Friday, December 25, 2009

best wishes

another tradition that i just found out about has to do specifically with roma.  each year at christmas and new year's roma children (not everywhere, but in many/most places) go around and wish people good things in the coming year (i think it would be very much like giving people blessings for the coming year).  in exchange, the children receive (at least here) a koláčky ("little cake" or sweets, cookies, etc.) and a little money (about 30 cents when i witnessed it). 

it reminds me of halloween (without the costumes) and carolers (with the money and sweets), but mainly carolers.  we never had many carolers growing up, except one very special christmas day night when they saved christmas for me, but that most/many carolers sang (at least in the past when it all began) in exchange for money/food for them or for some sort of charity (i googled it).  anyway, that's how caroling started, so then i see the clear connection between roma children going around with christmas blessings in exchange for sweets and a little money.

the thing is, i'm not sure how i feel about it.  ok, i'm an outsider, but to me it seems a bit questionable for little kids to go around asking for money.  it seems to make them a charity case, depending on the generosity of strangers without much, if any power themselves.  but then, these kids get some sweets and money.  and do the kids have a say in it or are they told to do it and so they do it?  when the kids i saw came to us, i knew a few of them and they seemed either embarrassed or shy (i couldn't really tell which).  and then, there's always the very good possibility that i'm trying to overanalyze the situation.  thoughts?  i'd love to get some feedback on this...

christmas blessings

ok, i feel like i keep talking about blessings, but they play a big role here, specifically in regards to religious life.  so, here goes, another blessing that i want to adopt for my future christmases.  in this area (slovakia as well as the czech republic and probably several other countries) vianoce (christmas) is on the 24th.  though technically it's called štedrý večer and the 25th is called vianoce, in references to christmas, the 24th is the big day.  so, last night, what did we do?  we had church (with a children's program as a part of it), then a big dinner (normally lunch is the big meal), then presents, clean-up, prayers, and bed.  i want to focus on what we did right before dinner, though.

before dinner, we did something that is a tradition from monika's hometown of sliezsko in the czech republic, which is lámanie oplátok, or breaking of wafers.  we each received big wafers (about the size of the big one that they break for communion in catholic churches, but made specifically for christmas and a bit thinner and definitely tastier).  then, we all got up from the table and went around to each other and wished each other merry christmas and blessings for the new year, for life, for christmas, for whatever we wanted.  once a pair blessed each other, each person broke off a piece of the other's wafer and ate it.

simple, i know.  but how cool is it to start the dinner off, with grace and blessings all around?  soemtimes i feel that in the states we show our love so much through gifts received that that is all our love becomes.  (i'm not saying giving gifts is bad.  believe me, i'm really excited about the juggling balls and spevnik (hymnal) and other stuff i got for christmas.  i just mean that that should not be the only way we express love)  it is so powerful and meaningful to me, though to shake/hold hands and verbally bless each other and sincerely wish the best for the other person, and, of course, to hug:)  i do wish we gave more sincere blessings in the states.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

birthday blessings

so, yesterday we had our first "romsky dorast," or roma youth group, since my birthday.  fraňa, the leader, had mentioned that she wanted to celebrate my birthday with the group, so that is what we did yesterday.  i made a "kolač," which was really brownies, but it worked as a cake:)  we sang songs, as usual, and had cake and soda and chips.  then we played a game where four people had to answer different questions about me and the united states.  it was really fun.  then, what really meant a lot to me was what fraňa did next.  on behalf of everybody in dorast, she shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and heaped on me birthday blessings and gave me a birthday gift.

in slovakia, for a birthday, instead of simply saying happy birthday like we do in the states, the typical phrase is "všetko najlepši k tvojom narodeninom"  (i think i spelled that right) it basically translates as everything/all the best for your birthday.  that's the short phrase, anyway.  if you're saying it in person and not on facebook, then it becomes a time to hold hands, look each other in the eye and (for the birthday person) feel extremely humbled as the other person wishes you not only all the best, but much love, joy, happiness, health, children, and anything else they can think of.

in the states, if somebody congratulates you are compliments you, the general reaction is to look down as if you don't deserve it, which (as i learned at camp) can prevent you from hearing what's being said.  the challenge, then, is to meet their eyes.  to look someone in the eye and humbly receive their blessing and love.

how amazing would it be if, instead of giving each other presents and going back to our work, we heaped blessings of love onto each other?  there is no way i could have felt more blessed last night than to hold fraňa's hand and receive an incredible and loving blessing from her, and all of the dorast group.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


so, i emailed my friend the other day about some of the stuff i was thinking about and experiencing here and she said it made her think of the poem "women" by alice walker.  she sent it to me and i agreed.  so, i'm sharing with you this poem.  it reminds me of many people i know here.  as always, i'd love to know what you think!

