Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recently on a Saturday evening, girls from the 11th class of the Peterfalva Reformed Highschool came over to our house to bake cookies with Stacey.  Students at the school go home every other weekend but remain at the school on the alternating weekends.  We often try to come up with something we can do with them on weekends they remain in the school.  Stacey found a recipe for classic chocolate chip cookies.  Chocolate chip cookies are, of course, best when they are warm and fresh out of the oven.  The girls enjoyed baking with Stacey and then they enjoyed eating the final product.  We played a lively game of Spoons around the kitchen table, and Hans without a doubt relished not only the company and excitement, but also the opportunity to stay up an hour past his bed time. 

 

Winter Wonderland

It has been an unusually mild winter in Transcarpathia.  Snow has been scarce. Nonexistent really, nothing but the occasional dusting of snow.  Even as you gaze east on a clear day towards the Carpathians Mountains, the foothills have sparse amounts of snow.  Only the higher peaks, the most distant the eye can see have copious amounts of snow. The weather has seemed to be more March like than you would expect to find in the month of January.  Legendary tales of the winter of 2018 will not be told around dinner tables in the coming decades.  The Snowdrop flower, the earliest flower of the season which typically springs up from the ground at the first melting of the snow, has appeared even before February made its entrance.

We enjoy the cozy and quieter winter months.  I am thankful we have been able to have two different opportunities to go to the Carpathians Mountains and experience some genuine winter days.  The first opportunity came with our trip to the mountains during the Pella Winterim trip.  We traveled there with a combination of Pella Christian and Peterfalva Reformed High School students.  Thick and heavy snow flakes began to fall as we drove into the mountains.  The next morning, we awoke to a fresh pristine blanket of snow.  Our second opportunity to visit the mountains this winter was on the annual sledding day the Peterfalva Reformed High School organizes every January.  It was a beautiful day; the sun was shinning brightly as the students went up and down the sledding hill.  It was a great opportunity to spend time with teachers and students alike with the gorgeous wintry backdrop of the Carpathian Mountains all around us.  Standing on top of a mountain with snowy peaks as far as the eye can see has a way of making a person stop and gaze in awe, marveling at God’s creation and softly pondering His handy work and His majesty.  In the quiet and pristine beauty of the mountains to be reminded anew that without a doubt creation speaks of the existence of God as Paul writes about in Romans.

Church Partnered Summer Camps

Summer Camps are partnered with either Christian schools in Ukraine or in partnership with Church congregations in Ukraine, Hungary, and Croatia.  We looked forward to hopefully adding a church partnered camp in Romania this coming summer as well.  These week long camps that are partnered with churches are an outreach to the people of the local community which the church serves.  We praise God for this opportunity and we thank God for these weeks spending time with hundreds of young people teaching English to them, but more importantly having an opportunity to share our faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with many young people.  Here is a look back at last summer’s four camps that took place in cooperation with churches.

I. Beregszasz – Over the last four years, a university student named Nikolett has attended our university English classes.  We have enjoyed getting to know her over the past years and have been encouraged by her strong faith and devotion to Christ.  She has attended or helped us in some of our summer English camps and has been an active participant in some of our Bible Retreat weekends.  This past year she invited us to visit her church a couple of times and after hearing about our summer English/Outreach camps, the church invited us to partner with their small Presbyterian church in Beregszasz, Ukraine for a week-long camp.  This was not a school camp, but a church camp.  Children as young as seven years old and as old as high school age from the church and local community attended from 9am-3pm for devotions, singing, English classes, and games.  God blessed this week. The church was happy and excited to have such a week of Gospel outreach and relationship building, and it was a pleasure for us to be of service to them and their local church. Follow the link below for more photos of this camp. http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/2017-beregszasz-english-camp/

II. Vachartyan is an old village, near the storied Danube Bend region of Hungary.  Vachartyan and the neighboring town of Erdokertes, sister congregations led by the same pastor, Barnabas Gergely, are both bedroom communities of Budapest due to their proximity of being within 45 miles of the capital city. In Vachartyan we have been working with pastor Barnabas and his wife Livia for 10 years conducting an English outreach camp for local middle school and high school students of their church and community during the first week of July.

