Hungary: Budapest

Let’s be honest: I was really bad at blogging while in Hungary. My expectations were that I would have a leisurely moment with strong internet each day when I could sit down and recap the day’s events. The reality was running around Budapest like madwomen to see as much as we good in two days, dinners with new friends, lots of rich conversations at every turn, and not a lot of breathing time in between all of that.

So, instead, I’ll offer you some recaps and photos in retrospect. I’m also incredibly excited to get to revisit the experiences and photos. Today, let’s talk about Budapest. We (sister Sarah, aunt Alice and I) landed in Budapest on Thursday and were blown away by the hospitality of friends Sarah made on her previous mission trip to Prague. Ed met us at the airport and delivered us to our hotel, helping us navigate the bus system (it wasn’t complicated, but it definitely made it more pleasant for our travel-weary minds).

We checked in very quickly to our amazing hotel, the Mecure Corona on Kalvin Ter (ter = square, so Kalvin Square), freshened up and were off and running in the city.

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View of the Danube River from the top of Gellert Hill

Budapest is amazingly walkable, and everything we wanted to see was actually very close together. Ed pointed us in the right direction to help get us oriented, and then he left us to our own devices. We started by crossing the Green Bridge to the Buda side of the river and climbing Gellert Hill, which was steep but well worth the panoramic views of the city. From there, we could actually see almost every landmark we hoped to hit, and it was the perfect way to get our bearings and stretch after the long plane rides.

The sun was setting as we crossed the Green Bridge again to go back to Pest, and we spent the early evening wandering around Vaci Utca, a popular tourist shopping street. We all found some goodies to take home, including some paprika, which Hungary is known for. Before this trip, I had zero appreciation for the stuff, but after a week of paprika on everything, I’m way more interested in it. The street is your typical tourist shopping hub for the most part, but I loved that there were restaurants woven right into the lines of shops. Also, if you look hard enough, you’ll find some more local shops nestled in with some more unique souvenirs.

Dinner Thursday night was at Mindy and Ed’s apartment, literally a block from our hotel, with Pam, another SHARE conference staff member. Both Mindy and Pam are on staff with SHARE, although Pam lives in the States. This was my first real taste of the hospitality and kindness I was going to experience all week from people attending and helping with the SHARE conference.

We were all exhausted after the travel and exploring of the day, so bedtime came earlier than conversation would have preferred, but Friday was going to be a big day.

## Friday ##

After an amazing breakfast at the hotel – Europe seems to do continental breakfast at a

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Great Synagogue

higher level of quality than U.S. hotels – we started the day with a nice walk to the Great Synagogue, where we joined a tour. We got to learn about the history of the synagogue, which is the second largest in the world, from original plans and intentions through modern time. The history of it during World War II was fascinating and tragic, and there is a courtyard on the property that is actually a mass grave of 3,000 victims from the war. We could have easily spent much longer going through the museum, but we moved on so that we could see more city landmarks.

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Sarah and Alice in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica

We walked past St. Stephen’s Basilica, which would be a top priority to go inside if I get back to Budapest, but time crunch kept us walking across the river to Matyas Church, which was originally built in 1015, but then rebuilt in the 1300s. It was absolutely stunning, and I especially loved the similar but different designs on each column and each area of the church. Alice had been talking about trying to find a roof tile to take home that spoke to the red tile roofs prevalent around the city, and they actually were selling them at the church gift shop!

From there, we walked back across the river to Pest and walked past the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial to the 20,000 Jews shot on the banks of the river after being forced to remove their shoes. Their bodies fell into the river and were washed away. Visiting Budapest certainly made me more interested in World War II history, something I find any time I travel – visiting somewhere in person makes it so much more real.

We grabbed a very quick lunch, then on to Parliament, where we met Ed, Mindy and Pam for a tour of the building. The building is incredibly stunning, both inside and out, and there’s a lot of attention to detail in each door handle, every inch of handrails. The only place in Parliment that we couldn’t take photos was in the room that contained the crown jewels, which included the crown with the crooked cross on top. They don’t know how it got damaged, but it’s now become a symbol of Hungary and can be seen in the Hungarian coat of arms.

After so much walking already, it was a relief to hop on the metro and ride to Heroes’ Square for dinner at Gundel, which Alice had heard about from a client who had visited Hungary. The restaurant was beautiful, and we got to just relax so completely with amazing 5-star service, delicious food, and live music.

