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Posts from the ‘Slovakia’ Category

*Halloween, Reformation Day, and Pamiatka Zosnulých.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of Halloween.  I liked it when I was seven or eight years old and it meant lots of free candy, but as I’m too old to go trick-or-treating and don’t even want to eat that much candy, it’s not a “holiday” I get excited about anymore.  That being said, Halloween is not commonly celebrated in Slovakia, and I wasn’t the slightest disappointed to miss it this year.  (Okay, okay, the costume part is kind of fun, but it’s not like anyone needs Halloween to dress up).

It turns out that Halloween isn’t the only holiday celebrated on October 31st though.  Raised Baptist, the little I know about the Reformation is what I learned in history in school, but among Lutheran churches (perhaps particularly among European Lutheran churches), Reformation Day is still celebrated each year on October 31st.  (This is the day that Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses for church reformation to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517).  So yesterday, instead of donning some sort of costume and heading to a party, I went to an evening church service with my friends Miska and Milotka.  The service was similar to a Sunday morning service in a Slovak Lutheran church and quite beautiful.  Although I often miss the praise bands and simple services that I’m used to, there is something about liturgy and ancient hymns that reflects the beauty and holiness of God in a much more profound way.

After the service, the girls introduced me to another holiday I had never experienced before, Pamiatka Zosnulych, or All Souls’ Day.  I’m familiar with the name of the holiday (the English name, at least), but I recognize it mainly as words on a calendar, not as an event or something to celebrate.  In Slovakia, this is a day to remember deceased family members, and it is often celebrated over several days.  As Milotka explained to me, it is similar to “Homecoming in America,” because family members living in different places often travel home to be with their family.  Families visit cemeteries where their relatives are buried, and cover the graves in flowers and candles.

Perhaps “graves covered in flowers and candles” doesn’t sound especially spectacular to you, but the reality of what this looks like is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  After the Reformation Day service, Miska, Milotka and I walked to the nearby cemetery.  This did feel a little bit like Halloween, but as the idea of a dark, empty cemetery at night sounds terrifying to me, there’s no way I’d usually venture there on Halloween night!  However, the cemetery was neither dark nor empty.  Can you imagine a cemetery set on a rolling hill full of people, old and young, blanketed in candlelight?  I was amazed at how many candles there were, and how beautiful it looked!  (I really don’t think of cemeteries as pretty places, but it truly was)!  I’ve included a few pictures so you can get idea, but they really don’t capture what it looked like.

I was glad to get to experience this, and it was fun to experience a part of Slovak culture that I’d never seen before.  All in all, it was a unique “Halloween.”

*Second photo from


*Fall in Hipstamatic Photo Slideshow

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Yesterday I went hiking with a group from the Lutheran Church in Dolny Kubin that I’m a part of this fall.  Choč is a mountain close to DK that is 1611 meters high.  We had a beautiful day for the climb.  The hot weather that we had while my parents were here has finally cooled down, and we started around 8:30 in the morning.  We ate lunch– and the “American” chocolate chip cookies that Marta, Zuzi, and I had made the day before(!)– at the top of the mountain, and made it back down by 2:00.

Here are some pictures from the hike, taken by Mike Sullivan.  (Thanks Mike)!

*Vacation with Mom and Dad, Euro-Edition

I could hardly believe it when Mom and Dad told me a few months ago that they wanted to come visit me in Slovakia this summer, but I’m certainly glad they did.

We started in Vienna, where we met up with my Uncle Tommy and Aunt Anne, who were in the city with a tour group at the same time.  After spending a day and the first night in Vienna and seeing things like the Belvedere Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, we took a train to Prague.

Prague is my favorite European city, and there are tons of things to see and do there.  We started with a foot and boat tour of the city.  We were the only people who had signed up for the tour (probably because it was pouring down rain in the morning), and ended up with a private tour.  Luckily, the rain stopped by the time we got on the boat.  We visited Wenceslas Square, Old Town, Prague Castle, and the Museum of Communism, among other places.

Prague from the boat tour.

Prague from the boat tour.

Busy Charles Bridge.

Busy Charles Bridge.

Look who we ran into in Prague!

Look who we ran into in Prague!

