In my experience of more than 10 years of missions work, it seems like we’re always beginning again. On the one hand, that can be frustrating. I used to think you should begin at the beginning, then keep going until you get to the end. Make a plan, work the plan, see the results. But I have come to realize that missions is a process of trial-and-error, and any process of trial-and-error involves many beginnings. An author has a wastepaper basket full of crumpled-up beginnings. Inventors have countless scrapped designs which they’ve replaced with new ones. Missions works the same way. The key is whether or not you learn something along the way.
“Can we be friends?”
Most of us recognize that hopeful question from younger years on plastic swing sets or outside a small school building—while our mother waits for us in the car. Not yet able to judge whether they’re compatible with another human being or not, younger children simply put forth the possibility of friendship, and if accepted, make the decision to stick together.
Once older, we learn to watch carefully for connections. Do they like the same TV show? Do they have the same fashion sense, or love the candy bar we used to eat as a snack every Saturday? We place each other in boxes—compatible and incompatible, with a few who truly click. That’s friendship.
And that’s why I was surprised when a girl about three years younger than myself asked me that exact question in broken English at the Roma camp this August. We knew absolutely nothing about each other except for our differing mother tongues, but she offered me that pact of friendship anyways. I accepted. From that moment forward, we spent most of our time together, and through her I met other girls who also desired the term, “friend.”
The day I visited the village of Röszke, Hungary, it was relatively quiet. At times the refugees seemed to barely outnumber the T.V. reporters and police. Our OMS team had brought a van load of food, water, and supplies to the makeshift refugee camp. Along with many other volunteers, I helped clean up garbage. Little did I know that in less than 48 hours this place would be the site of riots as angry refugees tried to force their way past a newly erected border gate while the police repelled them with water cannons and tear gas.
We left Röszke on Monday afternoon at about 4pm. Even while we were still on the way back to Budapest we saw the reports that the Hungarian government had closed the border earlier than previously announced. We had a feeling trouble was coming.
“This is it,” I thought. My weight shifted onto first one foot, then the other as I nervously rubbed my arms. Catching Szófi’s eye from across the gymnastics floor, I smiled at her, and she grinned back. Acrobatic gymnastics competitions are serious, so I tried to lighten the stress for my eight year-old partner as often as I could. We stood patiently, waiting for the signal to walk onto the floor. Finally, a woman’s voice came over the loudspeaker calling out both of our names, but she also listed the group coming after us. With a start, I realized my trio came next. “How in the world will I change into my other leotard and come back here in time?” my mind screamed, but there was no time to panic, only time to focus on the moment and try not to mess up.
When the music commenced, my muscles took control. Szófi and I danced in synchronization, and then I hurled her into the air, putting all my strength and effort into the throw. We danced some more and flipped across the floor; we made sure to point our toes, straighten our arms and smile, always smile. My whirling thoughts stilled, for if I started to worry about the next move, I would collapse. Soon we arrived at our last pose and froze there, grinning at the judges while they blankly stared at us. As soon as the music ended, chaos erupted.
I dashed frantically down the hallway’s cold, stone floor towards the changing room. The two other girls in our trio, Panna and Flóra, ran beside me. Though I had no time to think or pray, I felt like laughing and crying at the same time. We burst into the changing room, and while I changed into my slippery leotard and Panna swapped my hair scrunchy with another that matched the outfit, Flóra stood nearby doing a strange jig. The trio bounded out of the room, our raspy breaths filling anxious lungs. Suddenly Gabi, my coach, appeared in the hallway, and she began checking my hair. “Don’t panic, you’ll be fine,” she soothed, but the judges were already calling us onto the floor. We made our way through all the mulling parents, competitors, and coaches, and I had to immediately hide my anxiety and stress. “Deep breath, deep breath,” I thought. Once more, the music started.
I felt free and happy throughout the whole routine, letting my legs and arms twirl me to the music; my mind’s only job was to remind myself to breathe. Panna and I flung Flóra into the air where she did a back flip, and we caught her back on the ground. A quick smile, the only means of telling her that the flip was a good height, crossed my face and her eyes lit up. Finally, the routine finished, and once I strolled off the floor my legs began shaking. Stumbling over to our other coach, Győri Bácsi, all three of us received a bear hug. We had done it.
