30 July 2006

so i sat in New York

i'm in New York with a couple of friends (Deb - with whom I went to Alaska last summer and Kristin - Deb's friend from college who has travelled with her frequently). as it's been hot and very, very sticky, the main activity has been sitting.

In the last couple of days I've sat...

- on a bus (several times) through the Lincoln Tunnel. the view from the bus stop near Laura's house is a great one of New York.
- in quite a number of subway stations and trains (the number has been higher than expected because parts of several lines are closed for the weekend - and we did manage to get on the wrong one). fortunately, the trains are air-conditioned. unfortunately, the stations are not. and there's no air movement so it's just hot and stuffy.
- in the Cloisters (a division of the Metropolitan Museum dedicated to medieval art/ artifacts) and in the gardens surrounding it
- on the Staten Island Ferry
- on a bench in Battery Park watching people take pictures with a very warm-looking, albeit personable, statue of liberty
- in the Metropolitan Museum of Art - although there were many memorable pieces there, probably the most memorable was the one entitled "Two Circles." It was two fairly large black circles spaced a fair distance apart on a white canvas. By the time we'd seen it we'd been in the museum longer than we expected (it had been pouring out when we had expected to leave earlier) - and our appreciation for art that could be reproduced by a basic computer program in five minutes was probably not exactly the kind that the artist was going for. or maybe he was - with a title like that :) sometimes appreciation increases with laughter and sarcasm... and that painting will definitely be remembered!
- in ChinaTown, while taking a break from walking around and wanting a shaded place to sit - we listened to a Chinese woman chanting/singing while watching people playing in the field in Columbus Park
- in the car for hours - just to get to New York (and tomorrow to get back home)
- in the living room of Laura (Deb's friend who has graciously hosted us for the time we are here) watching her cats play - much amusement has been found in her kitten, along with her grown cats - and we have spent the time laughing at them, while also talking and getting to know each other better (or in Deb's and Laura's case catching up.) Laura's cat seems to have taken to sleeping on Kristin's suitcase.
- in Trinity Episcopal Church (downtown), taking a break from the heat and spending a moment or two talking to God
- in a restaurant in Little Italy, enjoying delightful Italian food
- in Soho, taking a break from looking through the stores.
- in St. Paul's Episcopal Church - the church across from Ground Zero, which tells a story of helping out the many volunteers who came and worked after 9/11.
- in Central Park staring at the Bow Bridge after wandering through much of the park.

and i'm sure there'll be more sitting today (church downtown and Morgan's Library and the trip back to Grand Rapids), but it's okay. sitting's kind of a nice way to see New York. okay, so maybe it being a little less warm would be nice, too, as walking would also be a great way to see the city - but for now, sitting is good.

17 July 2006

visitors from Transcarpathia, Ukraine

Before coming to Seminary, I spent two years teaching grades 10-12 English as a foreign language in a small boarding school in a village in Transcarpathia (the western part of Ukraine that used to be part of Hungary before WWI). It was a pretty significant time in my life - I learned so much about myself, about being loved and loving others, and about serving God with my whole life. When I had come during college, I would say that i "fell in love" with the place. When I actually lived there, those connected to the school welcomed me and loved me in a way that I had never known before. and they taught me better how to love people back 'home' in Canada who i knew also loved me. to make a long story short, i learned a lot while i was there from the people there. that part of Ukraine became a part of me.

i returned several summers ago, and i remember how much it felt like home. even after all that time. i had changed somewhat but i still got to participate in the life of the school doing errands for the school, talking with students about life, and trying to serve God faithfully and help others do the same. when i came back to Grand Rapids after that summer, i missed this other home terribly. since then, the feelings of being 'homesick' for Ukraine have faded. life goes on. i had great friends here. i had a ministry with college students who i loved and delighted in. i got to spend more time studying the Old Testament. and i assumed that my 'homesick'-ness was mainly nostalgia for a time in my life that brought me great joy, even as it was hard at times.

since then i've emailed people back and forth, bumped into a Hungarian every once in awhile, and even visited with people connected to that part of Ukraine. and i've been thankful for that (thanks to Csilla especially who has been great about keeping in contact with me over email). yet, other than missing some of my friends, my homesickness never really returned. at least not until this past week. and i realized that this part of Ukraine will never stop being a part of me - no matter how far away i go or how long i leave.

