I travel to Budapest, Hungary, from November 10-21, 2017, in support of Proclaim! International, to lead worship at their annual Gathering. Proclaim! is one of our ministry partners, and they have been involved in ministry through the arts in 30 countries and five continents. This is my first time to Budapest, although I have participated with Proclaim! once previously at their Gathering in Freudenstadt, Germany.
During the time there, my primary focus will be worship leader at their main sessions. Cameron McAllister of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries will be the main speaker at these sessions. The following are some trip reports (in chronological order). Your prayers are greatly appreciated!
12 November 2017: Arrival
As anyone who travels overseas will attest, travel can get a bit blurry. Blurry countries, cultures, cuisine, and chronology. I’m trying as quickly as I can to adapt to my new time zone as well as the surroundings. I flew into Munich, Germany, transferred to Basel, Switzerland, and was driven back into Germany where I am staying with good friends and ministry partners, the Libertis. Steve and Dawn are on staff with Proclaim! International, so I am grateful to catch up with them and share this experience with them and their girls.
On Sunday, I attended a large modern church with the family and worshiped in German. It had very much the feel of a modern American church, with theater seating, darkened room with intelligent (i.e., computer-controlled) lighting, lyric screens alongside an expansive atmospheric screen, and an unapologetic industrial motif. The music oozed with thick synth pads and loops and musicians played to a click track. I listened to the sermon via an interpreter who spoke through headphones. It was very well-done, and though I couldn’t sing or understand the lyrics, the people were engaged and singing loud.
Steve also took me to visit the recording studio they are affiliated with, Janz TonStudio, which creates a lot of high-quality productions, from big rock bands to ministry-related projects to a German-language version of the Bible. Would love to record there one day.
Not much else in the way of ministry yet, so I’ll just skip to the fun facts.
• The German reputation for exactitude is well-founded. Though we are in the midst of several small towns which punctuate the picturesque countryside, everything is clean and tidy and punctual and right where it should be. Even farms and construction sites have a “just picked up and dusted” look to them. And their firewood (stacks and stacks of it all along the countryside!) are pridefully cut and fitted and stacked in perfectly fitted rows.
• I always try to eat local cuisine when I travel. So far, I’ve tried the schnitzel, pumpkin soup (which is quite popular here), and local schnapps. Dawn made raclette for dinner. More to come!
• At the church we attended, they handed out Gummi Bears during the offering. Yum.
17 November 2017: Budapest
I am now firmly settled in Budapest, and have begun leading worship for the Proclaim! Team. It is great being able to lead a group of artistically savvy and spiritually willing people, who share genuinely intimate, biblical community. There are people here from Germany, France, Peru, Croatia, Canada, Belarus, Italy, and the US, sharing stories of trips to China, the middle East, Africa, and around the globe Frankly, I have such high esteem for this group of missionaries—for where they go, what they do, and the price they’ve paid to do it—that I am naturally humbled in their presence.
I am leading worship in morning and evening worship sessions for five days. Speaking is Cameron McAllister of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, who is presenting some well-informed (and quite fascinating) talks on the anthropological and theological implications of our world today. More on this in a future blog. In the middle of these sessions, we are doing a little sightseeing and window shopping and occasional napping.
• Hungarian food: Not a fan. They do really good soups, but the other foods seem a little off from my American pallate. It’s hard to put my finger on it, other than to say that there seems to be a lack of taste. Like dorm food, but more exotic.
• Some of you know that a number of people donated funds to purchase Steve Liberti (and the German Proclaim! Team) a WalkaBout. Everyone here seems to like it very much, and I am incorporating it into most of the worship sessions. I am using a combination of more established worship songs with newer ones, which I think is okay since this is a pretty musically sophisticated group.
• Dawn Liberti is our self-proclaimed tour guide, and she’s been leading people into the downtown area of Budapest. It’s a beautiful area, with it’s own version of old/new Europe, and the weather has been quite good for this time of year. I’ve attached a few pics of our adventures.
The people of Proclaim! International are a group of artsy, musically inclined people, so I’ve felt the freedom to be able to get out of the box a little bit during our worship times together. I’ve also been given a one hour block of worship each morning, so that gives me more opportunities to stretch out a little.
One thing I’ve done is led them in a visio divina, which is similar to lectio divina, only instead of contemplating a passage of Scripture or written word, participants are encouraged to prayerfully contemplate a visual image, to see if God is speaking to them through it. I’ve also set up an impromptu drum circle during one of the sessions, using a few volunteers, and led worship through that medium. And I’ve designed each session to incorporate ancient-future elements of worship. In addition, during each morning session, I’ve encouraged anyone who feels led to play with me, which has given different people the opportunity to lead as well. So far, the Proclaim! participants have been quite kind and willing to go where I lead them. Which is quite gratifying and humbling.
One thing of note has been the concept of worshiping in different languages. While some countries have been pretty good at writing native worship songs, the majority of evangelical worship here is English speaking songs (e.g., Hillsong) translated into the native language. The problem is, not all languages are created equal (phonetically speaking). Someone told me that there is a saying about European languages: “Italian is sung, French is spoken, and German is spit.” And I admit, the worship songs I experienced in Basel were quite guttural. Also, there is so much metaphorical meaning lost when one tries to translate poetry, which is what song lyrics are. It makes me think about how difficult it is to properly translate the Bible, of which many portions are poetic (including the first part of Genesis, the prophetic books, and the Psalms).
