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Philip Delano and Erin Cumbia.

By Jeannie Dortch.

In many ways, the summer of 2010 in Ružomberok, Slovakia reads like a fairy tale for college students Philip Delano, a senior at William and Mary, and Erin Cumbia, a sophomore at Liberty University. 

Like Hansel and Gretel, Philip and Erin tentatively left home, uncertain of what to expect from their eight weeks abroad or of their competence to meet the challenges that would lie ahead. They clung to their trust in the Lord and His promises to guide them, tucking flexibility into a side pocket for extra measure.

Erin lived with Pastor Egor Conka and his wife in a flat above the Ružomberok Baptist Church, while Philip roomed with and shadowed 29-year-old Graham Leeder, a British missionary from New Castle. As they traveled to different areas of Slovakia to conduct English camps for seven to 15 year olds, Erin taught crafts and vocabulary lessons. Philip played American football and Frisbee with the students, but he also developed action packed English lessons for the daily Bible themes studied at camp: Accepted, Protected, Saved, Forgiven, and Living.

Both agreed that learning English was the vehicle used to pique the interest of the youths, but the Christian impact was made through building strong relationships and friendships with their colleagues and with the children whom they mentored.

The breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel dropped to mark their trail back home were quickly devoured by the woodland birds, but the breadcrumbs of Jesus’ love that Erin and Philip dropped nourished the many children they encountered. Even now, many of Erin and Philip’s protégés have followed their trail through the heart of Eastern Europe all the way back to Richmond via Facebook and email.

Erin and Philip noticed that Slovakians have less disposable income than Americans do, fewer distractions, and less need to rush from here to there. This lifestyle assured them of more time for conversation and real bonding – “slow down” being the take home message for both of these dedicated interns. “The whole experience gave me a clear perspective on what really matters,” commented Philip. Erin added, “Rather than just going to church, these people lived church in their everyday lives.”

When asked what advice they would give to would-be missionaries, Philip continued, “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are willing to allow God to use you. Showing Christ’s love through actions is the key.”

Erin followed up by saying, “Taking an interest in the people by learning about their culture and traditions and immersing yourself in their everyday lives shows that you care for them.”

Philip and Erin (fourth and fifth from left) with Slovakian friends.

Hansel and Gretel returned home with pearls and precious stones in their pockets, saving their family from poverty. Erin and Philip became rich with pockets full of experiences that led to new friendships in Christ, others to nurture, memories to last a lifetime, and a willingness to be used again and again for the glory of God. A storybook ending with happily ever afters all around!

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