Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Bonds of Friendship

Today was the day we said goodbye to all of our friends in Bicske.  Before coming here, I always knew that "this day" would come; I just didn't know it would be this hard.  God has blessed us SO much in these past couple days, it is unbelievable.  He gave the story of our summer an epic ending.  

There are very few things in this world more thrilling and satisfying than learning how much people care about you and knowing that you have truly made an impact on their life.  That's what these last days have been about.  We have been showered with blessings of friendship.  We made peace with everybody, even a man we had to kick out of class at the beginning of the summer because of disruptive behavior.  We had not talked to him since that occurrence, but tonight he came to write our names out for us in Arabic!  It was very sweet of him, and I was just overwhelmed at how God managed to tie up even the forgotten loose ends.  

After a cultural misunderstanding that transpired a couple nights ago, the Syrians have proven true friends to us.  We built a very special, almost unlikely friendship with this group of Syrian men over the summer, and it is such a blessing to learn from each other about caring for people.  I don't think they will ever know how much we treasure them, and likewise I don't think we'll ever truly realize how much they treasure us.  I am going to miss these people very much.  They will forever hold a special place in my heart as my "Syrian family."

We also had to say goodbye to our fellow volunteers.  Before coming to Bicske, we did not think there would be other volunteers here.  However, we have been so blessed to serve alongside other volunteers our age from all over the world.  They are not just colleagues, they are truly are our friends, and I am going to miss them dearly!!  I am so thankful to God for the friends He has given me this summer.  I sincerely hope these friendships will last forever; they made our summer unforgettable!!!!

Monday, July 22, 2013

My Birthday Weekend

This weekend was definitely unforgettable!!!  Before leaving for our Thursday afternoon train, Tori taught her beginner class the "Happy Birthday" song, and the whole class sang to me!  Then we took pictures.  They treated me like a celebrity. ;)  One of the students even gave me a birthday present today!  I was soooo touched!  Then we headed to Budapest for the night, from whence we continued to Vienna the next morning.  And boy oh boy... Vienna... in Vienna, we felt like princesses from start to finish.  Here is my account of the trip.

Day 1: A Magical Day

Really, the whole weekend was magical, but when we first arrived we were just enraptured in how magical the city is.  We were greeted immediately (literally, immediately) by a nice lady who showed us how to get to the metro station.  After we checked into our lovely hotel, we set out to explore.  Another very kind lady showed us where we could get a reasonably priced good lunch, and man, it was goooood.  I might possibly now be addicted to apricot jam.  Then we went to this beautiful fountain in the center of the city to take pictures, where... wouldn't you know it... another kind lady directed us to the Belvedere Palace.  And it was GORGEOUS!  

Day 2: A Musical Day

And it was also MY 21st BIRTHDAY!!!!!!  Woke up and received birthday cards that my family had given Tori before we left the U.S.  It was very sweet. :)  Then we set out on a day filled with musical luxury in true Kendra fashion. ;)  First, we went shopping (my first time successfully shopping since we've been in Europe) and then went to St. Stephen's Cathedral.  Next, we visited Mozarthaus, Mozart's apartment during his time living in Vienna.  It was great!  After that we went to Haus der Musik, a museum all about music: the history of it, the science of it, and even the fun of it.  Then we took the metro to Schönbrunn Palace, which was even more huge and spectacular than Belvedere!  Then--get this you guys--we took a horse-drawn carriage tour through the grounds.  We felt like true princesses!!!!  After our tour we enjoyed melange and apple strudel in the garden cafe.  That evening, we went out for schnitzel dinner followed by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra in concert at the Wiener Konzert Haus.  It was magnificent!  21 never looked so classy. :)

Day 3: A Miracle Day

We had just one morning more to spend in Vienna, so we tried to make the most of it.  After breakfast we checked out of our hotel and went to see the Mozart statue in Hofburg Park.  We figured we had just enough time to do that before making our 11:00 bus to Budapest.  Plus, it would probably be a good idea to be a little early anyway.  Well, by the time we got to our bus stop it was only 10:20, and I looked at our tickets again... and the bus was for 11:30.  So we had over an hour to kill!  So what did we do?  Well, nearby we had seen a big ferris wheel so we decided to check it out.  What we discovered was a huge admission-free amusement park!  As if our fantastic experience in Vienna was not breathtaking enough!  It was a thrill.  We then took the bus back to Budapest, had great soup, took the train to Bicske, and made the hourly (free) Tesco bus with literally 30 seconds to spare.  MIRACLE DAY!  And so much fun.



