Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Sitting in Advent Mystery

Dear friends,                                                                                                              Advent, 2022 

 We have spent much of the past two years observing, reflecting on, and trying to understand the experience of people who find themselves displaced from their homes and countries - people who often have huge parts of their identities stripped away. Some are officially refugees, but often we meet people who fall into other, more complicated categories. Our learning takes place in several ways: by observing clients with the refugee ministry here in Budapest; volunteering at the Scottish Mission Food Bank for refugees; and through interaction with staff colleagues who are themselves displaced from their countries of birth, and who are making their way as adults in a country they were not born into, which they were brought to as children or adolescents. We have met numerous people whose national identities are in a kind of limbo as they await either citizenship, or opportunities to continue their journeys to western Europe, or even in some cases, to go home. And we, ourselves, also find ourselves living in a different country, with a different language, and culture – in our case it is by calling and by choice, but we experience a few of the same challenges having to do with wondering about the concept of “home.” 

  “We drift from the safe places of our childhood. There is no going back. Like stories, villages and cities are always growing or fading or melding into each other. We are all immigrants from the past, and home lives inside the memory,where we lock it up and pretend it is unchanged.” Dina Nayeri, The Ungrateful Refugee, 346 

 This fall I (Jeff) read Dina Nayeri’s 2019 book, The Ungrateful Refugee. It was an opportunity to see into the often-overlooked parts of the refugee story; the constant waiting, the having to prove one’s story over and over again, the uncertainty, fear, grief, all while on the run, on the move, looking for a place to belong again. It leads to a temptation to despair, knowing that upwards of 100 million people worldwide are displaced, and efforts to provide welcome fall far short of what is needed to overcome the challenges. While we could (and will) give witness to the laudable efforts of many to step into this enormous gap, the season of Advent provides a chance to also sit for a while in the despair, the hopelessness, the impatience of it all. My friend and former colleague Debra Rienstra named this feeling well in a recent blog post, 
“I propose that Advent is the time when we are allowed—even encouraged—to be honest about our disappointment, our sadness, our cynicism. We soberly mark the vast distance between God’s redemptive purposes, the promises and visions held out for us to cherish, and the state of the world as it is. And we ask why. What are you waiting for, God? How long?” “Advent in the Wasteland” Reformed Journal blog, December 10, 2022 

 Since our last letter in late October, we have observed All-Saints Day, reflecting on our mortality, and then watching the days get shorter, cloudier, and colder. Because of the severe energy crisis in Europe, city leaders in Budapest have decided against many of the traditional light displays that normally provide respite from the darkness – even the annual Christmas tram is trundling around this year without the normal festive lighting. But the news isn’t all despair. As promised, I can report with thankfulness that we have also had the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with colleagues and fellow volunteers providing creative hospitality to refugee families who find themselves in Hungary, either for short- or long-term stays. 

Below are some figures I have helped colleagues in the Ecumenical Office of the Reformed Church in Hungary put together about our work over the past 8 months of war: 

From the Reformed Church in Hungary report to donors, December 2022 
 Service Provided in the Aftermath of the Outbreak of the War in Ukraine 

• 180,852 refugees provided with care in Hungary 
• 84,725 refugees provided with orientation and information in Hungary 
• 111,985 refugees provided with food in Hungary 
• 11,524 people provided with accommodation in Hungary 
• 43,447 cases in which hygiene equipment supplies were provided in Hungary 
• 3,300 refugees provided with one time ‘cash assistance’ of around 80 EUR • 60 local communities/parishes hosting refugees/IDPs provided with ‘group support’ in a total value of 300,000 EUR • 4,301 volunteers registered with HRCA 
• 856,116 tons of supplies provided in total (including in Hungary), from which 509,515 tons were delivered to Ukraine (Transcarpathia and beyond) [“supplies” includes in-kind donations, food, clothing, hygiene and medical equipment] 
• 704,039,451 HUF, or 1.7 million Euro total financial support for HRCA, from which 380,000,000 HUF (925,000 Euro) came from international donors 
• 220,000 HUF (540,000 Euro) in Solidarity Fund donations for Transcarpathia, from which 160,000,000 HUF (390,000 Euro) came from international donors [the Solidarity Fund is a program from March 2022 through December 2023] 
• Over 10,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) provided service, housing, and provisions in Transcarpathia, Ukraine 

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, 
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, 
I was a stranger and you invited me in’ (Matt. 25:35) 

We are proud to provide assistance to these efforts to deliver life-giving service in a time of severe regional crisis. 

A few other updates from recent weeks: 

EDYN 2022 From November 8-11, I (Jeff) attended the annual meeting of a European volunteer collaborative, the Ecumenical Diaconal Year Network in Vendrynê, Czech Republic. A group of around thirty Christian volunteer leaders from all over Europe gathered to collaborate and share ideas around programming year-long volunteer opportunities for young adults in Europe. 

