Saturday, January 25, 2014

Our friend Jonas...

I'd like to share a story I heard over dinner tonight.  This is a true story by Jonas - John's Alpha "boss".

Jonas is only slightly older than I am and he was raised under the Communist regime here in Hungary. This greatly affected his parents outlook on church and religion and he was raised as an atheist.  It wasn't until he was an adult that he even found out that he had indeed been baptized as a child.  His parents had never told him.  It was simply something they did in case he ever needed a "certificate".

It was when Jonas became a father himself and felt the need to raise his children with some sort of moral code, that Jonas looked back towards the church.  He was 38 years old at the time.  His local priest refused to baptize his child due to their lack of involvement with the community parish.  Jonas didn't know what to do.  He was curious and had questions but didn't know where to turn.

Jonas "happened" upon an Alpha for Hungary website.  He saw many of the topics we are familiar with listed on that site.  "Who is Jesus?"  "Why did Jesus Die?"  He was thrilled to find a site like this because he honestly had NO IDEA.  He had rarely if at all heard of Jesus and certainly did not know why he had died.  In Hungary, people are celebrated for their lives, not their deaths, so it was highly perplexing to him at first.  He tracked down a local Alpha course, attended, had an encounter with the Living God and his life was changed!  At age 38!

Having grown up in the Bible Belt it is hard to get my head around the idea that anyone really wouldn't know about Jesus.  But here Jonas is, living on the opposite side of the world from me, without ANY clue.  The Alpha course changed his life, his families lives and will forever change his family tree. His response was to start devoting one working day a week towards volunteering for Alpha Hungary.  He works the other four days of the week and says God has honored and blessed his commitment and that his four days of business are more productive and profitable than the five ever were.

So, since his transformation, Jonas devotes himself to helping tell churches here in Hungary about Alpha and how they can offer the program in their communities.  Hearing his testimony made me realize the profound impact Alpha is having on this country.  The people here are so hungry for God's word and love.  Riverside should indeed be very proud to have partnered with them to help train pastors and leaders so others like Jonas can find answers to the questions they so desperately seek.

Blessings be to an amazing God who works such wonders!!!  Cathi

John & Jonas - Alpha brothers

Friday, January 24, 2014

Back to Work

Today was the start of round 2 of GAT (Global Alpha Training).  The day started as most days have, which is to say that we woke very early per Tamara's orders, errrr...request and met for breakfast in the hotel cafe. Speaking honestly, I've grown tired of scrambled eggs, sausage links, cold bread, and crappy kave (coffee). It's from one of those Douwe Egbert's all-in-one dispensers.  You know, it's like the one at the Valero corner store where you can get a coffee, a cappuccino, and hot chocolate all from the same machine.  I know, I know....first world problems. God forgive me.

Next, we're off to John's office, which is about a mile away, I guess, but it's an easy walk.  When we've been in Budapest we primarily walk everywhere, as we're staying in an urban area that has everything you need within a block or two.  I've never been to New York, or Chicago, but I'm guessing it's very similar.  I also suppose that contributes to the reason most of the locals are thin, because these Hungarian's know how to eat, and it ain't lo-cal!

At the office we get to work on administrative preparation such as revising our talks, making sure all the power points are in order, that the handouts are printed, stapled and stuffed, etc.  Once that is done, we load up the car and head to our destination which is a local church just outside of Budapest in a village, or what we call a suburb.

Then, we GAT.  It was a good day.  We did have some technical issues on one of the talks, but John saved the day and delivered a very key piece of the training without slides or audio, and with no preparation.  He just grabbed a script and went for it, and delivered it like he'd done it hundreds of times.  Nice save, John!

Just like everywhere else we've gone thus far in our travels, the Hungarian people who we are working with and who are hosting and helping, couldn't be more generous and humble.  Additionally, it has been great to see the eagerness to learn, as well as their passion for Jesus.  From the worship to the prayer to the conversations at dinner, I've felt a true connectedness despite the language barrier. I know they are Christians by their love.

My prayer is that the people we meet and encounter during our short time here feel the same and know that we are Christians by the love we've shown, not from the information we've delivered.

Jóéjt és Isten áldja,

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blessed in Budapest

Today was another full but fun day in the city. We started the day at the ALPHA office checking over our presentations and getting everything ready for our 2nd GAT tomorrow. We are excited and expect about 30 people to come.

