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