Gone!! It was gone!! I stood staring at a vacant lot, unbelieving; refusing to accept what my eyes told me. I turned to my companions. Maybe we were in the wrong spot, Wrong Street, wrong town. But I had to believe them as they pointed out the obvious. House #77 in Nedašovce, Slovakia, the same one we had discovered 3 years ago, the same one we walked through just last year, the same one full of history, MY family history – was now history itself. There was nothing left of the house in which Stefan Diviš, my grandfather, had lived before leaving this beautiful country. Nothing but the dirt it sat on. Not even a pile of rubble remained. No Ebenezer stones here. As my companions and I walked a little further up the road, reality began to sink in. I clung to the hope that something was wrong, surely Grandpa’s house would appear. Alas, I had to accept what my eyes told me. It was truly gone! Vanished.
This discovery came at the end of the day I had been anticipating for months. My plan had been to finish teaching and then linger in Slovakia a few more days, time enough to chase a few clues on the Diviš trail. The Krpelan family, with whom I have developed a special friendship, had helped me to discover evidence of my paternal grandfather’s life before he immigrated to the USA in 1910. Each time I have returned to Slovakia, I have uncovered more pieces of our family puzzle. And in preparation for this latest trip, I had targeted one particular area to dig deeper. I wrote to town hall, a local museum and state archives. An invitation to spend the weekend with Miloš, Iveta, Ivana Lýdia, Lenka & Papa Krpelan, was even more reason to look forward to the last few days of my trip. As planned, we drove from their house in Prievdská, to Partizánske. I suspected a potential cousin, a few times removed, might have worked there. A stop at city hall, a visit to the museum, and then on to the State Archive office. By late afternoon we were retracing our steps back to Prievidzská. Knowing my delight just being in Nedašovce, grandpa’s birthplace, Miloš asked me if I would like to make a quick stop, as we would be passing by. We first discovered my grandfather’s 100 year old house thanks to the help of local residents. Last summer we were able to go inside! What an unbelievable, unexpected surprise that was! Remembering the faded, broken interior, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised at its destruction. The house was in various stages of deterioration, though a few areas looked like a remodel was in progress. Among many signs of its age, I remembered a huge, gaping hole in one exterior wall. After letting us inside, the landlord offered to research its history. I wasn’t prepared for what I found today. We walked past the vacant lot again, heading back to our car, and I reflected on the journey that had brought me to the tiny village of Nedašovce.
I grew up in California, about 3,000 miles from the Divišh farm in Michigan. All I knew of Slovakia I could fit in one sentence: Grandpa Stefan Diviš(h) was born there and then came to the USA. Add to that one comment from my father: “We are Slovak – NOT Czech!” And that was the sum total of my family history. Until one day I ran into a friend in my little rural town of La Center, WA. “How’s your summer going?” I asked her. “Great”, she replied, “I just returned from Slovakia!” Her response sent me on a path I could never have dreamed – one that has included 4 trips to this beautiful country. My friend had been part of a team from New Heights Church, Vancouver, WA that journeys to the heart of Europe each summer to teach English. What a providential meeting that opened a door for me to join the 2015 team. Visiting the land of my grandfather became a reality I never thought possible. Learning more about my family has been the buried treasure I wasn’t expecting.
Each year our “Serving Slovakia” team teaches English as Foreign Language classes at the Lutheran Academy, Martin, Slovakia (LAMS) for all ages. This year marked 20 years since the Center for Christian Education (CCE) first offered an adult Bible course. In time, as God provided, a preschool was added, an elementary school and finally a bilingual high school. And now the high school’s first graduating class. Such a milestone called for a huge celebration, something the Slovaks take very seriously and do so with great enthusiasm. Having lived through such oppression during the communist regime, they have much to be thankful for.