Sunday, July 31, 2011


This afternoon, between classes, Arnold introduces us to a man he clearly admires, and who we have already heard about as the town Good Samaritan.

Feti is a money changer, who spent some years living under the bridge we’ve been praying over. Although he is now healthy and independent, Feti never forgets his days there, and now spends significant time helping marginalized people of this city. He is a large man, covered with silver chains and rings, resembling a biker more than anything, but his eyes are gentle and his face is kind.

Feti began life with alcoholic parents who physically and verbally abused him, telling him he would amount to nothing and end up in jail. His mother tortured him with a knife, stabbing him repeatedly, to the point that, as Feti grew into adolescence, he feared he would kill her. Whether he fled or they kicked him out, I didn’t quite get, but at 13, Feti went to live under the bridge. With the words, “You’ll be nothing!” ringing in his ears, Feti determined he would not only be something, but go to university.

To earn money for clothes, Feti worked in a clothing store. He couldn’t afford toiletries, so he grew a beard. He cleaned trains at night to pay for school. When he was of age to attend university, Feti moved to the
dorm, but could only stay there during the week. On weekends, the dorm closed, and Feti returned to the bridge. He describes the homeless who would gather, and the children. If they had no papers proving they were working, the Communists would round them up and put them in jail. Fortunately, when Feti began attending university, he found an advocate in one teacher, who got him the necessary paperwork.

Feti graduated and began work at the water district. He quickly achieved his goal of proving to his parents that he could be something: he became his father’s boss. While his father acknowledged the achievement, he never respected Feti, and died recently. I wondered if they ever reconciled, but Arnold was drawing the conversation to a close; presumably, Feti and/or Arnold had to leave. We got a few more facts before Feti left:

Feti moved on from that job after a short while, because he couldn’t stand the bad memories. Military duty followed, then Feti began his own business: working as a money changer, giving people an honest exchange rate. This plus some funds borrowed from friends financed a transportation company.

Recently Feti helped a man who was robbed of a large sum of money. But because of his origins, this man looks down on his benefactor. Feti shrugs his shoulders philosophically. He then tells of the drunk woman who couldn’t gather all her chickens up; they would have died in the heat, so Feti spend an afternoon gathering chickens and taking care of this woman.

Feti is also raising the daughter of a brutal father, who abused the mother. Taking her in at the age of 8 mos., Feti is now the proud guardian of a 12 year old.

We have so many questions, but now Feti and Arnold are standing and we are saying goodbye, thanking Feti for telling us his story. We hope to get more later, but as it turns out, we never saw Feti again.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Down to the River to Pray

Our daily commute to the language school is a 15-min walk that includes a walk over the Petofi Sandor Bridge, linking Petofi Sandor Island, where our hostel is located, to the mainland. A statue of Petofi stands in front of the hostel, across the street. Petofi is a big deal in Hungary, a skinny poet, a revolutionary hero. Post to follow.

The bridge is modern and clean, at least up top, with beautiful pots of flowers lining it. It spans this branch of the Danube called the Sugovich, and beaches, restaurants and a marina line either side. Hungarians are planted along either side of the river with fishing poles; the Baja Fish Boil is an annual event in the main plaza that we just missed by a day or two.

Nature trails run under the bridge and around the length of the island, and are filled with cyclists, walkers and joggers. A boatyard sits at the first bend, filled with the most interesting skiffs and wooden boats. We pass camping areas and a woodland chapel during one evening walk.

But by night, the bridge is a different story. Drug addicts, alcoholics, street children and homeless gather. Pornography is sprayed on the walls under the bridge. The cops don’t go near it. It’s hard to imagine, as we look at it during the day, but Arnold assures us that it is the worst part of town. He would not go near it at night, and Arnold has the builder of a bouncer. I’m grateful we are a band of six, with two men, as we pass over it each evening.

Something draws us back to the bridge. We begin to pray, and as usually happens on these outreaches, God begins to speak to us in dreams, visions, strong impressions, and words from Scripture. As we put the pieces of the spiritual puzzle together, we sensed a plan, and formulating: a seven-day ‘march’—pouring out the water as a symbol of cleansing, then pouring out oil as a symbol of anointing. We want to cleanse this place spiritually and invite the Holy Spirit to come in and do his work of replacing darkness with light. Redeeming space. Reclaiming spiritual territory. We purchase 6 packs of water and a can of oil. We do this sometimes at night, but no one bothers us. Anyone spotting us flees, confirming the reputation this bridge has earned as the worst section of town.