"Women" by Alice Walker

They were women then

My mamma's generation

Husky of voice--Stout of


With fists as well as


How they battered down


And ironed

Starched white


How they led


Headragged Generals

Across mined




To discover books


A place for us

How they knew what we

Must know

Without knowing a page

Of it


Monday, December 7, 2009

svätý mikuláš

so, yesterday was the day of svätý mikuláš, or st. nicholas as we know him in the states.  in slovakia there are a lot of similarities between sv. mikuláš and santa claus.  both come bearing gifts and wear big red suits or outfits and have white hair and beard.  in otherwords, they're both old guys in red suits with gifts for kids.  that is about where the comparison ends. 

though both santa and sv. mikuláš have their origins in the actual saint nicholas, the united states, with its rampant commercialism has strayed quite a bit farther from the original idea of the man we know in history as nicholas.  we have strayed so much that, in fact, many (or perhaps even most) people don't know that santa claus is based in a real person, or that that person, nicholas, is an important person in church history.

here, sv. mikuláš is still portrayed in drawings as an "average" sized person (not as much, though still some when he comes to life, of the big belly and abundance that appears in the states) with a priest's outfit (though still red and white), a hat similar to what i think of when i think of the pope's big hat with a cross on it, and a bible in his hands.  the bible, i think, is the key difference.  it puts the focus back on why sv. mikuláš did/does what he did/does.  he is following the path of god as found and understood in the bible.

another difference is in what sv. mikuláš brings in comparison with what santa brings.  in the states, for my family at least, santa filled our stockings with little goodies and then also brought big presents.  we did leave the customary cookies (or leftover birthday cake) and when i was little i remember many years of leaving toys that we no longer played with for him to give to other kids (a tradition that i plan on continuing some day). 

here, sv. mikuláš is not nearly as extravagant.  in the morning we (me and the kids) got a little bag of candies.  the kids also got to go to the village office/mayor's office for another bag of candies, but that is about as elaborate as it ever got.  it's not about big gifts, it's about a little something to brighten your day.  a little treat, but nothing that will give you a stomach ache if you eat it all at once.

i greatly appreciate the simpler version of jolly, old st. nicholas, especially with the more explicit connection to the actual historical person.  it's been fun to be in on experiencing some of the many joys and traditions of this time of year in slovakia, and i'm looking forward to many more:)

blessings to you in this time of joyful expectation.

Friday, December 4, 2009

drawing god

so, one of my tasks here is to draw the pracovný list (worksheet) each week for our religion classes.  as you might guess, this occasionally involves drawing god.  now, i don't know about you, but i have no idea what god actually looks like.  yes, we could probably just draw jesus (not that i really know what he looks like, except that he probably didn't have blonde hair or blue eyes, as he is often portrayed), but jesus and god are not exactly the same thing.  i am also hesitant to draw god just as some guy.  this is largely due to not wanting to give god a specific gender, but is also because we are created in the image of god, not god in our image.

i feel that oftentimes, we get drawn into thinking that god is like us, rather than that we can be like god.  if god is like us, then the focus and power (unintentionally, perhaps) rests with us, but if we are made in god's image, then we have the potential to be good and holy.  we have something to strive for, some greater good that can help us to be better.  if we are made in god's image, we can draw comfort from that and inspiration.

so, how, then, do you draw god for kids who want something to color in while you talk to them about god?  well, a lot of times i leave god out of the picture.  just as in life, god is there, but not necessarily physically present.  or, sometimes we just forget about god and think that god's not there.  we put god out of the picture.  this is clearly not the best option, but it definitely happens sometimes.

