“Remember to breathe deeply the Spirit for it surrounds you,” says Jeremy Blyth. “Drink lots of water and walk real slow.”
That’s what Jeremy advises, as one who has just moved to a new country. Since February 2012, Jeremy and his spouse, Miriam Schmidt, an ELCA pastor, and their daughter, Ursula, have been adjusting to life in Slovakia.
Miriam’s call as pastor of the Bratislava International Church brought the family to Slovakia. She also coordinates the work of ELCA young adult volunteers serving in Central Europe. Jeremy also participates in the ministries of the congregation.
They are among the 225 ELCA mission personal serving in more than 40 countries, working hand-in-hand with global neighbors teaching, preaching, healing, peacemaking, building and growing communities.
The ELCA is one of the few mainline denominations that fully supports its long-term mission personnel. Of the 225 that are not long-term, some are self-funded volunteers and others are serving a two-year commitment. Financial support for ELCA missionaries is made possible through the generosity of congregations, individual members and others across this church.
“The ELCA Missionary Sponsorship program is an excellent way to make a direct connection between the hearts of our people and the ministry of the ELCA missionaries around the globe,” says Lanny Westphal, who directs the work of ELCA missionary sponsorship.
In their relatively brief time in Slovakia, Miriam and Jeremy have been challenged but their faith has helped them adapt to living in a new culture and learning a new language.
“Moving to an urban area after living in a rural area is the biggest culture shock,” says Jeremy, “more so than language or Slovakian culture.” But “any call that you follow will take you to a new experience,” he says.
“Bratislava International Church has become the — often temporary — church home for a remarkably diverse group of people over the last two decades,” Miriam wrote in their blog.
“Refugees, expatriates, teachers, business people, students, volunteers, government officials and many more from more countries than you can count have come, and still come, to Bratislava International Church for Sunday morning worship,” she says.
Miriam says that while the pastors who have served the Bratislava church since 1994 have come from the ELCA, people who attend worship are from many denominational backgrounds, such as Presbyterians, Roman Catholics and others.
There are also members from the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia. Both this denomination and the ELCA are members of The Lutheran World Federation. The ELCA is the federation’s only member from the United States.
“Somehow by the power of the Holy Spirit and the call of God through Jesus Christ, we manage, amid all these differences, to gather on Sunday morning around word and sacrament, to pray and sing, to worship and fellowship together,” says Miriam. “Thanks be to God that such a thing is possible at all!”
Megan Nuehring is a student at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, majoring in public relations and religion with a minor in leadership.