Water Balloon Volleyball

We are always welcomed with generous hospitality and we have enjoyed over the last decade getting to know many people in these communities.  We and our volunteers stay with host families from the both the Vachartyan and Erdokertes congregations helping us get to know many families over the past years.

We also enjoy working with David and Grace McBrier, American missionaries living in the nearby city of Vac.  They have many interesting outreach programs including a softball/baseball ministry, women’s retreats, and as Grace is an excellent cook and baker they are often hosting people at their home.  David is also a carpenter and every year David and Grace lead the students at the Vachartyan camp in a week long building/craft project with a Gospel theme.  At the end of the week all of the students have built a souvenir to take home with them.

Building Project

Another interesting side note to our Vachartyan camp is that it is the home town of our volunteer David Guba’s grandparents.  He first heard about us and the camp through a google search while researching his ancestors home village. This past year during the camp he lived with cousins who still live in Vachartyan.

We are also excited every year to work along side Orsi Gelle, a dear friend and English teacher from Vac.  Orsi’s experience teaching children and her genuine faith and friendship are such a blessing to the camp.  We are thankful each and every year to be a part of this camp in Vachartyan. Follow the link below for more pictures from the camp. http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/2017-vachartyan-english-camp/

III. Tiszaujvaros is also a small city on the Eastern end of Hungary.  Tiszaujvaros has a very different history and very different settings today than Vachartyan.  Tiszaujvaros is a very new city, having been created in farm fields along the Tisza river in the 1950’s as a model communist industrial city.  Due to its history and recent creation, the city never had a church until the late 1990’s.  We have been working with the Tiszaujvaros congregation in a similar fashion for only the past three years.

We can see the LORD’s providence at work in how we came know the Church and Congregation in Tiszaujvaros.  Four years ago, on a dark February night, while traveling with a group of students, our Volkswagen van broke down near their church and their subsequent kindness, care, and aid met our unfortunate predicament.  They welcomed us that evening with such hospitality.  They had been praying for a way to start an English camp ministry and we were an answer to that prayer, stranded on the side of the highway that cold dark snowy night.

We have enjoyed partnering with Aranka and Laci and their ministry in Tiszaujvaros and like many other places, we have enjoyed meeting many people in the church community.  We are blessed to be serving these churches and their ministry to their communities through helping them organize these summer Gospel outreach/English camps.

Because these are church outreach weeks and not school camps, we follow a model of having students come from 9am until 3-4pm, returning home in the evenings.  Days are filled with alternating hours of devotions & singing, games, and creative English lessons.  Over 50 middle school and high school students attended the Vachartyan camp and around half that number came to the Tiszaujvaros camp.  We praise God for these opportunities.  We are thankful to God for the opportunity to work beside so many godly people in this community who labor intensively for the sake of the Gospel. http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/2017-tiszaujvaros-english-camp/

IV. Vorosmart – Our week-long camp in Vorosmart is unique to us.  It is not an English camp and it is our only camp to date that happens outside of the borders of Hungary or Ukraine.  Vorosmart is a small ethnic Hungarian town in north eastern Croatia.  The camp is a Bible camp in a Vacation Bible School format.  Middle school and high school students attend from 9am until 3pm for periods of devotions and singing, small group discussions, and games and crafts.

The other unique aspect of this camp for us, is that the camp is mostly led by university students that we take from Ukraine.  We help organize it and provide the logistics and we and other native English volunteers help lead the devotions and help with games, but by in large the camp is run by Hungarian university students from Ukraine.  It is truly amazing to see God at work, using these young people to reach out and share the Gospel with others.  We are always welcomed and hosted by Pastor Gyorgy Varga and the congregation.  This past year we enjoyed delicious dinners every evening made by ladies in the congregation.

