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Sunday School Picnic & Welcome for Pastor Dan

Please join us for SS kick-off & Welcome Picnic. Everyone is welcome. Meat will be provided. Bring a salad, side, chips or dessert to share. Following Worship

Sabbatical 2013

Building Bridges

13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.   1 Corinthians 12:13


Tuesday August 27, 2013                   Sabbatical final comments …(?)


Exodus 20:9-11  9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work-- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.


Since I have been home, understandably, one of the first questions people ask me is, “How was your sabbatical?” The short answer is that it was very good. Reflecting on this past summer I am becoming more aware of the fact that the reason the sabbatical was as good as it was, wasn’t because I was gone, or that Deb and I got to travel. What made the sabbatical so good was because it had balance.

There was time for Biblical learning and experiencing through the Apostle Paul tour. There was a time of practical learning and experiencing through working with the Hungarian Roma mission camp in Ukraine. There was a time to be with my family. We had time with our children as well as with some of my brother’s and sisters’ families as we shared in the weddings of two nieces and a nephew. There was even a little bit of alone time that I had with just me and my horse. All in all, there was a good balance. That is the purpose of a sabbatical …to help a pastor to find balance. In that respect, the sabbatical was a complete success. The challenge for me as I head back into the realities of pastoral ministry is to find ways of continuing that balance.

I know that pastors are not the only ones who lead demanding, busy, and sometimes overwhelming lives. Demanding, busy, and sometimes overwhelming is part of the definition of what it means to live in our society in our world today. There are many things that make demands on our attention and our energy; from work to family and sometimes even our health. Our lives become out of balance when one aspect of our lives requires more of our attention, time, and energy. When our lives become out of balance we can suffer physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We lack wholeness. When Jesus says, “your faith has made you well,” he is not just talking about physical wellness. He is talking about and concerned with our wholeness: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

What we have come to label as the fourth of the Ten Commandments of keeping the Sabbath is not just another rule for us to follow or a way to try to encourage more people to be in church on Sunday. “Keeping the Sabbath” is an instruction for what is necessary for us to experience wholeness. “Keeping the Sabbath” is a requirement to keep balance in our lives. When we have balance in our lives we find that we experience the wholeness that Jesus desires for each of us.

Finding and keeping balance in our lives is an easy thing to talk about, but a difficult thing to accomplish. As we continue to journey through our lives, may we look to God for the comfort and the strength we need to experience that balance and wholeness that God desires for us. May we look to Jesus as an example and the path to finding that wholeness.

                                                                                    Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace,

                                                                                    Pastor Keith


July 31 Wednesday

It has been good for me to have daily chores again as I spend time with my horse here in the Black Hills. Since my horse is in a small corral I have to make sure he is fed and watered every day. I have to clean out his corral pen. It also give me the opportunity to brush him and ride him …pay attention to him and his needs. While at times this might be considered to be “chores,” the bonus to this is that while I am taking care of him and paying attention to him, I am also building a connection with him …building a relationship with him, such as it is. When you have to take care of a horse every day you can build a relationship with the horse in a way that a person doesn’t when the horse is in the pasture. In the pasture a person pretty much just assumes that the horse can take care of itself. It is often not thought too much about until you want to ride it again.

Our relationships with other people are much like that as well. When we take the time to spend with other people we start to make connections. When we pay attention to the needs of others we start to build a relationship. In other words, our relationships need to be “fed” and “water” and cared for on a regular basis in order for our relationships to grow and be strengthened. This is true for our relationship with others. This true for our relationship with God.

Too many times we, in a sense, put our relationships “out to pasture.” We assume the relationship will just take care of itself …that it doesn’t need tending to. Most of the time we do not do this on purpose. We live busy and demanding lives. We have other concerns and worries. There are certain things, like our relationships that get neglected a little. This can especially happen when we assume that things are going well or at least “ok.” We lose connection with others. Our relationships are weakened, if not totally non-existent.

My time here in the Hills with my horse has reminded me that I need to work at daily paying more attention to my relationships and to my ministry …feed them, …water them, …spend time with them. Neither one can be taken for granted or assumed that things are where they should be. Sometimes this will be a “chore.” But it will always be a relationship building experience.

Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.


July 30 Tuesday

Now comes the reflective time of the sabbatical. I once had someone who rode a motorcycle tell me that riding a motorcycle was one of the most freeing experiences he has ever had. It was when he was riding his motorcycle that the cares of the world seem to peel away and he was just free to think and to be in the time …no problems …no worries. Many of you might be able to relate to that experience, only maybe in different ways. For some of you it might be sitting on the river or a lake with a fishing pole in your hand. Others it might be driving a convertible. Some it might be quilting, gardening, or some other hobby. For me that experience comes best in one of two ways …on the back of a horse or camping.

And so it is that during this time of reflection I am doing both. Currently I am camped in the yard of Deb’s dad’s Custer cabin with my horse in a corral about fifty yards away. This quiet time alone will give me some time to spend with my horse who has been sadly neglected the past few years. But more than that this time will give me the space and the freedom to reflect on this past summer’s experience and what it might mean for me and for our ministry together as a church. It will also give me the time to go through, work on, and organize some two thousand plus pictures.

So now begins the time of reflection…

Sunsets and friendships


The sun is setting in the west

It is time for us to go

Will we ever meet again?

Sadly, we do not know


For distance has us far apart

And time in short supply

Before you know it, the days …the years

Too quickly pass us by


While we do not know what the future holds

We do know what has been

The people we have met and seen

The stranger now a friend


They have touched our lives in special ways

We are changed because of them

They have shaped us to who we are

From love that is within


And so to all of you encountered

Somewhere along the way

It is for you I give God thanks,

You’ve made me who I am today

                                Keith C Kraft


Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace




July 26 Friday,  

It has been awhile since I have written anything concerning sabbatical happenings. Since we have gotten back from our time at the Roma Mission camp in Ukraine Deb and I spent a couple of days in Denver at Andrew and Jess’. From there we went to Cedar Rapids Iowa to my sister Nancy and brother-in-law, Randy’s place. There I had the privilege of performing a wedding for my niece Jennifer and her fiancé, now husband, Sean. We wish them well in their new life together.

After the wedding, Deb and I made a quick trip back to Mobridge to pack and pick up the camper. We are now enjoying some time around Custer State Park in the Black Hills. It is one of mine and Deb’s favorite places to escape to for a little retreat. It is one of the few places that it seems we can relax and not feel like we need to go somewhere or do something. I am continuing to try to put into practice an attitude of “semmi baj” “no problem” but it doesn’t always work.

Speaking of “semmi baj,” the other day Deb and I were taking in one of our favorite things to do in Custer State Park, and that is to drive the Wildlife Loop. While driving the Loop we happened upon the herd of bison on the road so we got an “up close and personal look” at them, but they were also blocking the road. I thought, “semmi baj” “no problem.” I have driven through a herd of bison before. You just ease on through them much like you would a herd of cows only a little more cautious.

Well we got about half way through the herd when we came upon one big, and I mean big bull on one side of the road and another big, and I mean BIG bull, on the other side of the road and they were growling at each other. I have no idea what they were saying but I am sure that they were talking “smack” to one another. Now, I am thinking, if they decide to get into it with me in the middle we could have a big problem. So we just ease on back a little ways to give them some space until they ignored each other. I was hoping one of them wouldn’t try to show off his “manliness” by tossing our car around …which I am sure he would have had no problem doing. We waited about 15 minutes before we eased between them. Semmi Baj, no problem, but it was a little tense for a while there.  

Just wanted to give you a little update on things here on sabbatical. We are still processing the events of the summer. I am starting to relax as Deb is starting to wind up for another year of teaching school.


Tomorrow, yesterday, & today

Tomorrows will never come

And yesterdays are in the past

Today is all we have

It will be that way until the last


And yet yesterdays are what shape us

And tomorrows give us hope

Together they give us strength

For the todays with which we cope

                                                Keith C Kraft

Aldas bekesseg, …blessings and peace


 July 12 Friday

Amy Lester, an intern with the Reformed Church of Hungary in Budapest through Global ministries asked me to write a little summary of our mission experience with the Roma mission camp in Csonkapapi Ukraine.  The following is what I wrote and sent to her.



Mission Experience observations

Deb and I journeyed to Hungary and Ukraine as part of my Sabbatical 2013 experience and learning. The purpose for this journey was really two fold. One was to expand our understanding of the world and its people by experiencing another culture. We also wanted to see if other cultures, where two different cultures live together, experience some of the same challenges that we do where the white culture and the Native American culture live together in the same communities. Before I even attempt to put down my thoughts I would just like to remind you and myself that these are only my thoughts based on my limited experience, understanding, and especially limited wisdom.

First of all let me say that we had a wonderful experience at the Roma Mission camp in Csonkapapi Ukraine. Attila and Livia were wonderful hosts. They made us feel welcomed at the camp and were very helpful in helping us work through some of the language and cultural barriers that were very much a part of the mission experience. They do very good and important ministry at the camp. One of the things that I appreciated about the mission camp is that the mission went well beyond the camp and out into the Roma communities. The Roma Mission camp is tied to mission schools and children and youth outreach programs in several Roma communities throughout the area of Ukraine. The people who work with the leadership of each week of camp are the same people who have been working with the children and youth throughout the whole year.

I have been trying to figure out the best way for me to illustrate how I interpret the Roma Mission camp fits in within the whole of the Roma mission within the Reformed Church of Hungary (RCH) of Ukraine. It is as if the camp is the hub from which other missions reach out into other Roma communities. And yet, the camp is not meant to be the center of Roma mission outreach. It is the missions within the Roma communities that is the main importance of RCH mission, or at least should be. As Attila told me, “The Mission camp is the end of the year “celebration” for the children who been participating in the mission schools and outreach programs within the communities. In other words, while the Mission camp in Csonkapapi might not be the hub of the missions, it is that which ties and holds the other Roma youth outreach missions together. I will let Attila, Livia, or someone else who is involved in the mission more intimately correct me if I am wrong, but that is how I experienced it. It seems to be a pretty good system and seems to be working for them.