## Saturday ##

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Gellert Baths foyer

Saturday morning dawned cold and bright, but with only the morning to explore, we were out the door fast and heading to the Gellert Baths for a well-deserved soak in the thermal waters. It was quite an experience, and I truly enjoyed every minute of it. Each of the hot baths has a temperature listed with a recommended time to spend. We spent 20 minutes in one, and then 5 minutes in an even hotter bath, and by the time we were done, my legs and shoulders were completely relaxed after two intense days of walking.

From the Gellert, we went to the Great Market, a three-level indoor market right by the Danube River and Green Bridge. While much of it certainly catered to tourists, there was also fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, and a lot of Hungarian-specific products like all the paprika you could want.

We did a little shopping, then back to Ed and Mindy’s apartment to meet up with Mindy and Pam to head to Siofok.

##

Two days in Budapest was not nearly enough, but it was an amazing experience to do the whirlwind version of the city tour. I would go back in a heartbeat, and I can’t wait to potentially have that opportunity sometime in the future!

Things that really helped:

  • Having a city map. My Top 10 Budapest (DK Eyewitness Travel) book was a great resource of information about the things we were seeing and a map of the city.
  • It’s so walkable. We took the metro to Heroes’ Square, but other than that, take good walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing, and you can get anywhere you want. The bonus to walking is you really see the city piece by piece and can see all the little details like street signs and manhole covers in all different designs.
  • Hungarian is optional in Budapest. We didn’t have any trouble getting around with basically no Hungarian, and everyone we asked for directions was more than happy to help. It seems like a city that welcomes tourists.
  • Our hotel was really close to a lot of things. We didn’t really know if we would like where our hotel was – it was hard to comprehend scale on the Google map when we booked it – but Kalvin Square was really perfect for what we wanted to do. In five minutes, we could walk to multiple high-priority destinations, and 30 minutes would take you most of the places we wanted to see.
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Hungary 2019: Impact

As clean clothes dwindle, I can’t believe more than half of this trip has sped by.

I’ve connected with at least seven families this week, about 10% of the families attending the SHARE conference, which is a strange amount of work compared to my normal life. Normally, seven would be ridiculously small, but here, each conversation is unique and nuanced. Sometimes I have a lot to contribute, while other times I look around wishing I had a “real expert” to answer questions.

My work this week focuses around helping families who have questions about their children attending college in the U.S. This should be simple, but it’s not. Some families have questions about the finances specifically (Did we do enough? What else can our child do to get financial assistance?) and others don’t know where to start (How has college changed since I attended? Where do we even begin to process this huge transition?). Complicating factors, many children are moving around the world to start college while their families continue to serve overseas.

How do you start to offer peace and hope to these families? They give so much of themselves to their work; will the tiny amount I give this week really make a difference?

Thinking about it in percentages – 10% of the families here wanted to talk to me so far! – gives me evidence that I am making a difference. And a few of those will take the information I give them and pass it along to other families in the field.

Each morning, I get up, shower, get ready, and head downstairs to a gloriously vast breakfast. This morning: French toast with Nutella, fresh fruit, sausage, eggs with cheese, yogurt with musil, hot chocolate and apple juice. A little bit of each means a lovely sampling.

After breakfast, I sit near the main conference room entrance and work on emails, greet people I know and always try to meet at least one new person. You never know who might have met someone else who has questions!

After the children and teens have gone to their programs, worship and devotional time starts. The music (actually from a church in Midland, Texas!) is phenomenal and uplifting, and the pastor who leads the devotional each day is inspiring in how he speaks to the group and asks us to think and do the hard work during this week of rest. (Today, what is the set up of failure? As he worked through those signs with a biblical framework, I felt like I could have been sitting in a top-level leadership conference or in my home church. I took notes like I was in class, sent photos of quotes as Snapchats to some of my coworkers and can’t wait to go again tomorrow!)

Now, back in the hotel lobby, I send emails to anyone who has requested information (today, to a mother working through some big decisions as her oldest son starts high school). The main speaker session is in full swing, but this quiet time for me has become invaluable to collect my thoughts and hydrate.

There is one break out workshop before lunch each day, followed by a wide array lunch buffet in the hotel. This is a time to meet with families and network over food. After lunch, two workshop sessions, then free time and dinner on our own before an early (ie: normal for me) bedtime to get up and do it all again in the morning.

The connections I see building here and the work accomplished in just this week is mind blowing. These families need these resources – testing, evaluations, consultations, nurturing, love, connection, ideas, brainstorming, commiseration… from practical to-do list items to the rest and recuperation associated with time away from your office – no matter what that “office” looks like – is what the SHARE conference is about.

Thank you for reading and joining me for this journey. Knowing that so many people are cheering me on from the States gives me energy. More to follow as the week continues!

