Friday, December 18, 2015

Hungary- The Journey Home

Today we are homeward bound.

I'm finding it incredibly hard to put into words what has happened this week. But if I could describe it in one word it would be, incredible. Getting to know and hear the stories from many of the refugees we met was powerful and such a privilege. Not everyone gets to have a firsthand look into what is happening in Europe, so we feel honored that we were able to. We're in route to Texas, and there are so many emotions. As hard as it is to leave, I know that the Lord has this and I'm grateful that these friends get to be a part of our story. 

In the next couple days, as we begin to process, I hope we will be able to tell their stories well. Because they are good, important, and help shed light into what life is really like for a refugee. These are people, with families, jobs, and dreams. Sometimes in the midst of the media, it's easy to forget that. It's easy to disconnect from it all, or to make our own opinions about the situation. But when you have sat across a table from someone who has fled for their life, you can't help but feel compassion and deep love for them. Their story becomes a part of you in ways you didn't even know possible. And you find yourself constantly asking the Lord, "how do we do embrace and love these people well?". 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hungary Day 8

Today was the final full day of us going to the camp. In the beginning, we weren't too sure how everything would go down or if anybody would even show up. If it was just about the number of people that showed up everyday, then it would've been considered a success. If it was just about what English we were able to teach them, then it would've been considered a success. If it was just about how much we laughed and played bingo, ( they really like Bingo!)(I'm pretty good at calling out the numbers!) then it was a total success. But it was all of those things and more. It was learning where they are from, who they left behind and why. It was about taking the time to show them you cared and wanted to hear their story. It's kind of a bummer writing this right now. It's a little after midnight and I know tomorrow is going to bring a lot of pictures a lot of laughing but a lot of tears and sad goodbyes. I feel that we have poured a good foundation and just pray that the next group can continue where we left off. Bingo will never be the same!


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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hungary Day 7

   Today our worship time, instead of taking place in our room like it normally does, took place at the refugee detention center. Our team showed up 15 minutes early and sang to Jesus as the men started to trickle in. They sat beside us while we worshipped and while most probably didn't understand ¾ of what we were saying, seemed to enjoy the time together. 

   These are my favorite moments. The moments when we aren't divided by being either a teacher or a student, a boy or a girl, American or Iraqi. We are all just people who enjoy each other's company. 

   Today was a turning point for the team; we started to realize that we only had one and a half more days with our new friends. We were faced with the question, "How do we leave these people who need so much?" The men and women that we have met over the last week have become so much more than students in our makeshift English class. They have become friends to teach you how to play cricket even though you just know they are making fun of you in a language you can't understand, they have become brothers and sisters who have pasts so heavy that your heart breaks, they have become people you love. 

   Coming up on our last few days in Hungary, I would just ask for prayers that the people of the camp will realize that we are sharing the news of a God who not only accepts but pursues them in a world that treats them like less than nothing, and that team will be able to navigate how to say goodbye to people that we care so deeply about. 



The refugees telling us the stories about their travels while we teach about transportation. 

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Hungary Day 5

Now being Monday everyone found himself or herself a little fatigued.  We had spent our day off yesterday at a surprisingly great church service—well at least the worship we found ourselves moved by our precious Lord.  The rest of the service was trying to guess at what was being said in Hungarian via body language and choppy translation.  This followed a full day of hurried site seeing and rushed Turkish Bath experience.  In all honesty the Baths were quite nice but the crowd jacked with my ability to relax--#American-in-Europe #Like to spread it out.  We left the baths and made our way to grab some great food and a little shopping before finding a bed about midnight.


The late night made today a slow start.  Mentally I felt drained.  Emotionally I felt flat.  We have been operating on not necessarily little sleep but adjusting has been difficult.  The first two days in the camp were so much more than routine English class.  Teaching the advanced class there has been an opportunity to dig in a little bit and get to hear the stories of these men.  I found myself blind-sided by how misinformed I had been on their situation as well as how emotionally affected I have been by their stories.  Most of the men in the camp I have talked to are stories of being beaten and banished from the cities they call home, their lives have been threatened, their families lives have been threatened if they didn't leave, home blown up from military conflict; all because these men aided coalition forces.  With new leadership coming to power and rising anti western sentiment from the new political party these men's lives are in danger for their previous willingness to serve as English translators or Coalition led/taught security forces.  These men then seek out help from remaining coalition forces in their country only to be turned away left with the only option to flee so they may save themselves or hope against hope their family will really be spared.  Almost all of the middle-eastern men that we have talked to once they fled their country, surviving very difficult circumstances finally make it to a western nation where in stead of a welcome they are met by people who do not want them.  As such they are processed and shipped to a half way camp for deportees in Hungary: Enter Biscke.  