Deb and I spent most of our time at the mission camp so we did not experience much interaction in between the Roma culture and the more dominate (for lack of a better term) Hungarian/Ukrainian culture. I cannot judge whether there is deep seeded prejudices or racism, or simple indifference or general concern towards the Romas from Hungarian/Ukrainian people. I would guess that attitudes towards the Roma population runs through all of these attitudes. It just depends on who you talk to. That is one of the similarities between Roma and Hungarian/Ukrainian relationship and the Native American and White relationship.

The other similarity in relationships between the two cultures both in Hungary/Ukrainian and the US is the trust issue. Both groups of people struggle with trusting the other. Trust is probably one of the most important if not the most important aspect when it comes to building relationships, not only between groups of people but between individuals as well. If there is not trust, the relationship will always struggle. Trust is also one of the most difficult aspects to build and one of the easiest to break. The Mission camp in Csonkapapi and the mission schools have got a good beginning in building that trust. We must always remember, trust is a fragile thing.

Some of the similarities between the Roma population and the Native American population as a whole is the poverty and the hopelessness. When I say hopelessness I am referring to the sense that this is the way things are and this is the way things will always be. “Life will not get any better for us.” Both the Native American population and the Roma population have adapted well to their circumstances and have an amazing sense of humor and attitudes in spite of the realities within which they live. But there is a desire, as there should be, for something better.

Overall the poverty and the living conditions are probably more severe among the Roma population. There is very little, if any plumbing in the Roma villages and most homes consist of one, two, or three room houses with multiple families with 10 – 20 people living in one house. Bathrooms consists of outdoor pit toilets. If they are lucky they will have one for their house. Some settlements have just two or three for the whole Roma camp.

Roma camps, as they are called in Hungary and Ukraine are usually on the edges of villages. While, unlike the Native American population in the US, the Roma population does not have designated land assigned to them for which to live. But what the government has not done, society and survival, in their own way has done, separating the Roma population from the mainstream of society. Not only has society pushed the Roma population to the margins of the villages, they are also on the margins of society as well.

Now, as I talk about the poverty and living conditions of the Roma population we must also remember that the overall living conditions in Hungary and especially in Ukraine are not what we experience in much of the United States. While I recognize that there is great poverty in places in the US, most of the population of the United States would be considered very wealthy in comparison to what we experienced in Ukraine.

Lack of education is an issue in both the Native American population and the Roma population, but again I would say it is a much greater problem within the Roma communities. Very few, if any of the adults who live in the Roma camps have much, if any education. Again, please recognize that I am making general statements about a population that does not hold true to the whole population. I have heard that there are some Roma individuals who have gotten an education and are doing quite well for themselves. This is the exception rather than the rule. Most have not and many of the children today do not go much beyond the fourth grade due to many circumstances, many of the societal.

The lack of education, while it is a huge issue, also brings with it an opportunity within the Roma community that we do not have in the same way here within the US. That opportunity is the opportunity to do missions and that is what the Roma Mission Camp in Csonkapapi and the mission schools have recognized and are working with. They have the opportunity to start mission schools that will take the children through the fourth grade. After fourth grade the children then have to be integrated into the public school which is a whole new issue in itself. But up until the fourth grade the children can attend a mission school right in their Roma camp …that is, provided they have the facility and qualified teachers. That is a huge obstacle.

But if they can overcome that obstacle, these mission schools not only have the opportunity to change these children’s lives through education, but also through sharing with them the Good News of God’s love and grace. The hope is to teach them a better way of living and being in relationship with one another. The Chance for Life Foundation of which the Roma Mission Camp in Csonkapapi is a part, has recognized that if you want to change the circumstances of a particular population of people, you have to start with the children while working with the adults. You will have limited success if you do not have the support of the adult population.

Now we must also recognize that education is only part of the problem with both the Roma and the Native American populations. Opportunities and lack of opportunities is just as big of an obstacle for both the Roma and the Native American people. Opportunities for both populations are limited due to issues of prejudice, lack of financial and material resources, cultural differences, and other obstacles put in place by society.

One of the positives that we have, at least within the South Dakota conference of the United Church of Christ is that we have some established leadership within the Native American churches. In the Dakota Association. Native American leadership is still a concern as many of our Native American pastors are getting older and there is a concern with who will replace them. At least for now we have some leadership to work with. Our challenge here within the South Dakota conference is to figure out “how” is the best way to work with the Dakota Association leadership that is already established. The Reformed Church of Hungary needs to figure out how to establish some leadership within the Roma communities.

Here are some universals. All children desire and need attention. Children, as they get older seek to establish their own identity and many of them do not know how to do that in positive ways without guidance. The younger the child, the more willing they are to learn. Not speaking the same language creates barriers. Love and respect are universal languages. It is amazing what you can communicate through knowing only a few words, phrases, and some animated sign language. We are all God’s children, loved and cared for by God. All God’s children deserve a chance for life.

All in all, Deb and I had a very positive, learning, and growing experience in our time at the Roma Mission camp in Csonkapapi. I only have one regret and that is that I wish I would have known more of the Hungarian language. Communication is such an important aspect of building relationships and I wish I could have communicated more with the people with which we worked and met in our time in Hungary and Ukraine.

Would I do it again? ...in a heartbeat if money and time were not such an issue. But next time I would start sooner on learning the languageJ Aldast bekesseg …blessings & peace, Keith.



July 7 Sunday

The symbolic mission tree

When we arrived at the Hungarian Roma Mission camp in Csunkapapi Ukraine they had already been experiencing several days of warm dry weather. In spite of the heat, the flower garden that graced the square in between the kitchen building and the sleeping quarters showed its beauty with roses and pink lilies in full bloom and other flower plants waiting to show off their full beauty. Everything was green and beautiful …everything that is except for a small tree at the south end of the flower garden.

The tree at the south end of the garden stands about eight to ten feet tall and has long droopy leaves. When we arrived the leaves on this tree were all brown. The tree looked absolutely dead …beyond hope of reviving. When I asked Attila about the tree, if it had been dead long and if they were planning on taking it out, he moved back some of the dead leaves to show three very small green leaves on a branch. He commented that Livia thought that the tree would come back.

Livia was right. Livia and her mother pruned all of the dead leaves off of the tree. The weather cooled down and some rain came. Three weeks later the tree is almost fully covered in green leaves with no hint of dead and dried up leaves to be seen.

How often do we not look at mission opportunities as dried up and lifeless trees? We look at a mission opportunity and all we see hopelessness. Why help those people? They will never change. They will only take advantage of our assistance. Things will always remain the way they are. We see little or no hope of change in the situations of society and circumstances of the people we are seeking to help. They do not really care to change and the circumstances of society will not allow change to happen. There is little reason to try to change the situation or help because things and people will always remain the same. There is very little chance of renewed spiritual life in the people we are seeking to help. We see little or no hope of life.

And yet where we see death, God sees life. Where we see hopelessness, God sees hope. Our challenge is to look beyond the death and hopelessness that we see with our eyes and see the hope that we can only find in the God who loves all people and all of creation. We are not called to pass judgment on what is a viable mission or ministry. We are only called to do mission and ministry, even in places that seem hopeless. We are called into the mission and ministry fields to work. It is only God who can bring about the change. It is only God who can bring life out of death. That is the message of the resurrection.

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25

Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.


July 6 Saturday


With being on an 8 hour different time zone it is hard to remember what day what things happened. Anyway, Thursday morning we got up early because we needed to cross the Ukraine/Hungary border. It opened at 7:00 AM and there was usually a line to cross so Attila wanted to get there early. The goal was to get us to a village about an hour’s drive into Hungary so that Deb and I could catch a 10:15 passenger train into Budapest. Otherwise it would have taken Attila the whole day just to take us to Budapest and drive back.


Even with getting to the border 20 minutes before it opened we found ourselves in a long line. It took us an hour and a half to get through the border. The Ukraine side mostly just checked our passports. The Hungarian side checked out our vehicle and we all had to get out of the van. The border guard opened Deb’s suitcase a little bit and saw all the clothes waiting to bust out and decided he had seen enough and told us we were good to go.


We made it to the train just in time to get on and sit for about 5 minutes and we were off to Budapest. 3 ½ hours later we were at the Budapest train station where Amy was waiting to show us the way back to where we were staying. We had a little time in the afternoon so Deb and I went and walked around the castle that overlooks Budapest. We then met Amy again for dinner.


The travel home began at 3:00 AM Budapest time as we had a 6:30 AM flight out. 12 hours later plus 8 hours for a time change we are walking into Andrew and Jessica’s house in Denver at 6:30 PM. It is good to be back where things are more familiar and family is closer. But I do have to admit I do miss the Tomes family and the friends that we made while in Ukraine and in Hungary.


It is nice to be back around where the majority of the people speak English. I do not know if I am even yet fully aware of how much the language barrier can add stress. Thankfully Attila and Livia spoke very good English. But very few other people spoke English and as you got further into Ukraine the language was Ukrainian instead of Hungarian. If I had one regret it would be, not that I wished more people spoke English it is that I wished I knew much more Hungarian. Language is an important aspect for building relationships and when you cannot communicate much beyond “Good day,” or “thank you” though these are appreciated, they do not do much for building strong relationships.


The little language I did know and my willingness to try to learn was appreciated and I think at times a point of humor. It is amazing what you can do with a few simple words and animated sign language. All in all, it was a good time and a very positive experience in Ukraine at the Roma Mission camp. Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.



July 5 Friday

     Just wanted to let you know that Deb and I are back in Denver.  We have been up for about 24 hours straight now so my brain isn't functioning properly.  I will write more about our time in Budapest and our trip home tomorrow. 


July 3 Wednesday

     As the sun is setting on Csunakapapi, so it is also setting on our time here at the Hungarian Roma Mission Camp in Ukraine. Deb and I will be leaving here early tomorrow morning to head back to Budapest. We fly out of Budapest early Friday morning. It is hard to be that our time here is complete and we are leaving with very mixed feelings. We have been gone from home now more than five weeks now and we have made some very good friends here in Csunakapapi. With the distance between Csunakapapi and South Dakota, we do not know if we will ever see again the good friends that we made. But who knows. Maybe we will be back again.

