Hello from Vienna!
I apologize that this post is a) late and b) short. I had a few amazing paragraphs written that the Internet decided not to save for me, and with an early departure tomorrow morning, there isn't time to write a lot! Here's a rundown of our last few days:
We wrapped up the Puchov camp with a combined teen/children's camp barbecue and program on Thursday evening and a closing program on Friday. After the closing, we scrambled to clean up classrooms, move tables and chairs, and sort out the supplies we wanted to leave so that we could catch our afternoon train to Bratislava, and then on to Vienna.
Since we've been in Vienna, we've had some team meals out together, explored Schoenbrunn palace and gardens, attended an English-speaking Methodist service, wandered around Stephansplatz, gotten caught in one or two torrential downpours while walking, and had some really in-depth and productive debrief conversations. Tomorrow (Monday) morning, most of the team departs back to the US, while a few are staying on in Europe for a little while.
Vienna is always a city of bittersweet emotions to me: while we are happy to be returning home to friends and loved ones, leaving behind a country and people we have grown to love so much is difficult. Even so, building those relationships and connecting Christians from different countries is exactly what EEMN is about. We can all go our separate ways feeling encouraged and strengthened by the faith of our brothers and sisters in other places, and we can return to our "normal" lives with more perspective and an openness to what God has shown us about ourselves over the course of the trip.
We are all grateful to every single person who has followed this blog (or Facebook/Instagram/social media of choice) and prayed for us on this trip. The "senders" are just as vital to the mission field as the "goers," and your support along the way is invaluable! We trust that God has planted seeds in the hearts of the children and teens we worked with over the last few weeks and that He will do amazing things in our own lives as we return home from this journey.
If reading about our adventures has sparked an interest in you for missions, please reach out to the team member who brought you here to find out more about their experiences. EEMN will be holding more camps in summer 2019-- the vineyard is plentiful but the workers few!
Signing off for the last time for the SEBC 2018 team,
Meet the Team: Jackie & Heidi
Two first-time team members from New Mexico, Jackie and Heidi were awesome in the camps! Jackie is a retired elementary school teacher and taught Group 2, and Heidi is a high school math teacher and taught Group 5.
Meet the Team: Crystal, Tim, & Timmy
Tim & Crystal are veteran team members, each having come to Slovakia twice before, but this was Timmy's first trip. At home, Tim is a fire chief and paramedic, Crystal is a volunteer EMT and school cook, and Timmy is a student. Tim and Timmy worked with Group 4 and Crystal worked with Group 1.
Meet the Team: Bob H. & Bob W.
"The Bobs," as we sometimes collectively called them, are both veteran team members and both from California! Bob H. is a retired police officer, has been to Slovakia 9 times, and led crafts. Bob W. is a retired pediatrician, has been to Slovakia twice, and taught Group 6.
Meet the Team: Vic & Silvia
Vic is on his fourth trip to Slovakia and is a retired police officer. Silvia was able to get enough time off from her job as an executive assistant to come for the first time this year as well. Vic taught Group 8 and Silvia taught Group 7.
We are officially over halfway done with the Puchov camp and can't believe it's going by so quickly! We have 69 students in camp along with a wonderful group of interpreters, hosts, and helpers.
On Sunday we worshipped at the Puchov Lutheran Church along with the teen camp team members. We introduced ourselves, sang a couple of songs, and generally tried to follow along with the service as much as we could. For anyone who thinks there's a lot of standing up and sitting down in American Lutheran services, you should try a Slovak Lutheran service--it's a great workout :) After the service, we were treated to a barbecue in the church yard prepared by members of the congregation for us. Then, the children's camp team and the teen camp team parted ways: us to get ice cream ("zmrzlina") and set up classrooms to prepare for camp, and them to meet their batch of teens who arrived that afternoon. On Sunday evening, we had our team dinner out at a restaurant and enjoyed the chance to relax a little before the start of camp.
We have 8 classes in the Puchov camp, each with 7-11 students. The kids at this camp tend to be slightly younger, which makes communicating even more difficult when their English is so limited at that age. However, you would be amazed at how far a handful of English words, a handful of Slovak words, some gestures, and a lot of friendly facial expressions will get you! Our interpreters range in age from mid teens to mid 20s, and many have been part of the camps since they were participants themselves.
We had a "free" night on Monday evening--quotation marks because a free night actually means a chance to catch up on laundry, lesson planning, or (if you can squeeze it in) sleep. Most of the team used Tuesday afternoon to buy a few school supplies and groceries before our team dinner. Yesterday evening (Wednesday) we went out for bowling and pizza with the interpreters for the camp. Although something like bowling and pizza seems like it's just for fun, it's also a good opportunity to have more in-depth conversations with our interpreters. The camp days go by so quickly and everyone is running at full speed, so there's rarely a chance to slow down and really talk to anyone. Post-camp activities like this are important to help us build relationships and encourage one another not only in this week but throughout the rest of the year (through the magic of online communication) as well. The beauty of these English Bible Camps is that working with the kids is our primary purpose in coming here, but a byproduct is that we can encourage and lift up brothers and sisters in Christ who feel alone or discouraged here.
