A Sunday in Mohács

A few weekends again, I was invited to go with one of my friends and her family to Mohács for a festival. I had no idea what I was in for, but when I heard “a very Hungarian tradition” and “It will be fun!” I automatically committed.
I did a little research before I went, and I found that this festival is meant to “scare winter away” (which made sense of the slightly frightening costumes people were going to be wearing). This Busójárás festival in Mohács is the most famous festival in Hungary, gathering people together from many countries. A theory of why this small town dresses up like this every year is that the people of village dressed up in wild costumes to scare the Turkish away when they tried invading their land. I also found that these Busó (those in costumes) tend to seek out young women in the crowds to rub feathers on their heads or smear black coal on their faces (NO THANK YOU).

Sunday rolled around and I was a little nervous of getting attacked by the Busó, but I hopped in the car for our three hour car ride there. When we got there, I was surprised by how many people were meandering throughout the small town! Roads were blocked off, and parking was crazy. After we found a parking spot, we weaved our way through the crowd, seeing flashes of at least 100 vendors and their stands selling souvenirs. As we got closer to the main road where the parades were happening, we started hearing loud clanging noises. My friend’s brother said, “Oh, I love that sound… At least, you know the Busó are coming.” That’s when I realized the reason for the noise, attached to the waist of all Busó are rusted metal cowbells that clang together when they walk. On top of that noise is the sound of wooden noise makers they swing around when they walk. You can say you can hear a Busó coming from quite a distance away…

We took our places for one of the parades, and my friend’s brother told me this year there were 1,400 Busó at this festival (kinda hard to keep your distance, huh? 😉). We watched as about 50 walked by, every Busó looking slightly different from the next. I ran up to talk a picture of the group walking towards us, and one of the Busó walked right into me (in which I froze, while taking the picture- but hey, at least I got a nice detailed pic!). I was terrified something would happen next, but he kept walking. I honestly think it was because he couldn’t see me because his mask only allows him to look straight ahead.

Next, we went to the town square to watch some traditional dancing on the big stage. We stayed to see Hungarian and Serbian dancing groups before we went to the next parade. I was told more countries danced for the crowd, though!

While walking to another parade on a side road, a Busó started running down the street towards Eszter and I. I thought, “If I remain calm, cool, and collected, he’ll run past me and toward Eszter who is screaming/running away in fear…” Sadly, my tactic didn’t work. He stopped running when he reached me, put his furry arm around me, pulled me into his chest, and gave me a nougie (THANKFULLY, with no feathers to get stuck in my hair). I stood there and took it, tried walking away when he was finished, and then he pulled me in for another one… I have to admit, I was ecstatic when it was over. Good news though, I wasn’t as frightened of the Busó afterwards because I survived that incident.

After watching some parades and sipping on mulled wine, Eszter and I each got masks traditionally wore by the women accompanying the Busó. We wore them to dinner at a restaurant on the Danube River. Then, we headed back to the town square where there was a HUGE bonfire, and we joined a big group of people dancing near to it.

After a long day of “scaring winter away”, we headed home. I’m really happy I went.

An Evaluation Question

Today I was finishing filling out my YAGM mid-year evaluation form and was forced to come back to the question I had been avoiding for the entire month it’s taken for me to complete this form…

How have you grown or changed in your understanding of yourself as someone engaged in God’s mission? As a servant-leader?

Here’s my response, I thought I’d share:

“Being a part of God’s mission” always came with the stereotyped images in my head that were portraying me building houses on mission trips with my church, playing with children in a homeless shelter, or handing out meals to those who were hungry. Though these images are a part of being engaged in God’s mission, they are not all of it. I’ve learned that to be engaged in God’s mission doesn’t mean I have to necessarily be on a mission trip when I’m doing so. Being engaged in God’s mission could be just showing up in a space and having an open heart, an open mind, and ears ready to listen.

I’ve also grown to understand that I don’t have to be leading anything to be a servant-leader. I just have to be serving.

Important Takeaways

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, written by Austin Channing Brown, has really opened my eyes to what I’ve never recognized before- the weight whiteness carries in America and the injustices that come with that to those who are not.  I’ve never had to recognize the majority of what this book consists of because I’m a part of the majority of society, but that doesn’t mean it’s not vital for me to know and act upon.

This book is important. This book has so much truth and validity.

I ask you, yes you, to take the time to get your hands on this book and read it with an open heart and an open mind.

Here are ten (of many) quotes that I’ve written down while reading this treasure:
“I offer this story in hopes that we will embody a community eager to name whiteness, celebrate Blackness, and, in a world still governed by systems of racial oppression, begin to see that there’s another way.”
After the divide continued between the students, a white student stood up and said, “I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism. Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” (58).

