This is my third year in Slovakia, yet, I still feel like I am learning new things every minute! The town of Martin looks very much the same, the food still tastes as good and the schedule is very similar to the last few years…but something still feels as though this is the first time. God places us in situations where we may be either comfortable or uncomfortable, but in either, he will give us what we need to get through.
That said, I would like to speak more on the topic header and discuss the implications. My educational background is in the study of economics, and as such, I can often times become cynical and overly analytical about all things involving money or resources. I cannot avoid doing a cost/benefit analysis on something like a short term mission trip (is it really worth the monetary and time costs for me to be here). When viewing it in these terms, the answer is no. It would have been much more cost-effective to simply write a check and stay home while letting any number of capable Slovak leaders accomplish the tasks at hand. However, it has become apparent to me that there is much more going on here than is visible through my narrow lens.
God uses what he brings, our weakness, he then completes it with his strength. In terms of both magnitude and scope, this mix produces results far beyond what we could ever expect! But what is it that I am alluding to? What are the reasons for being here? These are all very good questions, and I may or may not be able to paint an accurate picture in this medium, but I will at least give it my best shot. One word comes to mind: Relationships!
In any ministry (be it some program put on by the local church or just the living of a life that shares the love of Christ with the people in your sphere of influence), there is something special that goes on beyond what we can control. I bring the gifts I have been given, God uses them in much more powerful ways than I would know how. However, the main conduit of any ministry is the relational bonds that are formed from person to person. Here in Slovakia, it is no different, we have classes, we have camps, we spend the days painting very old buildings, but this is just a way of building relationships and creating opportunities to connect with people. It is through these relationships that we are able to have an impact.
Getting to see old faces, and reconnect year after year provides us with situations where we can share the love of Christ in a much more potent way than simply walking up on the street and telling people God loves them. NOT to say that this other method is wrong, it is just that people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care. So, what started out as making connections through classrooms and camps has now morphed into being invited to have meals in homes, going on afternoon trips and just living a few days of life with people who we view as friends.
Lastly, it is inevitable that we will be leaving, and these relationships will be maintained through Facebook or placed on the shelf until the next time we come, yet there are solid connection points with the way the staff here at the Center for Christian Education have structured our programs. At both the high school and middle school camps, it is us Americans in a support role to Slovak leaders. In making connections here, the students are hopefully plugged in even more with the leaders who will be with them throughout the year. Church might seem like something scary and imposing, but coming to a class to learn English or going to a summer camp can easily be used as an entrance to seeing that the church is filled with people who are interested in developing relationships with them, rather than a scary place with people who only want to judge them.