PHOTOS COMING NEXT POST!
Greetings from Povaska Bystrica, the town where the team is staying during the Puchov camp week! I have a lot of things to catch up on, so I'll just dive right in.
On Wednesday, the team, along with our Slovak interpreters and hosts, took a well-deserved afternoon/evening off. We took a bus to Bardejov, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a historic city center. Just as we started walking around the center, a sudden downpour struck, so the team sheltered in various cafes and ice cream shops until it was time to go to dinner--a coffee/ice cream break, such a tragedy! :) We enjoyed dinner as a big group, then headed back to Vranov.
On Thursday, the story of the day was the crucifixion. Pastor David reminded us in our morning devotional that even though we as teachers often worry about how to present the crucifixion to children in just the right way, it's more important to trust that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. All the music rotations sang "Oh, How He Loves You and Me" to help put the reason for Jesus's death in perspective, and the kids painted stained glass-esque crosses in crafts. In the evening, we had a small program for parents with a few songs, introductions from the team and interpreters, and photos from the week. Afterwards, we all enjoyed a HUGE spread of snacks, cakes, pastries, fruits, and other goodies--Lutheran potlucks are Lutheran potlucks anywhere you go!
On Friday we covered the resurrection story and had our closing program. For the program, each class performed a song or portion of the Gospel story from the week, plus the Ascension and Pentecost. The program was well-attended by parents and grandparents, and Slavo (the director of EVS) gave a brief sermon geared to the parents. The team said goodbye to the children and our friends in Vranov and spent the evening packing up to leave the next morning.
This morning we hopped on a bus that took us to a train that brought us to Povaska Bystrica. Train travel in Slovakia is always exciting with 15 Americans and 30+ suitcases to get on and off the train in as little time as possible (with Slovaks also trying to get on and off as well), but we always consider it a team building exercise. Today we have also officially parted ways with the part of our team who are leading the teen camp near Puchov this week--you can follow their adventures in the "Slovakia Teens '18" tab above.
Tomorrow morning both teams will worship in the Puchov Lutheran Church and have lunch prepared for us there. The teens for the teen camp will arrive in the afternoon, while the English Bible Camp team will prepare classrooms and meet interpreters in preparation for the beginning of the camp on Monday.
Meet the Team: Bella & Natalie
Bella and Natalie are both from California. Bella is a university student studying psychology in California, and Natalie is studying business in Arizona. They team taught Group 9, and this was Natalie's first time and Bella's second (after coming in 2013). After the week in Vranov, Bella and Natalie have separated off as part of the teen camp team for the second week.
Meet the Team: Chuck & Laura
Chuck and Laura are from California, where Chuck is the director of technology at a high school and Laura is a volunteer and mom (to one son and 4 dogs). Chuck and Laura team taught Group 10, and this was their 6th trip to Slovakia. After the week in Vranov, Chuck and Laura are touching base with some friends in Slovakia before heading to Germany.
Dobry den (good day) from Slovakia! We are just wrapping up our 3rd day of camp. Our theme this year is Living in Love: The Story of Jesus. We have a record number of children attending this camp: 106 on Monday and 108 on Tuesday and today. Every class has 7-13 students, and the teachers are working hard to plan for each day and make the most of their time here. Each day we are covering a different part of the Gospel story, and the children spend time in English class, crafts, sports, and music.
After the camp day on Monday and Tuesday, we spent time debriefing how the day went and then had the afternoon free to go shopping, get ice cream, do laundry, and plan for the next camp day. On Monday evening after dinner, we did a team building activity where we guessed random facts about one another. On Tuesday evening, we went out to a local restaurant for dinner, then watched "The Princess Bride" as a way to decompress and relax after the busy camp day. This evening, we'll be taking a bus to Bardejov, a town about an hour away, to see the Renaissance-era city center and have dinner with the interpreters from the camp. Although these activities all seem like frivolous fun on the surface, they're actually an essential part of bonding as a team and allowing ourselves to relax and rejuvenate before we take on another camp day.
One of our hosts for these camps is EVS, or the Slovak Evangelistic Center. EVS has a small staff, but their ministries cover a broad range. EVS focuses only on spreading the gospel, not on charities or financial support, but their evangelism efforts include prison ministry, book translation, Bible correspondence courses, an annual conference, and several websites. Their websites are www.evs.sk, the basic information site, and www.chcemviac.sk (‘chcem viac’ means ‘I want more’), intended for Christians who are looking for inspiring videos, sermons, or blog entries. EVS is the organization that began partnering with EEMN to hold Bible camps in Slovakia in 2007, and has been our consistent host ever since. Lydia, our team translator, is an employee in the Bratislava office in the west.