other times, i make it seem like god is shining from just off the paper, so there are little rays of light on the paper, but still no god.  this is better than the previous option, after all, at least we have a general location and reference for god.  it is not, however, ideal.  we still don't have god directly in the picture.  so how can we put god in the picture?  well, we must find a way to draw god.

in the most recent worksheet i drew, the theme was god is holy (boh je svätý)  it had to do with a dream isaiah had in which seraphim are around god (who is on a throne) with six wings, two covering their eyes, two their faces, and the other two are making them fly.  the seraphim are singing "holy, holy, holy is god."

now, how do you draw this?  well, obviously you need god and some seraphim and maybe an isaiah sleeping.  monika made a basic sketch of what she was thinking and we talked about it.  she had drawn basically a ball of light and a head for god.  when i asked about it, she said that it could be without the head, just a ball of light, too, she had just drawn the head as a way to know what it was.  in the end we had isaiah sleeping and in his dream bubble, we had two angels (with six wings each) singing " svätý, svätý, svätý je boh" with god in the middle as a ball of light on a throne.

cop-out?  maybe.  consistent with my theology? yes.  we don't know what god looks like and monika and i may or may not (we haven't actually talked about it, specifically) have very different thoughts on what god might look like, but we both know that we really don't know.  so, we draw light.  i am hesitant to use the light/darkness metaphor, except that if we count light (the pure white kind) as a combination of all the colors, than i really like it.  white/light, or god, is what happens when we all come together.

so, how do you draw god?  any thoughts?  any other ideas of how to draw god?  let me know!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

where is god in demeter?

so, in my newsletter this month, i talked about a place named demeter.  for those of you who have ever been on mission trips to mexico (usually juarez, or one of the other border towns), demeter looks very similar.  it is an area of košice populated by roma, who have constructed make-shift homes on an area of land that hasn't been used for anything else.  most of the people are there because there aren't enough social housing projects for them to be able to afford somewhere to live.  they either can't find any work or they can't find work that pays enough to afford somewhere for a variety of reasons, the primary being that they are roma.  they were born roma, with the skin color and can do nothing about it.  many of them speak romani as well as slovak, but people refuse to hire them simply for the way they have been born. 

they are hated, neglected, and looked down upon by the dominant society.  to top this all off, this month, the private owner of the land where demeter is has decided to use it (for what, i don't know), so just as it has been getting really cold, the 1,000 people that live in demeter in homes, which most in the us wouldn't ever imagine living in, but filled with a strength and love that many in the us are in desperate need of, will be kicked out.  the homes they have painstakingly built will be destroyed and they will be forced to either move in to an already cramped living area with family, make some miracle happen to find a place in a social housing project, or they will be left homeless.  they will disappear in the records of doctors and community health workers who will no longer have an address to contact them.  and they will be left to brave the cold, harsh winter without a home, let alone a house.

my question in my newsletter was: where is god in all of this?  i still want to know where you think god is, but now i'm going to also offer two of my ideas/thoughts. 

1-one of the most obvious places (and this may be an imperialist understanding) is in fraňa and the work that she and precious few others do as a community health worker for far too many roma settlements.  god is there in the concern that fraňa has and in her passion for work with roma.  god is in the time she spends with them and learning from them and fighting with them against the oppression and prejudice they face.

2-god is also there crying with those who cry and who are losing homes and suffering.  i'm reading a book right now by peter j. gomes.  in it, he has a chapter that i just finished on the bible and suffering.  he talks about the idea in celtic mythology of "'thin places' in the universe, where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity" (p. 214 the good book).  that is to say, the "thin places" are the places where we are closest to the divine.  they are the places where we can most readily find god. 

he goes on to speculate that maybe the thing places are found in the suffering that people experience.  it is when we suffer that we dig deepest, when we realize not only that we can't do it alone, but that there is a greater power to help us, not out of the situation, but through it.  when we suffer and realize that we cannot possibly "go it alone," then we begin to rely on the greater power found in jesus.  we know that we must lean on god and god will be with us in our suffering and will help us to get through, rather than escape, our suffering.

though those who are suffering in demeter may not know/believe it, i see god in the suffering and in the resourceful ways they find to keep going and to "suffer through" whatever they are experiencing.  at the end of the chapter, gomes states that we must "look to those who have been excluded and placed on the margins, to those who by the terms of the world are not successful, to those who, in jesus' words, 'suffer and are persecuted'" (230).  it is in them that we can see god and can find god's will for the world.  they are in the thin places and have the best chance for showing the world god's will and god's love.