I’ve been approached by a number of Proclaim! members about participating with them in one tour or another. I am open to God’s open doors, but I also want to prayerfully consider them (with Debbie!) before making any commitments. Stay tuned for 2019…?
• Budapest has an old world/new world charm to it, and is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It is a world class city with bustling commerce, technology, arts, and entertainment. The Danube river gently meanders through the city, punctuated by a series of bridges, each a photo opportunity in its own right. And yes, the Danube is amazingly blue at night.
• Some of us were able to hike out to the Shoes on the Danube Promenade, a memorial dedicated to a large number of Hungarian Jews who were stripped of their shoes, executed, and thrown into the river during the latter part of World War II. It was a somber memorial, a large grouping of metal shoe statues at bank of the river signifying where the victims had stood.
• I’m still having trouble sleeping through the night. My body just won’t fully cooperate with the time zone. Almost every evening, I’ll wake up around 2:30 or 3:30 AM, thinking it is 6:30 AM. Then comes the difficult task of forcing myself back to sleep. I’ll be happy to be back in my own bed and time zone soon!
• Though beautiful here, it is cold! It is in the forties (Fahrenheit), but the air is quite wet, and the wind will whip right through you. Good thing I brought my scarf, ear muffs, gloves, and long underwear.
20 November 2017: Final Moments
We concluded our time together this evening with a contemplative gathering, giving thanks and praying for one another, culminating in communion. It was both meaningful and rich, relationally and spiritually speaking. It was a great ending to a great week.
All told, I led worship for ten sessions, with a worship team and also by myself. My voice is raw and my sleep-deprived body is drained, but I am spiritually encouraged. More so, I feel like I’ve made quite a few new friends, as well as deepened relationships with a number of others I’ve known before.
During our time together, I was also taking mad notes on Cameron McAllister’s five lectures. He unpacked some quite deep thoughts in some very accessible ways, including: the nature of happiness, the concept of the “social imaginary,” the allure of atheism (in contrast with the Medieval and Christian views of the universe), scientism (the philosophical faith that pervades much of modern science), and how to disagree while remaining friends (this one is more relevant now than ever). These talks were peppered by deep thoughts, logical arguments, and the continuing reminder to love God and love others. It will take me awhile to unpack all that I’ve heard and thought through.
One thing that happens when you hang out with missionaries all day is that you really get a sense of God being bigger than the culture you live in. Having lunch with people ministering in China, and hearing what God is doing there, along side of people ministering in Eastern Europe and in South America, can give you a sense of how myopic one’s own view can be. And also how broad and dynamic the activities of God in the world are.
There is also a sense that the universal church is a much grander expression of Imago Dei than one typically thinks. Those of us in the US think like Americans without ever thinking about our thinking. And so we tend to think that God thinks that way too. Being in a cross-cultural context helps to remind us that God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.
• Steve and Dawn Liberti took me to St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is a stunningly beautiful cathedral in the Jewish Quarter of downtown Budapest. It is possibly the most beautiful cathedral I’ve seen, with paintings, statues, marble and gold leaf adorning every nook and cranny of it’s cross-shaped interior. It’s also a working church, and we stumbled upon the “soundcheck” of the massive organ prior to a concert later that evening. It was a quite reminder to me of the eternal God, who is worshiped from century to century, age to age.
• What the heck, Starbucks? You’re everywhere.
• Here are a few little differences between Europe and the US. Toilet paper doesn’t seem to be as soft. They have all the same car manufacturers, but none of the same models. Printer paper is longer by a half inch. Large European cities are generally cleaner and have less graffiti. They really know how to do public transit better here. Pastries are generally not quite as sweet. European cities are generally older and have more old-world character. Money can get quite confusing in Europe, as not every country uses Euros. People here are generally not as overweight. Germany and other European countries use daylight savings time also. Food can be terrific, but breakfast is still the best at home (‘Murica!).
• Currency (paper money and coins) around the world are colorful and sturdy and creative. US currency is monochromatic, staid, and boring.
• Budapest (prounounced Bood-a-pesht) became a city when the towns of Buda and Obuda on the west bank merged with Pest on the east bank. (Thank you Wikipedia!) Somehow, I just know this is gonna come up on Jeopardy one day.
22 November 2017: Uber Hammer!
Steve Liberti informed me at the beginning of my trip that the German word, “hammer,” is young person slang for “awesome.” And this trip was more than awesome. It was uber hammer.
There were certainly many memorable moments, and many more moments that have simply mashed into my sleep-deprived memory. Worshiping together, making good music with talented musicians, connecting conversations with people around the world, exceptional teaching and heartfelt prayer, and the occasional sightseeing adventure. But now—sitting in the airport waiting for my final leg before I crash into my bed—all I feel is thankfulness.
Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. And I cannot help but reflect on all the things I am thankful for. My wife, my childen, my friends, my music, my calling, my life, my church, my God. It is certainly much much more than I deserve. I feel so very grateful for it all. This trip, which has taken me away from my family right before Thanksgiving, has done much to foster a sense of thanksgiving in my heart.
This is my ninth short-term overseas missions trip. And I can’t begin to tell you how important and meaningful and life-changing it is to be a part of what God is doing in the world.