Then we went out to lunch... I asked John if we could try langos, as a pastor friend of mine had suggested. Somehow, that turned into a tour of the market trying new foods. We started at the langos stand, then moved to the meat market (my personal nightmare) and then to a Cafe. Langos is so good. It's like fry bread and you top it with anything you want. The meat market was another story. John decided we all needed to try blood sausage. Thank goodness they were all out so we just did some sort of liver sausage. It wasn't too bad but not sure I will eat it again. We finished our meal with Hot Chocolate with chili. Definitely the best hot chocolate I have every had.

After lunch, we finished our day serving with the Salvation Army. We were able to help feed 500 hot meals. It was truly humbling to know how cold we were outside while serving and imagining that many of the people would be out sleeping in the cold tonight. The team that we served with was amazing. They had the unique gift of showing God's love and kindness while maintaining order so everyone could be served. I am amazed that a kitchen staff of 4 can serve nearly 4,000 meals a week and do it with such grace. We were also given a tour of the men's halfway house. It was newly remodeled and beautiful.

Today I was again reminded that we serve a big God who is at work in every corner of the world. We are truly blessed to be called His children.

- Tamara

The Spiritual Life Retreat and More

Hello! We have not posted in a few days, but a lot has happened.
We have taken a 4 day break from the Alpha teaching, so we have been seeing as much as we can of Hungary.
On the first day we went to the castle district where John showed us where he and Zsofi got married. He also scared me, Genesis, half to death by pretending to push me off the castle top. He's such a jo joke-ster and brightens everyone's day with his humor. You never really know when he's joking until he explains it to you;)
The next day we spent at John's office where we started our spiritual life retreat. Here we got to meet a wonderful man named Chad and got to spend more time with Zsofi. They were so kind to serve us with an intense 2 day study!
The first night of the study we ran to McDonalds where we got some "good old" American food. Then, we went over to the Wilson's' house to watch the kids while John and Zsofi got a much needed date night. The kids were so fun and their bedtime was too!
They all successfully brushed their teeth and squished into bed. John had already pulled out a book for bed time. I picked it up and looked at it. It looked pretty good, I mean, it had a horsey on it!
They had told us in advance that the girls really didn't like scary stuff.
So, I start reading.
And revising.
For John had given them a book about a nurse that rode a horse through the mountains. But it also told of each graphic injury that the people in the village suffered from.
By now, I was reading and then telling a similar story but not at all as horrible as the one I was reading.
They had many questions and were thoroughly confused by the time John and Zsofi came back home:)
John had no idea what the book actually was.
The 2nd day of the study was just as good, and Karl could come to the lunch!
Karl was a bit sick for a few days and had to leave today to make it to his sons graduation. :'(
We will miss him so much but we are so happy for his son, Justin.
Also, we went to the thermal baths last night.
It was quite and adventure because I had only one year to experience locker rooms:) I succeeded to get most of my clothing wet and then proceeded to walk out in the cold:)
It was very very fun to go with our team and experience what Hungary is very known for.
Over all, we had a great time and we are going to try to keep everyone posted!
We are also talking about getting Hungarian Mexican food...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hospitality, Unity, and Dinner with Jesus

Since Cathi mentioned that you would  hear more about our visit to the Wilson's home, I'll start there.   As has been mentioned, the Hungarian hospitality is abundant and Zsofi and her children did not disappoint.

As we arrived to the flat we were welcomed by Zsofi, and her 4 beautiful kiddos.  Esti (Esther), Eliza (Elizabeth), Jonathan, and baby Augustine.  Zsofi had prepared a delicious "Snow White" cake, cookies, and tea, and little Jonathan had set up a "store" out of a bench and proceeded to sell us plastic fruits and vegetables for pretend money.  After a short discussion on the successes, blessings, and takeaways from the Alpha training, Ryan, Genesis, Esti, Eliza, and Jonathan played tag throughout the house.  It was really great to see and hear the kids laughing and playing.

Today, we gathered together as a team and met at John's office to engage in a sort of spiritual retreat.  We engaged in several exercises that challenged us and taught us ways to begin doing things such as having a daily examination and reflection to journaling to creating a time of solitude and silence all in an effort to genuinely seek God's voice and direction in our distracted and busy lives.

As I went through the exercises today, thinking about the weekend in Debrecen, one thing that kept coming was a realization of unity in Christ.  God showed me that despite borders, cultures, languages, denomination, financial status, or age, that the desire to know Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit has no limits. Hallelujah! 

