There is a lot going on here in eastern Europe and a lot happening in our lives these days! Many of you have contacted us regarding the conflict in Ukraine and we are so grateful for your thoughts and prayers over this situation. Over the next few minutes, we'd like to update you on our involvement working with Ukrainians fleeing their home country as well as in a couple of other key areas:
Our work in Tatárszentgyörgy
Our work at the border with Ukrainian refugees
1. Our Work in Tatárszentgyörgy
Our work continues to center around the young people and families in our region. As a refresher, here is our weekly schedule of commitments:
Tuesday evening: Sarah leads English club for adults
Tuesday evening: HOPE Youth Group planning meeting
Wednesday morning: Cullen teaches 7th & 8th grade English 9-12 at the school
Wednesday afternoon: Cullen and Miki coach the middle school soccer team
Wednesday evening (every other): team meeting
Thursday evening: HOPE Youth Group night 5-8 pm
Friday morning: Cullen teaches 7th & 8th grade English 9-12 at the school
Friday evening: Budapest Youth Group night 4-9 pm
Sunday evening: Prayer meeting and church service
Our HOPE Youth Group continues to grow each week! When we first started last fall we saw just a handful of students, but in a few short months, we are now seeing around 30 students each week! In addition, we have also increased from 4 leaders to 6! Each week, we are grateful for the opportunity to give so many young people a place to come and just be kids. They leave each week with full stomachs and smiles on their faces and this is enough for us.
Recently, we had to make a difficult decision to take a week off. We did this as a response to a difficult night of behavioral issues. This is a challenging balance that we face as leaders, to provide an environment where students can let go of the hard home lives they live, while also walking with them when the difficulties they deal with come to the surface during our youth groups.
Learning to lead these children by making difficult decisions out of love for their benefit seems to be the theme of the season. I am facing similar challenges at the school with my 7th and 8th graders. We recently spent a week, pausing to talk about the questions "Who are You?" and "Who are We?" I challenged students to think hard about these questions and we spent class time discussing goals and revisiting norms for our class. This was all a result of a couple of hard weeks where students' motivation dipped and several behavioral issues started to repeat themselves. I had to pause and share with my students that I am different than the teachers they are used to. This gave space for students to share their needs and what they like and don't like about the way I lead our classes together.
Our Friday Youth Group has also seen growth but in a different way. Over the past couple of months, students have started to take certain parts of their faith more seriously, even taking it upon themselves to take time to pray for the group before the Friday events begin. Also, Zita and other students have shared that they would like to come to our Thursday night youth group in the village! This would be such an amazing opportunity to see our students from different backgrounds together. Sarah has recently started mentoring Csenge, an incredibly bright and joyful young lady who is wanting to grow more in her faith. The two of them are a perfect match and I think on most Wednesdays, after their meetings, Sarah may get more from their time than Csenge :)
Sarah and I continue to follow God's lead with the university students he has unexpectedly placed in our lives. Although I am not teaching at the university this term, we've continued to grow our relationships with my former students Csenga and Kitti. Csenga attends our Friday night youth group in Budapest and recently shared that her mother and sister are choosing to stay in western Ukraine. They are safe for now, but we know this weighs on her. Kitti lives in our home city of Kecskemét and has recently started taking care of Copper and cleaning our apartment for us! As a college student. studying to become a teacher, we are happy to pay her for this and this new opportunity has been such a blessing to us! Lastly, Hannah, an exchange student from Michigan State, has been joining us for our Friday night youth group and has become a close friend of ours. All of these young women are bright, passionate and thoughtful and we are enjoying getting to know them.
There is so much more to update on this topic. We continue to work hard for these kids and young people and keep our eyes and hands open as we walk alongside them.
2. Our Work at the Border with Ukrainian Refugees
When we first received news that Russia had in fact begun their invasion of Ukraine, and targeted their most populated city of Kyiv, both of us knew that the humanitarian crisis was already underway. As we continued throughout that first week, reading updates and talking with our friends here, our desire to help became unbearable.