Thanksgiving 2022 On November 26, we gathered with a total of 9 Americans for Thanksgiving in our apartment this year, including our two interns Abby and Michal, Abby’s mom and brother, and several other recent Calvin graduates. 

  Károli Gáspár University – Teaching and Ministry In my English teaching at the university, I have been introducing my students to interesting Americans like Walter Brueggeman, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Wendell Berry. Brueggeman is a theologian with an expansive vision related to the importance of poets and prophets, and he points to MLK as one of the best examples in recent history of this vision in practice. It has been rewarding to see the students enjoy their exposure to American English through the use of these and other key orators and visionaries. 

“I think we think in terms of systems and continuities and predictability and schemes and plans. I think the Bible is to some great extent focused on God’s capacity to break those schemes open and to violate those formulae. When they are positive disruptions, the Bible calls them miracles. We tend not to use that word when they are negative. But what it means is that the reality of our life and the reality of God are not contained in most of our explanatory schemes.” Walter Brueggeman “The Prophetic Imagination” On Being Podcast interview, 2011 

  Cohort Europe Progress Michal and Abby, the two Resonate volunteer interns have helped make good progress toward our goal of a European Cohort program in the coming years. They are both very active in various roles with the RCH Refugee Ministry, as well as the Scottish Mission Food Bank program. But several hours per week they are also communicating with potential future partners, setting up meetings with Resonate colleagues with experience in Cohort programs, and thinking through the various administrative challenges such a new program will bring. Working with them is a source of good energy for our work this year, and we are grateful to they are both here with us. 

  Refugee Ministry Update Since June the HRC Refugee Ministry has hired over 25 new staff, and taken on at least 3 longterm volunteers. This is enormous and rapid growth for such a small organization. After months of suggesting, cajoling, and hoping, on December 7, we were able to organize a half-day of training and team building for this group. In addition to lunch together, the group learned a little bit about each other, identified areas of pride in the organization, and had some exposure to resilience tools and techniques that can help in dealing with situations of stress and trauma. 

  Financial Update As we approach the end of 2022, we immensely grateful for the enormous network of support we have from those of you able to send one-time, monthly, and annual support. We know it is not always easy to send month after month, and we are thankful to have you as partners as we go. The end of the calendar year is the half-way mark of the fiscal year, and December is typically a month to make up for some shortfall in other months. Our current trajectory of support for the 2022-23 fiscal year is at around 70%, which provides room for additional partners or increased giving. If you have the capacity to give a year-end gift (or a new monthly pledge), you can find your way to our Resonate giving page, or use the clip and send information below. And if you have any ideas or information about potential church partnerships, please feel free to reach out and let us know. Thank you! 

  Christmas in Michigan Finally, we are eager to spend about a week in the US for the holiday this year. We will be away from our Budapest home from December-31, and we are eager to spend holiday time with family while we are there. As we ponder the birth of Jesus, and wait for his return, we often sit in mystery, and hope doesn’t always come easy. Sometimes we need others to hold the light for us. And sometimes we are called to hold the light for others. 

Peace to you, friends, as you wait in hope, acknowledging the sadness and darkness, may you live in the light. 

 Jeff and Julie Bouman

Saturday, November 26, 2022

October Update - Boumans by the Danube

Food bank report – Julie Imagine sitting in a coffee shop. What do you see? Friends laughing, chatting, catching up. People enjoying an afternoon pick-me-up coffee and a piece of cake. Young children having fun together in the play area. You can probably easily picture this kind of everyday scene, but this café has a twist. The clientele at this cafe are all Ukrainian refugees. Every Thursday they come to St. Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest to pick up food they have ordered from the Food Bank housed there. Then many of them stay to enjoy each other’s company, to seek other kinds of help, to relax before heading back out across the city. This fall I have been volunteering at the Food Bank a couple days a week. Every week I see clients expressing true gratitude to volunteers, as they say how important this service is to them. Just a few weeks ago I listened as a woman apologized for not being able to talk the previous week. She had learned that day that her 39-year-old brother, still in Ukraine and on dialysis, had died. Another time a fellow volunteer informed me that one of the clients had been providing aid to fellow Ukrainians before she left Ukraine. The first time she came to the Food Bank and was on the receiving end of help, she broke down in tears. Some of the volunteers are Ukrainian speakers – a mother, some teenage boys, an expat who had lived in Ukraine for years – anxious to connect and help. All of us, clients and volunteers, are grateful for the help and relationships this project is giving us. And at the same time, all of us are deeply longing for this war to end. Intern updates Failure, generative citizenship, refugee families, and furniture! These are just a few of the topics and challenges that our new interns have faced. If you have worked in Jeff’s orbit before, you know that conversations about failure are prioritized – how to prepare for it, and to be ready to live in the reality that comes with not being perfect. This has been helpful in the face of a great deal of fluidity in the daily work of supporting the work of refugee ministry. Needs are deep and many, and the organizational structure, with a variety of internal and external demands, remains a heavy challenge. Cohort/EDYN possibilities In early November, Jeff will travel for a few days to a small conference in the Czech Republic, to the annual meeting of the Ecumenical Diaconal Year Network (EDYN), a small collection of organizations in Europe who collaborate to provide year-long Christian service opportunities to young adults. Teaching update – Translating the Reformation In my small class of intermediate English students, I have assigned the students the service-learning task of translating 95 Reformers’ theological and spiritual quotations from Hungarian into English. New church support – Loop Church, Chicago We are grateful to welcome Loop CRC Church, Chicago into the set of churches that have taken intentional steps to support us. We look forward to sharing a journey together in our different locations Support update We continue to be thankful for the faithful and regular gifts of financial and personal support. Below we are including a clip and paste option for those of you who would prefer to send a check instead of giving on-line. To give on-line, you can find more information here. In the first third of the fiscal year, we have not yet raised a third of our yearly support. We would love to add more partners, either new churches or individuals, to our support team. At the link provided, just scroll down to sign up as a financial or prayer partner, or both!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