some responses that i received were also very poignant and are very much worth sharing, so here they are:

1- the most obvious answer for me is that i see God in there with them.  God, to me, lives in the slums more obviously than he lives in the fancy schmancy areas of town.  i guess that's based on what i learned in college (that the bible really speaks against wealth and for the poor as one of its main themes) and then the experience i've had getting to know other social groups while i've traveled. ... i think he's way super en contra against injustice for the poor and helpless.  there may or may not be different paths to God ... but no matter how many paths there are to him, that doesn't mean there aren't a bunch that still don't lead to him too!  and instead of determining that now by doctrinal position, i would do so by how we treat our fellow man. -thanks kati g.

2- i see god in the people living in demeter, as god is frequently distrusted, ignored, and/or badly treated by those who think they're better. i see god in the people living in demeter for their (god-given) ingenuity that allows them to make a home and a life out of (essentially) nothing. i see god in the people who come in to help those living in demeter for their care and concern for all of humanity. i see god in the people living in the projects who are willing to share what little they have with those who are being forced to leave demeter. satisfied? -thanks stef b.

3- Where do I see God in those situations. It's a difficult question to answer. Often, I feel, people would respond by asking how you could possibly see God in a situation like that. How is it possible to see God in a situation that at first glance seems filled with so much despair and cruelty? In situations like that I think I see God most. God is in each person you come in contact with. Each person who holds even a shred of hope; an ounce of faith is an image of God. Times may be difficult, but those individuals have a sense of faith that many of us who live a comfortable existence do not have. Seeing children laughing despite what they do not have; seeing a smile of someone who is ill; a mother selflessly giving her children her portion of food so they can be full and she be the one to go without; those are all the face of God. We often question why these situations happen, why God lets these situations happen. For that question, I do not have the answer. All I know is that they have God within them. -thanks erin  k.

i'd love to hear more about where you see god if you've got some thoughts.  feel free to leave them as comments or to email me.  if you email me, let me know if i can post them or not:)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

seven cases, one confusing language, one (or more) deeper meaning

so, as i've been learning slovak, i have learned of seven "cases" in slovak. these are different forms that nouns take depending on their relationship/position in the sentence. for example, if i want to say that bob has a book, then "bob" stays the same (nominativ) but the book changes its ending because it is being affected by bob (akusativ). anyway, this is not to explain all the cases to you (since i only know the two right now), but to point out the implications of this. one big thing is that "jesus" is not simply ježiš, but can change depending on the relationship to the rest of the sentence.

while this makes learning the language quite a bit more difficult, i really like the implications of it. as i mentioned with jesus, nouns cannot simply be expressed in one way without concern for other parts of the sentence. nouns can only be understood in relationship to each other and to other parts of the sentence. this is reflective of our interconnectedness in this world. while (especially in the us) many would like to think that we are who we are no matter where we are/who we are with, that is simply untrue. we are constantly changing.

much of the time, i feel like the changes in me are the work of the holy spirit as i grow into myself, but the changes are also through my relationships to other people and all of god's creation (which can still be, and usually is, the work of the holy and creative spirit). when we change words in slovak depending on their relationship to others, it provides me with a reminder that we are connected and that we do, in fact, affect each other, for good or for bad. so, as i go out each day, i try to make a point of thinking about how i might affect others and how i can allow the spirit to work through me, rather than inhibiting its work.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


so, here in slovak (at least in the lutheran areas), october 31st is reformation day, preceded by reformation week. as such, i was anticipating very little in the way of costumes, masks, pumpkin carving, etc. well, i was very surprised to find that on the thursday and friday before halloween, the afterschool-type program that i work with three days a week, was "celebrating halloween." that mainly translated to making masks with the kids, so that they could wear them and take them home and show their parents since they didn't have homework those two days because they didn't have school. that in and of itself was really fun (i made a tomato mask for myself and called it bob. most of you (especially if you ever watched movies in sunday school) probably know why, if not ask me and i'll tell you..or google it.

then, on saturday, october 31st, we had a worship service for reformation day at 4:30 and after it, i headed over with the other young adults to the mladeš youth group, where we found people carving pumpkins!! they had three pumpkins, which were all already gutted. it was fun watching and then they asked me to carve the final pumpkin, so i actually got to carve a pumpkin (which i haven't done in years) on halloween!!! we didn't go as far as cooking the pumpkin seeds and eating them, like my mom had always done growing up, but it was really nice to have people celebrating with me something that is a fairly distinctly "american" holiday:)

here's a picture of my pumpkin, nice and goofy, just like me:) \

Sunday, October 18, 2009

peter might have the keys, but who really owns the kingdom?

