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14 April 2011

Slovakia Trip (A Postlude: Hope Spoken)

A wider selection of photos from my time in Europe can be seen here: Bratislava/Vienna 2011

Where to begin? First of all, a huge "Thank you!" to Frank (German-American) and Alenka (Serbian-Slovak) Stephenson, Branko Bjelajac, everyone at TWR Europe, and my supporters for making this incredible experience possible! My time in Slovakia for TWR Europe's Annual Partnership Conference was eye-opening, worldview-broadening, encouraging, and motivating! I am more sure than ever that this is the direction I should be pursuing, and the firsthand experience reinvigorated me to return to Europe as soon as possible!

My flight itinerary was Denver-Toronto-Frankfurt-Vienna. I arrived in Vienna at 10 AM (2 AM Colorado time, and I hadn't slept yet), and thankfully, Frank was waiting with a Red Bull energy drink (founded locally in Austria) that would help me stay awake the rest of the day. It was about a 45 minute drive to Bratislava. We arrived in time for the message at a small international church. The interim pastor and his wife were from Mississippi. As if divinely planned, I arrived on potluck Sunday. :) This allowed me to fellowship with people from Slovakia, America, UK, Israel, India, Northern Ireland, and other countries while I enjoyed the food from their part of the world.

After a much needed shower and teeth brushing, Frank, Alenka, and I visited Devín Castle. This castle was constructed in the 9th century! With my new camera in hand, I started taking pictures and didn't stop until I flew home a week later.

The next couple days involved meeting people in the TWR MarCom departments in Bratislava and Vienna and helping prepare for the conference. I didn't help much due to me being too busy drinking coffee, eating local food (Austrian schnitzel and Slovak halušky), and being overwhelmed by the architecture everywhere I looked. This was my first time out of the Americas, so I enjoyed soaking up the surroundings and culture!

TWR Europe includes a region of 71 countries from Europe, Central Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. People came from 30 countries to a central location in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was such a privilege to meet people involved in incredible ministries and hear their stories firsthand. There were a number of people I couldn't even photograph because if they were somehow affiliated with TWR, their lives could be in danger. TWR's slogan is "Speaking Hope to the World," and many are doing this very thing while sacrificing everything. However, spreading this Hope is worth more than anything else we could offer a needy world. I made a friend from Bosnia, and he is one of an estimated 800 believers in the entire country!

This is what TWR is all about. The need is clear, their message is Hope, and their means is media. They spread this message of Hope into 225 countries and 160 languages with over a million weekly listeners in their heart language. They are constantly strategizing about how to most effectively spread the hope found in Christ to as many people as possible.

Do you ever look at what's going on all around you and just feel insignificant? "Other people are more intelligent, more gifted, more loving, etc. etc. I honestly don't have much to offer anyone." That's kind of how I felt when I got a better understanding of what the needs are and what people within TWR and other ministries are doing. It's overwhelming. However, I was made to feel so welcome and accepted as part of the TWR team. They were excited to have more youth joining the mission. I never felt undeserving of being there due to my age or lack of qualifications. I look forward to being used to speak Hope with the assistance of those generously investing in the ministry!

The conference lasted from Wednesday to Saturday. I got to meet and hear from people ministering in Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Norway, Holland, Portugal, Russia, Romania, Switzerland, Bosnia, Bulgaria, and many other countries. Along with the many things I learned in regards to TWR, I received a better understanding of European culture as a whole and see some differences between the Eastern European and Western European environment. I picked up a few Slovak words and phrases with the most important being "káva" (coffee). For the time being, some online courses at LiveMocha will have to suffice.

I had the opportunity to spend my last day in Europe in Vienna. The palaces, cathedrals, and elaborate interiors of churches were breathtaking! You can see my pictures on Facebook, but they, in no way, do it justice. When I get to Europe, please plan on visiting me so you can see some of these places for yourself. :) After an incredible dinner in downtown Vienna and a short night's rest, I boarded my return flight. It was so encouraging to have people back home excited for me and interested in the details of the trip!

If you'd like to hear more, shoot me an email or give me a call. I'd love to catch up with you! My desire is to be Slovakia-bound within this year. It seems impossible, but we will see! I just got my latest financial report which announced the completion of my outgoing fund of $10,000! Now, the completion of my monthly pledges is all that separates me from commencing my term in Slovakia (around $2,500). If you would like to join my support team with a monthly, quarterly, or yearly donation, the simplest method is here. I definitely need guidance on what steps to take at this point and am considering doing some traveling this summer. Keep me in your prayers! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this!

Contact Info:
Phone: 262.951.8672
Mail: 474 Black Feather Loop #415 Castle Rock, CO 80104
Facebook Group: Paul to Slovakia
Twitter: kitchenerpaul
Skype: p.a.kitchener

01 April 2011

Slovakia Trip (A Prelude: The Love of God)

At this moment, I sit at gate A41 awaiting my flight from Denver to Toronto. Free wi-fi is a blessing! Within twenty-four hours, I should be arriving in Vienna. After an hour drive, I will reach my destination for the week and future residence: Bratislava, Slovakia. It's only through the generosity of TWR Europe and my financial supporters that I have the privilege to attend this year's Annual Partner Conference! I am blessed and looking forward to a productive week.

Upon my return, I will give a brief overview of the trip along with some photos and videos. However, I just wanted to jot some stuff down before heading out. This week, I had some incredible reminders of the relentless love of God.

Through one of my jobs, I made the acquaintance of a Christian man in his 50s. We got to talking about our families one day, and I could sense some pain in his voice as he mentioned his children. He opened up and told me about his daughter that is my age. She was an incredibly gifted and kind-hearted girl, but four or five years ago, she got involved with the wrong crowd. She got into drugs and eventually was addicted to meth. She began to distance herself from the family, and then they stopped hearing from her altogether. It has now been four years that they haven't heard from her. They have an investigator, but they don't even know if she is alive. He told me this as he fought to hold back tears.

However, I couldn't help my eyes from watering as all I could think about was the story of the Prodigal Son. If his daughter ever comes back to him, do you think he would scold her? Would he tell her that she was an unloving daughter for rejecting family values and living this lifestyle? Would he turn his back on her the way she turned her back on them? Not a chance. He would wrap his arms around his precious daughter as tears flowed freely and his heart rejoiced. This is the love of God! It is relentless, consistent, never-ending, and freely ours! I recently read the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I don't know what your thoughts on the book are, but he gives some beautiful descriptions on the love of our Father. His favorite verse in the Bible is Luke 15:20: "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him."

I keep listening to one album over and over. It is "Take the World, But Give Me Jesus" by Ascend the Hill. They do some incredible renditions of hymns. One hymn they do is "The Love of God." These lyrics always blow my mind:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Thank you so much for your love for me and interest in my life. Be blessed!