     While we do not know what the future holds, we do know what has been, the friends we have made, the special ways that they have touched our lives, the experiences we have had and the ways that our lives have been changed and shaped because of them. For that we can always give God thanks. Thanks to Attila, Livia, and all who have made our time in Csunkapapi so special and meaningful. May God continue to bless the Roma mission camp in Csunkapapi, the leaders, and the hard and important work that they do.

For our last day here in Ukraine we visited the Roma camp where Nadia does her mission work. We visited the home of some of the children who came to the Mission camp that first week. The house is a three room house with two sleeping quarters and a common kitchen and entry area. This house is shared by two families. One family has 5 children and the other family has 7 children with one on the way. The children were glad to see us. The young girls were especially glad to see Mariah and Carola. As always, it was a good experience for us to see where the children live.

Well I could probably write more, but with the early morning start tomorrow it is time for me to call it a night. Tomorrow we head for Budapest. Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.


July 2 Tuesday

Jo elet! Life is good or at least getting better at the Hungarian Roma Mission camp in Ukraine. The camp minivan is back running after not working for a month. Attila had to get a new power steering unit put in it. The parts finally came and the people working on it could finally work on it. Around 9:00 PM last night Attila and Livia went to Munkacs to pick it up. So today we could finally use the camp’s minivan instead of trying to find something to borrow, especially something big enough to haul 9 of us.

Today we spent a relaxing day with the family and Mariah and Carola. First we went to Munkacs for a little shopping for things that were needed. We then took a short drive into the Transcarpathian Mountains. There we took a short hike up the mountain to what used to be the hunting residence of the family that used to live in the castle in Munkacs. Now the building is used for spa therapy, tourists, and those who just want a quiet place to retreat to for a few hours. It was quiet and peaceful even with the people who were there. We really weren’t all that far from the highway, but you could not hear the traffic.

There is also a natural spring there that legend has it if you wash your face in the water you will look years younger. Don’t be surprised if Deb and I look much younger when we get back home. It is because of the spring water we washed in.

After our time at the retreat center we drove a little further down the road and found a restaurant next to the river where we could eat outside. It took a while to get our food, but the food was good and the atmosphere in the outdoors was great. We ended the day with me showing Tomes family and Mariah and Carola pictures from South Dakota, and Mobridge. Some of the pictures I had were from last years’ 4th of July rodeo. I will miss being there for that this year. All in all it was a good and relaxing day. Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.


July 1 Monday

Today Deb & I and the two young ladies from Holland, (now that our time here is about over maybe I should give them names) Mariah and Carola went with Attila to Munkacs (sounds like moonkach). Attila could finally get the power steering on the camp minivan worked on. They figured they could start work on it around 11:00 AM and be done in a couple of hours. We would do some touring of Munkacs while we waited. Before we even got to Munkacs the repair shop called and said the parts would be there until 2:00 PM …probably done around 4 or 5 if all goes well. Well, not all goes well. After 5 hours of walking and sightseeing around Munkacs we come back to find out it could be another 5 hours as they ran into more problems than expected. Such it is.

With this turn of events Attila tells us that the owner of the shop will take us to the bus station and we will take public transportation back to the camp. We were waiting at the bus station for a short direction he can give us a ride part way back to camp. After he drops us off at a village most of the way back to camp we wait for another public bus. After waiting again for a short time another bigger van pulls up, the driver knows Attila and offers us a ride to Csonkapapi. So our ride home on public transportation bus ended up not to be and we got back to camp much faster and easier than we expected. Deb and I have decided that to survive in Ukraine you need to be resourceful, take advantage of opportunities, willing to adapt your plans, and willing to wait if you have to.

It was a good day in Munkacs. We walked through some shops, ate lunch, and hiked up to an old castle in the middle of the city. We also had the opportunity to ride the public transportation in Munkacs. Public transportation in Munkacs consists of an old buses with seats for about twenty riders. We had around forty people in the bus we were in. Again it has been a good day for experiencing the Ukrainian and Hungarian culture. Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.


June 30 Sunday

It was another good day in Ukraine. Today we went to worship at the church where the children live who were at camp this past week. The children were very excited to see us, (I think mostly Attila and the two young ladies from Holland) when we came driving in. Many of the boys chased after the van when they realized that it was Attila driving and followed us until we got to the church. Before we went to church we visited the Roma Mission School where the children attend up until the fourth grade. After the fourth grade the children are then required to attend the public school. Shandor, who is the education director for the school said that unfortunately many of the children will not go beyond the fourth grade because of the many challenges they face …only about 12 out of 100 will go on.

The classrooms are small but they are brightly painted and very welcoming for the small children. The children receive two meals each day when they are in school. The meals are important. But the education is just as important. Meaning, do not just send your child to school so they get fed. The parents need to understand and value that a good education is important. The school is right behind the church. In fact some of the classes are held in the church building.

The small church building was pretty full. Many of those in worship were the children that were in camp this past week. I would guess that two thirds of those in worship were under the age of 12. (That is not considering the 9 of us …Attila, Livia, and their children, the two young ladies from Holland and Deb and I.) There were a few ladies there but very few men. Again, the men are away looking for work in other parts of Ukraine and in Russia. The young man (around 14 years old) who played the keyboard at camp also played the keyboard for worship. One thing that I am going to miss when we leave is hearing the Roma music, especially the young children singing. When they know the songs they sing from the heart. They are truly a part of God’s angel choir.

One of things I am being to think is that I need to warm up on my preaching. The Hungarian preachers we have heard while we were here both preached over half an hour sermons. I think I may have to rethink how short my sermons are and start to lengthen them. (If this were a Facebook post I wonder how many likes I would get with that idea.) J

Anyway, after worship we went to another village with another Roma camp. There we delivered a roll of linoleum for flooring. They have just built a small building I am guessing around 20 feet by 30 ft. The hope is to start another Roma Mission school for that particular camp. The Roma children face many obstacle when it comes to going to school. Starting a Mission school right in their camp helps to eliminate some of those obstacles. Maybe if they can get the children through the fourth grade there is a better chance that they will continue on. There is always hope.

We have no camp this coming week so we will be visiting other Roma camps and sightseeing. We will see what tomorrow brings. Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.


June 29 Saturday

As I am starting this writing I am sitting in the camp kitchen and Deb is starting to work on dinner. Deb offered to make dinner for the Tomes’ tonight so we are going to grill pork loin and potatoes, peppers, carrots, and onions. We have not seen any ground beef and very little beef for that matter. Deb is also trying to bake a cake without the usual measuring utensils. It should prove interesting.

Some thoughts on this past week: first of all this past week of camp was about as different as the weather was from last week. Last week the weather was hot. This week weather was cool and wet …probably about 20 degrees cooler. This weeks’ camp was about that different. I am not going to say better or worse …just different. With that being said, I will attempt not to compare the two camps, but to simple give you some thoughts as I experienced them. Some of them I have probably stated earlier.

This week’s camps the children were much younger. There were also more girls at this camp. There was almost an equal number of boys and girls. Most of the leaders who ran this camp were teachers at the children’s school so you could tell that the leaders had worked with the children all year. The leaders had expectations of the children. When the children were done eating the children were expected to bring their bowls up one at a time. The leaders were really good at telling stories and keeping the children’s interest.

Some of the things that we found very interesting was that it was very common for the young children, especially the young girls even as young as seven or eight to hand wash their own laundry. The other thing was that all of the children made sure that they took a shower and put on their best clean clothes before they went home. They know that if they go home dirty that their mothers will not be happy and they will not be able to come back next year. The other thing is if they had an injury during the week and had a bandage on they took it off before they went home. Again it is one less thing for their parents to complain about. Trust is still an issue within the Roma community so any reason they can use to keep their children at home and in the village is used.

Tomorrow Attila is taking us to worship in the church where the children who attended this weeks’ camp live. We might also see the school that they attend. We will wait to see what tomorrow brings. Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.


June 28 Friday

It was the last day of the second Roma Mission camp. This camp ended on Friday evening after dinner rather than on Saturday morning. With the younger age of children it was probably a good thing. The leaders of this camp are so the same people who work with the children in school throughout the year. I think they were ready for a break. I think it was helpful to have Deb and I, and the two young ladies from Holland here as well this week. There were times that we could do things with the children without much help from the other leaders. It was a change for them to take a break. With the younger children they required a lot of personal attention. The two young ladies were a big hit with the young girls from camp. As they were leaving on the bus the young boys were blowing the young ladies kisses. I guess they must have been a hit with them as well.

Overall it was a very good week. Stressful in some ways but a different kind of stress than last week. We ended the week with a slide show of pictures that I had taken throughout the week. The children seem to love seeing themselves in pictures. One little boy asked me if he could have the pictures of him that I had taken. (At least that is what I think he was asking.) I told him that his leader had all of the pictures. One of the older boys who was helping with the music like the pictures enough that he has already gotten a copy from the leader.

The leaders of this camp really did seem to appreciate the help that Deb and I had to offer. They gave each of us a handmade decorated card with a Bible verse on it. Through “google translate” we thanked them for including us in their group and for their patience with us and the language barrier. It all seemed to work. I continue to admire the work that these leaders do, not just during camp but all year long. They do good and important work with the children.

Anyway, the children have all gone home and the camp is now quiet once again. If I think about it and have time I will try to add some summary thoughts on the week tomorrow. I will have to admit that I will miss hearing the words “Kit Basci” …but not for a while. Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.



June 27 Thursday

Okay, so I am sitting here wondering what exactly to say for today as today hasn’t been a whole lot different than most busy days when we get a knock on our room door. It is one of the leaders who doesn’t speak any English and the only word I understood in Magyar is the word for children. But it is obvious that she wants us to go with her. It is starting to rain outside so she leads us into one of the boys’ sleeping quarters. When we enter, all of the children and the leaders are singing and they invite us to sit down. Of course we do not understand what the children are singing, but as I looked around the room at all of those little innocent faces looking at us as they are singing, my first thought was how wonderful and peaceful they sounded. My second thought was, “What did you do with all of the wild, energetic children that were running around demanding attention all day?”

