Advent Retreat in Budapest

Before I left for Budapest, I was thinking, “A retreat in a city? Aren’t retreats supposed to be peaceful and relaxing and secluded? How could a city of 2 million people provide an atmosphere for retreat?” Our Advent retreat was different than I was expecting, and even rejuvenating on many different levels, such as:

  • Spiritual: Every morning, we had worship and Bible study, and we concluded every day with evening prayer. I feel like I’ve been missing a communal worship experience in my life in Miskolc (church in Hungarian every Sunday is more confusing than it is spiritually moving). It was refreshing to worship and read the Word with other people who are having similar experiences as I am and who speak my native language. Our Bible studies focused mainly on Luke, the upcoming year’s Gospel, with each of us taking turns leading a Bible study (I had Luke 9:1-6).
  • Creative: One afternoon, we went to a paint-your-own ceramics studio. I selected a coffee mug, since I drink a lot of tea at home to warm me up after walking outside (my main mode of transportation). My mug says “you are the light of the world”, to remind me to be the light during these dark winter days.
  • Educational: We visited the Terror House, which is a museum dedicated to the terror and violence that Hungarians experienced during the 20th century. This building was the headquarters for the Arrow Cross party (Hungarian Nazi party) and the Communist political police. There were exhibits about the political leaders, elections, laws, trials, and the lives of ordinary people during this time period. I wish I knew more of the details of the history of 20th century Europe before visiting, there was so much information that continues to be relevant today.
  • Physical: Hungarians appreciate thermal hot springs, which can be found all over the country (including Miskolc’s cave baths), so we visited the Gellért baths to experience it first-hand. There were pools at various temperatures, steam rooms, dry saunas, cold baths, and an exercise pool. Afterwards, I felt like I had a good workout, and slept really well that night. If you ever find yourself in Hungary, visit a thermal bath for a dose of culture and healing minerals!

Overall, our time together in retreat was just what I needed. Within the bustling city of Budapest, it was a time of reflection, of growth, and of energy. I felt renewed as I returned to Miskolc and to my work with the schools and the church.

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Christmas market at the Basilica
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Christmas market at the Basilica
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The women of YAGM Central Europe at Hero’s Square
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Phiren Amenca Workshop: Volunteerism to Challenge Stereotypes and Antigypsyism

All of the YAGM attended a workshop hosted by Phiren Amenca titled, “Volunteerism to Challenge Stereotypes and Antigypsyism”. We gathered in Budapest for 4 days with three other Phiren Amenca volunteers, and three volunteers working in a Romanian village. Together, the 13 of us shared stories from our sites and our experiences with Roma communities. In my day-to-day life, I interact with few Roma people, because there are only a handful Roma students at the high school where I work, though there is a significant population of Roma in Miskolc and the surrounding area. Cultural educational activities, like this workshop, are naturally a part of the YAGM program in Central Europe, and it was helpful for me to learn more about Roma history and the current events. There is so much history about the Roma in Europe, and I’m only beginning to understand it.

On Saturday afternoon, we visited the Roma Holocaust Centre in Csepel (a suburb south of Budapest). It’s a newer museum, with detailed exhibits about Roma history, discrimination in the 20th century, and the violence they experienced during World War II. It’s difficult to know how many Romani died in the Holocaust, but estimates range from 200,000 to over 1,000,000. We all learned about the Jewish Holocaust in school, but the Roma were just a side note at the end of the chapter, along with LGBT and disabled people. For more information, the Wikipedia page is helpful.

On Sunday, we brainstormed ideas for a social media campaign to coincide with International Human Rights day (December 10). Much of the hateful, derogatory remarks aimed at Roma people happens online, so we wanted to start a project against hate speech. There’s an entire organization dedicated to this, the No Hate Speech Movement (their website and Facebook). We made individual signs, and took photos with them to post to Facebook and other social media. Mine are included in this post, check them out!

Our workshop concluded with a visit to Roma Holocaust memorial, right on the Danube River. It had been vandalized, so we gathered with Roma activists and community members to clean it up. It was incredibly moving to watch them scrub the graffiti, knowing how hard they have worked and will continue to work for Roma rights. Their experience is not mine to tell, but I can listen to their stories, and better educate myself about the history and the current issues. We concluded by holding hands, encircling the monument, and singing “We Shall Overcome”. Though the vandalism was terrible, it was fitting to end the workshop in this way. Despite all of the discrimination, hatred, and violence that we talked about all weekend, we stood in solidarity with our Roma brothers and sisters, accompanying them in their struggles and stories.

“Deep in my heart, I do believe

We shall overcome someday.”

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Cleaning the Roma Holocaust memorial from vandalism
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Roma Holocaust memorial
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Social media campaign against hate speech
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Social media campaign against hate speech

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Wind

So far, my year has been a range of ups and downs, as would be expected with serving abroad for a year. Some days are great: I’ll have a funny moment with a student or a colleague, choir practice will move me to tears, or someone will speak to me in Hungarian and I’ll actually understand them. I cherish these sacred moments. They keep me going when my days are not so great.

I had a rough day a couple of weeks ago; I can’t exactly remember what was specifically frustrating me, but I remember feeling really down. It felt like God was very far away, and that She was not ‘daily walking close to me’ (to quote a favorite hymn). As I walked to and from my Hungarian lesson that morning, the wind was blowing from all directions, gusting so strongly that you had to turn up your collar and lean into the wind. Growing up in the Columbia River Gorge and living on the prairie in Minnesota taught me a lot about the wind. A soft breeze can bring relief on a hot day, but the wind can be terribly destructive in a storm with snow, rain, ice, and thunder. The wind, with all its powers, reminds me of home.

Wind also reminds me of the Holy Spirit, how She moves and breathes and works in our lives. Walking around Miskolc on that windy day, it was a blatant reminder that God is at work here. It is such a simple promise that God is with us at all times and in all places, but I had been caught up in my day-to-day work and activities that I had forgotten this. These gusts of wind caught me off guard, shaking me from my restlessness, reminding me twofold of the people I love back at home and of God’s promises.

Thanksgiving in Budapest, November 25-27

Our short Thanksgiving holiday in Budapest began with a meeting at the Bishop’s office. We met with Bishop Tamás Fabiny and a few other leaders of the Lutheran Church in Hungary to learn more about the Church’s history, their current ministries, and to get to know each of us. The Lutheran Church in Hungary published the following article about our meeting, complete with pictures! http://deakter.lutheran.hu/amerikai-onkentesek-fabiny-talalkozas

Following the meeting, we had worship, Holden Evening Prayer, in the chapel, and Bishop Fabiny joined us. After 2 months of singing unfamiliar hymns and saying unfamiliar prayers, it was uplifting to follow the beautiful Evening Prayer liturgy that has been a staple in my worship life.

On Thursday, we had some free time to explore the city in the morning, and a group of us visited the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. For dinner, we met up with Daryl and Marie Bratz, who are friends of my grandparents from their church. Small world, right? Daryl and Marie spend most of the year in the States, but live in Budapest for a few weeks out of the year. They suggested a restaurant that serves a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, which was nagyon finom (very fine). We had turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, gravy, stuffing, and even pumpkin pie with ice cream for dessert. Just a few tastes of home.

Though our time together was short (about 48 hours), it was delightful to get together with the other YAGM’s and to share some of our stories with each other. We’ll all be back in Budapest this upcoming week for a workshop with Phiren Amenca, followed by our own Advent retreat.