Hungary 2019: Intentionality

After such good promises to blog every day, I’ve severely fallen off the wagon for this first part of the trip. But, given a little bit of down time today, the first day of the SHARE conference, I wanted to at least acknowledge to the world that I’m here and not completely ignoring that promise.

{Before continuing to read, if you’re like me, pull up a Google map of Hungary and definitely search for all the things I mention! I’m such a visual learning, I wish I could include little maps of everything!}

I’m writing this from a lovely hotel in Siofok, which is a resort town on Lake Balaton, a huge freshwater lake and very popular location during the summer. In the winter and early spring, it’s a very quiet town. There are a few restaurants and shops open this time of year, but mostly it feels like we’ve taken over the town with people from around thw world.

On Saturday, we took the train from Budapest to Siofok and spent Saturday afternoon and yesterday (Sunday) getting settled as volunteers at the conference, finding our way around the hotel, and drinking a lot of coffee. Some of you might not know, but after years of drinking coffee almost every day, I gave it up right before Christmas cold turkey. Apparently, I’m doing my best to drink 2 months worth of coffee in the 10 days I’m in Europe!

From Thursday until mid-day on Saturday, Sarah, Alice and I did the whirlwind version of Budapest, walking many miles each day and getting to as many of the sites as we possibly could in a short 48 hours.

There’s so much to share from those two wonderful days, but the attention to detail in the old buildings and the blend of old and modern are what stuck out to me most in the city. The people we met were so kind and gracious with helping us find our way around. The city is incredibly easy to navigate and walkable – we only took the Metro to one restaurant near Heroes’ Square, which was too far to walk from our hotel at Kalvin Square. I’ll likely go back and write more about those two days, but during this coffee break, I wanted to just pop in and say a quick hi from the other side of the world.

This morning during devotional time, there was a strong message of resting and replenishing. This week, even though I’m busy with taking photos, answering parent questions and trying to bring positivity to those who give deeply every day, I’m also making a point to take time each day for my own reflection and rejuvenation. We can’t give from empty cups. That is a lesson I’ve learned over and over, especially in the last year or so.

As you start your day, wherever you are and whatever time of day you’re reading, take a moment right now to take a couple deep breaths and bring awareness to this moment. How are you? Where is your energy? What are you thinking about? Now… what do you wish you were thinking about and focusing on? What can you do in the next five minutes to bring a little more intentionality and focus to your day?

 

Hungary: Single Digit Countdown

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Just four more sunsets before we leave!

In four days, Sarah, our aunt Alice, and I will fly to Budapest for 10 days of travel, fun, learning and exploring.

This weekend, the trip feels very imminent. The trip is almost completely funded by the generosity of people in our tribe who believe in what we’re doing, and that blows me away. It also confirms so much of what I wrote in my last blog about the trip.

Last weekend, I stopped by the airport to pick up a friend, and driving up to the terminal hit me like a load of bricks. On Wednesday, I’ll be dragging a suitcase up to the check in counter, presenting my passport and boarding a plane. Suddenly, I felt anxious to get the last details sorted in preparation to leave for a week and a half.

This weekend, I’m spending a lot of time organizing life, finalizing resources to share with families in need of information on college, and getting details sorted out about the exact when and where of how things will come together.

While this particular post feels scattered and haphazard, it’s an accurate representation of what’s happening in my head. It flips between making a grocery list for the next few days and then wondering if I packed my dog enough food. I’m diligently staying caught up on my full-time job each day to ensure a peaceful departure and simultaneously making a long list of things I need to deal with when I return from the trip.

And at the core, I trust that everything will come together at the eleventh hour.

Countdown To Hungary

img_5187One month from today, I’ll get on a plane and fly farther away than I have ever traveled to help families I’ve never met and explore a country where I know about three words. Although not much has happened in the way of preparation lately, the trip seems quite imminent this week. I chalk it up to work finally slowing down enough that I can breathe and think about anything other than the new semester starting, but suddenly, it feels like I’ll be leaving any day.

There is so much more to do to prepare, but as I reflect on where I am right now, a few things stick out.

Lesson 1: It takes a village.

While at the SHARE conference, I’ll be meeting one-on-one with parents who have questions or concerns about the college experience in the U.S., so this week I started a Google Doc with a bunch of resources, steps and considerations I suspect might come up in those conversations. While it was fun to explore different resources and find some things that I hadn’t known about before, it was even more fulfilling to connect with colleagues around campus and get their input for what I should share with these families.

