Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Saturday, May 28, 2016
We spun the travel wheel behind us and.....Jerusalem it is! Our flight plan lands us in Tel Aviv Sunday 8:20AM local time (4:20PM Israel time). We surrender all that we are and all that we have to God's care trusting He will do exceedingly abundantly more than we could hope or imagine. Family, we love you!
Friday, May 27, 2016
I start this trip with mixed emotions. It's been a crazy few weeks.. Our son just graduated, we await word of his plans for the fall, we are all coming and going this summer from one mission trip to another, work has been incredibly stressful... My brain is tired, my body exhausted, and I find myself with fairly raw emotions. Normally the night before a trip I'm really excited. But today I am a bit melancholy. However, when things get really overwhelming, it really helps for me to focus on the most important things and keep it simple: today it's prayers, passports and packages.
Prayers...We are taking the prayer requests that have been inserted into the Riverside prayer wall for the past four years to the Western Wall. The prayer requests from the Western Wall are gathered and buried on the Mount of Olives just as old Torah scrolls and prayer books in the Jewish tradition. It is a weighty beautiful privilege to carry these prayers. It is a bit of holy ground. Each paper is a praise or a cry to God for heaven to invade earth. (God, we ask You to bring heaven to earth in each of these circumstances and shower each one with Your goodness and love. To You be the honor, the power and the glory forever. In Jesus' name, amen.) And without the faith filled prayers of friends, family and my personal intercessors I could not put one foot in front of the other right now. I am grateful for prayer.
Passports...Our flight plan takes us to Madrid for a lay over (not long enough for an excursion) and then to Tel Aviv where we will transport to our apartment in Jerusalem - our temporary home away from home for the week. My passport reminds me that earth is not my home, nor is this aging body. In the earth I must have permission to cross boundaries. But by the Spirit I am free because I am HIS and He is free. So I choose freedom in Jesus. No borders or boundaries can contain or limit the love of God who speaks things into being. I am grateful that today I can say yes again to love without borders.
Packages...Each of us will carry a simple "package" pf prayer requests to the wall and insert them into the crags. We are carrying packages to our host for Shabbat next week, Daniel. It has been two years since I have seen him and I look forward to seeing him again. We are carriers, deliverers of packages. We go because He called us. These simple packages make me think of the power of the package we carry every day, the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us. We have the honor of carrying His Presence wherever we go. This week we carry Him to His chosen people. We walk as Gentiles among Jews and Arabs. This week specifically we partner with Him to find out what our role is in the restoration of Israel and the healing of the nations. God's heart is full for his people Israel and increasingly so is ours.
So tonight I will have dinner with my family, do some final packing, pay a couple of bills, and sleep (God, please let me sleep!!). Tomorrow we go...remaining expectant through it all
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
So here we are.
Sitting in an airport in Detroit, just passing these last few hours before we get on a plane to go home. We finally get to see our families and friends, sleep in our own beds, get some decent sleep, and get back to our normal lives. All this is so exciting, and we can't wait to get home.
But there's a heaviness as well.
We're coming home different. Changed. We aren't the same people that left Texas two weeks ago. We've grown to know people, crossed cultural boundaries, built rapport, trust, mutual respect, and love, only to have to leave those relationships behind, unsure of the future. For them. For that beautiful part of the world, across the ocean. For these incredible people we were blessed to spend this small amount of time with.
How do you deal with that? With the knowledge that you were connected with someone, for just a brief moment, only to separate, never to see each other again, not knowing what will happen to them? How will God continue to work? Will they continue to find Him? Will they achieve the life of safety and acceptance they so desperately crave?
I don't know. I don't know how to reconcile that. But what I do know, is that God is good, and all-knowing, and all-powerful. While it is my tendency to think that we could've done more, we should've done more, for the refugees, the ALPHA trainees, and the beautiful Wilson family, I am sweetly reminding that we did exactly what God called us to do. It wasn't our plan that was carried out in Hungary. It was God's. He knew exactly what He was doing, sending us across the sea, to encounter broken and beautiful souls. To touch them briefly, to open our hearts to theirs, to be met with openness and love in return. To be wrecked by the amount of hurt, fear, and longing to belong that permeates the world. But also, to be overwhelmed by the presence of God's love and peace in those broken places. To see Him clearly, working in and through these people, and in and through us. Whether it was the refugees, the ALPHA trainees, or the Wilsons, God was so present. He was so active. His hand was so obvious.
