Transylvania Trip

Last weekend I was in Romania with Kristen and the people she works with from the Roma College.  We went on a 4 day bus tour of Transylvania to learn about Hungary’s history and experience the beauty that everyone raves about when they talk about Transylvania.  Since I slept most of our time on the bus, and didn’t really understand what the tour guide was saying when I was awake, I am not too helpful in the history department, but I can offer a little background as to why we went to Romania, specifically Transylvania, to learn about Hungarian history: About 100 or so years ago, Hungary, which is about the size of Indiana, used to be quite large.  As a result of the Treaty of Trianon at the end of World War II Hungary lost approximately 2/3 of its land, so Transylvania is no longer in Hungary’s borders and is now a part of Romania.  There are still Hungarians living in the area however, and we visited various Hungarian towns and memorial sites during our trip.

Now that I shared a little of the history, I am going to rave about the absolute beauty that is Transylvania.  There are old castle ruins on mountaintops, there are fortified castles still intact, there are deep-green rolling hills everywhere, and the Carpathian Mountains are breathtaking.  Pictures don’t do it justice, but that is all have to offer, so here are some pictures from Transylvania:


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What Is Most Important

The other day one of the girls at the Children’s House asked me how high I could count in English.  As I sat there trying to find a way to explain, in Hungarian, that I know how to count pretty high in English, the girl’s eyes got really big and she asked, “Can you count to 100?”  I smiled and said, “Yes, I can count to 100.”  My supreme counting abilities were met with awe as the kids tried to wrap their heads around the fact that I know how to count really high in another language—it was quite amusing.

Though I seemed smart to the kids at the House that morning, there are still, after 9 months of being here and getting a better handle on the language, many times where I feel stupid or worry that the people around me think I am dumb.  Many times I have wanted to whip out my diplomas, resume, and awards and say, ‘Hey, look at all this.  This says that I am not a complete idiot—I just struggle a lot with the language…’  It’s times like these where I want so badly to convey my intelligence, that I lose sight of what is really important here.  Yeah, I may not be able to say all the things that pop into my head.  Yeah, I may not be able to pronounce the vowels or words correctly, but I am trying my hardest every day.  Rightly so, my diplomas, resume, and awards do not matter to these people.

I need to keep in mind that my education and intelligence has no influence on how I make the kids at the Children’s House feel when I am playing with them or how I can always make people smile just being there to smile at them first.  Way beyond my education, what matters the most to the people I see every day is the simple fact that I am here every day.  I am here, being present in community with all the fabulous people whom I have been become so close to over the past 9 months, and that is what is most important.

Things I Love

As I approach the end of my time here in Nyirtelek and Görögszállás, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the things I love—the things that make this experience so incredible.  I know that my words can only give you an idea of the things I hold so dear to my heart, but I want to tell you what makes me so happy here:

I have so much love for the kids at the Children’s House; they brighten my day, every day.  Getting smiles from little girls who are missing all four front teeth makes me smile so big!  It’s so sweet and adorably unfortunate that every kid seems to lose all four front teeth at the same time, but it’s just a fact of life.

The other day I started tickling Kevin because he flops around like a little fish whenever anybody tickles him.  Bobby and Denis, who were sitting right next me, both looked at me with expressions that asked ‘why aren’t you tickling me, too?’  Of course, I started tickling both of them, too, and all four of us had a great time laughing together.  I have never seen kids asked to be tickled, but I think it is super fun!

I love it when, out of nowhere, kids come sit on my lap.  We usually end up looking at books or playing with the toy telephone, but overall, we talk to each other.  I struggle with understanding Hungarian when an adult speaks to me, so it is always interesting when little kids are rambling on, but we can normally figure out what toys to play with next.

I get an absolute kick out of when kids grab my hand and tell me something as ‘matter of fact-ly’ as they can possibly manage and then lead me away to play with them.  I hardly ever understand the stories that are so ‘matter of fact-ly’ told to me, but my normal response of smiling and nodding is sufficient enough to let the kids know that I really care about what they are saying, ha!