We plan to do this for 7 days, and see what God does. Within 4 days, we already feel a subtle shift in the atmosphere. Arnold comments on it. He notices that more and more people are walking under the bridge. A sense of ease and peace comes into the place. The artists are inspired and producing rapidly. Three days to go.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"We Used to Be Bigger."

One of the striking things about conversing with Hungarians about their history is the first thing they start with: “Hungary used to be bigger.” After years of oppression, Hungary was divided up after World War I, and considerably reduced (see below). It is hard to imagine what this history does to the psyche, but it is clear to us that the Hungarians are not too happy about their reduced size.

The effects of Communism are evident everywhere as well. Today we passed a sort of “Communist Park”—with a statue of boots only. Apparently, during the revolution, the statue of Stalin was torn down, and only the boots remain. (Notice rainbow in picture?!)

King István is everywhere present. He is venerated as the patron saint of Hungary, kings, children who are dying, masons, stonecutters, and bricklayers. A quick click to Wikipedia tells us:

Saint Stephen I (Hungarian: I. (Szent) István) (Latin: Sanctus Stephanus) (Esztergom, 967/969/975 – 15 August 1038, Esztergom-Szentkirály[1][2][3] or Székesfehérvár, Hungary), born Vajk, was Grand Prince of the Hungarians (997–1000) and the first King of Hungary (1000–1038). He greatly expanded Hungarian control over the Carpathian Basin during his lifetime, broadly established Christianity in the region, and is generally considered to be the founder of the Kingdom of Hungary. Pope Gregory VII canonized Stephen I, together with his son, Saint Emeric of Hungary and Bishop Gerard of Csanád, on 20 August 1083. Stephen became one of the most popular saints in Hungary, and 20 August, which was also his feast day until 1687, is celebrated as a state holiday commemorating the foundation of the nation.

1000: The pope crowns King István (Stephen), marking the domestication of the Magyars (Hungarians).

1541: Invading Ottoman Turks take Buda and Pest…and cook with paprika.

1686: The Austrian Habsburgs drive out the Turks, making Hungary part of their extensive empire (despite occasional rebellions from nationalistic Hungarians).

1848-49: War for freedom from Austria.

1867: A Golden Age begins, as Hungary gains semi-autonomy from Austria, rebuilds Budapest, rules territories, and inspires great artists.

1920: Losers in World War I, Hungary is stripped of two-thirds of its territory and half its population in the Treaty of Trianon…and they’re still angry about it.

1945: After World War I, the Soviet Union ‘liberates” the country and establishes a communist state.

1956: Hungarians bravely revolt, bringing a massive invasion of Soviet tanks and soldiers who brutally surpass the rebellion, killing 25,000.

1989: Hungary is the first of the Soviet satellites to open its borders with the West, sparking similar reforms throughout Eastern Europe.

2004: Hungary joins the European Union.

(Quoted from the book “Rick Steves’ Best of Eastern Europe 2006”)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Synagogue

The former Jewish synagogue is now a library and cultural center, and there was some hope we could hold a class in there (it was not to be). It’s a beautiful building architecturally, with Corinthian columns and vaulted ceilings. One part museum, it is filled with artifacts of the early part of last century, and an olfactory experience, with its smell of old books in the stacks.

It now serves as a library and cultural center, and although we didn’t get the opportunity to hold any classes or workshops there, we did spend some time individually and as a group to pray in the garden, sketch, and take photos. The wall of names is especially sobering—all those who were deported to the death camps. Each year there is a memorial event for these, and we wonder if at some point in the future we could do something as part of that event.

Next door is where Arnold and his family live, so we have a chance to peek in each day and remember the significance of the place we're in--geographically, historically and spiritually. Across the street is the former high school, and many of these old houses were the houses and shops of the Jewish people of Baja.
I spend a few minutes on our last day there, taking a deep breath, preparing for our evening event, and seeing if I can find any info in English. No luck, on any score. Someone finds me soon enough, cell phone in hand, and we have to organize some logistics. All literature in the library is in Hungarian, and I have no translator to ask for English info. Oh well. Maybe next year.

