This month’s missionary profile highlights another of our amazing Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) missionaries in the Eurasia region. The GEO missionaries work in places and situations that give them so many wonderful opportunities to share the Gospel with those who may not otherwise hear it, or may not often visit a church. This month, we focus on Alan Davis (A.J.) who serves the Lord through The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in Kosice, Slovakia, where he has now served for five years.
A.J. was born in Illinois, but grew up in Texas. His parents hail from both Nebraska and Wisconsin, so A.J. has ties to many different parts of the United States. His father is from a family of seven, so there are many extended family members. Every two years, they have a large family reunion at Lake Okoboji in Iowa. A.J. says of his family, “I don’t think I could have made it 5 years if it wasn’t for the amazing support of all my family.”
A.J. graduated from The University of North Texas with a double major in Psychology and German. He has found that both degrees are helpful to him in his work. He says, “Psychology is about understanding people and their behavior which has helped me be more empathetic to others. My studies in the German language have been helpful because I have found that there are many people here who are unable to speak English, and therefore we may have a common language among us.”
After graduating, A.J. worked for a community behavioral health center in Dallas, Texas as a Qualified Mental Health Professional (QMHP). While there, he worked with children and adolescents. The center was a state center, and A.J. was unable to proclaim Christ to his patients. He says, “I felt that working with people with mental illnesses, one thing that they really needed to know was the valuable relationship that waits for them with Christ, and in my last workplace, I was unable to present that information with my clients and felt like God was calling me elsewhere in my life.”
Given the desire to proclaim Jesus and Him crucified to others, A.J. pursued mission work and was placed in Kosice, Slovakia as an English-as-a-Foreign Language teacher (EFL). A.J. works at a local Lutheran high school in Kosice called Evanjelické gymnázium J. A. Komenského (EGJAK). There he is able to interact with students, faculty, staff, and parents. A.J. explains that he teaches full time to all ages present at the school. Gymnasium in Europe is somewhat equivalent to high school in the US, but begins at a younger age, around 3-5th grade. A.J. teaches mostly conversation classes with the students, but also US and UK literature. However, he also does much more outside of school including, “the afterschool clubs which involve creating deeper relationships with students which [allows me] to tell them about Jesus. Also doing morning devotions, and afternoon devotions with students, creating Bible themed projects, helping and volunteering at the school and having prayer time with coworkers.”
Within the conversation classes, says A.J., it’s surprising how many opportunities there are to proclaim the Gospel. He says that
It is really amazing how often and easy it is to talk about God with students, and how at this age they have so many questions about it…Most students have come to respect me and my thoughts, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to express themselves and for them to be honest, because they are afraid that if they don’t believe and tell me, that they will let me down. I would say that I have many students that I have a great relationship with that are not Christians, but continue to want to meet with me to talk about God.
Additionally, A.J. often has opportunities to proclaim Jesus or build relationships with other staff, as well as parents of students. Recently he “had one student that approached me and asked me if I could help his parents learn English. So I started meeting his parents and since we have become good friends and have talked about many Christian holidays and their meanings. It has been a great blessing.”
Now that A.J. has been in Slovakia for five years, he is able to look back fondly at his time with students who are now graduating. He says that a great memory is “seeing the students that I taught when they were freshmen…graduating; that really brings a tear to my eye…I am so thankful for all the great discussions and laughter that I have had with them.”
Like most of the other Central European (Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland) GEO Missionaries, A.J. participates in English Bible Camps every summer. English Bible Camps are run in cooperation with local Lutheran churches in the countries of Central Europe. They are basically a combination of English language learning and VBS. LCMS members and congregations from all over the United States send short-term teams for 10-14 days at a time to help run one to two camps in Central Europe. These camps are incredibly popular and reach not just the children and parents, but also other members of the community who volunteer just for the chance to work with native English speakers and improve their English. Additionally, the camps build relationships between the LCMS and other Lutheran church bodies with whom the LCMS works to put on the camps. This also means that when the volunteers leave, there is a follow-up with a local Lutheran church. Some of A.J.’s favorite memories stem from these camps. He says that camps “are a great time to develop relationships with students and through those moments you can share God’s love.”
As with every vocation, A.J. has faced challenges. He says most of the time they have to do with language barriers and miscommunication. However, the joys do outweigh those challenges. A.J. says that the joys
come from meeting all the wonderful Slovak people that I interact with. This includes my students, coworkers and other members of the community. I love to be able to sit down with people and just go deep into conversation about faith, religion and God. I also greatly enjoy teaching my students English, as they can learn so much from a native speaker of English.
Even A.J.’s experience of culture shock is largely positive. He reports feeling taken aback by the beauty and history of Europe, as well as some of its traditions. A.J. says, “My first culture shock experience was [a] moment when [I was] climbing up into some old castle ruins that once [were] one of the largest castle systems in Eastern Europe. I am reminded of the beauty of Europe when I am taking a train across the beautiful countryside, dotted with castles and ruins.”
One tradition that still shocks him is the Slovakian tradition of “water splashing” around Easter. A.J. says that it is surprising because “supposedly it is about fertility and that women who get splashed will be beautiful for the next year. It is a tradition that is more preserved in the villages than in the bigger cities of Slovakia. Typically the young Slovak men go around house to house the day after Easter Sunday and splash the women. It is quite a sight to see.”
Overall, A.J. has seen some themes emerge over his 5 years serving as a GEO missionary. He says, “God is on our hearts, and regardless of what language [you speak] or nationality you [are], we are God’s precious children, and everybody deserves to know that saving grace that He offers us through His Son.”
Fun Facts about A.J.:
- His favorite movie is Ghostbusters.
- His interests include painting and traveling.
- A.J. loves rustic trains and locomotives.
- His favorite food is sushi.
- He loves camping and hiking.