Budapest – Final Ponderings

We left the Curry House and Phil Metzger snapped this picture of us: him, me, Sherry, Christina, Ryan and Terry. The laughter here was typical of our lunch. That laughter was more around the marvelous things God is doing than the goofing around that was also rampant. I have to say Sherry and I were going to treat the group in thanks for all they had given us. Terry responded by choosing a cash only restaurant – and we had already given away almost all of our Hungarian Flourins so we were not able to accomplish our goal. I am a long term relationship person so there is a certain pain to meeting so many marvelous people knowing that I will never see most of them again in this life.

Heading Home

We did our packing and went early to bed, knowing our early morning departure meant there was a 3:30 am alarm set. I woke to do a bathroom visit and saw the message that our flight was delayed by 25 minutes which set off my travel anxieties stemming from a short layover in Amsterdam. We got to the airport in plenty of time only to get a note from the checkin machine to see the service desk. The kind lady notified us that the delay meant we could not make the Amsterdam connection so we would need to be switched to another set of flights. In my mind, I saw my carefully chosen seats disappear to be replaced by center seats for the 10 hour hop to the west coast. My imagination proved true. Worse than that our wheel chair assist also disappeared for our Paris connection so Sherry had to make the long walk to our departure gate with very tight time constraints. Had not another kind woman helped us get wheel chair passage throught the passport control, we would not have made the connection. Fortunately our 39F and 40F seats were with amiable seat mates who were understanding about “excuse me, please” and I could reach up and touch Sherry from time to time.

Reflecting on our time

I was deeply impressed by the power of the Golgota (Calvary) movement in Central Europe. Not only is the gospel preached powerfully and worship done in very lively ways, the church very intentionally reaches out to marginalized populations like the Roma (Gypsy) people, drug addicts, as well as orphans and widows. Part of my commission was to lay groundwork for reaching into the growing LGBT community in a country where they are legally excluded. The transforming power of Jesus is at center of life.

Expositional preaching typifies Calvary everywhere. It is done well here and there is a deep commitment to equipping young preacher/teachers to continue the Bible centered work. I knew the Americans would be doing that, but was excited that those from Central Europe were also deeply committed to exposition along with equipping and empowering younger leaders.

When I teach I usually pack my time with challenging material, both intellectually and applicationally. In my first session, I found that the leaders were eating it up with rapt attention and insightful questions. The challenges of translation were eased by very high level translators who could comprehend quickly and translate naturally. They were quick to ask clarifying questions to confirm understanding.

My ending thought was “when can I get back here?” Maybe that is why the keys to the flat still in my pocket when we went through airport security (!!!!!)

Arrival home

Sherry Atkins fetched us home from the airport, stopping at Panda Express to get some supper for our exhausted selves. We did some unpacking and a few “gotta get it done” things. I was able to make it until about 8:00 before I fell into bed for a 12 hour sleep. Sherry was coming a bit later but had a coughing spell and was slower but also had a renewing 12 hour sleep. I was renewed enough for a Saturday trip to give pastoral help in a most challenging situation. Happily God moved powerfully. I am deeply grateful to be a minister of the gospel in Hungary as well as Western USA.

Budapest – Sherry’s Adventure

Sherry and Christina Cokenour went to the Great Market Hall, completing the adventure that was postponed from Monday because of snow. It is 3 floors of Hungarian paprika (for goulash, fruits, vegetables, pickles, fantastic salamis, fresh fish, Tokaj wines, souvenirs, bags, clothes, pans and pots, home style meals, and the famous Hungarian Langos. They didn’t sample everything but it was close! I asked Sherry what her favorite part of the adventure was. “Everything!” she quickly responded.

She and Christina laughed, talked and giggled through the vast hall. It was a very special “girl time”

Budapest – Tuesday

Today was my LONG day: double session starting at 9:00, ending at 20:00 with full involvement in conversations and sessions all day. I was wiped when I got back to our flat and slept long.

The morning started with a session on LGTBQI issues I shared with Phil Metzger. It is not yet a super hot topic here since Hungary is a very conservative country. But there is a large LBGTQ community in Budapest and Calvary has always had a heart for hurting people so thinking this through biblically and pastorally was helpful. Typical of the many questions was “what do we do if a gay couple with kids receives Jesus and comes to our church?” Tough but very real questions. They want to do things well. Questions did not stop just because the Q & A was dismissed for lunch

A German, a Finn, a Texan, and a Theology Professor went into Mazel Tov for lunch . . . Sounds like a bad joke but in fact it was a great time to share cultures and what Jesus is doing in each of them while enjoying Jewish food in an enclosed section of street between ancient buildings. I handed my phone to the server, telling him I was a tourist and needed a picture. He laughed, took the phone, snapped the picture and handed it back to me for approval. It was my turn to laugh – he had done a selfie so I had a great picture of him!

