On April 1st, the Central Europe (Hungary) YAGM had the chance to attend a day long event in Aszod, Hungary. (Aszod is a town east of Budapest, in Northern Hungary). This event was a mission day for the Lutheran Church of Hungary, bringing together those who worship in and follow the Lutheran Faith. During this event, the YAGM and our country coordinators had the opportunity to explain what we do in Hungary, our reasons for being here, and the differences between the Lutheran faith here in Hungary and the Lutheran faith in the United States.
In the United States, there are 3 main branches of the Lutheran denomination (Wisconsin Synod, Missouri Synod, and The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)). In Hungary, there is “one” Lutheran denomination, meaning the Lutheran faith and teachings are standard across the country. In Hungary, the word for Lutheran is “Evangelikus”, or evangelical. In the United States, evangelical is used for a different denomination of Christianity other than Lutheran.
The Lutheran Church of Hungary is split up into three regions. A bishop runs each region, similar to the synods of the ELCA.
During the event, we had 2 hour breakout sessions. The people in attendance could choose which of these sessions to attend. At the end of our session, we were able to answer any questions that people had. A common theme that is brought up across answers to why we are serving in YAGM (not just in Hungary, but in many of the other countries) is learning how to combat racism. Discrimination isn’t always used or talked about.
According to Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Youth People (2015), Racism can be defined as “the belief that people’s qualities are influenced by their ethnic group or tribe and that the members of other groups and tribes (“races”) are not as good as members of their own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other “races””. Discrimination, on the other hand, is defined as “any distinction, exclusion, or restriction of preference, which is based on any ground such as race, culture, ethnic origin, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, physical handicap, or other characteristics not relevant to the issue in question” (Brander et. Al., Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Youth People, 2015).
In other words, Racism is “a lack of respect for practices or beliefs other than one’s own” (Brander et. Al., Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Youth People, 2015, pg. 440) and discrimination “occurs when people are treated less favourbly than others in a comparable situation only because they belong, or are perceived to belong, to a certain group or category” (Brander et. Al., Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Youth People, 2015, pg 440).
When I mention that I work with Roma young adults, the conversation either goes quiet or racist comments about Roma emerge. I have encountered racism towards Roma when talking about the youth group that I attend with Roma and Non Roma young adults. Comments often include, but are not limited to, how Roma are lazy, steal, don’t want to work, and don’t value education.
This has not been my experience. The people who I have met that identify as Roma are hardworking, have jobs, have at least a high school education, if not a college degree, want to provide for their families, and are the complete opposite of the racist comments that I have heard. The discrimination towards Roma though makes it hard for someone who is Roma to find work or go to college. They are often turned away from job interviews when someone sees the color of their skin or sees their name on an application.
I have found that racism and discrimination don’t have borders. Systemic racism and oppression rages from the United States to the Middle East. It was not until I attended a conference in November that was addressing racism and discrimination towards Roma and Jewish people that I was able to put into words how discrimination exists even when people don’t think about it.
A YouTube video was shown of an African American comedian doing a stand up routine, talking about African Americans within the US. He often referred to them using the N word, trying to use comedy to address racist issues. The Europeans in the group laughed as he spoke and I cringed the entire time.
As a white middle class American, using racial slurs to refer to people of color is a huge NO. I wouldn’t even think to use the “N” word or any kind of racial slurs to refer to a population of people, nor do I find it funny. After the video was done, we broke up into groups to talk about racism and I started talking about discrimination in the US and how that video was not funny to me. I had to talk to Roma and Jewish young adults and address racial slurs within Europe, applying that same conversation to the US. I had to explain as a white person, if I were to use those same slurs to refer to an African American, I would be yelled at.
We often internalize stereotypes about people of color in the US, including that they steal, don’t want to work, live off welfare, or are lazy. These stereotypes can be applied to the Roma within Europe as well. I have read story after story about young African Americans being followed or closely watched in stores to make sure they don’t steal. Certain neighborhoods are to be avoided in the Twin Cities.
Jesus spent time with people who the religious leaders of the time didn’t want to deal with. There are countless stories in the Bible about how Jesus talked to prostitutes, lepers, healed the sick, the blind, the broken, and broke religious laws all the time to spend time with those who needed His love the most. This year, it has become clearer to me that God’s love has no bounds. I have formed incredible relationships with people with disabilities this year and laughed harder than I ever have with those who identify as Roma. When we engage with those are pushed to the outskirts of humanity, we challenge stereotypes that have been built over centuries.
