Hand in Hand Blog Digest

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Summer Sabbath

Posted on July 23, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt, an ELCA missionary, is the pastor of the Bratislava International Church in Slovakia. These reflections on the Sabbath and other entries by Miriam and Jeremy Blythe can be read at their blog, šíriť dobru’ zvest. To support Miriam and Jeremy, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries in the global church, go to www.ELCA.org/4missionaries.

A quiet moment at the cabin.

A quiet moment at the cabin.

Many things are on hold for the summer months at the Bratislava International Church — no Bible study, no choir, no Sunday school. We rest from these activities. Yet on Sunday morning, God continues to gather an assembly. So we listen for God’s word in our midst, trusting that it is very near; we sing out our sorrows, and sing of God’s grace; we share the Eucharist meal, hoping for, tasting, week after week, the true presence of Christ.

Church continues, but we are also in transition. Our Young Adults in Global Mission participants complete their last official day of service today in Hungary. Tomorrow, they travel here and take part in this Sunday’s worship. Then we’ll all head out together to the High Tatras to make an end of their time here. We’ll pray together, study Scripture, and hike. We’ll reflect, and I hope this retreat also offers them something that one rarely gets living abroad for a year in a foreign land: Sabbath rest.

I find it wonderful and challenging that the Ten Commandments include a law about the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. Of course, this commandment has been interpreted in countless ways. But for me, at root, it has two parts: The commandment calls us to actually make space in our lives for rest, and at the same time remember that true rest is only possible in and through God. Sabbath rest is always God’s gift to us, a gift that God knows we need.

Those who can and do keep Sabbath are blessed, for we have the ability to rest from actual work. Many are searching, longing for work that will bring food to their tables, and pay the rent for the month. Sabbath rest seems impossible until there first is work. Others work all the time, at home, at a shop or an office; there seems no end to the work that must be done. The only rest comes in exhausted sleep at night. Sabbath rest, holy, God-given rest, seems illusive, the property of the rich or the lazy.

In any case, I am grateful to God that in the midst of a Bratislava summer, our family was able to go away from the city for 10 days. During that holiday, I was gifted with Sabbath rest.

We were up in the Maly Fatra mountains, staying with friends in some old wooden cabins, a 40-minute hike or jeep ride away from the nearest village. The grandmother — who has been coming to this place every year since 1968 — called it holy.  And though I believe that God can make any place holy, even the most vile and degraded corners of this earth, there is something about a cabin in the mountains — no email, no electricity, chop wood and carry water, soak in the cows and the rolling mountains and the sun and meals with friends. It’s not everyone’s idea of a vacation. But for me, it is indeed holy, Sabbath-full.

The place, Podsip, was special enough that we even left our coffee pot there — a little Italian percolator, that has traveled with us on numerous camping trips, to Guyana and back, and to every other place we’ve lived over the last 10 years. We left it there, so that others might enjoy good coffee in that holy mountain retreat, and in hopes that we might go back there some day and use it again.

Now we are back in Bratislava, ready to purchase a new coffeepot. But in all seriousness, I am ready to be here with the Bratislava International Church assembly and with the Young Adults in Global Mission participants. I am ready to breathe out and accomplish the work that I am here to do, since I returned filled up with so much holy, Sabbath breath. My lungs are thick with it.

So my prayer is this: May God grant all of you some measure of Sabbath — this summer, and regularly, throughout your years.

An inspiring baptism

Posted on May 14, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt, an ELCA missionary, is the pastor of Bratislava International Church in Bratislava, Slovakia, and the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission regional coordinator for Central Europe. Here is an excerpt from her May newsletter. You can read the full letter at her blog. To support Miriam, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries in the global church, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Miriam-Schmidt-5-14-13

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt

At the beginning of Lent, a couple from the Bratislava International Church approached me. They had been invited to the congregation by one of our regular assembly members. They had been worshiping for a while with us, though they had never come forward for communion. I found out they are a young, married couple, a couple looking for a religion, a faith to share that might hold their family in the years ahead. She is Slovak but was raised during the Communist period, and had never been baptized. He was born and raised in Iraq and grew up in a non-practicing Muslim household.

Now this couple found themselves attending the Bratislava International Church and talking to me at fellowship hour about what it would mean to baptized.