Szófi sat on my lap while we watched other routines. I could not stop beaming because I had completed two routines with Szófi, and two with Panna and Flóra, without any injuries or falls. Nothing could stand in my way now; I could break walls, move mountains, and do four routines in a single competition. Even if we came in last place during the reward ceremony, these moments would always stand in my memory as the time I overcame all the boundaries I placed for myself. Now I see that sometimes we do things that seem impossible, maybe even only to us. Most boundaries are all in the mind, and with God’s help I know can break them down.
For the 21st consecutive year OMS held an English camp here in Hungary. Our two-week camp was in the city of Vác, which is about 50 km north of Budapest. We have held English camps there for several years.
This year’s camp was noteworthy for several reasons. First, we had a large contingent of volunteers from abroad who came to serve alongside of us this year. Some of them were returnees from previous years but we also had several newcomers. We had foreign staff from the U.S., Canada, and Northern Ireland. We sensed a very high level of bonding with our staff this year, and they left Hungary very positive and enthusiastic about our English camp ministry.
Hannah once again participated as a camper this year, and she had two friends from her gymnastics club who came to camp as a result of her invitation. Both of them really enjoyed the camp. One of them had been to camp last year, and she said this year’s camp was better than last year’s. Afterwards I spoke with the parents of the girl who came for the first time, and she was very pleased about the spiritual aspect of camp. This was very encouraging for us. We presented the Gospel very clearly to all of the campers. It was so exciting to hear how God is using our camp ministry to reach Hungarian young people. There were at least 10 campers who said they had made a commitment to Christ during camp this year.
The big challenge facing our team now is following up with students who made commitments and involving them in discipleship. One of the projects I was assigned this year by our new field leader, Jonathan Long, was to write a series of discipleship Bible studies. So far I have completed four lessons on the theme of Knowing God. We are still working on getting them translated into Hungarian for use with students whose English is still somewhat minimal in some cases (though hopefully improved after English camp!). But we are also laying a foundation for future follow-up efforts by preparing materials for students who are just taking their first steps in the path of knowing God.
Now we are preparing to return to the U.S. for several months of deputation. We have many challenges before us over the next few months as we pack up, store our belongings here, move back to the U.S., and begin traveling through several states and Canada in order to raise support for returning to Hungary. We would like to be back in Hungary before English Camp next year. We look forward to sharing with many of our friends and supporters while we are stateside!
From January 10-18 I had the privilege of traveling to England for the first time and attending a conference at L’Abri. L’Abri is French for “the shelter,” and is a ministry which was started by the late Francis Schaeffer with his wife, Edith. It’s a community which is geared towards providing hospitality to people who are looking for God, or maybe for more of God. I had first heard about L’Abri many years ago through the works of Schaeffer who is still one the most influential evangelical Christian apologists of the last century. When I heard about a conference sponsored by the European Leadership Forum I jumped at the opportunity to spend a week there.
During this conference (the Persuasive Evangelism Initiative), we had teaching and discussion about ways to reach modern secular Europeans with the Gospel. We were challenged to use more creative approaches and to ask questions rather than giving answers to questions that people weren’t asking, which we are sometimes good at doing. But for me part of the reason for going was to see and experience for myself what L’Abri is like.
There are L’Abri branches in 10 countries. I have always liked how L’Abri combined hospitality with apologetics. Some people have gotten the impression that L’Abri is for intellectuals, but it’s really for anyone. And I have sometimes had the thought that a L’Abri-type ministry would be something I would like to be involved in, even here in Hungary. I was also amazed by how many Hungarians were at this event. Of all of the nationalities represented, Hungarians were the most numerous (6 or 7 out of about 35 participants). Is God wanting to do something in Hungary along these lines? Does He want to use me in some way for this? We are continuing to think and pray about the future of our ministry here in Hungary and what shape that is going to take. Even if it does not look so much like L’Abri, I was encouraged by what I saw in England.
It’s hard to believe that we are already approaching the end of summer break and getting ready to get back into our fall schedule of school, sports, and our regular ministry activities. The highlight of the summer ministry-wise was our English Camp in Vác from June 15-26. Camp went from being a potential disaster with no foreign staff coming less than two months out, to what we felt was a great camp with a great group of people. We were amazed when eight volunteers responded within a three-week period that they felt God was telling them to come to camp after months of sending out invitations had produced no response. Continue reading “Summer’s Over Already?”