Meet the Team: returning on the next blog post!
Greetings from Vranov nad Toplou, Slovakia! The team is finishing up their final preparations before our first day of our first camp tomorrow.
Our adventures as a team started on Thursday evening as we huddled together on a packed bus on the Vienna airpot tarmac waiting for hail to stop before we could be transported safely into the airport. If "neither snow, nor rain" can stop the US Postal service, it definitely didn't stop us (or our luggage, which thankfully all arrived safely as well)! We caught a bus from the Vienna airport that took us across the border to Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia), then after some taxi and tram travel, finally were able to collapse into our beds around midnight.
On Friday we spent the morning in team orientation, getting to know one another better and reflecting on the trip ahead of us. We enjoyed a ferry ride on the Danube river to Devin castle, where we clambered up and down stairs and trekked up hills to explore the ruins of this castle that was mentioned as early as 864 (read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dev%C3%ADn_Castle). That evening we had dinner out together and turned in early.
Saturday morning we hopped on a train to eastern Slovakia for our first camp location. The train ride took most of the day, and the team got to go through the age-old team building exercise of hauling 30 suitcases off a train in a matter of minutes. We were met at the train station by some of our Slovak translators and hosts, who helped us get ourselves and our luggage to our lodgings. We were also met by Crystal, Timmy, David, and Angela, who flew in that day (with their own tales of travel woes) after wrapping up camps in Latvia.
Today (Sunday) started with a worship service at the Lutheran Church in Vranov, which is located right next to our lodgings (which are in the school that we use for the camp--convenience all around!). Pastor David Breidenbach, director of EEMN, preached the sermon, team leader Phil Schmidt and team translator Lydia gave a demo of an opening-camp-day skit, and the rest of the team introduced themselves and received a blessing from the pastor. We enjoyed a long and leisurely lunch together before getting down to the real business this afternoon and evening: setting up classrooms, meeting classroom interpreters, and setting up for sports, crafts, and music.
One of the major themes that came out of our team meeting on Friday was the long-lasting impact that these camps can have. Veteran team members all have stories of how participating on a team in the past influenced other parts of their own lives in some way, and we heard some stories of previous students and translators mentioning how meaningful single conversations or interactions were to them years earlier. Our hope and prayer is that through our sharing of the Gospel this week, there will be ripple effects throughout the lives of everyone involved that extend far beyond the time we are here.
Meet the Team: Phil Schmidt, Erika Mechsner, Andreas Mechsner
On each post, different team members will be highlighted. Many of our prayer support partners know only certain members of our team, so this is a chance for you to get to know everyone in the photos you'll be seeing!
Co-team leader Phil has been coming to Slovakia since 2009, first as a team member and then as team leader. He takes most of the photos you'll be seeing during the camp day and also jumps in to assist, sub, or help out wherever needed. During the rest of the year, he teaches high school English to juniors and seniors. Erika, his sister and other co-team leader, has also been coming to Slovakia since 2009. During the camp day, she assists with music and writes these blog updates (sometimes in an awkward 3rd person voice like right now), and in "regular life" teaches first-year composition at the college level. Her husband Andreas is in Slovakia for the first time this year and will be teaching Group 3. Andreas is a graduate student who will be beginning a PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition this fall.
Welcome to the blog for the 2018 Slovakia English Bible Camp team! We have 1 1/2 months until take-off, but the team has been preparing for this trip for many months already. We have spent time researching the culture, history, and language of Slovakia, discussing our role as humble servants sharing the Gospel, and talking about nitty gritty details like luggage weight and curriculum. Through all of this preparation, we have been praying for our future mission field and that God will move mightily in Vranov & Puchov, Slovakia through our witness.
Our team is representing the western part of the United States this year:
From Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Washington: Tim, Crystal, & Timmy
From Faith Lutheran Church in New Mexico: Heidi and Jackie
From Wellspring Anglican Church in California: Bob H.
From Mount of Olives Lutheran Church in California: Vic, Silvia, Bella, & Natalie
From Calvary Lutheran Church in California: Bob W., Chuck, Laura, Phil, Andreas, & Erika
Representing EEMN: Pr. David & Angela
We covet your prayers as we prepare our hearts, minds, bodies, and suitcases for our trip in July!
PHIL SCHMIDT & ERIKA MECHSNER are siblings from California. When they aren't leading short-term trips to Slovakia or organizing children and youth events at their church, Calvary Lutheran, Phil is a high school English teacher and Erika is a university lecturer in composition.