"let the little children come to me"

what wisdom exists in such a simple statement. ok, it continues to be even more profound, but first, let's think about just that phrase. the disciples are rebuking parents for bringing their children and babies to jesus and jesus responds by saying to his disciples, "let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of god belongs to such as these." (luke 18:16b)


let the little children come to me. and how often do we simply give lip service to the importance of children and youth? yes, we all know that "they are the future," but do we realize that they are also the present? they are the church and they are the world. they own the kingdom of god! now, i’m not suggesting that children should own houses, cars, etc. but owning the kingdom, changes how we as "non-children" view and understand church and our relationship with god. if little children own it, it takes us back to thinking about what we learned in kindergarten: share your toys, play nice with others, say please and thank you, and you can do anything you want. what a different view from the one we get from society!

and let's face it, children in general (and perhaps all people) are usually smarter than we give them credit for. this is especially obvious if you've ever taught a bible study or sunday school with kids. the questions they come up with and the insight that they provide never leaves me without something to think about.

so, if we are inviting the little children to come, it must mean that we need to listen to them, right? no, they can't make all the big decisions, but why not ask the kids in your life what they think about an issue before you vote on it at church or before you decide at home? have kids be more involved in leadership, give them a place, or at least a voice, on church council. i think you'll probably also find that kids are maybe a bit more generous than non-children, which, however problematic it may seem, is very much needed in the world in which we live and move and have our being.

ok, where did this come from? well, there's a bit of a story to that. "pre lepší život (for a better life)," the association i'm working with here, is geared towards children. they are the very clear focus of the work we do and right now, we have an after school-type program that we are running. well, this year is the fifth anniversary of the association's founding, so we had a retreat this weekend to celebrate.

during the retreat, i couldn't help but notice, as i wrote in my journal, that this group "is a fierce example of how we are supposed to love one another. here there are men and women, roma and gadje all working together and loving each other as christ first loved us." this group of people loved, lived, joked, laughed, prayed, and praised together, but none of that would have happened if we hadn't all had the commonality of the pre lepší život. if we weren't all here for the children, to work for a better life for them, then all of that love that we so readily shared might not have ever even existed.

i have found that when something is focused on children, whether it's fundraising, after school projects, or anything else you could think of, people are a lot more willing to get involved and people are a lot more generous. they are more generous with money, yes, but more than that, they are generous with their time, attention, and love. (i do realize this is not at all a universal truth, but instead a sweeping generalization, and i'm ok with that) people come together for children, and they share love with the children, but also, and perhaps more importantly, with everyone involved.

so, maybe when jesus said "let the little children come to me" he knew it would mean that so many more people would also come, after all, who lets their child run off without at least knowing where they are going or following them? it was really a marketing ploy by jesus. get the kids to want it (like with toys on tv) and the parents will have to buy it too, or at least check it out, and if not the parents, then friends or relatives. let the little children come and watch the love and generosity increase exponentially as others check it out also and work together for a better life for everyone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

passover remembered

so, i based my talk on the following poem. i really like it and heard it at our orientation in chicago and it has really resonated with me and with what i am up to this year. i do think that it is a really good poem in general, though. so, for you, enjoy.

"Passover Remembered" by Alla Bozarth-Campbell

Pack nothing.
Bring only your determination to serve
and your willingness to be free.

Don't wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey, but eat standing.
Be ready to move at a moment's notice.

Do not hesitate to leave you old ways behind -
fear, silence, submission.
Only surrender to the need of the time -
love justice and walk humbly with your God.

Do not take time to explain to the neighbors.
Tell only a few trusted friends and family members.
Then begin quickly, before you have had time
to sink back into old slavery.

