catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 19 :: 2003.10.10 — 2003.10.23


Seeking to be changed

This past summer, I spent eight weeks in Eastern Europe on a summer mission project organized through Christian Reformed World Missions. Along with eight other women from the U.S. and Canada, I taught English, led camps, completed work projects, and evangelized in Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine. Reflecting on this experience is difficult, as I am still unsure of the total impact it had on my life. In the broad scheme of things, two months is merely a slight dent in life. However, I believe that regardless of the length of any experience, a person can be changed.

I first met my team in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on June 9 for a week of orientation and preparation for the challenge that lay before us. Eight days later we stepped onto Hungarian soil and our journey began. After four more days of orientation and a little bit of sightseeing (what's a mission trip without sightseeing?), we headed off for our first adventure in Ukraine.

Our task in Eastern Europe was to put on three English camps in Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania. Although we worked in three different countries, we interacted solely with Hungarians. After World War I, Hungary's size was reduced and the borders of the surrounding countries expanded, leaving many Hungarians unexpectedly living in either Ukraine or Romania. Regardless of political borders, Hungarians living in these countries still passionately and boldly refer to themselves as Hungarian—they speak Hungarian, go to the Hungarian Reformed Church, and follow Hungarian customs.

Our first English camp was by far the most intense, but definitely the most rewarding. We were located in a small village located in Ukraine called Tivadarfalva. We spent two weeks living in the dorms with high school aged Hungarians, most of whom regularly attended the school where we worked. This camp was strictly an English camp, with four hours of English teaching a day and final exams. However, we also took the role of "camp counselor" as we organized several programs every day. These typically consisted of swimming in the river, making bracelets, playing capture the flag, going on scavenger hunts, etc. The boys played soccer almost every day, and I thought with my athletic background, I would fit right in and perhaps even teach them a thing or two about how Americans do sports. After ten minutes of being schooled by a twelve-year-old at least three times, getting knocked in the head with the ball (which is apparently normal?), and getting passed to only by default, I decided I would stick to the programs, which proved less humiliating.

We finished our time in Ukraine by doing a weeklong service project in a different village for Dorcas Aid, which consisted of working with loud, obnoxious Dutchmen. The most vivid memory I have of our work project was my lack of showers, meaning that I did not take one in the entire seven days we were there.

We then traveled back to Hungary to a village in the mountains called Nagyvisnyo. The transition from poverty-stricken, dirty, can't-drink-the-water Ukraine to wealthy, no-pot-holes-in-the-road, westernized Hungary was a needed but shocking change. This camp was only one week long, and unlike our camp in Tivadarfalva, this week focused heavily on evangelism rather than on English. Although it was labeled an "English Camp," the advertisement of English was merely a way to draw both kids and young adults to hear about Jesus Christ and see living testimonies of God's work.

Our final camp was located in, once again, a small village in middle-of-no-where Romania called Gyanta. The structure of this camp was a combination of the two previous camps we had done. We lived in the dorms with the kids, taught a little English, led a few Bible studies, and did a lot of singing, swimming, and game-playing. We stayed in this village for two weeks, doing two separate week long camps with different kids each week. Our living conditions in Romania were, without a doubt, the most memorable. All nine of us stayed in what literally felt like a box. We had very limited showers and experienced going to the bathroom in a "hole" new light, no pun intended. I also found this village quite humbling in the sense that we were not only a minority to Hungarians, but also to the geese populations. At times, I felt as though there were enough of them to take over the entire village.

I was fortunate to participate in a variety of settings and situations over the eight weeks. Often, one- or two-week mission trips, although beneficial, can result in an intense "spiritual high" that has little long-term effect. Because our experience lasted eight weeks, the "spiritual-high" effect was close to impossible. I felt as though our experience was heightened by the fact that we were doing every day, ordinary living. I faced the same challenges in my walk with God and my daily living, perhaps even more, than I do at Dordt College. The assumption that one feels immensely close with God the entirety of a mission trip is not true when the experience is for a longer period of time. This made our summer real, rather than an artificial "utopian" experience.

The summer drew to a close, and I soon found myself back in Budapest, waiting for the first of several flights home. Just moments away from stepping back into the comforts of my home country, my family, regular bathing, regular eating, and in one sense, reality, I wondered: Was I different? Had I grown? Would people notice changes? Would I want to go back? Would I have the same friends? Would people accept me as my teammates did? Would I be myself, as I freely was this summer? Thoughts, questions, the unknown flooded my mind.

In an effort to avoid "mission-trip syndrome," I refused to be one of those people who returns on a fleeting high and finds everything wrong with American living, American culture, and American people. However, I cannot deny the challenging adjustment that took place in the weeks following my arrival home. After two months of being completely loved and accepted by my team and being constantly overwhelmed with new, exciting, and challenging experiences, I absolutely did not want to be back in small-town American where, as the song goes, "everybody knows your name?" I did not like the people, I did not appreciate the style of living and, most of all, I yearned to be back in the comfort of my team. One would think that the growth from an experience such as mine would take place during the experience. In my case, however, the most intense and challenging difficulties occurred from the time I stepped off of my overseas flight. Though I was on a unique mission field in Eastern Europe this summer, I must not forget that a mission field exists everywhere, including my place at Dordt College in small-town Iowa. One does not need to be a missionary overseas to be an instrument. God's Kingdom exists everywhere and He needs people everywhere in order to further it.

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