Playing in the sandbox is one of my favorite pastimes.  I can’t help but smile when the kids use their best manners to ask one another to pass the purple shovel (because the purple shovel is obviously better than the green one) or pass the buckets so they can be packed full of sand and then emptied to build a castle or a tower with a blade of grass flag sticking out of the top.  My favorite part of the sandbox is when the kids flip the buckets over and beat on the bottom of the buckets with their shovels to loosen the sand from the sides.  The reason I love this so much is that, without fail, the shovel is still full of sand when the kids start waving them through the air to hit the bucket, so there is sand flying EVERYWHERE!  I am always really dirty after playing in the sandbox, but it is a good thing.

The relationship I have with teeter-tottering with kids is one of the love-hate variety…I love it because the kids have so much fun but I hate it because it is so painful!  My legs kill me afterward!

Art time is always an adventure but I think it is super cute when kids point at my drawing of what is supposed to be a dog and tell me that the bunny I drew is beautiful…

The thing I love the most about the Children’s House is getting BIG hugs from little arms.  Zoltan, who is easily my favorite boy in the whole world (sorry Dad), not only smiles at me all the time but he will literally climb up on my lap just to give me a giant hug.  The little guy is about 13 months old, and he has crawled across the floor, over chairs, and over the side of the sandbox just to get to me, pull himself up onto my lap so he is standing on my legs, and then wrap his little arms around my neck.  His hugs make my day.  I love that kid so much!


Not only are the kids at the Children’s House amazing, but the fabulous women I work with there are so fun!  We laugh all the time and even if we are having a bad day because the kids are acting up, we can still find something to laugh about so we can keep on going—it really is a great group to work with.

Now that I have shared what I love about the Children’s House, I will share a couple things that I love about spring and summertime in Hungary:

Flowers.  There are beautiful wild flowers and poppies growing everywhere; there are fruit trees blooming all over the place; and every house has a gorgeous garden with rose bushes, tulips, and other flowers that I have never seen before.  The air smells fantastic and it is absolutely beautiful wherever I turn!

In addition to incredible flowers, every yard has fruit trees and berry patches.  I have been blessed with freshly picked strawberries and cherries for the past week or so and they are seriously delicious!

I love ice cream.  Need I say more?

I have climbed Tokaj Mountain 2 times in the past 6 days.  It was hot and tiring, but it is completely worth it.  The scenery is breathtaking from the top of the mountain—I love seeing the towns, the fields, Tisza River winding through the countryside, and the Carpathian Mountains in the distance.  Tokaj is a very beautiful place.

This last thing is more for my aunt Karen than anything else: here in Hungary shorts are simply called ‘short pants.’  Now, when I first heard this I cracked a smile because I thought the person saying it was just kidding about ‘short pants,’ but he wasn’t.  Shorts are really called ‘short pants.’  The reason ‘short pants’ makes me think of my fabulous aunt Karen is that when she was home visiting from North Carolina one summer, she could not, for the life of her, remember the name for capris and just ending up calling them ‘short pants’ in her cute Southern accent.  We laughed super hard at her ‘short pants’ and now I am reminded of her and her adorable Southern accent whenever I hear someone talking about ‘short pants.’


This is a fabulous place and a fabulous experience.  I am so happy to be here!

The Norwegians

This past weekend a group from our sister congregation in Norway came to Nyirtelek to see all the things the Filadefia Evangélikus Egyházközség and Pastor Misi are involved in.  The group arrived last Friday and started their visit by going to Kisvarda to see the church and visit the lovely people who make it run every week.  We have a sister congregation in Kisvarda that Misi goes to every second Sunday of the month to conduct a worship service.  When Misi is not there, however, there are two lay leaders who alternate running Sunday services.  The congregation in Kisvarda is very small, only about fifteen members, but the people who make it up really have a passion for the Lord and work to gain more members by sharing the Word.

