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Before September 2016, Amy Ahrens had never heard of Slovakia.

She’d just moved into a new place in Lincoln with some friends. She was a college senior, working hard to finish her nursing degree through the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

So Ahrens declined when one of her friends, Larissa Wach — a staffer with the interdenominational student ministry CRU — asked if she’d consider moving with her to Slovakia.

Yet after a series of experiences, Ahrens would travel more than 5,000 miles away to the Central European country where she’d help launch a campus ministry for university students in Bratislava and lead a young Slovakian woman to Christ.

A 2012 Fremont High School graduate, Ahrens had challenged her classmates to go to infinity and beyond during a graduation speech. By 2016, she’d already been to East Asia twice — once for a missions trip and once for school.

She loved experiencing a different culture.

But Ahrens knew her friend wasn’t someone who’d enjoy going overseas — so she didn’t think Wach was serious.

Ahrens later learned Wach had prayed — asking that if God was calling her to go overseas to send one close friend to go with her.

That November, Wach gave Ahrens a book called, “The Finishers: Completing the Mission of Christ in Your Generation.”

“It was clear to me that in the United States, we have so much access to the Gospel where in other countries people don’t have that kind of access,” Ahrens said. “I decided to start praying that I’d be open-handed to whatever God would have after graduation.”

During Christmas break that year, Ahrens attended a Christian conference and left sensing that God was calling her overseas.

Wach returned from attending a different conference and said she was 90 percent certain she’d be going to Slovakia.

Ahrens knew she’d be joining her.

She applied with CRU in February 2017 and was accepted in March. Ahrens and Wach became part of a team of 12 and from April to August raised their own salaries.

They flew to Slovakia in August 2017.

There, they worked to start a campus ministry for university students in Bratislava, a city of 450,000. There were English clubs at two universities.

“We’d have a topic for the night and spend an hour talking about that and most of them lent themselves to spiritual conversations,” she said.

Group members also worked with high school students, entering classrooms where they gave fun lectures, then breaking into groups to practice English with the students.

Looking to build relationships with the students, Ahrens and other group members invited them to coffee after school and to activities like Christmas or Valentine’s parties. Students came to practice English and CRU members looked for opportunities to have spiritual conversations with them.

“A lot of the students in Slovakia are raised in the traditional mindset. They have heard about Jesus, but they generally have very little idea of who he is. We would try to use every opportunity we could to share the Gospel with them — so they could see it’s a Gospel of grace and not a Gospel of works,” she said.

Many students think that doing things — such as going to church or confession — is necessary to be granted citizenship in heaven.

“They have never heard before that there is nothing you do that makes you right with God — that Jesus dying on the cross is the only thing that made it possible for us to have a way to God,” she said.

Group members also participated in SpeakOut English Summer Camp. Two teams of Americans came as tutors to practice English with the students with topics focusing on spiritual matters.

Ahrens said students become more confident in their abilities to speak English.

“More importantly, they were getting to have deep and meaningful conversations that they’ve never had the chance to have before,” Ahrens said.

Almost half prayed to receive Christ in their hearts, she said.

Ahrens enjoyed many things about Slovakia. She and three other young women lived in an apartment next to the Old National Theater in the center of the city.

“We’d look out our window and there might be a parade going by or street performers. It was a lot of fun to live there,” she said.

It was tough being away from family and friends in the United States. Not speaking Slovak in grocery stores, where older clerks worked, wasn’t so easy, but they were able to communicate in other situations.

“Pretty much anyone under the age of 30 speaks decent English,” she said.

She’d go back to Slovakia.

“I love Slovakia,” Ahrens said. “It’s a real hidden gem in Europe. Once you get there and explore it, you find really awesome people and it’s a really beautiful country.”

There was a time when the group had to leave Slovakia.

“You’re issued a 90-day travelers visa, a temporary visa, when you enter the EU (European Union), but you have to apply for a resident’s permit for a visa and we struggled,” she said. “It’s a really tough process because they are not a very open country to foreigners — not that they dislike Americans, it’s just the fact that we fall under the umbrella of foreigners.”

The group ended up in Bulgaria, where for three weeks they did a different type of ministry, trying to connect believers with one another.

Group members found there were quite a few believers in Bulgaria and did a lot of evangelism training with students.

They returned to Slovakia, permits were registered to them and they spent Christmas in that country — which was beautiful, she said.

Ahrens has another good memory of working with a young woman named Katka.

A Slovak CRU staffer named Eva had joined a Pilates gym years earlier and met Katka’s mom. Eva had been praying that Katka would become a believer.

Ahrens was master of ceremonies at a CRU fall retreat that Katka attended. At one point, she noticed Katka standing in the center of the room.

The two talked and after a while Ahrens had the opportunity lead Katka in praying to receive Christ in her heart.

“It was amazing,” Ahrens said. “She’s an awesome girl.”

Katka plans to study engineering in London.

Ahrens returned to the United States in August. She just started a GYN job at Methodist Women’s Hospital in Omaha. She’ll work with surgical and postpartum patients.

What’s the next chapter?

At this point, she’s working to pay off student loans.

“That’s the two-year plan right now,” she said.

Ahrens and Katka communicate via social media.

“Facebook is a Godsend for doing ministry in Slovakia,” Ahrens said. “They use Facebook messenger more than they text. They’re into social media so it works.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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