Slovakia, or, as the Slovaks say: “Slovensko,” is a small country in the heart of Europe, about the size of Mississippi in the United States. It is often confused with “Slovenia,” its neighbor to the southwest, or “Czechoslovakia,” a union of Slovakia and the Czech Republic that was dissolved almost 30 years ago. Slovakia has a lengthy history of foreign occupation and dominance, but enjoys independence now. Who would guess that I would be visiting the country of my grandfather’s birth, not once, but twice? What started as a search for my DNA has turned into a matter of my heart. This little country beckons me back with its beautiful fields of sunflowers, captivating castles and warm, gracious people. Here also lie the unsolved mysteries of my paternal grandfather’s early life. Holding my hands wide open, I acknowledged again that this adventure was not in my control, but would be by the grace of God.
Before I left for my second visit to Nedašovce, where my grandpa Štefan Diviš (I knew him as Steven J. Divish 1886-1975) was born, I sent an email message to the mayor of the town. Prior to hitting “send,” I first asked my friends in Slovakia to translate my words. I didn’t want to risk using “Google Translate,” and my friends graciously obliged. In the message, I advised Mayor Elena of my upcoming visit and said I would like to meet with her. I received her response just in time, on the morning of my departure. Connecting to the airport’s wireless network, I eagerly watched emails and waited for my friends to translate and comment on her response. By the time I arrived in Slovakia on July 9, 2016, I had a date with the mayor!
Putting this excitement aside, I needed to focus on the bigger picture. Chasing my family roots was actually a smaller piece of a mission trip to Slovakia. I was part of a team from New Heights Church, in Vancouver, WA, in the United States. Our agenda was to conduct a two-week school in conversational English for the residents of Martin, Slovakia, and surrounding communities. While I hoped I would be able to discover more of my family’s genealogy during the trip, that project was really a bonus. My first responsibility was helping residents improve their English.
I was committed to the “Serving Slovakia” team working at the Center for Christian Education in Martin. My role was to assist one of the professional teachers on our team by leading a small group of students, assisting with vocabulary and grammar, and engaging them in social conversations. Some of these students were young adults; others were professionals, even some university professors. All were eager to practice and improve their English language skills. Many traveled some distance to attend one, if not both weeks of the school, and some took time off work to make that possible. They were eager and motivated pupils, working hard and were thankful for this opportunity.
Miloš Krpelan was one of the students who took time off work to attend. I met him during my first visit to Martin in 2015. He and his daughter, Lydia, were in my class. When I spoke of my dream to visit Nedašovce, Miloš volunteered to help me. He, Lydia and her sister, Ivana, were happy to transport and translate for me, making the impossible, possible! To read about my first visit, click here.
I treasured their friendship and looked forward to seeing them again. Were they up for a second adventure, I asked? Absolutely! Having helped me with the emails to the mayor, they were already planning my visit. The meeting was to be on a school day, and the required travel time would make it necessary to leave school before the end of class. I appreciated their willingness to make that sacrifice. Their agenda for the day, I was surprised to discover, was bigger than just a road trip. It included an invitation to spend the evening with the rest of their family! How could I resist?
Thursday, July 14, was our date with the mayor! I came to school that morning pulling my overnight bag with me. We left in the early afternoon and drove an hour from Martin to Nedašovce. Once again as we approached the tiny village, I beheld the beautiful countryside and felt the excitement of “landing on the moon.” There I was, in Nedašovce for a second time! Before my first visit, it was just a name on the map – a town listed on my grandfather’s birth certificate, but as remote as the moon. What mysteries would I unlock on this trip, I wondered?