Calvary Budapest has just opened an outstanding coffee shop, fully comparable to the finest in the city. The coffee is at Stumptown level, the service excellent and the prices competitive with the other high end shops. This business helps fund the church while serving the downtown community. I now stop for a “filter coffee” each morning.

The evening session was titled “Gospel Challenges” which left a LOT of room for topics. I finally decided to do “Where is God in Suffering?” a topic very relevant to Hungary with its revolutionary past. This is a very intense presentation so doing it in short time with translation had me a little anxious. Fortunately with Ildi translating so well, it went well.

I present three views, Meticulous Providence (God ordains evil for His greater glory and our ultimate good); Active Providence (God is at war with evil using good as His primary weapon); and Free Will Providence (God allows us to choose evil for the sake of true loving relationship). I told them they are all held by good and godly people and that I would would ask them to vote on which one I held after I presented the three. Interestingly, I was voted Free Will by about a 50% majority. When I said is was Active Providence (God is at war with evil using good as His primary weapon) they were surprised and there was cheering from the “winners”! I then explored how to respond to the Serpent’s charge that God either does not really care or can’t do anything by pointing to Emanuel, the God of the universe going through horrible suffering. There is no way He does not care if He does this – and He is doing things, though it’s often not obvious what He is doing.

It took a long time to get the discussions wound down after session ended

Budapest – Monday

Today was kind of a snow day. The weather called for “wintry mix” which can mean snow, ice, rain or not much. Sherry and Christina postponed their date to go to the Grand Market. We can’t see outside from our otherwise marvelous flat, so I went down to the street to discover that there was no ice or snow so Sherry joined me in the 100 meter walk to a local McDonalds to meet Endi Kovács, a true Hungarian Christian intellectual. While he was at Regents in Vancouver he became close friends with folk like Eugene Peterson and James Houston.

Over Bacon McMuffins and my Caffe Latte in a glass (a whole new way to do things!), we immediately went into deep conversation. His background is with InterVarsity, Vineyard here and in Europe, and the USA as well as the Hungarian Reformed Church. It was fascinating to hear his perspectives on many common themes. Sherry was very patient with us during our two hour conversation. It would have gone longer, I am sure, but it started snowing and Sherry does not do well in slick streets. He wallked us to the entrance of our flat and we bid each other God speed.

The Conference began with supper – a great way to begin. I ate with Arpi, the head of the Hungarian Calvary Bible College and two new friends from Finland. Hearing what is happening in their country was fascinating. It is such a different culture with only 5.5 million people in the whole country and a unified culture, a socialized system with a minority working to support a large majority either in government service or retired. The pressures on the system are a great context for the church. The clallenge is getting the good news to a culture with a cultural narrative of church domination from the past. Sounds a lot like the US!

After an enthusiastic half hour of music, some familiar and some totally new, the lesson was a perspective on the gospel from a fellow who is working in Jordan. I have to admit sadly that in the warm theater seat and fairly familiar material, I took an involuntary nap.

I am on twice tomorrow with more than a bit of concern. The TV style projection system is integrated with their recording system but the result is that quite small and my Power Points got some quick revision after I got home, but they will not only be exclusively in English (the people will have fill in the blank handouts in English and Hungarian), but with translation, the time will be very short for complex material like my opening session on LGBTQI issues. I am also speaking into a culture which I don’t know on a most controversial issue. Prayers, please!

Budapest – Sunday

We had the morning to ourselves and used it to get some work done – I am still professor of theology and pastor of pastors. The joyful work was giving Bethany Allen input for her sermon at Bridgetown. I am eager to hear it. Amazing sermon on feelings and Sabbath, part of the BT series on Practicing the Way.

