My name is Miriam Bohlmann Kunz, and I am serving in Nyíregyháza, Hungary with the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) as a Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM). From August 2016-July 2017 my hope is to witness and share God's love in the beautiful country that is Hungary. YAGM emphasizes serving with the accompaniment model, which is serving by living alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. So this year I am moving forward in the faith of God's love, expecting to come across grace both in expected and unexpected places.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Encountering God and Grace (are they ever apart?) in Sárszentlőrinc

For the past almost two weeks my fellow Central Europe YAGM and I have been at our in-country orientation in the vacation town of Révfülöp on gorgeous Lake Balaton. This time has been spent learning Hungarian, as well as learning in more detail what exactly this next year will entail. Although Révfülöp and Balaton are wonderful, the past two weeks have still been quite sheltered: almost all of our time is spent together, and we have minimal interaction with the local community. So, for the sake of forming new relationships in our new country, as well as further preparing us for our year, our contingency of seven YAGM and two country coordinators visited the small village of Sárszentlőrinc (shar-saint-lawrence would be a close pronunciation).

Sárszentlőrinc is a village of about 800, and a third of that population is Roma Hungarians. Much of the weekend was spent getting to know the local community, both Roma and non-Roma, as well as learning about some of the history of Hungary, how the Roma people came to Hungary, and the history of the Hungarian Lutheran church with their Roma neighbors.

As you might imagine after only one week of Hungarian lessons, our new language skills were not enough to be able to communicate directly with most of the people in the village. However, thanks to the generosity of three translators, and the patience of the translators and the community, powerful, important and inspirational conversations were had. I found it encouraging to learn that language does not have to be a barrier to forming relationships, as long as I commit myself fully to their formation.

There were two events from the weekend that most impacted me. The first was the story of a Roma woman in the village with whom I got to spend some time. Our group split up into three, and each set of three visited the home of one of the Roma women in the community. There were only two people who translated into English, so the three of us who had some German went with our host and another member of the community, who was able to translate our host's words into German, which I then helped translate to English. As we walked with this amazing woman and sat in her home snacking on the cookies and sipping on the drinks she immediately offered us, she shared with us her story of how she became involved and a member of the church. She told us the story of how her son had died ten years ago, and how her husband is no longer able to work or leave their home because of an accident he suffered six years ago. They make it through on her work assembling Kinder eggs six hours a day (she made sure to also give us many of the toys from these eggs), and his disability pay. There is no question they are living in poverty. When I asked her how long she had been going to the church, she said ten years: since her son died. Her words will stay with me forever: "When this happened, my life was destroyed. After I came to God, my life was still destroyed, but suddenly I could bear it." I find her strength and faith inspirational in many ways. I find her extreme kindness and hospitality awesome, in the truest sense of the word, I find her vulnerability to share her life with strangers courageous, and I find her words of faith fortifying. Her upfront and honest statement of how God impacts her life simply paints a theology that is often hard to word. Her acknowledgment that having God in her life did not all of a sudden make everything better is so important; it acknowledges that sometimes terrible things happen, but that when these terrible things happen, Christ bears our burden, so that even though things still suck, we are able to keep going.
Some fellow Central Europe YAGM with another one of our generous hosts.

In the interaction described above, the exchange of words and stories was essential to the experience, however the other event that most impacted me involved no words at all. One of the events of the weekend was to gather with the congregation on Saturday evening and share songs, in both English and Hungarian. There were quite a few people, including some families with young children. At the end of the singing, a mother brought about five kids over to meet us and take a picture with us. One of the young children, probably about six, ran to me while I was still sitting down, threw her arms around my neck, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. What had I done to earn this affection?! We have never met, I have never said a word to her, and if I had she would not have understood. I tried asking her name in Hungarian, but all of sudden she was shy. I told her my name, and her mother told me hers, but sadly I did not catch it. As I smiled at her and tried to tell her in terrible Hungarian that I like her short haircut, she once again gave me a big hug, lucky me! As we all stood to take a picture, she did not seem eager for it, but finally, she ran over to me and hid her face in my legs for the picture. There is nothing more wonderful than being loved by a child, and here this child was offering her love freely simply because I was present. I am so grateful for the gift that this young child gave me, and encouraged that just by being present in a space with people we can bring about love. And love being freely given by no work of our own, that sounds sort of familiar...oh, that's right, GRACE!
Meeting my young Hungarian friend.

Our YAGM Central Europe group with some shy, young congregation members.

It is clear that God is already present and active here in Hungary, in both the young and the old, the Roma and the non-Roma. I am eager to begin this journey in the city where I have been called to serve, and to continue to see God in the many faces I will see here in Hungary. So off I continue, forward in faith, with grace expectations.



  1. thanks, miriam. your message inspires me. Dad

  2. I agree with your dad; your message made my day!

  3. What a beautiful story. The work you are doing with the Roma and sharing their story is so important.