Day 15: Our Final Day

Two weeks, 15 day ,360 hours, 5 countries later, we have formed a family. A family who has supported each other during times when no one knew the plan as well as times of celebration with one another. This family took time to form. We all were able to come together and explore the creation God has provided.

When looking at just a section of the lectionary text

Romans 8, verse 1-20, I believe it is fair to say that each person might have had a day of suffering. It could have been caused by the anxiety of not knowing what to expect before takeoff off, walking 5+ miles a day, spending a weekend with a host family, crossing of borders, not getting enough sleep or receiving heart breaking news from home…

During those moments we can find ourselves sitting in a place of anticipation. How do I stay present in the moment of being in Central Europe and also respect the emotions within? This anticipation we never had to face alone; we were always greeted with a friendly face and reminders that we are able to be a part of God’s creation within Central Europe. These moments of suffering will not be limited to just our time in Central Europe. In years to come, we might be faced with something that brings back an emotion we experienced here, yet we know that we will have a group to turn to. We were not created to suffer alone.

We all chose to come to Central Europe. We all chose to take an active role and to be present within the group. We all chose to be there for one another. We chose to learned what Church looks like around this world and bring back what we have learned to be able allow the glory of God to be set free and shared with everyone. We did not choose the moments of frustration – that is just a part of traveling. However, we did get to choose how we responded to those moments.

Our eyes have been opened to see how we have been able to make those choices. Yet in Europe, many people did not get to make the choice to have borders changed. We spent the afternoon Slovakia hearing from the Dean of a Hungarian  seminary and a pastor who are serving groups of people who are being marginalized and how the church is a centerpiece for people to come together.

 

We all are still breathless, along with our families, friends, and community who are waiting in anticipation to see what we will do with all that we have learned. How will we begin to interact with God’s creation and our brothers and sisters in Christ after spending 2 weeks in Central Europe?

Unfortunately- I do not have that answer . I am sorry to say and in no way will we be able to change the world the moment we walk off the plane. But what you can do to help us is to sit with us and listen to the stories we share and look at the thousands of pictures we took. Allow space to process and space for silence. Join with us as we pray for each person we interacted with and each group of people who were and are being marginalized.

Finally, join the conversation about how we as the body of Christ can be set free from the marginalization and those who lands have been taken away. We do this so we can be set free as children of God to see the hope.

Grace and peace

Sarah

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Day 12: Castles and Goat Goulash

Revelation 1:20-3:22
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Today was our first full day back in Budapest after our weekend spent in the Hungarian countryside. We all returned with full bellies and hearts. We hit the ground running after being fueled with another breakfast of salami, cheese, bread and raspberry jam. Horseradish and pig skins for the adventurous souls. Our first stop of the day Fisherman’s Bastion, a beautiful castle like fortress where we were able to get the most
spectacular views of the city from the very top wall. The whole city had a dusting snow and it was breath taking.
Our second stop of the day was a group favorite. We drove about 40 minuets out of the city until we reached Dunavarsany. A medium sized town (population 6,500) and the home of our host. Our first stop in Dunavarsany was to a honey factory. The factory plays a central part in the community and the company serves as a top 10 honey export for the world. The tour was amazing and we all looked fabulous in our hairnets.

During our tour, we were able to observe every part of the honey packaging process. We started in the honey lab where we learned about the different types of sugars that make for “good” honey and ended our tour in a packaging plant where we watched the canning assembly line. At the very end of our tour we were kindly each gifted a jar of honey to take home.

Following the tour, we visited the towns Hungarian Reformed Church and Community Center. Here we had a large lunch cooked by our host. Before lunch started we were told that we would be playing a game “guess the meat.” We were served a paprika goulash and after examining the meat and bones the majority of the group came to the guess of baby goat. We were correct and the meal was a hit with the group.
Following lunch, we were quickly given a tour of the church, community center and the small stables and farm that were located behind the building. The center had a large kitchen, meeting rooms and two small chapels used for worship. The basement of the center was filled with barrels of red wine and baskets of pork that would later be smoked in the large dry smoker. In the stables behind the building we found large pigs, goats, chickens, horses and cows.
We finished our day with a meeting at Town Hall. Here we were greeted by the Mayor and many other community leaders. This meeting was a wonderful opportunity for us to get a better idea of the local education system, future plans for Town improvement and just what like looks like in a smaller metropolitan Hungarian community.
Today I feel extra thankful for the countless opportunities we have had on this trip to break bread and share in communion with new communities and for the countless hours people have put into preparing these meals for our group. At times like this I can’t help but view community meals around table as a large sacrament offered for all, a grand feast amongst diverse company where one can restore body, mind and spirit.
At the communion table, we trust in God to feed us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. This divine meal invites us back to the table, a table where God does not care about personal appearance or aptitude. But instead the table offers the love, grace and hospitality that God creates in all of us to share with those in need. Because of Jesus, communion in my eyes represents a meal that is provided to us not because we have earned the right to eat and drink alongside Jesus, but instead represents an act of his divine love towards us.

