A tiny kaplnka (chapel) in the forest, Košice
Thanksgiving greetings from the Arnolds in Slovakia! This marks now the second Thanksgiving holiday we've been away from our family in the States. It’s a bit emotionally tough. But, while it's no substitute for a hug, video chatting online with friends and family does make the distance a bit more bearable.
The days are getting colder and shorter, with sunrise at about six thirty and setting by four thirty. It gets dark even sooner because our city lies in a valley.
The forested hills were spectacularly aflame with autumn until just this last Tuesday when the first hard freeze and wind snuffed out the last of the leaves. At the height of fall Natalie and I went on a long, chilly bike ride with a couple from the church, Slavo and Kveta, the parents of Peter (the leader of the church here in Košice . The Červený Kláštor (Red Monastery) national park hosts a bike trail through a river gorge in the Tatras mountains on the Slovak/Polish border. It was Natalie’s first 25+ mile bike ride.
Dear brothers and sisters,
We're just over a month into our new phase of work in Slovakia in Košice. The city is getting all primped and preened to host this weekend's annual Peace Marathon, the second oldest in all of Europe. Foreigners of every stripe and in the thousands are pouring into town. Add to it the gorgeous fall weather, it's an exciting week!
What's new with the Arnolds in Slovakia? It's safe to say that the church here in Košice has welcomed us with open arms; we have already had cookouts and get-togethers with them all. We've got a week's worth of English Bible students lined up, and we're making new friends by the day. Among them are a policeman, a firefighter, a businessman, a video game concept artist, a computer programmer, and two retirees who are wanting to learn English so they can communicate better with their grandchildren who live in Canada. Additionally, the church is ramping up for a new evangelistic outreach program beginning weekly at the end of this month that we're calling Family Fridays. The ladies will be doing demo cooking classes, the kids will have an English language Bible lesson and activity, and the men will teach the kids a new craft activity and lead a devotional. One of young boys in the church was so excited about that five new families, including his school teacher's, have RSVP'd at his invitation.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Windshield wipers are keeping tempo for my pecking out of this newsletter on my cellphone in the passenger seat of the van we hired to move us five hours east from Bratislava to our new home, Košice. We got the thing all packed just as the sprinkling started, thank God, and were off just in time for the deluge. Our house is on a street called Orechová, which refers to nuts (walnuts, cashews, chestnuts, etc.). Naturally, we have affectionately dubbed our new home as the "Nut House."
As of last week we have, through your intercession and support, lived in Slovakia for one year as missionaries. Thank you for your partnership in God's mission for the sake of the gospel. As far as tangible progress we've seen in the country over the past year: three baptisms, three restorations, the demonstrable maturation of leaders; we have found such fraternity and friendship here it is impossible to say, and we've become semi-fluent in Slovak speakers. We are sad to have to say goodbye to our precious friends in Bratislava. Just this last Saturday we had a sending-off lunch with our Slovak teacher (and disciple of Christ), who gave us her blessing plus a certificate stating we'd been in our private Slovak classes 360 hours--not to mention the hundreds of hours we've spent with flash cards and, as Natalie says, "inflicting our Slovak" on unsuspecting shop clerks and little old ladies on the trains and trolley cars who get stuck next to us on the inside seat.
We're eager to get to work in Košice and have every reason to believe we'll hit the ground gospelling! And, God willing, we will still get to travel monthly, as we've done the past half-year on invitation, teaching and preaching in other assemblies throughout the country. We're also looking forward to organizing short-term campaigns with you and folks from your congregations with us in Košice, hopefully involving as many of you as possible. Be praying about this possibility, as we discern it’s a door the Lord is opening up for us all. And make sure to have your passport ready when God lays it on your hearts.
Unfortunately, with moving and future plans come extra expenses. The public transportation system in Košice, unlike Bratislava, is not entirely dependable. We are hoping to purchase a car in the near future. We humbly ask for any support you would like to share with us to help offset the costs, in whatever way God places it on your hearts.
It's finally begun feeling like summertime. All of the kids are out of school, everyone is traveling for holiday and the public transportation lines are all packed to the gills. We had visitors this month. Dear friends from Robert Lee, Texas flew in via Istanbul to visit us and the area. It was strange but wonderful to visit with, in a sense, the old life we left in Robert Lee.
Over the past month we've taken a break from full-time language study in order to prepare for our move in August. This break has also given us the opportunity to travel around the country to visit and encourage congregations in the cities of Banska Bystrica, Martin and Košice.
We have had an eventful couple of months. Springtime's blooming flowers and longer days have lifted spirits, even though Jack Frost revisited us off and on these past couple of weeks. Besides spending our weekdays in school and studying, Jordan is teaching four students four-nights-per-week. Additionally, we've spent several weekends over the past couple of months travelling to build up relationships with individual Christians and preaching in other congregations in Slovakia. We look forward to Mary Ann and her son Mason Hill visiting us from Robert Lee, Texas over the month of June.
We are especially excited to inform everyone about a new door of service opening to us on the opposite end of the country from where we presently live. True to our original plan, over the past year we have lived and studied language in Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia just down the road from Vienna. This August, however, in a slight alteration to our original plans, we hope to relocate to Košice, in order to work with a congregation deeper in Eastern Europe where there is a great need for full-time workers. We're happy to field any questions you may have about the change. And, while we may not be able to answer every sweet note you send, please know they are all read and cherished.
Košice (pronounced- Ko-shee-tseh) is the second largest city in Slovakia, with roughly half the population of Bratislava (240,000). It is the capitol of the East, within an hour of the Ukrainian, Hungarian and Polish borders. The most significant industry and largest employer in the city (employing about 7% of city population) is US Steel, an American firm. Roughly 12% of Košice's population are university students. Taken with foreign investment, consumer and supporting industries, there is inherent broad-based appeal for English learning opportunities and a generally positive attitude towards Americans among the population than in western cosmopolitan areas like Bratislava. Furthermore, unlike Bratislava, the Protestant/evangelical/biblicist-type religious "market" is unsaturated, with only 4-5 significant non-Roman Catholic denominations currently proselytizing (compared with the 15-20 active groups in Bratislava). The cost of living is marginally less in Košice, though it is much more remote than Bratislava. From Košice it is a six-hour train ride to Vienna, three-hours to Budapest, six hours to Kraków, etc.
Churches of Christ works have been active in Košice for over 20 years, but to date with no sustained long-term missionary efforts in the past several years. Nor have there been fluent Slovak-speaking missionaries in Košice at any point In the past. At its height the congregation and visitors in Košice numbered 25-30. Currently church attendance is down to 8 adults (4 households) and a handful of children. Many of her members have moved away for work, some have defected, etc. Frankly, the church suffers from attrition and needs refreshment. Peter Haluštok, a successful businessman (who studied at Sunset for a year) is the church's primary patron, currently shouldering the congregation's leadership roles in preaching, worship planning, fiduciary and pastoral duties. Unlike in Bratislava, the church in Košice does enjoy the stability of owning its own building (auditorium for space for 40-50, two classrooms, storage room, office area and kitchenette).
Unlike the relatively transient Bratislava population, workers and students in Košice are more stationary--for example, the people in Kosice who study with missionaries during the week are more likely to be in town on Sunday than folk in Bratislava, who tend to travel home for the weekend.
At the invitation of the Košice congregation, we would relocate to the city in August, committing to a minimum of five years helping to strengthen the weary and evangelize the lost. In no way are we "abandoning" the church in Bratislava, and it's not because of personality conflicts or anything like that in Bratislava, but for the sake of our struggling brethren in Košice, our effectiveness in the country and the future of the church of Christ in the nation at large (the close ties between the Bratislava and Košicecongregations and between Roman and Jordan would not be loosened but strengthened and their potential multiplied) we are considering this move. Indeed, we would not entertain the option if we felt leaving Bratislava would leave the congregation here in a precarious spot. In addition to our continuing to grow in Slovak fluency, the Arnolds would (along with interns, Let's Start Talking groups and short-term mission works from American congregations and universities) have more evangelistic outreach opportunities in English, a ready facility to host and conduct programs (while not detracting from the distinctively Slovak identity of church) and the support of Slovak Christians eager to work with us in the growing of the of gospel in Eastern Slovakia.
I'm writing this month's newsletter from the patio of our balcony overhearing passersby below chatting. Now, thanks to five months of daily intense language study, I'm finally understanding what I'm eavesdropping. Five months of language classes, years of your prayers and seven months of your support, and we feel pretty good about our progress. We're busy making friends and influencing people.
Earlier this month, we celebrated the baptism of Beata. For years now she's been a friend and God-fearer, an admirer of Christ and worshiper but skeptic nevertheless. I know not how the Spirit moves ... but I know He blows where He wills. And when. And just before Beata was raised to walk in newness of life out of a sixth-floor bathtub turned baptistry, her dying words were fitting, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." After her immersion this brave disciple took to Facebook, announcing to her family and friends, to the world, "My soul rejoices in the PRIVILEGE I accepted tonight." Amen.
Also this month, we received some encouraging visits by several Americans. Professor Hicks of Lipscomb University has been on a teaching assignment this semester in Vienna, and Roman arranged for our scholarly brother to lecture here in Bratislava at Commenius University's Lutheran Seminary. That's scheduled for next month.
Not just Tennesseans are visiting us. Texans Mark and Sheri Lee Woodward, missionaries and founders of the Let's Start Talking world evangelization program, also visited us a couple of weeks back. We spoke about the possibility of them sending teams here to Bratislava in the future, whether it might be incorporated into our long-term strategy. We encourage you to check out their wonderful program.
Also, we've been getting geared up for the Easter Family Retreat at a lodge in the Tatra Mountains along the Polish border. We'll be joined by Christians from all over Slovakia, the Czech Republic and maybe some from Austria. As I mentioned in last month's newsletter, leading us will be preacher and author Tony Coffey of Dublin, Ireland. Tony's bringing his wife, Leslie, and they plan to stay with us in Bratislava after camp to do some sightseeing on the Danube.
Be sure to drop us a line now and again. Come and visit. We'd be delighted to have you. We are blessed to be your partners.
It’s been an exciting and blessed beginning of 2015 for the Arnolds in Slovakia. As always, we thank all of you for your ongoing championing of us before the Father in prayer, along with your material generosity. You are awesome--and we don’t lightly use the word!
Due to—and I must speak abstractly here on account of the personalities involved—a surprising prospect facing the church from within the brotherhood but without the local congregation last month, the assembly in Bratislava had an opportunity to grow in the knowledge of grace and clarify its own vision of “that which is of first importance.” I’m so proud to say as one of her members and servants, in praise of God, that this body has chosen to square its identity solidly in the gospel of Christ.
Our Slovak language classes continue. I reckon next year by this time we’ll be fluent. In addition to our language learning, Natalie and I have both worked out an arrangement with the school we attend to teach advanced and technical English in exchange for reduced tuition (We’re unable with visa restrictions to work for gain in the country). This opportunity is putting us in with new evangelistic contacts. May God help us bear fruit in all our deeds, yes.
Last week we travelled with Roman to an international retreat in Gemunden, Germany. What an encouraging road trip that was! We met coworkers (and made new friends!) in the kingdom, both compatriots and nationals, from all over Europe and the U.K. The theme of the retreat was "Hospitality," or "God in the Stranger," exploring Matthew 25:31-46. In between fellowship, we were able to go sightseeing in nearby towns Braunfels (predecessor of New Braunfels, TX) and Limburg an der Lahn. The retreat was a lovely glimpse of what Heaven must be like.
Next month is the Slovak and Czech Easter retreat in central Slovakia. We’re expecting in the range of 50-70 to attend. Our leader is to be an Irish brother from Dublin, Tony Coffey. He keeps up a splendid website I’d recommend to you: www.bibleanswers.ie.
We thank you, love you and couldn’t be more blessed to know brothers and sisters as yourselves.
Dear family and friends,
Now it's official. The deal is sealed. Though our citizenship remains elsewhere, here we are but straying pilgrims, resident aliens in Slovakia. And we have little plastic cards with official seals and watermarks in our wallets to prove it. If anyone asks, we can tell them that we indeed do have a right to be here and show them our cards, which say we have an indispensible function to serve. That's no boast in ourselves, mind you, for the residency cards even spell out our official status and social classification. We're not here on a work permit, nor for study. No, to translate, so far as our host country is concerned, the cards say, "Temporary residents; distinct function: entitled doers of goodwill." I like that. Don't you?
Today we finished our first semester of Slovak classes. We have a little over a week off for holiday, really the first we've had off since we arrived.
We're thrilled about the work and our prospects for the coming new year. When a couple first wed, you know how it is. It takes a bit of time for the couple to figure out their roles and adjust to the new way of life. Beginning a new ministry relationship in a church is a bit like that. Our relationship with our coworkers and local church leaders is gelling together more and more complementary, and there's a spirit of genuine enthusiasm as we make plans and strategize for the future. We're confident in God's faithfulness to every soul whom he seeks in every uttermost part of the world, and just thrilled he's invited people like you and us, broken and feeble, to join his mission.
The couple we mentioned in our last update welcomed their first child, a son, early this month. After a difficult birth, mom and child are recuperating and doing well. They send their love and many thanks for your prayers.
I know this note lacks many specifics. May you forgive us for now. Suffice it to say that God is opening doors of effective service for us--and we're busy trying to keep up with too many things here to list. Please, continue praying that we will know how to speak as we ought and proclaim His excellencies to all dwelling in darkness. We're grateful for your support. God is not unjust so as to overlook your loving works.
Dear brothers and sisters,
With half of November gone, it's been three months since our arriving to Bratislava and the weather is beginning to get chilly with leaves changing. We continue our daily Slovak language classes and are excelling at what our teacher assures us is a rapid pace (Being impatient to learn, "fast" is somehow not fast enough for us.). And to think of how far our language skills have come in the past two-months that we've been taking classes is even now exciting. One interesting thing we've noticed with studying a language intensively for five or six hours-day is that it can be hard to "switch" back to English from Slovak syntax in the evening:
"Natalie, how many years has yonder woman with birthdays even on the Novembers?"
"I think that already has twenty she."
"Interesting. I have no little clock. Tell me of how many hours?"
"Therefore, we have of six hours and on the one-half of seven now."
"So late of evening, and even we should to be eating now, for certain, you think appropriate?"
"Good, yes, be suppering we to can. Thus, my Jordan, you want I should to go into little store by means of foot to be getting some chickens and with what must we eat suppers I can?"
That's a little exaggerated, but you get the idea!
Still, we're getting settled in well. Natalie has begun to deck the halls, decorating the flat for the season to get a sense of home. We'll be missing our family and friends back home for sure, but we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with Nicole and Mike, an American couple employed by the U.S. State Department at the embassy here in Bratislava. Nicole teaches a lady's Bible class every Sunday morning in the church.
Since last month's update the congregation in Bratislava has had one addition, a single Slovak brother, an anesthesiologist who's now returned to his home country to lecture and practice (He became a disciple while living and working in Ireland over the past several years). Also, we're in contact and evangelistic studies with another Christ-loving man named who reached out to us from Central Slovakia and is seeking to understand the will of God according to the Scripture. By the end of the month, God willing, one couple from the church will be having a baby boy--the first newborn child in the congregation's history.
We love and miss you all, and thank you beyond words for your prayers and support.
Dear brothers and sisters,
It’s now two months to the day since we arrived to our new home of Bratislava, and we are more than ever thanking God for your continual prayers, ongoing financial and moral support. Know that you remain on our lips while on our knees. Thank God for you! And he is not unjust so as to overlook your good works and love of the saints. Here are some highlights from the past month.
Immigration – Establishing long-term residency in Slovakia was the first of several hurdles for us to clear. Only with the gracious assistance of our brother Andrej, a corporate lawyer, and the assistance of other church members have we finally gotten all the paperwork, interviews and legalities behind us. Suffice it to say, the triumph of Soviet bureaucracy left an enduring monument to itself in the form of the foreign police service procedures. This has taken the largest chunk of our time over the past weeks and dominated the horizon of our anxiety. But the waiting for hours in lines, travelling to and from various public offices, banks, notaries, lawyers, etc. has become the sunlight of ripening our spiritual virtue of patience, thanks be to God.
Transportation – At the end of the day “our dogs are tired.” We’ve finally mastered the public transportation system (no mean feat), and from our flat we can be anywhere in the city proper within about 45 minutes. We’ll see what kinks the coming winter weather will throw our way. Relying on the metro system is having the benefit not only of requiring physical exercise but also of us meeting new folk.
Language – Natalie and I are taking intensive and immersive Slovak language classes 5-days/week with a personal tutor, 3-hours/day. And then we have homework. Lots of homework! But we have a marvelous teacher, Zuska, who loves the Lord Jesus and is merciful to us, despite our daily merciless slaughtering of her native tongue. Also, beginning this week we will start meeting twice/week with a PhD who wants to improve his colloquial English, who will, in turn, become our “language parent,” helping us to polish our Slovak with phrases and sayings we couldn’t get with fancy book learning all by itself. Though our Slovak skills are far from fluency, we are already beginning to see the benefits of our labor in terms of building rapport with nationals, trust that is essential to any and all of our evangelistic efforts.
Over the next month, God enabling, as we move beyond our transitional period we will begin to have more and more contact with outsiders in intentional evangelistic contexts. Crawling, we are not yet walking, and may God give us the grace to run; as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring news of good things!”