The summer season has brought many changes and many blessings! Join us as we look back on the past few months and look toward to the final few months of our time here in Hungary!
What We’ve Been up To
Our youth programs and projects have seen a lot of growth these past months. We continue to meet weekly and are just a couple of months away from seeing the Upstairs Youth Center completed! In May, the initial funding from Mike Flory, Custom Built, and the many donors from last Christmas' fundraiser ran out...
So we challenged our youth to begin praying and giving weekly, holding out our loaves and fish before Jesus. Students began saying no to their favorite energy drinks and spontaneously running up to me throughout the week to hand me their pocket change! In June, still needing $15,000 in additional funding, we were overwhelmed to learn that this amount and more was given by a small handful of donors who have been following this project for quite some time. Thanks to God, Henrik the local builder, and Misi the project manager went back to work in July. Our youth group continues to celebrate this miracle! They can't wait to see their youth center finished this Fall.
Logo Credit: Grant Wortley
The cafe project continues to move towards opening! Manna Kávézó is now a registered non-profit cafe and has all the furniture and equipment needed to be a fully functioning business! Now, we are focusing on training, carefully spreading the word about the cafe throughout the region, planning outdoor signs and displays to draw attention to the space, and most importantly praying and working to gather funds for operational costs and workers to join Misi, Sarah, and I.
The costs needed to get the space fully equipped and operational depleted much of the funds from previous grants and donations, so now we are working hard with Géza to find funds to continue to pay Misi as the manager, 2-3 more local workers wages, and operations costs for the first few months. We have also contacted local churches and organizations to share the cafe's needs in order to build sustainable partnerships that will help the cafe long-term.
Recently, we brought our youth group to the nearby city of Kecskemét for a weekend youth conference. The whole group slept at Misi and Cili's home. It was a weekend filled with quality time together and culminated with many of our students standing up, walking to the front, and taking steps toward Jesus at the end of the weekend! We're so proud of our youth group. These "steps" were honest ones that we can now dig deeper into. Our kids really trust us leaders, especially Geri and Hajni, and have been continuing to share deeper thoughts and questions with them about their lives and God.
Hope Ifi (Youth) is a space where we not only help these kids understand the teachings of Jesus but also show them how Jesus lived. We do this by feeding them and teaching them skills, like trying new things and helping them see what it looks like to make mistakes. Each week we feed their physical tummies and we watch as Jesus fills their spiritual tummies with a different kind of food. Our food tastes like pizza, sandwiches, and soup. His food tastes like love, kindness, patience, and a sense of belonging, a home away from home.
In June, Cullen finished his role as the English teacher for the oldest students in the village.
What a life-changing experience. For two years, I got to learn from these amazing young people. For a while, we had to learn how to communicate without knowing the same language. Most people are quick to give me praise, but honestly, it was mostly the kids choosing early on to trust me. They could have made life pretty hard on me but they always respected me and trusted that I had their best interests in mind. It is hard to describe the love that has developed in me toward these kids. I saw their good days and bad days. I'll be walking down the sidewalk in the village, whenever any of my past students see me, they run across the street just to give me a handshake, hug, and look me in the eyes. I hope that illustrates a deeper change that has taken place in them. The statistics are not on their side... I am praying that the time we had together can somehow steer them away from some of the cycles that many of their parents have fallen victim to.
I am particularly proud of one of my students, who I won't share her name. But she was my student for both of the last two years and has been coming to youth group for the past year. In many ways, her story demonstrates the heartbeat of Blooming Abroad. She is Roma Gypsy and both of her parents have sadly been battling joblessness and drug addiction for much of her life, leaving her as the oldest to care for her younger siblings. In spite of this, she graduated from the middle school in the village near the top of her class and in the fall will be going to the nearby city of Kecskemét where we live to attend one of the best high schools in the region. This will be a very difficult and important year in her life. A year that could determine her future. She will be living in the dorms, searching for new friends, and facing academic challenges, all while fighting, likely on a daily basis against racism in her school demonstrated by peers and teachers. We will continue to support her, but she will also need your prayers. Please pray for new friendships and for her teachers. I am praying that she would find at least one teacher that sees the potential in her that I have seen and lifts her up, especially on her hardest days. Also for friends to surround her, build her up, and help her keep going.
