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.

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.

A Beautiful Song

Stacey and I have a love for singing.  I can’t claim to make a beautiful sound, but I do have a deep and sincere love for singing.  My roommates at Dordt College would often give me a hard time for my not so beautiful singing voice, little did they know I would some years later get a Chinese fortune cookie with the little paper inside saying that one day someone would enjoy my singing.   Hopefully this “fortune” has come true.  Stacey on the other hand can make a joyful sound and she leads us every Sunday night in an English Hymn sing at the Peterfalva Reformed High School.  Laci, a guitar playing teacher and dorm parent, faithfully comes to play the guitar for us every week. We have a faithful core of students who come every week to sing with us, to both practice their English and for a love of singing.  Some weeks we have up to 25 students who come for the event.  Our little English choir was invited last year to perform at an evangelizing week being organized by a local Reformed youth group at a local college in nearby Beregszasz.  We were again invited back this year and once again enjoyed going with our English choir to perform three songs during this church event.  May our “joyful noise” be to the glory and praise of God alone!

English Clubs and Classes

Through the winter and spring months this past year we have been thankful to be involved in many different English clubs and classes.  Two of the English clubs and one class are held in the nearby city of Beregszasz.  One afternoon/evening a week we spent in the city teaching a university class at the local Rakoczi Ferenc Hungarian College and holding a children’s English club and an evening English club for teenagers and adults.  The children’s club is focused more on English learning using games, crafts, and activities.  The adult club is focused on a weekly topic that we discuss.  The college class is also centered around a weekly topic of the English language or American culture.  It was a rewarding experience to get to know so many people through these weekly meetings.  The classes gave us an opportunity to invite the students to other events.  Many of the university students would later accept our invitation and join us in the late spring for a Bible retreat weekend in the mountains.

We also enjoyed teaching English in our home village of Peterfalva.  We conducted English classes at the local Hungarian Reformed boarding school on a weekly basis.  Most classes took place at the school learning about English through a variety of ways and methods.  Classes often involved games, songs, and activities.

One particular English class the Stacey and I reflected fondly on was one afternoon, when students came to our house to learn about American style pancakes and maple syrup.  Pancakes are different in Europe.  They are not the thick fluffy pancakes that dot the breakfast tables and cafes across North America.  On the contrary, a European pancake is thin, cooked without a rising agent and is then rolled into a burrito shape with its delicious ingredients inside.  In Hungarian cuisine pancakes are filled with chocolate, jams, or a type of local cheese curds.  However, I have had similar pancakes in the Netherlands that were variety and could be filled with cheese and ham. Most people in Eastern Europe have never seen or tasted North American style pancakes covered in such a delicacy as maple syrup.  We had brought a small bottle of maple syrup with us which we shared with the students and taught them about where the syrup comes from and how it is harvested.  Stacey crushed up chocolate bars and showed the students how to make pancakes.  Chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup was enjoyed by all. 

This past spring Stacey also began to organize an adult English club out of our home for our neighbors.  Not just young students, but also many middle-aged people are interested in learning English.  On a trip to the pharmacy one day, Stacey was approached by a local pharmacist about starting an English club in the village that could meet on a weekly basis.  A dedicated group of neighbors came throughout the spring for evening English lessons from Stacey and it was a very good way to get in closer contact with our neighbors. 

Dordt College Visit

Corn dominates the landscape of much of Iowa.  This is undeniable.  I have heard many people complain about a drive across Iowa, grumbling about the miles of nothingness but corn and soybean fields, discontent and bored for each of the 306 miles it takes to drive across Iowa on Interstate 80. Lacking oceans and mountains many people view traveling through Iowa as an unfortunate necessity to endure as they pass by on their way to somewhere they think worthier of their time.  I have never understood this. I love the state of Iowa and its surreal beauty of rolling green hills and big skies.  I look forward each and every time to any opportunity to visit Iowa. I have many times in my life championed Iowa to fellow travelers as a place of great beauty and charm filled with interesting Midwestern small towns. Iowa is an agriculture paradise dotted with historical family farms and century old picturesque barns. In some ways, Iowa reminds me also of Ukraine.  Rising and falling hills of crops dominate the skyline of Ukraine much like they do Iowa. Located in Northwestern Iowa in the small hamlet of Sioux Center is my alumna matter Dordt College, a small Christian College of Reformed heritage named after the Cannons of Dort, a statement of Faith signed many years ago in the Dutch city of Dordrecht.

I was excited this past May to get a visit in Ukraine from two professors from Dordt College who were leading a group of students on a research project in Ukraine.  Professor Mark McCarthy and Professor Mark Christians took a group of students to study life, culture and social issues of Ukraine.  The research project was based on interviews done by a separate research group years ago.  The group was made up of three Dordt students plus eight other students from different universities from across the country. I was asked if I could help them organize a trip to Ukraine to see both the country and its people.  I enjoyed working them and getting to know the students taking part in this research program.  It was a pleasure to show them around western Ukraine and for us to have interaction with these students.

 

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