Saturday, September 28, 2013

WHERE: A Napközi

This space serves as the main playroom throughout the day in the family day care center.  All the books on that shelf are in Hungarian or German, yet the children patiently sit in my lap as I stutter through them.

Welcome to my office.  I’ve only been here two weeks and have already secured two windows and a leadership role supervising 8 to 10 people daily.  The people all have at least 1-2 years of experience and do a few things well on their own such as communicating with each other, being creative, and using all of the resources in this office.  Other tasks require my guidance and help like tying shoes, using tissues, and eating soup.

Looking from the backyard onto my office building,
that fence in front provokes some conflict as the children
argue who gets to open the gate before play time.
I have been spending most of my days in the napközi, a family day care center for children ages 1-5 in Piliscsaba.  Here they call it Kindergarten, but it’s most similar to day care in the USA.  On any given day we can have 5-10 children ranging from little ones that can barely walk to taller ones that talk and talk.  I am joined by the main teachers who help guide the children throughout the day through snack time, crafts, music, playtime, and most importantly- naptime. 
Backyard bliss.

I enjoy playing on the floor with the children and navigating Hungarian children’s books… very slowly.  I also very much enjoy playing in the garden out back in the mornings.  The scenery is beautiful and refreshing, and allows the little ones to exert a lot of energy before lunch and nap time.  I have found that I’m best at playing cat and dog because, fortunately the sounds that those creatures make are bilingual.  

Sometimes though it is difficult to not be able to communicate with words with my little ones.  It saddens me to not be able to comfort an upset child through words or reasoning, but sometimes me talking to them in English confuses them enough that the tears stop anyways.  Sometimes I feel like I’m not that much of a help because I can’t convince Zsofi to come put her shoes on because I don’t have the words to do so.  And, all little Eszter wanted was her stuffed animal from under the table but I couldn’t pick out the words from her teary mumbles to figure it out. 

Because of this, I love meal time.  Though this may come as a surprise to my mother, I actually am fluent in washing and drying dishes and sweeping and mopping,.  My hands can be hard at work during meal times and I am thankful for the opportunity to feel like I am actually contributing.  Sometimes I battle with the thought that  I have a degree from Tulane University in Business Management and my most important tasks for the day include cleaning up the kitchen after lunch and getting shoes on seven little people.  And then I remember how difficult it actually is to convince seven little ones who don’t speak your language to sit down and put their shoes on.  And then I am also reminded of how happy I am at the end of every day.

I could not be happier washing dishings, mopping floors, and tying shoes.  As my good friend Mari said, “It’s good to be reminded that you are not above washing dishes.”  And, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  I really actually think that at this moment I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to do be doing.  And right now that’s cleaning the kitchen and playing cat and dog.

Back during orientation we discussed the difference between choosing to serve and actually being a servant.  I can now better understand the reality that I did not choose to serve in Hungary this year, but rather that I was called to be a servant among this community for the next year.  And for that I am grateful, and completely content.  I can’t explain how amazingly peaceful that feeling is.  Props to the Holy Spirit for doing it’s thing.

More Later!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WHERE: Piliscsaba, Hungary

This right here friends is progress. What may look to you like a mess of disheveled yarn is in actuality a wonderful representation of my first week in Piliscsaba.  Slowly, but surely, things are coming together while my hands complete unfamiliar tasks in unfamiliar ways.   Each stitch feels new and uncomfortable, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.

Friday afternoon I was sitting in the home of a woman who hosts knitting classes to teach children and adults the profession of her deceased mother, a Hungarian fashion artist known for her intricate patterns and textures.  As I was sitting there fumbling with yarn and stitches, I had time to reflect on what an incredible week I had just experienced. 

Zsuzsa and Lajos are my loving parents
during the first few months of my time
in Piliscsaba.
In addition to knitting, I attended a dance class that teaches the traditional dance of an area in Transylvania.  It was there that I first noticed the true love between my host mom and host dad.  My anya and apa.  Their enjoyment and delight in dancing with each other reminded me of the joy between my parents, and I am comforted to know I am in a home with two people who care deeply for each other.  Lajos and Zsuzsa have easily created for me a home away from home.  And they encourage me to join alongside the lives of their three children as much as possible.

Réka is featured in this blog post
preparing dinner. Angela, you have
cutest sister award competition.
Ákos, Miklós, and Réka are my new siblings.  I am blessed to have two new brothers and a new sister who each possess a unique personality and humor.  With them I attended my first Taekwondo class and enjoyed being active and playfully “fighting” with them.  We have a punching bag in the living room, it provides great fun after dinner.

So, to give you a short recap that’s knitting, dancing, and taekwondo in the first three days of my time in Piliscaba.  Remember that one time I told you I didn’t want to go to swimming lessons because I didn’t know how to swim?  Well that mentality is gone, and I couldn’t be happier.  Yes, I am nervous and scared and constantly exhausted, but I am experiencing new things in new ways and in a new language. 

