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.

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.

Bible Retreat Weekend

The weekend of May 5-7 we traveled to the beautiful Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine with 48 young adults and university students for a weekend of Bible study, prayer, singing, fellowship, and hiking. This was the third annual weekend Bible retreat we have conducted through a grant from the Zondervan Foundation.

For much of the world, May 1 is Labor Day.  This was an important socialist holiday across Eastern Europe and the Communist bloc. May 9 is Victory Day, commemorating the end of WWII. The week and weekends that these days fall on are spring holidays from school for students and therefore, an ideal time to attract students to come for a weekend away to the mountains. The heart of spring is a lovely time to spend in God’s creation among the vibrant spring flowers and landscapes of the Carpathian Mountains. We have been encouraged by the number of students who have returned from previous years and it has also been wonderful to see new faces this year. Many of the students are young adults who we regularly see and have spent time with in English camps, English classes, and Bible studies. This weekend is a unique opportunity to reinforce and grow in our relationships with them. However, many are students we do not know, and it is an excellent occasion to meet and form new relationships with them.  We praise God for the hints of change we can see in their lives and we pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in their lives and change their hearts.

Possibly the biggest surprise for us in organizing this weekend is the diversity of those attending. Originally, when the retreat weekend was still nothing but an idea, we thought it would be attended only by Hungarian university students who are among the Hungarian minority populations of western Ukraine. God has blessed the Bible retreats the past three years in ways that we could not imagine.  One of them being the great diversity of the students.  The majority remain minority Hungarian students of Transcarpathia, Ukraine.  However, we also welcomed six Nigerian students who are in western Ukraine attending medical school, two German students volunteering in western Ukraine with a German organization, and six Ukrainian students from Kyiv brought by three Navigator missionaries.  The Navigators are a U.S. based mission organization with a ministry in Kyiv and we have been blessed to partner with the Navigators for the past three years. This year three Navigator missionaries brought a group of six young adults and joined us for the Bible retreat and served as small group leaders. This was a small foretaste of what heaven would be like with so many people from so many different cultures and walks of life joining together to praise God and study the Bible. Using English as a common language, it was remarkable to study the Bible and praise and glorify God among such a diverse group of believers.

We broke up into four small groups for the weekend and had morning and evening sessions studying the Trinity.  We studied and discussed God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  We hope and pray that the discussions and Bible studies on the three Persons of the Trinity encouraged the faith and understanding of the attendees and for those who are not Christians that it would show them who God is and why we need Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We pray that the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Gospel were faithfully proclaimed and we hope and pray that the seeds that were planted in open hearts and minds will continue to grow and flourish.

If for some the message of the Gospel and Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross was something they had never heard. We hope that this weekend was an encouragement to all and a calling to all to give their lives to Jesus Christ.

Photo Credit: Maksym Diachenko