For we do hope to come back. This has been probably one of the most straining of outreaches. ‘Pioneering’ at any age is as grueling as it is exciting, but driving a stake in this ground really defined the word. And every age of our team--from 18 to 60, is feeling the pain. Heat, walking, enormous amounts of carbs with virtually no veggies or fruit, sleep deprivation, the language and cultural barriers, four cultures…challenges have abounded, all typical of overseas work. But this is the dream team—barely a word of complaint, no whining, just a continual pressing in. Thank you team!

Onto dinner…no doubt more heaping portions of the four major carbohydrate groups…

PS: having a terrible time with very slow connections and uploading photos is a chore, so sorry I'm not posting more. Maybe our next location will be better.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Cellar

“Csodalatos” found its way back to the Cellar, and was installed at the front. How anyone got that huge framed canvas down the narrow winding stairs of the Cellar is beyond me, but there we found it, early Saturday am as we arrived at the school for class.

But I need to tell you about the Cellar.

Arnold and Detty (short for Bernadette) are Hungarians who lived in the US for a number of years before returning to Hungary. Although Arnold was in no way interested in living in Hungary, he felt God calling the family back. They began to explore Baja a bit, and found prices higher than they could afford. Then, after one exploratory trip, Detty returned to California while Arnold continued to explore; he was shown a property in the old historic district of Baja—the former Jewish neighborhood, until the Jews were deported by the Nazis to the concentration camps.

As Arnold was being shown the building, which also cost far more money than they had, he was led down into the basement—a dark, dirt-floored, unfinished space, where Jews were hidden from the Nazis. Poking through the gloom, he suddenly stopped, and found himself saying, “We’ll take it.”

He called Detty, back home in California. She encouraged him to buy it. The family moved over shortly after that, in (I believe) 2005.

They converted the basement into a beautiful brick-lined ‘hang out’ space, with vaulted ceiling and a set of drums. The Baja Spirit Church and the King Arthur School of Language was born. Up one block, adjacent to the old Jewish Synagogue, they bought a home, spacious and welcoming to all.

To say Arnold and Detty are pastoring a church and own an English Language School does not begin to tell the story. Out of the box is putting it mildly. I don’ t know if they would recognize a box if it fell on them. It’s hard to describe their full-on approach to life and ministry. I liked them both instantly on meeting them, Arnold climbing down a ladder from a vine he was tending, Detty drying her hands from a meal she was preparing. Hospitality oozed from them.

Their school is amazing. Their home is amazing. Their family is amazing—three boys and the feisty Contessa, five years old. The coffee Arnold makes us each morning is amazing. The garden they’ve created at the school is amazing. The Cellar is amazing. Their two dogs, chocolate labs, are also….well, you get the idea.

Every night we meet in the Cellar to debrief the day with the kids coming for the art camp. Although the Artslink team has probably connected in the least with the kids (taken up by the graffiti challenge), our dance and music teams have had great interaction. We heard the stories each evening: conversions, healing, young men pledging themselves to purity (no small matter in a country with rampant sexual perversion, trafficking and pornography). The Bill Drake Band closes us with worship, and usually a dancer or two spurts out from the crowd, unable to resist movement, and the children join them—those who haven’t already fallen asleep on the couch.

We have visited the gardens, the Jewish synagogue, spent some time in its gardens, where a Holocaust memorial is located, and learned the mayor at the time opposed the Nazis. I sit on a couch in the part of the Cellar and think about the Jews in hiding. Once again, our connections and outreaches touch a huge swath of history, and I wonder what our place is in God’s story for Baja.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Decompression Silliness

Two more days of art camp to go…and we’re barely able to speak in full sentences.

Saturday morning we stumbled back over to King Arthur School, and may I admit that I was sooo grateful that none of my students showed up?! I cleaned up the room a bit, prepared for the next class, and sat in a bit of a stupor while pretending to draw. It felt good to have about an hour to myself, Jacob doodling alongside me too, in about the same state as me, not even minding that behind us, our techie folks, still in frantic mode, were downloading photos, creating videos for tonight’s event, and preparing to pack out tomorrow for the concert tour. Marcia and Chuck stoically pressed on, and I forget what happened to Gayle and Melissa….

I’m not sure how we got through that next day, but I do know we got veeeeerrry silly. So this would be a good time to post some of my favorite lines so far:


Jacob: “Anyone want boiled sweets?”

Everyone: “Boiled sweets?!?”

Melissa: “What kind of sweets are boiled sweets!?”