Oh yeah the whole language thing…everything I’ve done has been taught in Hungarian… obviously.  Knitting, dance class, and taekwondo were all instructed in Hungarian.  Did I know exactly what were they saying? Heck no.  Could I tell you what they said in my own words? Probably not.  Did I pick up a few words and recognize instructions? Yeah,  I did.  The shake of a head or the sound of, “Nem nem” signaled I was completing a stitch the wrong way.  I figured out you twirl three times at the stomp of your partner’s foot, and I could tell that if you get pegged in dodgeball you have to do 10 push ups.

It’s got me thinking about our own understanding of a foreign language we are unfamiliar with.  And that is the language of our Father.  I believe that God speaks to us as a community and gives us instructions just as my knitting friend, my dance teacher, and my taekwondo instructor do.  But we don’t actually speak God’s language just as I don’t actually speak Hungarian.  I mean, come on who can actually be fluent in God.  Who can really know exactly what he is saying and exactly how to interpret his messages. 

Whether or not we can actually be fluent, I think the point is that we are trying.  And, that we should be able to figure out how we are supposed to be living.  Instead of trying to pick out every single knit picky detail of what is right and wrong or acceptable or unacceptable, we can be watchful and figure out the way the best way to live out Christ's love and grace.  God gives us the shake of the head or a gentle, “Nem nem”. He gives us others as examples to exemplify his love, and he grounds us in law and gospel according to our actions.  Who are we to judge each other on our own interpretations of God's language?  One day we will all be fluent in God when we join at the feast on the last day. But until then, I’m doing my best to become fluent in Hungarian.  And we can all keep working to be fluent in grace and love.

More later

Mom- take comfort knowing this mom hugs
 me goodnight every night!  I love you both!

Monday, September 9, 2013

WHERE: Balaton, Hungary

YAGM in a Hungarian lesson, taught by Teri, a wonderful teacher
and now a very close friend.  Thank you Teri.

This is the table I sat around for 3 hours every morning for the past two weeks during Hungarian lessons.  This is the same table I sat around at night completing homework and practicing vocabulary with the other volunteers.  This is also the same table I went to a few mornings at 6:30am to complete last night’s homework…some things never change. 

But today I am thinking about a different table, a table that I’ve gathered around many times in many places with many people.   A table who can fit a party of two or a table that can fit all of the Saints fans in the Superdome today.  Hey, this table can even fit the Atlanta Falcons fans. too  The location of this table and the guests around it change constantly, but the menu stays the same.  Bread and wine, that is all.  Two simple ingredients available in almost every corner of the world, meant to be accessible to everyone.

Today I joined at a table where the conversation was limited, only greetings and smiles were understood, but something greater was happening.  Though I did not understand the hymns, the confession, the creed, or the prayers because they were all spoken in Hungarian, I knew when the words of institution were being spoken.  It must be something about a Pastor’s delivery or the flow and pace of the reenactment of the Last Supper.  Or maybe, more importantly it’s the ever inviting tone and magnificent realization that all our welcome at this table, no matter language, background, or even taste in NFL team. 

The sun sets just before we begin
 Holden Evening Prayer
The feast at this table and the fellowship of communion bring comfort to me in an unsettling time.  I have struggled, and continue to be intimidated by the Hungarian language and inability to communicate.  Yesterday I was somewhat down, overwhelmed in the realization that even the dogs in this town know more Hungarian than I do.  But then I met a seven year old boy.  Being around a child and attempting to speak Hungarian was easier without the stress of wanting to please or impress an adult.  I find comfort knowing that  I will be surrounded by children in the coming weeks to help my Hungarian improve.

Mari and I marvel at the view of Lake Balaton from a look out tower.
The past two weeks have been filled with lots of Hungarian, worship, beach time, and biking.  It has been extremely relaxing and a wonderful place to bond as a group, but it’s time for the real work to begin.  Hungarian lessons are over and so is in-country orientation.  Today, we travel to Budapest and leave our comfortable little life in Balaton behind. I'm looking forward to sharing a table with my host family and host community, very very soon!
Mari, Chelsea, Ole, Me, and Thad biked up to this hill at sunset Sunday night to join in Holden Evening Prayer.

More later and WHO DAT

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

WHERE: Bratislava, Slovakia


"Here's the truth about telling stories with your life. It's going to sound like a great idea, and you're going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you're not going to want to do it. It's like that with writing books, and it's like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.”

-Donald Miller A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:How I Learned to Live a Better Story

One of my friends Chelsea lent me a book by Donald Miller titled A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story.  It's a wonderful story about story and I've enjoyed reading it throughout in-country orientation.  Miller, the author, contemplates the fact that he himself writes stories for a living in which he dreams of characters, scenes, transformations and life lessons.  Yet, he realized while writing a script for a movie that the story he was writing for himself was not as fulfilling, not as moving, and not as meaningful as the stories he wrote on paper.  So he began to view his own life as a blank page upon which he was to write his own story, one with meaning with characters that matter and scenes that are memorable.