Terry and Christina Cokenour and their girls picked us up for lunch at Vak Varju – the Black Crow. If you look at the website, you can get a “taste” of our experience. There were many jokes about Russell Crow and Darth Vader, reinterpreted to be a stylized black crow with a helmet

The food was marvelous, with full time taken to prepare it which gave lots of time for conversation. But it was super hot with sun shining into the enclosed patio and four powerful heaters going full blast. I felt for the server who brought our food trying not to drip sweat on it! You can see the beauty of Sherry’s pork tenderloin dish.

Golgota 11 Church

Terry and I, along with the girls, went to the building where the church meets. Sherry and Christina went out and enjoyed some girl time over treats at a local bakery.

We did the setting up, chairs and sound equipment, practiced the songs and talked a lot about ministry in this area. Hungary is technically Christian but almost wholly unchurched. So there is a lot of work to do.

I tried to capture some of the feeling of the area: fitness center to the left, Burger King in the middle and “Com Condo” on the right. These are what we called Stalin Apartments in other eastern block countries I have ministered in: very basic solid, functional only apartments for workers in the communist economy. Now the people are updating the apartments in very attractive ways even as the exterior remains the dingy concrete.

The church, Golgota 11, Golgotha 11, the Calvary Chapel in District 11, was finishing a short series on reconciliation so I started with 2 Cor. 5:11-21 on the reconciliation that leaves the “fleshly” perception with it’s bitterness and hurt behind for the “new creation” where we don’t count tresspasses against people because of what God did making Jesus who knew no sin to be sin – meaning our sin shame and fear was absorbed by Him in some mysterious way so we can become the full Christlike righteousness He has for us.

I went to the parable of the prodigal in Luke 15, focusing on the first son who betrayed his father, shaming him, emotionally killing him. The Father does not go after the son, because in the young man’s pride, it would seem more controlling domination, perhaps. But this son’s partying ends up destroying his own life.

The key to reconciliation is first the son coming to his senses (think 2 Tim. 2:25-26) at the end of his pride and rebellion and remembering life with the Father. The other side is both the Father letting love for his son and the memory/hope of their relation overcome his hurt and shame. The son’ repentance (coming back home and to Father) and confession (I have sinned and am no longer worthy to be your son) along with the Father’s Ex. 34:6-7 compassion and love combine to produce the sweet fruit of reconciliation.

Had the son not repented, coming home with “Hey, Dad, I’m back. Kill the fatted calf so I can party” or had the Father demanded that the son earn his way back into the family with years of servanthood it would have been very different. No reconciliation would have happened. It is always a two sided work.

I spoke of an example from my pastoral life where a woman committed adultery against her husband. They went through this sort of process and were fully reconciled after both gave a ton of shame and pain to Jesus by the power of the Spirit. I heard later that a person present who, completely unknown to me, is in the process of reconciling with an adulterous spouse. Other advised never do that, it never works, you can never trust. The sermon brought hope to that marriage.

Budapest – Saturday

I have a perfect illustration – now I need a sermon to go with it! As soon as our flight was in the air, the couple in front of us – who had already demonstrated their love quite obviously – leaned their seat back, robbing us of six precious inches. So I immediately am tempted to “I hate them” mode. I managed to avoid that obvious temptation. Well into the flight I was trying to get to my back pack, a task made much harder by the leaned back seat (do you feel my pain yet??) when I saw the iPhone under the seat. Clearly the lady had dropped it. So in full Jesus style “love your enemies” I determined to retrieve it for her. But how?? I reached with my foot and pushed it around the seat foot, but there was no way to reach it. I tried using my Kindle as a tool but no joy. Then I thought my foot might become “handish” and took off my shoe. No joy. Then I took off the other shoe and tried to manipulate it with the two opposed. I could get it, but couldn’t lift it. Finally I realized I might be able to get it into the pocket of my back pack. Success! I was able to pull the back pack up, retrieve the phone and restore it to the lady. She was delighted – and I still consider her a forgiven robber!

Amsterdam was a brief layover where we had to do a bit of sorting to get Sherry’s assistance worked out. Ended up being a very nice Dutchman who wanted to ensure everything. Sadly the plane ride to Budapest was over clouds so I didn’t get to see anything.

Big Regret!

We arrived in Budapest, retrived our bags and walked out of the airport – No Hungary stamp in our passports. Very sad! It is the outcome of coming here from within the EU.

First day of exploring

Terry Cokenour picked us up and showed us a bit of the town on the way to our flat. We unpacked and then Arpi and Andi Horváth picked us up and we took the bus across the Chain Bridge to the Halászbástya or Fisherman’s Bastion which Wikipedia tells me is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style situated on the Buda bank of the Danube, on the Castle hill in Budapest, around Matthias Church.