On the morning of Saturday, February 26th, I got in the car and prayed, "Lord, help me follow the bread crumbs." With very little information, but aware that many people were crossing the border on foot and at least needed food or a ride to safety, I set off for the Ukrainian border. After a short stop in a larger city called Debrecen, which yielded no new crumbs, I journeyed onward to a border crossing called Beregsurány, a location I saw where most refugees were crossing on foot.
As I arrived, the sun had set and stress hung in the air. The road on the Hungarian side was lined with cars for miles and the lights of first responder vehicles lit up the night sky. I tried to park along the shoulder and was approached immediately by two police officers. One of them spoke perfect English and told me where to park. Unfortunately, it was a mile and a half away. But... he also told me where to go if I wanted to help, a tent that was closer to the actual crossing. So I found a place to park and loaded up the groceries and clothes I had brought and made my way on foot to the crossing point.
Once I located the aide tent, I was immediately approached by a man, showing me where to put the supplies I'd brought. He then began asking me questions and sharing about his organization. He (Gusztav) was a leading diplomat for the Hungarian Reformed Charity, and was overseeing the receiving and distribution of aide across multiple border sites! Now, this was a breadcrumb. We exchanged information and prayed together for a short while. Before leaving I inquired about giving rides to people, but it became clear that there was quite a process for this at the time, since the situation was very new. I arrived home a few hours later with a plan to return the following weekend with Sarah. Throughout the week, I continued to message with Gusztav and by the weekend he had given us several areas where help was needed.
Since that time, our work at the border has consisted of helping at Záhony, a train station bringing passengers directly from Kyiv into Hungary, as well as at a warehouse in Gelénes. Gelénes receives trucks and vans daily from many different countries, then sends the goods directly across the border into Ukraine. Gusztav oversees the coordination of these sites and continues to negotiate with Ukrainian representatives to keep these humanitarian aid channels open.
We continue to stay in contact with Anna, a 17-year-old girl who left Kyiv with her grandma and her cat. She made it safely to Germany, where they were staying at a refugee camp, but recently were approved for an apartment! PTL!
Also, while at the train station in Záhony, Sarah met a Ukrainian-American couple who raised over forty thousand dollars in San Francisco, so that they could come to Hungary with a team of volunteers and serve the refugees coming into the country. They found that many refugees needed temporary housing after coming into the country before traveling onward throughout Europe and the world. As of yesterday, they gave rides and paid for 1,081 rooms for people! Mostly, hotels, Air BnB, or hostels.
Stories like these continue to make their way to the headlines. It has been truly devastating and humbling to see firsthand this crisis unfolding. We will continue to serve the Ukrainian refugees with every extra minute and penny that we have in the weeks to come.
3. Looking Forward
As we look forward to the spring season here in Hungary, there is lots of work and many areas where we need God's help!
Continued reconciliation in our leadership team. There is still a lot that needs to happen for us to move forward with growing the church here. We've not established a consistent community yet. We would like to start at least one mid-week fellowship group for the non-Christians of the village but can't do so until we have a clear direction as a team. There is a very important team meeting on April 10th, please be praying!
Friendships to bloom. We've had some amazing talks with our closest friends here in Hungary and have committed to taking better care of the friendships we have. We need to be more intentional going forward.
A strong finish to the school year.
The beginning of cafe construction! (We're so close)
Preparation for two weeks of summer camps for our students in the village
Pieces to fall in place for a language camp for our Budapest Youth Group students and their classmates.
Continued growth with our village Youth Group.
Direction in our ministry to the Ukrainian Refugees. We want to follow God's specific instructions here. We feel good about following Gusztav's leading with future outreach opportunities and practical ways of serving. But trips to the border are expensive and exhausting as we typically sacrifice rest days to serve and then jump right into the normal workweek afterward.
We miss you. We miss home and all that comes with Spring in the mid-Michigan area. We watch Spartan basketball here and think of the sidewalks blooming around campus. We think about the walks we are missing with Cullen's mom and her new pup Anna. We can smell the roast filling the Lilleboe house on Sundays. We long to hold and smell Baby Blake. We love our relationships here, but the work can be hard and some days we just miss being with family. Please pray for us, please keep reading our updates, and please don't stop checking in!
We love you all so much. We're overwhelmed at how well you love us. We couldn't do this without you,
Cullen, Sarah, and Copper