On Saturday Misi kept our guests plenty busy by taking them to all the events the church was involved in that day.  The Norwegians came to visit the youth group at Tutajos Beach, a park and camping area about fifteen minutes away from Nyirtelek, where we took part in the gulyas leves [goulash soup] cooking competition (we got fourth place out of ten teams—not too shabby) and made palacsintas [Hungarian crepes] for the youth who would stop by our tent.  We offered our Norwegian visitors traditional Hungarian palacsintas and, after saying a table prayer in Hungarian and the group singing a table blessing in Norwegian, we all ate traditional Hungarian guylas leves together.  During lunch one lady struck up a conversation with me and commented that I spoke English well, to which I replied, “I sure hope so, I am from the US.”  We shared a good laugh and then went on to talk the mission work both she and I are a part of, and how it has changed our lives; it was a nice conversation.  All the food we had was delicious and even though it was quite cold in the morning, the sun broke through the clouds later in the day and it turned out to be a nice weather day.  After lunch with us, our friends went to Görögszállás to take part in the Children’s Day the women’s group from church was putting on for the kids and families in the village.

On Sunday morning the group joined us for church in Nyirtelek during which the pastor talked about Norway and the relationship his church has with us here in Hungary, and the group sang us a Norwegian song.  After the service we ate more gulyas leves and then went to the service in Görögszállás.  The Norwegian group sang another song, and the pastor helped Misi administer Holy Communion.  Receiving the Blood and Body in two different languages made me realize just how connected we all are in Christ.  No matter where we live or what language we speak, we are all a part of the same Body and Blood.  Above it all, God’s undying love binds us together and with that I say to you, my dear sisters and brothers: God bless you.

My Time at the Gyerekház in Görögszállás

I was asked to write an article about the Children’s House for a Hungarian magazine.  Here it is:

As a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Young Adult in Global Mission program I have been working with the Filadefia Evangélikus Egyházközség in Nyirtelek, Hungary and its long-term mission outreach to the nearby Roma village of Görögszállás.  The ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program places 60-something young adult volunteers in 9 different countries for a year of mission service and I was blessed with being placed in Hungary.  My primary tasks here are to work at the morning child-care program in the Roma village, teach English, and help with church events.    

The morning- time care program at the Gyerekház (Children’s House) runs Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 1:00pm wherein I, along with the 4 other women who work there, minister to the families of Görögszállás by working with the children.  Frist and foremost, the House provides structure for the people it serves by posting weekly schedules that list the planned activities and snacks so the children and families know what to expect when they join us.  No matter what the day’s activities include, we have a consistent daily structure that gives kids time to play for the first hour they are at the House, then, after washing hands, singing a table blessing, and saying a prayer, we enjoy one another’s fellowship through sharing a snack at 10:00am.  After our snack, the kids once again play with the House’s countless toys while we set up for art/craft time.  The kids are not only able to exercise their imaginations during art/craft time; they are able to develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination through coloring, cutting, drawing, gluing, and painting.  Again, after art/craft time, the kids have time to play with one another and us, the staff, wherein the children’s motor, social, and interpersonal skills can further develop. 

Whether we bury toys in the sandbox, kick the ball back and forth, or crawl around on the floor, the kids’ motor skills and coordination become more refined, giving them more control over their bodies.  Their abilities to make more precise movements not only strengthens various muscle groups, but also allows the children to complete tasks independently, giving them more freedom.  One important development milestone we foster at the House is crawling.  We have a nice carpet laid out on the floor that provides the little kids with space to lie, roll, sit, or crawl; the time the children spend on their bellies lets them use and strengthen their upper bodies enough to eventually begin to crawl.  In addition to building trunk, shoulder, and hand muscles, the mechanics of crawling stimulates different parts of the brain essential for future learning.  The repetition of crawling organizes neurons, giving the brain the ability to control the cognitive processes of comprehension, concentration, and memory, and the cross-lateral movements of crawling strengthens and increases communication between both sides of the brain.  Binocular vision and hand-eye coordination also improve from crawling, setting the stage for future reading, writing, and sports skills.1              

