Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New Blog!

This blog is the record of our vision trip in the summer of 2010. We hope you enjoy reading about the process that resulted in our call to Hungary.

As we are starting a new chapter, we are starting a new blog. Please continue to follow our adventures at!

Thank you to those of you who faithfully read and prayed this past summer! We hope you will continue to do so as we begin our journey to Budapest.

~Ben & Megan

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 27,28&29 - In Almaty, the end of our Vision Trip

Well here we are, the last entry cataloging our incredible journey! (Jules Verne would be proud)

Wednesday morning, we met Eldos at the East-West office at a little before 10AM. Since we couldn't use the internet at Nurzhan's flat, they let us log on to a computer there so we could check e-mail and facebook :D At 10, he drove us to the old CALTC (seminary) office building to meet with an American who was about to move his family back to East Asia. They had been living in Kazakhstan for a little over a decade doing ministry, but were looking forward to returning to their previous field. He is with an agency we had heard of but hadn't encountered yet in our travels, so we had the unique opportunity to get his perspective on the organization. We felt that although they do great works all over the world, their style wasn't a good fit for our giftings or comfort levels. It was great getting to talk with a native English speaker, though, since the ex-pat we met in Ust had been our only other source in a week and a half.

After meeting with him, Eldos picked us up and we headed OUT into the country towards his village for lunch. They live over an hour outside Almaty and there we got to experience yet again, the "real" Kazakhstan. His brother had built the house for him a little over 3 years ago, but the electricity just got wired about 2 years ago and the plumbing still isn't connected. His wife (pregnant with #4) and their niece had prepared an excellent lunch for us and we enjoyed just interacting in their family life. We were driven back to Almaty late that afternoon and were planning on an evening to ourselves since Nurzhan & family were away. Then, I made the phone call.

One of the plans that had been laid down for us was to meet with another American named Andy, who helped run a ministry for recovering alcoholics. Nurzhan told us, "He is not normal", but coming from a shy Kazakh, we didn't really know what that meant. OH, we found out :D I called the phone number I had for him, a man answered and I asked, "May I speak with Andy, please?" The man replied, "Nope, sorry. He's gone back to Colorado." "Oh", I said. "Do you know..." then the man interrupted, "Nah, I'm just kidding. This is Andy." It was on. He and I immediately fell into a comfortable male verbal-abuse style phone conversation. Sound hostile and unloving? It really wasn't, because he is the living definition of ornery and brought out the best (or worst) of my streak. It was great! We met him at a brand new shopping mall a couple miles from our flat and just enjoyed hanging out with him. He is a recovering addict himself, so he can really speak intimately into the lives of the men he ministers to. We agreed to get together for lunch again on Friday before we left the country.

Thursday, Eldos and his eldest daughter, Malika, met us at the East-West office from where we planned to drive up into the Tien Shan mountains. Almaty sits at the base of that range and you can see their snow-capped peaks from everywhere in the city. One of the things Kazakhs have to boast about is the world's highest ice-skating rink, called the Medeu. The city is hosting the 2011 Asian games, so all along the drive we saw road construction and other physical improvements being done in preparation. The Medeu itself was shut down for the renovation it was undergoing. Behind it, you can see a looooong stairway that leads up to a scenic view. Eldos said, "We can climb that if you want." Like an idiot I said, "Sure!" I've never climbed so many stairs in my life, it was like the scene in Kill Bill where Pai Mei made Beatrix run up and down all those stairs with the water buckets suspended from a pole on her back. I didn't have the water buckets, but I think we climbed more stairs. Halfway to the top, I almost quit, but the fact that I was the only one struggling made me not want to be left behind. I told the others to not worry about me, that I would make it but at a much slower pace. I did :D At the top we saw a guy pull up in his car and pull a golden eagle out of his trunk for photo opps. Oh yeah, he kept a LIVE golden eagle in the back of his hatchback. Crazy. Going down was a lot easier than going up, even though our legs started to feel like jelly and the odds of falling were greatly increasing.

Our last day in Kazakhstan was mostly uneventful. We finished up the laundry we started the night before and Andy came over to help us eat the rest of the food we had purchased earlier in the week. He has been in the country now for almost two years and is looking forward to his first furlough this fall sometime. Nurzhan wasn't able to take us to the airport, but his brother-in-law had agreed to do so. He spoke no English, but with the typical hand-gestures and repeat the same phrases the other person doesn't understand 10 times, we were able to communicate, more or less. We made our flight without any trouble (though leaving the country isn't something they make easy-peasy) and landed safely in Seoul the next morning.

