected no matter where I am.

Lord,
Let us be people who long for our heavenly home,
Helps us Pray that it will come sooner
But, that we would build reflections of your hope
Here and now in the places we live and work
Amen

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

January…Alittle Late I know

January…Alittle Late I know

DSCN0507.JPG
Originally uploaded by themoltron.

So here is my January Newsletter about a month let on my Blog Sorry!!!

Ahoj and Greetings from Slovakia.
Can you Believe it’s 2008? It is hard to believe I’ve been in Slovak for almost 5 months a lot has happened. This January has been rather busy.

In my last newsletter I talked about my New Years experience in Geneva, which was awesome. I after I arrived in my Village I was there for only a week before I headed of Wisla, Poland (a little skiing town near the Czech Republic). In Wisla, I had the opportunity to meet the other volunteers in Slovakia and well as Volunteers from Poland and the Czech Republic. We all got to tell our stories of where we are living and the things we are doing. Everyone has their own unique experience and it is fun to hear about it. It has also been great to share the many similar experiences of culture. Even though we live sometimes several hours away from each other we can laugh about the way Slovak’s do certain things. One thing in Slovakia that is rather funny is that families always ask what you think of Slovak women or men and then proceed to encourage to find and marry one immediately. Being a Guy I don’t get as often as some of the girls. My trip to Wisla was fun and nice break to reflect and laugh on this strange and interesting culture I’ve been thrown into.

When I returned to my Village is was back to normal (or Slovak normal I should say). Right when I got back I started to feel a little homesick. At about 5 months all the initial excitement is starting to wear off and I just can’t help but question what makes this culture so alien to me sometimes. Like when you drink coffee with the grounds in the cup. Why is that no one knows how to use a coffee machine with a filter? Is just one of many question I have. And when anything is rather out of place. I just say “Typical Slovakia”. Even when it might not be true. I can only hope I don’t become a total cynic.

The youth group or Mlady Skupina has been a struggle for me to get kids to come and plan activities that are fun but, also allow me to be involved in conversation. So far Oli, Flo (the other volunteers here) and I have a small group of kids who have been coming regularly.

One very sad event occurred about 2 or 3 weeks ago when a young boy (16) committed suicide in the village near the beginning of the week. I didn’t know the boy but it effected me. It affected everyone. While I was delivering lunches to the old ladies, instead the usual smiles, I saw only sad and somewhat shocked faces. I kept asking myself is there anything I could have done. I didn’t attend the funeral but when the funeral procession was at the church I stood, watched and prayed has almost the whole village march up the street with flowers and mournful faces. I talked to the Pastor about it and he said the boy wrote a note to the effect “No ones loves me, life is not worth living”. It makes me said that he lost all hope. It also gives me a desire to see Christian live and love the hope that Christ promises.

Later that week we tried to plan our youth group around the theme of death so that the youth could find comfort and peace from the situation. We chose 2 texts, Jesus on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32) and Jesus and Lazarus (John 11). These to stories reflect for me what it means to follow Christ, that Christ fulfilled his promise and is alive and that he cares for all those who die or mourn. As much as we tried to have a discussion they were typical kids and didn’t say much. I pray that they maybe heard a spark of hope during this difficult time.

Although there was this rather sad event, this month has been full of many fun and exciting thing as well. We have celebrated the birthdays of the triplets, Monika, Dominika, and Veronika, who help us with Slovak once a week. We made them an awesome card with some picture we drew of all things we have done together.

We were also invited to attend a celebration at the village school. It is has been 10 years since they moved the school into the larger facility. They had dancing and excellent food prepared by the most amazing lunch ladies ever. They also had a raffle for door prizes. The kids prepared some traditional dances. It was great seeing the little kids in costume and dancing. We didn’t we anything but, celebration was nice and I felt like we were appreciated for the teaching we do even if it is only once a week.

That’s all I really have for now. Before I go I would that you pray for some of these specific concerns.
– That the village would seek Christ in the midst of this suicide
– That The Lord would give me wisdom and strength for the rest of the year
– That I would not become a total cynic in regards to the culture I’m living in
– That Christ’s love and the church would grow in Eastern Europe

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

Mark Molter

Christmas and New Years Notes and Reflections

Christmas and New Years Notes and Reflections

Common Prayer at Geneva Taize Event

Taize- Common Prayer
Originally uploaded by themoltron.

Ahoj and Greetings from Slovakia. Radostne Vianoce and Štastny Novy Rok (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year). This newsletter is a little later than expected only because of my busy Holiday!!!

I especially want to thank the many people who sent cards and packages. I received quite a lot, more on that later though. Please 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 also continue to pray for me and the other young adult volunteers around the world. And of course please pray for the people of Kenya and the violence that is happening there. I know several US volunteers who are there now. They are safe but prayer is very important for them at the moment.

