As one who hasn’t been in the United States to celebrate the 4th of July in 13 years, I’ve always appreciated the mindfulness of ministry partners who go out of their way to do something special for our teams of primarily American students. So even though today we’re currently tucked away up on a mountainside in a remote village in central Slovakia, we’ll be finishing out the night with an impressive display of fireworks, a campfire, with a splash of American songs thrown into the (European-style) “disco” dance party being held on the basketball court.
We’ve been staying at an old conference and retreat center left over from the country’s communist days that was once left in disrepair after the fall of the Iron Curtain, but has since been under significant renovations to make it the perfect place to host a week-long camp. The campers have come not only from all over Slovakia, but from places like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Belgium, and even one from the contentious region of Chechnya, southern Russia. As you can imagine, the belief systems and world views held here are just as varied as the campers themselves, and the opportunities we’ve had to share the Gospel of Christ have been abundant.
Ever since our arrival here in Bojnice late Friday night (think midnight), we’ve been running at full speed, maintaining a schedule that starts at 7:30am and ends with lights out at 11:30pm (and even sometimes later depending on how late the Slovak night games go). After a morning meeting with the entire Slovak coaching/leadership staff, it’s off to breakfast with approximately 190 campers (ages 8-18), then dispersing into our 8 different teams (a mixture of Americans and Europeans), going to baseball practice at the fields in the neighboring village, and then returning for English classes on-site. After dinner we hold chapel outside on the court where the entire camp gets to hear more about the very real and tangible ways that God shows up in the lives of His creation. Night games and chats with our new friends around the fire close out the nights before our final team debriefing before bed.
Our focus since being here has really been three-fold.
1. We’ve aimed to be as incarnational as possible with our Slovak(+) friends, living out a ministry of presence by simply “being with” in order to share the love of Christ in ways that transcend language barriers.
2. We want to be “agents of shalom” in this place that God has us. We are seeking to develop eyes to see the people around us through the lens of God — what is His idea of “flourishing” for this person? And how can we help contribute to that sense of goodness, redemption, wholeness? These are the questions our students are holding as they enter into these new relationships and experiences. While there’s a beautiful sense of diversity here, in both age and culture, our students have been finding that some human experiences are universal: loneliness, pain, the desire to be known and feel significant, the ramifications of broken family structures, etc. The thirst for hope can be found everywhere, and Slovakia is no different.
3. Taking our inspiration from the movie We Bought a Zoo, we too think that sometimes all it takes is 20 seconds of embarrassing, insane courage to step into something risky and good things can come on the other side. In that spirit, we have put forth the challenge to embrace those 20 seconds of courage and enter into risky conversations and interactions with the people around us – trusting that God might have good in store on the other side.
We have four more days to go, so join us in praying that the above things would continue to be true, that God’s love would be made known, and that all of us (Americans, Slovaks, and more) would move closer to the heart of God.
For the Kingdom,
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