Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Best Day Ever...

Okay, so it wasn’t my ‘best’ day ever. After all, I am a believer, a husband, a father and a Red Sox fan so that gives me a whole week of better days than this one day. But, this was still a pretty good day. For anyone struggling with the math, there was the day I was saved, the day I got married, the four days my children were born, and the two days the Red Sox won the World Series - in my lifetime. Thus, I’ve had seven or a whole week of better days. Alright, so this day was intrinsically better than the Red Sox winning the World Series but I needed two more days to make a week.

This most recent ‘best day’ came the Sunday before Christmas and it was quite unexpected.

In early November, David Sebens came into the library and asked for a single book, Merrill Tenney’s New Testament Survey. I told him we had it and took him directly to the book on the shelf. Then, he renewed his membership and we had a very brief conversation about what brought me to Hungary and what I’d done up until that time. Soon, he was gone.

A few weeks later we received an email from him requesting to renew the book and he asked if I’d be willing to travel to Szeged (near the Serbian/Romanian/Hungarian border) and team teach a one-day course on Paul’s New Testament Letters. I was a little surprised at this because I didn’t think he knew me well enough to make such a request. He reasoned that if I could teach kids, I could teach anyone. While I was grateful for his confidence in me, I was still a bit skeptical, yet also very excited about this great opportunity.

After a number of emails back and forth we agreed that I would teach for three and a half hours on Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians. He would cover the rest of Paul’s letters. Yeah I know it’s not much time, so survey is more than an overstatement.

I hopped on the train in Budapest around 6 am and met Dave for breakfast in Szeged. As we talked over breakfast, I found out that I would be teaching a group of church leaders from various congregations in and around Szeged. I’m not sure what I thought it would be before I knew this, but I certainly did not expect to be teaching church leaders.

First, we participated in their worship service and I was surprised by the number of songs I knew, or at least partially knew, in Hungarian. We met in the basement/underground portion of a hotel restaurant called the Port Royalle. It’s right on the Tisza River, the longest river in Hungary. The maritime theme and its proximity to borders and water made me feel right at home.

Dave began the teaching time, but was not feeling well and left after lunch. I taught for about an hour and a half before our first break. During that break, I was invited to come to several of their congregations and teach. One pastor, Miklos Hegedus, even insisted I come the very next Sunday, Christmas Sunday, and teach. I was honored.

After beginning to teach again, they asked if I would slow down so that they could write everything down. I did slow down, but also began to realize something more was happening here in this basement. I was only supposed to teach until four o’clock, but Pastor Geza came to me and said, ‘Brother, I am renting room until six o’clock. Will you teach longer?’ I love the English of nonnative speakers. He was really asking if I would teach two extra hours. Of course, I agreed to teach until six o’clock. At this point, I was humbled.

During our breaks, the translator, Eva, assured me that they were serious about their invitations. They were not just being kind; they really wanted me to come back and teach again. They really wanted to meet my family. They really wanted to have me into their homes and share my teaching with them. In fact, here is an excerpt from her email to Dave in response to the evaluation of my teaching.

We enjoyed his heart, his message and we could have stayed and talked to him for hours more. At the end he prayed for the group. It was a bit like the end of an exceptionally good film in a cinema when the lights are on, the film and even the names at the end are over, the music is still on but nobody wants to or dares to move not to break the special moment.

I do not deserve this type of complement. I will admit that I can teach - even that I am a good or possibly gifted teacher. But, I assure you on this day it was not my teaching, but their hunger that qualifies these responses. After reading Eva’s email, I was incredibly humbled.

This one day of teaching was possibly the best thing we’ve done since being in Hungary. There are places in the world that are absolutely dying for the good news. If you’re not praying for and giving to someone who is simply spreading the good news, then you should start… right now… even if it’s not the Ridgeways or Open Door Libraries.

Seriously, pray and give somewhere this year. Don’t underestimate the effect your prayers and financial gifts (train tickets aren’t free) can have on the front line.