It was a wonderful experience and I wish that all of you could have been there to hear them sing. They had to have sung at least ten different songs and most of the children knew them all by heart …and they sang with all of their hearts. In that little room it was something to behold. They even sang a song for us in English “Read Your Bible Everyday if You Want to Grow,” and then in Magyar. They were much louder in Magyar. Again, I wish you all could have been here to hear them sing. There is nothing quite like the sound of thirty some young voices singing songs they love.

Today was another active day. Deb led the craft project today with a little help from me. One of my Hungarian words for today was “pillango” which means butterfly. For the craft project we made butterflies by tracing their hands, cutting them out, and pasting them to bodies that we had already cut out. On each of the fingers they were to write someone that they would pray for. My Hungarian word for today was “ultet,” with two dots over the “u.” It means sit. Those of you who teach or work with children can probably guess why that word.

The two young ladies from Holland led the children in organized games this afternoon. It got a little wild and crazy. They split the children into 6 teams with three teams participating at a time. Those who were watching were as excited as those who were participating. The children should sleep well tonight with all of the activity of today.

Tomorrow is the last day for this camp. The children will go home tomorrow evening after dinner. We will see what tomorrow brings. Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.



June 26 Wednesday

The third day of the second mission camp is coming to a close and I am proud to say I have survived another day …partly thanks to strong Hungarian coffee. One thing that is universal is that young children require and want lots of attention. It has been another day of hearing lots of “Bacsi” which means uncle. The days are exhausting, partly because of the energy level of the children and the demands for attention, and partly because of the language barrier. Many times the children are asking things of us that we do not understand. They do not seem to understand that we do not understand. It is frustrating for both us and the children. Unfortunately I find myself seeking solitude because I am overwhelmed with the fact that I cannot meet their demands, mostly because we do not know what their demands are.

One of the craft projects we did today was to double weave two pieces of paper together to make weaved paper hearts. This is not an easy project for young children which most of the campers this week are. I found myself helping several of the children along with Deb. Deb’s threshold for “children overload” is much higher than mine. I am amazed though at how many of the children stayed around until they had their project done as we had a limited amount of adult leaders and many children who required attention.

The other craft project that we did was to make a long paper chain. This was the idea of the two young ladies from Holland. It worked well to tie it in with the lesson for the day. The lesson for the day was “how many times should we forgive?” Each child made at least 12 strips and then we connected them together. By the time we had them all connected our paper chain went all the way around and up and back down the middle of the shelter that we eat and do crafts under. I know we had more than 70 times 7. It was a good visual for the day’s lesson.

There seems to be a higher number of children who are ill and need medical attention. With the children not feeling well it requires more attention from the leaders. It has been good that Deb and I could be here to help take some of the other leadership like leading craft projects. Many times Attila or Livia have to translate the directions and then Deb and I can pretty much take over …more Deb than I.

The language barrier continues to be a challenge, this week even more so than last week. Last week one of the leaders was from the US and knew some Hungarian and another younger leader knew some English. Between the two of them, one of them was usually around to help Deb and I know what was expected. Some of the other leaders knew a little English as well. This week the leaders know very little English and so Attila and Livia have needed to help us out more with translating. But it is amazing how much we can communicate with our limited Hungarian and through sign language. Respect for one another is a universal language.

Aldas bekesseg …blessings & peace.


June 25 Tuesday

Day two of the second mission camp and all is well. The weather has taken a big change. It has been very warm since we have gotten here. This morning we awoke to rain showers and we have had rain off and on all day. The temperature has taken a big drop …probably 20 degrees or more. Today is the first day I have put on jeans since we have arrived. I have been in sandals as well. I think I just heard a big gasp from those of you back home who have never seen me in anything besides cowboy boots or tennis shoes. I even have the tan lines on my feet to prove it.

Anyway, the second week of camp is going well. The leaders continue to be creative, but in different ways than last week’s leaders. These leaders have worked with these children and they know what works with them and what keeps their interest. They have used very good illustrations involving the children during lesson time. I would love to take a couple of them home with me to do my children’s time. I might borrow a couple of their ideas at least.

With the rain today the two young ladies did face painting again. At one point it was raining enough that they took the children into the chapel area and watched a movie …”Horton Hears a Who.” Even when I could not understand the words it was still funny and entertaining.

The area nurse was here again this afternoon and checking on the children. This is part of the Mission program. One of the children has something wrong with his ear and normally they would have to send the child home. But in this case they are afraid that the child would not get the medicine that he needed because the parents would not follow through. Attila went to Beregszasz and got the medicine that was needed and they will treat the child here.

At one of the breaks, one of the older boys convinced me to play football (soccer) with them. At another time, three of us men played three of the teenage boys in volleyball. I have no idea what the score was when we had to quit because of the rain. (It had nothing to do with the fact that we older folk were getting tired. All I can say is, Thank God for the rain.)

Instead of “evangelism” time in the evening, because of the age of the children this group of leaders does a mission story each night.   As I said, the leaders have adapted the material quite well to match the children they are working with. The leaders are very good at telling the story and keeping the children’s interest. We will see what tomorrow brings for weather and for activities. Aldas bekesseg …peace & blessings.


June 24 Monday

It is the end of day one of the second Roma Mission Camp here in Ukraine. Already we can tell a big difference from last week. This week the average age of the children is younger and there are more girls. Another difference is that many of these children and leaders have been at this camp before. Also, many of the leaders at this week’s camp are teachers and they work with these same children all year. Do to these difference the energy level, while still high, is not quite like it was last week. Many of these children already know what is expected of them and the leaders are familiar with the routine.

The fourth difference is that all of these children come from the same Roma camp. They know each other and are already used to playing with each other. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t little disagreements. It just means that because of the age and familiarity with one another there isn’t as much emphasis on proving one’s self.

The children love the attention that is given to them. I might have created something I am not ready for as the children love to have their picture taken and then see it on the camera screen. I have learned a new Hungarian word from the children …”bacsi,” which means uncle. It is a respectable title that children call adult men. Since the children do not know my name they just call me “bacsi.”

Attila is trying to teach me new words as well. One of my new words is “lelkész.” Lelkész is Magyarul or Hungarian for pastor. I am still learning. The other phrase I am trying to learn in Magyarul is can I help? The leaders of this camp know very little English and any Magyarul that Deb and I know is greatly appreciated. Attila and Livia will probably have to help out more this week because of the language barrier.

But as with last week , the leaders are patient with us and seem to appreciate what we are trying to do. Deb is once again doing much of the craft work and organizing of craft time. The two young ladies from Holland are going to do much of organizing and leading games. Anything we can do to help the leaders is good. It is good that they trust us to do some of these things. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Oh by the way, I just realized that I was spelling bekesseg wrong. My apologies to my Hungarian friends. Aldas bekesseg ...blessings & peace.


June 23 Sunday

Another day …another humbling experience. This afternoon we traveled once again to the larger village of Beregszasz which is about 25 kilometers from Csonkapapi. The pastor of the Roma church in Beregszasz needed to be gone so he asked Attila and me if we would bring the message for his small congregation in his absence. Church service began at 1:00 PM.

The Roma camp, as the settlements of Roma are known as, is on the edge of the village of Beregszasz. We did not drive into the camp as the church is right outside the camp. There are no streets in the Roma camp that you can drive a car down. It is just a collection of closely constructed shanty houses and run-down buildings. I am not sure how much area the Roma camp covered but Attila estimated about 3000 people lived in this particular camp. He added that there is no way of really knowing as most of the residence are not registered.

We were welcomed into the church and a woman quickly made it known that we were not to sit in the back but rather towards the front where there was a blanket covering the pew. I use the word pew loosely as they were pretty much just wooden benches. The inside of the church was very plain white. There were around 6 rows of benches on each side, a communion table towards the front, and an electric keyboard off to one side.

There were mostly women and small children in worship. There were only three or four men present. We were told that many of the men are gone for much of the year looking for manual labor in other parts of Ukraine and in Russia. One little dog tried to join us in worship but he was quickly escorted out. Some of the little children didn’t sit long and went back outside.

The church service began with the women doing some spontaneous singing without any hymnals, song books, or piano. After a few songs a gentleman came in and started playing the keyboard that was in the sanctuary. He was obviously not playing what the women were singing and they did not appreciate it and they let him know it. I have no idea what was said but it was a little loud. After a little discussion between the man and the women things settled down and the singing began again. The gentleman played the keyboard without any sheet music. The music was much more upbeat than the very traditional music that we experienced at the Hungarian Reformed church the week before.

After a few songs Attila came in and the singing stopped. Attila said a prayer, read a scripture and gave a message. After Attila was down with his message the people all stood up for the closing prayer, but he said something to them and they all sat back down. Again, I have no idea what he said but it must have been something to the effect that I would be sharing a few words, and then it was my turn. I do not know if what I said was helpful or not but with Attila translating for me, I gave a short message. The people were quiet and attentive while I spoke and seem to appreciate what was said. One of the gentleman even said in English, “Thank you very much.” That is pretty good for an uneducated Roma man. We then had a prayer, another song and worship was over.

When we were outside I asked Attila if it would be okay if I took a picture of the church. The Roma people do not really appreciate when people take pictures of their houses and villages so I wanted to ask before I did anything. I just wanted to take a picture of the building. When Attila asked them if it was “okay,” they said sure and all started lining up in front of the church to be in the picture. After that picture the children wanted their picture taken and then they wanted to see the results on my camera screen. I had a hard time keeping hold of my camera because the children were so curious. The little Roma girls just loved the two young ladies from Holland that were with us. A couple of them even came and sat with them during part of the worship.

Well, as I said at the beginning, “another day …another humbling experience.” Tomorrow starts another week of another camp. We will have to see what this week will bring. Aldas Bekkeseg …blessings and peace.