September Boumans by the Danube update

Dear friends, On a recent retreat to Hungary’s inland sea, Lake Balaton, we focused for a few days on the following words from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (I. Corinthians 12: 12-14) Our small group of about 35 included people from Hungary, the UK, Kenya, Russia, the US, Israel, Ireland, and the Netherlands. We were different in many ways, but united in a shared weekend of learning, worship, and play. Our time together culminated in the baptism of a new friend who was born in Russia but raised in Israel, who is now working in Hungary, as well as a sharing in the body and blood of Christ in Communion together. Since we last wrote back in July, Julie and I have spent a couple of weeks in the US, visiting with family in Pennsylvania, camping with our kids, and attempting to “do all the things” and “see all the people” that we miss Stateside. We were quite successful, and very glad for the opportunities. Thank you so much to those of you who took time to see us in one way or another, especially the many of you who came out to the Hendriksens’ backyard on August 16 – it was a beautiful evening together. We arrived back in Hungary on August 19, just in time for the August 20th national celebration of Hungary’s first Christian king, St. Stephen. We also welcomed two new young colleagues, Michal Rubingh and Abby Voskuil. Both are 2022 graduates of Calvin University, and together they are bravely pioneering a new Resonate effort I am leading to develop a Cohort Europe program for young people to spend a year volunteering in ministry in various parts of Europe. The last two weeks have been quite full of time spent finding them a place to live, walking alongside them as they adjust to a new culture, a new set of expectations, and some of the uncertainty that is involved in cross-cultural work and ministry. On August 26 Julie and I and Abby and Michal were all invited to spend a day helping to accompany a group of about 50 Ukrainian refugees as they took a train outside Budapest for a 3-hour ferry ride on the Danube just north of the city – it was beautiful, and a good chance to begin interacting with some of our new colleagues at the Hungarian Reformed Church - Refugee Ministry. And just yesterday, September 5th, we spent several hours with colleagues unpacking and assembling new office furniture in a newly rented programming space. Strong support from churches and other non-government organizations since the war broke out has enabled the Refugee Ministry to hire about 25 new staff, and plans are underway to begin a “complex integration program” with several hundred refugees in and around Budapest. Abby and Michal will do all the things interns typically do, and each will also hopefully find ways to put their unique academic preparation into service as well – they have each studied abroad in different places, and they have good experience with refugees, refugee law and policy, and cross-cultural life and work. Julie and I have enjoyed having them around, and we were glad to find an apartment for them just a short walk from our place. We are grateful for several new donors to our work, including Ann Arbor CRC, as well as several new individuals. We could not do this without those of you who make monthly financial sacrifices on our behalf – thank you. A special shout-out of thanks to our other church partners as well – our sending congregation Neland Avenue CRC; and Boston Square CRC, First CRC in Grand Rapids, LaGrave Avenue CRC, and Cascade Fellowship CRC. The support of individuals and congregations is a blessing we don’t take for granted. We re-start our student ministry this week, after meeting last week with five students we have identified as potential leaders in the group. We’ll meet most Thursday evenings in our apartment for fellowship, food, and prayer together. We had about 8 of our international students join us for the church retreat, which was a great chance to get to know many of them better. I will also be teaching a course at Károli Gáspár University again, an intermediate English course that begins next week. As always, you can find the on-line giving site here. Our annual fund-raising goal has gone up in the light of the new Cohort program efforts, as well as standard cost of living adjustments. We would love to hear from you – a short reply with news from your life, any prayer requests or just a hello! We would ask you to be in prayer for us in the following ways: - as we juggle our on-going language learning - the oversight of the new Cohort intern program and Michal and Abby’s experience in Hungary - movement toward peace in the region, and a way home for those who are displaced by war and for other reasons - for our colleagues with the Refugee Ministry, especially our colleague who is the Director, Laszló áldás és békesség neked és a tiednek (blessings and peace to you and yours) Jeff and Julie Bouman

