So here we are, at home, in Bratislava – in Slovak, “doma v Bratislava.” Jeremy, Ursula and I arrived on the 3rd of February, and have now been here almost two months. We have settled into the church flat quickly — perhaps because we have had some practice making new places into our home: Since we met at Holden Village in Washington State 11 years ago, Jeremy and I have made homes in – for shorter or longer periods – an earthship near the Rio Grande in Taos, New Mexico; two different apartments on the Lutheran seminary campus in Philadelphia; a little shack by a stream at the organic “Fat Rooster” farm in Vermont; a house in Stanleytown, outside of New Amsterdam, in Guyana, South America during my internship; the parsonage of First Lutheran Church in Plains, MT; and now a flat in the center of Bratislava, Slovakia. We may have here “no lasting city,” but we have been blessed with a diversity of beautiful homes. Once again, we have found such a home in Bratislava.
And you, who are reading this blog entry, are very welcome, invited in fact, to come visit us here. Jeremy will surely cook a good meal (or more) for you. Ursula will ask you to play games, read, and draw with her, and of course, I will welcome you to worship on Sunday at the Bratislava International Church.
The Bratislava International Church has become the – often temporary – church home for a remarkably diverse group of people over the last two decades. Refugees, ex-patriots, teachers, businesspeople, students, volunteers, government officials, and many more from more countries than you can count have come, and still come, to Bratislava International Church for Sunday morning worship. Off the top of my head, some of the countries of origin presently represented include Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Great Britain, the Untied States, Indonesia, Korea, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Mexico, Hungary, and of course Slovakia…but this is hardly a complete list. In addition, many of the people who come to the International Church have lived in still other countries around the world before they found their way to Slovakia — Jordan, Morocco, Togo, Namibia – to name a few.
The pastors who have served this congregation since 1994 have come from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but those who come to Bratislava International Church come from many different denominational backgrounds: Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Church of England, Roman Catholics, to name a few. There are also Lutherans from the United States, and from the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Slovakia.
But somehow, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the call of God through Jesus Christ, we manage midst all these differences, to gather on Sunday morning around Word and Sacrament, to pray and sing, to worship and fellowship together. Thanks be to God that such a thing is possible at all! And I give particular thanks that my family and I have the opportunity to take part in this temporary church home of Bratislava International Church over the next (at least) four years.
Besides being pastor of the Bratislava International Church, my other work through ELCA Global Mission is to coordinate the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission Program in Central Europe. The ELCA has had young adult volunteers (YAGM’s) here in Slovakia and Hungary for multiple years, but took a hiatus this present year as new mission personnel were being called. I am now in the process of setting up sites for the four YAGM’s who will be coming to Central Europe next fall for one year. Young adults apply to the YAGM program in order to immerse themselves in an international setting for a full year; to grow in faith; to accompany ELCA church partners around the world; and to form relationships with minority and/or marginalized groups of people in local settings. Here in Central Europe, the Roma community (or rather, communities) is such a people. Therefore the young adults who come to serve here will serve in contexts where their lives will intersect with the Roma (or Gypsy) people of Slovakia and Hungary.
The young adults who come here have no small task: Learning a new language (neither Slovak nor Hungarian will come with a few weeks study), working with partners from the Lutheran Churches here in Central Europe, and engaging with Roma populations, who have in the past often been separated from mainstream Europe – each of these on their own would be a challenge! In fact, I am a little in awe of the (as yet unknown!) young adults who will come to be Central European YAGMs next year. But even more, I am grateful for the chance I have to meet and accompany these young adults through a year of life and work abroad. I hope to provide comfort, prayers, and some practical nuts-and-bolts assistance along the way.
Jeremy and I invite you to follow our blog over the coming years. I will be posting “pastor’s letters” about my life at Bratislava International Church and as YAGM coordinator. Jeremy will be posting pictures of our life in general (Ursula will surely make an appearance from time to time!) as well as his own words about our life as Global Mission personnel in Central Europe. And then of course, there is that invitation to you to come and visit us some day. Doma v Bratislava.
The hot chocolate, Ursula would tell you, alone is worth the trip.