It is a common theme in our lives here in Bratislava that the first time we attempt to do something it involves some stumbling. It could be something as simple as buying cream at the grocery store, or figuring our which bus to take. Or maybe first attempts which are more difficult. Speaking to someone in another language. Perhaps navigating the streets of Budapest from the driver’s seat of a car. The first time is always a bit daunting. What kind of cream for instance among the myriad choices on the shelves? Sour cream after all does not taste good in coffee?! Where do you go to actually get a bus ticket? What is the word for thank you? Why are their no street signs that make any sense? The first attempt is rarely entirely successful.
Watching our children should teach us about the difficulties involved in first steps, climbing stairs, using a spoon, speaking words then sentences, navigating all the various equipment at the playground. They should teach us that there is nothing to be done, except to fall down and pick yourself, or be picked up again. Try again to get the soup in your mouth and not down the front of your shirt. Get excited when you realize that Mama and Milk both start with the letter M! And once you’ve climbed that slide backwards, do it again and again laughing all the time, until you are near exhaustion with joy and it’s exertion.
Miriam, Ursula and I traveled back to the United States for a few weeks after being in Slovakia for two months. When we returned to Bratislava, we returned to our home. We knew which streets to drive on to get home. We knew the cabinet in the kitchen where we kept pots and pans. We knew how to shop for food, and take a bus, and where all the close playgrounds were, and even how church service might go on Sunday.
Of course the familiar feels good, it reassures us. We are not entirely strangers, aliens. We can start to get comfortable.
Then we realize that we have not taken a train yet. We have not seen even a quarter of the city we are living in, let alone the rest of the country. We cannot even begin to get our heads around Slovak grammar. We do not have a bank account. We do not know where most of the people in the congregation live.
Luckily when this sets in, this feeling of ignorance, this fatigue from all the unknowns, we have the good fortune of taking a trip to Hungary. Where we know even less, where everything is new again, where we cannot even say thank you until the second day. Where we realize that very soon we shall be attempting to orient other people, the Young Adults in Global Mission who arrive in August for a year of service and exploration of their own in a new land. It starts to feel somewhat overwhelming to say the least.
Except that there are other people who live there in Szombathely, Szarvas, Nyiregyhaza, Nyirtelek, Budapest. Many good people in fact, who guide us, and translate, and teach, and feed us, and very gracefully help us to feel again on familiar ground, reassured.
Back again in Bratislava, we are welcoming friends from Montana. Members of Miriam’s congregation in Plains, who once, not so very long ago, welcomed us into their homes and made us feel comfortable, reassured. We hope we have just enough knowledge of the city to welcome them here on their first trip to our home. But we also know that we shall learn along with them as we continue to take first steps here. As I write they, along with Miriam and Ursula and Kara the Intern Pastor here at Bratislava International Congregation, are visiting the Diagnostic school for young students. Pastor Kara has been there once and the congregation has over time started to develop a relationship with this program, which helps young people develop and grow in sometimes difficult circumstances. I was a little too worn out today to go along on yet another new journey, but I trust that their experience will be translated to me and thus ease my first trip there when it comes.
Next week we shall travel to Liptosky Mikulas and then into the High Tatra mountains for the first time. We hope to meet up with teachers in a Lutheran school, and see the sweeping geography of the mountains, which we have read so much about. It is just a little bit daunting to take that first trip. But what we have experienced so far here in Bratislava is that it is necessary to constantly take those stumbles of the first step in order to see so much more the second time around.
Except for driving in Budapest, still not convinced about doing that.