The Art of Transformation: A Reflection From Liz Kuster, Horizon Intern in Bratislava, Slovakia

Liz Kuster and Kyle Svennungsen in robes preparing for worship, Kyle is smiling at the camera while Liz is looking at Kyle, laughing.
Horizon intern Liz Kuster (left) and Kyle Svennungsen, pastor of Bratislava International Church, prepare for Sunday worship.

Emma stood at the front of the room and invited the class to come collect a sheet of the colorful paper I had brought at her request. Students, bantering in Slovak, debated over colors, and finally returned to their seats so Emma could begin leading us in our devotion that morning: making origami butterflies.

I was here in this classroom as a Horizon Intern, my duties split between the Bratislava International Church (BIC) and here at the Evangelical Lyceum — a bilingual high school where I teach religion to 80 students. As an ELCA candidate, I was told that my internship should be a time to explore my pastoral identity — but that wasn’t the identity I was concerned about. I hadn’t taught in this capacity before. Expanding my identity to include “teacher” felt intimidating. 

When I began teaching in September, each new lesson set my nervous system on high alert. These students were intelligent, with a killer gift of perception. In terms of uncomfortable experiences, facing the blank and often painfully indifferent stares of a large group of teenagers is up there. But in actuality, the primary source of discomfort was the evolution happening within me. 

There are growing pains with this new experience of making more of myself available to these young people, eager to both know and be known. There is a sharp bit of humility to failing, trying again, and failing once more (albeit, usually not as awfully). But I’ve noticed my students’ and my time together is becoming a chrysalis of grace. My extending grace to them for past due assignments and tardiness; but also, their extending grace to me for delayed responses and plans that sometimes flop and flop hard. In this mutual sharing of grace, we have all evolved–growing together in our interdependence.

I looked around the class and witnessed the joy of my students as they engaged in this sacred act of creating. Emma had concluded our devotion by reminding the class that the butterfly is a symbol of transformation. I sense this transformation within myself. I feel it when I sit with my students, as I help lead worship, and as I walk through this city. I do not know what the next five months of internship will bring, nor what the continuation of this transformation will look like. But if it’s half as lovely as a classroom full of butterflies, I think I’ll be just fine.

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