My name is Miriam Bohlmann Kunz, and I am serving in Nyíregyháza, Hungary with the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) as a Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM). From August 2016-July 2017 my hope is to witness and share God's love in the beautiful country that is Hungary. YAGM emphasizes serving with the accompaniment model, which is serving by living alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. So this year I am moving forward in the faith of God's love, expecting to come across grace both in expected and unexpected places.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Life

First of all, happy Easter to you all. Recently I have been thinking a lot about new life, which is a pretty fitting topic for Easter. There are so many examples of how I have seen new life in my YAGM year, but mostly I have been reflecting a lot on my new life in Hungary, and the lives of the families who stay at the Anyaóvó, the family shelter where I work.
New life in the form of a tree I'm planting in a mentor's garden.

Let me start by telling you a bit more about the families that live at the Anyaóvó. While I have been working there, there has usually been 12 families residing there. The mission of the shelter is to provide a place to stay for families that are struggling for a maximum of 12-18 months and support them as they try to get back on their feet, but often times families end up staying for longer. Some of the families are single parent (mom or dad), some of the parents are older, some of them are closer to my age. Many of the families are Roma, many of the families are not. Some of the parents currently have jobs, some of them don't. Some of the parents are diligent about making sure they get their kids to school everyday, some of them aren't. Most of my interactions are with the social workers who work there and the kids. The kids I spend the most time with are around 8-11 years old, but I've gotten to spend significant time with kids from ages 2-15.

If you have known me for awhile, maybe you have heard me say that I don't like kids. And those who have known me forever, and those who met me five minutes ago will know that I have a six-year-old nephew (the light of my life) and three-year-old niece (other light of my life, but also rival) because I talk about them all the time and shove pictures in your face, like so:
Actually the cutest kids in the entire world. And they know it. Because I tell them all the time.

In actuality, my fondness for kids is somewhere in the middle. Was I super ecstatic when I found out in July that I would be working with kids? Not really, but I also wasn't not excited to see what God had in store for me in this call. The point of this is, as adorable and fun spending time with the kids at the Anyaóvó can be, sometimes I can also be quick to be annoyed or frustrated with the kids. Sometimes they say mean things, or want to do something different every five seconds, so in short, they behave like regular kids. But then every once in a while something happens, like a kid will ask me if I have a dad, or an eight-year-old will carry around her baby sister on her hip and I remember that families aren't living here because things are easy in their lives. The other day I heard two kids talking to each other about what towns they lived in before they lived at the shelter, and it clicked that their lives at the shelter are new and different, and also not permanent. One of the kids I had gotten closest to just moved out with his mom and little brother. Now they have to try and live a new life, and that can be scary.
New friend who just moved into the Anyaóvó. We made that together. He basically did all the work. He's cool. 

Look at the Easter story in the bible: the one we read on Sunday morning was in Mark. The women when they enter the tomb "were alarmed," and after the scene with the angels "fled from the the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them," (Mark 16:8). This new life thing is a bit frightening.

I had failed to realize for so long how scary it most be for the kids and the families in their new lives, or preparing for their new lives, not knowing what comes next. I can certainly relate to it though. There were definitely nerves when I first got to Nyíregyháza about what the next ten months would bring. I'm definitely getting a little scared thinking about what life will be like when I go back to the US. Sure, I know the logistics of what comes next, but it's unsettling thinking about how I have to go back to my normal life, because I don't know what will be normal anymore, I certainly can't go back to living life as if this year never happened; it's scary to look at the unknown of new life.

But there is one thing I have learned, and it is also in the Easter story: the joy that new life also brings. As I already pointed out, in Mark, it says the women fled "for terror and amazement had seized them," (Mark 16:8), and in Matthew the story is very similar (synoptic gospels, am I right?) but instead the women are described leaving  "quickly with fear and great joy," (Matthew 28:8). I have seen the great joy that is in new life here in Nyíregyháza, and it is a joy of little things, like laughing over meals with my host mom, or the freedom of riding my bike to work in the mornings and afternoons. It is the joy that comes from having a community that cares for me and supports me.

