The Question of Where

“…do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” – Jalaluddin Rumi

After much anticipation, I have finally received my site placement for my YAGM year! (Disclaimer: this might still change. But for now, it’s the plan.)

I will be living and serving in the riverside town of Szarvas, Hungary. Szarvas (which is the Hungarian word for deer) is a little over two hours southeast of Budapest, located on the shores of the Körös river, with a population of around 17,000 people. 

Though much of my actual work will depend on the needs of my community, my placement includes helping teachers at local Lutheran elementary and high schools (although I suspect I will learn more from them than they will from me). Additionally, I will serve at a local Day Center for people living with addiction. As my letter of placement states, I will be “connected to both the Roma and non-Roma Hungarians in Szarvas through a variety of Lutheran ministries”. 

Though I have some experience teaching, I have never worked with students younger than college-age! I also have not walked alongside those living with addictions. I am certain I will learn a great deal in this placement, and I can’t wait to experience the culture and life of Hungary!

I am nervous, I am excited, and, I pray, I am ready. Stay tuned, folks. 

The Question of Why

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“You’re moving to a different country for a year? To be a missionary? Why?

It’s a question I am asked often. More often than when, or how, or what. Nearly everyone I have spoken to about my upcoming placement as a Young Adult in Global Mission in Central Europe wants to know that answer – why?

I was first introduced to the YAGM program the summer of 2013, before I started college, when I was lucky enough to be part of the team visiting the Rocky Mountain Synod’s companion synods in Madagascar. For three weeks, we traveled around the incredible island, meeting as many people as we could to develop a more genuine and productive relationship between our churches. One of these meetings was with the country coordinators (at the time) and one of the current YAGM volunteers of the Madagascar program. As they spoke to our group, describing the basics of the program and some of the amazing experiences they’d had as a result, a little voice in the back of my head piped up.

“This will be you someday,” the voice insisted. “You’re going to be a YAGM.”

To my 17-year-old self, that was a terrifying prospect. I wasn’t ready to leave home for that long – I hadn’t even been to college yet! Was this a calling? The Holy Spirit? Insanity? Whatever it was, I hushed the voice and returned from my trip feeling wiser and ready to begin life as a real adult.

College, however, proved to be quite a challenge for my relationship with God. I quickly found a campus ministry (looking at you, LuMin) and assumed my faith would stay the same as it always had been – strong, passionate, and vocal. I was mistaken. College is busy, and stressful, and overwhelming – in some ways, the most challenging time of my life thus far – and I began to lose touch with God and my beliefs. I still went to worship, and cherished my church community, but that undeniable faith began to feel faint and farther away. I’d never had to work at my faith before; it was just always there for me.

By the end of my senior year, I was feeling more disconnected from God than ever. This isn’t easy to admit – I want to pretend that I am preparing for this journey with the strongest faith of my life, with undeniable confidence in who I am and what I believe. I want to show the best side of myself. But part of this journey, I believe, is about being honest and true to how I’m feeling. Explaining who I am now, at the beginning, is the first step in that process.

I am trying to reconnect with God. When I am at church retreats, or Easter services, or singing Holden Evening Prayer, I feel that enduring faith I used to take for granted. I feel so close with Jesus, and I remember the love, and why I believe in all of this in the first place. But when the song ends, and I have to return to my daily life, the apathy and the questions come seeping back like a fog, and I lose the connection again.

I still believe in God with all my heart. I still believe that Jesus died for my sins, and that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I will never lose that part of myself. But it somehow feels less genuine now, and less effortless. I no longer have the faith of a child – the faith of an adult takes work. My year of service with YAGM is part of that work.

I want to allow myself to feel vulnerable, and force myself to rely more fully on God’s love and grace. I want to be challenged, and to discover who I am without the labels I have so carefully constructed for myself in Western society. I want to stare my privilege in the face, and try to use my gifts for the benefit of others in new and unfamiliar situations.

By making faith an inescapable and intentional part of my daily life, I am seeking to actively strengthen that connection with God. This mission will challenge me deeply, and push me farther outside of my comfort zone than I have ever been. But I am also hopeful that it will remind me how much I need my faith, and how much God loves me. I will see God’s love in the faces of those who support me when I cannot speak the language, those who frustrate me when I struggle to understand their culture, those who show me new lives and ways of living them. I will learn, and I will grow, and I will, hopefully, find my true faith again. Intentionally.