God Blessed these camps this past summer and we are excited to once again plan for these camps this coming summer.  Please pray for these camps and outreach opportunities now during the planning process and this summer when they will be underway. To God be the glory!  http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/2017-vorosmart-summer-camp/

Peterfalva & Nagydobrony English Camps

Nagydobrony – For the first time this past summer we held an English/outreach camp in the town of Nagydobrony, Ukraine at the Hungarian Reformed Boarding School in the village.  The school is one of three Hungarian Reformed boarding schools in the minority Hungarian population of the western Ukraine, the province of Transcarpathia.  Transcarpathia, part of Hungary for a thousand years, still has an active minority Hungarian population and many Protestant churches.  The English teacher at the school, Magdolna Borovszki, a Peterfalva Reformed High School graduate, is a close friend of ours who was a student and former university Bible Study attendee, dating back to my first years visiting Ukraine.  Nagydobrony is 50 miles, but a grueling nearly two-hour drive from our home village of Peterfalva, and is one of the largest Hungarian settlements in the Transcarpathia region.  We immensely enjoyed traveling there for our week-long camp filled with devotions and singing, English lessons, games and activities, and capped off with a bonfire on a beautiful early summer night.  It was wonderful to meet many new students and teachers.  This was our first camp of the summer, beginning in the end of May, and was a great start for our volunteer teachers.  The town of Nagydobrony is home to a Christian Nursing home.  Nursing homes are uncommon and a Christian nursing home is very unique.  As part of the camp we walked over every afternoon with a group of students to sing and visit the elderly residents.  The residents enjoyed it and hopefully the students did too.

An evening of Hungarian Folk Dancing.One other highlight for us was to have a folk dance evening in Nagydobrony. Some area folk dance instructors came and taught all of us different Hungarian folk dances. We are thankful to the Nagydobrony school, the teachers, and community for welcoming us and partnering with us during this English camp.

Volunteer Sarah Slager from North Carolina leads devotions.

Devotions and singing are an important part of our camps. The students seem to enjoy the singing.  Learning English and vocabulary through song for many seems to be an easier and more enjoyable way to learn English. We especially love the devotional time as it provides time and places to be able to talk to the students about faith.  It is moving to hear the volunteers share with the students, personal testimonies, favorite Bible verses, and devotions that have helped them in their faith. Sometimes volunteers use this time to share with the students about struggles in their own lives and about how they were led to Christ.  It is always our hope and prayer that these words will fall on listening ears and open hearts. Please follow the link below to see more pictures. http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/2017-nagydobrony-english-camp/

Peterfalva – Peterfalva, the small agrarian village in Western Ukraine we call home, was the location of our third camp of the summer.  This also marked our second camp with a Hungarian Reformed Boarding School. Around 100 students from the Peterfalva Reformed High School attend the camp.  The camp is a required part of the school curriculum.  The school year runs from September through May and the month of June is designated for language camps.  The students take part in our two-week English camp as well as a two-week Ukrainian language camp.  Despite the setting of a Christian boarding school, the camp is still an excellent opportunity to share the Gospel and the hope that is ours in Christ.  Also, it is a great opportunity to live our lives as a Christian example of what it means to follow Christ.

You may be wondering, what does a day in a boarding school camp look like?  The day is broken down into four different types of events.  Devotions & Singing, English Lessons, Service Projects, and Games & Activities.  Devotions and Singing occur every morning and evening.  We take turns as volunteers leading the devotions by sharing the Gospel, speaking about our faith, sharing a favorite Bible passage or a devotion or something that the LORD has been teaching us.  The devotions are translated into Hungarian by an English teacher or a local university student who is helping with the camp.  Every morning is filled with English Lessons from after breakfast until lunch.  Volunteers from North America prepare and conduct English lessons for the students.  The lessons are an opportunity for the students to advance in their English language abilities, which with a greater knowledge of English will help them find better jobs and opportunities later in life.  Many of the English Lessons are also centered around topics of faith and the Bible.  Afternoons are filled with Games & Activities and Service Projects.

Every student is required to take part in one Service Project throughout the course of the two-week camp.  The service projects involve spending an afternoon visiting elderly and widows in the Peterfalva community; singing, visiting, reading the Bible and praying with them.  The other opportunity is to volunteer for an afternoon at the local Roma kindergarten organizing games, songs, and a Sunday School message for these young Roma children.  One day we went to the Roma kindergarten and organized a lunch for the children.  Pastor Elemer Barta cooked the famed Hungarian goulash over an open fire and students from the Peterfalva Reformed High School, children from the Roma kindergarten and their teaches, and North American volunteers all enjoyed games, lunch, and fellowship together.