After Prague, we headed to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.  We didn’t stay in BA long; only long enough to pick up our Škoda that Dad drove around Slovakia and Poland.  We drove to Žilina, northeast of Bratislava.  I showed Mom and Dad the upper and lower squares of the city, as well as where I’m staying here.

Žilina, looking down into the lower square.

Žilina, looking down into the lower square.

The next day we hopped in the Škoda and drove to Poland.  Our first stop was Auschwitz.  This was the first time any of us had ever visited a concentration camp, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; I wanted to see it, but I wasn’t really excited about being in a place that had been the center of so much evil.  It was quite hot and sunny that day, and it was a strange juxtaposition to be in a place with such a dark and terrible history on a hot summer’s day, squinting in the sun, surrounded by green grass, singing birds, and throngs of tourists.

From Auschwitz we went to nearby Krakow for the evening.  Krakow is a nice city, large, but not as large as Vienna or Prague.  We ate dinner outside in the main square, and enjoyed the cooler air that we only got to enjoy during the evenings.

We left Krakow around lunchtime the next day and drove south to Štrbske Pleso, a mountain lake and vacation destination in the High Tatras of northern Slovakia.  This was probably the most relaxing part of the trip.  We walked around the lake, had an excellent dinner on the lakeside patio at the hotel, and relaxed in the hot tub and sauna.

In the morning we headed to Tatranska Lomnica, where we took a cable car into the Tatras.  The car that went to the peak of the highest mountain was sold out for the day so we only went up two thirds of the way, but there was still a nice view from the top.  Then we headed back to Žilina for the evening.

The next day we went to Bratislava for the last full day of the trip.  After we said goodbye to the Škoda at the airport, we went into the city center where my friend Jane joined us and gave us a tour of the city.  We had lunch at Slovak Pub, went up to Bratislava Castle, and walked through the Old Town (and Bratislava has the best Old Town, in my opinion).  It was terribly hot again, so after walking around for a while, we hopped on a train and headed to Vienna for the night, so Mom and Dad could catch their flight early the next morning.

All in all, we had a really nice trip.  It was great to see my parents, and to introduce them to these places.

*KECY #1: Žilina ECAV

Well the first term of KECY is over, and it was a definite success.

Last week’s KECY was hosted by the youth group of one of the Lutheran churches in Žilina (Žilina ECAV).  This was the group’s first time hosting KECY, and they did a really fantastic job.  The students who came were sweet kids; engaged, happy to be there, and interested in discussing their opinions of God and Christianity.

Highlights of the week for me were participating on the Orange team (Power Oranges!), the All Day Activity, Learning a traditional Slovak folk dance for “Slovak Night”, “American Night” on the 4th of July, and the Labyrinth on the last night.

  • Power Oranges: Originally I wasn’t part of any group (since I was helping coordinate all of the English classes and had some other responsibilities this year).  Halfway through camp one of the Americans (Jon) got sick, so I taught his class one day.  Luckily he wasn’t sick for too long and he was able to rejoin his team, but I stayed with them for the rest of camp.
  • The All Day Activity:  Every year the Slovak team plans a special activity for the third full day of camp.  The activity is a break between English class days and is usually something like a long hike or scavenger hunt-style game.  The All Day Activity at this camp was one of the most creative I’ve ever experienced, and it was a lot of fun.  The team planned a “Cowboys and Indians” theme, and had everyone dress up like Native Americans or pioneers.  The activity involved a series of interesting tasks (including building a house!) and was a lot of fun for everyone.

  • “Slovak Night”: After the evening program each night there is a time called “e-nights” that create a fun atmosphere for hanging out or for conversation.  One night was Slovak themed (which meant we got to roast špekačky!), and one of the girls on the theme asked if an American guy and I could help demonstrate a traditional Slovak dance.  This meant of course that we had to learn it first!  I don’t think Stanka had any idea how difficult it could be to teach a “simple” dance to us, but we were not quick learners, to say the least!  In the end, I think we learned it well enough for people to A) recognize what we were trying to do, and B) get a good laugh.  It was a lot of fun though.