In February, a refugee family from Afghanistan moved to Nyíregyháza and my congregation is supporting them (providing housing, and moral support?). It is a father and his three oldest sons. His other five children and wife are still in Afghanistan. They all speak pretty good English, so Rebekah, the other YAGM volunteer in Nyíregyháza, and I asked to get coffee with them sometime to get to know them. Just so you know, Hungary is not very welcoming to refugees, so all I could think of going into this meeting, was how horrible it must be for this family to live in a place where so many people are hostile to their presence. When we sat down and got to talking, the father completely surprised me. He talked about how great it is to be able to go outside after 4pm and not be afraid of dying, and his joy in being able to be outside and relish it. This is not to say that the difficulties of this new life did not still weigh on him (like finding a job, learning a new language, being separated from his family...), but in this new, scary, and unknown life, there was still joy.

Even looking at the most literal form of new life, a baby, there is so much joy to be found, for the child and for those in its life. I am not a parent, but I can also imagine all the fear surrounding the unknown of that child, but the child manages to bring joy into what is still frightening. I have also recently been thinking about the new life at the other end of the spectrum as well. My grandfather on my dad's side was a Lutheran pastor, and continued to supply-preach well after he retired. Recently, my dad came into possession of a large amount of his old sermons, organized by the Sunday or holiday in the liturgical year. My grandpa died in January 2011. My dad has been emailing the family a copy of a sermon for each day that my grandpa has a sermon written for. It has been nice to hear/read a sermon in English and understand it, but it has also been an unexpected gift to get to know my grandpa's theological voice as I have only ever gotten to know through my dad and his brothers (not having been super into theological discussions before I was 18). The sermon my dad sent out for Easter was from 2008 (my dad thinks the last sermon he ever gave on Easter) on John 20:1-16. The sermon is about Jesus' first words to Mary Magdalene, "Why are you crying?" Like any good preacher, he sums up the whole sermon in his last sentence:

"The first words of the risen Jesus are: “Why are you crying?” The living Jesus tells us He comes with His new life for us and to live it joyfully with us. There is now every reason for rejoicing and hope and confidence." (underlining done by my grandpa)

Reading this sermon, more than ever I reflect on that new everlasting life Jesus has gifted us by grace, through his death and resurrection. Jesus conquers death, the most unknown of any new life, and grants eternal life, which is still unknown, but that God grants us because God loves us, not because we deserve it. And even though this new life is scary and unknown, it surely must be joyful.

I am so grateful for the new life in Christ I have here in Hungary. I am glad for the families at the Anyaóvó that they have the opportunity for the joy of new life. In this new life, Jesus does not claim that it will be easy or pain free, but promises to live it joyfully with us. I don't know what the last two and a half months of this new life in Hungary will look like, or what my life in the States will resemble, or what comes next for my new friends from Afghanistan or for the kids I spend my afternoons with, but I know for me and hope for them, that it is forward in faith, with grace expectations, because by its nature, there is no new life, without the grace of God.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Outsider (My Parents Visit Hungary)

Two weeks ago, my parents came to visit me in my site placement during my mom's Spring Break (she's a high school English teacher). It was truly great to be able to show my parents all the places and people that are important to me, and also amazing that my family here in Hungary got to meet the people who have shaped me. Having them here was also a learning experience, like how lucky I am that my parents are even able to come visit me in Hungary, but I'll talk about that another time (maybe). I thought it would be a good idea to have my parents each write something about their brief time here because 1. they are both amazing writers, and 2. they are coming from a similar context as most of you. They did not have a months worth of orientation on what YAGM is about and what accompaniment means, and learning what to expect, or the difficulty of confronting privilege. So here is a piece written by my dad about what he experienced in my placement site, and what he learned about YAGM. (Mom's will be in the May newsletter)

The Outsider
Michael Kunz (a.k.a. Miriam's dad), picture captions by Miriam

A week ago we were with Miriam in Hungary and Croatia. I was struck by my initial
feeling of being the outsider. The closest I previously had felt to being an outsider
before our visit to Hungary was when my family moved to Missouri from Tennessee
when I was 7. But even that was nothing like arriving in Nyíregyháza, Hungary.

I don’t speak the language. Even when we arrived at the airport on the outskirts of
Budapest, I could feel the anxiety of not knowing exactly where I was going or what I
should be doing. I know Miriam has already written about feeling this, and I think
she expressed it pretty accurately: It can be uncomfortable being the outsider.

