Being Courageous, Part 2

Awhile ago I wrote another blog about being courageous, and I want to start out with the same reminder as that one:

“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.

Well, a few weeks ago I was the most courageous I’ve ever felt while being over here. Here’s how it went:

It was a Sunday evening, and I saw on Facebook that I was invited by a fellow YAGM (serving in Budapest) to an event called “Hate Speech: Turning Prejudice into Love” that would be the following day. The event would be in Budapest, but it wouldn’t end until 9. Per my host mom’s request while I decided if I was going to go, if I did, I would have to stay the night with Taylor and come back to Pilis on the morning train. I slept on the idea and thought in the morning, “You know what, this sounds really awesome! I love hearing people’s stories and being able to support those who make themselves vulnerable for the betterment of others. This is such a ‘YAGM’ event for me to go to. I should go, even though navigating the city scares me… It’ll be fine… ”

I messaged Taylor, and she told me I could crash at her place afterward. BUT she said that there would be a possibility that she wouldn’t be going to the event, but if she didn’t she would send me detailed instructions on how to get to her place.

My immediate reaction, “Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t go. What IF she doesn’t come? I’d have to not only find my way to the event alone (without GPS), but also make it to her neighborhood alone. I’m not super comfortable with navigating public transportation. I DEFINITELY don’t want to be alone at night. I’m SO LIKELY to get lost. Budapest is so big… It would so easy to back out of this and say, ‘Ah well, I tried'”.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the words I’ve been using as my ‘motto’ this year, “I need to have courage in order to be vulnerable so I can grow.”

I messaged Taylor back and told her I was heading to work then hopping on the train to Budapest.

I hopped on the 5:00 train and pulled into Budapest around 6:00. For the hour ride there, I hand wrote the directions from Google Maps that I had screenshotted on my IPad when I was home on how to get to the program from the train station. I got off the train, found the metro station, got to one of the many town squares, and started having my doubts when I couldn’t find what street I needed to turn onto. I asked 5 people in Hungarian “Do you speak English?” with no luck. Thankfully, I had about 40 minutes of wiggle room before the event started.

I started walking passed some vendors just hoping I’d hear someone speak English and I could ask them for help. Luckily, I heard a girl, who looked to be about my age, speaking English. I asked her if she knew which way the university was, and she said she had no idea because she was a tourist.

My heart sank a little, but then she said, “This vendor knows English, maybe he can help you! Good luck!”

Thankfully, the vendor understood me and pointed me in the right direction. I found the address that was written on the Facebook event, only to find out that it wasn’t being held in that building…

The receptionist spoke English though and told me I just had to continue down the street for a block to find the student center that was hosting the event.

When I finally walked through the glass doors, I let my shoulders drop, my eyes close, and my lungs take a deep breath again. It took talking to about 7 people and 45 minutes instead of 21 to find that place, but I made it.

I had about ten minutes to spare, so I hopped on the university wifi to tell Taylor I made it and to see if she sent me the directions to get to her in case she wasn’t going to the event.

She sent me directions, screenshots included, which I copied down every detail into my little notepad I was carrying around like Dora the Explorer.

I thanked God for keeping me safe and for all the people who helped me get there, and I went in to find a seat. I found a few of Taylor’s co-workers, who I’d met through a conference in December, and I felt a sense of peace being near familiar faces.

As my heart rate began to finally decline, I felt a sense of victory that most city folk probably wouldn’t understand. A sense of pride a small-town girl feels the first time she makes her way through “the city life” on her own (and at night to boot!).

The program was ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. College students from 8 different countries who attend college in Budapest all spoke about their backgrounds, times they faced discrimination, and were incredibly vulnerable to do so.

It really was an extraordinary, unique experience. There definitely would not have been “a next time” if I didn’t go.

Afterward, it took me about an hour longer to get to Taylor than expected. I went to the wrong bus stop. I didn’t have a connection to her because her phone didn’t work. I called another volunteer in a panic. I prayed for 25 minutes straight while sitting on a bench waiting for my tram because everything slows down later at night. And I was EXHAUSTED when I found Taylor waiting at the station. But I made it.

I told Taylor, “I was so brave today. I don’t know if I’d ever do this again, but I did it. I was so worried, but I’m proud of myself.”, as we walked arm-in-arm down the middle of her quiet street, laughing as if it wasn’t 11:00pm.

Be courageous, friends, and remember this: Courage ➡️Vulnerability ➡️Growth

Rest

Ever wonder why the Day of Rest is a part of the Creation story, even though nothing was technically created?

I think it’s mentioned, and seen as equal to all the other days, because God wanted to show us the importance of rest. If God did it, how do we think we can haul through life without it? If God sees it as important enough to mention in the story of the creation OF THE WORLD, why don’t we give it a second thought? Why is it seen as a sign of weakness?

I had been hustling around Friday night and yesterday morning. So when I returned from Budapest, exhausted, I decided to listen to my body and give myself some decompression time in my room. I opened my window, put on a Christian music playlist I found on YouTube, laid down in my bed, and closed my eyes.

The sun was beaming through my window, warming my face and turned the shades of colors I was seeing behind my eyelids to a brighter reddish orange. I breathed deeply and focused on the lyrics of the songs seranading my room. I had reached ultimate relaxation, without falling asleep.

Before I knew it though, I opened my eyes to see that the sun had almost disappeared into the skyline. I didn’t feel groggy or in a daze, like I usually do after naps, though. It was quite a refreshing feeling, to feel as though everything in the world was in order again, even if it was just for a few minutes.

As I saw the oranges and yellows of the sunset, I was reminded of the Bible verse, “Be still and know that I am God”.

Great peace comes with stillness.

Why don’t we take more time to rest? Why don’t we see the importance of it?

You need rest. I need rest. We all NEED rest.

God wants us to rest, to be still, to be in calmness sometimes.

Please (re)claim your need for rest, no matter who you are, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Szolgakirály (Servant King)

Tonight at youth group, we finished our lesson time together by singing some songs that were projected on the wall from the laptop. I had sung through the same songs an hour earlier with the confirmation class, so I felt somewhat confident singing along. When we were deciding which song to finish with “Szolgakirály” was suggested. My friend, Anita, translated the title “Servant King” to me while Eszter looked for the lyrics to project. I knew the church choir sings a song with “Szolgakirály” in the chorus, so I thought it was going to be that one…

Eszter looked up from behind the screen and said she couldn’t find the lyrics. Sámuel, our guitarist, looked at everyone and said, “You all know the lyrics, right?”. Everyone nodded in unison, as I looked at Anita with a deer-in-the-headlights look. I thought, “At least I can hum along and pop in for the last sentence of the chorus”. As Sámuel started playing, I started humming, recognizing the tune.

When we got to the chorus, I realized we were singing the Hungarian version of “Here I am to Worship”. I got so excited! I started singing the English version out loud (but being conscience of not overpowering or distracting others).
In those moments, I closed my eyes and felt my heart flutter. My heart began to soar from being able to worship alongside my friends with the same meaning behind our words but spoken in different languages.

It was such a beautiful experience for me, reminding me that we all come to worship from exactly where we are in that moment and God is delighted by all people in all ways.

🎼
Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely,
Altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.
🎼

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.