So we began meeting. Week after week we met, and by the end of February the couple was clear — they wanted to be baptized, and yes, at this year’s Easter Vigil. Our meetings were moving and challenging. They asked great questions about the Trinity, about the sacraments, about who baptismal sponsors might be. I loved getting to know these two 20-somethings who were actually interested in learning about the Christian faith they were preparing to enter.

The Easter Vigil was full of surprises: I had anticipated less than 30 in attendance and around 60 came, including multiple children. We overflowed the candlelit room we’d set up for the Vigil readings. The children danced with me as we sang “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” and they provided musical accompaniment to the outdoor reading of the Three Men and the Fiery Furnace, next to a real blazing fire, with the rain falling down on our heads.

Finally we came into the sanctuary and gathered around the font to baptize the couple that our assembly had been praying for throughout the Lenten season. I prayed the thanksgiving prayer, poured water over their heads, laid hands on them, and anointed them with a cross of oil. Just to remind us that baptism invites renewal, a dear 50-something member of our assembly affirmed her baptism that night as well.

The Spirit of God was surprisingly tangible, remaining with us as two new Christians took their first communion in a circle of people from Korea, Iran, Ghana, Slovakia, England, the USA, Denmark and Norway.

Lost again — and again

Posted on May 26, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt is an ELCA missionary in Bratislava, Slovakia. To support  Miriam, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt

Last week, I got lost again. Actually, I wasn’t really lost, I just couldn’t find the place where I was trying to go.

But the experience has made me think a bit about what it means to live outside of your country and culture of origin. Very simply — you get lost more often. You fail to find things, people, agreed upon destinations. You plan thirty minutes to get somewhere, and that is not ever enough.

I think about being lost when I look out over the congregation of Bratislava International Church. Most people worshipping here are not from here. Even the Slovaks come from other parts of Slovakia. Many others have traveled farther — from Iran, Korea, Ghana. They come here to worship because they want to worship in the English language – yet oftentimes English is a second, third or even fourth language. I’m sure many of them get lost in worship.

In April, we made a trip back to the United States, at which time I got to know the four young adults who will come this August to be Young Adults in Global Mission in Hungary for one year. They are amazing young women and men, excited about devoting a year of their life to service in foreign land, in a foreign church, among people who they will not be able to understand for weeks, or months.

I know these four competent and intelligent young adults will get lost.

And when you get lost, you are made to feel vulnerable.

But as a wise and beloved pastor recently reminded me, what it means to be Christian – on a deep level – is to welcome, even embrace vulnerability. After all, this is what God does in Jesus Christ – God enters into our human vulnerability, even to death. But somehow, we trust that in and through God’s vulnerability, we receive healing and salvation.

So perhaps there is something to all this getting lost. Perhaps I need to let it wash off my skin a little more easily.

Breathe deeply. Walk slowly. And prepare for getting lost (as it will happen.) But also trust that by the grace of God, I will be found. Again and again.

Many countries, one congregation

Posted on March 31, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt is an ELCA missionary in Bratislava, Slovakia. To support  Miriam, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt

The Rev. Miriam Schmidt

So here we are, at home, in Bratislava — in Slovak, “doma v Bratislava.” We arrived on Feb. 3.

The Bratislava International Church, of which I’m the new pastor, has become the — often temporary — church home for a remarkably diverse group of people over the last two decades. Refugees, ex-patriots, teachers, businesspeople, students, volunteers, government officials and many more from more countries than you can count have come, and still come for Sunday morning worship. Off the top of my head, some of the countries of origin presently represented include Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Great Britain, the United States, Indonesia, Korea, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Mexico, Hungary, and of course Slovakia. but this is hardly a complete list. In addition, many of the people who come to the International Church have lived in still other countries around the world before they found their way to Slovakia — Jordan, Morocco, Togo, Namibia — to name a few.

The pastors who have served this congregation since 1994 have come from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but those who come to Bratislava International Church come from many different denominational backgrounds: Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Church of England, Roman Catholics, to name a few. There are also Lutherans from the United States and from the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Slovakia.

But somehow by the power of the Holy Spirit and the call of God through Jesus Christ we manage midst all these differences to gather on Sunday morning around Word and Sacrament, to pray and sing, to worship and fellowship together. Thanks be to God that such a thing is possible at all! And I give particular thanks that my family and I have the opportunity to take part in this temporary church home of Bratislava International Church over the next (at least) four years.

