On April 23, thirteen members of First Baptist Church of Augusta departed Atlanta for Pecs, Hungary to partner with CBF field personnel Glen and Clista Adkins and their work with the Roma Gypsies. In the last blog entry I gave you information regarding the Romani people in Europe so I will not repeat myself here. Needless to say what I have read about has now been observed that their needs are great as is their marginalization in the larger society.
Day 1 – Thursday
We left Atlanta on time around 3pm and arrived at New York to catch the flight to Budapest. Outside of the ubiquitous crying babies and a few rowdy passengers the flight was uneventful. The same could be said for our 8 or so hour flight to Budapest. I know because I did not sleep a wink during the night. I have never been one to sleep on planes because I just cannot get comfortable – or maybe I just don’t want to subject passengers to my late night drooling!
Day 2 – Friday
We arrive somewhere around 11:30AM (5:30AM in Augusta) and were greeted by CBF Missionaries Glen and Clista Adkins (Glen is also the former Minister of Music at FBC Augusta). Our first official stop was for a quick bite to eat at Burger King. After being subjected to the meager meals of an airline, I was glad to eat a whopper which in Hungary tastes just like a whopper anywhere. We then enjoyed a three hour trip to Pecs, which was interrupted half way with a pit stop at a convenience store. The land moved from sprawling farm land to rolling hills dotted by vineyards. Pecs is quite hilly and beautiful as are many of the old European cities.
Our rooms are simple but quite lovely and mine overlooks a busy side street dotted by cafes and many pedestrians who stay up very late! Later that evening Glen and Clista hosted us in their wonderful two bedroom flat, which is just a five minute walk from the hotel. We had a brief team meeting and then were off for restful slumber. I was exhausted and so I easily fell asleep by ten…
Day 3 – Saturday
…and was wide awake by one in the morning. Yes, jet lag with a vengeance, so it was a good thing that I brought plenty of things to read. By five I had given up and went jogging through the city. The sun is up by five so this was a pleasurable time to see the sites without all the people crowding the sidewalks.
We took our breakfast at the hotel, as we will do each morning. The breakfast provided includes slices of pepperoni, and other cold cuts, along with mild cheeses, rolls, and granola. The coffee is of the instant variety, but I am grateful for what I can get.
Afterwards I hiked down the hill to the city outdoor market which proved to be a wonderful adventure joining hundreds of Hungarians shopping. There were little old ladies selling beautiful flowers potted in old yogurt containers and coke bottles; Roma women selling mushrooms of every variety gathered from the surrounding country side; there were venders selling sausages and other meats of all varieties; fresh eggs, fresh milk, and vats and vats of freshly made kraut – I love sour kraut!
Later that day Glen and Clista took us touring the Roma villages outside of Pecs. Glen said that unless they see students from the school we would not stop because we would be viewed with great suspicion by the villagers. The houses ranged from small shanties on the verge of collapse to neat block houses. As our vans crawled by locals would look intently at us with understandable curiosity. Just outside of one village was a large field of rape seed in full bloom – brilliant yellow flowers. As we were mugging for flowers, a farm wagon pulled by two horses with several Roma gypsies trotted by. You know me; I held up my camera and asked if I could take a picture. They were delighted to by photographed and we “tipped” them as a thank you.
In the next village I noticed a house with baskets placed alongside the fence. I asked Glen if they were sale and he said he had no idea. He stopped the van and we debated whether or not to get out and asked. A few of us decided to walk to the house – a rather simple block house on packed dirt – and ask the man who quickly approached us. He was flanked by a few other adults and many children – none of whom could speak English. The baskets were for sale and we bought what he had, which was not enough for all of us. He was so pleased that he invited Glen and me to come with him behind his house and showed us how he made them. It was quite and honor for us to be allowed onto their place and we all agreed that this was a wonderful and positive interaction.
Later that evening we ended up at a great restaurant where I enjoyed deer sausage and good old sour kraut!
Day 4 – Sunday
What a day! We began not in church but at a flea market. Yes, it is just what you imagine: rows and rows of venders selling everything from used car parts, old antiques, and a bit of junk. While I enjoyed site seeing, Milton Martin never allowed the language barrier to get in the way of negotiations. I was impressed. We were there about an hour and then returned to our hotels to prepare for a full day of church services.
The first church we attended was the Pecs Baptist Church, affiliated with the European Baptist Fellowship. It is thought to be the largest Baptist church in Hungary and on the day we attended I would estimate the number around 250-300 in worship. It was a long service of nearly two hours with little in the way of translation. There was not much congregational singing, but several testimonies and few ensemble and choir pieces. We all thought it a highlight when we sang Blessed Assurance in English and then the congregation joined us in Hungarian. I was invited up to give a welcome on behalf of First Baptist Church and share of our common historic mission to proclaim Christ worldwide.
