3 August 2013

Aldas Bekessege, Friends!

Yesterday, we visited many mission sites around Nagydobrony (a village in sub-Carpathian Ukraine): 3 different Gypsy villages, an orphanage, and a farm connected to a Reformed school. Life certainly isn’t easy for many of the children we met, especially in the Gypsy villages. Electricty is a relatively new improvement to their houses, which are constructed of mud bricks, and the only running water comes from a few communal wells along the road. The houses generally only have 1 or 2 rooms for large families with up to 12 children.

As I think about the kids we met and played with, I am reminded that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). What does that mean for us? Big SmileWhat can we learn from these kids, who came out of their mud brick houses to meet us, who wanted to hold our hands and talk to us as we walked to the park, and smiled the biggest smiles when we asked to take their pictures? We need to humble ourselves – go back to basics. Remember that the most important feelings in the world are not ones of success or power or ownership, but of joy, of loving and being loved.

Peace, Claire.


1 August 2013

Aldas Bekessege, Friends!

Today I ate more fresh fruit in one morning than I can ever remember eating before: delicious apples; juicy peaches and nectarines; sweet plums. We visited Terra Dei (God’s Land), a model farm in Mezogecse, a village in sub-Carpathian Ukraine. On a 2 hectare plot of land, Gyula and his son-in-law Zoltan have 5 greenhouses for growing vegetables such as cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as orchards with fruit trees. Zoltan is an experienced agricultural engineer and teaches farming techniques to other farmers in the region.

Agriculture is the primary industry in this region, and yet not without its difficulties. Last year was extremely dry, and many of the crops shrivelled. We saw how layering hay on the ground around the plants can help keep moisture in.  We also saw the heating system which keeps the greenhouses warm during the cold winters so planting can start in January. Seed companies give new seeds to the farm to “test drive” but sometimes it’s a lottery in terms of when the vegetables will be ready and whether or not this will coincide with the market demand.  And there’s always a lingering sense of corruption – did the soil company actually mix fertilizer in the bag as advertised? Zoltan ends up adding his own fertilizer before he uses the soil for planting.

Grape Vine

Grape vine at Terra Dei

How can we be bearers of good, fresh fruit? Jesus says, “I am the Vine and you are the branches, when you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” (John 15:5 MSG) This trip has provided many opportunities to reflect on God’s word and experience His work in this part of the world. May we continue to grow in intimate and organic relationship with Him as we start thinking about our journey home. We are looking forward to sharing more stories upon our return!
Peace, Claire.


Aldas Bekessege, Friends!

What would it mean for me if my church was taken over and shutdown by an anti-Christian government? Or if changing national borders meant I could no longer visit my family in a neighbouring town? What would life be like if I was an illiterate child who had to beg in the streets in order to survive?

As I reflect on today, the word “perseverance” comes to mind. But I know that as much as I may try to accomplish things on my own strength, it is not enough. I am encouraged by Paul’s letter to the Romans: that through Jesus, we have “obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:2-5).

So to me, perseverance means that relying on God is not a choice, but a necessity. And as C.S. Lewis writes in his Letters, “Relying on God has to begin all over again everyday as if nothing had yet been done.” He must increase, but I must decrease.

Peace, Claire.


30 July 2013

Aldas Bekessege (Blessings and Peace), Friends!

As we walked across the street to breakfast this morning, I had the distinct feeling that I had been in the school’s cafeteria before. Yes, in fact I spent a week at the Peterfalva Reformed School in 2005, and can hardly believe that after 8 years, I have returned.  Now the new dormitory where we painted doors is complete and is providing housing for students. The water tower which we sanded and primed is now painted and upright. Sometimes we don’t notice the passage of time until we see how we (or our surrounding environments) have changed.

