Kelsey Fauser just finished up her internship at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Longmont, Colo., but that isn’t where she started. Her internship (through the ELCA Horizon program) to Bratislava, Slovakia, was cut short by COVID-19. She returned home in March, spent some time with her parents in Florida, and went to Colorado for what may be the shortest internship ever, July and August. As she joked, she got to be in the “honeymoon stage” the entire time there.
But her longer stay in Slovakia seemed to not have enough adjectives to describe it: “It was incredible. The whole experience. Far more than I ever expected.”
She worked as a Bratislava International Church intern, which typically means preaching, Bible study, but also meant teaching religion to 17,18 and 19-year-olds at a local high school connected to the Lutheran Church of Slovakia. Four classes twice a week, from early Christianity to Lutheranism, to Reformation, to current day issues. Students were eager to use the theological words she taught them to add to their own fluent English vocabulary. She preached in the school’s chapel every Wednesday and led special services.
She says it was a good mixture of experiences, and that she learned much from her students.
“It was a fantastic balance of teaching and learning and basic concepts that were stuck in my head,” she said, thankful that she had been paying attention in seminary classes. “I kept going to my Google docs class notes and saying ‘thank goodness I took notes on this!’ ”
She was teaching children whose parents had lived through communism and had a lineage of that—at a time religion was controlled. She was amazed at this next generation’s expressions of religious freedom.
Fauser says she has a new respect for teachers, and how they mentally prepare for a lesson with hopes and dreams that it will connect. But sometimes it doesn’t and when it goes completely wrong it’s heartbreaking, she said. And sometimes the lesson is so energizing students are still talking about it outside of class. “It has an ebb and flow to it,” she said.
Other than the big surprise of COVID, she said she was surprised how grounding it is to be Lutheran. Experiencing international ministry (which she highly recommends) is a stark reminder of how connected we are.
“I was surprised how similar we are in our Lutheran beliefs, but to actually live though that was a shock. When we pray at worship that we join our prayers with others in the world, we really do! We are really praying across our borders.”
Her biggest lesson, however, was that sometimes getting lost is the best way to discover a place.
“Lost physically by wandering, but also theologically,” she said. “If you find yourself on a path you’re not sure of, get lost in that. Lost in a different culture where no one is speaking your native language, lean into that feeling and what loneliness brings you. If you bring social justice to a post-communist government, wander through them and discover what the Holy is putting in your heart and what the community is telling you. I’d get lost in my sermon prep but it sometimes had a fruitful ending, or a destination or new route I didn’t know existed.”
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