After morning worship we visited a restaurant on a mountain top overlooking a coal mine. It was lovely place, in spite of the coal mine, and the food was a buffet of Hungarian dishes. Naturally it was important for me to try everything twice!
Afterwards we attended the Roma (gypsy) Church in Pecs which was a beautiful experience. When we arrived we were warmly greeted by the Romas and service began promptly and enthusiastically afterwards. Loud, spirited singing filled the small church with the singing accompanied by a guitar and keyboard. The retired pastor gave greetings to the church of about 30 or so worshippers (not counting our team). He was in a wheelchair and due to diabetes lost his legs and “apologized” to us because of this but said he is happy because Christ has made him whole. I then was invited up to give a welcome and “testimony” (all with a translator of course). They were very receptive and peppered my remarks with their own “amens” and “hallelujahs.” Afterwards I presented the church with a guitar as a gift from First Baptist. Glen said this gift is the equivalent of giving a church in the states a grand piano. They were filled with gratitude and thanks. Our mission team sang for them “Blessed Assurance” and we then sat for the sermon. Our translator was invited by the preacher to interpret for us, which was very helpful. Two or three times I was asked to come up during the sermon and read in English the various scripture references. The service lasted about two hours as well but the time past quickly. While you can see much hardship in their eyes, there is also a kindling joy and peace in the faces of many. Still, their situation is hard.
After dinner we met to plan for our first day at the Gandhi School and by ten we were all in our rooms ready for a full day ministering to the Roma teenagers.
Day 5 – Monday
Our teaching teams left for the school bright and early and began our work of teaching English. My team’s first class was ninth graders who were just beginning their studies in English. It is funny, but while there are many cultural, ethnic, language and economic differences, teenagers are in some ways all alike. They initially view us with some suspicion and guardedness but soon begin their own version of good natured teasing to sincere appreciation. There clothes, for the most part, look much like what kids in the States wear today, but it is usually their only outfit for the whole week.
All day long classes were taught with a brief lunch break of pbj sandwiches. George Williams and Rebecca Elkin gave a presentation on health and wellness and did a marvelous job. Some of the kids asked good questions and as the week unfolds I suspect this will open more doors through the week.
That evening we (FBC Augusta) treated the school to pizza and a program. The cafeteria was filled with enthusiastic students eating all the pizza they wanted and drinking lots of Pepsi. The program, well, that in itself was worth the price of admission (which was free). The men entertained with a musical sketch that included a rendition of the YMCA, a popular gypsy song, and concluding with a visit by Elvis. Yes, the students were wound up at this point. Glen then led the students in singing popular songs including feliz Navidad. Glen then asked all of the men to return to the stage and asked the students to vote on who they thought was the pastor or priest of the church (at this point only a very few understood that I was the preacher). George was already identified as the doctor so he did not get the vote. Only a few considered Milton pastor material – I mean he was Elvis right? Joe Pollock received a strong vote of applause. Kelly too was a strong second. By this time the kids figured where this was going so they voted my approval, which is good since I need all the approval I can get.
I then stood up and shared with the students a brief message of God’s choosing to love each of us and our invitation to choose God. In spite of our earlier silliness, the students listened amazingly well and were expression their appreciation afterwards. I conclude with a “blessing” over them. I cannot help but think it is vitally important for them to be set free from the shame and indignities that they have experienced all of their lives. I suppose this is what we are to experience each time we gather and depart from worship.
We handed out t-shirts for all that were in attendance and they gladly lined up. Interesting isn’t it how much a simple thing a t-shirt can be for these students. Quickly they put them on and for the rest of the evening we saw students wearing these team t-shirts. We then cleaned up our areas and mopped the kitchen and headed out to eat. Normally I am in bed by 9:30 or 10, but that night we were eating dinner. It was a good day all day.
Glen and Clista are a joy and an extension of our world wide mission. How grateful I am that they represent not only our church, but churches throughout the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Christians worldwide. I am proud of what they are doing, what they are giving and how they are living.
Day 6 – Tuesday
For most of us, the morning was free time and preparing for the afternoon and evening sessions at the Gandhi School. I had a rather chaotic jog around town at about 7am and decided the traffic, smog and pedestrians was not worth it. I have found that the best time to run is around 5 or 6, which lately is too early for me considering what time we have been finishing each evening.
I am so pleased with every member of the team. While there are many personalities and leaders, all are working and cooperating beautifully. There could not be finer people to work with on this occasion (well, it would be nice if Amy was here, but someone has to manage the homestead, right?).
When we arrived at the School we were immediately greeted by enthusiastic students excited about the day with us. May of them had not yet received a t-shirt and so we handed them out to a constant stream of students. Those that had them were wearing them proudly. Did you ever think something so simple as a t-shirt would be so pleasing to a teenager? Beth Pollock provided capable and friendly leadership in this area.
