I am approximately 19 days away from hopping on a plane to move to Europe, and part of me just wants to bury my face in the sand.
On my high school graduation night, after the whole ceremonial ordeal, I sobbed my way through the Medford countryside all the way home. It had been one of the greatest years of my life, I had come into myself; exercised my thespian bone, exercised physically via cross country (an inexplicably stupid yet exponentially satisfying sport), and was surrounded by precious people.
Soon though, “home” became somewhat of a foggy notion. Home began to feel like Eugene. Friendships formed like anchors in sticky mud, my eyes and my heart were opened in new ways. I didn’t even know it was possible to have people know me so well. Academically, I pounded down anthropology courses like a starving man crashing a wedding, and historic preservation studies–a concept of restoration that desperately excited me–like a rabid weasel also crashing a wedding. Most of all however, these four years saw me through a time where I began to hunger and thirst for God–whoever He was exactly–like never before. I spent spring days under trees reading C.S. Lewis, early winter mornings at diners discussing the Bible, months of wandering through parks in prayer, and summers entrusted to God in Central Europe.
Central Europe. Well, more specifically Slovakia.
Strange Guy, God. Remarkable though, entirely remarkable. I first visited Slovakia the summer of my freshmen year, I enjoyed it. I love high schoolers, to begin with, and enough summers spent on the Oregon Coast at Bradley has instilled in me a passionate love of all things “camp.” My parents to this day, still refer to me as the “Camp Director.” I suppose it’s better than “the Mortician” or “Dawdling Dora” which were other historically hyperbolized and occasionally accurate nicknames of mine. But nevermind that. I knew about Czechoslovakia, but I wasn’t really ever aware that they had split up, but over the course of that summer and the following year, my heart for what I shall now refer to as “the Jewel of the Europe” or “Sheepland” or “”PotatoDumplingland” or “PowerfulCheeseland” or “Decrypted-And-Numerous-Ruinsland” (still deciding on an appropriate nickname), began to grow.
I really didn’t have any plans to return anytime soon, but something about that place I couldn’t shake. I’d be thinking about a genius new way to utilize the FaceSwap app, then BLAMO, I’d be back in the Communist era school building listening to Milan talk about his country. Enjoying a Eugene rain shower on my walk home, and KABLAOW, I would remember sketching mediocre pictures of students while we laughed together. I won’t say I was haunted by it, but that was kind of how it felt. Over the months before I committing going back (a choice I made at the last possible minute) I felt a little ridiculous for holding such an affinity for some random country in Europe. I mean, what the heck could I even do there? Didn’t God need more people, in like, China?
Nevertheless, like an apple on a vigorously shaken tree, I was doomed to obey gravity (in this case gravity is referring to what I believe was God and His will for me to return there) (I am deeply apologetic for my terrible allegories, however I cannot nor will not stop). And so like a starfish being tugged at by an extraordinarily muscular seven-year-old, I yielded to His sticky paws (poetry, pure poetry, I’m the next freakin’ Yeats). I spent that year reading and reading and reading about Slovakia. I wanted to know about it, I was interested, and the more I learned about it, the more I developed an affection for the people, the culture, and a hope to see it restored.
Don’t get me wrong, America has her share of problems, and I LOVE the U.S. I want to be a part of its and the people’s future here, I want to see America become a place that is full of people who love God, love each other, and love the world; but something about this rascally little country kept calling me back. I spent my second summer in the pulsating heart of Europa and loved every, freaking, minute of it. On one of my last nights, I sat up on a porch watching the people pass around below, dozens of them on evening walks, and while I sat and prayed, read my Bible, and listen to Josh Garrels croon the songs from his album Home through partially busted headphones, I started to wonder. Was this where I was supposed to be?
God has really held my hand through this entire process, the more I loved Slovakia, the more I simultaneously loved Oregon and Eugene. I feel like I have grown to really care about the people, the hippies, vegans, rare but outspoken conservatives, militant eco-warriors, the pot smokers and the dog owners alike. It is a broken city, but I love it. It needs healing, but I have hope for it. But here we are, at a cross section. It had been mentioned to me earlier that summer, that perhaps I could come teach at the high school. I really wasn’t too hot on the idea, but as the summer progressed and I packaged baby gift baskets, printed labels, and worked the embroidery machine for my mom’s business, I again could not shake the idea. By the time I committed to leading the Slovakia trip in 2016 (which would be my third summer there) I knew I was in danger of moving there myself.
The people, gosh I love them so much. I feel a genuine passion for seeing the Slovak people encouraged and strengthened in their walks with Jesus and their hope for their own people, their own country, and then ultimately the whole world. My hope is that God might use this country as a focal point for reaching Europe, and He certainly could. And then, in the middle of my junior year, I felt like God gave me a verse to for my time that summer:
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.
Last summer I returned with the hope that I might get an answer about whether or not I was supposed to move to the Europe’s proverbial tootsie roll center, and when I was there 3 things happened that made me feel very certain.
- I got to share my heart with a few of my friends over there, and they were really encouraging. I finally felt like they understood why I was there, and they said that I should come. I was honored. So very, very honored.
- I asked God beforehand if he really wanted me to move to Slovakia, would He so kindly give me access to Mexican food. Because decent Mexican food is an urban legend in Central Europe I was really only joking, however, an authentic Mexican restaurant had just moved to downtown Bratislava.
- I shared my Jeremiah verse with Caro (one of the teachers at the school, she is incidentally from Mexico) and it turned out that that was her verse for Bratislava as well.
So here were are. A year from last summer, a year from my initial commitment to move. And I am sad. Oh, believe you me, I am also pumped out of my find for the journey I am about to embark upon. I am so excited to see what God does in my life and in the lives of my Slovaks over the next few years–He has good things planned. For the time being though, I am sad to leave. I have done my fair share of sobbing, for several reasons, first, I am having to move and I love clothes and books (things which in large quantities don’t travel well. Secondly, I have to raise what seems like an inordinate of money in a very short amount of time (plus facilitating “financial ministry partners” is not a jolly walk in the park for me, it is humbling. More like a rattlesnake-sucking-on-your-left-ankle kind of walk in the park or a both-my-kneecaps-are-blown sort of park walk, but it is good for me). Third, and obviously the most serious, is that it is hard to leave these people because I love them too. So much.
It is a painful thing to have the people you love spread all over the world. There was a rare moment this year, when my friends from Medford, my friends from Eugene, and a friend from Slovakia sat around the same table. It was amazing, and maybe that is what heaven will be like, but for now, I shall entrust my friends to Jesus with tears in my eyes, and embark on my next adventure. From a country that I love to a country that I love.