And then. Then, the spiritual retreat. The three days we got to spend as a team to close out the trip, being shepherded and led into the presence of the Lord even more so. Spending those days together, pouring out our hearts to God and one another, receiving reassurance, overwhelming love, humility, clarity, and healing. How fitting. How like God is it, to pour into us on a trip where we believed we would be the ones doing the pouring. And the loving. That it was for us, as well. This trip wasn't just about the refugees, and ALPHA trainees, or the Wilsons. It was about us. It was about us being reminded of the sweet Spirit and incredible, gentle love that is always constant in our lives.
So not only are we returning changed by our experiences with the people we went to minister to, but we are returning changed for the better by the healing power of God. So don't expect to see the same Ken, Blake, Liz, Cathi, Jay, and Jayme that left two weeks ago. We have been transformed. By heartbreak, pain, struggle, and humility, but ultimately, by the wondrous power and marvelous love of our great and gentle Creator.
We'll see y'all soon.
Monday, May 9, 2016
It’s Monday and our time here is coming to a close. We were finally able to get a good night’s sleep last night, at least in quantity. Quality of sleep, or rather comfortable sleep, does not seem to be a concern for Hungarians judging by the mattresses we’ve encountered.
In addition to that we all woke feeling incomplete not having the whole team together and it was difficult to get into the right state of mind to go through the spiritual exercises that John had planned for us. I personally didn’t even want to do this “retreat”. It didn’t make sense that we’ve done our work in the refugee camps, completed the Alpha training, and now we are going to work on ourselves? I didn’t come here to work on my spirituality (although through blessing and serving others, it was I who was truly blessed), I came here to serve. Mission accomplished, let’s roll!
However, the Lord had other plans, as he often does. The materials and topics we’re covering are too much to go into in a blog post, but they revolve around spiritual formation and sort of an examination of conscience. And I believe now that God chose this to happen here, because he knows I can’t go anywhere else. I can’t hide from the hard questions and the hard truths. I’ve no choice but to meet Jesus face to face and have a conversation with him about where he fits in my daily life and in my hierarchy of priorities. It’s not easy, but it is good after all, and for that I’m grateful.
There is so much more to tell, but it is late and we’ve one more day ahead of us before we set our sights on home. We appreciate all your prayers!
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Happy Mother's Day to all you wonderful mothers! Thanks for all that you do for your families and our community.
To our missions madre back at home…here's your blog! ;)
So, I'm sitting in bed trying to figure out what all needs to be mentioned for tonight's blog and the first thing that pops into my head is the song, The Final Countdown, by Europe, and it totally makes sense. With only three days left in our trip, our team has hit our wall and feel a bit exhausted. I turn on this song to give me the extra boost to finish my last leg of a run. Y'all, we need the extra boost!
The moment our plane first landed in Budapest, we all hit the ground running. We started our week by helping our friends John and Zsofi move their belongings out from their flat. We then made a quick trip to Bicske to teach English within the refugee camp for four days. In doing so, our group left the camp making new friends and high hopes that the Lord will continue to move within the camp. After praying with our new friends, we left the camp one last time. Some of us, if not all, leaving with heavy hearts. Once we made it back into Budapest, the team and I began preparations for the Alpha Conference. It was a long day with little sleep (which was the theme for the past week) before having to be up early the next morning. We all explained the importance of Alpha and shared our experiences with the program. It was a long day, but I loved that we got to share our hearts and stories with a group of people who want to learn how to lead the series within their own community.
This week has been filled with tons of laughter, a lot of hard work, trying moments, uncomfortable and sweet conversations, unexpected changes, but most importantly, the Lord's work. My team and I now find ourselves in a weird slump, exhausted, and in a state of being uncomfortable. During our final days here in Budapest, we will begin our spiritual retreat that was put together by our good friends John and Zsofi. It's just the beginning of our retreat and questions have been asked that require deep thoughts for our group. I feel that with the tough questions we will be facing during this retreat, we'll be presented with sweet solutions from the Lord and clarity on the questions we've had during the past few days. I pray that with these last three days, we will be able to hit it hard and press into the Lord during our retreat. That the Lord will present us with plenty of energy to get through the days. I'm praying that despite our tiredness, we'll have open ears and open hearts to receive all that our retreat will have to offer!
To my community back at home, will you join me in this prayer?