“Far from an imposing beast, I found that white supremacy is more like a poison. It seeps into your mind, drip by drip, until it makes you wonder if your perception of reality is true.”

Referring to the dangers of white fragility, “It ignores the personhood of people of color and instead makes the feelings of whiteness the most important thing… If Black people are dying in the street, we must consult with white feelings about naming the evils of police brutality. If white family members are being racist, we must take Grandpa’s feelings into account before we proclaim our objections to such speech.”(89)

“When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label racist should be applied only to the mean-spirited, intentional acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework – besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates in systems and structures enabled by nice people-is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than truthful.”(101)

“Whiteness uses Relational Defense to protect itself (i.e. “Ask ____. They know me and know I couldn’t be racist.”) White people desperately want to believe that the only the lonely, isolated “whites only “club members are racist. This is why the word racist offends “nice white people” so deeply. It challenges their self-identification as good people. Sadly, most white people are more worried about being called racist than about whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful. But the truth is, even the monsters-the Klan members, the faces in the lynch mob, the murderers who bombed churches- they had friends and family members. Each one of them was connected to people who would testify that they had good hearts… The monster has always been well-dressed and well loved.”(104-105)

“Even our celebrations of the Civil Rights Movement are sanitized, it’s victories accentuated while the battles are white washed. We have not come to grips with the spitting in the shouting, the pulling in the tugging, the clubs, dogs, bombs and guns, the passion and vitriol with which the rights of Black Americans were fought against. We have not acknowledged the bloodshed that often preceded victory. We would rather focus on the beautiful words of Martin Luther King Jr. than on the terror he and protestors endured at marches, boycotts, and from behind jail bars.”(115)

“Whiteness has never needed much of an excuse for our deaths. Accused of looking at a white woman. Resisted arrest. Scared the officer. Thought he had a weapon. Looked suspicious. Looked like someone else. Had a criminal record (that the officer knew nothing about it). Doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, Blackness is always the true offense.” (146)

“A misconception is that reconciliation boils down to dialogue: a conference, a lecture, a moving sermon about diversity in heaven. But dialogue is productive toward reconciliation but only when it leads to action-when it inverts power in pursues justice for those who are most marginalized.”(169)

” I do not believe that I or my children or my grandchildren will live in an America that has achieved racial equality. I do not believe this is a problem that America will fix within any soon-coming generation. And so I stand in the legacy of all that Black Americans have already accomplished- in their resistance, their teachings, their voices in their faith- and I work toward a world unseen, currently unimaginable.”
So where is your hope, Austin?
“It is working in the dark, not knowing if anything I do will ever make a difference. It is speaking anyway, writing anyway, loving anyway… It is pushing back, even though my words will never be enough, powerful enough, weighty enough to change everything. It is knowing that God is God and I am not.”(181)

The One about the Birthday Party

A few weeks ago, I went to a 17th birthday party!

A sweet girl who lives at The Castle hand-wrote an invitation for Sámuel (my friend who lets me tag along to his religious lessons there) and I the week before. We both planned to go (having no idea what we were in for), but we knew we wanted to be a part of her special day.

When we arrived at the house, we were greeted with squeals of joy and hugs. The birthday girl led us to her bedroom, where her older sister was blowing up balloons. After I was dubbed with a glittery dragonfly tattoo on the hand, Sámuel and I wandered around the house to see what the rest of the kids we knew were about to.
We hung out in one of her brothers’ room to watch him play on his computer. We laughed with a kiddo who is non-verbal walking around with his fake cell phone, and we successfully made our way through the 20 kids when transferring rooms.

Soon, it was time to gather together at the (very long!) kitchen table, with every seat having a balloon attached to it for decoration. The birthday girl insisted I sat next to her (and only looked at me while the rest of the party was singing to her because she was so excited I was there). After the Hungarian Birthday Song was sung, we all enjoyed TWO kinds of cake! The first one was a vanilla cake, with white creme, and chocolate shavings on top. The second was made by her older sister (who is studying culinary arts) that was a chocolate cake beautifully decorated with Hello Kitty on top. After we had our fill of sweets, Sámuel and I said our goodbyes and were told to take a balloon with us. 😊

When I was leaving, I realized there was a biblical reminder for me to take home from this party, too… Let me explain.

While the birthday girl was being sung to and all eyes were on her, the kiddo Sámuel and I were laughing with about his cell phone squealed with joy THE WHOLE TIME. He was sitting across from me, so I could see his eyes light up every time the birthday girl smiled. When she blew out the candles, he was the one clapping his hands the longest. Though this boy couldn’t use words to explain how he was feeling, it was evident he was overjoyed because it was a happy/celebratory time for her.

This little guy reminded me of this verse from Romans 12, verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”.

