By Dianne McNary, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel
The English language discussion club, meeting at the State Scientific Library in Kosice, recently began in-person meetings again. After more than two years of virtual meetings, it was odd to walk back into our meeting space—to see members who have become friends through the years and to shake hands and exchange greetings. Our meetings are now a hybrid with some of our group joining us online. The library has a good set-up for conferences and we are able to use that system.
This group began in 2006 as a way for Slovaks to improve their English. Through the years, it has taken on many forms – book club, discussion club, film club, both in-person and virtual. I was at the first meeting 16 years ago as we discussed the plan for beginning the group. It was much quieter at that meeting than at our most recent meeting.
In 2006, the locals were cautious about speaking English, afraid they might make a mistake and be embarrassed. Last week, the conversation was lively. In our earlier stages, I was tasked with finding items to read or topics to discuss. Now, I just sit back and act as scribe as the attendees freely share their ideas and suggestions. It is a joy to see them comfortable and willing to share with the group.
One of the foundational principles of this group is that it is a safe place to share one’s thoughts and feelings. Education in Slovakia and other eastern European countries is shame-based and students are often reluctant to speak for fear of being chastened in front of their peers. We don’t shame anyone for trying. Those who have a stronger grasp of English readily translate for those who struggle.
Over the years, we have had many different nationalities represented. Most recently, we are welcoming Ukrainian refugees who want to improve their language skills to assist them in new jobs or to find work. As I look around the table, I watch old members welcome new members with open arms.
This is a picture of a beloved community to me—welcoming others from different countries, different languages, different beliefs; joining together in a common goal. One woman said, “Sometimes I am just so tired after work and I don’t really feel like signing on to Zoom for a meeting; but I do. After I join and begin to visit with you all, I feel so much better. Refreshed.”
I sometimes feel the same way—tired and worn down. But my time with friends always improves my mood. I am so thankful for the friends I have made over the years and for the new friends I will make this year.
Diane and husband Shane are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Slovakia and Czechia. Learn more about their ministry at cbf.net/mcnary.
The Offering for Global Missions provides for the long-term presence of field personnel like Brooke and Mike. The theme for this year’s Offering is “A Place at the Table for Everyone.” In Luke 14, Jesus teaches us to invite those least expecting and, in society’s view, perhaps least deserving of invitation. CBF field personnel serving in countries around the world invite and are invited to the table as they cultivate beloved community, bear witness to Jesus Christ, and seek transformational development.
Learn more about the Offering for Global Missions and access free digital and print resources at www.cbf.net/ogm.