We met a wonderful woman named Mariska neni (aunt) who has witnessed many changes in her lifetime. Mariska neni  lives as a minority Hungarian in Ukraine in the village of Tivadarfalva.  She will be turning 88 in August and has incredible stories of joy, struggle, and faithfulness. She told us how pastors were taken to concentration camps during Stalin’s rule. Mariska neni cared for the families left behind, even when she herself was sick. She shared about the time when her chickens- all 24 of them – were stolen. She prayed, “why couldn’t the thieves have only stolen half the chickens, and left the other half for me?” The next year, she bought 24 more chickens. This time, only half her chickens were stolen – an answer to prayer, she told us! She and her neighbours live like the early church we read about in Acts, sharing their possessions, praying together, and continually giving thanks, no matter what their circumstance. From the moment we crossed the threshold into her home, we were overwhelmed by a great Love. The presence of the Holy Spirit was so alive and strong there that it was hard to leave. And yet we are filled so that we can be sent out. May we always remember Mariska neni and her stories. May God use our time with her to mold us and form us. And when we leave Tivadarfalva on Thursday, may it be with thankful and joyful hearts.

Peace, Claire.


29 July 2013

Szia, Friends!

We have really enjoyed the last two days that we’ve spent with David, Anna, Aaron, Daniel and Juli. They have welcomed us into their home with open arms.  We have visited numerous sites around Sarospatak, including the Reformed church and college, and a chateau where Zsuzsanna Lorantffy once lived.

David and Anna are missionaries serving the Reformed Church of sub-Carpathain Ukraine (RCCU), a church of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine. After dinner on Sunday night, David gave us a bit of a history lesson about the rise and fall of Communism and the impact it has had on people and life in this region. One of the comments that really stuck with me in our discussion was that in times of changing and conflicting ideologies, there aren’t many people who would stand up for their beliefs at any cost, including their life.  Apparently there is a phrase in Hungarian which sums this up, “anyone will sell their mother… for the right price.” Shocking, perhaps, but I think it makes the point. For example, (to a lesser extent), Tara told us how her brother once had long hair, which he wouldn’t cut, despite requests from his family. Finally, their uncle came for a visit, and said “I’ll give you $100 if you cut your hair.” It worked.

There are also stories like this in the Bible. When Abram and Sarai went to Egypt (Genesis 12), they told the Egyptians that Sarai is Abram’s sister because Abram was afraid he would be killed if they knew she was his wife. Turns out that was a mistake… After Jesus was arrested, Peter was sitting in the courtyard. People recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples, but he denied it 3 times, saying “I do not know him!” And then the rooster crowed…

I asked myself the question, have there been situations in my life where I was tempted to deny I know Jesus? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, either in words or actions (or lack thereof). But Jesus asks his disciples, “What good is it to gain the world, but lose your soul?” (Matthew 16:26). There is hope: in our Lord’s invitation to follow him; in the forgiveness of sins; in the movement of the Holy Spirit in and through us; in the example set by lives of faith. May God give us the strength to be faithful followers.

Peace, Claire.


Szia, Friends!

What a connected world we live in! I wanted to share some of the “small world” experiences I’ve had over the last week:
– Frans is from South Africa and he works in Geneva, Switzerland with the World Council of Churches. His office is in the same building as Andrew Donaldson, who used to be my music director. Now Frans sings in Andrew’s choir.
– Cindy is from Tainan, Taiwan. I visited her church in 2010, and she knows some of the Taiwanese youth with whom I travelled. I asked her to say hello to them for me when she gets home.
– Zoltan is from Hungary and he was in my small group this week. His girlfriend is the editor of the Reformed Church newspaper and she travelled around Eastern Europe in April, including Bonus Pastor in Ozd, Romania. I had visited the same mission site when I travelled to Eastern Europe with YIM in 2005.

These are just a handful of examples. I also met a girl named Charlotte who was born in Canada but now lives in Australia.  However, she still feels a connection to Canada and is always excited to meet people from our country. Starpoint was an awesome opportunity to make friendships that circle the globe. Despite our different pasts and our different futures, our shared experiences at the festival this week reminded us that we are all one in Jesus Christ.

Peace, Claire.

Galatians 2:20

Szia, Friends!

