Just 16 years after its founding, the Center for Christian Education regularly serves more than 600 people through its comprehensive ministries. We are very thankful for people—especially missionary couples—who have a heart for ministry in Slovakia! One such couple is Midwesterners Blythe and Tony Barreto, who arrived in Martin in June 2015 to spend two years at CCE. Graduates of Concordia University Chicago and recent newlyweds, these Americans offer an added dimension to the students’ learning experience and to the Academy staff. We are blessed to have them here. This is part 1 of a two-part story about the Barretos.
How did you two learn about the opportunity to work and minister in Slovakia? When you decided to leave the United States and move to Slovakia, what did you leave behind?
Blythe: We had felt the call to serve God internationally while I was living in Los Angeles and Tony was living in Chicago. We were engaged and trying to figure out what we were going to do once we got married. We gave our information to some of our Concordia University connections and were interviewing all over the world—China, Venezuela, South Africa. One day we received an email from a school in Slovakia that wanted to interview us in four days. Fifteen minutes into the interview, we accepted the call. Tony left behind a career in management and I was working at a University, but this is where God wants us.
Tony: We also left our families back home: my parents Jose and Maribel, my brother Andrew who is in University, my sister Arelis and brother-in-law Gus. And for Blythe, her parents Glenn and Jody and sister Myrthe. My family and friends have been very supportive throughout this process and we can feel their thoughts and prayers every day.
What convinced you to come to Slovakia?
Blythe: When Bohdan and Adrian described the jobs they were looking to fill, we could not believe what a perfect match it was for us! We saw God’s hand in everything!
Tony: Yes, what initially drew us to Slovakia was meeting with Bohdan, Adrian, and Tomas. Getting to meet them and learn more about CCE and all of its great qualities was a major factor in our decision. Blythe and I felt the call to come here not because of the location (although Slovakia is great), but the people, the environment, and the ministry.
What were you doing at the time in the US?
Blythe: I worked at a church and school in Los Angeles, then I was a graduate assistant for the Graduate and Innovative Programs at Concordia University Chicago.
Tony: I was an administrator for the largest concrete and asphalt restoration company in Chicago. My job mostly focused on scheduling, permitting acquisition, and project management. I worked there for two years.
How did you meet? Was it “love at first sight?”
Blythe: We met at Concordia and for a while Tony was just the “cute baseball player in my English class.’’ After he asked me out (three times!), I finally agreed to date him…we’ve been together ever since.
Tony: Actually, before we started dating, we had become friends through mutual friends. After a while, it became obvious that she was the one for me, so I asked her to be my girlfriend but she said no several times. Persistence paid off, though! I finally convinced her to be with me and the rest is history.
What did you study in the United States? And where are you seeing the benefits of your field of study in your Slovak ministry?
Blythe: My bachelor’s degree is in education, with a major in “Director of Christian Education’’ (DCE) and minors in theology and psychology. My master’s degree—which I’m currently finishing abroad—is in theological studies. I am so grateful for my DCE Directors at Concordia, Kevin Borchers and Debbie Arfsten, who developed a program that prepared me both theologically and practically. We had to do hundreds of hours at a church and in all age levels at schools, besides having intense theology courses and a one-year internship. I can honestly say that I would not be here if it weren’t for their support, encouragement, and all that they have taught me.
Tony: My degree in Business Administration with minors in Marketing and Spanish has helped me with critical-thinking skills and being organized and prepared. The biggest lessons I’ve learned here, though, have been the ones I’ve learned in class. There is no education that can replace real-life experience.
In what ways in your spouse your biggest support here?
Blythe: Tony and I have been together for over six years, but I can honestly say this experience has brought us closer than ever. Having someone to pray with, talk about classes with, and who speaks English is a huge blessing. Before we got married, I had lived in England and California by myself. This time seems different because we get to experience the adventure together!
Tony: Blythe is my best friend and my rock. Any time things are hard or tense, I can always count on her to make everything better. She is also the smartest person I know so any time I need help she is a great resource. (Plus, she’s beautiful and that’s always a good thing!)
What has been the most surprising thing about life in Slovakia?
Blythe: The most surprising thing is how quickly we were able to adapt and get around. We are so grateful to our friends at the Bible School who always include us and try to help us.
Tony: I wasn’t expecting people to be so nice and inviting. We’ve learned that the culture here is very inclusive and everyone we meet has been so hospitable. It has been a pleasant surprise.
As an American, what do you find most difficult about living in Slovakia? What are the chief difficulties in working and studying here?
Blythe: Grocery shopping is really difficult when we have to translate all of the labels. I really miss hot sauce, Taco Bell, and good pizza! At work, our biggest issue is definitely the language barrier in meetings, trying to understand emails, and in talking to students. Sometimes in class I make jokes and none of my students laugh, I think I’m pretty funny, so I assume it is the language barrier. (ha ha) Recently, I have started telling my students, ‘’Trust me, that was funny.’’
Tony: The language barrier is definitely the most difficult part. We’re doing our best to learn the language, but everyday things like doing groceries or ordering food is a challenge.
*** Part 2 ***
|Over the years, teachers from the United States and Great Britain have been instrumental in advancing CCE’s educational ministry. And while many educators express interest in teaching for a year or more in our programs, relatively few have the financial means to do so (and Slovakia’s government does not provide funding for such teachers).
For this reason, we have established the English-Speaking Teachers Fund to assure the continued use of qualified native-English speakers in our classrooms. The annual cost associated with maintaining one American or British teacher on staff is approximately $16,000.
Please consider supporting this worthwhile endeavor;
For more information, contact CCE´s Director of Development, Blythe Barreto, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on making a tax-deductible contribution, please visit www.cce.sk. Under the tab Support Us, select Ways to Give.