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February Missionary Profile: David Fiala

This month’s missionary profile focuses on David Fiala, serving as the Project Coordinator for Central Europe. This includes Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. David and his wife, Radka, have been serving as missionaries in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) since August of 2005. They have two children, both born in Radka’s home country of Slovakia, named Vašek and Emma. Radka, David, Vašek and Emma live in Žilina, Slovakia.

The young Fiala family.

The young Fiala family.

David grew up in Yorkville, IL where he attended a Lutheran School from K-8th grade. After graduating from Yorkville High School, David went on to study at Concordia University, Seward, NE. He first received a Lutheran Teacher’s Diploma and a Bachelor of Arts in Theology. Later, he also earned a Director of Christian Education (DCE) Certificate from Concordia, Nebraska. In January 2014, David completed a Master of Arts program through Concordia University, Chicago, which he earned through an online cohort so that he could remain in the field. David’s MA Thesis is on the history of the Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism.

The Fiala family in Slovakia not long after Emma was born in 200

The Fiala family in Slovakia not long after Emma was born in 2007.

David’s background and further education has served him well in his varying roles over the years as a missionary in Central Europe. David first started as a volunteer teacher in the late 90’s. After returning to the US and marrying Radka, he and Radka came to Slovakia as volunteer teachers in August of 2005. They have lived in several different cities in Slovakia. David taught English in a high school setting, working with many different levels. He taught everything from the ABC’s to analyzing Shakespeare. He was also asked to teach religion in English in 1999, and then again in 2006-08. David says, “To support this effort there was a generous donation of many copies of the 2005 CPH edition of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Each student received a copy!  It was a great gift.” In addition to teaching their regular classes, David, Radka and other missionaries led many after school activities, as well. David explains that one of his favorites was called “Black Box”:

It was initially a twice a week evening activity for students including singing, praying, bible reading and discussion. There was, at one point, even a black box into which students could place their questions about Christianity, faith or the Bible. These questions would drive the content of these evening meetings. Eventually the box disappeared, but the students and missionaries still gathered and such topics were addressed. For students living away from home, in a small remote community studying English, these interactions with missionaries outside of the classroom were quite natural. There was no real youth room type place to meet so we gathered in the main stairwell of the school building where there was, quite conveniently, some preexisting bleacher seating begging to be used. Sometimes the cleaning ladies would even thank us for the live music they heard while working late into the evening.

Fiala teaching a group of students in Hungary in 2011.

Fiala teaching a group of students in English in Bonyhad, Southern Hungary in December 2011 concerning Advent and music. David was there to scout locations for a possible GEO placement, and they asked him to teach this class.

David’s years teaching prepared him for his current role as Project Coordinator for Central Europe. David was called to this new position in August 2008 by what was then the Board for Mission Services. This role covers Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.  In this four-country region, David works with five indigenous church bodies who are associated with the Augsburg Confession, and with whom the LCMS cooperates. David explains that the English language translations of the names of the churches are:

Slovakia: The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession
Czech Republic: The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Czech Republic and the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession.
Poland: The Evangelical-Augsburg Church in Poland
Hungary: The Evangelical—Lutheran Church in Hungary.

Currently, the LCMS is not in altar and pulpit fellowship with any of these church bodies, but works with them at the request of the leaders of each church body to help provide English language teachers who create opportunities to share the Gospel with their students, as well as other special projects throughout the region. David says that,

Over the years that I’ve been serving here, each church, in their own way, has expressed its interest in learning more about what it means to be a “Lutheran” church. I can say that there are some “Lutheran” churches in North America that, by their behavior, are causing these Central European churches to want to know more about the LCMS. While the projects I coordinate are mostly on the local parish or church-school level, the leadership of each church body is aware of and is supportive of the activities. All that the LCMS does in this region that is routed through me, is done at the invitation of these leaders.

As briefly mentioned above, one of David’s main roles now is to find places for Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) missionaries to serve in similar ways as David did when he first served as a teacher. GEO missionaries serve 1–2 year terms in the region, and can often renew their commitment. David works with the local schools and church bodies to place the missionaries and then manages and supervises them. Radka has often helped to train them for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). As a part of coordinating the GEO missionaries, David plans GEO Missionary Gatherings twice annually (one is coming up in March). David says of the Gatherings: “bringing the team together for these events is beneficial for them and for me.” These gatherings allow for fellowship, an opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper, encouragement for one another, and further study and learning in their roles. GEO missionaries are extremely important to the work being done in the region as they are able to use the English language as an entrée to sharing the Gospel with their students. Some of the GEOs work in Lutheran High Schools, while others work in local state-run schools. They do more than just teach English: they build relationships of trust with Christian and non-Christian students and staff alike. They become trusted confidants and proclaim the Gospel to those with whom they come in contact.

In October, David (back row) organized a retreat for the GEO missionaries in Central Europe. They were joined by other LCMS Mission staff, as well. This gathering took place in Kosice, Slovakia.

In October, David (back row) organized a retreat for the GEO missionaries in Central Europe. They were joined by other LCMS staff, as well. This gathering took place in Kosice, Slovakia.

Another major part of David’s role is to help the local church bodies with special projects. To that end, David says,

I’ve been blessed to welcome some 60 short-term mission teams to the region since summer 2009. There have been about 500 people that have served on these teams in Central Europe since the LCMS began sending teams to serve here connected to my role as project coordinator. Thousands of kids have heard about Jesus, practiced their English and been encouraged by these missionaries! Hundreds of parents and families have been invited to Lutheran churches and introduced to local Lutheran pastors. Dozens and dozens of Central European high school and university aged youth have been mobilized into ministry as volunteer translators and event assistants. Some of these youth are not even Christians. They sign up to help as they want to improve their English skills. All of them get to hear about Jesus as well.  Some have even joined local churches as a result of this ministry.