July 2022 Boumans by the Danube update

Kedves barátaink! (Dear friends) Nyári üdvözlet Budapestről. (summer greetings from Budapest)... I hope that got your attention – just a friendly Hungarian greeting from our Budapest summertime. We have news that some of you may not have heard yet – in early June both Julie and I took the B-1 level Hungarian language exam. We waited a full month before getting our results last Friday, and we learned the joyful news that Julie has passed both the written and the spoken parts of the test, hurrah! Jeff has some work to do, but was surprised to do well enough to pass the written part, and also score well on half of the spoken part. The further we get into the language, the more we see our differences as language learners. Julie is a detail-oriented student of the grammatical tables and charts, and Jeff is a gregarious, and often bumbling social butterfly. You can understand him, but it isn’t very comfortable. We are thankful to our vast network of support here in Hungary who help us to deepen our understanding of one of the world’s most difficult languages. Nagyon nehéz, de a tanulás öröm! Our fiscal year ended on June 30, and we are pleased to report that our incredible network of friends and partners helped us to meet our annual goal. This is encouraging on a level that is impossible to explain, but we want you all to know how deeply thankful we are for your partnership. Thank you. We would still love to find a few more churches looking for partner missionaries in case any of you find yourselves on a mission committee at your church – contact us for more information. And as always, our giving page is found here. Our ministry this summer has been focused more heavily on language learning, and we are also providing support as needed to the team at the refugee ministry. Our colleagues are undertaking an enormous project to distribute a very large sum of direct cash payment assistance to about 5000 refugee families from Ukraine, and in the distribution process, to gather data in the form of a 20-minute needs assessment survey. From this data, we plan to narrow our efforts toward a group of about 400 refugees who plan to stay in Budapest more long-term. The plan is to provide assistance with housing, children’s transition to Hungarian schools, employment assistance, and other psycho-social needs as they arise. We are still getting to know many new colleagues who have been hired in recent months, and look forward to the fall, when we will hopefully enjoy a more stable staff and program landscape. Simultaneously, our local church congregation continues to offer food assistance on a weekly basis to about 100 individuals. Please keep in mind and pray for the transition of our two interns, Michal Rubingh and Abby Voskuil, as they spend the summer raising support and preparing for their arrival in Budapest in late August for a year of ministry alongside us. Anyone interested in supporting Abby or Michal as well, please contact us. They are each attempting to raise about $12,000 for their year in Budapest working with the refugee ministry. We also invite you to two upcoming opportunities to learn more about our ministry. Next week Monday, July 18, at 12pm noon Eastern time (US), we will be participating in an on-line event hosted by Resonate, Ministry Amplified: Ukraine Conflict. Team members from the Resonate Europe team will each have about 10 minutes to provide updates on the relevant work happening in their context (Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, Romania) – the event will be just one hour long. You can find more information and register for the call here – please feel free to join! The second opportunity is in-person. Julie and I are excited to be coming to the US at the end of July to attend the wedding of our niece in Holland, Michigan. We will be in the US with family from July 28 until August 18, with a visit to family in Pennsylvania and a camping trip up north interspersed. Those of you in Grand Rapids or West Michigan are invited to join us on the evening of Tuesday August 16, from 6-9pm, in the backyard of Tim and Dawn Hendriksen – 2243 Jefferson Dr SE 49507, near Garfield Park. We would love to see as many of you as possible during that time. (RSVP here) One of the difficulties of our incredible support network is its breadth. It’s a wonderful problem to have, but it does weigh on us how hard it is to communicate directly with the many of you who have been so faithful with monthly, quarterly, and annual gifts. Thank you! We hope to see you while we are in Michigan. In the peace of Christ, Jeff and Julie Bouman
A visit in Budapest with David Kromminga and Mary Buteyn, dear friends from Berlin.
A newly commissioned Budapest mural of a Ukrainian mother with her children coming across the border into Hungary.
On a recent train trip to Lake Balaton, we passed fields and fields with millions of these glorious sunflowers.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Reformed Church in Hungary updates on ministry in Ukraine and with Ukrainian refugees - June 2022

