A Gypsy Experience (part 2)

After a walk around camp and a short stop for Gypsy coffee (I don’t really know what constitutes it as Gypsy coffee except that it was made in the Gypsy camp), we headed to the church. Passing through the gates, the church stood in contrast to its neighboring wood homes. From the brick/concrete plastered walls, it was apparent that this church had been started and funded by people outside the gypsy camp. Ukrainian members of a church in Uzhgorod, who also has a sister church in Mukachevo, felt the Lord calling them to start a church for the Gypsies. It was by no means an extravagant church – the chairs were old benches and used theater seats, the wooden floors were chipped and dusty, and the pastel walls were chipped and cracked. But, it was comfortable and welcoming.

Slowly, the gypsies arrived until the room filled to capacity, leaving some to stand for lack of seats. The first thing i noticed was the sweet spirit of the Christian gypsies. Smiling, they greeted one another. One little old lady, slightly bent shuffled to a seat behind me. We made eye contact, and her face just beamed with love and acceptance. She reached for me, gave me a big, long bear hug with her frail arms and said, “slava bogu” – Praise God. She patted my cheek then sat down. Later, at the end of the service during a time of prayer, I reached back to hold her hand. I could not understand her words, but she vocally prayed out loud for me…a blessing I needed. Even as the rest of the congregation said, “Amen” (ahmeen), she held tight to my hand and kept praying another minute more.

I grew up charismatic, with sometimes wild church services…dancing, tambourine ladies running around the church, people laying on the floor prostrate before God, teenagers jumping up & down to the beat. Over the years, I have moved away from those churches & attended more sedated worship services. It’s been a while since I’ve been around the charismatic atmosphere…so when I was told that the Gypsy church was charismatic, I had prepared myself…You never know what can happen in a charismatic service. In fact, it was refreshing & uplifting with God’s pure, holy presence. There were no flashy presentations or effects, no large band, no inflexible schedule, and no big church mentality. It was simply people who love God getting together to worship their Lord and hearing his pure Word. During worship, their voices sang LOUD, not worried about pitch or what their neighbors thought. Their focus was God. Some clapped, others raised their hands, and still others just closed their eyes…but all worshiped freely in the way that they wanted to show their praise to God. The Spirit within me was moved, and my soul was refreshed.

We also didn’t expect to see other missionaries there. Turns out, there was a H.s. group from a private school in New Hampshire who put on a small presentation with dance and testimonies. There was also a man who is from Scotland but is a full time missionary here in Mukachevo and works with the gypsies. With him, were two American exchange students currently living in Hungary who had come in just for the weekend. But, the highlight of the missionaries were 2 men who had ridden their bicycles from Holland! You’re probably picturing 2 young Lance Armstrong type guys…think again! These were 2 grandfathers in their late 50s, early 60s! They had raised over $75,000 for an orphanage in southern Ukraine, but the catch was that they were going to ride their bicycles to the orphanage to hand deliver the money. Every day they rode 100 kilometers, taking them 2 – 3 weeks to reach this point. Amazing! that’s truly dedication and love in action.

The one thing I love about these smaller churches in Ukraine is that there is no hard-core-cannot-deter-from-the-schedule time constraints. Yes, they have a normal time space planned for 2 hours, but if it goes over…no problem…people don’t get fussy. If someone has an announcement, they can stand up and make it, without a pre-scheduled approval from the pastor. I love how the pastor opens up the microphone for ANYONE to come up and give a testimony, praise, or prayer request and then the congregation prays together for that person. It is truly a family environment where the people are there to encourage one another and participate in the service…they don’t go just to hear a sermon or watch a band perform some worship.

“SHOUT joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing.
“Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.”
Psalm 100:1-5

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A Gypsy Experience (part 1)

On this Ukrainian Easter night, we decided to go visit the Gypsy church located on the outskirts of Mukachevo. Our friend Ruslan, a gypsy, met us at our house and walked the 20 minute trek with us to the gypsy camp. i had heard many rumors about the camp and about Gypsies, but tonight was the first night I was able to see it for myself.

Ruslan was to meet us at our home at 5:00, one hour before church started, so that we could have time to walk to the camp and spend some time looking around. We were all dressed and ready to go…but by 5:50 Ruslan still had not come. Thinking something must have come up, we were about ready to change back into our house clothes and miss out on church. But right near 6:00 he knocked on our door. Laughing & apologetic, he explained that Gypsies, because they’re Hungarian and speak Hungarian, they also follow Hungarian time – which is an hour behind. so, when he told us 5:00, it would really be 6:00 for us.