Besides being pastor of the Bratislava International Church, my other work through ELCA Global Mission is to coordinate the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission Program in Central Europe. I am now in the process of setting up sites for the four YAGM’s who will be coming to Central Europe next fall for one year. The young adults who come to serve here will intersect with the Roma (or Gypsy) people of Slovakia and Hungary.

Those who come here have no small task. In fact, I am a little in awe of the (as yet unknown!) young adults who will come to be Central European YAGMs next year.  But even more, I am grateful for the chance I have to meet and accompany these young adults through a year of life and work abroad. I hope to provide comfort, prayers, and some practical nuts-and-bolts assistance along the way.

 

Celebrating freedom in Slovakia

Posted on October 18, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Arden and Janna Haug are ELCA missionaries based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Arden is the ELCA’s regional representative for Europe. They have two sons, Vitali and Alexei. To support the Haugs, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Arden and Janna Haug and their son , Alexei, their most recent high school graduate.

Arden and Janna Haug and their son , Alexei, their most recent high school graduate.

Dear friends,                            

For the Lutheran high schools in Slovakia, the beginning of the school this year was a particularly momentous day. September 2011 marked the 20th anniversary of the reopening of the schools. During the early years of communism, the government closed all religious schools. Church supported schools would allow too many questions to be asked of the communist state.  When the Evangelical Lyceum in Bratislava was re-opened in the fall of 1991, ELCA volunteer teachers were invited to teach English and share the gospel through the English language worship. For 20 years now, ELCA volunteers of all ages have been welcomed to share their gifts in the Slovak Lutheran schools. Today, an entire generation of students has been raised with no memory of communism.

September was also  a new beginning for me personally.  In addition to my work in Bratislava, I am the director of the ELCA Wittenberg Center  in Wittenberg, Germany. As we near 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it felt both important and timely for the ELCA to re-establish our presence at the “birthplace of the Reformation.”  I have been traveling frequently to Wittenberg for years, but during the course of the fall, the office of the ELCA Regional Representative will be relocated to Germany. On Reformation Day, October 31, I will preach at the Castle Church, where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. Luther is buried in the church. This can make the preacher a bit anxious about the “sinner/saint” turning over in his grave.

We are thankful for your prayers, your interest and your financial support. These continue to be difficult economic times for many ELCA congregations and for many personally.  It is hard to make financial commitments in a time of uncertainty.  But as we pray for the ELCA Global Mission, let us remember the historical tradition of service around the world which has been at the very heart of our call as a church.

Peace, Arden and Janna Haug

 

Easter in Slovakia

Posted on April 22, 2011 by Hand In Hand
The children carried palm branches.

The children carried palm branches.

The Rev. Arden and Janna Haug are ELCA missionaries based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Arden is the ELCA’s regional representative for Europe. They have two sons, Vitali and Alexei.

Dear Friends,

In Slovakia, Palm Sunday is known as “Flowering Sunday.”  It is a wonderful description of the season.  Apple trees, plum trees, forsythia and magnolias are all in bloom.   Slovaks often bring branches from these trees or pussy willows to be blessed as a part of the Sunday morning liturgy on Palm Sunday.

In the Bratislava International Church, we celebrated the day with traditional greens palms and dry tan palm crosses.  When I was in Great Britain for a regional meeting of the Lutheran World Federation, I searched high and low for palm branches, but I was told in one liturgical supply house after another that in England, “palm crosses is what we use.”   The English save their palm crosses, as Americans do their palm branches, for Ash Wednesday

The adults waved palm crosses.

The adults waved palm crosses.

services the following year.  I scoured the city for palm branches and then decided to experiment and have a multicultural Palm Sunday.  The children entered the church with palm branches swaying and shouting loud “hosannas,” and the adults followed waving their palm crosses and reverently singing, “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”  It was a wonderful way to begin our Holy Week observance.

In the Slovak language, the word for Easter is Vel’ka noc, which means Great Night.  The name the Great Night comes from the early tradition of Orthodox Christianity and its important midnight Easter Vigil.   Following the old Slavic liturgy and custom, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection takes place in the midnight hours.  The good news of Easter is proclaimed “on the first day of the week, and early dawn, when the women went to the tomb.”

At midnight the priests and congregation walk around the church three times, and on third round, they stop at the entrance of the church.  The priest knocks on the door, and then announces to the congregations standing in the darkness, that the tomb is empty. This leads to the Orthodox Easter greeting which has become our own familiar Easter greeting, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

A blessed Easter from Central Europe!