Sometimes it’s easy to wish exciting things happening to other people would happen to us (I’m guilty, too). But if we could all just take a few moments out of our days to be joyful for others like this little 9-year-old was for the birthday girl, I think we wouldn’t regret it.

… and with everything comes it’s opposite. Mourning doesn’t sound like something too appealing to do if we don’t have to, I know. But we’re called to walk with people, wherever they’re at. And we all know walking through the dark is a lot more comforting with a companion next to us.

Being Courageous

Alright, let’s start with this first:

“Being courageous” doesn’t mean you have to suit up in your armor and go into battle. “Being courageous” isn’t just “for the superheroes”. Being courageous can be taken in strides or in small steps.

Today, I was courageous.

This morning, I finished my tea with one of the Lutheran pastors and had all the intentions of going to as few stores as possible and attempting to speak Hungarian as minimally as I could to get what I needed (conditioner, something for breakfast, LEGOs for a church program, etc).

I could have gone to PennyMarket (where I always go and am rarely asked questions- my comfort zone for shopping) for the majority of what I needed, but I decided I needed to do more for myself. It’s so easy for me not to “go out” on my own because my host family buys all the food I need and are willing to translate almost anywhere we go.

I told myself, “Okay, Syd. We’re going to be independent today. We’re not even going to go to Penny. We’re going to four different shops this morning, AND if you want breakfast- you’re going to go to the pékség (bakery) for the first time by yourself and order something at the counter.”

WOAH, ENTHUSIASTIC SYDNEY. CALM YOURSELF.

After a few deep breaths, ya know what though? I did it. I went. AND I understood almost everything everyone said to me: “Can I help you?”, “Do you have the 300 forints?”, etc.

The one thing I didn’t understand happened when I couldn’t open the door to a shop, so I thought it was closed. The woman on her smoke break was telling me to push the door, not pull it. After she had to physically show me what she was saying, she followed me in the store for a few minutes to make sure I wasn’t a looneybin. 😂 Definitely a moment I could have just walked away from in embarrassment and tried again another day, but I figured it was a time to push through and not retreat from.

After I had bought everything I needed, I made my way to the pékség… Did the woman at the counter know I wasn’t Hungarian because I mispronounced “bejgli”? Probably. BUT guess what? My virsli bejgli (a hot dog baked on top of bread, with ketchup underneath the meat and cheese on top) was WARM and FRESH… Much better than the cheese bread roll I would have gotten out of a PennyMarket basket that was baked an hour beforehand.

Be courageous, friends.

See ya 2018, Szia 2019!

(Translation: “Szia” is used in the Hungarian language as “Hi” or “Bye” in a casual setting. It sounds like “See ya”, without the “y” sound.)

As 2018 came to its end (unlike ANY way I would have predicted at the beginning of the year…), I took some time to reflect what God had been up to in my life throughout the year.

If we’re being honest here, I’d mark this year as “the most monumental”. In the last 12 months, I:
– survived student teaching (which at the time I thought was the hardest thing I’d do in my life… Pshh)
– Graduated with two Bachelor degrees in May
– Coordinated my first vacation without my family
– Worked my fifth summer at the YMCA summer camp
– MOVED ACROSS THE WORLD
– Spent my first holidays away from home

Just in the last four months of the year, I think I’ve grown more, as a person, than I have in my entire life. I’ve been exposed to a lot more of the world than I thought was there to discover. I’ve had to learn a lot more about myself than I wanted challenged. I’ve felt more lonely than I ever have before. My faith and world views seemed to have been turned upside down, spun around, and then given back to me to figure out how to look at them again. I’ve had a lot of questions running through my head like, “What are you doing here?” and “Are you sure you’re doing this right?”.

BUT, through it all, I’ve had no doubt that I am where I’m supposed to be right now. I’ve been the recipient of so much love and support that I cannot even begin to describe to you.

2018 was not what I would have wrote if I was writing my own story, but I’m sure glad the author knows what they’re up to. 💕

2019, I’m not sure what you’re going to hold, but I’m sure you’re going to be full of love, surprises, challenges, and growth.

… I’m buckled in, let’s go.

Boldog Karácsonyt! Merry Christmas!

Being away from tradition, routine, familiar sounds, and “home” for the holidays can’t be easy for anyone. With that being said, I applaud anyone who was away this holiday, anytime in the past, and for those who will be in the future.

Knowing I wouldn’t be in Warren for Christmas for the first time in my life, I wasn’t really sure what to anticipate at this time of the year. Would we celebrate with extended family like I do in the States? Will I be so overcome with homesickness it would take all my energy not to cry at the dinner table? What does the month of December look like in this small town across the world from mine?

Though I had many questions, I was sure about one thing… This will be a Christmas I treasure and look back on for the rest of my life. After all, not many people get the opportunity to be a part of a non-touristy community across the world for Christmas.

