Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sitting around the kitchen table

One of the things we take for granted in our mother tongue is the power of good conversation.  Almost two weeks ago, our group of 5 gathered in Budapest to listen and share stories.  We also spent time with people who work closely with Roma issues in a variety of capacities in Hungary and around Europe.

Our first stop in Budapest was the home and office of Tamas Fabiny, Bishop of the Northeast Diocese for the Hungarian Lutheran Church.  His work also focuses on the social outreach programs of the church and its international and ecumenical relations.  Needless to say, he's a busy guy.  So when most of our afternoon with him was devoted to him listening to our individual backgrounds and stories and reflections on our work and host families we were all pleasantly surprised.   

I've written previously about the many ways that identity issues manifest themselves in present day Central Europe.  Similarly, churches in Hungary are still dealing with what Fabiny calls the church's "forty years of wandering" under Communism.  He shared how the Lutheran church, and others, were actually allowed to continue their outreach ministries to the disabled and elderly offering assistance and care where Communism did not.

 Meredith, Thad, Bishop Fabiny, Chelsea, Mari, Ole, Miriam

After our meeting with the Bishop we spent some much needed time catching with each other and our supervisors, Miriam and Jeremy, and playing with their kids.  The natural gathering place for our group of American and Canadian Lutherans (and a Methodist, and a Baptist) who live in Slovakia and Hungary was at a Mexican restaurant in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest.  From the moment we all met that afternoon we started exchanging stories of our placement sites and our host families and all of the complexities of entering a new place in a new language.  At times it seems like we're living in entirely different countries, but having five different perspectives on the same place and the same church proved extremely useful when it came to addressing Roma conditions in Hungary.

Jeremy and Esme and a glimpse of fall in Budapest

On Wednesday and Thursday we met at the home of Dick and Carolyn Otterness.  Dick and Carolyn have lived in Budapest for 7 years where Dick carries out his call through the Reformed Church as a pastor and missionary, and Carolyn, a retired nurse, works alongside her husband on Roma dialogue.  

They told us that part of their ministry is hospitality, which for us meant getting to have American bacon, and drip coffee, and oatmeal, and all sorts of other food that tastes like home.  But their hospitality also meant having a kitchen table where we could sit for hours and speak among friends about challenges we face in our sites.  It was humbling to consider what a luxury and freedom and was to even to be able to leave our communities for a few days and sit and talk about issues that have no clear resolution, but are still worthy of discussion.  

 a rainy walk through Varosliget (City Park), Budapest

While this was more of a narrative of what happened, maybe later there will be some reflection about Roma stereotypes and their relationship with other ethnic groups.  I'll also have more to say soon about all of the negative press Roma have been getting lately with stories in France, Greece, and Ireland creating a snowball effect of Roma people in the international spotlight. 

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