We wait at our first train station for the 2-hour ride to Nyíregyháza, and I wonder
whether I am standing out, looking like a foreigner,…and I am glad I am with my
wife and my daughter.

We arrive in Nyíregyháza (pronounced near-udge- ha-zuh) [sort of, he still says it wrong] and trudge and carry our bags through the sparse train terminal yards of this city of 125,000, and then we
hike more than a mile, first over a pedestrian bridge that spans the rail yards, then
past a high school and a tobacco factory…and finally to Miriam’s home in Hungary.
My (birth) parents, Michael and Deborah, with my Hungarian mom, Juci néni

We enter a modest 2-bedroom apartment, and a short, stout, gray-haired 70-
something woman bustles beamingly into the kitchen to greet us. Julia welcomes the
outsiders. We are Miriam’s parents, and Miriam is Julia’s new “daughter”. Julia’s
adult daughter recently moved into her own place, and now Miriam has that
daughter’s room….which Miriam gives to us, taking the couch in the small living
room for a bed.

Miriam was the point person for bringing us in from the outside, but that was to be
expected. She is our daughter. Julia brought us into her home. And although we
counted primarily on Miriam to translate the spoken word, Julia’s language of love
and hospitality was wildly evident at the table. We would no longer look like
outsiders because we were to be filled and filled and filled at this table with
Hungarian food!

Miriam’s YAGM colleagues Rebekah and Miles, placed in ministries not far from
Miriam’s, joined us for the evening meal and then a visit to a downtown café where
we played cards and began to get a feel for this town. Thanks to both of them for
also welcoming us in. We have made new American friends in Hungary!

But I felt like an outsider again when we returned to Julia’s. We had no car during
our time in Nyíregyháza, so we walked or rode the local bus. On our way home from
the café, at the bus stop a local man may have recognized me as being an American,
perhaps with money, and he came begging to me for something. I couldn’t
understand him. I later asked Miriam if she often experienced the begging, and she
said she had never seen it in her 7 months there. Did I look like I had more than
others? In this town, did that make me an outsider?

At church the next morning, I left like an outsider and yet a part of the group. The
Lutheran service at Miriam’s church, was, of course, all in Hungarian. I understood
the notes and rhythms of the music, the activities of the liturgy, and the names of
Mary, Jesus and Pontius Pilate in the Apostles Creed. And I understood the pouring
of water on the infant’s head at the baptism. I was included.
Got to share communion with my parents in Hungary, and there was a baptism! Fun fact: no matter where you are in the world, the sacraments contain (is that the right word? administer maybe?) the same grace!

And that evening at choir rehearsal, I sat with the bass section, and one man knew
some English, and another spoke German, and together the three of us sang
Hungarian and even some Latin! I was making friends in choir….

And of course they had food and drink, cake, wine, pálinka (a Hungarian “whiskey”)
after choir….and an English-speaking woman from choir gave us a ride home in her
car.
Not sure why I was so surprised by how easily my parents stepped into choir. One of the basses even said my dad was the one helping him. Sometimes his bursting into song gets old, but not that day!

The next day, Gabor, my German-speaking friend from the bass section, met us at
the oldest Lutheran Church in town and gave us a tour of it, as well as a book that he
wrote about the church. And then…
Gabor is one of the most generous people I have ever met.

No outsiders us. Gabor made insiders of us. He gave us a ride in his car to Miriam’s
main place of work. A Lutheran ministry sponsored by her church, it is a multi-
ministry center set in a building that looks like an old, well-worn three-story office
complex. They feed the hungry in a “soup kitchen” (that’s where Miriam works);
they provide transitional housing; they provide a senior day center along with a
medical clinic. There is a treatment program for addicts. And as Gabor and Miriam
and Miriam’s superiors at the ministry center toured us through the building, I felt
upon me the eyes of those who attend the center, mostly older people, but some
younger. Was I the outsider or the insider? Were they the insiders or the outsiders?
Feri, one of the social workers, giving us the tour, and Gabor helping me translate.

