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, January 21, 2017

Continuing to serve with a right-wing government: what we can learn from Hungary

Yesterday the 45th President of the United States of America was inaugurated. It's not news that I am really unhappy about who was elected. Despite my displeasure at who the new president is, I find myself whole-heartedly agreeing with what President Obama has said many times since the election: one of the remarkable things about our democracy is the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. I am proud of this, even if I am not proud of who my current leaders are, so now we must figure out how to continue to fight for love and what is good with a government that seems to oppose much of that work at every turn.

Wouldn't you know it, I happen to be living in a country that already has a right-wing government! Since I have been in Hungary, there has a been a vote asking the people if they support the EU forcing Hungary to take in refugees against the government's wishes (phrased in a way that made it almost impossible to vote Yes), the government paid for the propaganda preceding and after the vote against refugees, and the only remaining liberal newspaper was shutdown. Along with these examples from my 5 months here, there is also plenty of racism institutionalized into law, just like in the United States. Before I continue, I just want to make the important distinction between the country and the government; this is important both for Hungary and the United States. The government is elected by the country, but the people are what make each country what it is.

Is it not amazing then, that here I am in Hungary working with a church that has ministries for the homeless, elderly, disabled, marginalized, and refugees?! And those are just the ones in my city! Don't get me wrong, the Lutheran church in Hungary has many flaws, just like the ELCA, but everyday I go to work, I am wowed by their commitment to serve. The church may be the institution backing these ministries, but what keeps them running is the people who work there and are committed to their mission. Do my coworkers sometimes say racist, sexist, or Islamophobic things? Absolutely, but you know what, they show up to work everyday without complaint (usually, I mean sometimes there are days when we all just want to stay home) and continue to serve. Everyday here, I am inspired by the community of people who want to serve, even though they receive no support or even opposition from their government.

So what does the next step look like for those fighting for love in the US? Great question. I don't think there is one right answer. I can only give my answer, and to do that I have to talk about the people who are my reason for serving with Young Adults in Global Mission. I have been blessed with the most amazing parents I could have ever asked for. Today my parents, Deborah and Michael, with other members of Bethel Lutheran Church, are marching in the Women's March on Washington. Words cannot express just how proud I am to have them as my parents, not just for their actions today, but for their actions I have witnessed everyday of my 23 years, and from the stories I hear, before then as well. My parents have taught me by example, and also by spelling it out at the dinner table, what it means to be servants of Christ, what it means to be ambassadors of grace and love. Whether it was my mom introducing me to the Women Who Take No Shit club when I was 7 (it just my mom's friends at work who didn't take any shit from the administration and insisted on being treated fairly), or my dad firmly teaching my brothers and I that swearing is ok, but we are never ever allowed to call people names. I am so lucky that my parents have been intentional about teaching me that every single person is just as valuable as me, and that I am just as valuable as any other person. My mom has shown me by example not to let my voice be silenced, and my dad has spent his career (in many different fields) using words to try and make people smile or feel heard. I know I have painted my parents as saints, which they are, but they are sinners too. They have taught me, and showed me, that God loves us in spite of our sins, and that this is all the more reason to serve and love others. Naturally, they were the first people I turned to for advice after I heard news of the election. My mom's first response was "we live by faith not by sight." When I was talking to my mom about some of her previous actions for justice and about her decision to march in Washington, she said that she realizes that her actions may not prevent the things she is fighting against (racial inequality, sexism, hate and inequality in general would sum up what she has always fought against), but she sure as hell isn't going to make it easy, she is not going to be complicit.

This is my answer: I will not make it easy for hate to thrive in the United States or anywhere. I will continue to follow the radical calling of Christ to love. I will love my enemy, as hard as it will be. I will fail often. But thank God for grace. I will fail, but God's love will still be there. With this gift, how can I not keep trying?

There are two more things I want to share with you in response to my question "what does the next step look like for those fighting for love in the US?" The first is part of my dad's annual family letter. He started this year's letter with the following:
It is a good time to dedicate myself again to a leader. My leader was a refugee as a child and a transient as an adult. Instead of mocking disabilities, he healed them. Instead of discriminating against those who were different, he embraced them. Instead of judging women by their appearance or history, he praised them for their faith. And those who spoke against him, who even crucified him…he forgave them/us. He made peace between God and a lost and broken world. And then he rose from the dead. That man Jesus Christ is my leader, our leader. In God’s eyes, when Jesus died for us he made the world great again. He is a man for all time, for our time. I will follow him.

The second is the lyrics from my favorite hymn, "We Are Called" (ELW 720)
Come! Live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God

Refrain: We are called to act with justice,
we are called to love tenderly;
we are called to serve one another,
to walk humbly with God.

Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless so hatred and blindness will be no more

Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign, and we'll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love.

We are called to act with justice,
we are called to love tenderly;
we are called to serve one another,
to walk humbly with God.

As a result of the new administration, I am more motivated than ever to learn as much as I can from my brothers and sisters here in Hungary. Even though I am looking forward the next six months in Hungary, I am just as eager to return home and share what I have learned, moving together forward in faith, with grace expectations.

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