Matthias Church is behind Sherry and Andi. Unfortunately I could not get far enough back to get all the church into the picture. The Falconer and his bird is a total tourist trap, Arpi said. For 5 Euros, you can have him on your arm, it seems.

This is the street we walk to get to the entrance to our flat. It’s a beautifully remodeled one bedroom with a kitchen Sherry immediately had to have transported back to Portland. Since the owner is a Finn, it is fitting that there is a sauna in the shower room. The bed is great for sleeping – but tired as we were we would have slept on bricks!

There were several lessons from our day. First is that Arpi and Andi are wonderful! Delighted to have them as new friends. Second, there is so much history in Budapest. It ranges from beautiful to completely tragic. For example, we were near the Shoes Memorial memorializes the place were many Jews were forced to remove anything valuable including shoes before they were shot, falling into the Danube. Third, the public transportation system is something to bring to every US central city. Fourth, Sherry will never again do the Undergroud here with its super long, super steep and especially super fast escalators.

Beirut Adventure Sunday

Faith Baptist Church was the church I preached in last time I was here. My former student and friend, Rudolphe, was pastor. He was in remission from a most severe kind of cancer so he and Rana Gedeon took us to a most marvelous lunch in the Lebanese Mountains. Alas the cancer ended his life early. The church feels much different without him. The new thing there is an active ministry to many Syrian refugee families.

We saw several friends when we arrived and enjoyed the service, enhanced by Walid Zailaa‘s excellent simultaneous translation, my first time for such a marvel. I knew he was good because he had been my translator when I taught last time. We laughed at stories together and enjoyed that he and Rana are married since we last saw them. 

Rosette Mansour took us to lunch with our new friends. Lebanese food is even more excellent here in Beirut.

Sherry and I both are doing well in the time zone which is marvelous. 

Uganda Summit Is Finished – More Work to Do

The Summit is finished and most of the participants have left. Those going to Congo have a very dangerous journey home so when I saw their team gathered to begin their journey, I spent some time praying with them.

Sunday was at a local church founded by Jumah Patrick, the MTS Africa director and Pastor Cosmos, one of the miracle stories of the MTS program. He had been hurt badly in pastoral ministry, going back into a fully sinful life for many years and got AIDS as a consequence. But Jesus reached him through a gospel message. He joined an MTS trauma healing session. Today has found the wife he abandoned, restored their marriage and is now part of the pastoral team of a church largely made up of people with stories like his. We got to hear some after the four hour church service.

Monday and Tuesday we will be doing a trauma healing training with the staff at the National Rehabilitation Center, which translates into the facility where all juvenile offenders go. It is not a Christian organization, but they have begged MTS to help their staff.

Internet is spotty here and time is very limited. There are more updates here. When I get back to the USA, I will fix the non-functional links in the other posts.

Uganda Summit – Day 2

Day 2 continued the pattern of gripping interactions with amazing people. Moses (in the yellow shirt) is a pastor from South Sudan. Because of the wars there, he has spent most of his life living in refugee camps – if you can call that living. At breakfast I asked him about his current situation. His home area is completely destroyed so he came to a camp in the Adjumani region of Uganda. They have lived nearly two years in a tent with a useful life of 6 months or so. Of course there are no more tents available so they do what they can to keep it together. He told me of his pre-teen life as he, his mother and brother were burned out of their home by soldiers, escaping into the bush with almost nothing. They would build hut under a tree, live there a few days, and then run again when the soldiers came. His mother would collect firewood to sell to by their only “meal” in the evening consisting of a small amount of grain. He and his brother would grind it with stones, cook and eat. His whole life has been in similar situations of extreme hardship. In the midst of all that he has a robust contagious faith.

Moses’ church used to meet under a tree, but more recently they have managed to scrape together canvas walls and a metal roof – a great blessing. There is also a school meeting there with a huge group of students, trying to learn so they can get out of the camps. It would seem hopeless but they find hope in Jesus and many are able to get education and move into one of the cities, where they send most of their money home for the family.

In the worship time we sang about stamping the Devil when he attacks (video here). It is Mama Iberia (my spelling) and the Congolese team leading so it is enthusiastic and full of movement. We went to Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you first in Swahili and then in English, which lost some of the enthusiasm in translation. (of course I put my camera away and joined in!).