It is a struggle to bring everyone in. Whether it is the beggar at the bus stop, the
hungry at the soup kitchen, the foreign visitor trying to figure out a new country and
a new language. Miriam told us at the end of the week that it had been “exhausting”
to try to help Deb and me “fit in”. Part of it was because I never fully shed my
American-isms of loudness and gregariousness. But part of it is Miriam’s
involvement in bringing the outsider in.

That is what Jesus calls us to do. Bring in the outsider. And when we are the
outsider, accept the invitation and welcome of being brought in.

It is hard work. They are doing that hard work in YAGM, in Nyíregyháza…and in St.
Louis. We are all in this together with Christ as our leader.
Grateful for their visit to my site, and our time in Budapest (above) and Croatia as well. All three of us are now continuing forward in faith, with grace expectations in the USA and in Hungary.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Just living life, having a great time

A lot of the comments I get from friends and family in the United States when I check in contain some form of the phrase, "I hope you have/are having a great time in Hungary!" And I am thankful for all the well-wishes. However, sometimes when I'm just standing around thinking (quite often), I wish to clarify the well-wishes of those passing on their support. Clarifying this, I think, is also essential to the whole YAGM experience. When people tell me, "Hope you're having a great time!" what I say is thanks, but what I want to say is this:

Thanks, I am, but probably not how you mean. What I imagine you mean is, "I hope you are having a great time seeing amazing, exotic new places, and in one year are ridding the world of racism and inequality through heroic acts of generosity." (My apologies for being cynical). I am not doing any of those things. I am having a great time. The same type of great time I would be having in the US, just doing a different job, and living with different people, in a different country. I'm also having a not great time. I'm getting annoyed that the kids don't listen to me, that my bike is currently broken, and that it is still winter. In short, I'm just living an ordinary life. I live and work with ordinary people, doing ordinary work, in an ordinary Hungarian city. But you know what, I love it.

I love that I wake up every morning and get to laugh with my host mom. I love that I get to bake American treats with the kids at the family shelter. I love that I can now have actual conversations with people in Hungarian. I even enjoy the 25 minute bus rides and 40 minute walks to work. I get a kick out of going to confirmation class and figuring out what the pastor is saying, because at least this is material that I know (we just finished the Ten Commandments, now talking about Jesus' life). I appreciate the time to relieve some stress by practicing the organ. I love jamming to Taylor Swift with the youth group, and jamming to the traditional Hungarian church dirges with the women at Bible study. My weeks are usually busy, but I love the rewarding feeling at the end of the day or end of the week of having lived my life as part of the community. Last week I was originally going to write this blog post, and it was just going to be this paragraph saying how great things are, and that I really am hitting my stride. But I'm happy I waited, because I don't think that paints the full picture. I'm happy I waited until now, because now I'm a little cranky and tired. I had a cold, the kids have been uncooperative at work, I had another experience of the anxiety and reward of playing the organ at church, choir has been more obligation than fun the past two weeks, and I witnessed a few more examples of racism.
Dinner with my host mom, her daughter, country coordinator Rachel, and me. As you can see I've learned how to show my enthusiasm as a true Hungarian.
Coworkers serving lunch in the soup kitchen.

The very heroic work of washing dishes in the kitchen.

Nothing I have described is exceptional, but rather all are ordinary parts of life. And that's just it: YAGM is about going and living life, just in a different place, in a different community. But when you think about it, it's kind of amazing, because even though I am in a country 5000 miles away from where I grew up, people here are living the same lives as people in the United States. There are people here living in poverty, there are people here with families, there are people here who, for some reason, can't see people who are different from them as equal to them, there are people here sharing with strangers. Some of the details of life here may be different, and the community may be made up of different people, but these ordinary people are part of the same extraordinary community in Christ. And isn't that what God does? Takes the ordinary and does extraordinary things? So thanks, I am having a great time in Hungary, witnessing the extraordinary love of God through the ordinary acts of my community, pushing me forward in faith, with grace expectations. I hope y'all are experiencing the same, wherever you may be.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Continuing to serve with a right-wing government: what we can learn from Hungary

Yesterday the 45th President of the United States of America was inaugurated. It's not news that I am really unhappy about who was elected. Despite my displeasure at who the new president is, I find myself whole-heartedly agreeing with what President Obama has said many times since the election: one of the remarkable things about our democracy is the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. I am proud of this, even if I am not proud of who my current leaders are, so now we must figure out how to continue to fight for love and what is good with a government that seems to oppose much of that work at every turn.