One of the most important short-term events that David coordinates are the English Bible Camps throughout Central Europe, especially in Poland. These camps occur every summer. They are like VBS combined with English language learning. English is a huge draw for many people, as David explained above. Of this part of his role, David says:

Finding places for the teams to serve, assisting them as they prepare, and listening to their feedback when the events are finished can be exhausting and a blessing simultaneously.  Working with the many local leaders I’ve met and befriended over the years to make these ministry events possible is one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of in my “career” as a missionary.

Children prepare for an activity at an English Bible Camp in Poland last summer, 2013.

Children prepare for an activity at an English Bible Camp in Poland last summer, 2013.

The bottom line for his work, says David, is that “I’m a connector. I link the human (and other) resources of the LCMS to the expressed needs of the local churches in Central Europe for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel to the lost and for the encouragement of those already in the church.” Through David’s work, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed to many people, and volunteers, local church leaders and other missionaries have been strengthened and encouraged. Yet, missionary work wasn’t something David had expected or planned for his life, as is often the case! David says of his journey:

It’s sort of a Jonah type story, thankfully without the fish belly. I don’t think I ever blatantly ran in the opposite direction, but I may not have always gone directly to the task I was called to accomplish. People need to hear about the Gospel. Jesus’ works are to be proclaimed. The church has a role in this world. At present, my call is to be about this activity in Central Europe. I can’t say, “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.” But the more I’m here, and the longer I’m part of the process of outreach ministry in this place at this time, the more I see how the events of my life have built me for this role.

David really enjoys working with those who come to serve in the region, such as the teams and the GEO missionaries. He says: “There is such an amazing variety of people who come to serve! There’s no way little old me could accomplish what these people can do. I get great joy out of knowing that [my] preparations, [which] most folks who come are unaware of, result in ministry that the Lord does through these people when they’re here.”

Although David has been on the field for a long time, he still encounters challenges. He says language is a big challenge as he does not speak Polish, Czech, or Hungarian. He does speak some Slovak, but it is very limited. However, most of the people with whom he works speak English very well or want to speak it better. Knowing Slovak also helps him understand some Czech and Polish as they are similar. Of course, as a family the Fialas have also faced other challenges, but David says “none of them have been unresolvable.”

For David, with his many years living in Central Europe, reverse culture shock is now also a reality. He says: “I’d say what shocks me is when we return the US and I get to interact with Americans on their own turf. I do feel like a fish out of water. This much is clear: I’m not yet a Central European but I’m hardly an American anymore.” This is a common feeling of missionaries and other expatriates who have served overseas.

David’s family is also very unique in that Radka is a native of Slovakia and both of their children were born there. The children have never lived in the US, though they visit there nearly every year and are very comfortable in an all-English environment. They have both a mother and a father tongue: Slovak and English. He says that Vašek and Emma likely don’t exactly think of themselves as “missionary kids,” as their experience is a bit different. David notes that, unlike most other missionary children, they belong to Slovakia and their “biological heritage” is there. He says that it will be interesting to see where they go in life given their ability to move in both worlds quite comfortably. Of his wife, Radka, and their family life, David says this:

In all of this Radka is uniquely poised in each culture and yet somewhere in-between. Hers is quite possibly the most precarious of all of our situations. She sees so much into each culture and can understand the thinking that motivates individuals from either place… She can take the best from each and create a unique home for our kids. In this respect, we as a family are very blessed. In addition to this, her capacity for ministry here is amazing…The kids are still small, and they are her priority. She still manages to be very active in many different ministries where she has been invited to serve.

The Fiala family is an amazing blessing to the LCMS and her work in the region. We give thanks to God that in and through them, He continues to strengthen His church and the proclamation of the Gospel. David notes that

There are people everywhere who need to hear the Gospel and be confronted (yes confronted!) with the good news of who Jesus is, what He did and why it matters. The churches here in Central Europe have endured many hardships in their long existence. The Slovaks, for instance, trace their roots to a synod that took place in Žilina in the year 1610 when the teachings of evangelicalism, in the narrow sense, won out over Catholicism. The counter-reformation put an abrupt halt to this shift. Years later the World Wars swept through, then the communist era came and went. Through all of this and the many other societal changes that have taken place, the church still stands, even in this place. Our role here as missionaries and teachers has been a very small drop in a much larger bucket of the history of the church in this place.

David stands with a mural found in "The Small Lutheran Church" in Bratislava, Slovakia. The painting is 5 meters tall and tells the story of the Reformation in Slovakia.

David stands with a mural found in “The Small Lutheran Church” in Bratislava, Slovakia. The painting is 5 meters tall and tells the story of the Lutheran church in Slovakia from the Reformation through recent history.

All praise be to God, who preserves His Church at all times and in all places.

Fun Facts About David:

  • David is a two time NAIA All-American high-jumper and still holds the indoor and outdoor records for this event at Concordia University, Seward, NE.
  • David plays the guitar and sings.
  • He is learning to play the hammer dulcimer.
  • He hasn’t watched American TV with any frequency since the 1990’s.

What Can You Do?

  • Pray for the Fiala family and their work in Central Europe
  • To support the Fiala family, please visit their Online Prayer Card.
  • If you are interested in serving on a short-term team, or if your church is interested in forming one, you can contact Christian Boehlke, who places volunteers for the Office of International Mission, or you can contact David Fiala directly.
  • If you are interested in learning more about the Lutheran church body in Slovakia, you can read this post from the Witness, Mercy, Life Together Blog.

 

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