Along with the rest of the world, on February 24, the Reformed Church in Hungary was shocked by the news that Russia had launched a war against Ukraine. The Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (HRCA) responded quickly, and has been offering relief to refugees since the first day of the war. By February 25th we had already sent an aid shipment to Transcarpathia, the western region of Ukraine. That same day, we also converted a church-owned property in Budapest into a temporary shelter for refugees from Ukraine, and many from the HRCA staff began working alongside volunteers to help welcome refugees at the Nyugati railway station. Since then, we have been sheltering refugees, providing basic necessities for them, delivering humanitarian aid directly to Ukraine, and supporting brothers and sisters in the Reformed Church of Trancarpathia who make up the local community in western Ukraine and who have been welcoming internally displaced people (IDPs) fleeing the war from central and eastern Ukraine. Very quickly the number of places where we were helping in a centralized way multiplied. At border cities like Záhony, Bergsurány, Tiszabecs, and Lónya we provided food, clean drinking water, hygiene products, basic information, accommodation, and transport for those in need. In just the first two days of the war, the HRCA assisted in the delivery of more than 10 tons of nonperishable food to Transcarpathia, and provided accommodation for nearly 100 people. In just one day more than 1,000 volunteers registered and began assisting our complex humanitarian relief operation in Hungary and Ukraine. As more and more refugees arrived with health needs, medical personnel from the Bethesda Children’s Hospital joined the effort by volunteering their expertise at the Nyugati Railway station in Budapest, as well as the Záhony Railway station near the Ukraine border. Over time the number of places where we offer on-the-ground assistance has expanded even more. Before long an increasing number of people began arriving at the Romania-Hungary border, so we began operating in the border town of Biharkeresztes. In addition, the Liszt Ferenc International Airport soon became a place of refugee arrival, and we shifted resources there as well. In mid-March, when the government made policy changes, the BOK Sports Hall in Budapest became the central reception location for those fleeing the war, and the HRCA joined many other organizations in offering assistance there. It quickly became apparent that in order to provide the best care possible to refugee families, we needed more staff. To date, more than 70 new staff have been hired and joined the HRCA since the war began. New staff serve many roles, including as coordinators, administrative staff members, drivers, and warehouse personnel. There have also been more than 4,000 people registered as volunteers, including retired doctors, nurses, lawyers, and university students. Aid to Transcarpathia has been a primary focus of HRCA aid sent to Ukraine. Since the outset of the war, our vans have been crossing the border daily, and more than 550 tons of in-kind donations have been collected, more than 300 tons of which has already been delivered directly to help with those fleeing the violence. Donated material has included nonperishable food and hygiene products, but also medical supplies. The war has greatly depleted Ukraine’s stock of medicines, and the HRCA has stepped in to deliver nearly 20 million forints’ worth (around 50 thousand pounds) of medicines, bandages, syringes, infusions, blood glucose meters, as well as defibrillators and ECG devices to hospitals and health care facilities in and around Transcarpathia. The HRCA also works to support families and farmers who have faithfully remained in Transcarpathia. In April we delivered 11 tons of seeds across the border that will help the backyard farming efforts of ten thousand families, ensuring their longer-term livelihood. The total number of locations where assistance has been provided by the HRCA efforts is 30, including 18 locations providing temporary accommodations. Since the war began, we have logged over 220,000 points of service or ministry contact, including nearly 90,000 occasions of food assistance, and medical care provided for nearly 5,000 refugees. More than 4,000 people have been involved in the ministry as staff or volunteers – including over 1,000 interpreters, 150 medical doctors and health professionals, and more than 3,000 volunteers. We are grateful for the tremendous wave of solidarity, the prayers and donations from sisters and brothers and partner organizations around the world. Congregations and individual friends of the church have shown that their hearts go out to refugees and victims of the war. They have contributed substantial donations to the ministry of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, which has been shared with refugees in Hungary and internally displaced people in Transcarpathia, Ukraine. There are no words sufficient to express our gratitude on behalf of the HRCA and the Reformed churches in Hungary and Ukraine, as well as the thousands of refugees to whom you have offered hope in a time of hopelessness. So let me express my gratitude and appreciation with the words of our Lord, Jesus Christ: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.”

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Visit to Ukraine, May 2022

 Delegation to Ukraine, May 17-18 2022

On May 17 and 18, I (Jeff) was invited to join an official delegation of Church of Scotland officials who were visiting western Ukraine, the area known as Transcarpathia, for a very quick visit. I was invited to go in lieu of our friend and pastor, Rev. Aaron Stevens, who had been invited to join the delegation as a member of the Church of Scotland most closely connected geographically to this region. As Aaron could not attend, he asked me to join the group. 