Wouldn't you know it, I happen to be living in a country that already has a right-wing government! Since I have been in Hungary, there has a been a vote asking the people if they support the EU forcing Hungary to take in refugees against the government's wishes (phrased in a way that made it almost impossible to vote Yes), the government paid for the propaganda preceding and after the vote against refugees, and the only remaining liberal newspaper was shutdown. Along with these examples from my 5 months here, there is also plenty of racism institutionalized into law, just like in the United States. Before I continue, I just want to make the important distinction between the country and the government; this is important both for Hungary and the United States. The government is elected by the country, but the people are what make each country what it is.

Is it not amazing then, that here I am in Hungary working with a church that has ministries for the homeless, elderly, disabled, marginalized, and refugees?! And those are just the ones in my city! Don't get me wrong, the Lutheran church in Hungary has many flaws, just like the ELCA, but everyday I go to work, I am wowed by their commitment to serve. The church may be the institution backing these ministries, but what keeps them running is the people who work there and are committed to their mission. Do my coworkers sometimes say racist, sexist, or Islamophobic things? Absolutely, but you know what, they show up to work everyday without complaint (usually, I mean sometimes there are days when we all just want to stay home) and continue to serve. Everyday here, I am inspired by the community of people who want to serve, even though they receive no support or even opposition from their government.

So what does the next step look like for those fighting for love in the US? Great question. I don't think there is one right answer. I can only give my answer, and to do that I have to talk about the people who are my reason for serving with Young Adults in Global Mission. I have been blessed with the most amazing parents I could have ever asked for. Today my parents, Deborah and Michael, with other members of Bethel Lutheran Church, are marching in the Women's March on Washington. Words cannot express just how proud I am to have them as my parents, not just for their actions today, but for their actions I have witnessed everyday of my 23 years, and from the stories I hear, before then as well. My parents have taught me by example, and also by spelling it out at the dinner table, what it means to be servants of Christ, what it means to be ambassadors of grace and love. Whether it was my mom introducing me to the Women Who Take No Shit club when I was 7 (it just my mom's friends at work who didn't take any shit from the administration and insisted on being treated fairly), or my dad firmly teaching my brothers and I that swearing is ok, but we are never ever allowed to call people names. I am so lucky that my parents have been intentional about teaching me that every single person is just as valuable as me, and that I am just as valuable as any other person. My mom has shown me by example not to let my voice be silenced, and my dad has spent his career (in many different fields) using words to try and make people smile or feel heard. I know I have painted my parents as saints, which they are, but they are sinners too. They have taught me, and showed me, that God loves us in spite of our sins, and that this is all the more reason to serve and love others. Naturally, they were the first people I turned to for advice after I heard news of the election. My mom's first response was "we live by faith not by sight." When I was talking to my mom about some of her previous actions for justice and about her decision to march in Washington, she said that she realizes that her actions may not prevent the things she is fighting against (racial inequality, sexism, hate and inequality in general would sum up what she has always fought against), but she sure as hell isn't going to make it easy, she is not going to be complicit.

This is my answer: I will not make it easy for hate to thrive in the United States or anywhere. I will continue to follow the radical calling of Christ to love. I will love my enemy, as hard as it will be. I will fail often. But thank God for grace. I will fail, but God's love will still be there. With this gift, how can I not keep trying?

There are two more things I want to share with you in response to my question "what does the next step look like for those fighting for love in the US?" The first is part of my dad's annual family letter. He started this year's letter with the following:
It is a good time to dedicate myself again to a leader. My leader was a refugee as a child and a transient as an adult. Instead of mocking disabilities, he healed them. Instead of discriminating against those who were different, he embraced them. Instead of judging women by their appearance or history, he praised them for their faith. And those who spoke against him, who even crucified him…he forgave them/us. He made peace between God and a lost and broken world. And then he rose from the dead. That man Jesus Christ is my leader, our leader. In God’s eyes, when Jesus died for us he made the world great again. He is a man for all time, for our time. I will follow him.