Evenings during the English Camp are filled with with many different activities for the students.  During the course of the two week camp we organize the students into activity teams.  The students choose a team name and make a poster representing their team. Throughout the two week camp the teams compete against each other in many games and activities and at the end of the camp an activity team is crowned champions and rewarded for their efforts with chocolate.  The student teams compete in Ultimate Frisbee, water games, a scavenger hunt, a trivia competition, organize skits and do many different other activities.

This camp is a busy two weeks but always richly blessed by God and a rewarding experience we are thankful for.

One exciting thing to happen this past year was one of volunteers David Guba, from Alberta, Canada brought with him an entire suitcase full of blankets, gloves, and winter hats that his mother had knitted.  David gave these items to many teachers and cooks at the school and he was also able to give them as gifts to elderly ladies of the community who the students visited in the afternoons during the camp.  Earlier this week, Stacey and I were able to visit Mariska-neni, a 92 year old woman in our village who the students visited last summer.  The blanket made by David’s mother was on her bed and she proudly retold the story of how she received it during the English camp.  We are thankful to both David who carried an entire extra suitcase and to his mother who must have given countless hours to make the blankets and hats.

We are again thankful to God for all the volunteers from North America this past summer.  We are thankful for their willingness to come and serve and give of themselves and their time.  We are also thankful to Reformed Mission Services for helping us find volunteers.  We were also very thankful to Csilla Kodobocz, David Hidi, Zoltan Toth, Krisztina Bosckor, Eszter Kucsinka, and Kamilla Kelemen (university students) who helped as translators and classroom assistants.  We also were thankful to Irenke Kalincs, and Magdolna Borovszki the respective English teachers we worked with in Peterfalva and Nagydobrony.  We are thankful to the administrators, dorm parents, cooks, cleaning staff, and everyone else at both schools who made these weeks possible.  We appreciated the efforts of so many people to be able to organize and conduct summer camps in both Peterfalva and Nagydobrony at the Hungarian Reformed boarding schools.  Soli Deo Gloria! Follow the link below to see more pictures.

2017 Peterfalva English Camp

English/Outreach Camps

Going to summer camp is something much different in the mind of an Eastern European youth than it is to their North American counterpart.  If the average North American’s youthful years were anything like mine, then summer camp was something special and unique.  Summer camp was a getaway, a vacation, a week away from home full of adventure.  Summer camp days were filled with swimming, outdoor games and programs, singing around the campfire, camp counselors, and sleeping in cabins or tents.  Camp was an expensive luxury that did not come every year and something so unique that I only did it twice in my entire youthful existence.  Hardly did I think that I was underprivileged or that I was being deprived of something that all my friends were doing, or that my parents were unfair.  These thoughts never crossed my mind.  It even seems my two summer camp experiences were a tick above average when compared with childhoods of friends and family.  Sometime around my 10th year of life I spent a week at a camp outside of Grand Rapids, MI.  This was followed some years later during middle school by a trip to the northern Michigan woods with our church’s Cadet Club to join thousands of other Cadets from around North America in the Cadet Camporee.  Cadets was a Calvinist version of Boy Scouts and every few years cadet clubs from Christian Reformed Churches from around North America would meet for a massive camp.  These two staggered and thrilling events left me with fond memories, but these few short days fitting into less than two weeks completed my life experience of summer camps until I went to Ukraine.  Despite being the same words, summer camp, means something drastically different to the average school aged child or teenager in Eastern Europe who is likely in any given summer to attend multiple summer camps.  Summer camps are inexpensive and educational, sometimes even mandatory extracurricular summer learning required by a school.  The rare student might attend a camp that their North American contemporaries would call summer camp.  But not many.  Some high school students and youth groups go to church denomination camps where they meet with hundreds of other youths in a sort of convention/camp.  The vast majority of summer camps are language, faith and Bible, art, music, and folk-dance camps put on in local communities by area individuals, churches, or schools. To be fair, the typical Bible or faith camp resembles what I would have grown up calling Vacation Bible School.  However, Bible or faith camps tend to be a much larger production and often involve participants spending the entire day and even sleeping on site and spending the entire week at the faith or Bible camp. Our summer camps fall into two of the summer camp categories.  Language and faith.  Our camps are English/Outreach camps where students learn English and also hear the Gospel.  Our camps also fall into two different styles.  Some camps are required extracurricular summer learning within a school for the students of the school.  Other camps are partnered with churches as an outreach for the people of the local community which the church serves.  This summer we enjoyed organizing and conducting six summer camps in three different countries.  We praise God for this opportunity and we thank God for these weeks spending time with hundreds of young people teaching English to them, but more importantly having a chance to share our faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with many young people.  We were once again blessed with a wonderful team of volunteers from both the U.S. and Canada who came and lived out and shared their faith through both word and deed, teaching English, leading devotions and singing, organizing games and activities, and many other things.  A big thanks to David Guba, Nathaniel de Vries, Sarah Slager, David Lammers, Sandhya Poelman, Anya Boekestein, Willianne Voogd, Nathan Bloechl, Jerry Janney, Ben McFarland, Carrie Rice, Isaac Boerema, Csilla Kodobocz, Alexandra Krizsan, Ferenc Suto, Boglarka and Elemer Olah; all who traveled many miles and spent many weeks with us this past summer.  Also, we would like to express our gratitude and thanks to the teachers, university students, translators, pastors, cooks, and many other helpers and individuals who gave so much of themselves in making these camps happen.