Belvedere Palace
St. Stephen's Cathedral 
At Haus der Musik: When else do you have the opportunity to play piano in Vienna??
Schönbrunn Palace
"You feel like princess for half an hour."
The view from our seats in the Konzert Haus 
In front of the Vienna State Opera House
Prater Amusement Park

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Birthday Celebration: Part 1

It's quite an adventure to celebrate your birthday in a foreign country!  With my birthday approaching on July 20th, I decided I wanted to celebrate early with some new friends, so last night we went to visit... you could probably guess who by now.  Say it with me: ("THE SYRIANS!").  And an eventful night it was!

We brought a small bundt cake from Tesco to eat with them, and after explaining that my birthday was coming up they got out 2 lighters, held them over the cake, and sang the "Happy Birthday" song to me!  I was so touched!  And the cake was actually pretty good.

Next, the group migrated to the room next door, where they served us some tea.  After sitting and joking around for a bit, somebody mentioned that Rafi was in the kitchen making bread and listening to the music, which probably meant that he was dancing instead of focusing on the bread.  Determined to see this sight for myself, I got up and subsequently bumped into the tea table, knocking it over and spilling two cups of hot tea on myself and the floor.  They were all so caring and concerned that I had burned myself, but I was more embarrassed than anything else.  They assured me not to worry about the mess and showed me to the shower room to spray cold water on my leg.  They even let me borrow some sandals to walk in!  (Mine were drenched in tea.)  When I got back, the floor was clean and there were two new cups of tea on the table.  Way to go, Syrians!

Then, remembering that I had wanted to see Rafi make bread, they took me into the kitchen and let me try it!  Syrian bread is basically a tortilla, so making it involves rolling out the dough until it is flat and, for the super skillful, tossing it in the air like a pizza crust.  (I Love Lucy, anyone?)  It was an absolute blast.  A lot of the Syrians took videos, so hopefully I will be able to post a video of the experience soon.

All in all, that was a birthday celebration to remember!  Next, off to Budapest, then VIENNA!  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sharing Jesus!

O Happy Day, we have met a fellow Christian!!!!!

Yesterday, Tori and I woke up (pretty late) with a completely blank schedule for the day.  Assuming that only boredom lay ahead, we decided to lazily walk into town and attempt to occupy ourselves there.  On our way we ran into one of our students, Eric, who is from Ghana.  We asked him if he wanted to join us for coffee, and he replied that he wanted to go back to the camp first, then come back and meet us at the park.  We wondered if his reasoning might be that he was fasting for Ramadan, but still, for some reason, I thought he could be a Christian.  I told Tori that too.  I said, "You know, I wouldn't be surprised if Eric was a Christian.  He just seems like it."  We went on our merry way, got some breakfast, and waited for Eric at the park... Well, that got boring real quick, so we went up to the coffee shop and sat out on the patio.  About an hour later, Eric came back and sat down with us.  "Eric, are you fasting right now? Would you like some coffee?" I asked.  His reply: "No, I am a Christian, I am not fasting."

WE WERE SO EXCITED!!!  We told him that we are Christians too, and then we all shared our testimonies and favorite Bible verses.  I almost started crying tears of joy that we were enjoying the company of someone who shares our beliefs.  Please don't misunderstand me, I have also LOVED spending time with those who don't, but I felt the peace of Christ.  As I had my Bible open, reading Scriptures, who should walk up but two of our dear Syrian friends, Sari and Solomon.  They are Muslims.  I started to get a little excited that they were finally getting to witness us explicitly stating what we believe, being outside of the camp.  This led into an educational discussion about what we believe and what they believe.  We asked them a lot of questions, and they were glad to answer.  Then, we shared the gospel!!!!!!!  There was no hostility in our conversation, but they did not appear totally interested in our beliefs.  Still, the gospel was shared, and that was an answer to prayer.  Solomon's brother, Mahmud, and Omar joined us later, and by the time we left we had found that we were there for about 5 hours total.  

