Serving Slovakia…Changing Hearts 1

As I write this, I am filled with sadness…looking out on the cityscape of Martin, knowing full well that I have just said goodbye to some of my newest and yet best friends. In just two weeks, the relationships formed are truly indescribable. I never would have thought that I’d become such good friends with so many people, of so many different backgrounds and stories of life. I  was fortunate enough to really experience part of Slovakia that not many visitors would: the loving and caring nature of those who just want to serve. I never will fully understand the true spirit in the heart of service that these people have; caring not for themselves and knowing that God will provide so long as one follows His will….
We are now passing through Zilina, the home of yet more friends and friendships I have forged these last two weeks. The most surprising thing of all is how many of these friends I made that were not even in my class. I met these people on one of the very few trips students were able to accompany us on. I did not know at the time how precious these sorts of trips were, but now I know…As with our mission here, the class-time simply opens the doors to communicating and building relationships with the students. The real relationships are built outside of the classroom, where the students can see their instructors as they truly are. I also now know how valuable those trips are for me as well….to be able to see the students as they really are.
They are not all that much different from us. They want to laugh, tell jokes, and just have a good time. Whether it’s at tea, European hot chocolates, late-night movies in the dorms, or even just walking through town being goofy, having fun is just the same as it is in the US. Again, I’m so glad to have been fortunate enough to build these relationships.
“I stand amazed in the glory of Jesus our glorious king….”
Words cannot describe how much this trip has impacted me. More so this year than the last. I believe that to be because this year I took control and yet at the same time let what happened happen…and embraced it. It is my norm to back out of situations in which I do not already know the people with whom I am interacting. This year, I took the initiative and introduced myself to people, and continued conversations with those to whom I’d been introduced. Life is too short to not take full advantage of every day and every possible relationship we are given. I am now, more than ever, a firm believer in the saying that “Everything happens for a reason.” Most people see “everything” as meaning  all of the events that come to pass– I know that “Everything” means every relationship, situation, and even circumstance in which we are placed.
Of these relationships I have formed these last two weeks, the greatest were made by simply asserting myself. One example is with the marvelous “kitchen girls”. Those true servants of servants- the ones who are up early every morninng, and up late every night preparing breakfast, snacks, lunch, and “to-go” meals for the road. Where a simple “thank you” would have been enough, I proceeded to smile, then laugh and joke with them. One whom I only knew as “one of the zuzkas” I now refer to as “sister” or “sister zuzka” and she refers to me as “brother”. These are the kinds of relationships that I will value forever, and which make it so difficult to leave this place. As we returned to Martin only two short weeks ago, I had the strange sensation of returning home. As I leave now, it feels as though I am leaving home. Leaving the safest place I’d been in a while, leaving behind friends whom I have come to love… in the hopes of one day seeing them again. As much as I hate to say it, I know also that some of the friendships I have made will wither away…and that I may never even see some of these people again. Though we all promise “next year”, we can never truly know what will happen to us between now and then.
Some of my other great friendships were with two young men whom I never would have met unless I’d asserted myself and actually pursued relationships with them. They were the “go-fers” of their team, making copies very frequently. This was good though, for it allowed me to really begin getting to know them, and even to hang out with them on our trips to various locales. Where they otherwise would have spent the time with only their teammates, I gave them the opportunity to spend time with the crowd of ours. I am so glad I did. I really got to know them this last week, as it took me a week to build up the courage to really talk to them, invite them to events with us, invite them to “our bus” and whatnot. Though this opened the door to the relationships with them, it opened my heart to so much more. I proceeded to then promote a sort of “intermix” between the groups: intentionally sitting myself at empty tables at lunch so I could sit by one or several members of the other teams. During lunch, if I saw a member of their team come out to the patio and sit by themselves, I would relocate myself and go sit with them, to keep them company and get to know them. Make them feel loved. Sure, their own team would have come out and sat by them, and they wouldn’t have felt unloved had I not….but I felt it was so important to move out beyond my comfort zone and smile at them and say “hi” or just try to start a conversation with them. The cooperation between the groups was just so important and it would never have happened had the few that took initiative not done so.
I know now for next year several things that need to be taken into consideration during all interactions between the groups. Though we come from different places, we all come for the same purpose. God will achieve His Will through us all, the only thing we can do is be part of promoting it, or part of slowing it down. With the teams working together as one, we will be able to see the work He can do all the better. AND we’ll all be the better for it.

I really do not have the words necessary for truly expressing my feelings and experiences of this trip and its effect on me. I only hope that this small piece of my heart can communicate to you how much this trip has changed me…and will continue to change me.

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