Set out in the dark.
I will send fire to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire, and I will be with you in the cloud.

You will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely to that place you have not yet seen.
The stories you tell one another around the fires in the dark
will make you strong and wise.

Outsiders will attack you, and some follow you
and at times you will get weary and turn on each other
from fear, fatigue and blind forgetfulness.

You have been preparing for this
for hundreds of years.

I am sending you into the wilderness to make a new way
and to learn my ways more deeply.

Some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.

Some of you will not change at all.

Some will be abandoned by your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those who have known you since birth
who feel abandoned by you.

Some will find new friendships in unlikely faces,
and old true friends as faithful and true
as the pillar of God's flame.

Sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
You may at times grow confused
and lose your way.

Continue to call each other by the names I've given you
to help remember who you are.
Touch each other,
and keep telling the stories.

Make maps as you go,
remembering the way back from before you were born.
So you will be only the first of many waves
of deliverance on the desert seas.
It is the first of many beginnings -
your Paschaltide.

Remain true to the mystery.
Pass on the whole story.
Do not go back.
I am with you now and I am waiting for you.

and the slovak version for those interested:

"Pesach v Spomienkach"

Nič si neberte so sebou.
Prineste si jedine vašu odhodlanosť slúžiť
a vašu ochotu byť slobodným.

Nenechajte chlieb vykysnúť.
Vezmite si jedlo na cestu, ale jedzte postojaci.
Buďte pripravení sa okamžite sťahovať.

Nezdráhajte sa zahodiť svoje staré spôsoby za hlavu –
strach, mlčanie, podriadenosť.
Len sa poddajte potrebám doby –
milujte spravodlivosť a v pokore choďte so svojím Bohom.

Nestrácajte čas s vysvetľovaním susedom.
Povedzte to iba niekoľkým verným priateľom a členom rodiny.
Potom začnite rýchlo, prv, než by ste mali čas
opäť upadnúť do starého otroctva.

Vyrazte do tmy.
Zošlem oheň, aby vás ohrial a povzbudil.
Budem s vami v ohni a budem s vami v oblaku.

Budete sa učiť jesť nové jedlo
a nájdete útočisko na nových miestach.
Dám vám sny na púšti,
aby som vás priviedol bezpečne na miesto, ktoré ste ešte nikdy nevideli.
Príbehy, ktoré si budete navzájom rozprávať okolo ohňa v tme,
vás urobia silnými a múdrymi.

Cudzinci vás budú napádať a niektorí prenasledovať
a čas od času budete unavení a zo strachu,
vyčerpanosti a slepej zábudlivosti budete na seba nazvájom útočiť.

Pripravovali ste sa na toto
stovky rokov.

Posielam vás na pustatinu, aby som vytvoril novú cestu
a naučil vás lepšie mojim spôsobom.

Niektorí z vás sa tak zmenia túlaním sa dažďom a vetrom,
až vás vaši najbližší priatelia budú musieť spoznávať,
ako by to bolo opäť po prvý raz.

Niektori z vás sa ale vôbec nezmenia.

Niektorých z vás opustia vaši najmilovanejší a tí,
ktorí vás poznali od narodenia, vás nepochopia a budú si naopak myslieť,
že to vy ste ich opustili.

Niektorí z vás si nájdu priateľstvá s ľuďmi, s ktorými by sa inak nespriatelili
a starých dobrých priateľov takých verných a skutočných
ako stĺp Božieho plameňa.

Cestou spievajte piesne
a buďte si navzájom blízki.
Môžete sa niekedy popliesť
a stratiť svoju cestu.

Aj naďalej sa vzájomne oslovujte menami, ktoré som vám dal,
aby vám pomáhali pripomínať si, kto ste.
Dotýkajte sa navzájom
a pokračujte v rozprávaní príbehov.

Cestou si robte mapy,
aby ste si spomenuli na cestu späť k časom pred vaším narodením.
Tak budete iba prvou z mnohých vĺn
vyslobodenia na mori púšte.
To je prvý z mnohých začiatkov –
vaša Pascha.