Kinda an abrupt way to end this long post, but that was how it was completed for us. God was beyond incredible to us the whole trip, and I do plan on one more post to synthesize our whole journey and where we think He is taking us next on this grand adventure of a lifetime.

P.S. You may be asking yourself, "Wait a minute, their blog is called 'Around the World in 39 Days' and this is only through 29 days. Is Ben's math THAT bad?" My math is pretty bad, but while our Vision Trip was only 29 days long, it took us another 10 to get back to Dallas. My parents took us to their "timeshare" on Kauai for about a week :D

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 24,25&26 - From Ustkamen back to Almaty

Sadly, our time in Ustkamen had to come to an end. We woke up semi-early Sunday morning to be driven to the train station by our new friend, the pastor. We had purchased some sweets the previous night at Kazakhstan's version of Sam's Club to give to him and his family as a thank-you for all their driving and planning efforts on our behalf. They are an incredibly sweet and funny family, we look forward to seeing them again someday and hearing all about how they served our Lord.

The train ride back to Almaty was an improvement over the previous for several reasons. A temperature drop of about 25 degrees F, windows that lowered and our guide was able to get a berth in the same room as us to help translate for us. The ride was uneventful except for perhaps the most stunning sunset we have ever seen, and we're casting this in context of both Hawaii and the Carribean. We only put up four pictures because there were way too many to upload them all, so here's a taste. :D

The train commute lasted until 9AM Monday morning so when
we arrived, we were on the tired side. Our host picked us up and gave us a ride back to his flat. Due to the temporary weirdness of their family life, Megan and I decided that it would be best if we did all we could to remove ourselves from even the possibility of being a burden on them. We walked to a local grocery store and bought food to last us until Friday night when we were to depart the country. Guests never cook for themselves in Kazakhstan, but such was the need of the family that they uncomfortably understood the benefit of not having to worry about us. This added to our gratitude that they still let us stay in one of the rooms. It also gave us an excellent opportunity to pray for them and for them to be able to know that they had at least that support. It forced them to be a lot more transparent than they probably would have been otherwise and let us, their foreign brother and sister, love and help them in the small ways we could.

Tuesday gave us the opportunity to spend most of the day with
Eldos and his middle daughter by visiting a couple of the big bazaars in Almaty. He originally hadn't planned on bringing her, but after having been gone from home with us in Ustkamen for almost 4 days, she started to cry that morning when he was going to be gone again for even part of a day. She was really sweet but really intimidated by us. Hard as we tried, we couldn't coax a smile out of her until we paid a small sum for her to have 10 minutes in a bounce house. Watching her face light up as she played with another little girl was probably the highlight of the day. The bazaars were busy and chaotic, just what you might imagine. We bought some sweet pointy-toed house shoes for ourselves as well as some little souvenirs for co-workers and family. In between the two bazaars, about a 10 minutes walk, we felt like we had been transported back to the 1970s because there were real live Hare Krishna handing out copies of their book and talking to people. Apparently my (Ben) accent is so terrible that when I said "No, thank you" to one of them in Russian he immediately asked me "Where are you from?" (in English). I kept walking but then kinda regretted the opportunity to talk with the guy since he spoke my language.

Next up, a trip to Eldos' village, hiking in the Tien Shan mountains and meeting with a couple of Americans (one sane and one maybe not so much :D)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 19-23 - From Budapest to Frankfurt to Almaty to Ustkamen

So we haven't blogged in a long time, hope you don't hate us :D Kazakhstan blocks blogger for political reasons (the president's exiled son-in-law uses it to voice his opinions) so we had to wait until we left to tell y'all about our time there. We could have posted sooner since we left last Friday, but we've been in Hawaii and taking a break :D To prevent the longest blog post ever, we'll just do two days at a time until we get all caught up with what happened in Kazakhstan. So let's time travel back to July 6th & 7th, shall we?

We got up pretty early Tuesday morning to catch the airport shuttle from Diosd. We made it to Frankfurt without a hitch where we had a fairly long layover. The flight to Almaty was also no problem and we landed just after midnight. Our host, Nurzhan, picked us up and gave us a ride back to his flat where we would be staying with him and his family while in Almaty. Our first day in the country was uneventful, everyone seemed to think that we would be utterly exhausted by our travels and would want the day to rest. We weren’t so tired, but a day of rest was nice. We met our guide, Eldos (yell-dos), that afternoon and roughed out our schedule for the next 8 days in Kazakhstan.