The Haugs

Cards bring it home for the holidays

Posted on December 21, 2009 by Hand In Hand

As this Story of Faith in Action (SOFIA) illustrates, Operation Thanks-Giving blessed both giver and receiver.  Thanks to Marianne Griebler and Denise Brown for their work telling the story. Find this and other SOFIA stories under “Outreach” at www.elca.org/storiesFind all the “Hand in Hand” blog digest posts related to Operation Thanks-Giving at http://blogs.elca.org/handinhand. Read on and enjoy an extra helping of thankfulness this Christmas season. Sue Edison-Swift

Edwin Holmvig-Johnson’s first Thanksgiving as a missionary was also his first away from home.

Edwin is a Young Adult in Global Mission with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). He teaches reading and writing to children in primary school in the U.K.

“My homesickness had been fairly stable up until that week,” he said. “The weather was gray and it starts to get dark here around 4:00 in the afternoon. It was a hard week.”

Then, a package from the ELCA churchwide organization in Chicago arrived.

Edwin opened it expecting to find official forms needing his John Hancock. Instead he found a package filled with handmade cards, compliments of the first annual Operation Thanks-giving, a new ELCA missionary support initiative.

“There were these fantastic cards and greetings from a congregation (Trinity Lutheran Church in Vale, N.C.) that I’d never met on the other side of ‘the Pond.’ It felt wonderful to know that I was being thought of and prayed for and made it easier to keep going,” Edwin said.

For her part, Ginger Crisman, evangelism committee chairperson at Trinity, was inspired by the idea of involving her congregation in Operation Thanks-giving. Early in November she supplied 150 worshipers with colored paper, crayons and pens prior to Sunday service. The Rev. John Locke encouraged each card-marker to say a prayer for the recipient of their creations.

Worshipers from age 3 to 83 put their artistic talent to use, creating about 93 cards for ELCA missionaries and 93 cards for military service personnel. “It was everything we hoped for,” Ginger said. “God works in big and little ways. This was a little way.”

“Show the Missionaries Some Love”

The Rev. Twila Schock, ELCA program director for Global Mission Support, knew this “little way” could have a big impact.

In 1994, Twila was a first-year missionary in Slovakia. The excitement of the assignment was wearing off by Thanksgiving, Twila recalled, when everything (language, shopping, daily routines) just seemed hard. But a Thanksgiving care package she received turned out to the best cure for homesickness.

Earlier this year, Twila shared her story with Sue Edison-Swift, associate director for Global Mission Support, and that was all Sue needed to hear. “We’ve got to show the missionaries some love,” she said, and the first annual Operation Thanks-giving was born.

Operation Thanks-giving took a page from Hand in Hand, the theme for the Global Mission Support newsletter. Card makers were asked to use their hands to draw and decorate turkeys on the cards.

This Thanksgiving, 258 ELA missionaries in five countries received a package of cards crafted by 15 congregations and two units at the churchwide organization. Some congregations choose to send cards directly to missionaries they support.

Having Faith in the Work that God Can Do

Those cards deeply touched Emily E. Ewing, a missionary in Rankovce, Slovakia, worlds away from her hometown of Vail, Colo.

“The fact that people I don’t know and who don’t know me sent me the cards was big for me,” she said. “It just shows so much faith in the work that God can do with each of us and faith in our church, as well, that they will send cards knowing that they’re going to someone who is far from home, following God’s call.

“It was really cool that so many people believe so strongly in the work God does with the church that they would send cards.”

On November 15 during Sunday school at St. John Lutheran Church of Farmersville in Easton, Pa., 22 people each made three cards for missionaries and military persons serving in Baghdad.

“We often hear about the needs of military units who are deployed over the holidays. I had never considered the same type of need for missionaries,” said the Rev. Roxi Kringle, pastor of St. John.

The excitement surrounding Operation Thanks-giving was contagious. “The (Sunday School) room was buzzing by the time I got down,” Pastor Kringle said. “A couple boys asked their recipients to write back. The thank you notes the church received from Iraq had the class beaming.”

A Wonderful Sense of Connection

Michael and Terri Church, a husband-and-wife pastor team serving as English-language mission developers in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, saw Thanksgiving arrive as they struggled to become acclimated with a new culture.

