Q&A with ELCA Mission Personnel
Interview with Marjorie, Kosice
Marjorie is a member of North New Hope Lutheran Church near Amherst Junction, Wisconsin. As a volunteer for the Global Mission unit, she taught English at the J.A. Komenskeho Gymnasium in Kosice, Slovakia for five years.
It is a long way from Amherst Junction to Slovakia. How did you get here?
Recently widowed, I was feeling stagnated and asking, "What is the rest of my life for?" I decided to go to a Global Mission event in Minneapolis with some friends, thinking that if there was some opportunity there for me, I would follow up on it. The first thing I saw was a display about teaching English in Slovakia, and I learned more at a session led by Jon and Ann Sorum, missionaries in Slovakia. Because I had been a fulltime and substitute teacher for almost 30 years, this seemed like something I could do.
I called Global Mission for an application and felt that someone was urging me to fill it out. After I submitted it, I received a call from Steve Nelson of Global Mission, asking me to come to Chicago for an interview. Everyone there was very pleasant and concerned that I have a good feeling about the interview. When I left, I had hopes that I would be accepted, but did not want to count on it. When I learned that I had been accepted, I was really excited. By January 2003, I was flying to Slovakia with the blessings of my five grown daughters.What is a typical day for you?
I walk to school in ten minutes, arriving at 7:30 AM to get things arranged, and have my first class at 8:00 AM. I have from two to five 45-minute classes a day, with about 15 students per class. Our emphasis is on English conversation, and we talk about English and American literature or various topics in general culture. I finish my teaching between 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM, depending on the day. Afternoons and evenings, I spend some time correcting papers and preparing for classes.What do you do for recreation?
I enjoy singing, so I joined the choir at the Slovak Lutheran congregation. The choir has been very welcoming, so I feel I have 30 new friends. It also helps me to learn Slovak. I help with the children’s sermon for our monthly English service. I also enjoy attending symphony concerts three or four times a month. On two weekends, I traveled in Slovakia on short excursions with students and other teachers.What are your students like?
My students have been a real treat. They are typical teenagers, but they have a commitment to getting a good education and are grateful to be in a bilingual school where they can learn English well. They each have tested into the school, and they are learning subjects that will equip them for a university education.How do you like living in Slovakia?
I love it! Slovakia has many beautiful areas and friendly people. Being a country girl, I surprised myself at being able to adjust quickly to living in a big city (Kosice has about 240,000 residents). I like being close to stores, historical buildings, and parks. The public transportation is so reliable that I do not need a vehicle. I feel safe walking everywhere, anytime. Even though I understand only a little Slovak, the language is not too big a problem because people are always happy to help, and I also carry a dictionary. My accommodations are more than adequate. I share an upper flat with three other American teachers and one Slovak. I have a very large room with a shared kitchen and two bathrooms. My only expense is my share of the telephone. I am in walking distance of the school, stores, dentist, and doctor. With the health care provided, I am able to see a specialist if I need one.In what sense do you see yourself as a missionary?
I do not see myself as bringing Christianity to Slovakia, because Slovaks have a long Christian history and many have a deep faith. I am only continuing what they have had for hundreds of years. I am here as an example of Christian living. I believe that actions sometimes speak louder than words, and how I treat my students says a lot to them. In addition we always open our first class and end our last class with prayer, and we have chapel every Tuesday.What would you say to someone who is considering teaching English in Slovakia?
If you are adaptable, it will be a very fulfilling time for you, not only in school but meeting new people and enjoying the history all around you. It is a fantastic experience. Do come!
Interview with Paul, Bratislava
From 1997-2005, Paul and his wife Kay served at the International Congregation in Bratislava, Slovakia, through the ELCA Global Mission unit. During that time Paul also taught religion at the Evangelical Lyceum, a Lutheran high school of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia.
What brought you to Slovakia?
PH: Forty years ago, while I was in seminary, I lived in Berlin working with refugees for the Lutheran World Federation. It was my first time outside North America, and it opened my perspectives on the Lutheran Church and the world. Some thirty years later, after serving three congregations in the U.S., Kay and I attended a Global Mission Event in Spokane. Kay attended a session about the ministry in Slovakia and the conversation started. Global mission turned out to be like bookends on either side of our congregational ministries.
How is the Bratislava International Congregation similar to a church in the U.S.?
KH: We are a group of Christians who gather around Word and sacrament. We worship on Sunday mornings using the liturgy from the Lutheran Book of Worship. People come to church here with the same basic needs as people at home: they are spiritually hungry and searching for meaning, they are hurting and in need of care, they are lonely and looking for Christian fellowship.
How is the congregation different?
PH: Not all members are Lutheran. Those who worship with us come from many different Christian traditions and from five continents. It is also a very transient congregation. In the fall we never know for sure who will be there. The congregation is made up of students, teachers, diplomats, international business people, and some Slovaks—all coming because they want an English-speaking church and a circle of friendship. Because this is a diverse international congregation, the preaching, prayers, and hymns have to incorporate a more global perspective.
What have you learned by teaching religion at the Evangelical Lyceum?
PH: I’m grateful for the unique opportunity of teaching religion each year to seventy 18-19-year-olds twice a week. I have appreciated the opportunity to know this generation, the first to grow up after communism. Some of them come from religious homes where Christian faith is central, but many do not. Their parents lived through the communist period when church life was severely controlled. Like teenagers everywhere, they have many questions about faith and life. I can identify with that because I was the same way when I was their age. I have been teaching World Religions, and have certainly learned more about them in that process, and also because we have more contact with them here than in some areas of the U.S. Our students have many questions about the other faiths and their relationship to Christianity.
Kay, what have you been doing here in Slovakia?
KH: I served as a volunteer in a number of ways. I drew on my professional background as a nursing educator and consultant to work with international health and development agencies here. As part of the International Women’s Club of Bratislava, I help raise money for several charitable causes, like orphanages and hospitals. With Paul, I have supported the other ELCA missionaries here—teachers, librarians, seminary professors-- by offering hospitality, providing orientation, assisting with housing, and creating a welcoming community. Because the church office is in our apartment, I have sometimes served as church secretary, and I have been organist for Sunday worship.
What have you appreciated most about living in Slovakia?
PH: Just being in the middle of so much that is happening in the world, learning about history where it happened and from multiple points of view. Also, getting to know Christians who had to face serious oppression and who paid a heavy price for their faith. Learning how faith was kept alive under those conditions has also been instructive and inspiring.
KH: It has also been interesting to see how a society, that was for hundreds of years run by others, is now moving toward independence and a developing democracy. We also appreciate all the cultural opportunities here, especially the music.
Isn’t it a long way from Billings to Bratislava?
PH: In one sense it is, but if you look at a globe, you will see that Montana and Bratislava are on the same line of latitude. And we feel that there are strong lines of connection between Slovakia and Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, because most of our supporting congregations are there. We serve on their behalf and with their encouragement and support. More lines of connection will be created when a Global Mission event, the first ever in this synod, will be held at Montana State University from July 15-18, 2004. This will bring the world to Montana and provide many opportunities to learn more about other places and cultures and how we can be involved with Christians from other parts of the world.