Tonight, the ladies and Ryan went back over to the Wilson's to babysit the kids in order to give John and Zsofi a date night.  Karl had not been feeling well, so he and I decided to stay back, grab some dinner and call it an early night (it's now 11:45 pm much for early). 

 Anyhow, we tried a little spot next door and it was closed, so the front desk clerk at our hotel suggested we try another place around the corner.  I won't go into too much detail other than to tell you that we were way underdressed as this was a classy joint. However, the menu prices were very affordable, so we stayed.  Apparently in Hungary, you can get 5 star cuisine and service for 2 star prices.  For those of you who know how much of a "foodie" I am, you'll know that Iwas a happy camper.

  What I really want to share is how God watches over us and if we listen and pay attention, His love is overwhelming and tangible and real.  In the restaurant, there was a duet of a violin and piano.  They were great.  They played everything from Hungarian folk to American rag-time.  At one point, the music was so beautiful, Karl said, "this sounds almost like worship music".  During the dinner, our waiter asked us what we were doing in Hungary.  We explained as best we could that we were here to evangelize.  He told us he was with the Reform church, and that was that. 

 Well, during dessert (strawberry crepes : ) ), we noticed that the piano player was playing "Our God is Greater". He actually played another recognizable worship tune before that, but Karl and I were so blown away and almost weeping (okay weeping) that we can't even remember what the first one was now.  So you're probably thinking what we were thinking....the waiter tipped off the piano player to who we were and why we were here.  As I mentioned, the service was impeccable, so this was not out of the question.  So, we asked him.  "Did you tell the piano player to play worship music for us?"  His face and reaction was of genuine confusion.  "No", he said.   It was at that moment, we both know that were basking in the love and glory of our Great Comforter. Our God truly is Greater.  It was an experience that I'll never forget.  Thank you Lord Jesus!  Amen.

The Wilson's in Pictures

Shalom & Shema in Hungary

We are flying' fast and furious over here in Hungary.  Tamara keeps us on our toes with a schedule, while John, the amazing host that he is, keeps us fed and happy : )  Hungarians know how to enjoy themselves.  Long, deep conversation.  Plenty of coffee, tea and desserts at every turn.

We left the US last Wednesday and things did not slow down at all until Sunday night.  As Tamara said, the first GAT training was interesting and amazing - fascinating how God connects you with people you can't actually talk to.  

My host for Saturday evening was Gerda.  A single Hungarian woman who is transitioning from professional world to the life of being a missionary.  She was amazingly hospitable - even giving up her room for me to sleep in.  You take your shoes off when you enter another person's home.  She shared her slippers with me so that my feet wouldn't be cold : )  She spoke English well so we had a fun evening talking, just the two of us.

Sunday was a hoot!  Blake and I attended the Shalom Pentacostal Church of Debrecen.  They were the most warm and welcoming community.  Since there had been a last minute invitation Saturday to come share more with them, we really had no idea what we were getting into.  The church meets in a regular building they have converted into a church - a worship area with a crib and prayer room in the back.  A floor beneath the worship is a great room for meals/book stahls, etc.  

They had a rockin' worship team.  Blake and I had to laugh and just be at peace - as they started to worship we immediately felt like we were at home with Riverside.  "Where the Spirit of the Lord is - there is freedom" was the scripture that immediately came to mind.  God's spirit was in that place so we felt free to worship and be with them.  Our English translator sat beside us filling us in as they proceeded to share personal testimonies, have offering and pray.  It is humbling and overwhelming to hear a familiar song sung in a different language.  You could feel unity and commonality as we worshipped together.  There worship time was a total of 3 hours but it flew by!  Apparently they also post their services online so maybe we will be will be able to track down a clip.  We taught them the Shema - ya'll!  Hebrew, English & Hungarian - what fun!

That afternoon we had a good-bye luncheon with our GAT Debrecen team and host families.  It felt quite sentimental to leave a few of them we had connected with.  I guess you form a quick bond with people when you are serving with a common heart and purpose.  Many of the younger students and adults could speak some English.  They are hungry to share the gospel with their people and were so appreciative for our coming to help.  Precious people.  Amazing hearts.

That evening we drove back to Budapest and to our hotel where we will be staying the rest of the trip.  