My colleagues on the delegation were Rev. Balázs Ódór and Anna Derencsényi, both from the Reformed Church of Hungary where Balázs is the Ecumenical Officer, and Anna works in the International Diaconal office. In the delegation from Scotland I was honored to meet the Moderator (or the Chair of the annual General Assembly) the Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, whom I was allowed to just call “Jim.” Jim is a lawyer, and has had an active political career, as a long-time member of the House of Lords, and a former Deputy First Minister in the Scottish Executive (for my mostly American readers, as best as I can tell, this means Jim is kind of like the former Attorney General, congressman, and Vice-President of Scotland). The trip was essentially set up as a way for Lord Wallace (Jim) to see first-hand how the partnership and financial gifts of Church of Scotland congregations were being put to use in Ukraine. You will find a professional account of our trip written for the Church of Scotland audience here

We left Budapest just after breakfast on Tuesday May 17, and by 11:30 we were at the border crossing at Beregsurány, which showed no signs of any special activity coming in or going out. I have been hearing reports that at some border crossings there are now many people going back into Ukraine, while others are still leaving, due to the apparent calming of violence in parts of the country. 

Once through the border crossing, we were soon at our destination, the diaconal center of the Transcarpathian Reformed Church. Our hosts were the director, Béla Nagy, and his wife Marika, and we were shown around the large compound with a very active “social service bakery,” a large kitchen packaging meals for refugees, a large, relatively new guest house currently housing over 80 refugees (we stayed here also, and it was relatively newly built and very comfortable), and other services like an ambulance, and services to children, the disabled, and marginalized Roma communities. We had lunch with “Bacsi” Béla Nagy and “Neni” Marika and some staff members before heading out to make several visits. Béla and Marika are the overseers of the diaconal work, with many years of experience, and connections everywhere. We were joined by the Bishop of the Transcarpathian Reformed Church, Sándor Zán Fábián, a young-looking, but very wise and kind guide who not only showed us the area, but also opened his heart to us in profound ways. 

The bearded irises were in full flower everywhere we went, standing like colorful sentinels with their maroon, purple, yellow, and white flags flying. The wisteria and lilacs were also just flaunting their natural beauty. Cuckoo birds were unaware that their calling was reminding me of storybook clocks from my childhood. Everything was so *normal* - it seemed so strange to keep remembering I was in a country whose sovereignty is under existential threat, and whose citizens just a few hundred miles away were being bombed routinely, had fled their homes, or were already among the injured or dead. 

Our first visit was to a village called Badaló. There we visited an amazing after-school program set up for Roma children in the area. The building in which the program was housed, next to the church, was beautiful, relatively recently built, and well-organized. The group of about 15 children were being exposed to a variety of academic and life skills ranging from Bible verses to tooth-brushing. Bishop Fábián asked the children to raise their hands if their father was still in the home, knowing that most Ukrainian families are dealing with the reality that the men have been called to war. None of the children have fathers currently at home, and then when he asked about how many of them had mothers that were working, only one raised their hand – a student whose mother is a mail carrier. The director of the program, a woman named Livia, gave us a tour and an overview of the program, and her professionalism and care for the children was inspiring. The pastor of the local church was also there to greet us, and he showed us a basement bunker for up to 15 students that they have cleared out and filled with mattresses, blankets, food, water, and lanterns. They have not had to use the bunker yet, but they are prepared if the need arises; on several recent nights they have heard air raid sirens, but thankfully there is no active shelling in this area for the time being. At the back of the yard of the school, we were shown that what’s known as the “green border,” adjacent to the property – this is the actual border between Ukraine and Hungary, and the term “green border” refers to the fact that sometimes people cross over back and forth without going through the proper check points. 

From Badaló we drove a short distance to another area with a newly built kindergarten building. We stopped to take a brief tour. When we entered, it was so quiet I assumed the children were gone for the day. Colorful paper tulips hung in neat rows from the ceiling, and neat rows of toys told me that someone had prepared for the Bishop’s visit. But I was wrong about the children. Apparently, it was nap time, and we were shown the room where the kids were in full nap mode, pajamas and all, in bunk beds in a quiet room with their teachers. These initial visits were a demonstration of the activity of the Reformed Church of Transcarpathia over the past many years to bring opportunities for school and learning to the Roma communities in this area.  

Very near to the kindergarten we took a short detour to drive through a sort of settlement with houses that were not exactly houses, and we learned that this was the “neighborhood” from which the kids at the school had come, with homes built from cardboard and pallets, a gravel and dirt road, and clear evidence of poverty and great need. Imagining the experience of children who move between these two experiences – the immaculate kindergarten building and the home with the dirt floor – was challenging. 

From here we drove to a town called Vary, where Bishop Fábián is a minister of a congregation in addition to serving as Bishop for the entire region. He pointed out the handsome old church building, as well as various other landmarks in the small town. He lingered on the experience he has as the weekly pastor for this congregation, deeply reflective when he shared that even though he is extremely busy with the needs of the entire region on his shoulders, he is deeply grateful for the weekly opportunity to sing, recite the creeds, and pray together with the saints from his own congregation. Without this, he said, he would not find the strength and peace he needs for his work. 

