Here we are: Still held in the Easter Season, day 38 of the Resurrection Celebration if you happen to be counting. And it is time for me to write a letter to all of you who are reading now.
Somehow March and April have come and gone, with their accompanying and multiple frustrations, surprises, and joys. I’ll share one of each here.
First, a frustration, because life is full of them, even when you are a missionary doing God’s work with your hands.
My intern is in exile. She is out of Slovakia, in England for the time, while her complicated visa paperwork is processed and she is able to legally return to the country.
She wants to be here. I want her to be here. The Bratislava International Church and her students at the Lyceum want her to be here. However, as in so many other life situations, what we want now is not always possible, at least immediately. We have to wait. And wait, and wait.
But I rest assured knowing that though she is far away, she is safe, fed, and clothed. She has hosts who are her friends. Her experience – though frustrating to many of us — is so utterly different from the experience of true refugees and aliens, who live daily under harsh and adverse circumstances. So many are truly in exile around this globe, with little hope of return. So many are not safe or fed or clothed. So I pray for these, even as I wait for Rachel’s return to Slovakia.
Second, a surprise (to remind those of us who like to pretend we are in charge that we are not). At the beginning of Lent, a couple from the Bratislava International Church approached me. They had been invited to the congregation by one of our regular assembly members. They had been worshipping for a while with us, though they had never come forward for communion. I found out they are a young, married couple, a couple looking for a religion, a faith to share which might hold their family in the years ahead. She is Slovak, but was raised during the Communist period, and had never been baptized. He was born and raised in Iraq, and grew up in a non-practicing Muslim household.
Now this couple found themselves attending the Bratislava International Church, and talking to me at fellowship hour about what it would mean to baptized.
So we began meeting. Week after week we met, and by the end of February the couple was clear – they wanted to be baptized, and yes, at this year’s Easter Vigil. Our meetings were moving and challenging. They asked great questions about the Trinity, about the sacraments, about who baptismal sponsors might be. I loved getting to know these two 20-somethings who were actually interested in learning about the Christian faith they were preparing to enter.
The Easter Vigil was full of surprises: I had anticipated less than 30 in attendance and around 60 came, including multiple children. We overflowed the candlelit room we’d set up for the Vigil readings. The children danced with me as we sang “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” and they provided musical accompaniment to the outdoor reading of the Three Men and the Fiery Furnace, next to a real blazing fire, with the rain falling down on our heads.
Finally we came into the sanctuary, and gathered around the font to baptize the couple that our assembly had been praying for throughout the Lenten season. I prayed the thanksgiving prayer, poured water over their heads, laid hands on them, and anointed them with a cross of oil. Just to remind us that baptism invites renewal, a dear 50-something member of our assembly affirmed her baptism that night as well.
The Spirit of God was surprisingly tangible, remaining with us as two new Christians took their first communion in a circle of people from Korea, Iran, Ghana, Slovakia, England, the USA, Denmark, and Norway.
Finally, a joy: We returned just a week ago from the yearly meeting north of the ELCA Chicago Churchwide offices, affectionately known as DIP. The Discernment, Interview, and Placement Event this year brought together 65 young people, moved by God to serve for a year in communities around the world.
There is something about interviewing 10 young people in less than two days. As exhausting as the process is, I was inspired and encouraged, by these young adults’ energy, accomplishments, and stories. At the end of the weekend, I was able to invite 5 young men and women to join our program next year in Hungary.
Having one year (almost) of YAGM coordination under my belt, I can confidently say this new group of volunteers will be stretched and deepened by God, the Lutheran Church in Hungary, and the Roma communities they will come in contact with throughout their year abroad. It will be a joy for me to get to be a mentor, witness, and companion on their journey.
Of course the other side of this joy is preparing for the YAGM group of 2012-2013 to leave soon. We will journey with them to the High Tatras for a final retreat in mid-July. Then we will say goodbye, giving thanks for the ways that knowing them has blessed our family. I will be thrilled to hear what ventures of which we cannot see the ending lie in store for them.