Eva Guldanová remembers standing on the uneven cobblestones of the Bratislava old town square on a cold night in November 1989, her ears filled with the jubilant rattle of thousands of keys.
The people of the country then known as Czechoslovakia were ringing in their freedom from communist rule.
“I was only 12, and I didn’t really understand what it was all about,” she says. “But I knew a change was coming, and something very important was happening.”
Soon Eva would be baptized, a formerly subversive and dangerous act in her country. And by the end of her high school years she felt the first yearnings to go deeper into her fledging faith.
Her parents encouraged her to pursue physics in her university studies, but Eva wondered if she might be hearing a different call.
“(I decided) that if I still felt the desire to devote my life to the service of the church, I would follow that call and go to seminary.”
Today Eva is a third-year Ph.D. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In spring 2012, she will take her two final courses and “then plunge into writing my dissertation,” she says.
“I hope to write about the theme of baptism in early church writings and how it relates with ecclesiology — the theological understanding of the Christian church,” says Eva, adding that this is also a topic in the current round of international dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics.
“Research and writing on this topic will help me be on the cutting edge of ecumenism,” she says.
Promoting Christian unity and ecumenism are among some of Eva’s passions. And her studies in the United States have helped her live out these passions.
“I have been able to journey toward my dream: serving our Lord as an instrument of reconciliation and bringing about unity among Christian churches.”
Eva is a recipient of an ELCA International Leadership Development Scholarship, which is awarded to promising young leaders from global Lutheran partners. And in April 2011, she also won a student contest hosted by the National Workshop on Christian Unity.
“I felt both proud and humiliated that my (entry) was chosen as the best ecumenical sermon. It was a great affirmation for me in my vocation. I am very grateful to the ELCA and to the Lutheran Ecumenical Representativeness Network for giving me the opportunity to take part in the National Workshop on Christian Unity,” says Eva.
After seminary, Eva plans to return home.
“I love Slovakia. I love my home church, my culture and my people. I feel called to serve as a pastor there, and I look forward to building ecumenical relationships on a grassroots level,” she says.
“I would also be glad to teach at the seminary, if this is the ministry my church calls me to, and I also dream of one day working full time in the ecumenical field.”
For this former child of communism, there is also beauty in diversity.
“For me, two things are central: courage and love — courage to overcome fears, anxieties and boundaries deep within us, and love to see the beauty in the other.
“To see a human being created out of God’s love in every person requires humility and patient listening. And it needs a lot of prayer.”