An Interview with American Teacher Benjamin Chandler

In 2011, American artist and teacher Benjamin Chandler left his job at a Lutheran school in the Chicago suburbs to take what he thought would be a ten-month teaching position at the Lutheran Academy. During that time, Benjamin met It’a Bodnárová. The two fell in love, married and recently celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary. Benjamin continues in his role as a teacher of art and English as a Foreign Language to children in the elementary school.

Your book describes many of your experiences, such as cooking your first Slovak Thanksgiving, how you met your future wife and her family, and topics like “the perfect moment.” Do you have a favorite part of your book?

I think writing about how the relationship between It’a and me blossomed was the most fun to write, but I’m proud of other parts of the book, too.

I wanted to write the kind of book that I wished I could have read before I moved here. Before I came to Slovakia, I searched Amazon and the bookstores for a book about Slovakia that was more than just a tourist guide. I wanted something that expressed the culture and gave a personal story, but there were no books like that then. So that was the book I set out to write, and I think I accomplished that.

Which part of the book was the hardest to write about?

The biggest challenge was weaving a cohesive book with all of the elements I wanted to include—history, culture, nature, the people, and my own personal experiences—and making them resonate and have weight. My first drafts were like journal entries, just lists of events, but I realized the book could be more, and needed an emotional core. That core became twin love stories: me falling in love with It’a while I also fell in love with Slovakia.

The hardest chapter to write may have been “The Birthday Party,” with its cast of strange, drunken men. I was unsure if such a story, although true, would cast a negative light on Slovakia, but I think I was able to turn the chapter not into a list of alcohol-fueled shenanigans, but a comment on how Stalinism affected—and still affects—Slovakia’s people.

You included much of your art in the book also. Tell us more about this interest of yours.

I’ve been painting and drawing for as long as I can remember. My father is also an artist, so my childhood home always had a full supply of paper, pencils, crayons, paints, and other art tools.

However, I did not start drawing and painting landscapes until I first came to Slovakia. Before that, I mostly drew birds, animals, dinosaurs, and the human figure. Slovakia’s nature and landscape really inspired me.

Drawing and painting gives me a way to express my feelings without using words. It lets me show how I feel about a moment or a place.

My favorite painting usually is whichever one I did most recently, so it changes. But I am especially proud of the piece on the cover of Strbske Pleso, and one of the last pictures of the moon and pink clouds. That one hangs in our bedroom.

What kind of pictures did you put into your book? Can you explain them a little bit?

I tried to pick pieces that showed what my words could not. The landscape of Slovakia is one of the first things that really attracted me to the place. But I didn’t want to just drop in photos and snapshots of mountains. I think The Way You Call Into the Mountain is a personal book, one individual’s impression, and I thought using my art could maintain that “personal-ness” in a way that photographs could not.

The Strbske Pleso piece on the cover is a watercolor, and actually, I painted it to give to It’a on our wedding day. The other pieces are all oil pastel on paper.

Tell us more about your faith. Have you ever had to sacrifice for your faith?

I was raised Lutheran, and my faith is my foundation. Unlike some of the people I have encountered in Slovakia, I never had to hide my faith; I never had to be afraid of losing my job because of it. I feel lucky that way. I went to a school much like the Lutheran Academy in Martin during my childhood.

How does faith enrich your life today?

Prayer mostly. It also helps me find a connection with the people of Slovakia. We may not share a language or a culture, but we share the same faith, and that can be a powerful bond.

In your opinion, what is most important about a person’s relationship with God?

I think a person’s relationship with God involves a lot of trust and courage. You have to trust God that He knows what is best, that He has a plan for you, but then you also have to have the courage to follow that plan when He lays it before you.

And what is most important for a community of believers?

I think communities of believers need what individuals need: friendship, love, joy, and purpose.

Consider supporting the work of a faculty member like Benjamin Chandler (or one of his colleagues at the Lutheran Academy or CCE’s bilingual high school) with a monthly gift. Want to learn more? Contact our Director of Development, Sisa Schudichova.
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  1. John Bartko says:

    Hello I have searched with no luck. Where can I buy a copy of the book? Prosim

    • For the time being, the book is available in the offices of the CCE/Bible School. If you need a copy mailed, we can make arrangements. Thank you for your interest.

  2. Paul Berge says:

    I just completed reading your book, Ben. I had hoped to read it before we came to Slovakia last summer but it just didn’t get done. Now after being with all of you in Martin this summer it was a wonderful way to relive our time there and the marvelous ways in which you open the reader to the culture, landscape, towns, people, first experiences, and especially the way you draw us into the life you and It’a share. All of this is a delight. I am drawn to the incorporation of your art work and the way wonderful way you express the beauty of Slovakia.

    Thank you for writing this wonderful tribute to Slovakia, and the witness of your lives in the ministries you and the “Cute Red Haircut” share with the children of the elementary school and Martin congregation. Mary Ellen now has the book. Paul

  3. Sarah Fitch says:

    Benjamin, I received your book as a gift from my friends in Hybe (small village in Lipt. Mikulas). It was such a wonderful surprise to read your book that I simply could not put it down. I kept thinking: this kid loves what I love – the places, the people, the culture. I especially enjoyed your experiences of firsts in Slovakia.
    I wish I had had something so wonderfully descriptive before I spent a year in SK with the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. Your experiences have brought back a flood of memories and hints of the Slovak-homesickness I still have even after being back in the USA for 5 years.
    Thank you for sharing through “The Way You Call into the Mountain”. I will be cherishing it for a while.
    Peace and blessings to you,

    • Thank you for your kind note, Sarah. I’m glad it resonated with you and took you back for a little while. It’s nice to know that some of my feelings about being an American in Slovakia are shared.

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