It is interesting to be reading this book at a time in my life when I feel for the very first time I'm doing something that matters that will also make for a better story.  For most of my life, I've taken the easy way out on everything and have been very timid to try new things.  My mom's go-to example takes place about 17 years ago when it was time for me to go to my first swimming lesson.  I refused to go, and when my parents asked me why I did not want to go to swimming lessons, I replied, "Because I don't know how to swim."  See, I don't usually like doing things I'm not good at, I usually don't play games I know I can't win, and I don't usually put myself in uncomfortable situations.

But, this year I have begun a story I'm excited about and one whose pages I can not anticipate.  All I know is I'm up for the work to make this story interesting, because I'm convinced the characters, scenes, and life lessons the YAGM story holds will transform me.  Ironically, sometimes this blog can feel like work, like a chore.  Don't be offended, it's not painful, it just forces me to take time to comprehend what is actually going on around me.  It gives me an opportunity to take a look at the story I'm living, and more importantly, it allows me to share my story so that others can be a part of it.

What can be painful though, is learning Hungarian.  That's what I've been doing every morning for three hours the past two weeks.  Let me update you on some of the characters and memorable scenes that have been a part of my YAGM story so far.

Characters and Scenes:

YAGM Central Europe being sealed with the Holy Spirit
and marked with the cross of Christ forever!
Ole, Chelsea, Mari, Thad, Me
On August 21, YAGM dispersed across the world to various countries to be begin a year of service.  Four headed to Central Europe with me.  Chelsea, Mari, Ole, Thad, and I make up the Central Europe  YAGM program.   We represent the North American continent pretty well, claiming home in Washington State, Arizona, South Dakota, Canada and Louisiana.  We get along very well, and enjoy the tight knit community such a small number of people can facilitate.  Thad, Ole, Chelsea, Mari, and I will be together for in country orientation until September 10.  Then, we will be sent to our placement sites all across Hungary.  We are enjoying our time together now, knowing that there will be 2 or 3 months separating an opportunity to see each other again. 

On a mountain top in Hainburg, Austria with a view of Bratislava, Slovakia
behind us.  Me, Chelsea, Mari, Miriam, and Ole
Our Country Coordinator, Miriam, and her family picked us up from the Vienna airport and drove us to a café for coffee in Hainburg, Austria.  We hiked up to a lookout and marveled at the incredible view of Bratislava, Slovakia.  The capital city is home to Miriam and Jeremy, and their two adorable little girls Ursula and Esme.  Already they are family.

The skyline view of Bratislava, Slovakia with a grill
going for dinner that night! Mari, Chelsea, Me

The first few days of  our time in Bratislava included getting acclimated to the time change, worship, and a little bit of exploration.  We were lucky to be surrounded by a great community that included other ELCA volunteers who are teaching English in Slovakia and Poland this year. One of my favorite nights consisted of fellowship with this group of teachers and Holden Evening Prayer on a rooftop overlooking the Bratislava skyline.  It was heaven.  It was a memorable scene because of the beauty of the rooftop skyline, the fellowship of the people, and the familiar music singing praise to God.  I am very thankful for that memory.
YAGM volunteers, ELCA teachers, and Miriam's family
join in Holden Evening Prayer before dinner.
After a long weekend in Bratislava, we finally crossed the border into Hungary, the country I will be calling home for the next year!  Currently we are staying at a Lutheran retreat center on Lake Balaton for intensive Hungarian language training.  The area is beautiful and our brains are able to take  a break from all the crazy Hungarian suffixes while we explore the lake and mountains.  More later on exactly what we’ve been up to!


Monday, September 2, 2013

WHERE: Chicago, Illinois

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. Luke 12:48

Sassy Massey Family Selfie
Mom, Dad, Angela, Me
At the beginning of August I said “See ya later” to my camp family and lots of other friends and family in NOLA and the Carolinas.  I was overwhelmed by the reminder that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have constantly embodied Christ's unconditional love to me.  

Mom, Dad, and Angela dropped me off at the airport on August 14th to depart for my YAGM year.  After a few tears, tight hugs, and one last family selfie… I was on a plane to Chicago for one week of orientation.


There I joined 60 YAGM volunteers, a team of alums, and the amazing YAGM staff for a week of discernment, reflection, small group time, and preparation for our year of service.  The days seemed to never end, yet the week flew by.  What a joy it was to be surrounded by enthusiastic and intelligent young adults, all committed to the same mission.   We talked about what exactly that mission was, and whose it was to be exact.  Discussions of our backgrounds and past experiences revealed to be just as diverse as the places we will be serving this year.
My YAGM orientation small group!  There names and placements listed below.
Top: Sean-Malaysia, Kelly- South Africa, Chelsea-Jerusalem, Tyler-Argentina
Bottom: Me-Hungary, Jess-YAGM Alum United Kingdom, Vickey-United Kingdom
We heard from speakers about the complexity of culture and pluralism and how our viewpoints are ultimately influenced by the power and privilege we obtain by simply being born in a particular country.  No doubt I was rattled, shaken, even frustrated at our discussions and the realization that I and so many I know are abundantly blessed with resources, money, health, and even time.  So I wonder what my actions, words, and work will look like in Hungary in response to God’s blessings.  Dad, thanks for teaching me that when much is given, much is expected.   

More later. -Mere