I was reminded several times by people in my community that “it’s okay to miss home”, “that I was brave for being so far from family at this time”, and that “they hope I genuinely enjoy being in their community for the holidays”.

Honestly though, the days winding down to Christmas didn’t really affect me. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and I felt like it was just any other winter day abroad. That is until I called my mom, dad, and Jordi for our weekly video chat and a steady stream of tears ran down my face. It wasn’t that I really wished to be home or that I wasn’t having a good time here or anything like that. They were tears of “I know this is not going to be easy, but I know this is where I need to be”.

Flash forward to Christmas Eve Day. Zoli’s mom came over for lunch, and we ate chicken soup and gombas husz (one of my favorites!) together. Soon after she left, Panna and I headed to the church for choir rehearsal before the 6:00 service. The service began, and it still didn’t really feel like “Christmas” to me. But, I was happy to be a part of the Christmas play and the choir during the service. (I’m almost positive if I had to sit in the congregation and not participate in anything, this story would be quite different.) We sang beautiful Hungarian Christmas songs, and I was a barkeeper in the Christmas play. I felt a twinkle of “Christmas” at the end of the service because it ended with “Silent Night” (the song my church ends with in the States) in Hungarian!

My host family and I headed home to see if “Jésuska (Baby Jesus) came”, which indeed He did. We played English Christmas music, danced around the living room, and sipped mulled wine. Before opening presents, my második mama made a toast to me and expressed how she was so glad to have me as a part of their family, how she truly sees me as a daughter, and that she loves how I am a big sister to Panna. Naturally, I choked up trying to thank them for opening their hearts and home to me and told them that this Christmas will always be dear to my heart because they’ve made me feel so welcome. It was then that I felt in my heart what I had hoped would come, the “Christmas feeling”.

Christmas morning was slightly different for me because the family had already opened gifts the night before, so there was no need to wake up early. Knowing I had presents sent from the States, I set aside an hour and half of my morning to have my own time to open them and cry as I wished. Of course by the time I opened my second gift I was crying. I knew I had to save my “big present” for last because I knew it’d require a lot of energy and emotions, the scrapbook I requested.

I made myself as comfortable as I could get to place this most ginormous scrapbook I’ve ever seen in my life in my lap. As I leafed through the scrapbook with tears rolling down my cheeks for 45 minutes, I felt the closest I’ve felt to God all month. I looked through pictures from all different times in my life, read letters from dear friends and family from PA to NC to AZ to NH, laughed out loud, and cried tears of thankfulness.
I must say that that book is the most precious and special gift I have ever received. I was and still am speechless with how above and beyond my sending community went for me (especially my parents, Bri, Sarah Jo, Kim, and Raegen who helped assemble everything).

In the afternoon, my host family went to my második mama’s parents house. There I was greeted with a warm welcome from a few people I adore visiting, Nagymama and Nagypapa. I was given Christmas presents by them AND by the második mama’s brother’s family (whom I’ve only met one time before!). The eleven of us gathered around a table to enjoy a typical Hungarian Christmas meal- a special soup and csirkepörkölt. With that many people, there’s bound to be many conversations. There was always happy conversation being had (that sometimes I understood most of!) with the occasional “Boldog Karácsonyt!” (“Merry Christmas!”) thrown out there once in awhile over the bustle of voices. I was asked questions, offered multiple shots of pálinka (a strong Hungarian brandy), and encouraged quite often about how well my Hungarian is coming along. The youngest cousin even let me braid her hair! Before I left, my “host aunt and uncle” told me that I should come to their house sometime and proposed blessings to me during this holiday season.

Our family of four headed home and played some new games Jésuska brought Panna. I finished my night video calling my family back home as I was about to go to bed and they had just finished their lunch. What a blessing it was to be a part of both of my families that day!

In Hungary, December 26 is also celebrated for Christmas, so I had an extra day of traditional celebration! Originally, Zoli’s family was going to come to our house, but sickness hit one of the household so it’s postponed until Sunday. Instead, we relaxed in the morning/afternoon and headed to my host uncle and aunt’s (on Edit’s side) house around 4:00. There I was welcomed again with open arms, a new gift- a Hungarian towel, great food, and a tour of their house. I played with the smallest cousin again with a game (like DDR) she got for Christmas. I chatted with a cousin, who speaks English, who asked about American culture. Plans were spoken about to take me to Budapest for a sightseeing tour, and I did the smallest cousin’s hair again before we went home.

When we made it back home, I changed into my new pajamas sent from America and played card games with my második mama in the living room. After we played four different games with her practicing her English and me practicing my Hungarian, we snuggled up on the couch and watched a movie in Hungarian (which she impressively translated for me for two and a half hours).

I’d say my Christmas in Hungary was a huge success and will be remembered for a long, long time.

AND, I still have two more Christmas parties to attend…