But the song that brought a deep emotional response was when they were singing “Jesus has been so good to me – He has given me so much” The picture of Moses above was taken as he sang that song – man who is living in the extreme hardships of a camp. It is being sung by Mama Abia, who works astonishing healing with seriously mentally ill people in one of the worst war zones in the world. The robbers have broken into every house around theirs to steal and kill, but never her house or the clinic: Prayer Works! These are the ones singing the song with deep passion. It is led by Esther. She is the #1 student in her university class. Nine years ago her father gave them a Christmas “present” by abandoning the family, taking all their money to be the dowry for his new wife. Her mother worked constantly to get money to feed her and her twin brother. There was no money for school fees, so Esther sold her phone to start a business so her brother could go to school. Because she is such an outstanding student various people have helped her scrape up the $350 or so, a fortune here, to do a term at school. I could help but compare high schools in the US spending this much or more for a “promposal” where students will hire a mariachi band to invite a girl to the prom.

The Bishop from Rwanda told of the murder of his mother and brother in the genocide. He escaped by fleeing into hiding in the bush, running from spot to spot when it broke out. To this day he has no idea where his mother’s grave might be. By the gracious transformation of Jesus, he is now pastor of the people who murdered his mother. Who can do other than marvel at the power of Jesus.

These are some of the people I get to do the summit meeting with. They are the ones who do trauma healing in people living through this kind of traumatic life events. Amazing is not nearly adequate.

Uganda Summit Meeting – Day One

The travel from Portland to Entebbe was very long, made worse by my inability to sleep sitting on an airplane. But the layovers in Minneapolis and Amsterdam gave refreshing times to walk as well as get to know my team members. Arriving with all our bags gave us a feeling of great triumph! You know why I look a bit worn! My personal luggage would have fit easily into the red bag. The other three are all materials for the conference attenders.

We spent the first night at Banana Village, a delightfully rustic retreat center, south of Kampala. The highlight was watching the monkeys play. You can get a glimpse here. It was not as cute when they were chasing Steve and Celistia’s two year old granddaughter!

My moment of panic came when the adapter that connects my PC to the projector wouldn’t work which means much of what I was prepared to teach wouldn’t work. I tried everything I could, but no go. So I was in my room wiped out, needing sleep, and also needing to revise things. I did some and decided to sleep and do it more efficiently. Of course my head didn’t cooperate so I pondered until I finally got up about 3:00 and did some more revising. Then I set my alarm for 6 and slept soundly. I set up before our 7:00 am team prayer and everything worked (!!), but then it didn’t work right after breakfast. So I flexed and the teaching went very well.

I taught about four moods of Psalms starting with Psalm 3.

  • Lament: A cry to the LORD out of distress grounded in trust for who He is.
  • Praise: Proclaiming the worth of the LORD for who He is and what He does in both our adoration and in our service
  • Imprecation: Angrily begging the LORD to punish evil doers for the sake of justice.
  • Trust: Emotive celebration of the LORD’s goodness and faithfulness, believing He will act graciously

After I was finished, Celestia led them in a time of using the moods to express their own psalm. Then they shared them in their regional teams. I sat in on the small Uganda team and heard Emma lament the death of her parents – no one would tell her what happened to them. She grew up in loneliness without anyone to care for her.  Even though she was able to get her education and now can take care of herself the tears would not stop even as the praise went on. As we talked after the group broke up, she cried through the lament of needing the love of her parents or at least an explanation of what happened to them.

Jumah is the bishop over 32 churches in South Sudan. In the wars his area was destroyed so no one could live there. He told of men coming to the door, demanding money, and if there was none or not enough, the person would be killed. One day he was driving and saw what seemed to be a motorcycle accident. As he stopped to help, he realized that both men had been shot as they rode along. Had he continued without stopping the same would have happened to him. Now they live in the camps now with virtually no water or food and he supervises the churches there.

There is a conflict in the churches in his home area and they asked him to come help settle it. Someone spread the story that he was associated with the rebels, which is a death sentence. To go back would seem to be like committing suicide. He asked God for help. The people who started the rumor called him and asked him to come, saying it was all OK – which sounds like a set up to me. But he asked God and decided to go. He will leave the summit a day early to go. We pray the seeming change of mind will be true and he can help resolve the conflict rather than being executed.

The stories here are horrific, but their testimony of the reality and power of God is greater still. There are four more days to go.