The second is the lyrics from my favorite hymn, "We Are Called" (ELW 720)
Come! Live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God

Refrain: We are called to act with justice,
we are called to love tenderly;
we are called to serve one another,
to walk humbly with God.

Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless so hatred and blindness will be no more
Refrain

Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign, and we'll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love.

We are called to act with justice,
we are called to love tenderly;
we are called to serve one another,
to walk humbly with God.

As a result of the new administration, I am more motivated than ever to learn as much as I can from my brothers and sisters here in Hungary. Even though I am looking forward the next six months in Hungary, I am just as eager to return home and share what I have learned, moving together forward in faith, with grace expectations.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What a week(s)

It has been a tough two weeks, but life has gone on here in Hungary, and with life comes tears (more than usual this week), but also smiles. I want to share with all of you some of the things that have made me smile the week following the election. I want to share with you the things that pulled me out of my head, and made me grateful for our messed up world:

  • Every time my host mom (did I mentioned I moved?) tells me to eat just one more piece of bread, or one more piece of cake. Consequently, this leads to many smiles, at least three times per meal.
  • Every time someone asks me if I'm cold. I am currently convinced that this is the standard greeting in Hungary anytime after October 1st. And for the record, it isn't that cold, which is why this earns a smile, and the explanation that I moved from Chicago, which is "nagyon hideg," (very cold).
  • Singing the liturgy with the kids at the Anyaóvó. One of the girls while we were playing cards, had enough of War (the card game, but probably the real one too), and just walked over to the book shelf and grabbed a hymnal, opened to the first page, and started singing, and telling me to do it as well. When I realized she wanted to sing, I grabbed the keyboard, and plunked the notes, while the other children also grabbed books and sang along. It was the most adorable, funniest thing that has happened since I have been here.
  • I FaceTimed with my brother for the first time in almost a month. I'm lucky enough to not only be related to two awesome men, but the two guys I call my brothers are also two of my best friends. Talking to one of them always brings a smile to my face.
  • One of my coworkers in the kitchen had me try to translate/mime the words to his favorite song. Many laughs ensued, especially when I explained to him, that no, it was not a love song, considering one of the lyrics in the chorus is "take off my clothes." For anyone interested, the song is "Don't Be So Shy" by Imany.
  • The same coworker on Wednesday (the morning after the election, only one or two hours after it had been called in the US), made me laugh just by being goofy. I don't even remember now what he was doing, but he knew I was upset, and made that day a little less terrible.
  • Saturday Night Live. This has nothing to do with Hungary, but it made me smile, and it made me cry, and if you haven't watched this past weekend's episode yet, you should.
  • Singing in the choir. It always makes me smile. I love the music, and the people. Now here is a bit of truth, to help you know that it is in fact the real Miriam writing these blog posts, and not some sappy imposter: choir puts an extra smile on my face when we are singing a difficult piece, and all the other sopranos come in at the wrong time, or sing the wrong rhythm, and I get it right. I know, that's terrible, but what can I say, I never claimed to be perfect (except when I sing the right notes in choir).
In the wake of the election, life goes on, whether or not it seems possible. And this is good news, because how else are we to combat the racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia.... that we can no longer ignore? These conversation will be hard, and might seem impossible, but in the midst of them, life goes on. How do we combat these things? There is no right answer, but I think the first step is building relationships, and sharing God's love with one another, if whatever way that manifests, and as my mother told when I asked her when I found out about the election, What do we do?: We go forward in faith, always always always with grace expectations.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Life Update

Greetings, friends, family, and all those supporting me around the world! Today it is exactly 2 months since I arrived in Hungary, and it has been a whirlwind! I figured y'all would be interested in how things are developing here in Nyíregyháza. I would say that the situation I most commonly find myself in, is that of not knowing what is going on. This constant state of not knowing has been both stressful, and exciting. Sometimes it means I show up to work on Saturday, even though I didn't need to, and more than once it has meant crashing a child's birthday party, but all of these unknown situations usually include food as well. So, to catch you all up, I will list some of my favorite things I have done or tried, and some of the scariest things I've done or tried.