While there’s a lot about going to college that I could easily spout off, there’s also a lot I don’t know. The admissions process is like a mysterious second cousin to my advising world. I know where students should go, but how does that process actually work, especially for students with potentially unique high school experiences? Go to the government website to fill out FAFSA… but what resources can I hand to students so that the process is more clear? There is too much knowledge to be stored in one head. It takes a lot of us to keep this boat afloat.

Lesson 2: We are not meant to do this alone.

I can, and prefer to, do a lot of things in my life alone. An extreme introvert, I crave my quiet time, and I need space for reflection and solitude.

But humans are not meant to do things in solitude. Community and the connections it brings are what keeps people moving forward, personally and collectively. That’s why this is a conference, a gathering from all reaches of the globe. That’s why we gather on the weekends to nurture our spiritual health. Community is why we gather.

Lesson 3: You are perfect for who you need to be today; you are completely inadequate for who you need to be a year from now.

The other night, I was talking with a dear friend, and this interview with Ed Mylett came to mind in so many ways in our conversation. Please, take the time to watch it. We are all perfect exactly how we are for who we need to be today. But we all need to find a better version of ourselves for who we need to be a year from now.

I’m perfect for who I need to be in this moment, but I’m completely inadequate for who I need to be a month from now when I get on that plane. There’s work to be done.

Lesson 4: Dressing professionally in cold weather is beyond my proximal development.

Sounds silly, but it’s so true. I’ve lived in temperate climates for my entire professional career. Even in Virginia, where snow was plentiful, it melted quickly and rarely stayed below freezing for a whole day. Now I’m facing more than a week of temperatures probably not above 32 degrees, and I have very little reference for what one should wear in such a climate. Pre-packing this weekend will show if the boots and pants I recently bought will provide enough options to make it through the trip.


If you’ve been to Hungary and have any advice, I’d love to hear it!

Ways Stay in Touch:

  1. Blogging here leading up to and during the conference.
  2. Instagram @meganunedited (beware the ridiculous number of dog photos I post)
  3. Email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com for information on how to help sponsor me and my sister’s trip.

Guest Post from Sarah: Why Missions

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Sarah, from her trip to the Czech Republic with SHARE. Photo courtesy Sarah Gallagher.

This post is a guest post from Sarah Gallagher, my sister and partner in non-crime for the Hungary mission trip. If you missed earlier posts about the upcoming trip, check them out under the Hungary 2019 category. Other than deleting Oxford commas and adding links to appropriate resources she mentioned, this post is unedited.

What does everyone want more than anything else?  The answer seems obvious and yet obtuse: everyone wants to have friends, to be in relationships, and to avoid loneliness.  Solitary confinement is the most severe form of punishment. Many cases of depression, severe anxiety and other mental illnesses can be attributed to loneliness.  And still, most of us would say that we feel lonely sometimes, that our relationships have conflict, that our friends occasionally hurt us.

God created humans to be in relationships, both with one another and with Him.  In fact, God himself is in relationship. No human fully understands how the trinity works, but somehow the three persons of God (God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit of God) are in relationship with one another (see, for example, John 3:35).  Not only that, but God created humans to be close to Him, to be intimate friends with Him. This relationship without conflict is what made the Garden of Eden perfect; God and humans were living in intimate friendship without any dissension.

In contrast, humans feel lonely because of conflict.  We do things that create rifts in relationships, build walls around our hearts and protect ourselves from hurt.  Others do things to us that make us feel like we need to protect ourselves from being hurt. Christ followers would call these things sin.  Sin is an action or failure of action that puts a barrier in our relationships. Those actions or failures of action put barriers in our relationship with God as well, although we might not always be aware of that.  Sin is the opposite of love.

Throughout history, humans have sinned.  No matter how well-intentioned one might be, there comes a point at which sin happens.  We have times of selfishness, thoughtlessness, carelessness or perhaps even maliciousness.  Sometimes we do things because we are reacting to someone else’s sin; sometimes our actions propagate someone else’s sin. Either way, the result is the same: we create cracks in relationships. There is conflict, disagreement, sometimes even termination of friendships.

No matter how hard humans try, we cannot seem to get over ourselves enough to obtain what we most want – the lovely company of other people and the beautiful company of God.

Most religions espouse a view of God up on a mountain, with people trying their hardest to get to Him.  There are many paths up the mountain: Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, etc. All paths ultimately lead to God, and humans are striving to get up the mountain.

Christianity is different.  God knows that humans cannot get up the mountain under our own power.  We are too selfish, too careless, too thoughtless, and sometimes even too malicious.  We are not enough like God to climb the mountain to Him by our own strength.

