Blaz, born in 1970 to Pentecostal Christians in Slovakia, trained as a dental technician in his teens, but could not get a job. His parents had warned him about spending money on the dental technician program; Pentecostals will never get those kinds of jobs, they said. All those kinds of jobs are only for Catholics. They wanted him to go into business with his father, selling auto parts, but Blaz was stubborn. He had worked in his father’s tiny shop since he was 12; he saw nothing interesting in it. Pentecostals had their own businesses, and employed their own families, because jobs other than laborers and domestic servants were closed to them. The government did pass laws against discrimination, but they weren’t enforced. Pentecostals were only about 3% of the population, and had no champions.
He wanted to build molds for false teeth, and make teeth that fit beautifully. There was a big market for false teeth, and Blaz had an entrepreneurial streak, but setting up a shop was expensive. He needed to get some experience and save some money before he could do it. He applied everywhere in Bratislava, the capital, without success. He then astounded his family by filing a discrimination claim, without a lawyer, against the largest dental workshop in the country. It was 1989, and Slovakia had just had an amiable divorce not only from the Czech Republic, but also from the Soviet Union ; people felt great optimism about the country’s future. Blaz thought it was high time to dismantle the entrenched culture of discrimination against Pentecostal Christians.
Right after he filed the suit, his father’s shop burned in an arson attack, and he was beaten, quite badly, as he tried to salvage parts the next day from the smoking ruins. The attackers, three beefy young men, made it clear that he needed to leave the country before he and the rest of his family were murdered. Blaz went to the police, and collapsed in the police station as he tried to tell the sergeant what had happened. He woke up three days later in the hospital, and spent the next two weeks recovering. His father insisted that he flee to the Czech Republic, get a visa to the US, and then fly to Seattle to live with his father’s second cousin, who had fled Slovakia years before. Blaz was too sick and too discouraged to fight any more, and he did as his father wanted.
He arrived in Seattle in 1990, applied for and won asylum status from the US government, and went to work as a construction laborer. He lived with his cousin and his family in a room in their basement in Bellevue, and attended a Slovakian Pentecostal church. Attendance was required at the Sunday services from 9am -noon and from 6-8 pm; the Wednesday service from 7-9 pm ; and the Saturday service from 5-8 pm. There were optional classes on the Bible on Tuesday nights, and classes for “applying our faith to the challenge of modern life” on Thursday nights; Blaz attended both. On Saturday mornings, he went to English classes at the church, and on Monday and Friday evenings, he volunteered to clean the church and do repairs and handyman jobs. Back home, he had only attended required services, and did that at his parents’ insistence. In America, he found that the church was his family. The church rules gave him a structure and purpose that he did not think he could find without them. He found it sensible that there was an absolute prohibition against drinking alcohol, dancing, listening to secular music, and divorce, and that the pastor must approve all marriages and job and school choices.
The rest of the recent Slovakian arrivals spent almost as much time as he did at the church. But there was not one girl of marriageable age at all, for two long years. In 1992, shy 16-year-old Danila, another Pentecostal asylee from Slovakia, arrived in Seattle alone to live with her mother’s cousin, and the church community quickly matched her with Blaz. The pastor gave his blessing to the marriage, and they married the same year she arrived; the community loaned them money to buy a house near the church. Blaz worked construction, and Danila stayed home to have children. They had a child within a year of their marriage, and then another, and another; within the first five years, they had five children. By their 10th anniversary, they had three more, and by their 16th anniversary, they had 12 children.
Eastern European Pentecostal Christian families are very large, and children are considered a great blessing. The children were baptized and went to church with their parents, as often as their parents did. The babies were in the church nursery and little ones in the church preschool. School-age children spent nearly all their time when they weren’t at school at the church, which had a playground and a well-stocked kitchen. Danila thought about learning English and even getting a job, when her older girls were old enough to take care of the little ones, but she was so tired all the time.
When her youngest child was three months old, Danila complained of pain in her stomach, and went to see a doctor. The doctor said that she was just worn out from having so many children so quickly, and advised rest. She was only 33, and needed to start to pay attention to her own health, he said. Take walks, leave the children for an afternoon and meet with friends for the church sewing bees. Danila did as he said, but the pain didn’t go away. It got so bad that she screamed in her sleep, and Blaz took her to another doctor, who found that Danila had an advanced case of pancreatic cancer. He gave her six months to live. They did not have medical insurance.
The entire church community sprang into action. The women of the church cooked and delivered a meal a day for six months, in turn, for the entire family. They took turns staying with the children during the day so the older ones could go to school, and washed the laundry and cleaned the house. The church paid the mortgage and utilities for six months so that Blaz could stay home and take care of Danila. The church bought morphine for Danila with a doctor’s prescription, but she spent the last month of her life in great pain. When Danila died, the church paid for her funeral and her burial plot.
After Danila’s death, her sister Arva and her husband Andrej came from Slovakia to help care for the children, and Blaz tried to find work again. But it was 2009 and no one was building anything much. The church continued to pay the mortgage, but told Blaz they couldn’t do so much longer. Blaz met with Pastor Tomasz, and told him that he was desperate to see his family in Slovakia again, before his parents died, and to have some time away to recover from his grief. The pastor gave him money for the air ticket out of his own pocket, and Blaz flew home for the first time in 19 years.
He was gone four months. When he came back to church, he told everyone that he was engaged to a 24-year-old woman from the Slovakian countryside, and that he planned to bring her on a fiancée visa to Seattle, as soon as he had the pastor’s blessing. The church erupted in gossip and condemnation. The church council stopped mortgage payments immediately. Some said that it was disgusting that he wanted to trick a woman more than 15 years his junior into being a stepmother to 12 children, in exchange for US legal status. Others said that he obviously cared nothing about the children he already had, and wanted only to exercise his prurient sexual desires. The church council debated a resolution to make Blaz repay the money they had given him.
Blaz made an appointment for a Sunday afternoon, when almost no one would be at church, to meet with Pastor Tomasz and ask for his blessing on the new marriage. He rehearsed his speech; he would tell the pastor that he was looking out for the children by finding a good woman to take care of them. He would say that his sister-in-law Arva wanted to return to Slovakia soon to resume her life there, and that it was not fair to his older girls to ask them to care for the younger children. The girls would have to forfeit their chances of finishing school if they were tied to the house. He would say that he needed a wife at home so that he could go back to work. He would pledge to take no more money from the church, and that he would pay the pastor back for the cost of the air ticket he gave him to Slovakia.
Blaz put on his best suit, and drove to the church. He knocked on the pastor’s office door at the appointed time, but the pastor shouted, “Wait!” from behind the door. Blaz stood outside the door for long minutes before the pastor opened it. This was reported to the church community that night by a church member who observed from behind a door in the lobby where he had hidden himself, to spy on the proceedings. The man could hear nothing for about five minutes. Then, he told church members, the pastor began the most awful shouting, angry shouting, and shouted for ten minutes straight. Try as he might, the man could not hear what the pastor was shouting. He saw Blaz open the door, sweat pouring from his face, and stumble out of the office, out of the church. He drove away.
What the pastor said is not known, to anyone except to him and to Blaz. What everyone does know is that Blaz and his children disappeared from their house in the next few weeks, and never returned to church. Some said that he was in a different city in the US, and others that they heard that he was back in Slovakia. Whether he married the young woman from the countryside isn’t known either, but in December 2010, six months after the family disappeared, the church council got an email from Blaz, with picture of the entire family dressed in Sunday clothes, all 12 children and Blaz , and a young very pretty woman smiling in their midst. Thank you for your support, Blaz wrote.