Since then, I have been reflecting on what it means to "share Jesus."  What a blessing it was to talk about our Christian faith with someone who comes from a totally different part of the world and who has a totally different background from us!  We SHARE the same faith.  We SHARE the same Jesus.  We invited him to join us for church today, but unfortunately Tori got sick and I decided to stay back with her, so I gave him a map to the church instead.  He said afterwards that he enjoyed it and the message was empowering.  On the other hand, what a blessing it was as well to share the gospel to people who are blind to the truth.  Muslim people are very kind, but they do not believe in the forgiving grace of the Lord through Jesus Christ.  In fact, they barely believe in salvation at all.  When we asked if they were going to heaven (or paradise), they said, "There's no way to know."  How terrifying.  I am grateful to have security in Christ alone.  Please pray that they accept God's invitation to experience the same security.

"I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom; But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection."

Omar (rockin' the shades), Sari, Eric, and Mahmud.
Not pictured: Solomon (took the picture)

Friday, July 12, 2013


I'm finding that one of the most evident themes I've seen here in the camp revolves around joy.  Who's got it?  What is it?  How can we find it?  When my team first arrived in Bicske, we were scared.  We were overwhelmed.  And honestly, we were not happy.  But we had something deeper than happiness that made it all worthwhile-- we had JOY.  We all knew that God had called us to this seemingly random place to partake in something greater than what it appeared.  And we felt peace about it.  I remember telling my teammates multiple times, even before we departed from training, "I know I am doing this for God and not myself, because if there was no God to call me here I'd go home."  There is something splendid about knowing that you are obeying the Lord.

We have continued to grow close with the Syrian men.  They are a very lively, light-hearted, and fun-loving bunch.  When I see them I legitimately feel that they are my friends.  Yet when they open up about their lives and all they have gone through, the tragedy of their stories is unimaginable.  How could they smile and laugh when their lives are so sad?  I wondered this since the day I met them.  I even wondered, where does their joy come from??  As we have grown closer, I have come to realize that what they have is actually not joy.  Our friend Sari, who is an English teacher back home, told us yesterday, "On the outside we like to laugh and stay positive, but on the inside we are hurting every day.  That is our lives."  As he said this, my heart broke that these people do not know Christ.  I was also reminded of the words Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison:

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13)

What a blessing that we as Christians often take for granted: to know contentment in Christ.  Of course, we are not perfect, but Jesus is.  Sari added, "Whenever you guys come to visit, you always brighten our day.  Seriously."  So encouraging to hear that the joy of the Lord in us touches others. :)

Prayer requests:
-We are not allowed to preach the gospel in the camp, so please pray that we are somehow able to minister in other ways.
-Pray for Rafi, who was hit by a car this morning. (He's fine, but it still stinks.)
-Pray for Rida, our new friend who tried to kill himself 2 weeks ago.  He is doing so well now that we would have never guessed he was in such a dark place so recently, but he is still in the recovery process. By the way, yesterday he told me that he heard me singing and it completely brightened his day.  Again, glad to spread the joy. :)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Blessed in Budapest

This past weekend, the girls and I took a (super cheap) train ride back to Budapest!  After we arrived at the train station, we walked/ran in the humid heat with our heavy bags for about a good hour until we finally reached the community center we were staying at.  We were so grateful to have finally found it!  After dropping our stuff off, we went across the street to check our friend Jacquie, who is an AIESEC
 volunteer in Bicske who traveled with us, into her hostel.  Two minutes after walking inside, it started POURING rain.  I guess the weather is pretty finicky in Budapest! We then went out for dinner and dessert with Bre and Sherry.

