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

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.   

 

Roma Kindergarten Outreach

DSC_1128Working among the Roma, more commonly known around the world by the misnomer, Gyspy, brings both joys and frustrations. Often times we find ourselves frustrated with feelings that are far from Christ-like; judgmental and exasperated, annoyed or even angry. Many times, in a week, sometimes several times a day, Roma come to our door asking for money or food. Some have let themselves into our house uninvited. Then there is also theft. This past February, a bag of chicken that I had placed outside to thaw was taken from our front porch. Apart from feeling frustration towards these people who ask with such a demeanor that can be perceived as entitlement, there is also in us a sense of helplessness at the overwhelming neediness that these people possess.  We are often left feeling lost as to the best way to help them.  It raises many questions: How can we help the Roma without hurting them? How can we minister to their seemingly insurmountable needs, both physical and spiritual? Is true change possible for them? Sometimes in frustration I even wonder, is this possible?  How can you help someone change their habits and their life when it seems the entirety of society and culture is against them? Sometimes Roma come and beg for handouts while seeming totally unwilling to take personal responsibility to alter their predicament.  Can the Roma rise above their current poverty when it often appears that history, prejudices, racism, and stereotypes are stacked against them?  Some Roma do. Why don’t the majority?  Incidences such as begging and theft can leave a disagreeable taste in one’s mouth, and cause a sort of ungraciousness, bitterness, and an attitude of indifference to well up in us.  We need reminding that the Roma are image bearers of their Creator, just as we are, and no less so.  Their most basic need is also ours.  They stand in need of Christ and His redemptive work on the cross on their behalf, just as we do.  No amount of money, aid, or welfare is going to change their situation.  Only Christ can change the Roma, as only Christ can change us.  Both a humbling and infinitely hopeful thought! DSC_1042

Only Christ can change the lives of the Roma giving them hope, not only for today, but for eternity as well, yet how will this happen if they don’t know and believe in Jesus? I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 10:14-15.  The local church in the last decade has begun many ministries towards the Roma.  Some have succeeded, others have not.  Many in the local community have a heart for the Roma, while many others look upon the Roma with scorn.  The success of these ministries often seems to wax and wane.  One such ministry near us is a local Reformed Roma kindergarten and Christian after school center.  Young children come in the morning for kindergarten, and older students come after school for help with reading and school work.  Most Roma are illiterate and most do not go to school.  Those who do go to school, go inconsistently.  Percentage wise there is a very small amount of Roma children out of the total population who are coming for the kindergarten and after school program.  DSC_1135

It has been a blessing to us to be able to go to partner with this local outreach in a few different ways. Once a week we go with students from the local Peterfalva Reformed high school to lead a Bible lesson and prayer, singing and a Bible memory verse, activities and crafts. Our team includes Eric and myself, as well as 7-10 high school students. Interest was high among the students in the Reformed High school and we had to divide the 30 or so students into four different teams to take turns going.  About 20-25 Roma children wait eagerly for us to arrive. Students take turns leading the Bible story followed by a couple of questions as to what the story teaches us. The children are eager to recite the Bible memory verse and to answer the questions. To see our students from the high school bending near to these little ones, intently speaking or listening to the Roma children is really beautiful to see, and a sweet reminder of what it can mean to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  DSC_1158DSC_0893

We hope that the time spent together can help to bridge the gap between the different cultures and societies.  We hope the Roma children will hear the Word of God through this program, but we also hope that the Hungarian students who come with us will see the Roma children, who, though often dirty and shouting, are children of God made in His image.  We hope and pray that God will lead these students who go with us into lives of loving their neighbors and that they will see the Roma with new eyes, and a mission field, if you will, right in their own neighborhood. Please visit the photo gallery for more photos.    DSC_0868