Thanks for all that you are already doing. I hope you too are gratified by the work God is doing here in Hungary through your prayers and contributions.

Friday, November 19, 2010

'You have arrived...' (Part 2)

So in John 14:6 Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life. But what does that mean? More than just a little ink has been spilled trying to tackle that one. Those of you rolling your eyes please don’t be smug… now or ever. It’s just not becoming (and I say this having been smug more than too many times, thanks Nik). Here is the verse in it's entirety.

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Alright so ‘to the Father’ sounds like a destination and ‘through me (Jesus)’ sounds an awful lot like a trip; as in “On my way to Texas I went through Oklahoma.” Now this analogy is a little unfair because who really enjoys Oklahoma (sorry PJ)? I mean, I don’t even think I stopped for gas in Oklahoma. But you get the point. I’m gonna end part 2 with this - read John 14:5-14 and yeah I love the subtitle in the NIV ‘Jesus the Way to the Father,’ again with the traveling lingo. Here is the verse in context (thanks to

Jesus the Way to the Father

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know[a] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Now let me ask these intending provocation and not conviction:

Are you enjoying the journey?

Are you enjoying the through?

Are you enjoying Jesus?

Part 3 coming soon...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

'You have arrived...' (Part 1)

During my time int the states I drove over 8000 miles (12,875 kilometers) in 5 weeks time. Surprisingly, and thankfully, I never got lost. Many (read 'all') of the students from my youth ministry days will not believe this. They would say I am 'geographically challenged.' And they are probably correct, but I never let that stop me from enjoying the ride.

The truth is I'm as comfortable being 'lost' as I am when I know I'm on the proper course. I certainly desire the destination but not to the point of foregoing the journey. I love the journey as much as the arrival, but if you never get lost the journey could become mundane, and possibly even boring. Please, I do look forward to the destination, but I also don't want to miss anything along the way. I'm not sure of the proper phrasing but I'm only suggesting that the destination is a bonus or reward for having gone through the journey. Which is to say that we could gain something from the journey in addition to the destination.

There's a great line from an older Reba McEntire video (I know, my jaw is dropping too) where she has a family but is in college (past her 'college years') writing a paper.Somehow coffee gets spilled onto some of the pages, she turns in the same pages, gets dually rewarded with high marks and some discerning comments about the coffee stains on the paper. She responds with the line 'I learned more from the stains than the paper.' I love that line. Its sentiments encompass this journey versus destination idea. I wonder if our spiritual journey ought to be the same?

Consider Ecclesiastes 8:15 (copied below) and I'll get back to you in a few days with the next part.