So, God came down the mountain to us.  As the person of Jesus, God came down into the valley.  In order to allow us to be in relationship with Him, Jesus died and paid the price for our selfishness, carelessness, thoughtlessness and maliciousness.  He did what we could not do. He lived for 33 years without any selfishness, carelessness, thoughtlessness or maliciousness.

(This is not my mountain analogy, by the way.  I got it from a book by David Platt called Radical, and I think others have used it, too.)

Here’s the kicker, though.  Jesus’s death is only part of it.  Really, if you think about it, everyone dies.  What’s the big deal about death?

The big deal is this: Jesus rose from the dead.  He is the only lead figure of any religion to have risen from the dead. (If you want more information about Jesus’s resurrection, I would point you firstly to the biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and then to A Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.)

Christ followers believe that we can live in relationship with God and with each other because of God’s grace that he showed to us by coming to Earth, living a perfect life, dying and rising from the dead.  We are not trying to get up the mountain. We are just riding the ski lift that God built. God is making us more like Him as we ride.

This is amazing!  It is life-changing, and Christ followers want every person on Earth to have the same joy and peace that Christ followers experience.  Missions are about sending out love and peace and joy into the world in tangible ways (like building wells, feeding people, buying them livestock and teaching them to read) and in less-tangible ways (like listening to people, being a friend and sharing the source of my joy).

(Now, am I joyful and peace-filled all the time?  Definitely not. I still sin; I’m still selfish, thoughtless, careless and sometimes malicious.  But I’m on God’s ski lift, hopefully becoming less selfish, less thoughtless, less careless and less malicious than I used to be.)

And that’s it.  Missions are about loving people.  They are about doing God’s will on Earth as it is done in heaven (see Matthew 6:9-13).


Thank you Sarah for sharing your perspective! 

Ways Stay in Touch:

  1. Blogging here leading up to and during the conference.
  2. Instagram @meganunedited (beware the ridiculous number of dog photos I post)
  3. Email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com for information on how to help sponsor me and my sister’s trip.

Why Hungary? Why Now?

IMG_4789If you missed the news, I’m going to Hungary. Now, your regularly scheduled programming. 

Many people who know me might recognize that I’m not a strong candidate for missionary work. Over the last 10 years of “adulthood” (what’s adulting?), I rarely attended church (my current faith community is the first consistent one I’ve had since high school), I don’t “send prayers” on Facebook (“thinking of you” is more my style), and my version of a transcendent experience is to stand on the top of a mountain and listen to the wind.

But I do believe in education. I do believe in a higher power. And I do believe that when we come together as community, amazing things can happen.

Given that information, why would I take more than a week off work, fly half-way across the world and spend several days in a town that should probably be visited in the summer instead of February?

Let’s play pretend for just a moment.

If you were living abroad, doing work that you were called to do, there are certain things you forfeit in order to do that work. Some of them are relatively minor, like missing a niece’s birthday party or not having access to a particular kind of candy. Other things are bigger.

Now let’s pretend you have a child, and that child is consistently mispronouncing some letters. They’re young, so maybe this is normal. Maybe it’s not. What if it’s not? In the United States, you could easily set up an assessment with an English speech-language pathologist and get the whole matter sorted out, either through assurance that it’s nothing to worry about at this stage of development or through ongoing therapy.

But you don’t live in the United States. You are an expat in a country that does not speak English. How are you supposed to find out if your English-speaking child is developing properly linguistically without access to an English SLP? Do you make an expensive trip back to the States? But if it’s an ongoing problem that requires therapy, do you keep making those trips? Do you quit your work and move home?

Enter SHARE. At the conference I will be attending and volunteering at, families will have access to educational resources that might otherwise be completely inaccessible to them in their current locations. Lack of resources is a big reason why families stop their work overseas or need to buy expensive trips back to the United States to get assistance.

The young child with a speech impediment is just one example, but these kinds of issues crop up in every age group at every development level.

My role at the conference will be to assist families with teenagers in navigating the college experience. At this point, I don’t know what that is going to look like exactly, but I’m looking forward to helping these young adults develop plans for their futures and start to compile resources of their own and questions to ask as they start the process of pursuing higher education in the United States.

Traditional, four-year college is not for everyone. But education is. Whether you’re looking at a 5-year-old who is learning to tie his shoes or an 18-year-old who want to take a 12-week phlebotomy course while her best friend is gearing up to get a degree in civil engineering, education gives us freedom to make choices. The content of education is important, but teaching people to be learners is of much greater importance.


Ways Stay in Touch:

  1. Blogging here leading up to and during the conference.
  2. Instagram @meganunedited (beware the ridiculous number of dog photos I post)
  3. Email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com for information on how to help sponsor me and my sister’s trip.