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.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Challenges Ahead

I have been in my placement site, Nyíregyháza, Hungary, for about two and a half weeks now. I just finished up my second week of work at the Oltalom, a diaconal ministry of my host congregation with multiple locations, that provide a number of different services to the people of Nyíregyháza. For the past two weeks, and the rest of my time here, I have and will be working in a soup kitchen that provides lunch to around 150 homeless or hungry folks everyday. My tasks include washing dishes, and occasionally handing out fruit, slicing bread, and mopping the floor. These are all tasks that I have done before, and would like to think that I have done well, and yet I can already tell that I am going to be faced with a lot of challenges this year, and not just at work. So as I begin my work for the next ten months, I would like to provide all you lovely people with some of things I think I will find challenging in this next year.

  • Language, communication, and inability to express myself: This is the most obvious challenge I am currently facing. At my work, there are two people who speak English, neither of which I interact with during a typical day. As you might imagine, having conversations is difficult, and as someone whose greatest fear is being misunderstood, it can also be very frustrating, especially when on your second day of work someone asks about police brutality in the US. I would love to have that conversation, but right now I don't have the words (in English either for that matter). Thankfully, I am surrounded by so many amazing generous people at work; they make an effort to have conversations with me: they speak slowly, repeat themselves, use improvised sign language, and if all else fails we pass around my pocket dictionary that is always on my person. Although language right now is a barrier, it also provides a place where relationships are forming. They help me pronounce new words, and are always quick to give me affirmation when I say a sentence right, and we all are quick to laugh at how English words are said compared to how they are spelled. Although I find myself wishing daily that it could  be like The Matrix and I could just download a new language straight into my brain, I am also grateful for the time to observe, listen, and share in this learning time with those around me.
  • Not knowing what is happening: My absolute favorite thing in the world, for better or for worse, is knowing things. I like knowing which actor was in that movie, I like knowing how to derive Fermi's Gold Rule, I like knowing the liturgical setting we are using in church, and I like knowing what is happening around me at all times. Believe it or not, in a foreign country where I don't speak the language, I very rarely know exactly what is happening, or have any concept of what is happening at all. I don't know how to buy a train ticket, pay a phone bill, or even how to correctly wash dishes at work. Almost daily I find myself asking, "How did I get here, and what is going on?" Sometimes that's at an 8-year-old's birthday party, other times that is with your mentor and his contractors at his house that is being renovated. But once again, although this will be a challenge for me, it provides a place where relationships can form. Vulnerability is not a choice, and by necessity I am asking for help daily. I am pushed everyday to step outside my comfort zone, and am daily met with the generosity of all those around me.
  • Asking for help: I expected this one coming in. As I said, I like knowing what's going on, and I like others to think I know what it is going on. As a result, asking for help has never been something I enjoyed. (I don't know if anyone really like asking for help, for that matter) I don't really have a choice now, so it will be a growing experience in this way. It makes it much easier when so many people in my community are so eager to help and show me hospitality, and I am so grateful for them everyday.
  • Coming to terms with my privilege: I like to think that I am so aware of my white privilege, and my class privilege, and I pat myself on the back when I call out other people for saying something I think is ignorant. And then I came to YAGM and Hungary. I am learning about a whole new type of privilege. I'm learning about the privilege of being a US citizen outside of the US and of speaking English in a place where English is not an official language. I'm learning about the privilege of having the opportunity to pursue higher education. I'm struggling with answering the questions, "What did you study?" and "What will you do when you go back to the US?" I wonder what they think of me, that I can decide to go to another country for a year doing something that seemingly has nothing to do with my profession, and then go back get another freaking degree?! When I say it plainly like that, it sounds so ridiculous, and I don't have the words to explain why I decided to come here! (The answer in short is vocation, which I should learn in Hungarian) I believe that grappling with my own privilege and not worrying about things I have no control over will be my biggest challenge.
  • Encountering racism in new and unexpected ways: In just the month I have been in Hungary, I have already encountered numerous instances of having conversations and someone saying something that to me seems so overtly racist and unbelievable. I find myself thinking, "You never hear people saying things that overt in the US." And then I get off my high horse and look at who is running for president and the daily news of another unarmed black citizen getting shot by the police. This is not to excuse any of the comments I have heard here in Hungary, but it is to say that there are plenty of people I love in the US despite prejudiced beliefs they might have. It can be hard to love these people at home (and everyone has their own prejudices, me included), and I it will be a challenge here too. It will be a challenge because to me loving someone means having difficult conversations about prejudice, and sometimes that means relationships are damaged or ended. Right now I don't have the language to have those conversations, and even if I did, I have to remember that it is not only my relationships that can become damaged. I lied in the last paragraph: I think this will be my biggest challenge. This is a super complicated topic, which deserves to be addressed more completely, and I look forward to sharing in this conversation with all of you in the next year.
I have lots more thoughts about all of these topics right now, but I know that throughout this year, I will experience things that will provide me new perspective on these topics, which I hope to share with you as they happen. I don't have all the answers yet, otherwise these wouldn't be challenges.

I'm sorry, I lied to you guys again.

I do have the answer. The answer is Christ, community in Christ, and love. Through my community here these challenges are already lightened, and these challenges are surmountable through my faith in love, Christ, and the call that has lead me here. It's still hard, and it will be all year, but I have hope because of all the many people here in Hungary who are loving me and supporting me. It is a true experience of grace, for I have done nothing to deserve their generosity and love, and yet they give it freely, expecting only a relationship with me in return. So here, finally in Nyíregyháza, I continue forward in faith, with grace expectations.



  1. Lovely, Miriam! Thank you for your transparency. I can identify with those feelings, as I felt them while I was working/studying abroad. What I did not have, though, was the faith that helped me through it. Your insecurities, fears, frustrations, etc. are covered in Grace, and God is using instruments of His love to show you that grace in a tangible way. We are praying for you and thank you for writing!!

  2. Miriam, thanks for sharing the hard parts of your experience. By doing so, you are already showing such maturity and, actually, security, that all your needs are covered by God's grace. You are living in the shadow of the cross.
    Love you. Mom