Marcia: “In my America, there would be barbecued sweets.”

Jacob: “BOILED sweets! Brought to you by Pepy the Polar Bear!”

Marcia: “Is a polar bear overseeing this entire operation?!”


Adorable little Hungarian boy climbs up into Chuck’s lap and chatters away in Hungarian.

Chuck (deer caught in headlights look): “Can you say that in English?”

Adorable Little Boy: “English.”


Melissa: “This group is making me tear my hair out.”

Jacob: “Keep your hair on.”


Gayle: “If we do it that way it will be all shmozzel (sp?!).”
Team: “Shmozzel?!?”


Fly lands on Marcia’s coke bottle at dinner.
Jacob: “The UTTER CHEEK!!!”


Three hours passed very quickly while we alternately nailed down last details, finished dinner, and talked with some of the crowd that was gathering. As we watched the performances of musician and dancer, we prayed. I rehearsed the graffiti wall in my head.

Our theme was Beauty in Brokenness. The ultimate example: Christ on the cross. A brutal death, a horrific event, yet beautiful in the sacrifice of love it represented, and what it accomplished—reconciliation with God, entry into eternal life.

We were to be the grand finale in the evening of music, dance, and personal testimonies. Bill shared his testimony of near-suicide; Marcia shared about surviving an abusive marriage, yet receiving four beautiful daughters. Another member of the team shared of years spent chasing women, drugs, and fast cars, ending up in prison, and finding Christ in his brokenness.

When we asked the Hungarians what one word expressed this concept, they replied csodálatos(cho-DAL-a-tosh)—which we might translate weakly in English as ‘wonderful’, but a rich Hungarian word with double meaning: wonderfulness and miracle-fulness. It might be used, for example, to express the wonder of birth. Even as the Hungarians say the word, it is with a slight smile, a softening in the eyes, and a sense of awe.

In one of those ironies of language, I realized it was also a name of God (Isaiah 9:6). For our purposes, I don’t think we could have found a more potent word. It became the signature element in our graffiti wall, and would become an invitation into the miracle and wonder of spiritual birth.

At the keyboard, Bill played the interlude that signaled the transition from a dance to our graffiti wall. Two dancers would finish us in the execution of the canvas. They quickly changed while we took our positions, joining us behind the canvas. I was positioned to the left of the canvas, cell phone timer in hand, so I could see both those painting and those about to paint. I eyed the canvas, left and right, dancers and artists behind it, like race horses at the starting gate. An excited crowd watched in front, filled with anticipation. I hit the timer and signaled the first dancer out, then the first two artists.

As the first stencil went up and the spraying began, I watched in horror as a gust of wind took the paint every which way but on the canvas. Uh oh….

Soon the spray paint was a cloud over the artists, spraying for all they were worth. Did we have enough paint for this?! I watched the worried looks on their faces, the looks of those waiting in the wings, eager to go, the timer ticking way too fast. This wasn’t going well.

Time for the next set of dancer and artists. Oops…well, one artist got away from me before my signal, ahead of the dancer, who looked at me with a question. Before I could improvise, another artist burst out unexpectedly. Ooops…spray paint was flying all over the artists and dancers; Bill was looking at me for signals, and the timer went off. I signaled Bill to keep playing, then snuck over to the keyboard to explain we had two more sequences to go.

Bill bent over the keyboard so we could have a quick consult behind the canvas. We revised the ending, and he kept playing. We watched from behind the canvas as Jacob went around—adding the highlights. I could see him doing more than highlights, and was grateful that he knew the most about graffiti probably than any of us. Hmmm…a lot of red was going up. He was no doubt ‘fixing’ a lot of mistakes. We were two minutes overtime. But finally Jacob finished, and we heard a mighty war whoop cheer go up. Csodalatosh!!!

To thunderous applause, we came out from behind the canvas and took a bow, seeing for the first time what the canvas looked like. There it was! The culmination of the week’s work, and everyone was going wild. Not quite what we envisioned, but beautiful. We could see all the mistakes, but no one else knew them.

Bill came around and invited the audience to consider the beauty and the brokenness. Who would acknowledge their own brokenness and accept the beauty of the cross, of what Jesus had allowed himself to be broken for? Who would come and put their handprint on the wall as a symbolic act of entering the journey of the cross?