June 22 Saturday

Well the first week of camp is complete I told you that I would attempt to put down some of my thoughts from this past week so here goes. Realize that what I write is only my perception and based only on my limited experiences so far.

There were many more boys at this camp then there were girls. Most of the girls who were here were quite young. I’m not sure that some of them were older than 6 or 7. I am not quite sure why that is. I think some of the reason is that this was a new camp for those children and for the village they came from. There is a sense of distrust yet between the Roma and the Hungarian dominant culture. I hesitate to call it the dominant culture as the Hungarians are minorities as well in Ukraine. It is just that the area in which we are at right now is pre-dominantly Hungarian. With that being said, I think some of the reason that there were fewer older girls here at camp is for a couple of reasons. One is because of the mistrust. The other reason is that many of the girls by the time they are 12 or 13 are helping out more around the home taking care of younger siblings and helping around the house.

One thing that is quite obvious with the Roma children is that there is little consideration for “personal space” for other people. The beds at this camp are all single beds and some bunk beds. The first thing that the boys did when they got into their rooms were to slide most of their beds together. There were more boys sleeping on a fewer number of beds. If there was something of interest or you were trying to demonstrate something to them, the Roma children would all crowd around trying to get as close as they could to see. With the boys there was a lot of touching, poking, hitting, and wrestling. With the wrestling it was often hard to know when it was play and when it was getting more serious.  

Another constant of this past week was the high volume of speaking. Meal time was especially noisy sitting at the tables under the tent. They would often speak to each other in loud voices, each trying to speak over the other’s voice. Even the adults speaking to the children would have to speak loudly.

Three Hungarian words that I learned this week because they were used many times a day and almost always in loud voices were: a gyerekek – children, a fiunk – boys, and Elleg – enough. I would guess that those of you who have taught or worked with children will know why we heard those words as much as we did …especially those who have worked with middle school children.

The children at this camp had very little appreciation for the camp property. Most of the time garbage, toys, playground equipment was simply discarded where it was done being used. Winning is important as well as being in the front of the line. Their attention span is very short and they had a difficult time following even fairly simple directions. One thing they could do very well was memorize things.

Now with that being said, let’s consider what Deb and I experienced back in Budapest in the Roma communities. Remember that there were around 1000 people living in a one block area and it is common for Roma families to have many children. While the Roma people here might not live in five story buildings, they do live in very close quarters. With that many people in a very small place you can begin to understand why they have little consideration for personal space and why they are used to talking in loud voices. They have to, to be heard over everyone else. Also, they are used to living in an area where people have very little and what people have is shared by everyone else. So why put something away when someone else will just pick it up and play with it later?

I guess the really short answer to all of this is that the children …all children are a product of the environment that they grow up in. It is easy then to blame the parents. But we then have to realize that the parents probably grew up in the same environment. The other thing for the parents is that sense of hopelessness. This is how things are. This how things have always been. This is how things will always be. If this is the way things will always be, why should we be concerned about our children? It is easier to just let them do what they want. So it is easy to blame the parents, but maybe we should consider the role that the larger society plays in the way things are in other peoples’ lives. Remember, we are all a part of society. Maybe we all have a role in the way things are. Again, I am only speculating.   I cannot speak for the Roma people. Only they know what they are thinking and experiencing.

I do know that the mission work that this camp does and the other mission workers do is very difficult and challenging. I also know that it can be very discouraging. They see very little results from the work that they do. When they do not see any support from the families or from the larger community for the work that they do, it is even more discouraging. Tonight my prayers go out for Attila and Livia, Ferens and Dianna, Nadia, Dorina, Csilla, Gyusi, and Bela. May they all find rest, encouragement, and strength for the mission work that they do. Aldas bekkeseg …blessings and peace.


June 21 Friday

It might not seem like it as many some of my writings can seem quite long, but I find myself many times at the end of the day struggling to put into words what I have experience for the day. Today is one such day. This morning I went with Attila to a larger village of Beregscaz (sp?) It has a population of around 35,000. It is the end of the week for the camp and he wanted to get one of the group pictures that I had taken processed so that he could give them to the children. Attila invited me to come along.

This was the first time I had been outside of the camp since we have gotten here and when we came here it was dark. Now I hope you all know that I know that places like I am going to attempt to describe exits. It is just different seeing and experiencing first hand. First of all are the roads. They are in very bad condition, filled with many potholes. Attila told me that they have a saying in Ukraine. “The Americans drive on the right hand side of the road. The English drive on the left hand side of the road. And the Ukrainians drive on whichever side of the road is best. It is very true. Not only does a driver have to attempt to dodge potholes, they also have to dodge other drivers who are dodging potholes.

But the biggest thing that struck me is that in many ways, time seems to have stood still in Ukraine. In each of the small villages that you drive through you will still find that each household still has their own milk cow or two. At 6:30 in the morning the cows are put out into the street and the village herdsman collects all the cows and takes them out to pasture near the village. At 6:00 in the evening the herdsman brings them back into town and each of the cows goes back to their own home. I did not witness this, but I did see the community herd of cows out grazing.

Bicycles is the choice for mode of transportation. Bicycles are not just for the young. In fact, you will see many older women riding bicycles carrying packages …some of them with rather large. I even saw one man carrying a bag of loose hay on his bicycle. Most of these are not new bicycles. Most of them look like they were made in the 1960s or even 1950s …even in the larger community.

I have no idea if there is a Walmart or a McDonalds in Ukraine. There was no hint of one when we were in the larger village and Attila had no idea what a Walmart was. I didn’t even know that was possible. While we waited for the pictures to be processed Attila took me through a small portion of the village square. Along the street where the cars drive the buildings and shops do not look much different than any other town other than they are older and dated. You will find people sitting along the sidewalks trying to sell some of their home grown produce such as vegetables, cherries, and even mushrooms.

It is behind the main stores that time really changes. Back behind the main buildings you will find a maze of little stands selling almost anything you can think of from magazines to clothes to cigarettes to food to almost anything else. Attila told me that the people go to places like Hungary or Russia to buy their products and resell them in their local market. We went into one big building that was much the same only it was inside. Most of the individual stands were selling clothes. There were some selling electronics. I know I have said it before but Ukraine is this odd mix of old meets new. Most of what you see is old other than the cell phones and ATM machines.

We even saw a couple of wagons being pulled by horses when we went through some of the small villages. Attila told me that even some of the Hungarian farmers use horses and wagons. You can tell the difference between the Hungarian farmers and the gypsy farmers. The Hungarian farmers have bigger wagons and are pulled by two horses and the gypsy farmers usually have smaller wagons pulled by only one horse.

With today being the last full day of camp they closed out the evening watching some of the pictures that I have taken throughout the week. I narrowed it down to 185. The children and the youth really enjoyed it. I am glad that I could do it for them. Tomorrow, after the children leave I will try to write some thoughts on the week. I hope it isn’t quite so warm so my brain isn’t mush. Aldas Bekkeseg …peace and blessings.


June 20 Thursday

Day four of camp one is complete. As I attempt to write a little something down I can still hear the sounds of children out our window. Today I gave the message for chapel at the end of the day. Some of my parishioners will be happy to know I haven’t lost my touch. I can put people to sleep in Ukraine too. Actually the children were fairly quiet while I talked and Livia translated. I guess I felt it went fairly well.

Just to give you a little of an idea of the camp schedule, the camp day “begins” at 7:00 AM with a time for Bible study and prayer. At 7:30 there is morning exercise for the children and any adults who want to participate. Breakfast is at 8:00 with morning cabin cleanup to follow. At 9:00 is time at the chapel where the message for the day is heard. The message is heard through scripture, a skit, and music. Each day they learn a new song.

There is a break around 10:00 and then it is back to the chapel for a review of the lesson and to see who can remember what the message was about and the Bible memory verse for the day. I have to say that many of these children are very good at memorizing. How long it stays with them, I do not know. After review time it is time to go out to the tables where they work on craft projects. The past few days Deb and Nadia have been leading these projects. Deb has been doing most of it and I continue to admire her patience with the busy children with short attention spans.

After crafts it is lunch time at 12:30 PM. Lunch always begins with a bowl of soup followed by a starch hot dish. After lunch is quiet time which is a misnomer. I could hear the children the full hour they were supposed to be resting. Most of the afternoon is spent with somewhat organized play time with adults leading games. The two young ladies from Holland who are volunteering here for three weeks have been a big help at game and free time.

Dinner is at 6:00 PM. Chapel starts at 7:00 and by the time they get done with announcements and other things it is after 8:00 PM. The leaders then meet to plan the next morning’s chapel time while the children play. Around 9:30 the bread comes out for one last time before the children head for bed. There is bread at every meal. Showers are scheduled at different times throughout the day and showers are a big deal for these children as most of them do not have a shower at home. Many of them go to the river to bath which is not safe.

Livia said that she had some medical issues to deal with today. Some because of accidents while playing, but others were stomach problems because the children have had regular meals now for the past three days and they are not used to eating regular meals. Well I think that is enough for one day. Aldas bekkeseg …blessings and peace.


June 19 Wednesday

Day three of camp one and I continue to be very impressed with the leaders of the camp and the work that they must do throughout the year. There are several disagreements between the children as they struggle to be in community with one another that can turn into little altercations. That is a nice way of saying “fight.” Nothing has gotten really out of hand but it is a challenge to say the least. One thing I am learning is that the honor/shame mentality is alive and well within the Roma communities. Attila says that this is the most difficult camp because the children come from four different gypsy settlements or camps as they call them. At least I think he is hoping this will be the most difficult and that it will get easier from here on out. Here’s to hoping.

The other challenge is that the age of the children who attend is supposed to be between 8 or 9 and 13 or 14. Some of the children here are younger than 8. Also this is the first time that many of these children have been to camp. And for many of them it is the first time that they have even been out of their Gypsy camp and away from home. Not only are the children experiencing something new but so are the parents, especially the mothers. Some of the mothers call their children while they are here wanting their children to come home and that just makes the children even more homesick.