Some of the highlights of my time in Nyíregyháza so far:

  • Singing in the church choir on Sundays. It reminds me so much of the church choir back home at Bethel, and everyone is so kind and welcoming, and I get to speak German with a lot of them. Oh my goodness, I just love it. This will definitely get a blog post this year.
  • Going to Tokaj, a picturesque town not far from where I live that is famous for its wine. I went with two of the other YAGM volunteers and a new friend we made for the annual wine festival. It was so beautiful: there is actually a hill there, it is at the confluence of two rivers (not like the Missouri and Mississippi, but still significant), and the leaves were just starting to change colors. I wish I could show you the pictures we took, but they fell in a river. It was a blast.
  • Trying new food at the daily shelter for the homeless, where I help serve lunch everyday. The cooking doesn't take place there, but I still get to try new food in the lunch that is delivered, and when my coworkers occasionally cook food for the staff. Turns out I love cabbage and liver (not necessarily together).
  • Playing cards with the kids at the women and family shelter where I work. After I leave the daily shelter at 1:30, I take the bus to the family shelter where I stay until 6:00. When the kids get back from school, I help some with their English homework, or play with some of the kids until I have to leave. So far I have taught them Go Fish, and we have also played Uno! They absolutely love Go Fish, and it feels good to see them get excited to spend time with me. They have christened me "Miri," and I love to have another nickname. The days are long, but the time I get to spend with the kids is definitely worth it.
Some of the scariest things I've done so far:
  • I was the cantor at church one Sunday, which is not what you think. No singing was involved; it just means I was the organist. I only had the chance to practice about 1.5 hours the day before on a piano, and that morning was the first time I had ever played an organ. Mind, the service was in Hungarian, so I also had very little idea what was going on, and was grateful that I just played everything at the right time, with the help of many head nods from the pastors. Thankfully the music was pretty easy, but holy cow was it terrifying. I'm glad I did it though, because at least now the whole congregation will remember me.
    Me playing a harmonium (not an organ) for a different worship than I mentioned above, at the home for women with special needs.
  • I tried to go to the post office by myself. I have no idea what happened. All I know is that they didn't have the letter even though I had a note saying they did, and they told me to come back the next day. I did, but I asked someone to come with me this time. They did have the letter the next day, so maybe it was a success.
  • Going to work everyday. Don't worry, Mom and Dada, I'm not actually scared of the places I work, or the people I work with. Everyone everywhere I go has been so kind and welcoming. What's scary is trying to communicate in a language I don't really know, and being afraid that I will embarrass myself. And what I'm afraid of even more than embarrassing myself, is being a burden. It is clear that my presence is not essential to the function of these institutions, and my hope everyday is that my presence does not make it more difficult for them to perform their intended functions.
My time here has flown by, but everyday when I wake up and go to work or church, I am reminded of God's generosity and love by my community through the welcome they continue to show me each and everyday. So I continue into month three, forward in faith with grace expectations.

Peace,
Miriam

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Challenges Ahead

I have been in my placement site, Nyíregyháza, Hungary, for about two and a half weeks now. I just finished up my second week of work at the Oltalom, a diaconal ministry of my host congregation with multiple locations, that provide a number of different services to the people of Nyíregyháza. For the past two weeks, and the rest of my time here, I have and will be working in a soup kitchen that provides lunch to around 150 homeless or hungry folks everyday. My tasks include washing dishes, and occasionally handing out fruit, slicing bread, and mopping the floor. These are all tasks that I have done before, and would like to think that I have done well, and yet I can already tell that I am going to be faced with a lot of challenges this year, and not just at work. So as I begin my work for the next ten months, I would like to provide all you lovely people with some of things I think I will find challenging in this next year.