Marcia and Melissa positioned themselves with green paint for the handprints. Would anyone come forward? And would they do so for the right reasons, not just the chance to put some paint up? Bill reiterated the criteria and we waited—for a split second—and then the crowd began to move. Two young men, arm in arm, came up. A steady stream of mostly young people followed, with some older ones. A homeless man cheered from the side of the stage. Some in tears, some smiling, some hesitant, joyful. The stage was full, and the canvas was soon covered with green handprints.

Miracle and wonder. Many new births.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Cutting the Stencils

Routine changes. The 100+ temps have finally broken, and a cool breeze is blowing. We soon learn the downside of this blessed relief: a category 2 storm is on its way to Baja, complete with high winds and torrential rain. Just in time for our outdoor event. Oh yeah.

But we welcome the relief, pray for the storm to disperse, and get on task. We have about 15 hours of work ahead of us, before the event begins, and in real time, only about 9. But we have our design, our word, and a jury-rigged table to work on, with 3 mat knives.

Divide and conquer: those not teaching workshops will start drawing and cutting the stencils. Those teaching classes must join them as soon as possible. By 4 pm, we are all at it, cardboard flying in all directions, in spite of not-so-great mat knives.

The kids sense our energy, and flock to our room; we assign bouncers to keep them out. With the sharp mat knives, the need for concentration and speed, we can’t risk little ones tugging at our sleeves, or bigger ones flirting with our girls!

We are to meet with the dancers and musicians at 6 at the main square, for final set up and a review of the program. A frame would be waiting for us there, so we could stretch the canvas for the graffiti wall. Could we finish, transport the wall to the square, and frame it, by 6? More or less, I hedged, promising to let everyone know by 5 if we were on track.

My own questions were: when would we finish? How were we integrating the dancers into this? Did we have enough paint? Would the winds be too high? What could we use for a drop cloth to protect the town’s stage? Did my artists, none of whom had ever done this before, have the wherewithal to pull it off? Would the stencils actually work?!

To be continued...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The 18 Hour Day

Morning comes early here—the sun rises at 4 am, and with no window shades, you know it! The infernal heat begins to crank up. There is another hour or two of fitful tossing and turning, dozing on and off again, or rising for an early swim in the river. Early morning workers begin—trying to beat the heat. The sound of weed whacking and kitchen pots and pans clanging begins with the church bells at dawn. And Melissa, our littlest team member weighs in, testing her new many new voices!

We’re sharing our floor with a Hungarian girls’ basketball team—a bawdy bunch of tall young girls who scare some of us, keep us up late, but it all equals out as we wake early, and our showers, conversations and babies rouse them.

Breakfast begins at 8, followed by devotions at 9, in the camping area behind us along the river. Then we head over to the King Arthur School to teach. That facility is soon full of drums beating, guitars cranking, piano practice, and the quieter art classes. The swarm of kids in and out add to the decibel level high, and in the kitchen, a constant stream of coffee, tea, fresh fruit from the market, and fresh baked goodies is served up.

Home for lunch at 12:30, back to the school at 1:45 or two…Hungarian time is fluid. Another class, another snack, maybe a quick trip to the supermarket or ice cream shop, and home again for dinner.

In the evening, we debrief the day’s activities back in “The Cellar”—which deserves a post of its own soon. Arnold is our emcee, and a more visionary character you could not meet. He calls kids up one by one, when he knows there’s a story. The Artslink team has missed many of these evenings, as we persevere in designing our graffiti wall, measuring, designing, sketching. But we hear the stories the next morning; this one received Christ; there was reconciliation between these two. One person got healed. The DanceLink leader did a dance that brought the place to tears. We’re missing it all, and hate missing connection with the kids (except the ones in our class), but the stencils are the priority.

This is our new routine. Temps have soared over 100, and we sweat from pores we didn’t know we had, and jump in the river when we can, or take a cold shower. Almost all of us have succumbed in one way or the other over the past few days: heat exhaustion, fatigue, dehydration, headaches, nausea. We cover for the ones who wilt, and bear one another’s burdens, praying for rain and cooler temps. We have not yet begun to cut the stencils, derailed by the heat.

This is nuts, I think. We can’t quite nail down the visuals, we don’t have the supplies, we’re not sure how we’re going to execute it, none of us are graffiti artists, and we have no time for a dress rehearsal.
But we do have a word. After some quick research among the Hungarians, we have found the word that describes our concept. That will become the centerpiece of our graffiti wall. We continue to brainstorm elements that would support the word, and be easy to execute. The clock is ticking.