Monday was a beautiful, break kind of day where we walked all over Budapest hearing history lessons from John and enjoying the amazing scenery.  Their Parliament building is quite amazing and sits along the Duna River.  Their is also a Castle District and the most beautiful palace.  We are walking around this ancient city, jaws dropped, at the views Hungarians get to enjoy every day.  You walk into history. 

Highlight of the day was visiting John, Zsofi and the kids in their flat.  Someone will write more about that soon.  Tons of picts to post of kiddos too!  We finished our day with coffee & dessert at the New York Cafe - a coffee house that looks more like a palace.  It first opened in 1854.  Can you imagine all the conversations that have taken place in that space?!

Our warmest love to everyone back home.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Little Bit this and a little bit of GAT

For the last year and a half John and I have discussed having a team from Riverside serving along side their family here in Hungary. Sometimes when you plan and think about something for such a long time there is a fear that the reality won't meet with expectation.....A little side bar here John had us share our expectations on day one and a couple of us (me included) stated that we try not to have expectations.. Well that is hard.. So the truth is I had expectations. I wanted to meet people who love Jesus. I wanted to see God at work in a transformational way. I wanted to have a united team. I wanted to not gag when trying some new food. I wanted to not pass out while giving my talk. I wanted to get to know the Wilson family and become proficient in the art of understanding when John is joking or not. Well far my expectations have been exceeded. Well except I still don't know when John is joking. I think he is actually going to give me a heart attack at some point on this trip.. :) Day 1 of Alpha training went very well. The worship was beyond words. They sang 10,000 reasons and several other songs we know in English. I believe all of us felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a powerful way. Today we completed the full day of ALPHA training. We were able to pray over some of the people attending. What a huge blessing that was for me. We had several technical issues but thank goodness we serve a God who is not dependent on PREZI. In the end it looks like there will be several new ALPHA groups in the Debrecen area soon.  

Tonight Genesis and I are staying with a wonderful American missionary family. They work with Good Sports. They work with several orphanages, provide camps and lead English learning classes. They have 3 children all age 13. They were so outgoing and sweet to us. Gen now has lifetime friends. I will have to post a pic of this family tomorrow. 

Tomorrow we go to 2 different churches.  John, Karl, Genesis, Ryan and I will be going to the Calvary Chapel Church. I Will share a bit about ALPHA in the main church service. Then Karl and the kids will lead the 11-14 year old class. Meanwhile,  Blake and Cathi will be heading to the local Pentecostal church. The church leaders requested that Cathi come and share with them after hearing her speak today.  So um... Scott I think you will soon be sharing the pulpit with your sweet wife. She has a gift! Well, she is a gift. 

Feeling so blessed by all that God has allowed us to be a part of this trip...


Too much sugar

These are our friends, Balazs, Bernadett, and Marko. We are staying with them tonight in Debercean. Tonight we finished up the alpha course here, it was very profound and powerful. Marko made us a killer celebratory lasagna. And Balazs, thought it weird that I put a lot of sugar in my tea. They also call diet coke "light" coke...crazy. It's really cool here in Hungary, the people are stellar. It's interesting to see the cultural differences. Another instance is that our cars are ludicrously too large. These guys are really fun and it's opened my eyes to how there are Christians all over the world. How nice of them to take us into their home and make us dinner! Overall we are having tons of fun! Miss all back home. God bless. -Ryan T. Heare