We all look forward to sharing how the Lord worked through our time in Hungary.
Good Night and see you all soon,
Saturday, May 7, 2016
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Today was day 3 in the refugee camp in Bicske. There have been gallons of coffee and tea prepped and served, hundreds of sugar cubes given out to sweeten those cups, and 12 full hours spent teaching and learning and growing and loving these beautiful, amazing people. As we approach tomorrow, our last day in the camp, we are steeling ourselves for the unavoidable heartache that will come with having to leave these souls we have come to know.
The English classes have been incredibly successful over these past 3 days. Blake and Liz took their beginners class on a "field trip" today, walking around outside and pointing out objects such as trees, streets, and buildings, giving their students a real-life application of the words they've been learning. Ken and Jay have been building relationships with the students in their advanced class, discussing everything from job interviews to internal organs, giving the students the tools they need to participate in an English society (with a little extra instruction on "Texan English"). Cathi and I, however, have had a different role during the past 3 days.
She and I have been running the "art table." We've laid out paper, colored pencils, markers, and crayons, to provide a place for the women and children to be and participate while the men are in class. Having this table was a new idea, because although we offer the classes to everyone, culturally it is the men that take the classes, and the women and children do not participate. We wanted to provide a place where the women and children could feel invested in and could feel like they were a part of things. But you know what they say about best-laid plans…(here's a hint: they go awry).
Each day has been slightly different. For day 1, our table was full of adult men, each one carefully and purposefully drawing their country's flag, or drawing symbols of peace. Day 2, we had mostly children, some that drew whatever their hearts desired, but others that followed the pattern of the older men, painstakingly and proudly drawing symbols of their countries. Today, day 3, we had a mix of both, as well as a mix of subject matter. I could write pages and pages on these 3 days, but instead I'm just going to talk about what stood out to me the most, otherwise I would have to write y'all a novel.
Honestly, these 3 days have completely shattered the cultural expectations that I had coming into this trip. Because the refugees are predominately Muslim, I expected them to fit the stereotype: extreme, dismissive of women, haughty, and fiercely religious. However, the time I've spent with them has completely changed my understanding. These people are respectful, gentle, kind, modern, and open. They just want to live a life free from persecution and fear. I expected that they would look down at our art table, seeing it as something that was for children, and I definitely expected them to be dismissive of me, a young white American girl. It has been the opposite. I've been so surprised at the amount of interest they've shown in the art. They all want to draw, color, and write stories. Each one then wants to show me their work, and receive affirmation from me that I like it, and that it was good. These 3 days have been incredibly, incredibly humbling for me. Spending time with these people and realizing that they are like me. They want the same things I do. They have to fight for liberties and life that I just take for granted every day. It's so easy to distance ourselves from this refugee situation from the safety of our homes and country. But after spending time with them, talking to them, drawing with them, laughing with them, how can I ignore this? How can we separate ourselves from these people? They're real people, with real hearts, and real hurts. They've spent months walking across countries, risking death every day, being robbed over and over, being told by country after country that they're not wanted. And then, as they end up in a camp in Bicske, Hungary, thousands of miles from home, with nothing, and all they want from me is affirmation that they've created something good. That their pictures are good. That I, a young white American woman, likes their pictures. That a person would take the time to compliment them, affirm them, let them know that someone cares. And I can do that, just by drawing with them. And giving them a thumbs up when they show me their pictures.
There is so much hurt here, so much pain, so much heartache, and it's easy to be discouraged. To feel like we can't really make a difference, that we're not really helping. But that's not true. God is here. He's bringing joy to this camp. He's bringing love. I'm so blessed that I get to be a part of the amazing team that God chose to use for this. Anything we can do, no matter how small, can be monumental for God's kingdom. That is what I'm trusting in. That I am merely a tool, being used by God to bring life to a place of darkness and heaviness, even if I can't see past that sometimes. It is so humbling, and such a blessing. God is so, so good.
Thank y'all so much for your continued prayers! We love and miss you!