Hoping to downplay their loneliness by discounting the holiday, they decided to make Thanksgiving just another day. “Under my breath, I quoted a favorite line from (the movie) ‘Rocky': ‘To you it’s Thanksgiving; to me it’s Thursday,'” Michael said.

What a difference a day can make.

“Friday’s mail brought our Operation Thanks-giving cards,” Michael said. “Completely unexpected, out of the blue, came these wonderful handmade cards from complete strangers, in Lutheran churches all over the country, reminding us that we weren’t alone, and that there were people at home giving thanks to God for all their blessings — and even that we ourselves, as missionaries, were one of those blessings. It gave us a wonderful sense of connection to our country and to our church.

“Thanks again to everybody who took part in it,” Michael added. “May God be with you all!”

Unexpected Thanksgiving Joy

Posted on November 12, 2009 by Anne Edison-Albright

Thanksgiving 2008 Bratislava, Slovakia.  Check out the turkey art!

Thanksgiving 2008 Bratislava, Slovakia. Check out the turkey art!

  I am 100%, totally, completely all about this Operation Thanksgiving thing. I think what excites me most about it is imagining my friends and former colleagues in Slovakia getting a card in their mailbox at school: getting an unexpected boost of joy first thing in the morning, taking it to their English classes, maybe posting it on the bulletin boards. I imagine them feeling connected and supported by us here in the US during what can be a really difficult month for missionaries. And I love the idea of being part of that connection: praying for and supporting other missionaries the way my husband and I were supported during our year of service in Bratislava.

November was a difficult time for us: we thought we were done with culture shock, only to get hit with another, unexpected wave of it. We felt especially far from home. Our community Thanksgiving celebrations were a welcome source of joy–the kind of joy I imagine those first year missionaries will feel when they receive an unexpected turkey card in their mailboxes: someone from the US, remembering them at a most welcome time.

Sean and I recently did an adult forum about our year of service in Slovakia at St. Luke’s in Park Ridge. At the end of our presentation we introduced Operation Thanksgiving and invited everyone to make cards. Here are some of the messages my congregation is sending out—to the individuals who will receive these cards and to all our missionaries:

“God’s richest blessings to you this day.” “We give thanks for the abundance of your ministry!” “When the world gives you a bunch of turkeys … make Thanksgiving!” “Thank you for all you do!”

Thank you for all you do to support ELCA missionaries!

Click here to learn more about how you and your congregation can participate in Operation Thanksgiving.

 –Anne Edison-Albright now lives in Park Ridge, Ill.

“You can do this!”

Posted on July 27, 2009 by Anne Edison-Albright

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:16-20

Preaching in Slovak and English

Preaching in Slovak and English

Daniel, a Slovak pastor and member of my internship committee, recently invited me to preach at his dad’s congregation in Háj, a small village in central Slovakia. The assigned preaching text for the day was Matthew 28:16-20: the Great Commission. As I prepared my sermon, I imagined that the disciples’ doubts that day on the mountain in Galilee were similar to my doubts last year at the missionary sending service in Kenosha, Wisconsin: what if I’m not good enough?  Will my friends and family ever understand why I’m doing this?  Am I up to this task?
The great thing about this story is that Jesus sends the disciples out—Jesus sends us out—anyway.  He doesn’t wait for us to be certain, doubt-free, or perfect.  We are sent out, not because of what we’ve done, but because of what God has done: loved us, forgiven us, and empowered us to do things we could never do on our own. During the second service in Háj, my eyes kept going back to a woman in a beautiful white suit.  As I preached, she smiled.  “Keep going!” she seemed to be saying, “You can do this!”

Anna, the president of the congregation in Haj

Anna, the president of the congregation in Haj

Daniel told me later that Anna is the president of the congregation, and that her granddaughter attends seminary in Bratislava, but is currently serving as a summer intern at Dr. Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church in Muskegon, Michigan.  I realized that, on the same Sunday morning that Anna was encouraging me, someone in Michigan was probably looking at her granddaughter and smiling, letting her know “You can do this!,” even in the midst of any doubts she has.
Jesus meets us, and sends us out, in the midst of our doubts and imperfections.  That’s good news for missionaries, and for the people we minister with, too.

Anne Edison-Albright will complete her Horizon International Internship in Bratislava, Slovakia on July 31.  For Anne’s blog, click here.