Volunteers visiting Lviv on a free weekend.

One of greatest and most rewarding parts of our ministry is to see former students and Bible study attendees finish their studies and become a new generation of leaders in the workforce of their communities, schools and churches.  We praise God for invitations and increased opportunities to work with more schools and churches as we see old students from years gone by who have attended our camps, Bible studies, and English classes who finish university and seminary and who now have churches, or classrooms of their own.  What a testimony to God’s faithfulness to see students grow up and continue to walk with the Lord in faith.  How wonderful it is to serve the Lord and partner alongside these young adults in the churches and schools they now have been called to serve in.  Increasingly, we are getting invitations to begin outreach camps alongside former students who were once camp attendees themselves.

Pella Christian High School Winterim

We arrived back to Eastern Europe on December 29.  It was a busy start for us as we had a group from Pella, Iowa come for a visit from January 2-13.  The group consisted of 15 high school students and 5 chaperones.  We happily agreed to organize a Winterim class trip from Pella Christian High School to Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland.  Winterim is a program done by Pella Christian Highschool as well as other Christian schools and colleges.  Before the start of the winter/spring semester the school offers special off campus short term classes and special focus short-term classes on location at the school. From our perspective, the class/trip went very well.

It is always a pleasure for us to have visitors and to be able to show this fascinating corner of the world to people from North America.  As part of the trip we organized a joint Pella/Peterfalva student trip to the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine.  Pella Christian High School and the Peterfalva Hungarian Reformed high school have developed a relationship over the past years.  We have had a number of volunteers from Pella come for summer English camps to Peterfalva, and Pella Christian has hosted three different exchange students from the Peterfalva Reformed High School. It was great to be able to take Pella students to Ukraine and to show them the high school here.  We organized an off-campus trip to the mountains with 15 Pella students and 16 Peterfalva students as well as chaperones from each school, and 6 local university students who acted as helpers and translators. We visited a WWII bunker, the top of a mountain, a castle, and a famous waterfall.  It was a great opportunity for the Peterfalva students to practice speaking in English as they interacted with Pella students. We hope the Pella students were able to learn about the culture, heritage, history and educational  system here in Transcarpthia. 

Peterfalva Students

Each evening we had small group Bible studies and devotions with combined student groups.  We also enjoyed an evening of singing together and praising God with our voices in two languages. We hope and pray

that the students were encouraged in their faith and relationship with Jesus over the course of the days we spent together.

Following the time in Ukraine we traveled with just the Pella group to Budapest, Hungary spending time there exploring and learning about the history of the city and of Hungary.  We were able to worship on Sunday with the Erdokertes, Hungarian Reformed Church, who we partner with in one of our English/outreach camps.  We were welcomed with such hospitality and a delicious meal following the morning service. We went on to Poland to visit the cities of Warsaw and Krakow as well as the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

We hope it was a memorable and life changing trip for these students (I think only one student had ever been out of the U.S.).  We hope they were all impacted by the fellowship, history, culture and opportunities to share their faith. We also hope some of the Pella students when they get of university age will consider coming to volunteer in our camps in the summer time and spend more time in this fascinating corner of the world.  It is really amazing to witness Christ’s dominion over all corners of the earth, and how He builds His kingdom!