With George and Johanna
On Saturday, Bre and Sherry invited us to join them for lunch with one of their students.  We showed up at a small restaurant in a suburb outside of the city, where we met Johanna (19) and Justine (15) from Egypt.  They have been attending English classes in the Refugee Community Center along with their brother, Benji.  We were greeted by their father, George, who insisted on giving us our meals as a gift.  To clarify, that means WITHOUT PAY.  We were soooo touched by this family's generosity!  He shared that they are Christians who were forced to leave Egypt because of the hostility towards Christians.  The food was delicious, and as if it weren't enough, he sent his girls to buy us ice cream down the street from their pockets!  And as if THAT weren't enough, he gave us each earrings from his old jewelry business.  It is so remarkable to me that people who have had so much taken away from them are still so eager to give.  The experience really made me reevaluate the ways in which I show love to people.  Quite frankly, I feel like I have fallen short.  It kind of inspires me to buy ice cream for the next kind person I meet. :)

Reunited with Christine!
On Sunday, Tori and I took a short bus ride to Diósd to visit my friend Christine's church!  Christine is a Biola student who lives in Hungary, and she was my Hungarian tutor last semester.  It was lovely to see her again in her home country. :)  And we could seriously not have gotten to Diósd without the help of our friend, András.  He took about an hour to look up and type up step-by-step instructions for the tram and the bus.  He even wrote something up for us to show the bus driver, which basically said, "Would you be so kind as to let us know when we reach _our stop_?"  So thanks, András!

During my weekend back in Budapest, I was surprised by how much I was already missing the refugees.  I hadn't realized how much of a blessing it is just to see them every day!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Night Life

For the past few nights, we have had the opportunity to experience the "night life" of several different cultures.  It was intriguing and educational to notice the difference in connections I made to each culture. Disclaimer: In the refugee camp, the people are divided by country because they naturally stick together.  When I refer to a people group as (for example) "the Syrians," I am not being racist; that's just literally how it is. :)

Night 1: The Afghans.
On Tuesday night, the Afghans invited all of us volunteers in the camp over to their building for hot milk tea and a private concert.  One man was a professional musician back in Afghanistan, so he played the keyboard and sang for us.  The men also danced for us, and we all got a chance to dance
as well.  They made us LOTS of food (beans and bread) and wanted us to eat all of it, but we were so full we could not finish.  Granted I had actually eaten practically a whole chocolate cake earlier in the day, so I was full very quickly. :) We stayed there until 2 AM despite our being tired because they insisted that we stay!  Although it was a memorable experience, the night was actually not our favorite overall... The culture is actually very oppressive and hypocritical, and they could use your prayers.  They find their identities in honor and "rules" that they don't even abide by consistently.  As women, we feel generally disrespected.  Nevertheless, it was a learning experience!

In the Afghans' room: Jakub (21) from Poland, Riin (20) from Estonia, Mina (19) from Canada, Sam, me, and Sander (21) from Estonia

Night 2: The Syrians.
On Wednesday night, the Syrians invited us over for tea and to practice their English.  WE LOVE THE SYRIANS!!!  They are very kind, sweet people, they have consistently come to our advanced class, they genuinely want to learn, they respect us, and they have made us feel very comfortable with them.  Such a contrast to the previous night.  We also stayed until 2 AM, but we were actually sad to go.  They shared with us their devastating stories of the current happenings in Syria, and they asked us to tell them about our lives in America as well.  Throughout the conversation, we were able to sympathize with them as they shared their emotional stories, and we were able to laugh and joke with them at other times as well.  I greatly look forward to going back to their house. :)  Please pray for Syria.  There is great unrest there that few people know about.  And please pray for my new friends and their families.   

Our Syrian friends: Mahmud, Achmed, Rafi, Mustafa, Omar, Solomon, Meme, and Sari

Night 3: AIESEC volunteers (Multi-cultural)!
On Thursday night, we celebrated the 4th of July by going out for pizza with some of the other volunteers in the camp, who came with the organization AIESEC.  It has been wonderful to develop friendships with them this past week.  At one point during dinner, I had this grand surreal moment in which I realized I was eating at a café in a small rural town in Europe with my friends from Estonia, Brazil, and Taiwan... how cool is that!!  We learned about their countries, and the evening ended with all of us showing each other our ID cards and currencies. :)  Fun day!

Andrew (19) from Taiwan, Riin, Sander, Tori, Jacquie (22) from Brazil, and Sam