Additionally, play time provides the children with space to develop social and interpersonal skills by giving the kids opportunities to interact with their peers in a socially acceptable and healthy manner.  Friendships and the approval of his or her peers becomes increasingly important as a child ages, so at the House we make sure to positively reinforce good behavior and discipline bad behavior so the friendships the children form are as healthy as possible.  We, the adults, have an active part in play time because our assistance is needed to solve arguments and problems, but many social skills are developed from our interventions as the children learn to compromise, share, and take turns.  Parent involvement is also important and strongly encouraged at the House because it significantly impacts children’s social development; parental interactions let children form strong bonds with their parents, therefore, providing the child with a comfortable atmosphere in which to grow.2 

Our focus on development at the House makes it an enriching place for the children and families who come because it gives them all a space to learn and grow together.  I have learned a great deal about child development, family, community, and God’s love from my time at the Gyerekház because I have been a witness God’s transforming love.  Being a part of the Gyerekház staff and the community of Görögszállás has been a very fulfilling experience for me because I get to see and be active in the work God does in the community every day—it is quite powerful.  Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the incredible people in Görögszállás and the inspiring love of God.        



Magyar Esküvö

Last Saturday, I spent all day at the church for Gergő and Márti’s wedding.  I was thrilled to be a part of the couple’s special day and see the wedding traditions of my congregation in Nyirtelek.  We started the day’s festivities with coffee, lemonade, and pogacsa in the foyer, and then the ceremony commenced at 2:00pm.  The wedding started with the congregation singing a hymn, then there was a special reading, and then Pastor Misi gave the message.  There were a couple differences that stood out to me as the ceremony progressed, such as the exchanging of vows and the music.  The couple did not say their vows to one another; they spoke their vows to Misi who then placed the rings on their fingers himself.  We in the congregation sang four hymns throughout the wedding and there was a section of the ceremony wherein different groups could go to the front of the church to congratulate the couple and offer well wishes for their life together: Márti’s family sang a medley for her and Gergő, the church’s women’s group (which Gergő’s mother is a part of) sang two songs for the couple and read a Bible passage, and the youth group sang two songs and then passed off ‘the stick.’  The youth group’s tradition of ‘passing the stick’ started thirteen weddings ago when a member of the group got married.  The stick has colored ribbons attached to it with the couple’s names and the date of their wedding, and the last couple to get married passes the stick to the newlyweds and offers some words of advice.  The group’s presentation was really cute and got everyone laughing—the youth group is always ready to deliver a good laugh!

After the ceremony the couple went outside for more pictures and I had my normal job of watching the kids while everyone else tore down the chairs in the sanctuary and extra meeting room to set up the meal and tables for the reception.  It only took about an hour to transform the sanctuary and attached meeting room into a reception hall where we sat along long banquet tables and ate the traditional Hungarian cuisine of meat…lots and lots of meat.  After our meal, we had sütemény, which is the name given to all the delicious cakes, bars, and pastries that have made my time here in Hungary so great!  I absolutely love sütemény!  When I was done eating as much sütemény as I could get my hands on, I went downstairs to find the youth group’s space transformed into a dance hall, where I learned three more traditional Hungarian group dances—it was a lot of fun.  Cake was served after the dance, and even though I was stuffed, I ate a very delightful piece of cake and then went outside in hopes of walking off some of the food I ate.  Food is very important in Hungarian society, which makes me very happy, but I can say without a doubt that I ate way too much at the wedding—it was all so good, I just couldn’t help myself.