Today I want to thank God for community around table, for baby goats and for homemade wine. Amen.

 

Margo Richardson

Day 11: A Reflection on Hosea

As I meditate on the Word of God transcribed by Hosea, I realize that the nature of Christian worship is still intertwined with the nature of pagan idolatry. This statement is clearly loaded and may offend you as the reader yet, before you judge the
content of this perception please take time to read with intention. What I observed through my European explorations, reflected the divine critiques of Hosea: “When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him” (5:6). I feel what impedes on the advancement of unifying the body of Christ is the ideological constructs of nationalism and ethnic discrimination. Although the hospitality of the Europeans felt unmatched through well- mannered social interactions and over-whelming abundance of nourishing delectable, I still felt a sense of uneasiness in the air.
The souls of the people seemed to lack enthusiasm and reverence of what was present for them in the space in which they occupied. The essence of this dis-easiness appeared to have a connection to the struggles of the Church in keeping itself relevant in a time where secularism is growing in its appeal. However, our European brothers and sisters in Christ have yet, to identify that the paradigms of nationalism are distorting the fabric of Christ’s transcended Holiness. The very lessons of Hosea seem to have yet reach the hearts of the Western Christian practitioner; hence, the manifestation of attractive alternatives that could lead the people away from the Word of God.
The solutions of God are always made simple but, if one chooses to ignore the nature of
simplicity life itself will lose all foundation: “A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them” (Hosea: 11:6-7). God acknowledges that worship in name alone is not enough one can not expect to receive the blessings from the Holy Spirit and still be wicked in their deeds. I believe that the current dilemma of migration and poverty that are looming over the Western world are connected to the Christian churches inability to reflect the full love of God toward the other. Sense we refuse our neighbors who face great afflictions the institutional body of the Church is beginning to be disassembled before our eyes.
What is happening in Europe, is not exclusive to that part of the Western world or even
Christianity as a faith system. Yet, the nature of what Europe is going through can be revealed through the theater of history and its transgressive contents that the other has been typically subjected to endure. However, God does not allow for suffering of the other to take place forever: “They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion when he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the LORD” (Hosea 11:10-11). Through biblical empiricism one can see that the promise of God is always granted to the persecutor instead of the persecuted.
In order for the body of Christ to be whole, it must live in a state of harmony within itself
meaning the unique parts of its being must love each other no matter its structure or function. If nationalism and racism continue to operate within the Christian paradigm the body of Christ will not be actualized by the Christian church. God rewards those who love him if we as believers cannot love our neighbors as we love ourselves then we will be cut off by God and the divine source of creation.

 

