We are in the third year of having our students competing in the Bible Champions Club. We meet daily after school on the corner of Cypress and La Jolla streets sitting on foldable chairs around picnic tables, in a makeshift open-air study hall. It’s a homework club that exists for several years to tutor, develop and keep the kids accountable for their academics. Well, after sitting in the classroom for most of the day, the last thing on their minds is for sitting two more hours and fixing homework. We needed help, so we reached for the Bible.
Three years ago, each month we picked another Fruit of the Spirit, and every Monday we gave them several verses to read and recite about that particular Christian character. They earned points and at Christmas time and at the end of the school year in June we rewarded their efforts with educational toys and picture Bibles. We got encouraged and thought to bring the Bible even closer to them by helping them apply it to their lives what they have learned from the Scripture.
The following school year we picked a handful of people from the Bible whose lives shown the traits we wanted our kids to identify with. We called these men and women Bible Heroes. Again, we gave the kids excerpts and short stories to read about said heroes and heroines, and the exact verses to recite after they listened to our presentations. We also introduced the opportunity to earn extra points if they told us the meaning of the story with their own words. On top of that they could draw pictures of the heroes and how they imagined the stories happened. Wow, the points were soaring to the thousands around June.
We are in the third year now. This year we are introducing and discussing the miracles of Jesus. We further improved our study with the creation of interactive worksheets with verses to recite, stories to read and re-tell, questions to answer, and pictures to draw. We found that we have more success in small groups or even individual setting rather than attempting to effectively work with them all at the same time. When we are in a one-on-one setting, they thrive. We talk about the Bible with them every day. These kids adore the individual exposure, the so called “me time” spent with Jesus’ words and life story, and we truly see the Holy Spirit working in their hearts. It is the best time of my day when I get out of my car on the Cypress cul-de-sac and see them running to me from the streets shouting: “Did you bring new verses?” . . .
Another school year is nearing its end and our Bible verse recital and drawing competition is also in its last week before the summer vacation. From spring we continued on with the Bible Heroes theme. The kids listened to stories, drew pictures about them and got extra points if they recited any of the relevant verses. Here are a few of the proud winners with their prizes.
This was the third year that we helped to run the 11th year of the Annual Cypress Street Soccer Tournament. This is a real big deal for the neighborhood! The streets are cleaned, lines are painted and the windows are covered with baseboards. Early Memorial Day Monday the street gets closed, the City of Placentia police department stands by as the opening ceremony unfolds. Kids from the neighborhood carry a line of flags of many nations – for the last three years including Hungary’s.
After the national anthem and prayer the music starts blasting with hot rhythm and the soccer ball finally is on its way. It is street soccer. Black pavement, hot asphalt, high curbs as sidelines, and hockey goals. Food stands with spicy Mexican choices and raffle tickets, all to benefit LOT318, a Christian organization that we also serve this area with. A colorful crowd cheers on as the battle goes on for hours between neighborhood rivals for the ultimate prize beyond glory and bragging rights – the cash prize.
This year was a special one for me. A group of high school age guys with whom I play pick up soccer in a nearby park finally put together a team by themselves and entered to this event. Our prayers have been answered and they did pretty well advancing to the quarterfinals. It was a great event for a great cause!
More or less diligently … every week our students complete their HW packets from Monday through Thursday. Around here schools slam several pages of HW on the kids on Monday and the completed work is due on Friday. Having spent a little over two full school years in our HW Club, I believe that this method of teaching is not the most conducive to learning – especially not for our kids in the barrio.
The truth is that each of these children would need an individual tutor if they wanted to learn the material to a satisfactory level and neither we nor their families can provide that help for them. We help them with a few other volunteers around the always noisy tables, as 3-4 kids constantly talking over each other asking questions from us while we are explaining something to the fifth one.
It is an extreme feat of brain work from our part trying to concentrate on a second grader’s math problem while helping a fourth grader with a social studies question, telling two others to wait for their turn and making sure another kid’s little sister doesn’t swallow an eraser. The need is enormous… We help as much as we can but it often seems so little. Yet, it is all worth it when we see the small improvements, the consistency, the motivation for wanting to become better, the joy of completion of a task or achievement of something they thought they could never do. Some of their mothers who don’t speak any English, they sit there every day and look at us with such thankful expression in their eyes, … and some are never around. But the kids are always here. And even though they don’t like homework, somehow they know that we are here for them. – We are so glad that we can be here.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37 NIV)
Please, pray with us and for us to have the continuous zeal to tackle, ease, and solve this problem!