Add to that the fact that two young children from one of the Gypsy camps drowned in the river the day the children came to the mission camp. Many parents wanted their children to come home for the funerals, which was today, but the leaders were afraid that if the children went home they would not come back. The leaders felt that it was important for the children to stay the whole week. Now maybe you can begin to understand why I say, I have the utmost respect and admiration for these group leaders. I have been in their position and I never faced the challenges that they are facing.

Deb and I continue to help where we can. I think the group leaders are beginning to trust us a little more each day. Deb, Nadia, and I (more so Deb) the craft project again this morning. Two students from Holland came yesterday and they have been helping to entertain the children during free time. The two girls did face painting this afternoon.

I have been taking lots of pictures. (I’ll bet that surprises most of youJ) The leader of the camp appreciates it and has asked if he could have a copy of the pictures at the end of the week. This morning we took a group photo. Attila is going to attempt to process it here and if not take it somewhere to get some copies made.

Talking with Attila this evening he told me that his own personal car is not running and it is too old to fix. He left it in town. The camp minivan isn’t working either and hasn’t for quite a while now. He has a friend looking for a car for him in Hungary. Cars are less expensive in Hungary than Ukraine. The minivan he hopes to fix and sell and then get something different from the Dutch churches that support the foundation he has established.

Attila is not quick to ask for money for things, at least not with newcomers. Right now the mission camp has two wells. One well has good water and it goes to the family house and they fill a water cooler for campers to drink. It is not very deep and last year it was dry for three weeks. The other well has more water but is high in iron and not good to drink. They use it for showering, washing dishes, and bathrooms only. They have a good new well but it is not hooked into the system and they need a pump. The pump costs around $400.   I offered to pay for the new pump with some of the money that we brought from the church. His response after some considerations was, “Okay, if that is what you want. That would be helpful.”

Well another day is ending and we are over half way done with the first camp. Right now I am feeling energy overload and these kids are very high energy. Unfortunately, I think they are taking it from me. I am not as young as I used to be. Tomorrow I give the chapel message. We will see what tomorrow brings. Aldas Bekkeseg …blessings & peace.


June 18, Tuesday

It is day 2 of camp. Again it has been a busy, active, and very warm day. The heat seems almost overwhelming at times, but I think it is mostly because we are not yet used to it. Even the people who live here find it warm. Because of the warmth the leaders had to be a little creative with their activities this afternoon. First the children watched a film and then they played games where they could spend at least some time in the shade. It all went well considering.

This morning the leaders asked Deb and Nadia to organize and lead a craft project. Nadia is from New Jersey with the Presbyterian Church USA. She has been in this area for about two years and knows at least some of the Hungarian language. When Attila or Livia are not around it is helpful that Nadia is here. The leaders of the camp speak very little English and some speak no English. There is a teenage boy here who speaks at least some English and has been helping Deb and I as well.

Even with the language barrier we are learning to work together. Through Nadia, the leaders are beginning to ask Deb for suggestions on things to do, such as craft ideas or games. They have asked me to do the chapel lesson on Thursday evening with Livia translating. They call chapel “evangelism time.”

I continue to be very impressed with the leaders of this camp and I have the utmost respect for them for the work that they do. Working with these children is not an easy job to say the least. Most of the children already know each other, but they still have had very little guidance on how to live, play, and be with one another.

Another thing I am learning or maybe reinforcing something I was already becoming aware of is that prejudice or preconceived understanding of other cultures is in every culture and it begins at fairly young age. The first day of camp some of the boys were trying to talk to me and when they found out I was from America and did not understand their language, one of the young boys said something to me. I have no idea what he said, but one of the adult female leaders hauled off and smacked him across the back of the head.

It is not uncommon for the adults to use threats of violence to get the children’s attention. They use loud voices a lot to get the children to listen. In one instance, one of the adult Roma leaders picked up a broom and went after a youth who was miss behaving. He never used it, but it got the young boys attention. I would guess this is common in the Roma culture.

On a not so serious note, here are some other things I am learning: Ukraine has mosquitos too; how to drink very strong coffee from little coffee cups, and yes I still drink it straight; how to drink fruit flavored sweet tea; how to sleep when it is still hot in our room; and people from other countries than the US have a hard time saying the “th” at the end of words. My name while I am here is now Kit pronounced Keet. Aldas Beggesek …blessings and peace.


June 17 Monday

Today was the first day of camp for this particular group and for the summer. After a nice quiet relaxing Sunday, Monday kicked into full gear. I did some lawn mowing for the camp this morning. I have to tell you it was warm before I finished. The children started arriving around 10:00 AM, but camp activities really did not start until lunch time at 12:30 PM. There are around 45 campers and 8 adult leaders. The children are from the ages of 8 or 9 until the age of 14. The camps are organized by regions of where the Roma children live rather than age.

The unique and special thing about this mission camp is that the mission goes beyond just this summer camp. In fact, the summer camp is kind of a celebration or end of the year reward. During the school year volunteers, Roma and non-Roma adult leaders have been trained to work with the Roma children with their school work and studies. Most of the Roma parents have no education so they cannot help with the homework. Without the help of the mission volunteers many of the Roma children would simply drop out of school.

Each of the camps then are run and organized by the same volunteers that work with the children throughout the year. I have to tell you I have the utmost respect for the adult leaders who work with the children and with this camp. In many ways it gives me flashbacks to when Deb and I dean the high school camps at Placerville. But in other ways, these children are much more active. For some of these children, not only is it their first time at camp, it is there first time out of their home village. Trust of other people is a difficult thing for some of the Roma parents and it is difficult for them to let their children go to places they are unfamiliar with.

I do not understand most of what the children are saying, but I do understand the “happy sounds” they are making. But at other times they are also like a family where they can get into little disagreements as well. It has been a long, hot, and active day. Tomorrow promises to be another. Aldas bekkeseg …blessings & peace.


June 16 Sunday


It is now late afternoon and we have had an opportunity to rest. This morning we went to worship with Attila and Livia at their church, the Reformed Church of Hungary. It was a wonderful experience. The church is only a couple of blocks from the mission and so we walked to church. The reality is that most people walked to church. It is a small village so most people do not have far to walk. The church is a very traditional Reformed Church where the men still sit on one side and the women sit on the other side. The pulpit is on the side and in the middle of the sanctuary and elevated above the rest of the congregation. When the pastor is in the pulpit the men are on his right and the women are on his left. The older children starting around the age of 13 or 14 sit together in the balcony and the younger children sit across from the pulpit. The younger children stay for the first part of the worship service and then they go to Sunday school. They have Sunday school all year.

The worship service went longer than normal today according to Attila and Livia. The pews are not very comfortable. The church building is around 120 years old and they have started trying to do some renovations on it. If I understood Attila correctly, they are having some difficulty keeping it going and getting it done because most of the skilled labor that is required have moved to other parts of Ukraine or Russia. Deb and I attempted to sing with them from their hymnals but while their letters look the same, they are not always pronounced the same. For example their “s” is pronounce “sh” and their “sc” is pronounced “s.”

While I did not understand any of what was spoken I was pleased to know that I could hear and recognize some familiar Hungarian words. Even though I could not understand what was spoken, I still experienced a pleasant worshipful experience. It is called worshipping in the Spirit. “Aldas beggeseket” is a traditional Hungarian greeting. It means something like “blessings and peace.” People greet one another with this saying as they enter worship and again after worship. After worship, the people all go their separate ways, walking to their homes.

For lunch after worship we walked to Livia’s parents’ house where had prepared a tasty meal for us. After eating Attila and Livia showed us their huge garden where we picked and ate some fresh strawberries. We then came back for some quiet time and rest.

The village we are in is Chunkapoppi. (sp?) I will try to get the correct spelling. It is a small village of around 700 people. It is very quiet and peaceful, especially on a Sunday afternoon. As I am writing this a window is open and the only sounds I hear are birds chirping outside. In many ways, being here is like taking a step back in time when life was simpler. If you heard a “sigh” it was probably from me as it does take me back to my childhood, and in some ways maybe even before. But as is obvious they do have some modern technology such as internet and Wi-Fi and other modern conveniences.

The reality here is that their life is not simple though. They have many issues and challenges that they are dealing with from government regulations, low salaries, employment, poor roads, schools, and many other social issues. The Hungarians here in Ukraine live in an area which at one time was part of Hungary. The Hungarians are a minority in the Ukraine. Consequently that means the Hungarian Roma are a minority in a minority.

Okay so I could go on and on even with the little that I have learned and experienced but you are probably tired of reading. So I will sign off for the day and leave you all with…

                                                                “Aldas beggeseket” …blessings & peace.


It is 5:00 AM and I am, while not wide awake, I am awake and have been for about the past 2 hours. We have made it to the mission camp in Ukraine and I have to say that I was quite an experience coming here. To get here we have to cross the border from Hungary to Ukraine. That means we have to go through both check points for the Hungary side and the Ukraine side. I am not too concerned about the process as we are traveling with Dick, a missionary for the Reformed Church USA, and he has done this many times. I say I am not too concerned about it until we get about half way to the border (about 2 hours down the road) and Dick starts to frantically check his pockets and says something to the affect, “Oh shoot, I left my passport.”

This means he cannot drive us across the border. We have to walk. This is not a good thing because I know very little (emphasis on very little) Hungarian and no Ukrainian. Well, after several phone calls we finally learned that Attila will come to the border, park his car on the Ukraine side and walk across to the Hungarian side to meet us and take us across. Needless to say with him with us, we had no problem, other than we had to walk across the border. Actually it was much faster as there was a line of cars waiting and we would have been there for probably an hour longer had we taken a car across.

Our day on Saturday began with our own personal tour of Budapest. To borrow a phrase from the old movies of Crocodile Dundee, “we did a walk-about.” Plus we used the public transportation system. I marvel at the buildings in Budapest. We walked down one street from Octagon square to Hero’s square. Along the way our young guide pointed out specific buildings and shared with us some of Hungary’s history. The young man who took us around was very knowledgeable and we saw things that most tourists do not. That also met that we did not see some of the things that other people might.