Bedtime comes somewhere around midnight, after the debrief, the walk home, the conversations in the hallway, the email catch up in the hotel foyer (best place for wifi), and washing up. And waiting for the Hungarian basketball girls to calm down. Through the night we might be startled awake by the random stray cat, mosquito, or window banging shut or open in the wind. Four hours later, the sun is up.

We begin again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Frantic Zone

We are now in the thick of it: music pounding, dancers twirling and popping, and artists drawing, sculpting, and collaging. If I could give you a head count I would, but it’s mostly a massive swirl of kids and teenagers coming and going, jumping classes, trying everything, with the energy we wish we had.

A couple of kids have already captured our hearts, as have the long term workers here. Everyone is in good spirits, grappling with the difficulty of the heat with wonderful grace, and flexing for all their worth.

And as usual, we’ve bit off more than we can chew. Asked to do some visuals for one song during the Friday evening concert, our initial brainstorm produced a Big Idea, which we felt was more a finale than a 5 min piece. Could we do it?

A quick consultation with the leadership team, and the decision was unanimous: yes, this was the closing piece. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

More prayer and brainstorms. And one ‘prophetic’ prayer walk—on the way home the first day from the school, we walked silently, asking God to give us divine inspiration, the word He wanted to communicate through us, to Baja, for these two weeks. I was astonished that, by the time we got home 10 min. later, we had it. (Well, we didn’t quite have it, but I knew we were close. And by the next morning, I had it.)

Another breakfast brainstorm and the vision refined. We were getting excited. Now, how to execute it?

Choosing graffiti as the medium, we sketched ideas, watched videos on You Tube for inspiration, and searched for the right theme and words. But for that, we needed divine inspiration; what was the word or words, what were the images, that would speak to these people? And how did we communicate our Big Idea visually?

The artists are in frantic mode now. I pulled three of our artists from classroom teaching and put them on the graffiti project. Measuring, making a supply list, preparing to do a mockup…break for lunch and cold showers. Return to the school, do a mock up, buy art supplies, cut stencils…break for dinner, another cold shower, and back to the school…evening debrief…24 hours to go…

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Migrating down to the south of Hungary, we marvel at field upon field of sunflowers. What a glorious sight. We seriously want to stop, wander through the fields, and do some artwork and photography. But it’s too hot, and we’re on a schedule, and our van driver appears concerned, and a bit lost. Next stop: Baja. This exit or the next? Oops…the one we just passed…while two in the front attend to navigation,

the rest of us snooze off jet lag and heat prostration, or shoot pix left right and center—sunflowers everywhere.

We are jostled awake as the van veers off an exit and around a rotary. We see signs for Baja (sounds like ‘Goya’): 20 kilometers. A few more minutes of “sightseeing” (aka wander about lost), our driver pulls over to make a phone call. Imagine the construction workers’ reaction as 9 women and one guy spill out of the van and start doing dance, yoga, and aerobic stretches. We ask them if they have water.

A few minutes later Nate wheels up on his bike, signals, “Follow me!” and wheels off again, while we follow in the van, attentive to his shouts and hand signals.

A few blocks later we arrive at the King Arthur English School, where Nate’s father Arnold is tending a fountain in the middle of a beautiful garden. What an oasis to come into in the middle of this hot day and city. Arnold’s welcome is as large as his frame. His wife Detty is as gracious and as she is adorable. And their two chocolate labs are just dog friendly. Their story is another one of those God-sized stories I am fascinated to learn, and I will get to that story too, in a later post.

Onto Youth Island, Nate leading us on—now scootering on the bike, which has lost its chain. We drive over a low bridge over a branch of the Danube. Oh my goodness. I see beaches, flowers, Hungarians, and the lushness of the island.

The schlep continues as we lug our luggage up five small flights into our rooms, dividing up into roommates, and collapse in the almost-air-conditioned dining room for a copious, hot Hungarian meal: a plate of pasta and deep fried pork. Yep.

By afternoon we are IN the Danube, trying to bring body temps down while we wait for the second half of our team to arrive. Chuck and Gayle begin sand sculptures; Marcia and I sketch and do watercolors. Soon there is a small crowd and we are pointing, laughing, trying to bridge the language barrier. The mission has begun.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


To carry; lug. A good word.