Zostávajte oddaní tajomstvu.
Odovzdávajte celý príbeh.
Nevracajte sa.
Ja som teraz s vami a čakám na vás.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


so, last night i went to the third wedding i've ever been to. since the first wedding happened before i was old enough for school, all i remember of it is a conversation with my mom in the bathroom. the second happened in high school and was my youth minister's wedding. and then this one. so, i'm not sure exactly how normal weddings in the us go, nor how normal this wedding was by slovak standards, but i'm going to attempt a comparison anyway.

overall, i think the ceremony is about as similar to us ceremonies as the church service is to us lutheran church services. that is to say, the differences are: 1-the language, 2-the way the pastor dresses, and 3-the liturgy is basically all sung here, while that is not necessarily the case in the us. the service was small, had a sermon, communion for the bride and groom, and exchanging of the traditional wedding vows. then, the bride and groom went out and were congratulated by everyone as they left and given a TON of flowers.

the wedding reception, however, was (i think) a bit different in a couple of ways. the first thing that i noticed was that when people tapped silverware against plates, glasses, etc., it did not (as is custom in the us) mean that it was time for a toast. instead, it was an indication that the bride and groom had to kiss, and if people weren't satisfied with the first one, then they kept tapping until they were satisfied.

as far as beverages go, i was quite surprised to find three different glasses at my place setting. i had one for soda/water (the bubbly kind, of course), one already filled with a slice of lemon and some sweet wine, and a shot glass. maybe it's just me, but i didn't realize there were so many times and ways to toast at a wedding.

finally, there is some of the wedding (such as cutting the cake) about which i can't report because the wedding ceremony started at 4:30 and we left the reception at 9. usually the celebrations last all night (it turns out this one ended at 7am!) and the cutting of the cake wasn't planned until midnight!! well, with two pastors preaching in the morning, we definitely weren't staying up all night (for which i am grateful), so we left early and i was very much content with the time i spent at the wedding and ready for bed when we arrived back home. the dancing was definitely fun and i learned new dances, listened to people speak slovak, tried to speak slovak myself, and even understood some of other people's conversations. what a fun time it was celebrating love:)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

ready, set, pray!

so, one thing that has become abundantly clear to me in the two whole days that i’ve been here is that prayer takes on a very different role here than it did for me growing up. now, this may have to do with my family and the family i’m living with now more than with us culture or Slovak culture, but it is still really interesting. i have never been really into praying. i do know that prayer can be very powerful and meaningful, and i relate best to it when praying aloud as a group, but it has never quite been my thing.

as such, i have prayed more times since arriving here than i had for quite awhile before that. i think that i always prayed in my own way, but it was not really an explicit, “ok, now let me pray” it was more mentally thinking with god. here, we pray before eating (which i really like and was doing in chicago and bratislava as well, but not quite as in-depth) as well as in the morning with our devotional (a biblical reading and reflection then a prayer) and at night before bed, we pray together.

now, most of the time i have absolutely no idea what they are saying when they pray, though i do occasionally catch a word or two, or my name. this is fine though, because it lets me think about what they might be saying. when it's my turn (usually in a group of just a couple, everybody prays, while in a big group a few people are either chosen to pray or pray as they feel called. it seems that people are not nearly as fearful of praying as in the us), i have found that i do have a lot to pray for and about, as well as that i find relief and comfort in praying, even though the only group part is that everybody said something.

i used to think of group prayer as more meaningful (for me, at least) because the group could hear and understand what everybody had to say, but that is not the case here. yet, it is still (or perhaps more so) meaningful to pray in a group. i guess i can't quite articulate this change in how/why i am praying, but it is definitely more meaningful for me now than it has been in the past.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


so, as many of you probably know or could guess, i will be (and have begun) learning a new language this year. well, this new language is also only spoken in one country (slovakia, obviously), although it is similar (i believe an appropriate comparison would be spanish and portuguese) to czech and a few other slovak languages. it is also written with roman lettering (only with added marks to what we use in english). this would seem easier, but it means that the two languages i already know (spanish and english) are more likely to get confused with slovak than something like hebrew would. i am working on it though, and i hope to soon have a solid grasp (and to be able to easily identify) the differences in gendering of nouns between spanish and slovak.