Through wind blown dust clouds, we walked and talked about his people. Mukachevo, he explained, has at least 5,000 gypsies living in the camp. It’s probably more since that # comes from a census held five years ago. The majority of them are illiterate and uneducated – not because the opportunities aren’t there, but because they don’t want to put forth the effort. Children can attend school (though it is not enforced), but many go only to play, not learn. Therefore, as adults, they struggle for work. Many dig through garbage bins looking for things to sell, others find jobs as street cleaners or garbage collectors, and still many turn to begging. “Just wait,” he said, “you will see in moment what life is like.”

We came upon a dirt road which began the beginning of the encampment. it was easy to see the transition from “Mukachevo” to “Gypsy Camp.” Hordes of children, dirty and unkempt, played in the street; their toys pieces of wood or string…turned into swords or horse harnesses as they ride in to save their people. At least they have childlike imagination. Small one room homes lined the potholed dirt roads. Some made from handmade mud bricks, while others were made from random pieces of wood, tarp, or cardboard boxes. A few houses had a small shanty for a horse, their only mode of transportation. Walking was difficult (especially for this overdressed girl who thought she needed to wear a nice outfit to church, accompanied with heels…I won’t do that again). Not only were they filled with potholes and dirt/mud, but trash and horse manure littered the ground. Ruslan explained that at one point this area was part of the trash dump. Many of the gypsies are working to clean it up, but many are not. The stench was piercing at times. Nevertheless, everywhere we walked, men, women and children (and horse and dogs and goats) congregated outside.

Ruslan is not ashamed that he is a gypsy; he loves his people and his heart breaks for them. But, he does not understand them or their mentality. You see, the government is now giving the gypsies many opportunities to help their situation: supplies to build good homes, the land to build on, financial aid for better education, and loans to help them start successful businesses. Many of them are taking the government’s help in search for a better life, but most of them say they like the life they live and would rather die with the trash than have to change. He grew up in the same camp as many of them…so why does he think differently than them and search for a better life?

Ruslan knows the answer: Jesus Christ. He accepted Christ as his Savior when a young teenager, quickly learning that God created him with a purpose. He says that God transformed his mind and his perspectives on life, knowing that God would guide him and lead him as he pursues the Lord fully. This truth is evident in Ruslan’s testimony -an amazing story that perhaps I’ll share one day. He knows that if his people were to turn to God, they would see an improvement in their quality of life and learn the awesome promise of Jeremiah 29:11- 14For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.

Market Mania

Saturdays have been deemed “Market Day” – the day we trek down to the market to buy our groceries. I call it a trek, but it’s more of an adventure.

When I say “market” think of your local Farmer’s Market, but make the aisles much smaller and the crowd 3 times larger. Everything is in kilograms and labeled in a language of odd symbols; no one speaks English and we, of course, know very little Ukrainian (or Russian, Hungarian, Polish…or an odd mix of all – which are the predominant languages here). Our first few trips to the market resulted only in confusion and a deep feeling of shock. I think we did leave with some potatoes, onion, and carrots – Which we have eaten every single day since moving here! There are a few other vegetables, but either we don’t like them or I don’t know how to cook them. Overall, though, the fruit and vegetable selection is limited.

The smell is anything besides aromatic; in fact, it has the overwhelming power to make you lose your appetite. The air is thick with stale body odors, freshly butchered pigs, cows, fish, and chicken, and dust; throw in a little car exhaust and you have a wonderful recipe for nausea. You learn to not focus on the smell.

There are a few things you must have in order to succeed in a market trip…patience, determination & forcefulness, resourcefulness, and a bag.

Patience because it takes a bit of time to find what you need, and also to keep your cool when Ukrainians continually butt in front of you (sidenote: I have never seen a group of people more pushy in my life…if you do not stand right up against the person in front of you in line, others will walk up and just jump in front of you. And for a non-pushy person as myself, this is irritating and inconsiderate…but it’s a Ukrainian way, so I’m having to learn to be slightly aggressive with no personal space whatsoever). Be prepared to stand in long lines at the meat stands – but remember to stand against your predecessor’s back.

