Wylie seniors Gabby Zullo and Hailey Moore got to share a life-changing experience this summer when the two friends went on a church mission trip to Lucenec, Slovakia.
The girls are both members of Southside Baptist Church, which sent 12 students and four chaperones to Slovakia to assist with an English camp.
“It’s like a VBS,” Gabby said. “We worked with a church there, and we taught English lessons. We ate lunch with them. We would play games. You want to go and show them that you love them and show them that Jesus loves them.”
While the South Side group’s main role was to work at the camp, the girls said they also found opportunities to share Jesus with the older Slovakian teens, who were serving as translators at the camp.
“This trip is mostly based on being with the little kids,” Hailey said. “But we felt like we also had an opportunity with the translators.”
The kids from South Side spent their evenings with the translators after each day’s camp session ended. They had dance parties, played games, went sightseeing and shared cultural experiences.
“Some of the translators took me to the City Park,” Gabby said. “We went to their mall which had about four stores. We let them try all our snacks, and they went to the store and got a bunch of their food for us to try.”
Gabby said one of the highlights of the trip was an evening dance party with the translators. She said the Slovakian people are typically quiet and reserved.
“At the beginning they were hesitant to go out there and dance, but by the end of the night, they were all out there dancing,” she said. “It was so fun. I felt like my calling was with the translators.”
She said the friendships she developed opened the door for her to talk about her faith.
“It takes a lot to talk to them about God,” Gabby said. “They shut it off and don’t want to hear about it. God definitely pushed us out of our comfort zone.”
Hailey said the Slovakian people are very reserved.
“The people are a lot quieter than we are,” she said. “They were asking us to not be crazy Americans.”
“They said they can always tell who the Americans are because we are a lot louder,” she said. “They think it is funny. They are so quiet.”
The girls also got to visit a castle and synagogue in Slovakia and went to a Roma gypsy village. Hailey said the gypsies were more outgoing than the Slovakian people. She said one of the highlights of the trip for her was when all three cultures joined to worship God.
“They were singing Open The Eyes Of My Heart in gypsy, and we were singing in English, and some the Slovakians were singing in Slovak,” Hailey said. “It was so neat that we were all singing to one God. It was so beautiful.”
After their mission in Slovakia, the Abilene group got to spend three days touring Europe, including a trip to London, where they got to worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“That was really cool,” Hailey said. “It was a lot different than what we experience here, but it was really cool.”
Hailey and Gabby are both very active Wylie students. Hailey is student council president, vice president of her class, vice president of the National Honor Society and a cheerleader.
Gabby is also a class officer and is on the varsity basketball team. She also is in Tri High Y. The two have known each other since 5th grade but were merely acquaintances until Gabby’s family started going to church at South Side Baptist.
Now the two are good friends and both active members of the youth group.
Prior to going to Slovakia, the mission group spent time preparing and educating themselves on what to expect. Part of that discussion was on safety, particularly in light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and other parts of Europe.
“We were prepared for the worst-case scenario,” Hailey said. “You hear all these scary stories. We were prepared or that, but it was the smoothest trip.”
Although Slovakia was not a destitute country, it certainly was not the United States. The hotel did not have any of the luxuries that Americans are used to including air conditioning. They ate meat and potatoes for every meal – no vegetables, yet the people were all thin.
“It made me really humbled just to see their lifestyles,” said Gabby, who continues to correspond with her new Slovakian friends via Facebook.
Hailey said the entire experience helped her grow in her faith and be better prepared to share it.
“It encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “It made me really want to share the gospel even more.”