'So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.' Ecclesiastes 8:15 NIV

Monday, August 23, 2010

Despair @ Kelenfold

Arriving at Kelenföld Pályaudvar (Kelenfold Station) only moments after my bus left I knew I’d be waiting more than half an hour for another departure to Diósd, our village just outside of Budapest. The time and hour were of no concern to me, save my wife would be waiting and I hadn’t a thing with me to read.
Kelenfold marks the beginning, or end, of the line for a number of transport services but also marks home to number of other services as well. This combination makes for quite a spectrum of folks. Degenerates alongside business men, alongside working girls, alongside students, alongside mothers, alongside sons, alongside young lovers and in their midst I took my seat.
Watching passer’s by transition to work, to home, to play, to nowhere in particular, I saw one of the supposed degenerates rifling, through the ashtrays engineered atop the trashcans. He scavenged for the longer cigarettes in order to salvage what un-smoked tobacco might be present. Through the station’s glass sliding doors I watched him maneuver back and forth between the two cans posted there. The doors worked wonderfully, each time he passed the doors opened, letting the heat out and the cold in to us. Whenever anyone extinguished a cigarette with which they were through, he would quickly move in on the smoldering stub. He’d snatch it, examine the leftover offering, and do one of three things.
On the occasion of some still lit but not entirely spent cigarette he’d snare the stub and frantically puff in order to keep it lit. He’d smoke it right down until the even more toxic butt began to melt and smoke and burn and bubble. Then at the seeming favor of its predecessor he’d fully extinguish the now smoldering stub.
In the case it was fully extinguished but not entirely spent he’d simply place it in his coat pocket. It was a simple motion but I’d soon learn that it was not without purpose.
On the rarest of occasions he’d find only a butt with no usable, to him, tobacco. These disappointing times, to those of us watching as well, seemed an obvious let down, and visible upon the already downtrodden man’s face.
Curious about the unspent and savored stubs securely deposited in his pocket, I continued to watch this unshaven, unwashed, and unsatisfied man. From another pocket he pulled out a collection of rolling papers. Next he began to reexamine the unspent stubs in the first pocket and finding one usable he’d remove its previous paper container and filter, if they were present. I watched him sort through 6 or 7, useless to most, cigarettes. He’d rip and tear the filter and then intently remove the tobacco from its machine rolled, man smoked state. The dark pile grew in his bone white rolling paper and eventually he quit searching the pocket of stubs and began to lick and twist and roll this unused paper filled with used tobacco.
He caught me watching once, our eyes locked and I unintentionally saw deeply into this man. He was like an owl with those dark hollow eyes, especially with a beard so long it appeared he had no neck. He looked away quickly, and I felt ashamed.
Once the geometrically correct cylinder had been made he began moving from one person to another searching out a light. Once that was found and used he sat down, like the rest of us. He smoked and apparently enjoyed himself, content with the fruit of his labor and for one fleeting moment he looked almost dignified.
I can’t possibly imagine what that menthol, 100’s, light, Camel, Marlboro, long, filtered, sometimes not, lipstick stained, alcohol tainted, tuberculosis ridden, germ infected tobacco must have tasted like. But there he sat enjoying this ‘handpicked, hand rolled’ cigarette. Once he finished the small piece of paradise he immediately returned to the cans with the trays and their constantly flowing traffic.
Now time for my departure; I headed out into the cold through the still exquisitely working glass sliding doors and took my place in line just as the light began to flash signaling the bus’s arrival. As my bus pulled up I saw a youngish man step out from the line. He removed a package of Marlboro Reds from his shirt pocket and carelessly unhinged one from the package with his lips. I was in line as he lit the world famous cowboy fag and wondered what he was doing lighting up with the bus leaving so soon. I quickly gathered that he must not be riding and was merely waiting with a companion and saying goodbye.
Frequently folks wait together, one boards while the other blows kisses or taps the window and waves. But in this case I saw no counterpart. I took my seat on the passenger side of the bus and watched this same man throw a thoroughly unspent cigarette to the curb just before we pulled out. To my shock he then boarded the bus. He threw that high priced, machine rolled, imported cylindrical package of escape that could not have been more than 1/3 spent right onto the ground.
I rode home with Sun Volt buzzing through my headphones helping to dull the light and sound of a busy bus route. As I rode I thought about these two tobacco users. I wondered what drove them, what compelled either one of them to pursue the same intoxicant. One so intent and the other so careless. I hoped the degenerate found the Marlboro, and I hope he was happy. But more than anything I wonder which of these two men truly had the greater despair, was it the degenerate owl or the pretending cowboy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nope Not Yet

A while back Beth and I were on our way to a friends for dinner and on the way over we talked about our current needs. We each shared the same concern about a vehicle for the summer traveling. Our van is just not road worthy for such a long trip, and we had posted our needs on our website and published a few other places as well. We began talking in terms of who we might be able to just ask. We had a few ideas but nothing that we were really convinced would work. Its pretty bold to just call someone up and ask to borrow their vehicle for two months and put about 5000 miles on it, not to mention the added wear and tear of 4 kids in the backseats.
By this time we were at the Gregory's. We went in with the kids, exchanged pleasantries, and began filling plates for everyone. The kids (Amber, Amy, Stephanie, Sara, Jacob, and Weston) sat at a table in the kitchen and the adults sat in the dining room with Landon. Once we were seated and began eating, about 20 minutes after our arrival, Tony and Ginger made a monthly commitment to the work in Budapest. In addition to that they offered us their 2006 Chevy Suburban for the summer. They had not even crossed our minds when we discussed this on the drive over to their house. God is taking care of us in ways we don't even think about and I'm grateful...but not surprised, after all he's already told us he would so surprise might indicate a lack of trust. Just something to think about.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Still Not Surprised