We arrived here at the mission camp after dark. The road in Ukraine is very rough and full of potholes. Attila maneuvered around them very well. We have met both Attila and Livia. They are both very nice people and very reserved. Of course there is always the awkwardness of meeting someone for the first time. It is maybe even more so when we are from two very different cultures and languages. Both Attila and Livia speak very good English …Livia a little better.

A couple of things about Hungary and the people of Hungary …even though I do not know much of the Hungarian language, they really do appreciate the fact that you know anything in Hungarian …even simple things like “thank you” or the numbers. They are even impressed and pleased when you respond, even with only a word or two. The one thing a person quickly learns about Hungary if you come in the summer times is that they do not have any air-conditioning in their houses. They do not even believe in using fans as they believe that any air movement will give them “colds.” I have to tell you this first night of sleeping here at the mission camp is bringing back memories of my youth on the farm. For the next three weeks I am going to have get used to feeling warm and sticky. I am also going to have to get used to the dogs walking around and barking outside several times during the night.

June 15 Saturday AM

        Just a couple more comments on our experience in the Roma community in general and more specifically with the family we visited. The family’s name was Laslo and Sophie Lakatos. Laslo was a boxer in his youth. They have a picture of him hanging on their wall. He was a strong good looking young man. He is very proud of his accomplishments. Laslo is still a strong man today, maybe not physically as he once was, but definitely in heart. Sophie is a strong woman as well. Sophie will speak her mind and is not afraid to ask questions. They both are very proud even in their humble means. And they both have a sense of humor. Laslo thought we should take Sophie back with us because she talks too much. They are good people with a good heart and a strong faith.




June 14 Friday


Again, it is hard to really process all that we have seen and experienced today so most of what you will get is what we did. Our day began with Dora (assistant to Ecumenical Officer of Reformed Church of Hungary RCH) coming by to pick us up. Actually she came by public transportation and walking to get us and we walked and took public transportation to where we needed to go. It honestly was not that bad at all. The first place we went was to a RCH church in what is known as the 8th District where there is a high population of Roma people living. The youth pastor there and his wife (I apologize, I have forgotten their names) have begun doing Roma missions and reaching out to the Roma children and their families in that area. After visiting for a while at their church we took a short walk around the area and experienced, in a very small way, the poverty in that area.


After that visit we were back on public transportation and walking to the national offices of RCH. There we had lunch. After lunch we were interviewed by Amy who is from the US and works with Global Ministries. Amy is responsible for the English publications of the RCH. After our interview we had about an hour visit with Balazs Odor, Ecumenical Officer for the RCH.


After our time at the RCH headquarters Christina, another young lady took us to another section of Budapest where a high number of Roma people live. It is here that we met Peter and Gilda who are attempting to do ministry. Here again we had the opportunity to walk through the area and see and experience the high poverty. To give you an example: where we were at there were two building with four or five floors, about a half a block long each which housed around 1000 people, adults and children. To put that in perspective that is about one fourth the population of Mobridge living in two buildings that take up, maybe one block.


The neatest experience was that we were invited into one family’s house for a short visit. The house we were invited into was that of a man and his wife and the man was considered one of the “leaders” of the Roma community. This man and his wife were people of faith and readily welcomed us into their tiny two room apartment. The man could not speak because he had had an operation on his throat, but I can guarantee you that his wife could speak plenty. It was a wonderful experience and they were both very warm and welcoming. We couldn’t leave without having a prayer where everyone prayed.


After a busy a day, Deb & I took a short walk from where we are staying to a street that has many restaurants with sidewalk seating and enjoyed a rather quiet anniversary dinner, even if the street was busy. We concluded the evening with a walk along the Danube River after sunset. Deb was even patient enough with me to allow me to attempt to take late evening pictures from the bridge overlooking the river. Happy 33rd anniversary, Deb.


Tomorrow we head to the mission in Ukraine.  I have no idea what wi-fi or internet connections will be like.  We will try to keep you posted. 


June 13 Thursday


Today we said good-bye to some of the friends we have met in Greece and on our tour and we journeyed to Budapest Hungary. Dora, who is the assistant to the ecumenical officer of the Reformed Church of Hungary RCH, picked us up from the airport. It was a nice to finally put a face to the emails. Dora is a delightful young lady. She took us to the guesthouse of the Ecumenical Council of Churches of Hungary where we are staying for the next couple of nights. For dinner Dora took us by public transportation to Dick and Caroline Otterness’s apartment. Dick and Caroline are mission co-workers with the Reformed Church in America. Also at dinner was Ester who is the mission coordinator for RCH and Amy Lester who is a mission intern from the Global Missions. It was an enjoyable meal with good conversation and sharing.


Tomorrow is another day of meeting more people who have some connection to Roma missions and ministries. I have to admit that I am not used to having this much fuss made over me just for coming somewhere. It seems like they (the national office of RCH) are making somewhat of a big deal out of us coming. I am wondering if someone should tell them I am just a common church pastor of a rural church in South Dakota. Oh well, I will do my best to represent the congregation of Mobridge United Congregational UCC and the SD UCC conference as best as I can. We will see what tomorrow brings.


June 12th Wednesday

         Today Deb and I spent some time walking around Athens at the bottom of the Acropolis. We visited the new Acropolis museum and some other excavated sites such as an old theatre, the Roman market, and the old Library of Hadrian. Tomorrow the next part of our Sabbatical experience begins as we fly to Budapest. It is there that we will meet Dora who works with the Reformed Church of Hungary. She has lined up for us to meet some other pastors who have some experience with Roma people. I promise yesterday that I would have some reflective thoughts on our experiences so far. So here are some of my thoughts …some are serious, many are not.


  • There are a lot of Georges here Europe, at least in Greece and Turkey. We have had George the taxi cab driver; George the bus driver; and George the tour guide. They were all really nice people.
  • Greek people are pretty laid back …until they get behind the wheel of a car or on a motorcycle or scooter. Pedestrians, beware.
  • You couldn’t pay me enough money to be a bus driver in Athens.
  • When down in the tourist areas of Athens it seems like it is “anything for a buck.” We saw strolling musicians …some as young as 6 & 8, people selling umbrellas, postcards. We even twice saw a man walking around in a yellow cape. I think he thought he was a Greek god or something.
  • Tour guides can make or break a tour experience. Ours were great. Evi, our land hostess and tour guide was very pleasant and very knowledgeable. Vasseliki, our cruise host was a lot of fun and got us to the places we needed to be, most of the times the first ones off of the bus. George, our tour guide in Ephesus was very knowledgeable with a great sense of humor. We had one pour tour guide on the island of Samos. Thankfully that was an unimportant part of our overall tour.
  • Many people speaking in many different languages sounds like babble. Laughter sounds the same in any language. Smiles are the universal language.
  • A small group of people made up of people with different theological understandings can co-exist on a religious tour for eight days, and even have fun. “Opah!”
  • You can see places of history …you can stand in the same spots …you can even reconstruct the ruins of the time which is pretty amazing. The one thing you cannot do is go back in time to experience those places as those in past history experienced it. We still experience with 21st century understanding and through 21st century “eyes.”
  • There are a lot of neat people in this complex and wonderful world.
  • Faith is more than something we believe …it is something we have to live by.



June 11th Tuesday

Okay, so our tour of Apostle Paul is complete. In many ways it has seemed like a whirlwind tour with much going on and not much time to catch our breath or to reflect. Today Deb and I spent much of the day trying to catch up on rest. Besides being kept busy, Friday through Sunday we were on a cruise ship with no internet unless we wanted to pay for it. With that being said I will try to catch you up (provided I can remember) on what has happened over the past four days.


Friday June 7th we boarded the cruise ship. After a time of orientation to the ship and activities, and a life boat drill, we had a little time to explore the ship. Our first stop of the cruise and the only stop of that day was at the small island of Mykonos. Here we had time to walk through some small shops where the streets are very narrow and winding.

June 8, Saturday, the sixth day into our tour the Foot Steps of Apostle Paul with only two days left and it feels like it has been a whirl wind tour. It has been busy with it seeming like we have had one tour after another. It has all been very good but just really packed days. We had the tour of Ephesus today which was really good, but after finally getting back to the bus after being around all of the people, this country boy who loves people but in small doses, I was feeling like “people overload.”

As I have just mentioned, we started at seven this morning disembarking from the bus and going to the archeological sight of old Ephesus. Well first we made a quick stop to the house where of the Virgin Mary where some historians think Jesus’ mother Mary might have spent her last days with the John the Evangelist. After that we went to the ruins of old Ephesus. Some of what they have uncovered and reassembled is from the time of Apostle Paul and some of it dates a century or two after Apostle Paul. The road that we walked on would have been the same road as that of Apostle Paul. The coastline isn’t there anymore as old Ephesus is a mile or so inland now as silt from the river has filled in the area. We also stood in the stadium where Apostle Paul probably challenged the idol makers on their beliefs of the goddess Diana.

The main income for the people of Ephesus of that time was selling idols to the travelers who came as Ephesus was a big religious center, and rug making. They are still a few rug hand makers around the area today, but it is fast becoming a dying art. After our visit to the ruins we went to a family owned rug making shop.

The afternoon we went to Samos. It is a pretty island but of no real concern for the tour of Apostle Paul. We are not the only ones on this ship and very few people on this ship are really concerned about Apostle Paul so there are times we just have to go with the flow.

This evening we decided to have a nice meal together as a group. Our tour hostess surprised Deb and I by telling the restaurant that it was our’s and another couple’s anniversary. We were gifted with a cake and singing. We ended the evening with some traditional Greek marriage dancing. (We didn’t do the dancing. It was part of a show.)

June 9th, Sunday we begin the day at the Island of Crete. Here we toured the ruins of the Palace of Knossos. This palace is dated to have existed around the time of 1600 B. C. E. The archeologists estimate this palace housed around 400 -500 people. After Crete we were back at sea headed to the Island of Santorini. This is actually a circular series of islands that was once one island which was a volcano. It became a series of islands after a huge volcanic eruption around the mid 1600 B. C. E. The main Island’s beauty lies in the sheer cliffs that drop off into the sea and the pure white houses that make up the cities and towns. Needless to say, the views are pretty spectacular.