  • Language, communication, and inability to express myself: This is the most obvious challenge I am currently facing. At my work, there are two people who speak English, neither of which I interact with during a typical day. As you might imagine, having conversations is difficult, and as someone whose greatest fear is being misunderstood, it can also be very frustrating, especially when on your second day of work someone asks about police brutality in the US. I would love to have that conversation, but right now I don't have the words (in English either for that matter). Thankfully, I am surrounded by so many amazing generous people at work; they make an effort to have conversations with me: they speak slowly, repeat themselves, use improvised sign language, and if all else fails we pass around my pocket dictionary that is always on my person. Although language right now is a barrier, it also provides a place where relationships are forming. They help me pronounce new words, and are always quick to give me affirmation when I say a sentence right, and we all are quick to laugh at how English words are said compared to how they are spelled. Although I find myself wishing daily that it could  be like The Matrix and I could just download a new language straight into my brain, I am also grateful for the time to observe, listen, and share in this learning time with those around me.
  • Not knowing what is happening: My absolute favorite thing in the world, for better or for worse, is knowing things. I like knowing which actor was in that movie, I like knowing how to derive Fermi's Gold Rule, I like knowing the liturgical setting we are using in church, and I like knowing what is happening around me at all times. Believe it or not, in a foreign country where I don't speak the language, I very rarely know exactly what is happening, or have any concept of what is happening at all. I don't know how to buy a train ticket, pay a phone bill, or even how to correctly wash dishes at work. Almost daily I find myself asking, "How did I get here, and what is going on?" Sometimes that's at an 8-year-old's birthday party, other times that is with your mentor and his contractors at his house that is being renovated. But once again, although this will be a challenge for me, it provides a place where relationships can form. Vulnerability is not a choice, and by necessity I am asking for help daily. I am pushed everyday to step outside my comfort zone, and am daily met with the generosity of all those around me.
  • Asking for help: I expected this one coming in. As I said, I like knowing what's going on, and I like others to think I know what it is going on. As a result, asking for help has never been something I enjoyed. (I don't know if anyone really like asking for help, for that matter) I don't really have a choice now, so it will be a growing experience in this way. It makes it much easier when so many people in my community are so eager to help and show me hospitality, and I am so grateful for them everyday.
  • Coming to terms with my privilege: I like to think that I am so aware of my white privilege, and my class privilege, and I pat myself on the back when I call out other people for saying something I think is ignorant. And then I came to YAGM and Hungary. I am learning about a whole new type of privilege. I'm learning about the privilege of being a US citizen outside of the US and of speaking English in a place where English is not an official language. I'm learning about the privilege of having the opportunity to pursue higher education. I'm struggling with answering the questions, "What did you study?" and "What will you do when you go back to the US?" I wonder what they think of me, that I can decide to go to another country for a year doing something that seemingly has nothing to do with my profession, and then go back get another freaking degree?! When I say it plainly like that, it sounds so ridiculous, and I don't have the words to explain why I decided to come here! (The answer in short is vocation, which I should learn in Hungarian) I believe that grappling with my own privilege and not worrying about things I have no control over will be my biggest challenge.
  • Encountering racism in new and unexpected ways: In just the month I have been in Hungary, I have already encountered numerous instances of having conversations and someone saying something that to me seems so overtly racist and unbelievable. I find myself thinking, "You never hear people saying things that overt in the US." And then I get off my high horse and look at who is running for president and the daily news of another unarmed black citizen getting shot by the police. This is not to excuse any of the comments I have heard here in Hungary, but it is to say that there are plenty of people I love in the US despite prejudiced beliefs they might have. It can be hard to love these people at home (and everyone has their own prejudices, me included), and I it will be a challenge here too. It will be a challenge because to me loving someone means having difficult conversations about prejudice, and sometimes that means relationships are damaged or ended. Right now I don't have the language to have those conversations, and even if I did, I have to remember that it is not only my relationships that can become damaged. I lied in the last paragraph: I think this will be my biggest challenge. This is a super complicated topic, which deserves to be addressed more completely, and I look forward to sharing in this conversation with all of you in the next year.
I have lots more thoughts about all of these topics right now, but I know that throughout this year, I will experience things that will provide me new perspective on these topics, which I hope to share with you as they happen. I don't have all the answers yet, otherwise these wouldn't be challenges.

I'm sorry, I lied to you guys again.

I do have the answer. The answer is Christ, community in Christ, and love. Through my community here these challenges are already lightened, and these challenges are surmountable through my faith in love, Christ, and the call that has lead me here. It's still hard, and it will be all year, but I have hope because of all the many people here in Hungary who are loving me and supporting me. It is a true experience of grace, for I have done nothing to deserve their generosity and love, and yet they give it freely, expecting only a relationship with me in return. So here, finally in Nyíregyháza, I continue forward in faith, with grace expectations.

Peace,
Miriam