From cool woodland of shimmering birch, to snowy mountain peaks, to fertile fields and bubbling brooks, Slovakia is a small land graced with great beauty and unspoiled natural splendour. The majestic Danube River, whose power and beauty are characterised in the famous waltz by Strauss, flows through Bratislava, the capital city of the Slovak Republic. The rich variety of terrain ranges from the southern plains, to the craggy summits and lush valleys of the Tatras mountains in the north, to the curious and uncanny depths of Slovakia’s ice caves, which maintain freezing temperatures even in the height of summer. In all seasons, and in all regions of this blessed land, nature provides a feast for the senses.
Located in the very heart of Europe, and sharing borders with five neighbouring countries, there is little from the playbill of European history in which Slovakia has not played a role, or seen acted out upon the boards of its stage. From the dawn of human civilization, the abundance of the land has given a home to the many people who have sought refuge here. The ancient inhabitants left their relics carved from mammoth bone, and the prosperous Lusatians their storage pits of grain, while the remnants of mighty hill forts at Bratislava and Havránok bear testament to a season of Celtic habitation.
Germanic tribes, outposts of the Roman Empire, and even the marauding Huns all called Slovakia home, each one taking their turn in the spotlight. But from the 5th century on, it was the Slavic tribes who dominated the stage; and it is primarily their descendants who carry forward the colourful and vibrant story of Slovakia into this modern day.
A Polished Shaft
“…in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;” Isaiah 49:2
One of the most striking aspects of the history of the Slovak Republic, is the impression that this goodly land seems to have been largely overlooked throughout the past few hundred years, at times appearing to almost vanish in the shadow of powerful neighbours. Even from medieval times, as part of the Great Moravian Empire, and then the Kingdom of Hungary, the unique voice of Slovakia was blended with others, as but one of a greater chorus. In the politically tumultuous years of the 19th and 20th centuries, the feelings of national identity and yearning for greater expression resulted in many struggles and attempts at brokering an independent Slovak state. As the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart, Czechoslovakia emerged as a sovereign democratic state, but later came under the influence of the communist Soviet Union in 1948. Nearly 45 years later, after the waning of communist rule in eastern Europe, the Slovak Republic was officially formed as an independent state in January of 1993.
Now just 20 years on, Slovakia has come into its own as one of the most stable and prosperous countries in the region. It is a member of both NATO and the European Union, and maintains close and peaceful ties with neighbouring lands, most notably the Czech Republic. To those becoming newly acquainted with its tree-lined streets, lovely countryside, bustling urban and cultural centres, and charming and well-ordered town squares, Slovakia seems now like a sparkling gem that was hidden in plain sight, or even a polished shaft hidden in a quiver.
Church Membership in Slovakia
Christianity has featured quite significantly in Slovakia’s past, with the arrival in 862 of the Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius having a powerful influence both spiritually and culturally.
Currently, the predominant religion by far is Roman Catholicism, with 62% of participants in the 2011 census identifying themselves as such, and 1/3 of those reporting that they attend church regularly. While in neighbouring Czech Republic, nearly 80% of the population polled in their 2011 census reported themselves either “undeclared” or “non-religious”, by contrast, only 24% of the population of the Slovak Republic identified themselves as “undeclared” or “non-religious”. It is remarkable that although the Communist governments of the late 1940s – late 1980s actively discouraged or denounced Christianity, the Slovak people have largely maintained their belief in God.
The Slovak Republic was dedicated for the preaching of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ on May 12, 2006 in Trenčín, by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Speaking of the great faith of the Slovak people, he has said, “(The Slovak people are) a believing people. They are close to nature. They are people who know the struggle for freedom. They relate to the gospel message of freedom, faith, unity and family.” (As reported in Church News, September 9, 2006).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was granted official government recognition just 5 months later, on October 18th, 2006 after an astonishingly successful petition of the Slovak people, in which 20,000 signatures of support were gathered in less than a week. The Book of Mormon, or Kniha Mormonova, was published in the Slovak language early in 2013, to the great joy of the Latter-Day Saints in Slovakia.
Just over twice the size of Wales, or likewise New Jersey, and with a population of about 5.4 million people (comparable to Scotland, or Minnesota), Slovakia has 4 congregations with total membership recently reported at 221.
The missionaries currently serving there speak glowingly of the members of the Church as a devoted and stalwart people, who are tireless in their efforts to live and share their faith. With the recent publication of the Book of Mormon in Slovak, and the assignment of Slovak-speaking sister missionaries to the area for the first time, there is an outpouring of the Spirit, and a fresh wave of hope and optimism moving the work forward. A new day is dawning for the people of this great land; the word of God is thundering in their ears, and an electrifying spiritual awakening is taking place!
“That Slovakia of ours has been fast asleep so far, but the thunder’s lightning is rousing it to come to.”
“To Slovensko naše posiaľ tvrdo spalo, ale blesky hromu vzbudzujú ho k tomu, aby sa prebralo.”
For more links and resources regarding the Slovak Republic, you could check out “Czech/Slovak Mission Links”, above.