May has been quite an interesting month for us here in Nyíregyháza. The weather has been polar from cold, rainy days to sunny above average temperatures. We also received quite a few guests this month with a previous YAGM volunteer we both know, Tabby’s parents and our friends from the States visiting and staying with us throughout the month. Besides hosting wonderful people, we also spent a weekend attending a Roma wedding! Though it was a great experience hosting our guests and experiencing the wedding, we have finally found a couple days of rest at the end of this month, as we look ahead as our journey in Hungary is coming to a close.
Intentionally Living the Gospel
This month, Tabby and I got the chance to show a handful of American friends and family a little part of our world in Hungary. When we said goodbye to the last of our guests, I could not help but reflect on how as we hosted our friends and family, we have had wonderful people host and take care of us. The bible verse that comes to mind is Matthew 25:35 which states “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…”. I have mentioned them many times before but the two people who come to mind are Ákos and Éva Vadnay, the owners of the flat we have called home this year as well as the head pastor’s in-laws.
The Vadnay’s have been an integral part of our journey this year as they have offered more to us than they are asked. To begin, Tabby and I were originally supposed to be housed in the University dormitory, but Pr. Molnar mentioned that the Vadnay’s were willing to offer a flat they owned for us, seeing that the dormitory life may be difficult for a married couple. Next, the Vadnay’s have continually invited us for Sunday lunch every Sunday throughout our time here and after a wonderful Hungarian meal, always provided at least two-three days’ worth of leftovers to feed us for the week. Whenever we arrive at their house for lunch, Ákos is always there to ask if we would like anything to drink and after lunch, would brew us coffee to our preference. Finally, we were strangers when we arrived in Hungary but the Vadnay’s invited us and welcomed us in as if we were their own family.
The Vadnay’s chose to take us in and provide for us to which they could have easily passed off and continued their own lives. They chose to go beyond seeing us as two Americans, but as two family members, two children of God. I look to the Vadnay’s when I try to live out this bible verse and am deeply humbled knowing that people like this exist in the world today.
Surrendering to Chaos
Vanda is a Roma College student that Tabby and I have gotten to know very well this year. Her conversational English is great, mostly in part to her fearless attitude when making mistakes and learning from them. She also has the opportunity to spend this summer at an Iowa Lutheran Bible Camp working as a camp counselor to which she will succeed and grow so much from. Vanda’s sister was getting married this month and she invited Tabby and I to attend a couple months prior. Of course, we could not turn down this amazing opportunity!
As the weekend of the wedding was approaching, I was gaining some nervous and excited energy. Excited because we would be experiencing a completely different cultural experience that many Hungarians themselves have not experienced. A little nervous because when telling non-Roma Hungarians where we were going, many held shocked faces as the wedding would be held in Tiszabura, a predominantly Roma and poorer village. Despite my nervousness in attending the Roma wedding, I felt that the best way was to take the experience in as it is. Surrender to what comes and calm the nerves and anxieties.
It turned out to be quite an amazing experience as I kept ‘surrendering’ in the back of my mind. Vanda’s family and family friends were very welcoming and invited us to join in all kinds of the festivities such as asking me to dress up as the “Ugly Bride” for one of their traditions, marching throughout the streets of Tiszabura with the whole wedding party exclaiming the news of the newlyweds, eating delicious Roma-Hungarian foods, and dancing with Vanda’s uncles and aunts. It was a wild, fun and insightful experience from the start to the end where we barely missed our train back to Nyíregyháza by minutes! As I reflect, I think about how chaotic yet blissful that weekend was. Letting go of nervous expectations and letting the experience come as it was helped foster an attitude and perspective that allowed me to have a wonderful time despite what others may say about the Roma.
Letting Grace Win
Tabby’s parents came to visit us for about a week in Nyíregyháza. They just got off a one week-long Viking river cruise down the Danube starting in Germany and though they learned many things and had many touristy experiences on their voyage, they were ready to experience Hungary through the eyes of the community. Gabor and Judit have become dear friends of Tabby and I, as they are a part of the choir and live in the building next to us. On most Sunday evenings, they gladly drive us to and from choir practice. When they found out Tabby’s parents were coming, they wanted to share an afternoon with all of us.
It started with a wonderful home cooked meal in their flat that Judit prepared for lunch along with great conversation and stories about their family history in Nyíregyháza. At one point, Gabor gifted Dell, Tabby’s father, a book he helped co-author about the Big Lutheran Church in Nyíregyháza which was translated in English and German. I could tell Dell was excited and honored to receive such a gift. After lunch and conversation, Gabor wanted to show my in-laws the Big Lutheran Church. Judit stayed behind as she was packing their things for a two-week trip to Germany the next day so the five of us left to the Big Lutheran Church. At the Big Church, Gabor gave us more history of the church and his personal stories of the church from how the church has had different pastors to how despite the Soviet occupation during the 1950’s, his family still attended church. After our experience at the Big Lutheran Church, Gabor took us to the Hungarian spa baths where the five of us relaxed in the heated baths and steamy saunas to end the day.
It was an amazing day and a day which portrayed letting grace win. I could tell that my mother-in-law, a kind and giving person, was having a tough time not being able to help in any way as Gabor and Judit were excellent hosts and gave so much to us. Seeing my in-laws having to experience accepting grace and gifts from these two Hungarian strangers reflected how Tabby and I initially struggled but learned to accept and let grace win throughout this year. Our community wants to share so much with us and was always willing to invite us to be with them and listen to their stories.
Become Servant To, Not Service For
It has become a common occurrence when I show up to things that I am called to do something important or plans change. At the English-Hungarian school, I often join the English teachers and jump right into their lessons by playing word and listening games with the students that I have to learn on the spot or answer questions that the teachers encourage the students to ask so that they can work on their English skills such as “what is your favorite color?” or “do you play Fortnite?”. In the musical groups I accompany, I try not to play or sing too loud but am often encouraged to take a leading violin solo or not be too shy in singing along. Sometimes when I accompany the Roma College students to events, they ask me to take out my violin and accompany them, usually playing to a song that I have never heard of. All of these and more were examples of becoming servant to, not service for. Whatever the situations or change of plans, I was there, and my community invited me and called upon me. It has been such an enriching year learning to balance this and wrestle with what it meant to be servant and not service for. I did not set my schedule for them to fit around but I was invited to be a part of the experience even though it did not particularly involve what I thought was needed. When Tabby and I find a minute to speak with our mentor, Pr. Molnar, about future plans in the coming weeks related to our lives, hers, the church or the Roma College, and plans change, she would often tell us: “Well you know, this is Hungary,” with a smile and nod at us, “but you know.”