So after nearly a year of trying to convince God that, inspite of our willingness to entertain the idea to go, there really did have to be a better option. After all we had 3 kids (4 now) and as I've said we really love our Church and our community in Brownsville, TX. Why wasn't there some young college kids willing to go, someone without children, someone for whom it would cost far less to be there.
We decided we should go for two weeks and see whether or not this was work we really could do and to see if this was a place we were willing to raise a family. We spent the first week participating in nearly every activity the library has to offer. We then took the next week and visited schools where our children might attend and looking at neighborhoods where we might live. We tried to get a good 'feel' for the city and the culture.
We loved it, all of it. The library, the city, the school for the kids, and the people. But we were still convinced that someone else would be better option.
We'd been home for few months when the door bell rang one evening. Nola and I answered the door to find 3 anglo young ladies on our front porch asking to sing us a song. I said yes and they sang us a song about Jesus and love and children. Once it was finished, they began to tell us about their mission work in Mexico City.
I noticed that one of the girls had an accent and asked where she was from. I was a little surprised when she said Norway. I then told her that we were contemplating a move to Budapest where we would operate a christian library. She said, "Oh is it the Budapest Christian Library?"
Well I'm a bit of a synic so I thought to myself, of course its the Budapest Christian Library, I mean what else would you call a christian library in Budapest. But I didn't say any of this, I only said, "Yes, it's the Budapest Christian Library." Then she says, "So you know Phyllis and Andy." Phyllis and Andy are who we spent our two weeks with while in Budapest.
So all at once I'm trying to put together a girl from Norway, who is a missionary in Mexico City, standing on my front porch in Brownsville, TX, talking about a shared ministry experience in Budapest, HU. At that point, out of fear for being struck by lightning, we decided God finally had gotten our full attention and that we would indeed heed His call.
And that might be surprising but wait until you hear what happens next.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

No Longer Surprised...(Part 2)

So it all really got started nearly two years ago at a Christ in Youth (CIY) conference in Colorado. Seated in front of my youth group we began reflecting on our day at the conference and our trip overall up to that point. After some chit chat I began working through a series of questions provided by CIY. One of which was 'Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?' I was surprised when, before I had finished reading the question, I had an answer. My answer? Well in my head I thought 'I'm not living in this country.' And then continued to think 'That's ridiculous, I've never had a desire to live outside of the U.S.' But I couldn't let it go. That answer just kept haunting me throughout the rest of the evening. It even kept me up a good bit that night as I tried sleeping.
The morning after this night of unrest, it was still on my mind so I shared it with my wife. She agreed and said so with, 'That is ridiculous because I'm not living outside of the country.' So that was that. She went to a class with Mark Moore and I went to lead a Discipleship group. She had already been in Mark's class twice that week, but on this day and at this time he chose to share about his new work with The Institute for Christian Resources ( and their current need for new directors at the Budapest Christian Library ( He said the right person should have a heart for missions, ministry experience, and know something about books (i.e. worked in a library or book store). Well I qualify on all of those. In Beths words she was overcome by the spirit. And our friend Alex, who was sitting beside Beth agreed. She thought something was wrong with Beth becuase she broke out in a cold sweat, had a shortness of breath, and was nearly overcome by the anxiety she felt as she tried to contain the Spirit for an hour while listening to Mark. We have talked with Mark a number of times since and are amazed at God's working in our lives.

At this point we were still surprised by God. I mean all of this had happened so quickly that it couldn't have been anyone but God. I once heard someone say that 'timing' was the single most critical factor in a miracle. I'm not sure if that's entrirely accurate but it's certainly worth considering.
More tomorrow...