At the end of the ceremony I helped tear down the tables and decorations in order to clean and set up for the church service in the morning.  It was a very busy day, but I had a blast and was really excited to experience a Hungarian wedding!  It was beautiful and very sweet.  I wish Gergő and Márti all the best!

American Visit

On Friday, a group from Wartburg College and the Northeast Iowa Synod visited the Children’s House and the agriculture program in Görögszállás.  The students are in Europe studying the reformation during Wartburg’s May-term and the people from the NIS are here to see what kind of work the Lutheran Church in Hungary and the Roma College in Nyiregyhaza are doing in hopes of forming bonds that could lead to sister-congregation and sister-school partnerships.  The group stopped to see me in Görögszállás because it is aware of YAGM and wanted to see what life as a YAGM was like in northeastern Hungary.

I met the group at the Children’s House where I served as a tour guide to tell them about the community of Görögszállás, the work we do at the House to focus on child development and school readiness, and our overall focus of bringing God into the lives of the children and their families.  We talked with the incredible women I get to work with every day, and they shared about their work at the House, their lives, their families, and the journeys that have brought them to where they are today.  The group was really excited to hear about the House because, as the Bishop from the Northeast Iowa Synod put it, ‘It’s nice to see the church do its job.’  Before we left the House, we had a snack of chocolate palacsintas, and then we walked through town to the new building to see the agriculture program.

We met up with my supervisor, Misi, at the new building where he talked about the building itself—how it was funded, its design, its efficiency, and its many functions within the community.  While there we heard the testimonies of some of the people who live and work in the community wherein we got to hear, firsthand, of the amazing transformative power of God.  The people working in the agriculture program welcomed us into their space with a snack of bread with liver pâté and fresh red radishes from the greenhouse.  The radishes were absolutely delicious!  We sat in a big circle in the sanctuary where we learned more about the agriculture program, what the students were here studying, and what the representatives from the NIS were seeking from a relationship with the Lutheran Church in Hungary.  Before we went to see the greenhouse, the Görögszállás group sang a song and we all prayed the Lord’s Prayer in our respective languages—the mix of Hungarian and English was really powerful for me because it affirmed that, no matter what language or background, we are all one in Christ.

I went with the group to Nyiregyhaza were we met with the lovely people involved with the Roma College.  We had lunch with the group and then enjoyed presentations about the Roma College and Kristen’s work as a YAGM in Nyiregyhaza, and then Kirsten and I answered the Wartburg students’ questions about YAGM.  To wrap up our time together we sang ‘This is the Day’ in English, then in Hungarian, then all together in our different languages.  It was a fitting end to a truly wonderful day!

It was nice to have the group from America here not only because I could speak English with other native speakers, but because I could share my love for my community and the people who have become my family by using the words I have carried in my heart these past 8 months.  I have grown to be a part of this community in ways that I did not think possible, and I am nothing but thankful for the immense blessings I have received from being placed here and have continued to receive throughout my time in Nyirtelek and Görögszállás.  This is an amazing place and I am very thankful I had the opportunity to share it with the visitors from the US.

Letter to my Zsebszótár (Pocket Dictionary)

My dearest friend,

You have no idea how much you mean to me.  I would be nothing without you…well, I would be the REALLY confused foreigner without you, but with you, I am just the confused foreigner, and that is a good thing.  Your constant presence reassures me that I am not alone in this journey and I know that I can always count on you to get me through the difficult times when I simply don’t know what to say.

You’re the greatest.  Really.  All my friends know and love you because you are always there to help.  Though there are times where you, too, are speechless, we all know that you give an honest effort to keep the conversation going.

I apologize if, at times, you feel used.  I am well aware that I have not given you the recognition you deserve, but I am writing this letter to you now to show that I really do care about you and want to thank you for everything you do.  As for now, I hope you enjoy a short rest; I’m sure we will meet again soon.