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Greetings from Day 2 in Bicske and our time at the refugee camp. My assignment while at the camp is to teach basic English to basically whomever wants to sit down at the table (ping pong table) and listen to me bellow out words like, RED…R-E-D, Blue…B-L-U-E, and my personal favorite so far, PURPLE…PuuuurrrrrrrrPelllll. This one is very difficult for guys for guys who speak Farsi, Pashto, Arabic, or a local French/Congo dialect. Besides basic colors, our students have learned (loose term) how to say and write numbers up to 100, say and write basic jobs like builder, teacher, and nurse, and our last assignment today was basic time keeping on a clock that Liz drew on a handheld whiteboard. Oh, and yesterday we played BINGO to practice hearing and finding numbers. This was particular entertaining when we had a heated match that came down to the wire between a player from the Congo and one from Afghanistan. I’m not kidding, I thought for a moment that we was going to have an international conflict right then and there. Thankfully, one of our friends from Pakistan came out of nowhere to take the gold and the tension quickly subsided.
Needless to say it has been very challenging, but very fun and very comfortable surprisingly. Today, for a moment, I thought about whether or not Liz and I were making a difference for these guys. Would they remember any of the words, letters, or numbers that we’ve shown them? But after a while, God whispered and reminded me that it’s not about the task of teaching the ABC’s. I’m here to show love and genuine human interest to men, women, and children who have not been shown that for a very long time. I’m here to shed a glimpse of hope and light where there is little. These folks are refugees who have left or been driven out of their homelands (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Congo, Tunisia, Syria, and others) to seek somewhere, anywhere, where they can be safe to live, work, and raise a family. Somewhere they won’t be threatened with death because of religious belief or refusal to join an evil they disagree with. Then as they’ve traveled thousands of miles by foot, car, train, and boat and spent large amounts of savings on human traffickers (many have also been robbed over and over along the way), they have only met with more resistance from people’s who either don’t want them, or don’t have the capacity to take them in and support them with jobs.
So, they sit in limbo wondering where they’ll go next. You can see the despair on their faces. You can feel the frustration. Your heart breaks for them. But here’s the good news…they keep coming back to class. They are eager to learn and you can see them light up with a smile when you say their name or when you praise them for writing the word “forty-seven” right. They are so proud of where they are from and they can’t wait to tell their story. They shake your hand and then touch their heart to let you know they truly appreciate you and consider you a friend, and it’s in those moments that God is letting me know what we are doing does matter. It matters to Him as we are ALL His children.
So far, the words Islam, Muslim, Christian, or Jesus have not come up yet. I don’t know if they will. If so, we’ll talk about it. However, I am convinced that the love of Jesus Christ is shining through me and my team mates, and that the Holy Spirit is moving through this place. And my prayer is that when we’re gone they’ll know we are Christians by our love…by our love.
This was totally supposed to be posted last night...sorry!!
Only 4 days into the trip and it has already been an experience to remember. Traveling into Hungary, I felt like I was a toddler just trying to soak up everything that was going on around me. I'm trying to take in all the different signs, hear the conversations in different languages, and trying the different food/drinks. It's all so new to me.
This morning, we prepped for our day at the refugee camp in Bicske. Not knowing what to expect, I was filled with anxiety and just nervous about what we were about to experience. Once we drove into the camp, there were TONS of people that seemed to have been from all over the country. As we got the day started, I walked around the camp with John to announce that we would be having coffee/tea and would have english classes going on throughout the day. Out of all the things that have been uncomfortable for me, speaking to complete strangers with a giant language barrier falls right on up there!
After we started the English classes, I was amazed at how many people actually knew the language and how hungry they were to learn more. With each lesson plan we went through, questions were being asked and relationships are beginning to be built. Some of the refugees began sharing their story as to why they were at the camp and what their plans were after the camp. Looking back on the day, I now realize that the anxiety and nervousness was unnecessary (as always). I'm definitely excited for what day 2 brings us. I'm praying for opened hearts, great conversations, and tons more laughing! More to come!
Sunday, May 1, 2016
So I sit alone in a quiet room that is not mine and find myself isolated from anyone and anything familiar. It is cold, unusual to me, empty of family, friends and any smells, sounds or visual comforts from home. Not trying to be dramatic or call for pity party. On the contrary, I think God is giving me the tiniest glimpse of how it might feel to be a refugee, far from home, support systems, comforts... It is lonely and sad. It feels empty and vulnerable.
The difference is I know my team returns in a few hours. I know I truly am not without physical provision. I know I will return to my family - my joy, very soon.
So thank you God for allowing me to sit in this experience, however briefly, and realize the spirit of strength and resiliency that must reside in these refugees to persevere countless months. I pray for the strength and courage to meet them where they are when we go to serve them tomorrow.