But that is not the case at the Center for Christian Education in Martin, and the CCE staff members who oversee and teach at the Lutheran Academy. Our team’s reception couldn’t be warmer or more sincere. The New Heights Church has been coming to serve this community since 2007. Working with the students, elementary school age up to adults, is a rewarding experience that has many of us returning again and again. This was my third trip. We all look forward to re-engaging with former students who are now friends, and meeting new ones. Each one has a story that I am eager to learn and, soon, a place in my heart.
Imagine my surprise this year to see a poster advertising the upcoming English School, displayed in the cobblestone courtyard of the nearby church. In the poster for all to see was a picture of my students and I, smiling and enjoying our classroom experience. I had become the poster child for American teachers! Well, I hoped that was what it said – it was all in Slovakia – maybe it said “most wanted!!” According to Ivona Smiešková, whose smiling face also graced the poster, we were spotted riding around town on the sides of local buses!
Thanks to that poster, or perhaps in spite of it, many students registered for our English class. They came from near and far, to be tested and put in one of four classes based on their language ability and age. While those in my advanced class worked on grammar, I worked equally hard to learn AND PRONOUNCE their names! And words like prevodovka –“a most important word” my friend Adam insisted – everyone should know the right word for “gearbox!” Monday through Friday, we packed in lessons and activities. A daily favorite was the “walk and talk” around town. My students and I extended it into a “road march” one afternoon. We walked through our lunch hour, touring the countryside with a stop at Martin’s airport. It was a time to build special friendships, in spite of that blister on my heel! After classes, there are opportunities for trips and excursions to view the beauty and history of Martin and the surrounding areas of Slovakia. There is so much to see, barely enough time to soak up the people and places of this country. But one little village calls to me – Nedašovce – and I eagerly anticipated a chance to see it again, for therein lie the secrets of my family’s roots.
In an age of easy access, Google knows all, and will tell in seconds, searching the past in Slovakia is a challenge, to say the least. The obstacles are tall and multiple. To begin with, I can neither talk, write, nor read to communicate with the locals. Google translate? Not so much help when a literal translation of “how are you” is “how do you keep yourself?” Add to that layers of bureaucracy covering official records, never mind finding local and church records buried under years of oppression and war, and don’t forget the changing identity of villages. Hiring a native genealogist is tempting but expensive, and I have resisted, budging my resources for travel here! What I needed was a miracle. Reading from God’s script, enter right stage: Miloš and family! While I search endlessly for my blood line, God has provided me with a proxy Slovak family, the Krpelans. Without their help, and joyful support, none of my searching could have happened. Our providential meeting occurred three years ago, when Miloš and his daughter, Lýdia, were students in my class, setting the stage for our friendship and adventures.