Beauty is something that has been on my mind. Growing up in the United States, females are told outright and through the media that they need to look and act a certain way. I was lucky to have parents who placed more emphasis on my education than on my looks.
Living in Hungary, I have noticed that women tend to look fabulous, even just running to the grocery store, and are expected to work and keep up the household. That is a lot of pressure to put on one person. Now, not all relationships in Hungary expect the women to do everything. But, I have noticed the women always have their hair and make up done, nails are done every two weeks, and some women even take one day off of work a month to get waxed, plucked, and dyed.
Today, when I went to the baths, I was reminded that women's bodies are also celebrated. Women of all shapes, sizes, and ages wore bikinis, one piece swim suits, and everything in between. Women are more comfortable showing their bodies then women I have seen in the States.
I recently returned to Hungary after a trip to Norway to visit my brother. While in Oslo, I noticed how Norwegian culture is active. People would walk through Oslo, carrying snowboards and skies, Helly Hansen and outdoor stores were on every corner, and being active was such a part of the culture. In Jerusalem, my mom and I were waiting to go through Security between Israel and Palestine. An older man who was standing behind us was a traditional Muslim, pointed to the scarf around my neck and said something me in Arabic. Not understanding, he repeated what he said in English. "Showing your hair is a gift from Allah only to be viewed by your husband or boyfriend. You are beautiful, but you would be beautiful if you covered your head." Not knowing quite how to respond, I thanked him and turned around. My mom saw this exchange and as soon as we got through security, we mentioned this to my brother who lives in Palestine and better understands the nuances of the culture. Walking through Norway, Palestine, and Israel, I noticed how beauty in the way the women were dressed and the confidence that they had.
Beauty is so different across cultures. But each woman is so beautiful in her own way.
Where I’m From
George Ella Lyon
I am from clothspins
From Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride
I am from the dirt under the back porch
it tasted like beets)
I am from the forsythia bush
The dutch elm
Whose long gone limbs I remember
As if they were my own.
I am from fudge and eyeglasses
From Imogene and alafair.
Im from the know it alls
And the pass it ons
From Perk Up! And Pipe Down!
Im from He restoreth my soul
With a cottonball lamb
And ten verses I can say myself.
Im from artemus and Billie’s Branch,
Fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost to the auger,
The eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
Spilling old pictures,
A sift of lost faces
To drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments-
Snapped before I budded-
Leaf fall from the family tree.
During our spring retreat, we were read this poem to remember where we came from. Although I try to focus on the future and what that may look like, I realized during the retreat how important it is to remember where I come from. I come from my hometown, my parents, my extended family, the countries my extended family came from, and all the traits that I inherited. I come from the lakes of northern and Southern Minnesota, a small town in West Virginia, Norway, Sweden, German, and Ireland. I come from a deep-rooted sense of family. I come from a strong Lutheran faith.
The values and morals I apply to my everyday day, which helps determine my future I learned from my parents and grandparents.
Where I’m From
Where I am from the coffee pot is always full,
The front door is always unlocked, and everyone
Knows my name.
Where I am from loud is the normal volume,
Music is always playing,
And the scent of Swedish meatballs at Christmas
Is wafting through the house.
Where I am from John Denver, Garrison Keillor, and NPR
Play on the radio,
Please and thank you
start and end your sentences,
and everyone is Aunt and Uncle.
Where I am from family dinners are a priority,
phone calls that we are going to be late
are non negotiable,
and Mom knows all our friends.
I am from a 3 story house in the country,
Neighbors are more than people who live next door,
Keys are left in the ignition, and friends walk on in.
I am from coffee, from where life isn’t slowing down,
and from strong family connections.
“The best kind of people are the ones that come into your life, and make you see the sun where you once saw clouds. The people that believe in you so much, you start to believe in you too. The people that love you, simply for being you. The once in a life kind of people.”
I am a firm believer that God brings people into our life for a reason. When I first met the woman who cleans my wing of the school, we did the standard greeting of saying hello, smiling and continuing our ways. As time has gone on and our relationship has developed, she has become one of my most favorite people and an important person in my daily routine.