Friday was our last full day at Starpoint. In our small group discussions, we talked about things that have shaped our identity, such as elements of culture that we have inherited from our parents, and experiences (either positive or negative) from our chidhood and adolescence. Do we ever use these things as excuses to avoid God’s calling? We were reminded of Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It is no coincidence that this is the main scripture verse for the conference. 

I’m sure you are familiar with the phrase, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” I learned today that the Hungarian equivalent roughly translates to “the gates are made of sausage”.  This morning’s speaker, Jozsef Csomos Jr., encouraged us that we (the youth) are not the church of the future… we are the church of today. We don’t need to wait until we get to the other side (or pass through the sausage gates) to start making a difference in our church and in our world. Knowing that Christ lives in us, we no longer need to shy away from asking God what his mission for us is. We have confidence that Christ is with us… and with him, all things are possible.

We have been filled up at Starpoint, and now it is time to be sent out. On Friday, we said goodbye to our friends from Britain and South Africa. On Saturday, we will farewell the rest of our group as they depart for Budapest and then their various homes, and we continue on to Ukraine.

Peace, Claire.


Szia, Friends!

We can’t believe it’s Thursday already! This morning we continued discussing the theme of identity. How are we viewed by our families, coworkers, church members, and society? How does that differ from the way God sees us or how we see ourselves or who God is creating us to be? We talked about the masks we might wear or the compromises we make.

Pottery Lesson

Pottery is part of Mezotur’s cultural history.

I was reminded of yesterday’s pottery lesson.  Before we started,the clay was was kneaded to make it soft.  I started shaping the clay with my hands, but as it spun around, it would start drying out, so I had to add water so I could continue forming the pot.  Likewise, we are clay in God’s hands.  He is molding us into the best versions of ourselves. And yet, we too need water (in the form of scripture study, small group discussions and prayer) so we don’t dry out before he is finished.

Peace, Claire.


Szia, Friends!

After spending two nights in Budapest, the 23 international delegates arrived in Mezotur yesterday afternoon.  There are youth from Lithuania, Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, South Africa, England, Scotland, and of course Canada in our group. It is so wonderful to be here, worshiping and praying with new friends in Hungary. The weather has been hot and sunny. We have been treated to many traditional Hungarian dishes.  StarpointEach morning we meet in small groups to discuss the morning sermon and in the afternoon there are various activities to choose, ranging from lectures to sports, to pottery.  Then we have an English worship time, which also draws a number of Hungarians.  We met David, who is here until Thursday with his boys. We will see him again on Saturday when we depart Starpoint for Ukraine.

Peace, Alex, Claire, Lauren, Sam and Tara.


Dear Friends,

I looked at the clock this afternoon (4:05 pm) and realized that within 24 hours I would be checking in at Terminal 3 in Toronto.  I figured that meant it was time to start packing! I had everything laid out along my wall, but how was it all supposed to fit into my backpack?

Tomorrow, the Youth In Mission (YIM) trip to Eastern Europe begins, and I am very excited!  We will attend the Starpoint festival in Mezotur, Hungary next week.  We will spend the following week visiting mission sites in Ukraine with David Pandy-Szekeres.

As I sorted through the items I had to pack, I smiled as I picked up my 1 kg jar of peanut butter.  It was a special request from David because apparently you can’t get peanut butter in Ukraine. Bible – check. Journal – check. Sleeping bag – check. And so I continued down my list.  Oops, forgot my water bottle.  I hope I won’t actually need an umbrella or the first aid kit, but those get packed too, just in case… Finally, I think I am ready to go.


Ready for 2 weeks in Eastern Europe.

This will be my third YIM trip.  I travelled to Eastern Europe in 2005 and Taiwan in 2010.  I was blessed with new friendships and meaningful cross-cultural experiences.  Will you pray for grace and wisdom for me as I lead a YIM group for the first time this year?  Pray also for three things for our group: open eyes, open minds, and open hearts.  More soon…

Peace, Claire.