June 10th, Monday was the last day of our tour. Our day began early as we had to disembark the cruise ship by 7:00 AM. Then we were back on the bus and headed to Corinth. At Corinth we toured the archeological ruins of old Corinth that dates back to the time of Apostle Paul. The ruins included the Agora or town square where most of the people would gather and the Bema or the place of Judgment where Apostle Paul would have been taken before the governor of that area after being accused of being a trouble maker.

After Corinth we were back in Athens with a quick road tour of some of the historical places and ended at the Acropolis. Right below the Acropolis we saw and stood on the big rock hill where Apostle Paul would have addressed the men of Athens concerning their worship of an unknown god. After that we hiked up the hill for a tour of the Acropolis. Our night ended with one last meal together as a group. This is enough for now. Tomorrow I will try to right some personal reflections on the overall experience of the tour.


June 5th Wednesday,

          Today we left Thessaloniki and traveled to Berea (Beroea of the New Testament). It is here that we saw the steps that it is assumed that Apostle Paul would have preached from.  At least they date back to the time of Apostle Paul. There are places in Berea that you can still see some of the old Roman road that went through the town.

After Berea we traveled to Kalambaka. Apostle Paul had no connection to this area but it is here that we visited a couple of 14th century monasteries. There are several monasteries in this area and they all sit at the top of some huge rock formations. The views from these monasteries is breathtaking and the thought that these monasteries could be built in such locations in the time period in which they were is utterly amazing. One of the monasteries that we visited was designated for monks and the other for nuns. If those first monks who founded these sights were looking for solitude and a feeling of being close to God, they surely found the right spot. You had just better not be afraid of heights.




Tuesday June 4th,

First of all let me apologize to those of you who might be checking out this web page for pictures of our Sabbatical journey. I worked for over an hour yesterday trying to post a couple of pictures only to fail. Until I can figure out a better way of posting pictures or have more time you will probably be stuck with just commentary. If you would like to see a few pictures you can check out our Facebook page at Mobridge Ucc.

Our day started this morning with an overview of Thessaloniki from the overlook of the old fortified wall that used to surround the city. From there we journeyed to Kavala (Neapolis in the New Testament) where we saw where Apostle Paul landed on his way to Philippi. We then journeyed to the excavation site of old Philippi. There we walked on part of the road that Apostle Paul walked on, saw the city square where Apostle Paul visited with the people, and the saw the prison where historians think Apostle Paul was held prisoner while in Philippi. We then journeyed outside of the old city walls to the river and the place that, again historians think that Apostle Paul baptized Lydia and her household. After Philippi we came back to Thessaloniki for another night’s stay here.

With what we have seen today it not hard to understand why Apostle Paul would use imageries of warfare and soldier’s attire in his letters. It was something that he was surrounded by and reminded of pretty much every day and something his readers would related to as well.



Monday June 3rd

          Today we spent much of the day riding the bus from Athens to Thessaloniki. The southern part of the country is fairly dry and rocky terrain. After we came through a short pass in the mountains the terrain seemed more farming friendly and a little wetter. There were bigger trees and bigger patches of farm land.

          We arrived in Thessaloniki in time to see the St. Dimitri’s Basilica and the Ancient Roman Agora. Under St. Dimitri’s Basilica you can still see some of the old Roman highway that had been covered up by years of people building cities on top of cities. The Ancient Roman Agora was discovered after the fire of 1917 which basically destroyed the whole city of Thessaloniki. In the process of cleaning and rebuilding they discovered it under years of building over the top of it.

          Tomorrow we go to Philippi and Kavala and return to Thessaloniki for the night.



Sunday June 2nd

We had the opportunity to walk around Athens before we had our orientation meeting at 6:30 PM. At dinner after our meeting the couple who was at the same table as we were asked if we wanted to go with them. They were going to go to a hill in the middle of Athens and try to take night pictures. They were just going to take a cab there and back. Little did we know that the cab driver that we would get would have other ideas. He wanted to basically give us our own little private tour for a few extra euros. He wouldn’t take no for an answer so after our companions talked to him for a while we got him to agree to 40 Euros for the four of us. We worry about our kids texting and driving. This cab driver was showing us maps and pictures in a book, explaining Greek history, and driving in busy traffic on narrow roads all at the same time. To say the least it was an adventure.



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The picture above is a view from the top of our hotel. 

The picture to the left is Deb enjoying lunch at an open air eatery.


Friday & Saturday May 31st & June 1st

            The two days just kind of run together. The day started on Friday morning in Minneapolis with a morning walk around the Fort Snelling cemetery before we flew out in the afternoon and ended with an evening meal Saturday evening at a quaint little restaurant in Athens Greece. The rest in between is kind of a blur of airports and airplanes, security checks and cramped sitting. It definitely wasn’t an all bad day. We had a nice little chat with a young lady in Minneapolis who was waiting to go to Brazil to see her dad. So to Suzy, we hope you had a safe travel and a good time with your family in Brazil.

            Traveling by taxi to our hotel you can see some of the results of some of the stress on the Greek economy. There seem to be quite a few old empty business buildings. There might not be any more than in other typical big city, but it seemed pretty depressing. Athens is definitely an older city with narrow streets. We haven’t been out much yet.

            We did find a quaint little restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel to eat at Saturday evening. The food was really good. The neat thing about the whole experience was that the chef actually came out and talked to us. He wanted to know how everything was for us. When we told him how much we enjoyed our meal, especially his cooking he brought us out a special desert. He even enjoyed explaining to us how it was made.   We made him feel special by telling him how much we enjoyed his food and he made us feel special by paying a little extra attention to us. Make someone feel special and they in turn will make you feel special …isn’t it amazing how that works in life some times?




May 30, 2013

Welcome to the joys of air travel.  Deb and I got to the Denver airport 21/2 hours early for a flight that was 1 hour delayed.  We landed in Minneapolis just as our connecting flight was taking off.  Needless to say we missed our flight.  Delta did put us up in the Embassy Suites in Minneapolis.  I would rather be on my way to Athens. 


On a more positive note, it was nice to spend some time with our kids and our granddaughter.  I have been a grandpa for two years now but I am still getting used to having a two year old call me "ampa."  I think I will grow into it. 


May 27, 2013


Day one


Day one of my sabbatical began with finishing up house cleaning and packing and ended at our son, Andrew and daughter-in-law Jessica’s house in Denver after an eleven hour drive. But after a long day, we are here and we are here safe. An extra bonus is that our daughter Valissa came from Rapid City and is going to spend a couple of days with us before we leave as well.


Here it is only day one of my Sabbatical and I am already deeply humbled. I received an email from Dora outlining our activities for the time that Deb and I are in Hungary. She has scheduled meetings with missionaries, pastors, and the ecumenical officer of the Reformed Church of Hungary. The head of the missions department of Hungary will not be able to meet with us at that time but will try to meet with us while we are in Ukraine.


I have to admit that I really did not expect this much fuss. When I first started making plans for my Sabbatical I was just looking for a small local pastor to have an experience with Roma ministries in Europe. Now we are being entertained and meeting with denominational officers of the Reformed Church of Hungary. It seems a bit much for a pastor of a local church in South Dakota. I hope I can represent my church, conference, and denomination well. As I said, I am deeply humbled.


Below is the schedule that Dora sent me.


Program for Keith Kraft and his wife

Pastor of UCC on his sabbatical

13-15 June and 4-5 July


13 June (Thursday)


Arrival, pick up from the Airport*


Dinner with Dick and Caroline Otterness, mission co-workers from the Reformed   Church in America, and Amy Lester, mission intern from the Global Mission

14 June (Friday)


Meeting at the accommodation


Visit the Budapest-Józsefváros Reformed Congregation in the 8th   district (Roma ministry)


Lunch at the Synod Office of RCH


Meeting with Balázs Ódor, ecumenical officer of RCH


Visiting the Roma ministry in Hős street



15 June (Saturday)


Meeting at the accommodation




Pick up by Attila Tomes by car and travel to Ukraine



This page was created to give me an opportunity to share experiences, thoughts, and photos leading up to and during the 2013 Sabbatical with members of my congregation and whoever else might be interested. As my first entry I would like to say a really big thank-you to several people:

            To Deb, my wife, thanks for the continued encouragement, belief in me, and your willingness to accompany on this undertaking.

            To the Sabbatical committee; Marlys, Vonnie, Laurie, Dave, and David for all of their hard work in helping to design this Sabbatical experience, work on the Lily grant, and mostly for their belief in the Sabbatical that even though we did not get the grant found a way to make it happen anyway.

            To Rev. David Felton for planting the seed and his encouragement to dream beyond what I would have ever done on my own.

            To Rev. Wade Schemmel for his willingness and enthusiasm to serve the church in my absence.

            To Visontai Dora, Ecumenical Assistant for Reformed Church in Hungary, for all of her work in finding a place where Deb and I could have a mission experience.

            To Attila and Livia Tomes, missionaries and camp directors of Reformed Roma Mission in Ukraine, for their willingness and enthusiasm in allowing Deb and I to share in their summer camp working with Roma children.

            To everyone who has contributed to the Sabbatical fund.

            To United Congregational United Church of Christ in Mobridge for granting me this Sabbatical opportunity.

            It is only because of all of you that this Sabbatical experience is even a possibility. It is because of you and my desire to share with you this experience that this page was created.


A brief Sabbatical overview:

This Sabbatical has four major components: 1. Footsteps of Apostle Paul Tour beginning out of Athens Greece, 2. a mission experience with the Reformed Church of Hungary in Ukraine, 3. worship experience with a Dakota Association UCC church, and 4. time with family.

Our theme for the Sabbatical is Building Bridges based on 1 Corinthians 12:13. Building bridges with the wider Church and other churches in other parts of the world, building bridges with our Dakota Association church neighbors, and building bridges within our congregation.

The mission that Deb and I will be working at is the Reformed Roma Mission in Ukraine. If you would like to find out more about this mission you can check them out on the web at: www.ref-romamission.blogspot.com.