Several of us assisted Glen in setting up the choir room. We were then treated to choir practice with a room full of Roma students and it was like a concert. Guys were flailing away at the guitars and all were singing with gusto and enthusiasm, song after song. Most of the tunes were Roma (Gypsy) songs, but on one a young lady stood up to sing a solo which was also in Roma, but the tune was a beautiful version of Joyful, Joyful – a bit melancholy but beautiful. We all had tears in our eyes by the time the choir joined in and it had a decidedly gypsy bent. It was an arrangement Glen had adopted from – are you ready for this – the movie Sister Act!
After choir a young lady remained and through an interpreter explained that she wanted to sing us a solo. She is a member of the Roma Church and said that this was a believer’s song. She then began a beautiful and soulful song that, in spite of it being in a different language, pierced your heart and yet gave hope. The translator explained it was about overcoming darkness and finding hope in God. Wow.
Dinner was a brief affair at the mall (which is small but outside of the Hungarian language looked like a mall). Kelly is one of the drivers and is doing a great job keeping all of us organized and together. I have never been on a trip better organized than this one that Kelly is leading. I am proud to work with him. In fact that night he shared a message through an interpreter based on the Prodigal Son. Since our theme is choosing, Kelly commented that we have all made bad choices but we have made one good choice that has made all the difference. Well said.
After Kelly’s message we all made necklaces with the students that included the beautiful pendant made by a potter in Augusta. They were so proud and we were thrilled to be a part. While we fashioning necklaces, Kelly, Glen and Joe Pollock went and purchased 190 ice cream bars. Guess how many we had left over? Yep – zero!
We were back at the hotel for a team meeting at 9:30. Even though the morning was comparatively easy, the afternoon and evening was full and it was a good day all day!
Day 7 – Wednesday
The day began a bit cooler than usual, but like every other day the highs were around the low 70s (I am to understand Augusta got to experience summer early this past week). Following our breakfast we loaded up the vans and headed for another full day at the School. As each day passes the students grow more and more friendly, calling us by name and quickly offering hugs and handshakes. I taught a few of the guys the fist jab or fist pump as an alternative to the high five which probably amused me more than them.
Our lessons have gone over extremely well and while this was a team effort I want to thank Debbie Williams for her wonderful talent in making them approachable and creative. The students were delighted to be rewarded with such treats as M&Ms, highlighters, pens and pencils. One young lady produced two pencils that she had saved from last year’s team – imagine that! Some are eager and others are shy to try out their English but they all want to learn because it is helpful for their future. Each class we taught we worked hard at affirming every student, reminding them of God’s marvelous claim in their life. The Gospel is at its core a message of God’s love and our hope.
Following our teaching time we joined Mariam Brown and Margaret Daniel who helped host a teacher’s appreciation reception. Here we presented to them gifts from the church which included bags, personal items and teaching helps. They enjoyed cookies, soft drinks, lovely flowers and conversation. Glen shared with me later that up until our mission teams started hosting appreciation receptions the teachers have never really had special attention of that kind. Since then the Gandhi school has begun setting aside a special day to tell their staff thank you. The director invited me to share a few remarks and I extended to them our love and appreciation for what they are doing to change the world one child at a time. We too should be reminded that as we serve the least of these we are serving Christ (Matthew 25).
Afterwards we were the ones treated to a surprise – the students wanted to treat us to some music and dancing. They sang several traditional gypsy songs and one young lady danced over to Glen and twirled him around. I was all ready to bust a move but I suppose they are not ready for redneck boogie. The spokesperson was a delightful young lady who could speak a bit of English and she thanked us for taking the time to be with them. In addition to the music they made each one of us bracelets and baked a large loaf of gypsy bread (I would guess it weighed five pounds and was at least 18 to 24 inches in diameter.) Glen and Clista were blown away that the students would do this on their own and said while they have always shown gratitude to the visiting groups in the past, never have they done so much. The sharing of bread, like it is in many cultures around the globe, was a significant act of friendship. What a way to end our day of teaching. I have the recipe and we will work on perfecting this bread in the states and hope to share it when we give our missions presentation as well as for a future communion service.
As we prepared to walk to our next event, we met up again with a young friend whom Glen and Clista befriended shortly after arriving on the mission field. His name is “Norbi” and he is a young gypsy boy who lives in Pecs and whom Glen hopes to get enrolled into the Gandhi school next year. Right now he spends his time on the street begging for money and selling post cards for change. I have seen him most every day and he has a beautiful smile. It is thought that his family may force him to beg and he cannot come home until he has “earned” enough money. Norbi is just one story among the many. Perhaps through Glen and Clista he too will be given a viable opportunity at a different and better life.