Jalani Traxler

Day 10: Borders

“…a crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:32-35)
When I arrived with my luggage in front of Campbell Hall on the CTS campus last week, ready for the adventure of a lifetime in Hungary and the Czech Republic, I fully intended to disconnect from life in the US as much as possible while I was away. I vowed to ignore my Twitter feed, to turn off my New York Times notifications, and to let my podcast queue lay idle for the trip abroad. I would enter into my experiences in these different places, immersing myself in the contexts of the people we would encounter, learning details of the complex histories of these storied lands.
For the first several days, I succeeded. But the harder I tried to disconnect from what was going on in the US, the more I was confronted with the harsh reality of my position as an American traveling abroad: nearly every conversation we have had while we’ve been away has illuminated the relationship between my context as an American and my experiences of the “other” in the various places we’re visiting. I carry with me countless biases and prejudices that are unfortunate but persistent marks of my Americanism, and of my whiteness, and of the privleges of my suburban middle-class upbringing. Each of these biases is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but taken as a collective, they comprise an intricate network of complicated viewpoints and preconceptions that bind me to my background. This is, of course, a gift and a challenge.
Today, we crossed the Hungarian/Ukrainian border. As we approached the long line of cars waiting to make entry into Ukraine, we grew increasingly uneasy: militarily-clad men armed with guns roamed the border area, patrolmen painstakingly searched through people’s personal belongings, and watchtowers betraying the region’s dark history of Communism dotted the skyline. For many of us, this was our first border-crossing experience, and by the time we reached the Ukrainian side, we were quite sobered. Something about the experience of crossing the border between these two foreign countries had made us a bit unsettled, and while we have yet to fully debrief the experience with our group, I wonder if the reason for our discomfort might have been the very concept of borders themselves.
Borders function to separate, to officially keep out the “other.” Borders are neat and tidy, meant to divide a people from another people. Borders can be literal physical markers of space, like the one we crossed today, and they can be figurative, like the cultural borders we have been crossing – whether or not we knew it – throughout our time in Central Europe. Part of our learning process thus far has been to examine these borders, figuring out our levels of comfort and discomfort with crossing them and learning how to communicate across these boundaries in helpful and faithful ways. In keeping with much of what we’ve learned in seminary, we have learned just how much we have yet to learn!
In the lectionary text for today, included above, Jesus reminds his followers that all those who do the will of the Father are his sisters and brothers. On this trip, we have been reminded of just how deep and wide the embrace of God is for God’s children, grafting into God’s family peoples of many cultures and traditions. We have been continually humbled as we have encountered our own tendencies toward boundary-making, remembering that God is not a God of lines drawn in the sand, but of intimate and powerful embrace of all. May it be so for us as we return to the US.
Alexandra Mauney

Day 8: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Schnitzel of Schnitzels.

Amidst battling soar throats and the digestion of deliciously authentic Hungarian Ghoulash, we officially began our first day in the city of Budapest.

Today we met with representatives of the reformed church of Hungary and three affiliated ministries.  In summation: Meetings on meetings on meetings. Let’s fill you in:

We began by meeting with the president bishop, stated clerk and Synodal executives at the National Synod Office of  the reformed church in Hungary. We toured their beautiful headquarters and engaged in a enlightening discussion of church structure, theological education, and their Roma ministry.

One calming bus ride later (our stop is here, our stop is HERE) we met the leaders from Kalunba, a refugee integration ministry, and got the chance to learn about their work helping refugees in Hungary’s current political climate.

After, we met with a Roma after school ministry helping to educate children in the Magdona district, a historically poor neighborhood.

Finally, we ended our line of meetings at the Hungarian Reformed Church Youth Mission Drug Rehabilitation Home. A ministry of addiction therapy for teenage boys and men.

I’ll be frank, There was a lot to take in today.  We met such dedicated individuals, who have given their lives to the service of their fellow neighbors,
many of them vulnerable populations. Like many other occasions on this trip, these encounters and conversations stirred us. As a result of said stirring, I’d like to offer this prayer below as a means of reflection.

For the many ways you work through your church, and through the lives of those who proudly serve its mission.

For your refuge to the displaced and for those who continue to displace.

For your love of the smiles of children and the warm safety of your presence.

For the serene determination you bestow upon those who seek a life free of addiction and  unhealthy dependencies.

For these blessings we give thanks to you. Our God of moving and stirring encounters, Amen.

Next we move to dinner:
For the evening meal we were graced with another fantastical culinary delight )I like food).  What better way to end such a busy day than by eating a piece of fried meat the size of an ultimate frisbee?

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The Schnitzel of all Schnitzels

Ooooooh did that hit the spot. Authentic Hungarian Schnitzel. We mean business over here folks. What a day!

That’s all for now. Tune in next time for another update on our Europe excursion. It’s explorations. It’s Columbia. It’s the end of this post.

Peace, Love, and Schnitzel!
Sam

 

Day 7: Travels to Budapest

Today, we enjoyed a long train ride between Prague and Budapest, and it have us all a chance to reflect upon the massive river of information and experiences that we have encountered over the past five days. And our text for the day is from the book of Jeremiah, a prophet who knows a lot about reflecting on disorienting experiences.