On Thursday our host, Nurzhan, took us around Almaty a little to see some sights. The Hotel Kazakhstan and the National Theater are big landmarks in the city.

The hotel was the first major hotel built in Almaty back during the Soviet days, and the theater was built after Kazakhstan gained its independence. Our train ride the next day was 25 hours one way, and to put it nicely, God taught us a lot and saw us through it. He blessed us immensely with our day in Ust, though. We met with an ex-pat who has been in various Muslim speaking countries for several years who shared what their work was like in Ust. She toured us around the city a little then through a popular park that had a small Russian Orthodox chapel in the middle of it. Mainly, we spent a lot of time with a national pastor, his wife and their youngest son. They made lunch for us, took us to see some sights in Ust like where the Ulba joins the Irtysh river.

That evening, they accompanied us to the home of an elderly woman in their church who had prepared a LAVISH supper for us and one other member of their church. (we can now say that we have eaten horsemeat) The evening we spent in her tiny little flat was perhaps one of the most intimate moments of our entire trip, as we and all the guests shared how our relationships with Jesus had begun and what He had done for us since then. It was amazing to hear how the truth about what He did for mankind on the cross almost 2,000 years ago had reached them in their remote parts of the world. One of them had eventually led her entire family to place their faith in Him for salvation. Another has become a healer that ministers to many by showing them a tangible taste of how powerful God is. After that, the 4 church members and our guide prayed for us. We have to say, that experience is something Megan and I will treasure the rest of our lives. We have never felt the power of prayer like we did from those 5 brothers and sisters and it left both of us in tears. God is working in that town through those people and we are so thankful to have met them and spent time with them.

Next up, the 25 hour train ride back and the beginning of our time in Almaty!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 18 - In Diosd


We wanted to throw up a quick post because it's going to be at least 2 days before we'll be able to blog again. Tomorrow morning we fly to Kazakhstan and won't be getting in until after midnight tomorrow night (technically Wednesday morning) Kazakh time. They're 11 hours ahead of Dallas, so it'll only be 1:15PM there, and will feel like 8:15PM to us coming from Hungary.

Today was a wonderfully chill day. Not so much temperature wise (though we did crank down the A/C a lot) but definitely activity wise. We slept in, had a leisurely morning, started watching Disney's Sword in the Stone and hung out with John, Allison & Heidi when they got back from the morning English Camp classes. We went to IKEA (ee kay uh) for lunch and to get supplies they wanted for their classes. After that we had to go back into Budapest to their respective flats so they could pick up things they had left behind. After they left for the evening classes we finished the movie and started watching Pete's Dragon before going downstairs to start supper. Once they got home we feasted them with bruschetta on olive bread, salad and spaghetti with meat & veggie sauce. It was quite tasty and was Allison's first real pasta in 5 years. (She technically has celiac disease but has been reintroducing gluten into her body with GREAT success. God has really been blessing that process for her.) Now we're getting ready for bed and making sure everything is packed up for our EARLY rise. Y'all have a wonderful Monday & Tuesday, maybe we'll be able to blog again Wednesday!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 16&17 - From Budapest to Diosd

Happy 4th of July!!!

I can keep a promise :D The last two days have really flown by for us. We don't have any pictures to post (please don't hate us) but we can give you the rundown. Yesterday we spent more time with Melissa (the one Megan taught with at Poteet). We met her at the Vasar Csarnok (the huge indoor market in the 9th District) for breakfast and some shopping. Around noon we headed to the Buda side for lunch at everyone's favorite Italian restaurant, Marcelo's. There's a reason it's everyone's favorite, best pizza I've had in a long time. After lunch we went to a brand-new mall that opened up last winter to wander around and enjoy some ice cream. We have eaten a RIDICULOUS amount of ice cream this trip, kinda embarrassing actually. In fact, on our itemized expense report we'll be turning in to East West Ministries at the end of the trip, we have a running joke that if we can't remember what a certain receipt is from, default it to ice cream. (Megan's favorites are pineapple and Ferrero Rocher) After the mall we went back to John & Allison's to collapse for a couple hours before going to a Tex Mex restaurant called Arriba Taqueria. It was a lot like Freebird's and the girl who took us down the line actually spoke Spanish! Their horchata left something to be desired, though.