The Biscke camp is a far cry better than the Hungarian closed camps.  A several month stay at one of the "closed" camps is a popular story here as well.  The camps are called a closed camp is a reference to the inability to leave the camp.  The closed camps are essentially prisons.  As one Iraqi put it "the closed camp and Saddam, are same."  


So, back to today: Mentally and emotionally drained.  Having worship during devotions has been awesome.  Today was special as we all walked away renewed with new energy and encouraged hearts.  Stories have been hard to hear.  Scars can be seen on their face from being hit by the butt of gun and bomb shrapnel.  All of them have scares that are not visible but run much deeper.  It has been such a privilege getting to know them.  I have been blessed by laughing with them and have been moved to tears by hearing these stories.  Our teaching English consists of elementary school worksheets but the simple explanation of what the word humiliation means can draw out stories from their recent past. 


My biggest challenge I am wrestling with now is "Now What?"  How do we maximize our remaining days with the people after such a great foundation has been built?  Tamara reminded me that we are not doing anything.  We are here being with them and our blessed Lord is in charge of the doing.  We need continued prayer for these people.  In our Savior Jesus there is an identity not defined by a "status," or a hard experience. 


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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hungary Day 5

Until a few minutes ago, I wasn't sure which direction to take this post. Should I go the playful route and reveal the stuff I learned about the team – something they most certainly deserve, given how hard a time they are giving me! – like I once (accidentally) revealed Scott's love for an unnamed comedic duo? Or should I go the serious route and report on how God is using this team in the lives of the asylum-seekers?

Reading through the previous entries, however, I was struck by the profound journey people are on. We've been hanging out for days, with group sharing/therapy sessions every couple hours (significant passive-aggressive tendencies on the team!), and yet even still, I had no clue about these inner-journeys people were on. Perhaps I'm just the stereotypically oblivious guy, but either way, this blog has served it's function – it's given voice to the deeper thoughts, emotions and experiences people on the team are wrestling with. And like a modern-day Canterbury Tales, others get to witness how God is working in our hearts on this pilgrimage to Bicske.

As the "host" of the team, one of the joys is being able to help them overcome culture-shock, á la the "What About Bob?!" fashioned "Death therapy" strategy of conquering the fear of the unknown. :) But in truth, however much I enjoy gently nudging people out of their comfort zones, perhaps my deepest joy is watching God continue to (re)shape and transform people's hearts as they serve here in Hungary. What a privilege to be part of!

The greatest sorrow, however, will be having to say goodbye in a couple days.


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Monday, December 14, 2015

Hungary Day 4

Biske (beech-ka) is a small town about forty minutes west of Budapest. Somewhere on its eastern edge, just past the grocery store, there is a refugee detention center. 


The refugee camp resembles something that one might expect to be left over from the communist era, with its mono-colored cement buildings and palpable dreariness. But I don't think it's old enough to be a remnant soviet camp. Still there is a very unmistakable heaviness that hangs over the camp like a mist.


In the camp, we've met refugees from all over the world. The first day I spoke with women from Kosovo, the Congo, Cuba, and Turkey. The second day I met men from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. 


Many of the female refugees do not speak any English at all. Most of them do not even leave their rooms, for many reasons I suppose. Because of this, it has been somewhat difficult for the females on our team to teach English lessons. We'd planned to keep everything gender specific. But this afternoon, when no women arrived for English lessons, I joined the men's Advanced English group. 


We spent about an hour teaching grammar and then we transitioned into a conversation time. For this, our group of ten relocated to a quieter room down the hall where we gathered our chairs in a circle. John, our ministry contact, opened the conversation by asking, "What are your dreams for yourself in five, ten years from now?"


At first, there was obvious hesitation in the room. But Abu* began to share right away. 


Abu is from Iraq and worked for the coalition forces during the war. Because of this, he was attacked and harassed. Then, his family's home was bombed. He was eventually forced to flee. But Abu deeply desires to return to his country. He misses it sorely and noted that it is a beautiful place with beautiful people. But, he said, "I feel like I make pain for my family because I worked for the coalition forces. I cannot return maybe." He stopped his story as pain moved noticeably across his cheeks and mouth. 


Marik shared next. He was attacked by Shi'a militia in Iraq. His face bears the scars left from the butt of a rifle. Marik also desires to return to his home, but understands that may never happen. In five or ten years, he hopes to have started over again somewhere, possibly in the USA. Marik has two daughters, nine and six, who are still in Iraq. Their names mean "eclipse" and "inspire". 


The stories continued in this cadence. The Afghani guys shared about the fighting in their country and their desire to be away from the violence. One wants to study graphic design, but says to do such a thing in Afghanistan would literally get him killed. "There are no opportunities. Everyone is illiterate. Until I was twenty-one there has been fighting. We were born with guns and rockets. All the people know only how to fight. I had to leave." 