With love,



Earlier this week, Betti and I visited some families in Görögszállás to deliver care packages of baby clothes to new and expecting mothers.  Once again I was swept away by the welcome and hospitality we were greeted with at every house—the friendly reception by all the people warmed my heart and reminded me of the importance of fellowship.  I have been a part of the Görögszállás community for seven-and-a-half months now and have felt like a part of the community from day one by the way everyone has welcomed me into their homes, lives, and hearts.

The short visits we conducted were elongated by invitations to drink coffee and chat about the weather, events at the Children’s House, family, and relationships.  Along with that though, we were obligated to see everyone’s gardens and hear about all the different plants they were growing this year—we even made a special stop at a grandma’s house to see all the beautiful melon plants that filled the small greenhouse in her backyard.  One of the families we visited took us to their big garden across the road from their house and sent us home with handfuls of lilac branches because Betti and I commented on how lovely the blooming trees were.  We also got a free snack of delicious white radishes from the agriculture program when we stopped in to buy some vegetables and chat.

I went to the houses bearing gifts for the newest members of the community, and I left with gifts that will stay with me forever.  Yes, I received material presents while visiting the families, but the most precious gifts that I will carry with me are the memories of kindness, love, and inclusion that the people of Görögszállás have graced me with since the first time of meeting them.  I have been made a member of the community through the love, warmth, and unhindered inclusion everyone has extended to me from the time I came into their lives.  I am so happy to be with the incredible people in Görögszállás and have been immensely blessed by the fellowship they have invited me into.

Solid Effort

This past weekend I was in Tivadar with a family camp from church.  The majority of the people I spent the weekend with spoke exclusively Hungarian (so I could not even get an English break), but it was great talking with them because we all put such an effort into making sure we understood each other.  Granted I can say and understand more Hungarian than I was able to in the previous months, but the people have really opened up to me as they have seen the effort I have put into being a part of this community and communicating with them every single day.  I have a lot of great friends who laugh with me, play with me, and invite me to spend time with them outside of the normal church events.  It’s really great!

I stayed in a room with six other women and Marika, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite people here, asked me to speak English to her little four-year-old granddaughter to surprise her.  The look on little Jasmine’s face was priceless when I asked her, in English, how she was doing and told her that I liked her purple shirt; the poor little thing did not know what to do at first, but then she loved it!  During dinner Marika asked me how I like Hungarian food and then told me that she would invite me to her house to teach me how to cook a traditional Hungarian meal—I can’t wait!

At the camp I had my normal job of watching the kids while the parents were in sessions.  One little boy just wasn’t happy playing with the other kids because they kept wanting the toys he was playing with, so when I asked him what was wrong, I got an earful of pouting-little-kid Hungarian telling me what he was so unhappy about.  I did not understand a single word that came out of his mouth but when I asked him if he wanted to play with me, a smile came on his face and then he handed me a toy.  Happy kid = crisis averted.

On the bus to and from the camp I sat by a couple friends with whom I played a game wherein you have to say a word that the starts with the last letter of the word that was said before it…in Hungarian.  My vocabulary is not that extensive so I quickly resorted to getting help from the person sitting next to me; the only problem with that was that he kept giving me giant words to say so I just ended up fumbling through the entire game.  It was fun, though.  On the way home my friend and I resorted to acting out most of our conversation because we really couldn’t understand each other.  The effort we put into our conversation was really entertaining and we ended up laughing at how ridiculous we both were, but overall, I would say we were successful in learning new things about one another.

It was a good weekend on the language front.  There is still a ton that I don’t know and don’t understand, but I am getting the hang of it.  I think the lessons I am learning while learning the language apply greatly to life: even if I don’t know or understand something, the effort I put into it is what is most important.  Being open to new things, to successes and failures (no matter how big or small), and to life’s adventures takes a lot of effort every day, but it is completely worth it because, even if I do not understand everything, I have become close to many incredible people and have seen many amazing things just by being open and putting in a solid effort.