Our most recent spring retreat for YAGM was a week long and I had a day between our retreat and my parents arriving. My cleaning lady friend was so excited to see me back in Hungary and was so excited my parents were coming to visit, but I could tell she was disappointed I was going to be gone another week.
When I arrived back in Békéscsaba on Monday after traveling for the last two weeks, her face was one of the first familiar faces I saw after coming back to Hungary. When she saw me come through the gate of the school, her face lit up, despite being on the phone. She grabbed me for a hug and held me tight.
My parents had brought some cheese from Wisconsin, my home state, as a small gift for her. When I came down with the cheese and explained it was from the States, she started to tear up. I wanted to make sure she understood her relationship is incredibly important to me and I value her more than she will ever realize. Her friendship means so much and I hold closely the conversations that we have had.
As I sit in my “living room” (the spare bedroom that happens to have two comfortable chairs to curl up in), listening to the cars drive by and the birds chirping outside my open window, I realize how little I sit and just listen. During the week, I am so stressed about being places on time, planning healthy meals, and worrying about life in general. I forget to relax, to shut off all electronics, to shut off my brain, and to just be. As the sun streams into my flat, I realize how much I needed the sunshine, the warm weather, and the snow and ice to melt. I am at peace.
Having anxiety, I worry about the little things that I know I need to let go of. I worry about not having an Internet connection because the people in my life (in both the United States and Hungary) use Facebook, face time, and I message to get ahold of me. Although I am safe, I worry that they will worry about me not responding to messages. I worry about the dishes that need to be washed, the laundry that needs to be done and put away. I worry that I am not helping enough at the nursing home or drop in center. I worry about my students not getting enough out of our time together. I worry about getting to the market before it closes to get food for the weekend. In the midst of all this worrying, I forget that it is okay to let these worries go and to trust that the Lord has a plan. In the 5 months that I have been living in Hungary, I have been taken care of in ways that I never expected. I have been challenged to see my self and my habits in new light. I am realizing I need to slow down, take my time, and to listen to the world around me using mindfulness techniques I have learned while living in Hungary.
When I was in high school, my mom and I discovered essential oils. My mom got me my first diffuser and peppermint oil to help me focus on studying. She found lavender essential oils to help me sleep. My mom started seeing a chiropractor and acupuncturist to help with migraines and stomach pain a few years ago. When I couldn’t walk without limping because of the arthritis in one of my ankle a year ago, my mom brought me to her acupuncturist to work wonders. When I was at work one day, I couldn’t even handle the lights on in my office at work due to a sudden onset migraine, into the chiropractor I went. Since arriving in Hungary, I have learned so much more about mindfulness, yoga, essential oils, massage, and other alternative treatments. As a culture, Hungarians tend to focus on fixing what is wrong in the body versus taking 5 medications to fix one problem. Essential oils are more readily available and affordable. Going to the baths is healthy and good for the soul. Using Lavender and other essential oils, mindfulness, and the sunshine, I am able to fully immerse myself in what is going on around me.
I realized this morning as I slowly woke up that the worries that I had during the week were gone. Although I have things I know need to get done, like studying Hungarian and washing dishes, I am completely at ease, slowly sipping my coffee and enjoying the warm sunshine and the breeze coming into my flat. Until I board the bus to go to Békés for youth group, I don’t have anywhere I need to be, no deadlines to meet, no rushing out the door to a commitment. My wifi is off, but the connection that I feel to the world is strong.
“Szia!” (Hello!). Every afternoon and evening as I come back to the wing of the school where I live, I am greeted with a huge smile, a hug, and a hello. The woman who cleans the school and I have become friends. God knew I needed this kind woman in my life and placed her in a position where I get to see her 5 days a week.
She started cleaning “my” wing of the school in November. Our relationship began with a simple “Hello” and gradually began to grow as our paths crossed on a daily basis. Right before Christmas, I came home to find a small bag hanging from my door handle. There was no note. I turned around to see her mopping the hallway behind me. She pointed to the bag, then to herself and wished me a Merry Christmas. Tears came to my eyes as I hugged her tightly.
