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, April 1, 2017

The Outsider (My Parents Visit Hungary)

Two weeks ago, my parents came to visit me in my site placement during my mom's Spring Break (she's a high school English teacher). It was truly great to be able to show my parents all the places and people that are important to me, and also amazing that my family here in Hungary got to meet the people who have shaped me. Having them here was also a learning experience, like how lucky I am that my parents are even able to come visit me in Hungary, but I'll talk about that another time (maybe). I thought it would be a good idea to have my parents each write something about their brief time here because 1. they are both amazing writers, and 2. they are coming from a similar context as most of you. They did not have a months worth of orientation on what YAGM is about and what accompaniment means, and learning what to expect, or the difficulty of confronting privilege. So here is a piece written by my dad about what he experienced in my placement site, and what he learned about YAGM. (Mom's will be in the May newsletter)

The Outsider
Michael Kunz (a.k.a. Miriam's dad), picture captions by Miriam

A week ago we were with Miriam in Hungary and Croatia. I was struck by my initial
feeling of being the outsider. The closest I previously had felt to being an outsider
before our visit to Hungary was when my family moved to Missouri from Tennessee
when I was 7. But even that was nothing like arriving in Nyíregyháza, Hungary.

I don’t speak the language. Even when we arrived at the airport on the outskirts of
Budapest, I could feel the anxiety of not knowing exactly where I was going or what I
should be doing. I know Miriam has already written about feeling this, and I think
she expressed it pretty accurately: It can be uncomfortable being the outsider.

We wait at our first train station for the 2-hour ride to Nyíregyháza, and I wonder
whether I am standing out, looking like a foreigner,…and I am glad I am with my
wife and my daughter.

We arrive in Nyíregyháza (pronounced near-udge- ha-zuh) [sort of, he still says it wrong] and trudge and carry our bags through the sparse train terminal yards of this city of 125,000, and then we
hike more than a mile, first over a pedestrian bridge that spans the rail yards, then
past a high school and a tobacco factory…and finally to Miriam’s home in Hungary.
My (birth) parents, Michael and Deborah, with my Hungarian mom, Juci néni

We enter a modest 2-bedroom apartment, and a short, stout, gray-haired 70-
something woman bustles beamingly into the kitchen to greet us. Julia welcomes the
outsiders. We are Miriam’s parents, and Miriam is Julia’s new “daughter”. Julia’s
adult daughter recently moved into her own place, and now Miriam has that
daughter’s room….which Miriam gives to us, taking the couch in the small living
room for a bed.

Miriam was the point person for bringing us in from the outside, but that was to be
expected. She is our daughter. Julia brought us into her home. And although we
counted primarily on Miriam to translate the spoken word, Julia’s language of love
and hospitality was wildly evident at the table. We would no longer look like
outsiders because we were to be filled and filled and filled at this table with
Hungarian food!

Miriam’s YAGM colleagues Rebekah and Miles, placed in ministries not far from
Miriam’s, joined us for the evening meal and then a visit to a downtown café where
we played cards and began to get a feel for this town. Thanks to both of them for
also welcoming us in. We have made new American friends in Hungary!

But I felt like an outsider again when we returned to Julia’s. We had no car during
our time in Nyíregyháza, so we walked or rode the local bus. On our way home from
the café, at the bus stop a local man may have recognized me as being an American,
perhaps with money, and he came begging to me for something. I couldn’t
understand him. I later asked Miriam if she often experienced the begging, and she
said she had never seen it in her 7 months there. Did I look like I had more than
others? In this town, did that make me an outsider?

At church the next morning, I left like an outsider and yet a part of the group. The
Lutheran service at Miriam’s church, was, of course, all in Hungarian. I understood
the notes and rhythms of the music, the activities of the liturgy, and the names of
Mary, Jesus and Pontius Pilate in the Apostles Creed. And I understood the pouring
of water on the infant’s head at the baptism. I was included.
Got to share communion with my parents in Hungary, and there was a baptism! Fun fact: no matter where you are in the world, the sacraments contain (is that the right word? administer maybe?) the same grace!

And that evening at choir rehearsal, I sat with the bass section, and one man knew
some English, and another spoke German, and together the three of us sang
Hungarian and even some Latin! I was making friends in choir….

And of course they had food and drink, cake, wine, pálinka (a Hungarian “whiskey”)
after choir….and an English-speaking woman from choir gave us a ride home in her
Not sure why I was so surprised by how easily my parents stepped into choir. One of the basses even said my dad was the one helping him. Sometimes his bursting into song gets old, but not that day!

The next day, Gabor, my German-speaking friend from the bass section, met us at
the oldest Lutheran Church in town and gave us a tour of it, as well as a book that he
wrote about the church. And then…
Gabor is one of the most generous people I have ever met.

No outsiders us. Gabor made insiders of us. He gave us a ride in his car to Miriam’s
main place of work. A Lutheran ministry sponsored by her church, it is a multi-
ministry center set in a building that looks like an old, well-worn three-story office
complex. They feed the hungry in a “soup kitchen” (that’s where Miriam works);
they provide transitional housing; they provide a senior day center along with a
medical clinic. There is a treatment program for addicts. And as Gabor and Miriam
and Miriam’s superiors at the ministry center toured us through the building, I felt
upon me the eyes of those who attend the center, mostly older people, but some
younger. Was I the outsider or the insider? Were they the insiders or the outsiders?
Feri, one of the social workers, giving us the tour, and Gabor helping me translate.

It is a struggle to bring everyone in. Whether it is the beggar at the bus stop, the
hungry at the soup kitchen, the foreign visitor trying to figure out a new country and
a new language. Miriam told us at the end of the week that it had been “exhausting”
to try to help Deb and me “fit in”. Part of it was because I never fully shed my
American-isms of loudness and gregariousness. But part of it is Miriam’s
involvement in bringing the outsider in.

That is what Jesus calls us to do. Bring in the outsider. And when we are the
outsider, accept the invitation and welcome of being brought in.

It is hard work. They are doing that hard work in YAGM, in Nyíregyháza…and in St.
Louis. We are all in this together with Christ as our leader.
Grateful for their visit to my site, and our time in Budapest (above) and Croatia as well. All three of us are now continuing forward in faith, with grace expectations in the USA and in Hungary.

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