this week i had friends from Transcarpathia visit. . Tibor (on the left in the picture) started student teaching in my second year. He spoke decent English and I spoke okay Hungarian by the time he came, and we had no problem communicating in a mixture of both. we spent hours biking - trying to beat each other up or down many of the hills near us. We became quick friends in the way that you only do with certain people. He is still at the school now, married to someone i taught my first year there. They even have a little son, Tomas, who i'll hopefully get to meet sometime in the next year. Attila (right beside on my left), like Tibor, was part of the very first class that graduated from the school (I showed up in the 7th year of the school's existence). He's now a pastor - and like me, he loves teaching, cares deeply for the people he's 'pastoring' and is a bit overwhelmed at times by the responsibility given to him by God to be a shepherd. we went sailing together (we participated in the club racing in Hamilton harbour), we played games, walked some, went to a pub, visited a marine centre, talked a lot, got lost a few times (apparently i'm not so good with directions :)), and visited some waterfalls. it was a lot of fun. (Dave's on the far right of the picture and is my good friend from Hamilton, who along with his wife Crystle, were wonderfully gracious in hosting me and my friends for a couple of days).

but what i was most thankful for was the opportunity just to talk. to laugh together about language and communication things like we used to. to hear how graduates from the school (some of them my old students) were doing. and to hear how the school and church were doing. sadly, things aren't going so well. Communism is hard on a church, and even though Communism fell 15 years ago, the survival skills and way of living that people learned under Communism don't disappear overnight. the church and individuals in the church have struggled with how to serve God in their whole life to the best of their ability. the director of the school has especially stressed this, and it is important to the students and staff of the school. not having had a lot of experience of how one's whole life can be about serving God in the non-Communist era, the church has struggled with this (under Communism, living one's whole life as a Christian had dire consequences, so the average church-going person found ways of looking and acting less Christian in order to survive.) added to this is the reality that belonging to the Hungarian Reformed Church in Ukraine is part of what it means to be Hungarian in a foreign country (either that or one is Roman Catholic). thus, the church is struggling, in spite all of the devout Christians who are part of it.

in the past few months, some of those seeing the struggles in the church and wanting to reform have been pressing for reform. for a number of reasons, this was frowned upon. and the church is beginning to split. my friends (and the director) are in the middle. they want the church to be more excited about teaching people about taking Christianity seriously and living out their faith. after all, what person with a heart for the church wouldn't want that?
but how do they help the church do that?
do they go along with those splitting off from the church (all of us who have experienced church splits know how horrible and painful and often unnecessary they are) who are reacting against (and trying to fix) the problems in the church?
or do they stay in a church with all of its struggles and its fear of change but with its greater opportunity to serve and help others?

my heart goes out to them. it feels like an impossible situation and the potential for harm is so high right now. pray for them and for the church.

another wedding

this past weekend i was in the wedding of my friend and former roommate, Brenda. besides being tons of fun, with lots of good laughter and dancing and great people, it was a great joy to see the marriage of two people who love each other deeply. they compliment each other well and they will help and challenge each other to become more Christ-like for years to come. i can't wait to see what kind of ministry God does through them both next year and the hopefully many years to come.

one of the best parts of this wedding was that i got to see the relationship grow from the very beginning - from the conversations in the beginning about whether this was going to last - to many, many dinner time conversations about nothing and everything - to having them let me go hours of seeing them before telling me they got engaged (fortunately for them they told me before i went to bed else she would have been woken up abruptly for about a week out of revenge). i even got to be consulted when Brian brought his first birthday present for her. i think we decided on something funny instead of serious (although maybe he also got her something more serious). i think the stool he got her was one of my suggestions. it was about a foot tall, and the look on her face when she opened it was priceless. it was the oddest present, and she had no idea what to do with it. and then it dawned on her that Brian's about a foot taller than her - and well, it's been used by them to say good night a lot in the past year and a half. i saw it at the front of the church on their wedding day but didn't think anything of it. when the pastor told them to kiss in the wedding ceremony, i saw his best man go down and got the stool, and i started laughing louder than is really respectable when you're standing in front of an entire church of quiet people. by the time he put it in front of Brenda and she stepped up to Brian, everyone else had joined in laughing.
hopefully this ability to give each other joy - and bring it to the others around them will continue for years to come :)

i'll end this with a picture of them leaving church. My dad's a truck driver like Brian's dad (Brian just drove for a summer job) - so he told me that I should show my dad the picture. and i thought i'd show all of you as well :)