Pella Christian Students with John Calvin on Kalvin Square, Budapest, Hungary.

 

 

Below, students in front of the Hungarian Parliament.

New Year Return to the Old World

Traveling during the busy Christmas season with the threat of winter weather, flight delays and/or cancellations, is reason enough to have a little anxiety about flying.  Having an energetic and mobile toddler brings us added concern about air travel.  Hans has thus far proved to be a champion traveler.  He even seems to enjoy it.  Our previous flights with Hans have all occurred before he could walk and when he was content to sit in our laps.  Thankfully there was little to worry about as we continue so far to have a natural born traveler on our hands.  Hans once again seemed to be curious, interested, and enjoying himself as we traveled.  Smiling at people, watching all the busy coming and going, and befriending the stewardess.  The first leg of our flight was cancelled due to poor weather in Chicago and we were reconnected through Philadelphia and actually arrived earlier.  We flew British Airways, who allow for missionaries to take extra luggage.  We decided to make use of this and take a box of English Bibles to give to graduating students this coming spring.  Hans traveled well, our flights were smooth, all the luggage arrived, and the airline food was great.  We had a lot to be thankful for, and we were thankful to God for a safe arrival back to Eastern Europe.

We spent some wonderful months in the U.S. this past autumn.  We enjoyed the time with family and are very thankful for the employment we received once again this harvest season in North Carolina.  Once again God richly blessed our time back in the U.S. with work, time with family and friends, and traveling to visit churches and schools.  The autumn was not without its challenges, as my mother had a serious bicycle accident, had her spleen removed and suffered from subsequent blood clots.  We praise God for the recovery He has given her.

After arriving back to Hungary and spending New Years with friends, we welcomed a group from Pella, Iowa who came for 11 days.  We have been busy this month hosting this group and traveling with them, moving into the house we will live in again here in Peterfalva, and getting busy organizing our programs and activities as the winter/spring semester begins.  Thank you for the continued support and prayers.  We wish you the Lord’s blessing in the new year.  Eric & Stacey, and Hans

Catching Up

We found ourselves busier than we anticipated this spring heading into the summer months.  It was a good kind of busyness.  We are thankful for so many opportunities God has graced us with.  Opportunities to share the Gospel with many young people of Eastern Europe.  We are thankful for the opportunities that God has given us to live out our faith in gratitude for the gift of salvation He has given us through the blood of Jesus Christ.  We often dwell on the here and now of our earthly lives and spend little time looking towards our heavenly home.  I hope this year through the work of the Holy Spirit we were able to plant seeds in lives and hearts of many young people that this life is but temporary, as we look towards our glorious future of everlasting life, dwelling with and praising God.  We hope and pray that the words and deeds that were heard and observed by many young people in our English lessons and clubs, Bible Retreats, and other ministries point towards our precious hope that is in Christ alone.

The focus of these latest blogs, although belated, has been upon spring events.  In our next blogs we will give a report on our summer camps which the LORD blessed immensely.  With thankful hearts and humble praises, Soli Deo Gloria.

I never got around to posting a blog I wrote last spring about the beauty of spring in Ukraine.  I thought it was still worth posting.

Spring abounds with hope and renewal.  The changing of the season passes by, giving hope of new life and a renewed creation.  As beautiful as the winter is, what a glorious transformation to watch the snow melt and to see the wonder of life and color return after the dormant sleepy months of winter.  Life in the villages of Ukraine with the spring season come to life in buzzing activity following months of house bound winter captivity. Ukraine will never have spring time fame like the flower fields of Holland, or the cherry trees blossoming in Washington D.C. or Tokyo.  Yet, with an abundance of fruit trees joined by a variety of flowers perfectly suited for life and growth here, Transcarpathia, Ukraine, lacks nothing in beauty during the spring time months.  The snow flowers are the first to appear, often before the snow even melts away, soon followed by the Crocus covering the forest floor in a majestic sea of purple.  These early spring flowers are soon replaced by tulips, fruit tree blossoms, and many other flowers too numerous to name here.  Spring is my favorite season in Ukraine.  All of creation in every season testifies of God and proclaims His name and His handiwork.  The coming to life of creation in the spring time reminds me of God’s promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth.  What a glories day it will be to see God’s perfect creation where there will be no more pain and suffering or death, and every tear will be wiped away.