Determination & forcefulness– We do not own a car, so we cannot just drive 5 minutes down the road to pick up a full week’s worth of food. The walk is only 10 – 15 minutes. Not too bad…if it’s not raining, windy, cold, or snowing. Once there, you must be forceful in your shopping. Remember the pushy people? Sometimes you have to be pushy back – they don’t see it as rude, so neither should I…just smile while you do it! I’ve had to be a bit forceful towards some of the sellers as well. I understand that I’m American, and with that blessing comes a curse that people will try to get more money out of you because they think you’re rich and not knowledgeable about their prices. Some will jack up their prices or try to sell you more than what you want. Some of this may have to do with communication breakdown, but many use it for their advantage because they know we can’t argue. But, I’ve learned to say “NI” (no), and to show them what I want. Once you’ve bought all you need, it’s time to go home. Remember, however, that you walked there, which means you also walk back…with your hands full of whatever you buy. When bags get heavy, your fingers turn red and go numb. That’s when I repeat the mantra I learned as a child, “I think I can, I think I can.” Which leads to the next characteristic…

Resourcefullness – buy as little food as possible to last as long as possible. Which is why we’ve eaten the exact same foods (prepared the exact same way) for 3 weeks!

And lastly, you need to have a bag or several bags. Bags cost extra.

the view from my front door

We live on the most beautiful street in Mukachevo. When I look out my window or walk out of my front door, here’s what I see. The bright pinks definitely lift my spirits & remind me of God’s beauty…especially on gloomy days.

These trees line the entire street

Internet ‘fun’

Ok, so it’s not really ‘fun’…

Despite having internet in our home, it is sporadic and unpredictable.  Currently it is not working so I’m writing a quick post from an internet cafe ($1.40 for an hour).  I do have much to talk about but I do not have the time right now.  As soon as we get the internet back up at home, I will write.  Just know, Things have been looking up and God has blessed me today and yesterday!

Taking a toll

Today begins our 10th day in Ukraine…and I have to admit I’m tired, achy, and a bit moody. The excitement of living in a new place, the place God has called us to be, is still with me, but it’s taking a toll on this body. For one, 9 of these past 10 days have been rainy. It’s not fun to walk in rain on muddy, dirty streets while trying to keep from falling on the uneven pavement as you balance umbrella and other bags in hand. I like the occasional rainy day…when i can sleep in, curl up to a movie, and stay indoors. However, 9 days of it (although sporadic throughout the day) can lower one’s mood.

I really don’t mind walking everywhere. In fact, I enjoy it tremendously. But, the fact is, that in Texas where i lived, never did I walk this much. My body just isn’t used to it; now it is screaming at me (particularly my feet), “STOP THE INSANITY! GIVE ME A REST! And a little massage would be nice, too, please.”

The moodiness just comes from a combination of all things – aches, weather, business – it’ll pass…i’m just tired and readjusting to my new environment.

One of things that does put a smile on my face and a twitter in my heart is all the blooming trees. They are gorgeous pinks and whites. I was told that the bloom season came early this year, and I like to think they came just for me! (I will try to post some pictures of them later).

Time. Time. Who’s got the time?

Probably the hardest adjustment I’ve had to make is the timing of things. Unlike in the States where a 40 minute commute takes 40 minutes (if no traffic), here it takes 2 hours. Let me explain.

This week we have begun our language studies in neighboring city, Uzhhorod. Once we board the commuter bus, the ride is only about 40 minutes, give a few more minutes if we pick other commuters up along the way. However, because we do not own a car, we must walk to and from the bus stations. From our house, if we speed walk (which everyone here does…thus, we do too), we can get to the station in about 20 minutes. Buying the tickets and waiting for bus = another 15 minutes. once in Uzhhorod, to save $$ we walk to the tutor’s office, which is another 20 minutes…or if we should spend the 50 cents to take the mashrootka (public bus/van), it still takes about 15 minutes. Add it all up…roughly 2 hours…now repeat that for the return home.

Almost everything here takes longer…

  • cooking – no shortcuts, all from scratch…although i know of some frozen meals at our one grocery store that I’ve yet had time to get to buy
  • laundry – one wash cycle takes over two hours. Then they have to be hung or laid out to dry…another half a day.
  • washing dishes – no dish washers here, except for our hands, two big buckets, and a sponge
  • bathing – no jumping in and out of a shower…we basically sponge bath…although, with as cold as the bathroom gets, we wash as quickly as possible!

And yet, I still feel I have a large amount of time left in my day…although part of that could be the fact that the sun rises before 6 am and doesn’t disappear until after 8 pm. No, I think it’s that I’m using wisely the time that God has given me. Now that my focused has changed and I’m no longer distracted by things that were available to me in Texas (TV, useless shopping, etc), I find that God has blessed me with more time, despite how busy things are at the moment. I still haven’t fully adjusted to the timing of things here, and may not be as productive as I think I should be during much of the time, but, hey…I’ve only been here a week!

Now, back to cooking my dinner…and washing dishes…and studying Ukrainian…

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