And as usual I have been writing some other updates on my Blog for those of you who are Internet savvy. The address is http://new.moltron.net/blog/ I also have many more pictures available at http://flickr.com/photos/themoltron

December was a rather interesting and eventful month. The advent season is rather big deal here since many more faces start to show up at church and they have special advent services on Fridays. The Pastor had many more projects for me to do, which included decorating; cleaning and making things look just right for Christmas. One of the projects involved assisting the electrician named Janko. We were installing some new lights on the outside of the church. My Slovak is at a point where I can converse fairly well on a basic level. I found out he lives in the village. It seems like I’m always meeting new people and that my Slovak is improving because many people comment on how well I speak but, to be honest I’m only just starting to understand the language.

On December 3rd St. Mikulaš Day is celebrated, St. Mikulaš goes around delivering small presents and candy to little children. He is sometimes accompanied by the devil who takes their treats and whips them if they are bad. Since all Children are Good? They get presents. In the stores they have Chocolate figures of both St. Mikulaš and the Devil. One of the ladies in the church, Kristina (She is like everyone’s favorite aunt for all the volunteers in Vrbovce) brought us a small bag of goodies. So, St. Mikulaš did visit me seeing as I’m just a big kid anyway.

Advent also marked the change in Liturgy. Just when I’m getting used to it, they changed it on me. The people have small hymnals but it is hard to find where things are sometimes because they know the liturgy by heart. I tried asking the pastor once but all he said was that it was in the book. The special advent services on Friday evenings were nice since they are a little more relaxed than Sunday service. There were times left open for people of the congregation to give open petitions of prayer. It was fun to hear children pray as well as moving to hear some of the older generation praying in tears about loved one who are ill.

The two other volunteers from Germany, Oliver and Flo went home for Christmas Holiday. Before the Holiday I was waiting for many cards to come but I had to wait until I arrived back to see if they came. I was fortunate enough to be invited to spend Christmas with a Pastor’s family in Košariska, which is another village about 25 minutes away. The wife, Susan, was the Pastor and the husband, Evan (pronounced ee-von), owns some property that he maintains and leases to various companies. The family has 2 little children, a boy Adam 2 and a girl Zuzka 5. They were very well behaved children for the most part. Children are children and they get into mischief. I spent about 5 days with them, it was fantastic. From the time I arrived I felt like I was part of the family. I was constantly being asked if I was hungry. And I tried to speak as much Slovak as I could and most people were impressed with how much I knew. Evan speaks English very well so; I was able to have things translated when I needed. Susan’s parents and brother came and made cookies and dried apples to decorate the Christmas tree or Strom?ek. Of course little Adam would grab them off the tree and eat them from time to time. They arranged for me to do some touristy things in the surrounding area as well. During my stay I got to ride a horse, see wild deer and ram as well as eat the meat, visit a hot spring and see the site of the famous Slovak General Štefanik. It was great experiencing a Slovak Christmas. They also gave me some really cool gifts. Gloves, a scarf (both of which I needed) and a book about General Štefanik. The Children got some big plastic cars and some videos. One Czech film called “Mach, Šebestova and the Magic Telephone” (translated in English) they watched 5 times. The second time we watched it we figured out it had English subtitles.

The Christmas Services was very nice and they sing many of the same melodies of Christmas songs I know. I don’t think it really dawned on me it was Christmas until the Christmas Day. One of the traditions I enjoyed was that the family would sing 1 or 2 Christmas songs and prayer before they had their family meals the day before, the day of and the day after Christmas. It was very simple thing but I could sense God’s presence there.

Well here are some interesting Slovak Christmas facts:
• The Traditional Slovak Meal is Karp; fish about the size of a small turkey can be bought in the stores from huge tanks.
• It is not a Slovak meal without soup; they make a special cabbage soup with Kolbasa (Sausage) and Huby (Mushrooms) called Kapustnica.
• Gifts are given traditionally after the family meal on the 24th.
• Slovak TV is usually filled with old Fairy Tales films from the 50’s -60’s from Czech and Russia and many American TV Christmas movies that are dubbed.

So after 5 days of Experiencing the fun and excited of Christmas in Slovakia I headed off to Geneva, Switzerland for the Taize European Gathering. For those of you unfamiliar with Taize, Taize is an Ecumenical order of brothers who are devoted to prayer and dialogue between all Christian faiths for reconciliation located in Taize, France. Every year young people come to experience simplicity, prayer and unity in Christ either in Taize or at one of several world gatherings held each year. This year in Geneva there were 40,000 people from all over Europe who came together to pray and share in the unity only Christ can bring. I was lucky enough to arrange being able meet my friend Kelly who is a volunteer this year like me but living in England. We were able to enjoy this time together and share this wonderful experience.