If he was anything at all, Jeremiah the prophet was bold. Perhaps a bit too bold for his own good: from time to time, Jeremiah’s friends had to save him from execution because he criticized the Temple (the royal chapel) and Jerusalem (the royal city in which it sat; cf. Jer 26:1-19). But no matter the consequences, Jeremiah was a truth-teller. After all, it was none other than God who told him to speak “all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word” (26:2). And so Jeremiah did, even when it was terribly uncomfortable.

In the wake of the shatteringly tragic death of Josiah, the young king around whose neck all the hopes of Judah hung so heavy (2 Kgs 23:29-30), Jeremiah walks up to the new king, Jehoiakim, and delivers a stinging rebuke. Jeremiah tells Jehoiakim and his court that YHWH demands justice and righteousness, but instead YHWH sees the powerful oppressing those who are weak and vulnerable in society (22:3). Yet justice for the vulnerable is precisely what YHWH requires of those who enter into covenant with the great God above all gods (22:9).

There is, ultimately, only one possible result of this behavior: namely, just like with Pharaoh, YHWH will destroy the powerful in order to rebuild the world with justice (22:11-12; cf. Exod 15). Jeremiah then says of those who steal wages from their workers to make their own homes even more lavish that their days have already been numbered (22:13-14). Perhaps the most cutting remark, however, is when Jeremiah compares Jehoiakim to his own father, Josiah, and finds him wanting: whereas Josiah was just and cared for the vulnerable, Jehoiakim oppresses the poor to maximize his dishonest profits (22:15-17). Jeremiah reminds the leaders that they were supposed to be “shepherds” of the masses, but instead they preyed on their own flock like a wolf in a shepherd’s clothing (23:1-2).

But after boldly proclaiming the hard truth, Jeremiah gives the gospel: one day, God will gather the remnant of the flock, those who have been persecuted by their own leaders and driven into Exile, and on that day God will raise up faithful leaders who will “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (23:4-5).

Over the last few days of travel in the Czech Republic, our group has marveled at the rich depth of history that we sense here in Central Europe. And much of it is troubling: we have heard and seen stories of heartless cruelty and brutal oppression from the medieval to the modern world, from the systematic persecution of Jews by European Christians to the torture and execution of St. Jan Nepumock by the Christian monarch to the massacre of Protestant Christians by Catholic Christians to the prison-city of Terezin, which was used as a staging ground for Dachau and Auschwitz during the Shoah, staffed by Christian Nazis and their supporters.

Time and again, the powerful—who should have known better—have chosen to persecute the weak, the vulnerable, and marginalized. In our conversations this week, we have been well aware that this is not a quirk of European history alone: we have reflected upon the ways that we see such horrors repeated in the history of the United States, even to this day. Oppression is an inescapable fact of the human experience, and the fact that it is so shocking to me when I come across it says much about my own privileged ability to isolate myself from the violence experienced by so much of the world.

In our time this morning with the leadership of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren, one of our students asked the question: “Where in your context do you find hope?” Perhaps true hope must start in fierce and unrepentant truth-telling, and it can only find expression in the shared conviction to face the truth, whatever it might be. Because it is only after we accept the cold, hard truth that we can begin to sense the possibility of a peaceful world beyond suffering and oppression, a world where there is salvation and safety (23:6), a new reality of justice and righteousness that is tantalizingly palpable but not yet fully realized. Perhaps it is then that we might realize that we ourselves are not the shepherd-leader that have been promised, and neither are we the ones who shall “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (23:5). Rather, we are called to be the bold heralds of that one who has come and who will come again, the one whose name is “YHWH is our righteousness” (23:6).

Brennan Breed

Day 6: Blessed are those…

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” – Matthew 5:6

Today we visited Terezín, the Jewish ghetto and military prison. Terezín is located north of Prague, and we took about an hour bus ride to get there. This place was never a death camp; there were no gas chambers here. (They did start building a gas chamber here, but it never was finished). However, it was a holding area for Jews before they were sent east to the gas chambers, many to Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen, and Dachau, and Buchenwald.

 

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The city was originally built in the late 1800s. It’s enclosed with a border wall and also houses a prison. The prison was originally built to house political opponents of the monarchy. During WWII, the prison mostly housed political prisoners who disagreed with the Nazi regime. Some Jews who were housed in the ghetto could have gone to the prison if they caused problems, but most of the ones who attempted to escape or disobey orders were transported directly to a death camp.