We closed the day by having our last meal together in Pecs. Glen and Clista picked out a restaurant located in an old wine cellar. It was a great location to enjoy a leisurely supper as we reflected on the last seven days. Tomorrow we will attend a ceremony for seniors where we will meet for the last time with our students as well as several visiting families. We will then board our vans and make the three or so hour drive to Budapest. By Saturday this good and worthy mission will be a cherished memory.
A good day, all day.
Day 8 – Thursday
We started the day following breakfast by attending for the last time the Gandhi School. Today was the day of Balagas (pronounced Balagash in case you plan on going to Hungary anytime soon). Balagas is a ceremony for seniors. Everyone is dressed in their best for this important day and so the mission teamed donned our Sunday clothes and sat in the bleachers. It began much like a graduation ceremony would begin in the States – with the Hungarian national anthem, followed by two Romany anthems (Padua Vergye and Gelem Gelem). The three anthems lasted about ten minutes.
Since we had translator I had to guess at what was being said. Basically a few scholastic awards were given as well as remarks by the director (principal) of the school. The seniors were each holding flowers and at a point in the service they left their seats and gave flowers to their family, teachers and special people in their life. Several were presented to the group and of course Glen and Clista received many flowers from grateful students. Glen and Clista have said that for most of the families gathered their child was the first one to complete high school. In fact, among the Roma people, only about 15% move beyond an 8th grade education. Just to be attending the Gandhi School shows a will to improve ones self in the larger Hungarian culture.
Afterwards we took many more pictures of students and one group picture in front of the school, packed up the van and headed for Budapest, the last leg of our journey home. Counting lunch the drive was a bit over three hours. We made a couple of “touristy” stops, one to the Citodel which overlooks the city of Budapest and the second to the famous Herrend Pottery (I stood outside). Negotiating through the streets of downtown Budapest was…well…a religious experience. I felt nearer to God in a way not previously known. Kelly was one of our drivers and he looked a bit ashen when he emerged from the van. I dug my nails in the dashboard, so we may have to pay for that!
Our hotel is quaint and small and located near the airport. Friday is our “free day” so we will spend it downtown, spending what little cash we have left.
A good day all day, but we will greatly miss the students we have come to know and love. I have more stories to share, some of which will be in this Sunday’s sermon.
Day 9 – Friday
This was our free day before traveling back home. At this point most, if not all of us are ready to head on home and see our families and friends. I suppose, however, we should squeeze in some touristy stuff and see the sites of the beautiful ancient city of Budapest. I will not bore you with the details of the day other than to say it was a pleasant and relaxed time together. We all ate well (as we have during this whole mission) and we closed the day with a supper along the Danube.
Day 10 – Saturday
There is no need in writing a log for Day 10 since it will be mostly filled with airplane travel and rustling our luggage and arriving back to Augusta tired and worn out around 1:20 AM Sunday.
Let me close this log by offering a few words focused not on Hungary, or the Gandhi School or Roma gypsies, but on those who participated on this mission.
First, to Kelly Hamilton: About three years ago Kelly switched responsibilities as our Minister of Missions and Faith Development. He has proven himself over the years as a capable, compassionate and responsible leader and this trip only confirms these attributes. I am proud of his leadership and his heart and it is an honor to work with him. Plus, he is a pretty good van driver in the maddening streets of Budapest!
To the teaching team led by Rebecca Elkin which included Bok Bemis and Mariam Brown. All three were a joy and a treasure. Rebecca was organized and never seemed to get rattled and kept us all on task. Bok radiated love for every child and they quickly took to her. Mariam’s school experience came out as she guided, assisted and kept me in line. It was the first time I have ever worked with these individuals and I am proud that they are part of FBC.
George and Debbie Williams are a dedicated couple who love the Lord, the church, and the Roma people – it was demonstrated throughout the trip. Margaret Daniel has an infectious laugh and she was as steady as all the rest as we moved from class to class, and from one event to the next. Her southern charm translated the Roma culture easily.
Even though this was Joe Pollock’s first mission trip, his aptitude quickly made him a close second as the pastor of the church from the popular vote of the students. He was willing and ready to jump in and do whatever necessary (including participating in goofy skits) to make this mission a success. Beth is a veteran with these mission trips and her experience was most helpful. There is nothing she will not tackle – including the food on someone else’s’ plate (namely mine).
Milton Martin is not only a tough flea market negotiator, he knows how to connect with the students. He can laugh, play and tease with the best of them, and it was clear that the students loved him. Kathy’s well of compassion runs deep and she was a steady voice of encouragement to every member of the team, even when we felt tired and worn out.
Cathi Gough’s teaching experience was demonstrated throughout the entire mission. Her eye for detail, self-deprecating humor, and energy inspired us all.
It remains an honor for me to serve as their pastor. Additionally I am grateful to our congregation who supported us prayerfully and financially. This mission was important not only for the Gandhi School and the Roma students, but to our church as we respond to the Great Commission.