November 10, 2008Article By: Suzanne R. Holsomback
Nestled in the Julian Alps, south of Austria, east of Italy, and north of Croatia, lies the country of Slovenia. For nine weeks in the summer of 2008, Joey Armstrong, a sixth semester Truett Seminary student, and his wife Ashley, a Baylor graduate student, camped, hiked, rock climbed, and lived life with the people of Slovenia, fulfilling Joey's mentoring requirement. Joey considers his time in Slovenia as a unique experience, where he and Ashley were deeply challenged about family, hospitality, and ideas of independence.
The Armstrongs connected with a missionary in Slovenia "with the intent of building a relationship network between the missionary and outdoor enthusiasts - with rock climbers and people who camp." Joey says that the Slovene people appreciate the outdoors and literally grow up outside among the Alps.
To build a network, the Armstrongs camped, climbed, and hiked with Slovenians. Joey says, "We spent nine weeks there, and out of the nine weeks we were there, we slept in a tent for eight of them. We did not have a car, so our many mode of transportation was hitch-hiking in a foreign country for a whole summer and slept in a tent and rock climbed with local people."
Reflecting on the things learned over the summer, Joey says the Slovene people taught them the importance of family. The Slovene people typically have three generations living together, caring for one another, and being part of each other's lives. He credits the emphasis on family as one of the reasons he and Ashley feel lead to remain in the United States and minister. Joey says, "I think American culture need to see an influx of people who know how to take care of their families, especially when their parents get older. To know how to sacrifice these ideas of individual goals and individual dreams of success for loving the family unit."
Joey relates that as he and Ashley grew closer to several friends, they were invited into their homes and experienced the multi-generational family dynamic. The families they met also taught them about hospitality and opening one's home and life to others, even complete strangers. "We learned the definition of hospitality there. So accommodating, these are people that are not Baptists. If they go to church it is mass on Sunday mornings, but they were pulling over for the stranger and taking the stranger where they needed to go. It helped me understand even more the [Levitical] idea of the foreigner because we were foreigners over there."
As a resident chaplain on Baylor's campus, Joey finds he is able to empathize and sympathize with his residents due to his experiences as an international student in a foreign country. Laughing, he says he peppers the international students with questions about transportation, English help, directions, and the myriad of other basic needs. "It has opened my eyes to a lot of things," he says.
The Armstrongs' ideas of independence were challenged in Slovenia as well. Joey says, "It was hard to be away from people, it is hard to be away from people that support you - a community of believers. And it was hard being in a situation, a country where we did not know the language and there was no hope of us being really independent. We had to depend of people for rides everywhere and if the goodness of somebody's heart did not show, we would not have a place to sleep that night. There are several instances that happened, where we were hitchhiking from one village to the next village, just Ashley and I, and if a stranger had not pulled over and picked us up, we would not have made it to the next place. We would have found a place and whatever would happen would happen."
"When I came back here I learned how independent I am. And I learned how the community of Christ really needs some dependency on each other and all my life I have been taught that you have to get out of the house, be independent, get your own car, drive yourself, get a job, take care of yourself, that kind of thing. When in reality, I learned over there, that we need each other in a physical way. It is important to need each other."
Joey says in their state of desperate dependence he and Ashley saw God move. In Slovenia they needed God in tangible ways and saw miracles of provision. Shrugging Joey says, "I do not know if I would have seen if I was not in a state of desperation. It was a very hard summer, the hardest summer of our lives so far." In their desperation they reached out to the Slovene people, relied on the Slovenes, and trusted God to provide for them as they traveled through a foreign land.