The other Afghani shared that a smuggler stole $9,000 Euros from him and he ended up in Greece. He was granted asylum and made it to Germany, but was soon deported to Hungary where he spent eighteen months in the Hungarian closed camp, which is notorious for its brutality. His face held the outward signs of unfathomable suffering: dark circles under his eyes, sunken cheeks, a weak smile. He is twenty-one.


These are the stories of just four of the men in the circle, but all their hopes and dreams were the same: I want to start over, I want to be with my family, I want opportunities like education and safety and freedom.


One of the men meekly said, "My dream is simple. I would like to live in a quiet village and raise goats with my wife."


When I thought of my own dreams and goals for the next five to ten years of my life, I felt nauseous. It felt entirely unfair. Once again I found myself confronting feelings of anger and frustration at my lot in life. Why did God in his sovereignty give me the birthright of freedom and others a birthright of sorrow? I can think of no comforting answer.

But, as I consider these stories, I will choose to respond in prayer. 


The refugee/migration crisis that is unfolding right now is complex and enormous in many ways. Its causes and consequences are complicated and constantly evolving and I do not suggest it is swiftly or simply resolved. But, I do share these stories with you in hopes that you will consider these people in the midst of it. Consider the scars on their faces and the shrapnel that sprayed their houses. Consider the families they were forced to leave and the journeys they endured as they fled. Consider their fear, their pain, their heaviness.


I invite you to consider these stories and then join me as I prayerfully seek to understand how to respond. Where do I go from here? How does this affect me? What will I choose to do now?  


*all names have been changed

Emily Peterson
Youth & Missions Director
Hope Arise United Methodist Church

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Hungary Day 3

"When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: 'Do not think that because you are in the Kings house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your fathers family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" Esther 4:12-14

For such a time as this.

This has been the phrase that has stirred in my heart all day long. Today was our first day at the camp, and somewhere mid day we walked out to find 3 large trucks loaded down with buildings like this. 

One of the camps in Hungary is closing down, so sometime in the upcoming weeks or possibly days this camp will be flooded with up to 500 more refugees. These will be their living quarters. And I can't help but think, what if this is why we are here? What if we get to be the people on the ground while the refugees are transferred from one camp to this one. What if this is our "for such a time as this" moment. I know it won't come without pain or hardship, but it will come with a deeper understanding of the heart of God and what it means to be set at the crossroad. 

Tonight we moved into Bicske for the next couple days while we work at the refugee camp. We are staying at the sweetest local church that stands at the crossroad. We were able to meet the Pastor and his wife and hear their heart for this place. We know that Gods timing and placement is everything, and it is no mistake that we are being hosted by here. We are grateful for those who stand at the crossroad and welcome those trying to find their way.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hungary Day 2

Budapest is beautiful. 

Of all the places I have traveled, this is easily one of the most breathtaking cities I have ever had the privilege of stepping into. The architecture and history in this city blows me away, and walking down the streets here feel so surreal. I keep thinking to myself "this is where we get to be? This is where you have asked me to serve God?" Im definitely used to sweating it out and roughing it on all my mission trips, so this one definitely feels like I'm being a little spoiled. Its hard to fathom that in a city so beautiful there could be so much pain. 

But I know it's there. I know it exists. And my heart anxiously awaits the moment I will be face to face with it. I just keep praying the Lord gives my heart the strength to handle it. 

Tomorrow we head to Biscke. The city where the refugee camp is. And I have so many emotions and thoughts stirring around. I feel like the Lord is sweetly doing what He always does….preparing my heart for His people. I would be lying if I said it wasn't overwhelming, because it most definitely is at times. I've been on the verge of tears ALL DAY long just thinking about the faces we will see. The stories we will hear. And the love we will feel for those we encounter this week. I know the Lord is inviting me and my team into a story greater than we could ever imagine, and I'm choosing to boldly step in. Though I feel terrified to. Because I know the Lord is breaking my heart for what breaks His, and I know this is only just the beginning. 

Emily led us in worship this morning, followed by John with a devotion. 

And there are two things that I have been chewing on all day. The first is one of the songs we sang, because music is a big way that the Lord speaks specifically to my heart. We sang "Nothing I hold Onto by United Pursuit" and there's this part that says"

I Give it all to you God, 
Trusting that you'll make something beautiful out of me

Literally I feel like Im constantly telling the Lord this. Mainly because I constantly feel unqualified for the things He has called me to. I feel like the biggest thing Him and I joke about are the things He asks me to do, because 90% of them I have ZERO experience in. (Like being in youth ministry, or becoming our church's Mission Coordinator, or leading people in running) And I find myself constantly saying, "Really God? That?". And the thing that I have learned is that obedience is a beautiful thing. When our hearts are fully surrendered to the Lord and His will, He may ask us to step into things that the world thinks we have no business doing. But He doesn't always call the qualified, He qualifies the called. And through our lack of qualification, He gets to receive the full glory. 