Today we got up and went to John & Allison's church, Calvary Chapel. Everything was in Hungarian but with English translation. It meets in an old movie theater and has a regular attendance of about 1,500. We grabbed lunch with their (and now our) friend Hannah who is studying politics this summer at the Central European University from Princeton. We had to pack everything up again as did the Jordans as they've moved out here to Diosd, a suburb of Budapest, for the next 2 weeks to house-sit while they're out here doing an English camp that starts tomorrow. This evening, we went to the home of a couple who hosted a LOT of American missionaries and their families for a big 4th of July barbeque. We had hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, watermelon and two kinds of homemade ice cream with lots of other dessert options. Awesomeness. We left before it got dark so we don't know if they had fireworks too, but I doubt it. They might not want to freak out their Hungarian neighbors.

The USA is 234 today, kinda cool. Hungary is 1,009 years old. Dang.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 13,14&15 - From Keszthely back to Budapest

Lo sentimos,

It's been three days and we haven't blogged. I (Ben) take the blame because we've been getting in late the last two nights and I've been lazy. As it is, it doesn't feel like we have a lot to share but I'm sure that won't be true by the time I'm done typing :D

Wednesday we spent pretty much the whole day in sessions with the rest of the Speak Out staff until late afternoon when we went to start packing up. Supper was very different as we participated in what they called an "International Dinner". I'm not sure I want to divulge any details in the blog in case any of you ever get to go through one with Campus Crusade, but if you've ever been through the International Dinner with the Perspectives class, that's like quarter notes compared to a Buddy Rich solo. (youtube him)

Yesterday we got up a little early, finished packing and headed down to our last breakfast in Keszthely. We weren't totally sad to say farewell to the Hungarian school cafeteria food we had been eating the last 6 days, but there were several people to hug and shakes hands with. We're grateful for facebook as a tool to stay in touch. Our train left PRECISELY on time which was nice, but we experienced a strange phenomenon. Even though all the windows in our second class car were open, the only time we felt any kind of breeze was when the train was stopped. After an hour and a half of that, we upgraded ourselves to the InterCity car. InterCity = air conditioned and for only $7 more. Total. We felt it was worth it :D

After a restful afternoon of laundry and some internet surfing we headed out with John & Allison to supper and a concert. Some friends of theirs are in a band called Wednesday Night Special and were playing at a new venue, an anchored boat with a stage on the top deck. John describes them as "jazz fusion" and that's not a bad classification. I said they're sort of like Jamiroquai without any electronics and a good shot of rock. (is there such thing as a BAD shot of rock, though?) We really enjoyed their music and the show, though Megan felt it would have been more enjoyable at a quieter volume.

Today we slept in a little and had breakfast alone (Team Jordan had a language lesson). One of the ladies Megan taught with at Poteet last year used to teach at the International Christian School of Budapest and has been in the Czech Republic this summer. She came in to town to show us around a few places today and tomorrow so at noon we headed out to meet her train. Turned out she accidentally took the train FROM Budapest instead of TO Budapest, so her arrival was delayed an hour and a half. We still got our scheduled tour of the school and one of their principals told us about all the opportunities we had open to us there. Staff is hard to come by sometimes and our backgrounds made us quite appealing to her. Teaching is something we're not totally opposed to, but probably not our first year overseas while we're still getting our feet on the ground.

We made it back to John & Allison's apartment in time to cool down a bit (it's been really warm in a non-air conditioned city lately) before heading out to supper with their Area Director and his wife. It was a good opportunity for them to learn a little about us and for us to ask them a lot of direct questions about United World Mission. God has really blessed us with some great conversations with people who can really give us a snapshot of their ministry and what it would be like to serve with them overseas. We got to do the same with Doug & Patti Meyerdirk about Campus Crusade before we left Keszthely. A lot more processing and debriefing will need to be done as we continue on our trip, but it has been amazing to see God clarifying some things and presenting new things to consider at the same time. We know that we can trust Him to make sense of it all in His timing, so we are prayerfully patient while we experience and learn more each day.

After supper (which was at an amazing cafe on Castle Hill) we followed my shutterbug around while she took some incredible night shots of Budapest. I promise we won't wait three days again before our next blog!