Greetings from Bratislava!
I apologize, I wrote this 3 days ago, but in the absence of internet service, I forgot to post it. So this is a double-post.
The first thing you notice about Bratislava is that it doesn’t seem to have the eternally crumbling infrastructure of the rest of the formerly Communist world. The downtown area is sunny by day and well-lit at night. The sidewalks and pedestrian area are nicely paved and not terribly crowded, although there are plenty of restaurants, shops, and cafes. And the Slovaks themselves are light-hearted and open, which is probably the most surprising thing of all. Communism left many people as scarred as their lands.
So how did the Slovaks survive Communism to flourish so nicely? I think we heard a clue in the Slovakian National Anthem. Anushka translated and explained the lyrics, which in part tell the story of a woman digging a well. She dug deeper and deeper, and deeper still. Then she looked into the well, thinking that she should drown herself in the well. But she decides not to do that. These are strange lyrics for a national anthem, but in it you can see the unhappy scars of Communism that tempted the woman (Slovakia) to kill herself. Somehow she finds the resilience to survive.
The Slovaks, like the woman, bear the scars of Communism, but have turned their attention from the dim past to the bright future. Slovakia does indeed have a bright future. The economy here is the best of all the formerly Communist world. Of course, economic crisis is global, and Slovakia is not immune, but the youth are not fleeing Slovakia like they are from many other East European countries. In fact, we have met young people here who have come to Slovakia looking for a better life, instead of going to the west.
Our first evening here was at a local church that meets in a movie theater. It was a youth prayer group meeting, but like none I had ever been to before. Youth from all over the city, from various churches, came to the meeting, which had over 100 people. There was worship in music and dance, there was teaching, and there was prayer, both corporate and in small groups. In fact, when it was time for small group prayer, the leaders asked the people over 30 to pray over the youth. That means that most of our team sought young people to pray for. I found 2 university students, sweet, smiling girls, and prayed for them. They were very encouraged by my prayer, and thanked me for praying for them.
Later I heard that the churches all over the city regularly cooperate and meet together. It gave me such hope. Unity! I would love to see unity like this in Milan—or even in America. The Bratislavan churches do not compete with each other. They recognize that the different expressions of faith and worship are simply a matter of the individual character of each church family. People are not regarded with suspicion if they go to a meeting at another church. I would guess that there is probably less church-hopping, as a result. Because giving people the freedom to visit and learn from other believers conversely will instill in them a feeling of familial pride in their own home church. Plus the home church benefits from the sharing of prophetic insight and instruction. It’s really how the Body of Christ was intended to function.
Young people are the most precious resource that Slovakia has because young people have not yet lost their idealism or their positive outlook. When a country loses its youth, it loses something really valuable. It loses its future.
If you want to see the most flourishing of all post-Communism, you should come to Slovakia. There is a sweetness here that will make you want to come back. I know I do! God is good!
Kebap Shop Breakfast
Greetings once again from Bratislava!
I woke up early this morning, and left the hostel in search of coffee. I was surprised to see on the streets that there were a lot of drunken people, mostly young people, at 6:30 in the morning. A few were staggering, but mostly I could tell that they were drunk by the volume of their voices. I’m not sure if there is something about having lots of alcohol in the bloodstream that renders a person incapable of hearing as well as normal or if it’s just a matter of having spent all night with thundering music. The drunken people on the streets all seemed to know the places where they could find food, which was mostly kebap/falafel shops. The first place I stopped didn’t have coffee. The counter person acted like it was strange to want coffee at such an hour of the morning.
The next place I stopped had coffee and seating indoors, so I sat down to drink my coffee. A young man entered soon after me and asked for his kebap in English. While he was waiting to pay, I asked him where he was from. He said, “Ireland,” with some pride in his voice. He paid and sat down with me. He told me about his night, which had been spent with friends drinking in bars. I asked his name, which was Sean. He ate only half of his kebap, declaring that his eyes had been bigger than his stomach (something my dad had often said). I asked him what time the bars close, and he said they close at 6. He said that he was the “last man standing,” and that if the bar hadn’t closed, he would be happy to continue drinking because “I’m Irish,” (again said with pride).
Sean works in Bratislava, but travels often between here, Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. Because he talked so much, I got the feeling that Sean is lonely here. Perhaps loneliness is something that he is trying to escape with alcohol. He looked at my cross and said, “You’ll probably feel better than me in the morning.” Then he stood up and walked out.
I felt bad that I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to share Jesus with him, but I don’t know how much his boozy brain would be able to really understand or accept. Anyway, I prayed for him. He is probably my son’s age, and already very much an alcoholic. It was a sad way to start a Sunday.
Nevertheless, I am looking forward to a very good Sunday because today I am going to kindergarten. Actually, it is a church that meets in a kindergarten. The church also runs the kindergarten. Zuzana is a girl I met on our first night in Bratislava. We met at that prayer group in the movie theater church. Zuzana took me to her church, just to show it to me because it was close to where we were meeting, and it was interesting because of the kindergarten meeting there. To her surprise and mine, the pastor was there—Pastor Ivan. Immediately I felt a very strong urging by the Holy Spirit to pray for him. It was a prayer very much led by the Holy Spirit, and it encouraged Pastor Ivan very much.
So when we talked about going to church last night, although I like Anushka’s church very much, I don’t feel like I’ve made quite the same connection as I did at Pastor Ivan’s kindergarten church. Since it is close to Anushka’s church, and since Zuzana was sitting next to me, I asked if it would be OK if I go to her church instead. Nobody had a problem with that, and Zuzana was very pleased to hear that I wanted to visit her church.
Most of all, I want to encourage Pastor Ivan, who has had some problems lately. Sometimes the simple act of showing up can be very encouraging. I think he will be very encouraged to see me again this morning in church. And encouraging him will also encourage me. In God’s work, everybody is encouraged and blessed. I love working for the Lord! He really is the best Boss ever! I often tell people that my Boss is like a Father to me. God is good!