In Vary, from the town center, we walked up a newly developed walkway, built with help from the Hungarian town of Hódmezővásárhely in 2017 as part of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It is an understatement to say that this is a seriously Reformed religious community. The walkway led us to another kindergarten, also relatively newly built, and also clean and organized. The Bishop and the Moderator and Balázs had a good time asking the children questions and engaging them.

From Vary we drove to Beregszasz/Berehove, the main city in this area. The reason this city of 23,000 has two names is complicated, but essentially it is because in the past century a person living in this area of what is now Ukraine has changed countries five times without ever moving. The region has been a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, Czechoslovakia , Hungary again, Ukrainian Soviet Union, and since 1990, Ukraine (even this is a vast simplification). Beregszasz is the city’s Hungarian name, and Berehove its Ukrainian name. Shops and signage all over the area have mostly Hungarian language signage, and people still worship, learn, and conduct their business in Hungarian. Over the past century, many ethnic Hungarians have been actively discriminated against by the Ukrainian education system and government in general. It’s a region marked by historical conflict. 

In Beregszasz we visited the Beregszasz Reformed Church. We were given a tour by Rev. Ferenc Taracközi, one of six pastors on the staff. We learned that this worshipping community was shaped by the events of the late 1500s and the Protestant Reformation. They built a church in the early 1700s and had a 900-pound bell cast for the belfry. In 1918 the bell was requisitioned by the Austro-Hungarian military command to be melted down for munitions. In the process of this removal, the wooden belfry caught fire, and the church suffered huge damages. But in the summer of 1921 the harvest of the nearby vineyards was so abundant it was considered a harvest blessing, and much of the church property was able to be rebuilt and restored. The congregation hosts daily worship services in Hungarian, and has recently begun offering daily afternoon services in Ukrainian for newly arrived refugees. On site they have a Christian radio, and television station, a publishing house, and a large high school with a dormitory. Since courses are currently on-line, the dormitory is currently housing 90-100 refugees from eastern Ukraine. We toured the dorm and met Lilly, a young Ukrainian English teacher who had fled with her family from Kharkiv a few weeks earlier. She told us that her husband is a dentist, and his dental clinic is on the ground floor of the building they live in in Kharkiv. When the bombs began to fall on the morning of February 24th, they could not believe it, but they quickly moved to the clinic for safety, where they sheltered with other families from the building for several days. After about a week, during a lull in the bombing, they decided to try to escape by car, and they drove for several days to western Ukraine, where they found shelter in the Reformed church dormitory in Beregszasz. We also toured the state-mandated bomb shelter in the basement of the dormitory, a grim cement cellar with donated mattresses on wooden pallets, and blankets, food, water, and battery-powered lighting. It has not been needed yet, but it is prepared just in case. 

Our final visit of the day was to the Bishop’s official office, a restored estate house where lots of literature was prepared for distribution, and other supplies were coming in and out regularly. We met a person from Budapest who was on his 78th trip since the war began (it was day 82 of the war when we were there), and he brings a large cargo van filled with supplies nearly every day and drops them off at the Bishop’s office, where they are then moved further into the country where most needed. We heard the Bishop’s vision for peace, when he shared how he is not encouraging the Christian believers in this region to pray for victory, but instead for peace, and the miracle of forgiveness from both sides. He told us about another vision he has, for the building of a modest community of small homes on the estate property, where retiring ministers might come live – it is apparently the case that because of the regional poverty, many ministers do not have any retirement savings or income, and these small houses could provide a community while also relieving an enormous financial burden on these retired pastors. 

Finally, after the Bishop’s office, we were treated to a celebratory dinner in a nearby hotel banquet hall. The Scottish delegation was not the only international group visiting that day, there was another team – a group of Unitarian believers from Transylvia in Romania – as well as a small delegation from Utrecht in the Netherlands who represent an NGO that partners to bring supplies to areas experiencing poverty and war. Together we shared stories of mutual learning over a large meal with plenty of locally made meat, salads, and for dessert the famous and delicious palacsinta, a thin pancake with fruit or cheese (or poppy seeds!) filling. I sat between Janos, a local man who works for an international church aid organization and Neni Marika, both of whom were more comfortable in Hungarian than in English, so I got lots of practice for my language learning. 

In the morning after a quick breakfast, we returned to Budapest where I joined the Scottish delegation in a lunch at our church, St. Columba’s Scottish Mission, and we were joined by Rev. Aaron Stevens, Julie, and a few other members of the church community. 