For the past couple of months, we've been working hard to help Geri and Hajni at their new house! It is a big project, but we have enjoyed blessing them with time and energy. We have mostly been working on laying a new foundation in their front living room. There was no existing foundation and the front-facing wall in their house has slowly begun to lean forward. Additionally, we have spent a lot of time breaking down the old pig house in the back. These structures were dangerous for their dogs (you can see the wall that recently fell in the photo) and big eyesores! Remodeling the interior and exterior of their home with the economy still struggling due to the war in Ukraine continues to be an uphill climb... this is why it has been so important to do as many of these projects and preparation phases ourselves to minimize the cost of labor from the local builder.
In June, a team mostly made up of teenagers and their parents and grandparents from Family Life Wesleyan Church in Williamston, Michigan visited us! This was very special for Cullen because this was the church that his grandparents were a part of when they were alive.
The team did anything and everything we asked, completing dozens of projects to give the village a facelift :) They also facilitated daily afterschool programs for the kids of the village.
Most of all, they lifted the spirits of the local leaders, in doing so, they built long-lasting relationships and set the pieces in place for a continued partnership long after we move home to the US.
The end of the school year also saw the end of our time with the Friday after-school English club we have been leading at Rose Garden High School. We had a great year working with Nándi and Júlia to build a bridge between the youth group of Rose Garden Church and the local high school. We were overwhelmed to see so many students we met through English Club at the week-long camp in June!
As we transition away from our Friday English Club and Youth Group commitments at Rose Garden in order to focus our last few months in the village, we are grateful for Nándi and Júlia allowing us to help them. The future is bright... another way to put it is there is a lot of Blooming happening in the Rose Garden :)
I (Cullen) wrote that by the way... Sarah is going to shake her head!
As always, your resident travel junkies had to get away for a bit once the school year closed. We were able to travel to both Croatia and Norway in June! Easily two of the most beautiful places we have ever been.
Croatia was a bit last minute, but a necessary getaway for us. June 20th was a date that has been marked on our calendars for the past 9 months. So we decided to get away, to take the opportunity this physical timeline offered us, to mourn and celebrate our little one. We found a beautiful place to sit down and took the ultrasound photos we had and buried them underneath a beautiful olive tree. Cullen had to dig with his hands a nearby stick :) We found some flowers nearby and set them there. Then we shared a cupcake and prayed together, thanking God for all that our little one taught us and for the people, we have become because of these past months. Then we walked away, marking the place in our minds and hearts, holding onto the promises that lie ahead...
Norway is a place we have longed for, for many years. The place of Sarah's namesake "Lilleboe = Little Homestead" and the number one location on Cullen's travel list. Though this particular trip was not about either of us. Szabi, Géza and Ildikó's oldest grandchild told us many months ago that Norway was his dream location. So we thought why not celebrate his recent high school graduation with a trip?! We were able to make many of Szabi's dreams come true from drives through the Norwegian mountain ranges, to epic hikes, and finding lots of his favorite sports drink (Prime) that was recently released in Norway.
Both of these places will forever hold a special place for us and we are so grateful we've been able to do what many people never will in exploring these unforgettable locations!
What's Coming Up
August will be a demanding month with 3 weeks of youth camps! We are expecting more growth in the life of our students and village as a result of these programs!
Both August and September will be demanding and faith-building for our team as we move towards a potential October 1st cafe opening. It seems like every season presents a new financial perspective with new obstacles for our cafe mission. In just 3 years, we have seen this dream come to life. The cafe space is ready but the operations need more resources. The local workers need compensation and the cost of raw materials continue to rise. Our faith is being tested these days, but we are trying to remind each other that God got us this far... that He loves this village... and that He will honor our sacrifices and bless this mission if we will remain faithful and open-handed.
The Beginning of the End...
As we write this, we are 20 weeks away from moving back to the US.
Over these last few months, we will be bringing you more website updates and more podcast episodes, bringing you deeper into our journey as we look back on and say goodbye to our life here in Hungary...
Leaving It Better than We Found It...
Saying goodbye to our life here in Hungary does not mean sealing the door shut on our relationships and investment in this region. There are many open doors in front of us and a real opportunity to continue Blooming Abroad for months and years to come... We'll be sharing more specifically about these open doors through our website updates and podcast episodes coming soon!
P.S. Episode 7 comes out tomorrow!
Thank you for all your support these past 130 weeks and thank you in advance for your continued support, especially these next few months.
For some bonus content, take a few minutes to look back at the Update post from September 18, 2021, titled The Start of the Beginning. What an amazing journey these past couple of years have been.
Cullen, Sarah, and Copper