Monday, March 22, 2010

Circles of Life

If I wanted to be poetic I'd quote Elton John's song from the Lion King, "Circles of Life". This past week we were blessed to have Kinga Vago as our team translator. Kinga is an English major at a university in Pecs, Hungary. She was excellent at translating and was very patient with the Roma ladies as she assisted them to find the various scriptures used in the messages. Kinga and our daughter, Amy, were in 1st and 2nd grade together 15 years ago when we first moved to Hungary. They were close friends and Kinga's family was among those that helped to look after our family in our newness to the culture. Kinga's father was the pastor of the Derecske Baptist Church and was a very supportive person in our early Hungarian life. We laughed as Kinga recalled funny stories from those days. Who among us, way back then as we built that wonderful friendship between our families, would have imagined Kinga would serve as our translator years later? God works in mysterious ways and he blessed us beyond measure by sending Kinga with her gentle spirit and bright smile to serve along side us.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ladies' Day #5 - 'Berencs

"Thank you God that you love us as women as much as you love men. Thank you that for you we are not nothing and you do not look at us as people without value..." This was a portion of the prayer of one of our ladies today. A woman who has had a difficult life having lost all eight of her children. She told us of being contently married for 25 years and a Believer for five. Her face told us she carried a heavy burden - she looked much older than her 48 years and she rarely smiled. However, it's hard not to smile and laugh once the cake icing is handed out. One of the team members compared it to giving play dough to preschoolers. It's therapeutic to stir the color in to the icing, fill the bag and then create something unique. It didn't take long before our new friend was smiling and seemed to relax a bit.

The 'Berencs church room is small and we squeezed in 17 women along with our 8 team members. We moved church benches around for a make shift dining area and raided the owners home for a few extra chairs. The weather cooperated too so we could have the door open to allow the fresh air in. (After a week of breathing wood smoke we were ready!)

Thank you for praying for this week of Ladies' Days. Our goals were to tell of God's love for all, encourage the women in their faith, and give them an opportunity to have fun without the worries of their normal day. Our prayers were answered as we saw this happen each day. It was apparent as the ladies left at the end of the days that they had enjoyed themselves. Join us in giving thanks to God for a fantastic week!

And thank you Women's Missionary Union of Virginia - women all around Virginia - for supporting this project.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ladies' Day #4 - Kekcse

As we loaded the van this morning we were all curious and wondering out loud how the day would go. The Roma church in Kekcse had split a few weeks ago and most of the women had left to attend the new church start. We weren't sure if they would come to a function being held in the building of the church they were no longer a part of. We had planned on and hoped for 20 women. "Oh ye of little faith..." We eventually had 39!

As Becky McKinney began her message to the women on God's forgiveness the rest of us were praying for open hearts and ears. We were asking God to heal the conflict and strife between the groups. The ladies were heart felt in their prayers asking God to bless and forgive them. One lady prayed "I've waited a long time to have a special day like this."

During the necklace making I shared about the Beads for Life that are made by Ugandan women to support their families. The Roma women clapped and shouted "Amen" as I explained we were helping women in Africa. They loved the idea.

Cake decorating, as on the other days, was a huge hit with lots of laughter. The WMU VA team was amused as they watched the Roma women lick their icing spatulas and icing tips - often just squirting the icing directly into their mouths. Another comical moment was watching Nicole Todd (Crossroads Camp WMU employee) teaching the decorating from the pulpit. The room was crowded and the brick pulpit was immovable - it was the best place. We wanted to call her "Sister Martha Stewart".

The most poignant moment of the day came when a great grandmother introduced herself and 3 generations of women in her family. The great grandmother was 47 years old; the grandmother 32 years old, the mother, 16; and her baby was 1.

Again we felt God blessed us by letting us play a role in bringing bits of joy and fun to the lives of the Roma women. We pray they take to heart God's message of love and forgiveness. Please pray for our last Ladies' Day tomorrow in Berencs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ladies' Day #3 - Tuzser

Wow! What a day! Tuzser was the largest of the churches where we planned to hold the ladies' day celebrations. It lived up to our expectations. This celebration time was chaotic, crazy and fun-filled. The church room quickly filled with women eager to see just what this American group was all about. We had requested the ladies not bring children but of course knew we would have a few nursing mothers. As soon as word "telegraphed" around the village that it was OK to bring small children the numbers grew quickly.

Becky McKinney's message of God's love for women and the sacrifice Jesus made was even more important since nearly half of the 60 women present were not believers. The ladies who were church members were a bit embarrassed by the non-members' behavior of being loud and grabbing for supplies. We explained there was no need to worry. We were happy the women were hearing the Good News and hoped seeds were planted.

So as the dust cleared and we looked around the room at the bits of paper scattered, the smeared icing, turned over cups, napkins stuck inbetween pew boards we felt the day had been a success. We had 60 women in the morning and 51 in the afternoon. They heard the message of encouragement through God's love and forgiveness and they had a time away from their families - if only briefly.

Please pray continue to pray. We have two days left and we want as many women as possible to hear the message and enjoy "their" day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ladies' Day #2 - Ilk

We awoke this moring to the sounds of snow shovels. Yes, snow! This did not dampen our spirits or the women of the Roma Baptist Church in Ilk. We arrived in Ilk a little unsure of what to expect. News had reached us the church building (a falling down old house) had been sold and we would meet in a church member's home. The church room was actually a poorly walled in porch. The roof did not meet the wall on one side causing a bitter cold draft for those sitting there. This draft also caused the room to fill with smoke from the wood stove so we had to open the door which filled the room with cold air. What a cycle! It did not alter our plans or the air of excitement in the room.