  • “American Night”: The night after Slovak Night we had American Night to celebrate the 4th of July.  Even though we weren’t in the US to celebrate, this was probably one of my favorite 4th of July celebrations.  The Slovaks made a big circle outside after the evening program and asked the Americans to stand in the center.  Then all of a sudden fireworks were shot off and everyone had sparklers.  The fireworks were pretty great, and then we had a campfire, made s’mores, and sang songs.
  • The Labyrinth: This was the “e-night” on the last night of camp.  This was a time for students to walk from station to station around the camp to complete a few different activities, reflecting on all the different stories talked about during the week at camp.  I enjoyed planning and preparing for the Labyrinth, and then watching students experience it.  It turned out to be a pretty meaningful experience for many students, and many students finished the night talking and praying with people at the camp about their own thoughts, feelings, experiences, and questions about life, God, and Christianity.

The day after camp, when everyone was back in Žilina, we all got together again to hang out before the American team went back to the States.  We visited Strečno Hrad, a castle near the city, and then had a garden party at the church (complete with lots of good food, the camp band and camp dance, and fun).  Afterwards we went to get ice cream and ended up doing the camp dance in the center of the square, ha.

The American team left on Sunday morning.  Since then, us interns have had a couple of days to relax and prepare for the next term of camps.  In about an hour we’re going to go join the Žilina ECAV group for water football with students from camp.  The rest of the afternoon will be spent doing final preparations, and then the next American teams will arrive around dinner time tonight.  Tomorrow we head to the camp site for the next term of KECY.  Miriam and Josh will be doing KECY with Miriam’s hometown of Košice; Hunter, Mindy, and I will be with Dolný Kubín (the city I’ll be living in during the fall).

We’re all looking forward to see what the next week has in store.  Pictures and stories to come!

*Introducing team leader #1: Josh Howard

Some basic info:

Name:  Joshua Daniel Howard

Nickname:  Joši (pronounced Yo-shi)

Occupation:  Missionary; youth leader

Hometown:  Fort Wayne, IN

And now some questions just for fun:

1.  You have 5 Euros you have to spend at TESCO right now… What do you buy?  Why?

Kofola (5€ worth): Because it’s good.

2.  Can you recommend a good book?

The Bible and The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus by Brennan Manning.

3.  Put your iPod on shuffle and press play.  What are the first three songs that play?  Any special meaning?

Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan:  I think Bob Dylan is one of the most poetic song writers of the 20th century.

Going Under by Evanescence: No meaning; it’s on there because my sister owns it and our iTunes were shared.

Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming by Sufjan:  No special attachment to the song, I just like Sufjan.

4.  What are you most excited about for this summer?


5.  What is one benefit you received from attending KECY in the past?

Courage and patience.

Introducing team member #3: Mindy Kate Rawlins

Some basic info:

Name:  Melinda Kate Rawlins

Nickname:  Mindy Kate, Mindo, Minders, MK

Occupation:  Any, Lord willing!

Hometown:  Normal, IL

And now some questions just for fun:

1.  You have 5 Euros you have to spend at TESCO right now… What do you buy?  Why?

Lip gloss, gum, and nail polish:  I like feeling like a lady and having good breath.

2.  Can you recommend a good book?

Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin and The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Richard J. Mouw.

3.  Put your iPod on shuffle and press play.  What are the first three songs that play?  Any special meaning?

Jesus Land by Ben Folds:  This song reminds me of summer in Illinois.

Somewhere Only We Know by Keane:  No significance; I just like it.

You Made My Dreams by Hall and Oates:  Makes me think of being in love and having some iced coffee on a hot summer day with a cute boy named.

4.  What are you most excited about for this summer?

Personally I’m excited to have the opportunity to put into practice a lot of the things the Lord has been teaching me over the last few years.  I feel like in a lot of ways this summer is a capstone to the last few years and where the Lord has been leading me.  Also, I’m looking forward to the camps, meeting the kids and hanging out, hearing their stories, and walking with them as long as the Lord desires.

5.  Since this is your first time in Slovakia, what do you like so far?

My favorite thing so far is zmrzlina!  (Slovak icecream).  It’s delicious; I could eat it all day long.  Also, even though this sounds cheesy, the people I’ve met so far.  Specifically, the team in Bratislava and how loving and welcoming people have been to me, the “loud American.”