One of the many moving things about this event was seeing an almost empty space the size of 2 or 3 football fields being filled with people praying and singing in worship to God. People during this gathering are offered places to stay from local parishes and families. I stay in France in a Village called Divonne about 15 minutes from Geneva. I stay with an older retired Gentle man named Xavier and with another participant named Tomas from Poland. Both spoke very good English. We were 2 of many other people staying in Divonne during of the event. In the mornings we would spend time in prayer with the local church and break into small groups to discuss the theme the verse for the day. The songs and prayer throughout the event were in different languages and it was moving to hear them all and know that we are all have the same faith in Christ. It was also great getting to know and meet some many people from around the world. It definitely expanded my definition of church and what it means to worship God. Most people at the event spoke English but I met a rather large group of Slovaks so I was able to speak Slovak with them. Many of these same people were staying in Divonne as well.

I had some free time during the event to explore Geneva. Geneva is the French part of Switzerland and was a little warmer because of the Leman Lake. I was able to see many part of the old city that included some churches that were part of the protestant movement. Most of you are if you are Lutheran are only Luther and maybe Calvin but there were many more reformers who were persecuted. Many of these reformers retreated to Switzerland for safety. It has been insightful to see and learn more about other aspects of the reformation.

My New Years was spent in Divonne where our parish had a time of prayer. The prayer time was great and I felt like it was appropriate to reflect on the past year and the coming year with song and prayer. Then of course we celebrated, each country group was asked to share a little something of their culture. So everyone got a little taste of Spain, Poland, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, France, and many others. It was one of the best new years ever. Then next day we all said Good-bye but before we went were asked to have lunch with our hosts. So my host was invited to have dinner at a friend of his who was also hosting 3 girls from Poland. It was excellent we had Lamb and Potatoes, Green Beans, Champagne, red wine, French Cheese. What a way to start off the New Year.

I had to arrive home 2 days later only because when I arrived in Slovakia there were no buses to my village. So I spend the night in Bratislava and then headed back the next day. Upon Arrival I was told I had some a lot of mail. I arrived to find at least a dozen or more cards and several packages, I forget the exact number but it was a lot. Amazing and overwhelming. I felt absolutely blessed. The cards and messages were a great encouragement and I great reminder of how many people care back home. I enjoyed packages as well, which included “Peanut Butter” among the many other goodies. Sometimes it is the simple things you miss. I want to send a big Thank You to all of you who sent me a card or package. It is truly amazing to know I am loved in this way and thought of often.

In writing this letter and in Light of Christmas, New Years and the tragedies in Kenya, I want to share with you some of my reflections.

When we think of Christmas we think of the Christ child and how God send his Son. This of course is a sign of Love from the Father.

“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

This is the simplest expression of the Gospel. That since Christ loved Us we should Love. We should desire to be like our Master. While at the Taizé gathering many of the themes focused on Reconciliation. Looking to Forgive and making something new out of what is broken. Just look at the news and we see how broken the world is. We can that in the recent events in Kenya. The example of Christ is that as his disciple we are called to take the first step. In a letter written by one of the Taizé Brothers they say, “It is not a matter of forgetting a painful past, or being blind to present-day situations of injustice. The Gospel calls us beyond the memory of wounds by forgiving, and even to rise above the expectation of getting something in return. In this way we find the freedom of the children of God.” This statement greatly challenged me. How am I supposed to do this? But, I remember it is not just me it is only Christ through me that anything can happen.

It is often said, “If we think we know Jesus, READ The Gospel Again!!!” As the New Year begins I am challenged (as I hope you are too!) to really look at what our Master Jesus tells us about Love. Look at the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) or Mary Magdalene (John 8:1-11). There are of course many other stories but, look at these stories with new eyes. We often forget how straightforward Jesus is about how we should Love. As the called people of God we are called to bear witness to a Kingdom of Love. Not just the Love we stereotype with Romantic love or Give everyone a big hug type love. Jesus is talking bigger and bolder. He is talking sacrificial love. The kind a Mother shows to children who get on her nerves or when a father offers forgiveness when a child has disobeyed yet again. The kind Jesus died on a cross for.
1 John also says

“Everyone who loves God is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The Person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, Because God is Love – So if you don’t know him you don’t know love” 1 John 4:7-9

How can we love God if we don’t love our neighbors? If we are all made in the image of God we must honor God by loving others. Before we get discouraged we must remember that Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide and be with those who believe. We cannot love until the father first loves us. Let us endeavor to love. So we pray,

Heavenly Father,
The message of the Gospel is Clear; You loved us so we can love others
It is a Love beyond just some warm and fuzzy feeling and at times it can be difficult
Help us to understand how you want us to Love by learning more about your example through Christ, Be with Us as we attempt and fail by our efforts alone but, succeed when you are with us, Help us know we are Loved as much as those who need Love
In the name of our Master and Redeemer
Jesus Christ, AMEN!!!

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

Mark Molter