Last Friday, I finally was able to get her a small present. Leaving the gift of a coffee mug and tea where she would see it, I went back to my flat, hoping she would find it. Returning to the wing after lessons on Monday, I found her gathering supplies for that afternoon. I caught her eye and tears filled her eyes as she smiled and grabbed me for a huge hug.
During orientation, all the YAGM volunteers are told multiple times that we will build relationships with people of all ages. We are told that our friendships won’t always be with people within our age range and that we will form relationships with people we normally wouldn’t expect to become close to.
I am constantly reminded of Jeremiah 29:11-13: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart.” God knew I needed to live in the wing of a school before I did. He saw I would need to get to know this woman and the other women who clean the school. The relationships I am forming are not only with the teachers and students, but with people I never would have guessed would have an impact on my YAGM year
" 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 .
The spring of my senior year of college, my campus pastor told me to look up this bible verse. Like so many other students in the last months before graduating, I was really struggling with what the future held. I had just been diagnosed with anxiety and had not gotten in YAGM. I was trying to figure out what to do after finishing my internship that fall and felt that all the plans I had made were falling through. After finishing my internship, I applied for YAGM again and was wait listed. I was disappointed and hurt after being turned down twice, but knew God must have different plans for me. A few weeks later, I got a call from the ELCA YAGM office, saying I had been accepted to the program. I was ecstatic.
In the weeks leading up to orientation and moving abroad, I was terrified of leaving everything that was comfortable. I was going to a country that I didn't know much about and was going to be living alone. However, God always has a plan, good and bad. This last Monday, I was diagnosed with Bronchitis. An illness that I have had multiple times, I knew what was wrong before the doctor told me. Having bronchitis literally thousands of miles away from your parents and from healthcare you are familiar with is terrifying. Being this sick is a learning curve as well for my parents. In true Hungarian fashion, I didn't know what time I was going to the hospital. I just waited until i got the message that we were going. Being parents, mine worried that I didn't have an appointment. We just showed up at the hospital and the doctor helped me. I knew it would work out and I would see a doctor. I just didn't know the path that I would take to get there.
The community I am living in has been wonderful in making sure I am cared for mentally, emotionally, and physically. My mentor has touched based with my principal, making sure I have everything I need. After posting on Facebook that I didn't have a toaster, the principal showed up at my door and told me he was getting me a toaster. I smiled when this kind man told me "when he asks if I need anything, literally anything, that includes a toaster." It was touching that he and my mentor made sure I had food, medicine, and was resting. An English language teacher brought me to the hospital to help translate what was going on and what I needed to do. This gave me a chance to get to know a teacher I hadn't had a chance to get to know.
Jeremiah 29:11 applies so much to my YAGM year, often not knowing what is going to happen or what is going on. But, God always has a plan. He is showing me how to let go and trust that things will happen. In Hungarian fashion, things never go as I plan them. But, things always work out. Being a volunteer in YAGM, I am learning to allow others to help me, whether that's a ride to the train station, my principal showing up with a toaster, medicine, and a thermometer, or a teacher bringing me to the hospital. My parents were astounded at my brother and I when we were recently all together because so often the two of us were so calm when we didn't know what was going on. We both just trust that God had a plan and the people in our communities would help us.
"Elaina! Over here!" Walking down a street in Jerusalem, trying to find our hotel, I saw my family for the first time in over 4 months. After an eventful trip to get here, I don't know who was about to cry first: my parents for having all 3 of their kids together again or me.
In talking to people who have participated in Young Adults in Global Mission or those who work with the program, no one has heard of siblings serving the same year. So this year, my parents not only have sent two of their children half way across the world where internet is spotty at best. but their youngest just left for a semester abroad in Norway. My mom is a mother who doesn't often worry that her children will be safe, until all 3 are literally thousands of miles away.
Serving in YAGM, each participant's story is different from the next, with each country's having very different contexts for how the participants are serving their communities. My brother lives with a Lutheran pastor and his family in the basement of a parsonage. I live in a 2 bedroom flat above the cafeteria of the local Lutheran High school. My brother works 25- 30 hours a week. I have duties scheduled 7 days a week. Even between my brother and I, we cannot make comparisons because even within the countries that we serve, our contexts are so incredibly different.