Overall it was a very quick, but a deeply meaningful opportunity to see amazing reconciliatory work being done in very difficult circumstances. It was a privilege to be part of such an obviously committed international team of delegates who are committed not only to doing good and charitable things, but to doing them in careful partnership. The work of the Bishop and the diaconal ministry leaders in Transcarpathian Ukraine is difficult, but very blessed. I came away hopeful, and with a broadened vision for God’s Kingdom.

Jeffrey P. Bouman, Ph.D.

Leadership Trainer, Resonate Global Mission


 May 2022

Dear friends, 
Another full month has passed, and we are very pleased to report that April was a record-setting month of financial support for us in our ministry here in Budapest. Thank you. We appreciate each of the 74 monthly donors, the 5 church partners, the dozens of one-time givers, and the hundreds who keep us in faithful prayer. Each of you is a blessing and a partner with us in this work and ministry. This increase in April is no doubt associated at least in part with the war next door in Ukraine, so we are not exactly pleased with the mounting refugee crisis as the possible external catalyst for support, but we are grateful that God’s people are paying attention to the developing situation. We continue to pray for peace, but while we pray, like you, we work.
Our work has continued in intensive language learning, with daily lessons in Hungarian and humility. We are improving, but it is slow and difficult. We plan to take a B-1 language exam in June (and success is far from certain). We also continue working with our local church, St. Columba’s Scottish Mission. The group of international students we host weekly in our apartment now includes several students who are displaced from their studies in Ukraine. I (Jeff) also continue to manage the volunteer efforts of our church community in providing a weekly distribution of food for newly arrived refugees, as well as a 5-times-per-week warm lunch provided for a few dozen displaced students here in Budapest.
The work with the Reformed Church Refugee Ministry has moved forward, and we are now helping to manage a very large grant from Western European ecumenical partners that is designed to meet the short-, medium-, and long-term needs of Ukrainian refugees in Hungary with everything from immediate cash assistance to housing and employment and educational needs. As you might imagine, attempting to develop longer range plans in the midst of an ongoing catastrophe is an organizational and bureaucratic challenge, so things are moving forward, but slowly. We met this week with our team at the refugee ministry to begin developing regular programming for families with children who live in the Budapest area.
Early in April, we were very grateful to host several former colleagues from Calvin College who were in Budapest for a conference promoting Christian higher education in a fractured world. Jeff gave a workshop on the importance of pedagogies like service-learning, and we re-connected with several very good friends from Grand Rapids (and Lithuania!). Jeff was also invited to give two other talks in April, one to a student Christian group at the university, highlighting the journey that has taken us to this major life transition; and the other a faculty workshop and prayer breakfast with Christian faculty at the university, designed to offer a window into creative teaching and learning. In the midst of these extra opportunities, he continues to offer the B2 level English course as well.  
We hosted visitors on 18 of 30 nights in April, and gratefully enjoyed a two-week visit from our son, Bastian. April was a full month, and we celebrated a very blessed Easter.
One very exciting new development is a pilot one-year internship program that attracted several highly qualified young adult applicants. Jeff is in the final stages of selecting two recent university graduates to join us for a year beginning this coming August as Resonate volunteers working with the refugee ministry, as well as helping to develop a more robust cohort program with Europe team colleagues. Pray for discernment in the selection process, and for wisdom for these young people as they make significant decisions about spending next year in Budapest.
As the end of another academic year approaches, we are mindful of our unique position and opportunity here in Budapest. All of the beauties of spring are in tension with all that is wrong in the world. We live in a beautiful cosmopolitan European capitol, and we also acutely feel the effects of a misguided violent conflict in our neighboring country. As our language abilities increase, and our friendships develop, please pray with us that the Prince of Peace would be made manifest in our work, our conversations, our teaching, and our fellowship.
Thank you for your continued support.
Jeff and Julie

For those still interested in joining in partnership with us financially, you can find the link to support us here. We are very grateful for the many new monthly donors who have made commitments in the past two months - thank you!

A few photos of our April can be found below:

"Love Thy Neighbor" graffiti overlaid with a heart for Ukraine...

An art exhibition in our nearby public park displayed several works committed to telling the story of brave Ukrainians.

A nice reunion with Claudia and Shirley, long-time colleagues at Calvin who attended the INCHE conference here in Budapest.

It was great to re-connect with Don and Kathy on a beautiful spring day.

We were glad to host Steve and Chris Van Zanen from Lithuania too!

All dressed up for my faculty lecture at a prayer breakfast at Károli Gáspár University.

We enjoyed touring the city with Bastian while he was here.

Mom and her favorite son at the cherry blossoms on Castle Hill. 

Julie at a lookout tower we hiked to with our Hungarian teacher in late April 

A night at the Frans Liszt Music Academy with our Thursday evening international student fellowship group.