Chaplain is living beyond his dreams
Pickel Meadows’ Chaplain Lt. Andrew P. Sholtes is living a life beyond his dreams in the U.S. Navy.
Sholtes was born in communist Hungary in 1958, and at age 23, he decided he had to leave.
“I grew up in a house with bullet holes in it,” Sholtes said. “My whole family was on the blacklist because my father fought the Russians in a 1956 uprising.”
Sholtes said he wanted to study history after high school, but the government would not let him, so he earned a master’s in psychology from the University of Budapest.
What finally made him decide to leave, he said, was when he was taken by the government and given a one-year suspended sentence for alleged anti-government activities.
“I felt really oppressed. I was suffocating in Hungary,” Sholtes said. “I hated the Russians and I hated Communists.”
For two nights and three days, Sholtes made the 15-mile journey to Austria through a “mine field,” full of motion detectors and fences. Sholtes then stayed in an Austrian refugee camp for one year, until in 1982, the Reagan administration changed laws to accept Austrian refugees into the United States.
On April 27, 1982, Sholtes arrived at JFK Airport, unable to speak English and with only $347 to his name.
“That was the best day of my life,” Sholtes said. “It was hard to leave my culture, my family and my education, but I wanted to do whatever God wanted me to do.”
Sholtes said he then went to Washington, D.C., where he stayed with a distant relative who sponsored him.
“She handed me a bus schedule, a map and the Sunday paper and told me to go find a job,” Sholtes said. “I’m a big advocate of tough love. She wanted me to do it on my own.”
After filling out 71 applications in five days, Sholtes said he was hired as a window decorator in Bethesda, Md. Four months later, he received a scholarship to the Ashland Theological Seminary where in 1984, Sholtes received a master’s in Divinity.
“The hardest thing was learning classical Greek in English I still didn’t understand,” Sholtes said about seminary.
For the next three years, Sholtes said he studied at a San Diego Church. Sholtes accepted a call from a church in Chicago to be senior pastor in 1987, and also became a United States citizen that year.
In April of that year, Sholtes married his wife Nancy, who once said she would rather go to Cambodia than go out with a Hungarian ordained minister.
“For our first wedding anniversary, I took her to a Cambodian restaurant,” Sholtes said, laughing.
Sholtes’ wife and daughter, Andrea, live in San Diego.
When Sholtes was 35, he said he received a call from the Navy and two months later was commissioned as a lieutenant.
“I have a passion for teaching, and also a passion for God,” he said. “When the Navy called, I realized I could do more as a chaplain because I have access to everybody, not just my congregation.”
Before arriving at Pickel Meadows in October, Sholtes’ previous tours were with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Cleveland to evacuate Somalia in Mogadishu, 2nd Battalion chaplain at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif., Weapons and Field Training Battalion Chaplain at Camp Pendleton and Destroyer Squadron 23 Chaplain.
“As a pastor, I help give people hope and live a life free of depression and anxiety,” Sholtes said. “I really want to help people better their lives.”
Sholtes offers conflict resolution classes, couples and personal counseling and communication classes.
“I always believed if I do my best in every little thing, I will succeed because, ultimately, everybody will recognize, acknowledge and reward excellence,” Sholtes said. “I live beyond my dreams.”
Sholtes said when people ask where God was on Sept. 11, he answers, “God was busy saving a lot of lives because there could have potentially been a lot more victims.”
He also added that the United States needs to take better care of itself against terrorists because “we are the only ones playing by the rules.”
Sholtes said since receiving amnesty in 1990, he has been back to Hungary twice, once in 1992 to visit his sick sister and again last year to visit his aging parents.
“I had nightmares about Hungary six years after I immigrated. Going back to Hungary was not a pleasant experience,” Sholtes said. “My family is extremely proud of me. They would have never believed this is what my future would be.”
When asked how he learned to speak English, Sholtes answered. “CHiPs, Three’s Company and Barney Miller, with a dictionary in my hand.”
Sholtes never went to school for English. Sholtes is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and considers himself a non-denominational Christian.
“I believe everybody who believes in Christ should worship together,” he said.
In addition to holding services on base and at base housing, Sholtes was also asked to be the minister for the Methodist Church in Coleville.