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, April 18, 2017

New Life

First of all, happy Easter to you all. Recently I have been thinking a lot about new life, which is a pretty fitting topic for Easter. There are so many examples of how I have seen new life in my YAGM year, but mostly I have been reflecting a lot on my new life in Hungary, and the lives of the families who stay at the Anyaóvó, the family shelter where I work.
New life in the form of a tree I'm planting in a mentor's garden.

Let me start by telling you a bit more about the families that live at the Anyaóvó. While I have been working there, there has usually been 12 families residing there. The mission of the shelter is to provide a place to stay for families that are struggling for a maximum of 12-18 months and support them as they try to get back on their feet, but often times families end up staying for longer. Some of the families are single parent (mom or dad), some of the parents are older, some of them are closer to my age. Many of the families are Roma, many of the families are not. Some of the parents currently have jobs, some of them don't. Some of the parents are diligent about making sure they get their kids to school everyday, some of them aren't. Most of my interactions are with the social workers who work there and the kids. The kids I spend the most time with are around 8-11 years old, but I've gotten to spend significant time with kids from ages 2-15.

If you have known me for awhile, maybe you have heard me say that I don't like kids. And those who have known me forever, and those who met me five minutes ago will know that I have a six-year-old nephew (the light of my life) and three-year-old niece (other light of my life, but also rival) because I talk about them all the time and shove pictures in your face, like so:
Actually the cutest kids in the entire world. And they know it. Because I tell them all the time.

In actuality, my fondness for kids is somewhere in the middle. Was I super ecstatic when I found out in July that I would be working with kids? Not really, but I also wasn't not excited to see what God had in store for me in this call. The point of this is, as adorable and fun spending time with the kids at the Anyaóvó can be, sometimes I can also be quick to be annoyed or frustrated with the kids. Sometimes they say mean things, or want to do something different every five seconds, so in short, they behave like regular kids. But then every once in a while something happens, like a kid will ask me if I have a dad, or an eight-year-old will carry around her baby sister on her hip and I remember that families aren't living here because things are easy in their lives. The other day I heard two kids talking to each other about what towns they lived in before they lived at the shelter, and it clicked that their lives at the shelter are new and different, and also not permanent. One of the kids I had gotten closest to just moved out with his mom and little brother. Now they have to try and live a new life, and that can be scary.
New friend who just moved into the Anyaóvó. We made that together. He basically did all the work. He's cool. 

Look at the Easter story in the bible: the one we read on Sunday morning was in Mark. The women when they enter the tomb "were alarmed," and after the scene with the angels "fled from the the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them," (Mark 16:8). This new life thing is a bit frightening.

I had failed to realize for so long how scary it most be for the kids and the families in their new lives, or preparing for their new lives, not knowing what comes next. I can certainly relate to it though. There were definitely nerves when I first got to Nyíregyháza about what the next ten months would bring. I'm definitely getting a little scared thinking about what life will be like when I go back to the US. Sure, I know the logistics of what comes next, but it's unsettling thinking about how I have to go back to my normal life, because I don't know what will be normal anymore, I certainly can't go back to living life as if this year never happened; it's scary to look at the unknown of new life.

But there is one thing I have learned, and it is also in the Easter story: the joy that new life also brings. As I already pointed out, in Mark, it says the women fled "for terror and amazement had seized them," (Mark 16:8), and in Matthew the story is very similar (synoptic gospels, am I right?) but instead the women are described leaving  "quickly with fear and great joy," (Matthew 28:8). I have seen the great joy that is in new life here in Nyíregyháza, and it is a joy of little things, like laughing over meals with my host mom, or the freedom of riding my bike to work in the mornings and afternoons. It is the joy that comes from having a community that cares for me and supports me.

In February, a refugee family from Afghanistan moved to Nyíregyháza and my congregation is supporting them (providing housing, and moral support?). It is a father and his three oldest sons. His other five children and wife are still in Afghanistan. They all speak pretty good English, so Rebekah, the other YAGM volunteer in Nyíregyháza, and I asked to get coffee with them sometime to get to know them. Just so you know, Hungary is not very welcoming to refugees, so all I could think of going into this meeting, was how horrible it must be for this family to live in a place where so many people are hostile to their presence. When we sat down and got to talking, the father completely surprised me. He talked about how great it is to be able to go outside after 4pm and not be afraid of dying, and his joy in being able to be outside and relish it. This is not to say that the difficulties of this new life did not still weigh on him (like finding a job, learning a new language, being separated from his family...), but in this new, scary, and unknown life, there was still joy.

Even looking at the most literal form of new life, a baby, there is so much joy to be found, for the child and for those in its life. I am not a parent, but I can also imagine all the fear surrounding the unknown of that child, but the child manages to bring joy into what is still frightening. I have also recently been thinking about the new life at the other end of the spectrum as well. My grandfather on my dad's side was a Lutheran pastor, and continued to supply-preach well after he retired. Recently, my dad came into possession of a large amount of his old sermons, organized by the Sunday or holiday in the liturgical year. My grandpa died in January 2011. My dad has been emailing the family a copy of a sermon for each day that my grandpa has a sermon written for. It has been nice to hear/read a sermon in English and understand it, but it has also been an unexpected gift to get to know my grandpa's theological voice as I have only ever gotten to know through my dad and his brothers (not having been super into theological discussions before I was 18). The sermon my dad sent out for Easter was from 2008 (my dad thinks the last sermon he ever gave on Easter) on John 20:1-16. The sermon is about Jesus' first words to Mary Magdalene, "Why are you crying?" Like any good preacher, he sums up the whole sermon in his last sentence:

"The first words of the risen Jesus are: “Why are you crying?” The living Jesus tells us He comes with His new life for us and to live it joyfully with us. There is now every reason for rejoicing and hope and confidence." (underlining done by my grandpa)

Reading this sermon, more than ever I reflect on that new everlasting life Jesus has gifted us by grace, through his death and resurrection. Jesus conquers death, the most unknown of any new life, and grants eternal life, which is still unknown, but that God grants us because God loves us, not because we deserve it. And even though this new life is scary and unknown, it surely must be joyful.

I am so grateful for the new life in Christ I have here in Hungary. I am glad for the families at the Anyaóvó that they have the opportunity for the joy of new life. In this new life, Jesus does not claim that it will be easy or pain free, but promises to live it joyfully with us. I don't know what the last two and a half months of this new life in Hungary will look like, or what my life in the States will resemble, or what comes next for my new friends from Afghanistan or for the kids I spend my afternoons with, but I know for me and hope for them, that it is forward in faith, with grace expectations, because by its nature, there is no new life, without the grace of God.

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