Roma Outreach

On the outskirts of most towns and cities live the Roma.  Roma are not Hungarian or Ukrainian, but rather originally natives of India who immigrated in the middle ages to Europe.  Living in impoverished camps and mud brick homes, the vast majority of Roma have never or rarely been to school and are illiterate.  The local church has begun a number of kindergartens and afternoon school learning centers for Roma children in an attempt to bring the gospel to these people, as well as to educate them by teaching them to read and write.  Typical kindergarten activities and games are also conducted and it is also an opportunity for the children to eat a hot lunch.  We partner with one of these kindergartens every Tuesday afternoon through winter and spring months by bringing high school students from the Peterfalva Reformed High School to organize an afternoon program of a Bible story and lesson, singing and prayer, crafts, writing exercises, and games.  We believe that this a great opportunity for students from the high school to show the love of Christ to a less fortunate people of their own communities.  We hope and pray that it will also aid in removing the racial barrier that divides and separates the Roma from their Ukrainian and Hungarian neighbors.  It is a valuable opportunity for the young Roma children to learn about God and the Bible as well as to practice and learn necessary life skills such as reading and writing and table manners. 

Our second major program involving Roma this past year was an after school program in the city of Beregszasz.  Local university students partnered with us in this endeavor.  The university students go on a weekly basis to conduct an after school program centered around beginner English lessons and a devotion.  The after school program was well attended and we were proud of the diligence and effort the university students gave on behalf of children who attended showing them the love of Christ. 

Involvement in the Roma community came in different ways this past year.  A local pastor by the name of Elemer helps to run the local Roma kindergarten.  He regularly drives up and down the streets of the village picking up children in the camp and taking them to the kindergarten.  Many of these children probably would not attend if it was not for the ride he offered to take them.  Driving from one camp to another he must also pass by the local state school.  Allowing him to take older children to school as he passes by to collect younger children for the kindergarten.  Many of the older children like their younger siblings would not attend if not for someone making an effort to go and get them.  Pastor Elemer’s van broke down for a couple of week stretch this past spring.  He asked me to cover for him with our old yellow Volkswagen van.  It was an interesting and eye opening experience for me to see his involvement in the Roma community and to transport van loads of children back and forth to school and kindergarten.

One late spring night Elemer organized a special outreach evening with a guest speaker in the Roma congregation.  Over one hundred people came and packed the small building.  Lasting long into the night, upon nights end I was asked to transport mothers, infant babies and small children back to the camp to save them a two mile walk in the dark. Once again I felt blessed that God has opened these small windows into the life of the Roma.   

 

Ultimate Frisbee And Pizza In The Park

Ultimate Frisbee and Pizza in the park: The majority of our students in Western Ukraine are part of the minority Hungarian population of Ukraine who have been living on these lands for a thousand years, but now call Ukraine home instead of Hungary due to border changes and the twists and turns of history.  Speaking Hungarian as their mother tongue, many of these students end up in universities in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.  Many stay and find jobs and spouses.  Between current and former students, and people who have left for a “better life” in Hungary we have been left with a city full of acquaintances and friends most of them with Western Ukrainian roots.  On one May weekend, we traveled the five-hour trip to Budapest to meet with pastors and organizers that we would be working with later in the summer during our outreach/English camps in Hungary.  We decided to spend Saturday afternoon in a park and invite students from Western Ukraine to join us for a pizza and a game of Ultimate Frisbee.  In case you are not familiar with the game, it is a cross between soccer and football, but using a Frisbee disc. It has been popular on American university campuses for the past couple decades and is growing in popularity in Europe.  Around a dozen students joined us.  It was a fun afternoon to play, talk, and visit with former students from Ukraine and to meet new young people.  We played for a couple of hours with a thunder storm marking half time, and then went out for pizza.  The opportunity also allowed us to introduce these students to a young pastor who works just outside of Budapest (a dear friend of ours who is an avid fan and participant of the sport).  He has been in some contact with a couple of these students since, and we praise God for this and we hope and pray he can be a godly influence on their lives too.