We're teaching English in the camp this week, and Im sure I'm not alone when I say I have NO business teaching English. In fact, half the time Im not even sure I'm speaking English. ha. But I know that the Lord is going to use everything for His glory. Even if its a complete mess (which I'm sure it wont be) He will still accomplish what He wants to through us. Because our hearts are surrendered to His will, and above all else we want these people to know they are deeply loved and cared for…..English is just the doorway in. 

Which brings me to the second thing I have been chewing on all day. Today we read from Mark 10 where Bartimaeus receives his sight. And the part that we zoomed in on us verse 51 "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked the man. First of all the guy is blind, but when He heard that is was Jesus, he began calling Him by name. Though people tried to tell him to be quiet, he wouldn't. Im sure the crowd was crazy, and I imagine Jesus just stopping in the middle of the road when in verse 49-51, "Jesus stopped and said, "Call him". So they called to the blind man, 'Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. "What do you want me to do for you?' Jesus asked him. The blind man said, 'Rabbi, I want to see.'"
I imagine since he was blind, he probably stumbled to Jesus. And I so wish I could have been a fly on the wall in this moment. To see the interaction between Jesus and Bartimaeus. I think Jesus constantly asks us this same question, "What do you want me to do for you?" And it has been something that has rattled around in my brain and heart all day. 

What do I want Jesus to do for me?

Obviously I want the Lord to have His way. And to give me an overwhelming love for His people. But I think like Bartimaeus, my heart cries out "Rabbi, I want to see". I don't want my own preconceptions to blind me from the real thing. I don't want my expectations to distract me from what the Lord is really trying to show me. I want my heart and eyes to be open to see Jesus fully in each person that I will come into contact with. And to be able to love them the way He has called me to. Radically. Deeply. Purposefully. 

I cant really put into words the state my heart is in. Tender is the best way I can describe it. The Lord is stirring something so deeply inside of me, that emotionally I just feel overwhelmed. With love. With grace. With compassion. I have no idea what we are about to step into. But I know its going to be big.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hungary day 1

To start off, I would like to apologize ahead of time for this blog. It is being written at most likely the drowsiest of time of the entire trip. Anyways, with that aside, lets get to writing.
Day one of our adventure into Hungary was not too eventful. We hopped on and off multiple endless plane rides, ate at random intervals, and prayed to get some sleep in between. However, as expected, not too much sleeping occurred.
I sat there on the plane trying to force myself to sleep, but could not even come to close my eyes. With nothing else to do, I was forced into my own thoughts and conversation with God.
I turned my eyes towards the window and began to bask in the beauty of the land that the Lord has blessed us with. From so high up above, every thing seemed to be so organized. All of the streets and houses were perfectly aligned to make what seemed to be pretty designs. Although, house by house and street by street, I began to recognize the differences in the buildings. Each foundation poured and every wall built up had a different story. I quickly became overwhelmed with even the thought of looking over so many different stories and souls.
It seems so crazy to me that even though I am just one soul with one story out of billions of other souls and stories. Thats when it hit me, at the camp, and even all around Hungary, there are so many stories that I will not get to hear, so many faces that I will not get to know, and so many lives that I will not get to change. THEN something ELSE hit me. Isn't it ALSO crazy how God has given every single person I will and will not meet a story? He care so much about each and every one of us so much. This is my prayer and what you can pray for this week--- I pray for the building of long lasting relationships. For the sharing of stories and exchange of hope. I pray for memories and laughs, and maybe even a few tears.
Tomorrow is our first official day of mission. We begin planning our
english curriculum and will possibly get a quick tour around the city by John. Stand by to hear about more stories, adventures, and newly built relationships.

-Niaya Ramirez

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Hungary Day 1

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Journey Has Begun...Team Hungary 2015

Our team is about to board the first of 3 flights to get us to Hungary. We are incredibly excited about this journey! We get to reconnect with life long friends and hopefully make new ones.

Our family does a daily devotional together during the advent season. Today's devotion came from Luke 1:26-38. It is about the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her she will soon be the mother of the Son of God. To this, literally earth shaking, news she responded "Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

I am certainly not Mary, and the task I am about to undertake is nothing near as world-transforming, but I still walked away challenged. Will the team and I respond as Mary did when asked to do the impossible this week? Please pray for us as our deepest desire is to Be Love to those who do not know Him.

Please keep us in your prayers as we travel. My guess is you will hear from us again tomorrow night!