The last rays of summer have snuck into our autumn room, like a 3-year old who refuses to go to bed. We know that she should not be here, it is past her bedtime, but who can resist the temptation to laugh at her antics?
I sit on our morning balcony, raise my face to her playful touch and drink deeply of the moment.
They say that the winter will be a cold one.
They say that Russia might turn off the gas.
They say … and I look around me and see people digging in the trash. I believe.
The first time I laid eyes on Hungary was in the winter of 2000. We were a van full of Bulgarians on our way to Switzerland for a conference and Budapest was our overnight stop. The city seemed so post-Soviet western in comparison to us, like a cousin that shares your DNA but grew up richer. We stayed in a cheap hostel with a lot of red carpet.
The city was cold. The kind of cold that sinks its teeth into your flesh and pulls at the bone. And, it was dark, that winter kind of dark that you get in the northern parts of Europe where dusk settles in for the evening while the children are still in school.
Our bones begged us to stay inside by the warm radiators, but Budapest was boasting Central Europe’s biggest mall. It had just opened in November and Sofia didn’t have one yet, so we walked the freezing city blocks in search of her glamorous face.
Those were the days when the EU was a golden suitor and the Hungarian economy was strong and the loans from Swiss banks seemed like a good investment to privatize your apartment.
I had a 4-year old back then. A playful, giggly, pigtail of a girl who begged her momma to read books. And there was a 2 year old with wispy blonde, fly-away hair and a wrinkly sort of nose that made us laugh in spite of the art she drew on our walls.
Here in Hungary in those days, a momma named Maria was stretching toward her 20th birthday and she already had two babies. Maybe she was at the mall that night; one of those Hungarian moms pushing euro-strollers that I admired as I sat in the midst of the western shops licking my ice cream. We will never really know, I suppose.
Maria added 8 more babies in the years to come, rounding out the family to 10 children. Somewhere in the midst of diapers and midnight feeds, the Hungarian economy spiraled downward. Families who were beginning to believe that the future was bright discovered the dark side of fairytales. Those storybook endings are rarer than we knew, or so it seems.
Today, Hungary is my home and Maria is my new friend. It never occurred to me, back then in the mall with the ice-cream that I was home.
Maria lives down the street from me in a shelter for Hungarian families that find themselves without a home. I look into her eyes and wonder what it must be like to know that your babies are one step from the street. It is a heavy weight to carry while you try to squeeze every moment of being momma to your kids before they scamper out of your arms into adulthood.
Maria and I laugh as we work through an English lesson; she with no English and me with no real Hungarian, stumbling and tripping over words to communicate our shared angst at parenting teenagers.
Krisztina is a mom of one. She is twenty-six. Their little family of 3 calls the shelter home, too. She is a tiny, slip of a woman who commands my Hungarian mispronunciations to stand up and march in a straight line. If you want to learn a language, you need a take-charge language coach like Krisztina who will make you repeat the sound until you get it right on the one-hundreth try.
The fears and the pressures and the crack of a smile and the giggle of a shared joke, these are the Hungarian places hidden underneath the Danube that runs deep and the Parliament building that steels the breath and the castle that tells of fairytale histories. They are the heart of Hungary that the tourist rarely sees.
Here amidst these soft strokes of falling sunshine, I watch the memories trip over themselves to utter wisdom out of nonsense, and I am thrilled. In a place where I do not belong, where I never dreamed that God would lead, yet learning and yearning to belong, to embrace and be embraced. It is in this space that God opens doors. The call to missioning draws life from this multi-cultural marriage of wills.
In the middle of dropping a bun into a bag for a girl’s lunch, the owner of the little grocery walks past, ‘How are you?’ he inquires. He is not Hungarian, but rather from another part of our world where war has suddenly become real. As we chat, he says, “i am afraid for the coming winter. I have a 7-year old and I fear what is to come.’
Out of the past, an acquaintance who I once invited to our Bible study emails and says, “I am still an atheist, but if you don’t mind, I would like to come to your Bible meetings.”
Maria and Krisztina and their children smile when we come through the door. And, I smile as I walk up and down grocery aisles looking for craft materials for the next time we meet.
Whatever we thought missions was, the heart of it is right here in the every day and the practical. In the unscripted, we somehow discover the important parts. Perhaps, it is a little like parenting, somewhere in the act, you realize that the valuable is born and nurtured in the small, in the daily, in the topsy-turvy mix of bed sheets and 3-year old giggles. It is unplanned. It is impromptu. It is beautiful.
Jesus, help me today to see the unplanned and the impromptu as your intentional interruption into my life. And, help me to receive it, not as an interruption, but as Grace – bold and beautiful and more fulfilling than anything I could have planned myself. Help me to turn my gaze fully upon you, to raise my arms in sweet abandon, and to let you be fully present in me as we face the frightening unknown depths of our tomorrows.