General CBF / Missions / Poverty & Transformation Ministries / Student.Go

When silence isn’t golden…

This is the third in a series of posts from Student.Go interns who are “being the presence of Christ” alongside field personnel and partners in communities across the globe over the summer months. This post is from Shane McNary – CBF field personnel who is supervising a team of five students serving along the “Roma Road” this summer in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, leading camps for Roma children in various locations. 

After spending a full month with the five members of the student.go Roma Road team, I am still deciphering some of the conversations we had.  I have done my best to become functional in the local language.  That we spent two weeks in countries other than Slovakia tested my language skills – though Czech is similar enough and Polish is, well, Polish.  However, it wasn’t the ‘foreign’ languages which were the challenge; even the vowel-free Strč prst skrz krk was easy to teach (stick a finger through your neck).  Most trying was the YouTube-inspired short-hand speech most of the team seemed fluent in.

I think I was asleep during the part of training when it was told that I would be carrying on conversations by only quoting Bon Qui Qui or Potter Puppet Pals.  The vaguely familiar “Thee before Thou except after Thine” from Vintage21’s Jesus stirred memories of Vacation Bible School at a fundamentalist church I was bussed to as a child; but any connection with reality was lost when the next phrase included reference to SpongeBob.  The language barrier with the Polish was sometimes less than with the Americans I was ministering with!  That is, until we got to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.

 Whether it was the cold rain that began to fall on us as we reached the crematorium or the inscription on black granite reminding us that the site we were looking at was where the ashes of those killed by the Nazi death machine were tossed, silence replaced the YouTube-inspired banter. 


This was the third trip I have made to the Death Camp with a group of students who have come to Slovakia to minister among the Roma people through CBF’s Student.Go.  Especially this year when our itinerary included a look at the history of the Roma people and visits to sites of historic interest in this area, the visit to Oswiecim, Poland and specifically to the building housing the exhibit Extermination of European Roma was an important stop in the journey to understand who the Roma people are.  Almost none of Roma children we ministered with during three weeks of camps know anything about their history as a people.  They don’t know that their language pre-dates most European languages.  They don’t know that their ancestors arrived in this area over 600 years ago.  They don’t know that in the Czech lands almost 90% of the pre-war population was decimated in Nazi death camps.  They have no idea.


Over two days we visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps.  I warned the group about trying to understand everything which happened and about trying to take it all in.  The group was quieter then than during our whole month together.  It’s hard to quip about an “out of the hood program” or quote ‘Jesus’ saying, “I walked on water, I think I can walk through the door” when faced with the naked atrocities of what humans are capable of perpetrating upon one another.  Silence in the face of atrocity may be a natural response, but it is not sufficient.

 The oppressive darkness which still weighs on visitors to the Camps can be overwhelming.  But the visit was in vain if it results in silence.  Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate said during his acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway in 1986, never “be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  (  We cannot be silent in the face of atrocity.  We must speak to bear witness to the history of atrocity and are compelled by the ever-pressing love of Christ to raise our voices today when fellow human beings suffer.  The world toils in darkness and all creation yearns for a clear witness against it. 

 After a still-muted lunch in Wadowice, Poland, birthplace of Karol Wojtyła who went on to become Pope John Paul II, we got back in the car to head on towards Slovakia.  It was still rainy and the roads were sometimes crowded.  Slowly the conversations started up again – tempered by what we’d witnessed, empowered by a conviction not to remain silent, and peppered with postmodern clichés . . . at least we weren’t silent.


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