Across an ocean, a continent, and six time zones (for those who came from the States), we schlep. One of our team has schlepped all the way from Australia; she has been traveling for 35 hours.

We arrive as wilted as we can be. Boy is it hot. I don’t know why 93 degrees in Hungary should feel any worse than 93 degrees in Atlanta, but it does.

Oh yeah, no air conditioning.

We sit on the cool airport floor, eat fruit and drink water. We are waiting for our last team member to arrive for today (another group is coming tomorrow). A few hours later, when it becomes clear she has missed her flight, we schlep all our luggage, computers, backpacks and water bottles into the van (one of these classic OM vans that barely functions—for decades). First stop: Erd, a 45-min. drive to our first hostel, former OM headquarters in Hungary. Boy is it hot.

Arriving at the hostel, we collapse into the main foyer, eat more fruit, drink more water, and swat a cockroach as he roams across the floor.

It’s 4:30 p.m. Our goal is to stay up until 10 p.m. Breakfast tomorrow is at 7:15 am. Then we will pick up another load of passengers, and head down to Baja, where we will spend the rest of the month. Hope it’s cooler there.

Our chauffeur is Doris, and she brings out some cold cuts, bread and fruit for us to snack on until dinner time, then shows us to our bedrooms. Actually we’re in one big dorm room, on the third floor of this furnace. I notice the cockroaches and mosquitoes on the way up. May they not infest our suitcases, or bite us up tonight, Lord!

What brought each one of us here? What has each one brought with him or her? We start sharing our journeys.

This is one of the greatest parts of these outreaches, to hear how each one arrived, from the uttermost parts of the earth, and what had to happen in their lives to make it happen: family issues to sort, financial resources to be found, and work schedules to be arranged. Not to mention the sometimes gut-wrenching journey of faith that led each one to take a major step out of their comfort zones, so far out of their boxes that they don’t even remember what the box looks like anymore.

Marcia is one such artist. I’ll let her tell you her story as a guest blogger shortly. But for now, I need a cold shower.

Artwork and computers are out, each one in ‘the zone.’ Chuck sweeps up broken glass all over the floor, and we continue to drink gobs of water. It’s great to be here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

On the Road Again!

Time to crank up the travel blog again, as I head out to Magyar country! On Friday, I fly Delta to Budapest (by way of Amsterdam)landing the next day, en route to Baja, Hungary.

Which is where?! 90 miles south of Budapest…and here’s a You Tube to get you in the groove!

Hungary—10 million people. A republic that entered the EU in 2004. 55% Catholic, 15% Reformed Protestant, 15% with no religion, and a handful % of ‘other.’ Until recently, all under the thumb of Communism.

My up-closest-and-personal experiences of Hungary: Alice, a Hungarian immigrant who joined my church in Hartford, CT, and took a liking to me. And Dora, my accidental roommate in Paris, where we joined financial resources in the tiniest of hotel chambers in that great city, to attend an arts conference. I visited Dora the following summer when GEM’s annual conference was held in Budapest, and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at her home and studio in that amazing city. Two trips to Budapest for annual conferences confirmed that the thermal springs are indeed all they are cracked up to be. And I love Margaret Island, and the beautiful walks (or river cruises) you can take along the Danube.

Both of these ladies have slipped away from my life—Alice from this life altogether, and Dora? Well, who knows…I may just bump into her again this trip! Our arts camps are highly publicized there. I don't expect to have much time in Budapest at all, but boy would those thermal springs feel good at the end of the month! Anyway...

OM Arts has been ministering in Hungary for several years, but this is the first year I’m free to go with the team, and bring 4 visual artists with me. Our project is threefold:

. to facilitate art workshops for teenagers: sculpture, drawing, photography, and mixed media/collage. Our musician and dance teams will also teach workshops in their disciplines. Then, we split up.

. The music and dance teams will begin a concert tour of several Hungarian cities, while I stay behind with the arts team stays to connect with the local arts community. At the end of the month, we reunite, debrief, and take a deep breath.

. Then we start a second camp: arts leadership training, for several Hungarian churches. (At that point, I bow out, and head over to Poland for GEM’s annual conference, where I will celebrate 20 years in mission!)

This is the most ambitious project we have ever put together, and the largest project the team in Hungary has ever hosted. They are asking us to please pack flexibility and sense of humor in our bags, and promise good Hungarian food in return! Sounds like a deal. See you on the other side!