anyway, that's a lot of talk about things most of you probably don't care about, but here's what i have to say about language:

not only am i learning slovak (because i am actually interested in learning it as well as because i think it is important to learn the language when you are in a new place), but i will also probably be learning at least some romani, the language spoken (in varying dialects) amongst the roma people. the language is fairly similar to slovak, so hopefully that will help. i have been working on the language, and although i can't really understand your average slovak speaker (they're much to fast for me), i think that we as a group probably know more than we think we do. we have some basic grammar rules down and we're working on the vocab, so we'll see how it all shakes out in the end.

anyway, this is a fairly random post, but i'm excited about the language learning, and the window it will give me into a new culture and so very many new stories:-D so, tomorrow i'm off to rankovce, slovakia to finally start (for the last time, since i've already started twice before: leaving colorado and again leaving the u.s.a.) my adventure and my journey of stories.

Friday, August 28, 2009

trusting in the vulnerabilities

though i have only been here for a few days, it has been quite an adventure. nothing in particular has happened, but i have now been to three countries in continental europe and it's my first time! (not to mention i don't speak the languages). coming into vienna, i relied quite heavily on sepp and lisa (they both know more german than i do, sepp especially). it was actually quite freeing to not be in control. i felt vulnerable (in a healthy way) and had to trust and rely on sepp and lisa.

since then, we have been trying to find our way (guided) around bratislava with nata. i have definitely been working on letting go and letting god (which came up a lot during orientation in chicago). it has been freeing, but also a bit nervewracking to trust and rely so fully on god. i am definitely not used to this. i like being confident and assured and in control of everything, so it is difficult (but helpful, i'm sure) to be in a position to fully rely on god that things will work out and that god is in control, not me. anyway, it's been interesting these past days.

on the plus side, my "rodina" (family in slovak) came through bratislava today on their vacation and they stopped by to say hi and introduce themselves. it was great to see them and i'm really looking forward to going to rankovce and practicing my slovak with them (as they work on their english with me...a trade off:-D) anyway, life is good and tomorrow is vienna, so yay!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

starting with stories

so, my letters to everyone asking for support could really only touch briefly on why i feel so called to slovakia this year. that, i suppose, is what this is for. i have a wonderful story to share with you about ... stories:)

the way yagm (young adults in global mission - the program of the elca that i am working with) works is that once you apply, if they think they can connect you with a country, you are invited to a discernment retreat, or dip (don't ask me what these letters stand for). at the retreat, you interview with two countries. i interviewed with the slovakia/hungary program and the south africa program.

i had just been to south africa and in the interview, i voiced my hesitations about going back there, but doing work in a different area and how the relationships i had developed would work with people in capetown. overall, the interview went well, but it was nothing to write home about.

in the interview with slovakia/hungary, to put it simply: i fell in love. as one of my friends put it, the difference between south africa and slovakia is that i had to go to south africa to fall in love with it, but i didn't even have to go to slovakia to fall in love with it. so, anyway, the interview:

while we were talking about stuff, i somehow mentioned stories and how much i love them. then dick, the person based in hungary that works with the roma-gadje dialogue through service (the program i'll be working with), told me that his organization has been trying to find a way to share roma stories and asked if i had any ideas as to how that could be done.

i said: well, if i were ever to win the nobel peace prize, here's how i'd do it. i'd collect stories from people. i'd collect them however they wanted to share them, it would just have to be something i could take with me. so, it could be art, it could be orally recorded, videotaped, powerpoints, (and then, i said something that i had never thought of before, but that had just popped into my head) or even a dress that was somebody's grandma's mother's aunt's and has a story. and i'd collect them and bring them to new groups and have them share stories and learn the stories i had.

when i had finished with my brief explanation, dick said, well, we've been doing a museum, it's really just a room that we're trying to get roma people to drop there stuff at, and in one corner of the museum is a dress. it's become the focal piece of the museum and it wasn't this woman's dress, but it has become a way for her to share her story. at this, i was overjoyed. after the interview i called my mom and said, "mom, i know where i have to be next year."

although i didn't get ultimate say, i did end up in the slovakia/hungary program and then in the slovakia group. it is so very clearly the work of the holy spirit and i am so overjoyed to be embarking on this adventure, especially with all of the support that has been given to me through love and encouragement from friends and family. i am excited for all of the ups, downs, and all arounds that this new adventure in my life will bring and i am excited to share these with you:)

peace and blessings.