Tibor the pastor led our praise time. As soon as he finished we said, "Thanks, now you gotta go!" The ladies laughed at the thought of kicking the pastor out of the church. He was goodnatured and said he knew when he was not wanted.

Today was similar to yesterday with our ice-breaker, drawings for little gifts, necklace making, and cake decorating. Becky McKinney once again touched the hearts of the women as she spoke to them of God's love and forgiveness. She spoke of celebrating our uniqueness as women and women of God. The ladies were eager to comment as Becky asked them questions about their own celebrations.

Again we heard lots of laughter, good natured teasing, and small talk. One lady commented she had never experienced anything like this before. Another said for her the best thing was no cooking or cleaning or thinking about what to feed her family. A third said she had not had so much fun in a very long time.

We handed out bright pink bags and reminded the ladies their sisters in Christ in America were praying for them. The bags carried on their arms were bright spots along the muddy road as they made their way with cakes in hand to their homes. What a day!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let's Celebrate - Ladies Day #1 - Szatmarcserke

"We're acting like the children." "This is fun" "I don't have to cook? or do the dishes?" These were just a few of the phrases we heard today in the little Roma (Gypsy) Baptist Church in the village of Szatmarcserke. The ladies didn't quite know what to expect as they entered the small room where the church meets and were cheerfully greeted by the American group representing the Women's Missionar Union of Virginia. The day began with a praise time led by some of the local Roma women. After a time of introductions and getting-to-know-you fun, Becky McKinney, past president of the WMU VA spoke. Her message was on celebrating life and that we as women are uniquely made by God. The necklace making that followed was fun and we remarked that our beauty comes from the inside - having hearts that love the Lord - but it is nice to have something beautiful to wear too! The Roma ladies proudly showed off their handiwork. Becky's second message was again on God loving us as women. She shared from her own experience and reminded the ladies God gave his son for us. As she talked about her own sons and stated she couldn't imagine giving her son for someone else's life, several of the women nodded and some had tears flowing. She also reminded them that God forgives and loves us no matter what. Then came the highlight of the day - learning to decorate cakes. We explained this was something the ladies could do for their own celebrations within their families and church. As the afternoon progressed giggles broke out, good natured teasing about one's decorating skills could we heard, as well as lots of talking, and you could see the women relax. They were having a great time! After the group picture they gathered up their cakes and supplies, greeted each other with "God Bless You" and headed out to show off their handiwork with smiles and singing.

The goal of the day was to offer encouragement to a group of women for whom life is hard and to allow them a time of fellowship and fun. Hearing the sound of the laughter as they made their way down the street back to their families and responsibilities, we knew God had blessed us all and the day was a success.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

15 Years of Ministry Among the Roma in Hungary

How's that saying go? "Times flies when you're having fun." 15 years ago the end of February we packed up our family and moved to Hungary. The Hungarian Baptist Union invited CBF to help with ministry among the Roma. Amy was seven and Josh was five when we arrived in the village of Derecske. There we were loved and supported by families in the local Baptist church. The Kiss family and Saska family became like our own. We slowly began to learn the language and culture. Our first efforts among the Romany were in the village of Pocsaj where we met in homes, the local police station, an abandoned movie theater, and finally an old house renovated into a place of worship and refuge. The ministry grew from there as the Baptist Union and individuals within local churches embraced the calling to reach this people group within their borders.
Today the Hungarian Baptist Union has hired a full-time Roma Ministries Coordinator and has a committee that overseas the ministry efforts. There are 24 Roma churches with eight trained Roma leaders. The churches have their own worship style that includes music led with guitars and Roma language praise songs. It is a life changing moment when the Roma hear God loves them, the Gypsies.
We are privileged to walk along side committed, faithful Christians - Roma and Hungarian - who desire to share the Good News with their friends, neighbors, and brothers. It has been a great 15 years and we're looking forward to what God has in store for the next 15.
Thank you for supporting us through prayers, friendship, financial gifts, volunteering, and many other ways.

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

International Women's Day is celebrated around the world on March 8th. It is a day set aside for women to be recognized for their economic, political and social contributions to the world. Across Europe and especially in Hungary, men will present the ladies in their lives small tokens of appreciation. This is usually in the form of flowers, chocolate, or perhaps a meal in restaurant.

Roma women are the backbones of their families. They work hard to keep their households clean and safe, to provide food for their husbands and children, and the great many other tasks we as women do on a daily basis. Roma women often live in poor conditions with inadequate housing and few affordable good nutritional choices. Life takes its toil as they work without running water, few modern appliances and little electricity.

Pray for the Roma women. Ask that today be the day they understand joy that comes from knowing Christ. Ask that today be an easy day of tasks. Pray that today they feel loved and appreciated by their families.

Pray for the series of Ladies' Days being held March 15-19 in the Roma churches in northeast Hungary. Pray the ladies will embrace the Bible study theme of "Celebrating God Loves Us As Women." Pray for the team of 4 ladies from the Women's Missionary Union of Virginia (WMU VA) coming to lead the study and teach cake decorating. Pray each day will be a day of fun and relaxation for the women of the Roma churches.