I’m sure you know what I mean when I say that looking back on our life we can see clearly how God interfered with the way things happened, how He guided us in our decision making and how He adjusted our path when we went astray. Even way before we really cared about Him, He cared about us. He rescued us from impossible situations we put ourselves into and He created seemingly impossible circumstances just so we stayed on the path He wanted us to go on. Sometimes He allowed us to have experiences we would rather not have had and sometimes He put us through lessons we would have not chosen for ourselves. It is hard to make friends with the realization that God’s #1 concern is not our happiness, but our character, and that He doesn’t need us to fulfill His plan, yet our best choice is to go with it anyway …WHATEVER it is.
In the second half of September, during our short term mission to Budapest both Csaba and I felt a strong calling to serve in Hungary. But “our kids” were waiting for us here in Anaheim and Placentia, so although the calling was strong, we just slipped right back into our routine at home. But the Holy Spirit is not one to give up. If He decides to put a thought into your mind that thought will not stop bugging you. So while my conviction kept growing stronger about being called to serve in Hungary, I didn’t say anything to Csaba. I asked the Lord to confirm His will by putting the same strong conviction into his heart also. …But Csaba is a harder nut to crack! We have experienced it a few times in our lives that the Lord had to shut a door in front of his nose with a big bang and bolt it up several times before he would stop banging on it. His nature is never to leave anything incomplete, nor in any messy state. So even when the Lord started to make it clear to us that our calling didn’t fit well into the framework of the organization we were serving with, he just kept going on, pushing the rusty wheelbarrow uphill, no matter how hard it became. And even though the conviction in his heart for the new call was growing, the Lord had to shut the door again before he would dust his sandals and say yes to the new assignment: to prepare to serve in Hungary and to spread the Gospel to our own people.
Several years ago the original call we felt was: one day to spread Christ’s love in Hungary. This is what made us leave our home in Pittsburgh and get on the path of missionary work at the first place. For us there is no way back. We feel that this is what the Lord wants us to do. Dreams of living in our own home where the grandkids come to see Grandpa and Grandma … are put on the back burner. It will happen IF and WHEN the Lord will want it to. When we said yes to become His dedicated disciples we gave up our wants and agreed to follow His will. It is hard to stay with the plan and we fail often, but He is never late with the encouragement.
But other than our call, here are some more reasons why we should turn our attention toward Europe as a mission field:
– 750 Million people live in Europe and less than 2% of them follow Christ
– a little less than 10 Million people live in Hungary and less than 3% of them are evangelical Christians
– 19 out of the world’s 25 countries with the largest population percentage of atheists are in Europe
– Hungary has the 8th highest rate of death by suicide among 170 countries and several other European countries are close on the list
– less than 4% of Europeans attend church regularly
There are about 2 Million Hungarians living in Budapest and the vast majority of them don’t believe in Jesus Christ. This fall when we were there, we experienced this in person. As we met our fellow Hungarians and as we worked with Muslim refugees and Roma (Gypsy) families in an integration center we felt how great their need was for the love of Christ in their lives and also how open they were to listen to anything we said to them. We also saw how great the opportunity was for sowing and planting seeds in their hearts. So in this upcoming year we are expanding our ministry to Hungary and are planning to go back to the integration center two, three times for about a month to serve them.
We are planning to fill the gap as advocates between them and the social services which were designed to help their integration but are rendered almost useless by the open; even government condoned racial and ethnic discrimination in the society. They need help finding language courses, job skills training and employment. We will also continue to bring some fun in their lives in the center through craft activities and other recreational programs, which they really loved during our stay in the fall. And of course in the meantime we hope the Lord will create opportunities for us to talk to them about our faith. “I have found there are three stages to every work of God: First it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” (Hudson Taylor). We have found this to be true when we first left our family-home in Pittsburgh and moved into this barrio into circumstances we never knew existed in the United States. But the Lord has been continuously training us to step out in faith and do what He wants us to do even if it seems impossible, or totally against human reason. We only need to be obedient – He makes the rest happen. …So Hungary, here we come!
In the second half of September Csaba and I participated in a short term mission to Hungary, working with Muslim refugees and Hungarian Roma families who live in an integration center. Later we realized, this trip proved to be very significant in our discipleship journey (… but that’s a blog entry for another time).
Unfortunately, a part of the country’s population clearly doesn’t welcome refugees.
We both feel very thankful that we were able to be a part of this mission trip. It is incredible how much fit into this short time. I have always wondered about the “effectiveness” of short term missions. But we now experienced it how showing God’s love to people makes an impression “in no time” and some seeds were planted, others were watered.