So we’ve reached the other side of the one-year mark. Last February 2012, we arrived in Slovakia and began settling into our flat at Palisady 48. We brought a two-year old Ursula, our tent for camping, and lots of wonder about what life abroad would bring.
A year later, we have a three-year old Ursula, who comes home from pre-school singing songs in Slovak, and a second daughter, Esme, born in November, who is burrowing her way into our hearts, fast and furious. We have traveled (a lot) this first year, and have used our tent only once. (A remarkable statement coming from our family, were we still living in the American West.) But we have now learned that when you visit the High Tatra mountains of Slovakia, there are “chatas” in which to stay, not to mention countless hotels, pensions, and a variety of people who have opened their homes to us across Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria. A year later, we are still full of wonder about what life abroad will continue to bring.
I have learned a lot this year, and continue to learn more daily. I am learning (sometimes smoothly, sometimes clumsily) how to balance my call – being both Pastor of the Bratislava International Church (part-time) and Coordinator of the YAGM program for Central Europe (part-time). How exactly does one do two things part time so that they form one complete whole? Perhaps I will know better a year from now!
Despite the challenges, I love the mix – even the messiness — of the call. Mentoring young adults on the one hand. Guiding a seminary intern on the other hand. Building relationships with Hungarian Lutheran pastors on the one hand. Welcoming strangers to Jesus’ table Sunday after Sunday on the other hand. Planning retreats for the young adults on the one hand. Preparing for weekly text study on the other hand.
A year later, I find myself deeply thankful for the time that my family gets to spend together, in a life where work-life bleeds into home-life (and visa versa) all the time. At one point, I thought I would always want to separate the two: Family and home life over here, work and pastor-ing life over there. But such separation is impossible here (even before a nursing baby entered the picture), and I am now noticing the benefits of the messy mix. One example: My whole family has shared dinner with multiple pastoral colleagues and their families in Hungary, while discussing the YAGM program and life in general. The kids – across language barriers– have managed just fine together, and perhaps we parents have learned something in our children’s company.
A year later, I also find myself so very grateful for my spouse, who is so clearly my partner in the missionary work we are doing, and for my daughters, who are making me feel – quite contentedly — middle-aged!
And now it is Lent, the season of baptismal renewal, the journey the Christian church makes every year toward the Great Three Days. Marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday, and “remember that you are dust” still ringing in my ears, I find myself living Lent in both parts of my call.
Here in Bratislava, we gather on Wednesday evenings to sing Holden Evening Prayer and read some of the great “water” stories of our scriptures. In true international church fashion, I am presently meeting with quite a mix of people who are preparing for their children’s (or their own) baptism: the parents of a part Slovak-part English baby; the South Korean mother of a 4 and 6 year old; a recently married couple, one from Slovakia, one from Iraq, who themselves will be baptized at the Easter Vigil. It has been an amazing mix of baptismal conversations.
And soon our family will take five days, and journey to Strbske Pleso, Slovakia to meet the four YAGM’s for a Lenten retreat. We will take time to worship: we’ll confess our sins, pray for healing, and remember God’s gift of baptism to us. We’ll study some of the Bible stories usually read at the Easter Vigil. And hopefully, if the snow is good, we’ll do some skiing in the mountains as well. In this way, I hope to share a time of Lenten renewal with Matt, Dave, Kristen, and Ashley, and prepare them for the final four months of their service.
As we enter our second year of life as missionaries, I ask for your prayers as we continue trying to balance life and work in Central Europe. My prayers are with you as well, as you mark so many personal journeys during this Lenten time, this time between thick snow fall and green and growing things, this time of communal walking through the wilderness toward the land of milk and honey.
In the words of this Lenten prayer (ELW p. 65): Sustain us in our Lenten pilgrimage; may our fasting be hunger for justice; our alms, a making of peace; and our prayer, the song of grateful hearts.