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.
Every morning, I wake up to the sun rising behind the Little Lutheran Church, which is across the street from my flat. Students are starting to arrive to school, chatting as they wait for their teacher to get there. The smells of lunch already being cooked begin wafting up to my flat.
This year, I am living in a two bedroom flat above the "Canteen" (cafeteria) in the local Lutheran high school. Before arriving in Békéscsaba, I was told that I would be in a one or two room flat: which means it could be a studio or a one bedroom flat. Arriving to my flat, the principal asked if I had been told anything about my accomodations. I chuckled. I had learned by this time that what I was told, expected, and shown were all very different things.
Now being here almost 3 months, I realize how much I appreciate the space and being so close to everything. Church is literally across the street, the market is a 5 minute bike ride, and I can get anywhere I need to go by bike in Békéscsaba within 15 minutes. If my water heater happens to stop working in the middle of the week, my principal is over in a matter of minutes to fix it. The bus stop is right outside my flat. My students also have figured out where my flat is as we occasionally use it when the classrooms we use in the school are being used by other teachers. A couple of students have come and hung out while waiting for lunch.
This year is a year about challenges and hard conversations. It is about learning how to navigate these conversations with grace while understanding you aren't always going to agree.
The United States Election hit me hard in more ways than one this year. Being the only American in the school that I work in, I was the only one many students and teachers had to ask or talk about the election with. When they would see me, they would ask my opinion and if I had voted. Not knowing how to express myself in English, my first language, it was hard to navigate these conversations with grace. Teachers and students would ask my opinion and being so numb and in shock, I had a hard time putting words into coherent sentences in these conversations. The media portrays one version of the election and often doesn't give the full story- not just in Hungary or the United States, but all around the world.
Being the only American, I was put under a microscope, grilled about Trump winning, asked about my feelings, and people not fully understanding when I would talk about it. I had to put into words, feelings I was wrestling with and talk about reasons why I had a hard time accepting that Trump had become the President-elect. When I could finally get the words out, the reactions were all over the board, students not necessarily having heard what i was sharing because that hadn't been talked about in the Hungarian news or it was a different perspective.
This year for me is not only about hard conversations, it is about breaking down stereotypes, or at least giving people another perspective to think about to help challenge their view of the world. I not only have to talk about American politics, but address stereotypes of people who identify as being Roma Hungarian. The Roma I have met have been nothing but kind, hardworking, and well rounded people. They work, go to university, have families, and have strong ties to churches in the communities. Attending a youth group on Saturdays in a church community comprised of Roma and Non Roma young adults has helped me put faces to a culture of people I had only heard about. These people help me smash stereotypes in conversations I have. So many of the young people in the youth group have such a strong faith. God works through them to help make the world a little bit brighter place.
These conversations help me learn how to have good conversations where I can address racism, sexism, and other stereotypes while not belittling the other person.
Today is my Dad's birthday. Although I was able to FaceTime with him, it isn't the same as celebrating with him in person. Being in another country on such a special day reminds me again of how important my family is to me.
In the weeks leading up to my year with YAGM, my dad, mom and I excitedly researched Békéscsaba, looking up pictures of my new town and exploring where I would be living for the next year. Even since arriving in Hungary, my dad would text or FaceTime and tell me what the weather would like that day or week or ask how I was doing. I love checking in with my parents, seeing how they are keeping busy since becoming empty nesters (even if it is only for a year!). He loves to hear about how teaching is going or if I am warm enough or getting enough to eat. Even from thousands of miles away, my dad is still checking in to make sure I am right where I belong.
Hope you are having a great birthday Dad. Hope Luther (finally) wins against Wartburg today!
“Be brave enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.”
Recently, the YAGM Central Europe group met in Eger, Hungary (in Northeastern Hungary) for our fall retreat. One of the conversations we had was about accepting help and not necessarily always needing to return the favor. Something that I have learned how to do is accepting help and realizing that people offer to give you a hand and don’t always expect you to reciprocate.
I have met incredible people who have helped me in ways I didn’t know I would need it. The information lady at the train station patiently figured out how to help me with my train ticket, despite a language barrier. A woman on the train platform let me know a part of my bag was unzipped and didn’t want anything stolen. A man was looking for the same platform for the train to Eger and the two of us ran around until we found the right place. On the way home from Eger, a man who was on my train saw me struggling with my baggage as I ran down the platform, worried I would miss my next train. Because that particular train station was confusing, he helped me with my baggage, ran with me to the next stop, and told the train staff that I was coming and not to leave the station yet.
Within Békéscsaba, God has given me an incredible mentor whose family has shuttled me back and forth from the train station and understands the stress of moving to a new place. My mentor has helped me with some of my work sites and is patient when I have questions. He has placed a patient principal in my life who grabs a ladder when I run into his office telling him I need someone to climb on the roof to get something for a couple of students. God gave me a community of teachers and students who have helped me adjust to a new country, a new home, and a new language. God works in the community of Békéscsaba to welcome me and feel at home, despite the miles between my home in the States and me.
God knows when I need help and I stress myself out. He places people in my life to show me that everything always works out and to laugh when I am about to cry. He shows me how to accept help and shows me that it’s okay to ask for it.
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.