29 June 2013

With Blessings from Arkansas to Valaliky, Slovakia

During our first term, we were made aware of a tremendous need at the Gymnazium for English teachers.  We volunteered and the advances in learning the language and relationships we made have provided a whole host of ministry opportunities over the years.  Everything from assisting a group of five students attend an international English camp, developing personal relationships with the administration and faculty at the school, helping correct essays for graduates who attended university in England, and the opportunity for a long-term ministry assignment where God called Tanya and Jon Parks to serve.

One of the key relationships we've had over the years, one assisted by Facebook, was with Peter.  We were privileged to help teach Peter and his classmates English their final year in the Gymnazium.  After graduation, Peter, a devout Roman Catholic, entered seminary in preparation for ministry.  In June of 2012, Peter invited us to his ordination as a deacon in the church.  It was a beautiful and moving ceremony.  Though we were on Off Field Assignment (furlough) in the United States from August 2012, we kept in contact with Peter. 

In preparation for his ordination as priest, he asked if I would be able to assist him by picking up and delivering a chasuble to him for him to wear on his ordination day and as he conducted Mass for the first time.  You can only imagine the patience required of the salesman at the Catholic supply store in Los Angeles, CA as this barely liturgical Baptist walked in and attempted to describe what I needed to pick up!  Thankfully, the catalog at the store had the same photos as the store's online catalog.  I was able to point and order the correct vestment.  

When I delivered the vestment to Peter in late March, I was treated to a wonderful lunch at his home in Valaliky, Slovakia.  He was quick to go try it on and show it to his parents and me.  He radiated joy.  Peter's parents talked of their plans for the reception they would provide for him after his ordination coming up in June.  However, in mid-April, Peter's father lost his job.  The plans for the reception were now ruined.  Fear of shame overcame the family's sense of pride:  I received a message from Peter wondering if we could assist.  We have no ministry projects set up to assist in the ordination festivities of Catholic priests!  But we have a friend who needed help.

April 20, just a few days after Peter sent his request, we were at the CBF of Arkansas gathering in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In addition to a warm welcome and time of fellowship, we were given a financial gift.  We were humbled and grateful for the generosity of our CBF of Arkansas family.  Before we left that day though, I approached Ray Higgins, CBF of AR coordinator, to ask if it was OK if we passed along this gift to Peter.  Ray was agreeable with only one request, he would like some photos of how the funds were used.  Our friends at the Roma Press Agency promised to send photos since they were going to be present at the ordination.  It is a newsworthy event because Peter is one of only two or three Romani priests in the whole of Slovakia.

The ordination took place on 22 June.  The family was able to provide for the reception thanks to the generosity of missional people in Arkansas.  Though I have not yet received the photos from the Press Agency, I was able to find one to share.  It is a photo of Peter, our Romani brother in Christ leading his first Mass and wearing his new chasuble.  Blessings to you, Peter, from your friends - including friends you have never met from CBF of Arkansas.