During the years that civilians lived in Terezín, there were about 7,000 inhabitants. Jews began being transported in during 1941. It took 6 months for civilian residents to move out and Jews to move in. At one point during the war, there were 58,000 Jews living in the same space that once comfortably housed 7,000 people. Over the course of WWII, over 155,000 Jews came through Terezín.

As one can imagine, the living conditions were horrific. 35,000 people died at Terezín because of poor sanitary conditions, disease, and killings. Women who became pregnant were forced to have abortions. Surgeries were performed with razor blades and no anesthetics.

In the prison – known as the Small Fortress – political prisoners were often tortured at the pleasure of the SS officers in charge. Living conditions in the prison were horrific as well. We saw the showers that prisoners used (only once a week, and sometimes the officers cut off the water too early out of spite) as well as machines used for clothing sanitation. When prisoners got out of the showers, they had to put their sanitized clothing on – still wet- and spend time in the yard. During the winter months, it would be freezing. If a prisoner made a guard mad, he was often thrown naked into the courtyard after a shower.

Prisoners were made to run back and forth across the courtyard, just to wear them out. They were killed on a shooting range or on the gallows…

Prisoners could get packages, which sounds pleasant and merciful. However, one day the commandant in charge decided that everything received in packages had to be put into the day’s soup: all the food, sweet and salty and everything in between, but also things like cigarettes and needles as well…

We saw a wall with names of children under the age of 15 who were housed at Terezín. We also saw pictures some of them made. They had a teacher who was an artist, and she encouraged them to draw. She even held an exhibit of their drawings in the basements of one of the buildings. She was eventually transported to Auschwitz and died there. Over 18,000 children under the age of 15 were sent to Auschwitz from Terezín during WWII.

Those are the facts. These are the feelings: today absolutely broke my heart. We were kind of rushed through the museum as we had so much to see, but I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the room with the children’s names. I wanted to run my hand across each one and say each name out loud. Each of those was someone’s baby, someone’s whole world, someone’s heart walking outside her body… Each of those children was lovingly taught to talk and to walk, had lullabies sung to them, and were cherished children of God. To know that so many of them were forced to live in such horrible conditions, and that so many of them were transported to death camps and didn’t survive because they were often too young to work. My heart ached to linger over those names, to whisper them, to shout them, to acknowledge their existence. They deserve to be remembered. I wanted to honor their memory.

Standing in the prison, my heart seemed to miss a beat every time we saw something new. To imagine the atrocities that happened there, to sit in the middle of a cold, dark room and wonder about the cries that must have echoed out from that space, the deep wailing of despair that carried in the night, the stifling sound of silence from being too tired or too depressed or too enraged or too withdrawn… I could sense the terror and the desperation.

Walking down the streets of Terezín, I began to imagine what it might have been like for the Jews living there. How some of them must have walked out of fear, how some of them must have been tired, how some of them lamented the lives and families they had lost… I wondered what it was like for the people who moved into Terezín after the war ended, the families that inhabited the apartments that used to be ghettos, the people who set up family homes in places of former filth and human violation. What did they sense when they moved in? What did they find hidden after all evidence of the Jews was gone? What haunted their dreams?

My heart was broken today for all the hearts that were broken then. For all the hearts that continue to break. For all the ways we hate and hurt each other. For the senseless violence. For atrocities and evils and destruction of human life. I have wept, I am weeping, and I will continue to weep for this world.

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“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

This verse breaks my heart too. For those in Terezín, in other places during WWII, and all over the world who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Counting the numbers of those who died senseless deaths in the name of evil, my heart questions this verse. Were they filled, Lord? It is so easy to become hopeless standing in a place like Terezín…

But then I looked around at my traveling companions, and I thought about all of the people who visit these places and learn about the tragedies of genocide, and I think about how our group wants this world to be better, how want this world to be better, how so many people want this world to be better and are actively working towards it… and I pray to God that through honoring the victims’ memories, they will be filled. That if we as a world try to do better, they will be filled with righteousness.

We heard so many stories today, so many I haven’t shared with you, but let me leave you with this…

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Blessed are Eva, and Petr, and Regina, and Leo, and Hana…

Blessed are those who survived…

Blessed are those who perished…

Blessed are those whose names are inscribed on walls…

Blessed are those who seek to do justice in their names.

Amen.

–Dallas

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