Friday, January 17, 2014

First Day of Alpha Training in Hungary

Hello! My name is Genesis and I am on the Hungary trip.
So, to get you caught up, here I go!
We have travelled (by car) from Budapest, to Debrecen. Today we also did the first day of Alpha training:)
It ran very smoothly with only one mishap (that, thank goodness, did not disturb the whole turnout)
Haha! So, I, am prone to having things slightly go wrong:)
To start off, Hungary has very interesting lock systems that I don't quite understand. And yes, the bathroom had locks. And yes I managed to lock myself in.
Mind you, I don't know Hungarian, and all the people but the translaters and us speak English.
Hey, I may be a bit picky about my languages, but I'm stuck in a bathroom stall that is kind of like a small room, meaning that the doors and walls touch the floor...
At that point I felt very very stuck.
I'm in a foriegn country, with a foreign language, with foriegn locks.
But guess what. I looked up. No ceiling that touches the tops of two of my walls.
Great. Am I really going to have to climb on the toilet and hoist myself over the top and try to explain that I couldn't unlock it?
At that pivotal moment, someone walks in (before this I'm all alone in the bathroom)
I'm like, great, how am I going to explain to someone who, most likely, does not know English, that I'm "gracefully" climbing over the wall.
I try to put the key back into the lock and see if I can jiggle my way out.
Nope! Again. But, this time I hear a voice. An American, English speaking voice.
It's Cathi to save my day. Yet, she has no idea how to use these locks (I have the key on the inside)
My mom comes in, to help me in my rescue. And she decides that I will pass over the key.
Then the sweet Orsi (our female translater) comes in and proceeds to nicely unlock the door in one swift motion.
After the bathroom experience I had truly gotten my humble on:)
The training went so well! It was so interesting and amazing to be a part of their worship.
We sang (in Hungarian, but our team sing the words in English) 10,000 Reasons, and I Can Only Imagine.
It was so great to hear both Hungarian voices and language mix with our English.
It was truly beautiful.

To wrap up my post I just wanted to say that we are blessed to be here and to be a part of something amazing.
Have a wonderful (is it evening there?)
Ha! Have a wonderful day and night:)
-With love,
The Hungary team + Gen
(I mean I'm on the team just speaking for us all.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hungary, Day 1!

This day has been absolutely bonkers. 
After a long and rather dull flight from SA to Detroit, we landed safely in the snowy city. It was at this point that Mrs. Tamara announced that our flight for Amsterdam was boarding! So after racing through weird colorful and musical tunnles...(And beating Mr. Taylor in a foot race) we arrived at our gate. When me and mom boarded the flight we saw that we were seated between a larger man and his 16 month old daughter, while on the other side was an elderly lady that was already asleep. Great.... Food was terrible but hey, i didnt care.  I didnt sleep on the international flight at all. I mean who can sleep when you can watch bad movies from your early childhood for seven hours? Well after a couple of hours God helped me realize just how great my mom was, she single handedly turned a screaming and crying infant into a smiling, then snoozing infant. So the flight ended and we hopped off. We then walked (quite briskly) to the next terminal for our final flight to Budapest. And this is where the story gets funny, see as I daid before I hadn't slept on the international flight so I was wiped. So as soon and i mean right when we were taxiing (An yes thats a word Gen told me so) anyway right when we were taxiing out of the boarding area, I crashed, HARD! So you can imagine my confusion when I woke up, knowing I had at least slept 30 minutes. And we were still taxiing around in the plane, and outside looked exactly like it had when i went to sleep, and i couldn't  find anybody. But then (to my great relief) the stewardess said "Welcome to Budapest." Agh, thats probably a good thing i thought. But it still took my Mom and the rest of the team a super long time to get off the plane. Baggage went fine and we popped out of the terminal, only to be greeted by the one the only.... JOHN "I GOT TALLER" WILSON! And after many happy reunions i got enlisted to go with Mr. Wilson to go get the alpha books, that took a long time and we had many meaningful conversations about Hungary, our mission, and what we would do if we were pulled over....later we met up with everybody and had a nice 2 1/2 hour lunch. We then returned to the hotel and ran over some final things. So now we are sitting in johns office, eating mushroom and corn pizza and hoping to be done by midnight! God Bless! 
-Ryan T. Heare

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Todays the day!

Today. Thats the first thing i thought when i woke up this morning. What does God have in store for us on the day me and the team leave for Hungary. Its been a totally awesome adventure leading up to now, so i cant help but wonder how this is gonna go down. All i know is that we are gonna have tons of fun and serve the Lord!! -Ryan Heare

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sunday's Send-off

I don't know about the rest of the crew, but after yesterday's morning prayer and send-off - I am ready to go!!!  I can't describe the overwhelming sense of love and warmth I experienced standing in the middle of that picture.  I physically tried to drink it in so that I can remember that feeling when I might be feeling a little less secure over the course of the next few weeks.  What an amazing send-off prayer - thank you Riverside!

So our team is comprised of our fearless leader - Tamara Ramirez, her daughter Genesis, Karl Rivas, Blake Taylor, Ryan Heare and myself.  We leave Wednesday afternoon.  I'm writing this on Monday afternoon - a day that has felt like someone ever so slowly ripping off a band-aid.  Rip it off already - let's go!!!  John and Zsofi - we are headed your way!!! - Cathi