Slovenia is a magical place and an amazing part of God’s creation.
It seems so small that most people don’t even know where in the world it
is located. Yet it seems so big because of the kindness and warm hospitality
of our sisters and brothers in Christ who live and serve there! In this one tiny
country, we were able to swim in the Adriatic Sea on a Saturday and take in the
glory of the Alps from high atop a mountain pass the very next day.
The “we” included chaperone Kevin Remaly, eight wonderful teens,
and me on the trip to our companion synod from July 1–21, 2007.
We left from Bethlehem in a van, traveled to Dulles Airport outside Washington,
DC, and made the nine-hour flight to Vienna, Austria. Our host families brought
a huge bus there and took us to our individual homes in the Murska Sobota area
of Slovenia. From that moment on, the adventure was nonstop.
Most of the host families had sent a young person to a home in our synod last
summer, so for many of our teens, it was a reunion with a young person they knew.
I stayed with a family of six people whom I had never met, and it didn’t
matter at all! That’s the thing about the Church — my sisters and
brothers in Christ welcomed me into their home and by day two I felt like part
of the family.
Each traveler was totally immersed in the life of his or her Slovenian family,
so each person had different experiences. I met with the Lutheran bishop and
the local pastors. I met with the mayor and had an opportunity to be interviewed
on radio and for the newspaper. I visited Lenti, Hungary, and Bad Radkersburg,
Austria. I sat in the chancel area with the pastor of “my” family’s
Lutheran church, led prayers, and brought greetings from Bishop Strobel and from
all of you in the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod. And much, much more!
We also met as a group to tour museums and castles, to share a picnic, and to
tour Vienna, Austria, and Venice, Italy. I could never have dreamed that I would
find myself in a gondola in the canals of Venice! Our two-day tour through Slovenia
took us to the sea and the mountains, to the creamy-blue Soca River, to the capital
city of Slovenia — Ljubiljana — and even to a museum where we learned
about the “Forgotten Front” — the city of Korabid, where some
700,000 people lost their lives during World War I.
The human-made sights were fascinating, the natural beauty of God’s world
was astounding, but the most important part of the trip involved the people.
Our Lutheran sisters and brothers comprise only one percent of the population
of Slovenia. They need our prayers and support to do God’s work in their
country. They also have much to teach us about the work of the Lord. Their faith
and commitment are unwavering. Their work to help the poor is never-ending. They
are, indeed, the hands and feet of God in their part of the world.
We returned to Bethlehem safely to a warm welcome from our families and with
memories to last a lifetime. I pray that the companion synod relationship between
Murska Sobota and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod may continue to grow and
that more student exchanges can occur in the future.
For the gift to us of the Church in all its expressions and in all places, I
say, “Thanks be to God!”