Walking down the streets of Jericho, my mom grabbed my hand and asked what I was thinking. Visiting Carter, I realized how little I knew about the world. There are so many layers, politically, religious, and other wise, into Israel and Palestine and it was a lot to process in such a short period of time. But, as our family was able to see where Jesus was born and died, where he was baptized, floating in the Dead Sea, and seeing my family, my eyes were opened to cultures so vastly different from the one I grew up in and the one that I am currently serving in.
Living in a country thousands of miles from my family, I often get asked if I miss them. I miss them everyday. Things happen everyday that make me wish they were around the corner instead of around the world so that I could share what I am experiencing more frequently.
But, after living here for 4 months, I am a part of the community. I recently shared lunch with a teacher at the school that I am working at. I mentioned I was trying to cook a certain recipe that required corn starch only to realize I don't know the Hungarian word for it. She managed to find me some. The woman at the corner bakery I go to recognizes me and automatically gets what I want. Every Tuesday, a student of mine helps me translate the lunch menu for the following week. My mentor's wife welcomes me home with a hug when she picks me up from the train station. The youngsters at worship have begun to recognize me and smile and wave when I get there.
I have realized I can live without the best of the best coffee ever made. Showers don't need to take a half an hour. Biking is not just for exercise, but can be used (and is used) for daily transportation. Asking for help is required when you don't know the language. However, if you don't speak the language, you can still build strong, healthy relationships with people within your community.
Do I miss my family? Everyday. But, I am so thankful for a community of people who make sure my heat works, I have food, and I am cared for.
"I beg young people to travel. If you don't have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you're going to see your country differently, you're going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture,food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You're going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It's not what Tom Friedman writes about. I'm sorry. You're going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can't get out of a book that are waiting for you at the end of that flight. A lot of people- Americans and Europeans- come back and go "Ohhhh." And the lightbulb goes on. (Henry Rollins)
This year, I have the privilege of working with a few different populations of people.
During the school week, I work with high school students (10th through 12th graders) at the Lutheran High School in Békéscsaba. Parents and teenagers are able to choose the secondary school that the teens attend. The schools can either be in their hometown or in a neighboring town.
Some of my students are from surrounding villages or towns and take the bus into Békéscsaba everyday. Others are from towns further away. They stay in the Lutheran High School Dorms Sunday night through Friday, heading back to their hometown Friday afternoon. The dorms come at no cost to the students and their families. Although 3 meals are provided, the students’ families pay out of pocket for these.
Besides English, all of my students are taking at least one other foreign language. Hungarian curriculum requires all students learn English, Italian, or German. Most students will take intermediate or advanced level language tests after completing high school. They have to pass the higher intermediate language test in order to get into university.
The lessons usually involve a conversation around upcoming holidays, how school is going, or we work on English homework or practice tests for the language exam. I correct pronunciation and grammar. My students teach me Hungarian words for different things and love showing me their favorite musical artists.
Two mornings a week, I attend activities at the Lutheran Nursing Home in Békéscsaba. One of many services the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary provides, the nursing home has an assisted living portion and memory care. 3 meals and around the clock nursing care are provided on a daily basis. There are activities two days a week for residents living here. During the mornings, the activities are aimed at those in the assisted living. There are memory games, exercises, discussions, and crafts. Each resident has a very different personality. One gentleman loves to rile up the women by making sly comments during activities. Each of them will laugh, point their finger, or shush him.
Three mornings a week, I head over to the Day Center for young adults with disabilities. Another service provided by the Lutheran Church, the day center is in another part of the same facility. Recently added, it has a large activity room, a lunchroom, a mudroom, a staff office, and a room where the young adults can go and rest throughout the day. In the rest room are two beds, a TV, and a fooz ball table for them to use as they please. I come and hang out, doing crafts with the participants, watching movies, or interacting as staff work on other items for the facility.
Afternoons are usually spent with students in English lessons.
One evening a week, I take a bus to nearby Békés. I attend a weekly worship service for Roma and Non Roma Young adults. People of all ages attend. I have begun meeting with two young girls wanting to work on their English. We meet before worship, kick around a soccer ball or play a game of pool and chat in a mixture of English and Hungarian. They usually tell me something in Hungarian, point, and I repeat in English.
I am from a town on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I grew up in Hudson, WI, where I had the privilege of returning after graduating from Winona State University with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation.