I had the pleasure of staying in Transylvania this summer with the family I know best from our Partner Church. Though my visit was short, only 4 days, as always with my visits, now my third, I learn something new each time about their generosity, their struggles and fears, their devotion to our congregation and our differences. In short, a relationship based on history, affection and evolving experiences.
My journey began with Blanka, the granddaughter of my host family, and her college friend Eniko. They met at an English based University in Cluj, Romania. Blanka’s education starting with High School has been supported by Fred Johnson and Epp Sonin through Follen’s Partner Church scholarship program.
Blanka and Eniko wanted to thank me for hosting them in the United States the previous two summers during their employment here. I was treated to a very fancy lunch at a grand hotel outside the city. Although this was probably beyond their means, these 2 very special young women taught me my first lesson. The gift of humility. I ate with gusto and appreciation.
After lunch, we traveled to our Partner Church’s village Alsofelsozentmihaly 45 minutes away. I learned during our drive, that as in the United States, Romania is also struggling to remain a democracy with many protests in the last year. Cluj had its first Gay Pride Parade this year. Protests both in Cluj and Bucharest brought out large numbers of people in support of the anti-corruption reforms initiated by the current female general attorney and the first elected Saxon German President, a minority in Romania like the Hungarians in our Partner Church.
Upon our arrival in the village, I learned that Blanka’s Grandmother, Ibolya, was not home as she was traveling with the minister and many members of the congregation to their sister city in Hungarian. Iby, Blanka’s mother, greeted us with yet more wonderful food and, of course, they wanted to see photos of my family. What mother doesn’t have too many pictures of her children- I have 2 daughters, 1 son in law, 1 daughter in law and 3 grandsons! The question that never fails to be asked is when are Ken, my partner who also visited with our Follen group in 2013, and my family going to visit. My second lesson of the trip was a gift of tolerance-an embrace of my entire family both to my daughter who is married to a man and to my daughter who is married to a woman. All are welcome.
My third lesson of the trip came as a very big surprise, colored with fear and anxiety, I experienced discrimination and suspicion due to my affiliation with Hungarians living in Romania. Though I did not understand it at the time, when asked at customs while entering Romania, where I was headed, I used the Hungarian names for the places I was traveling to. It registered that something was being questioned about my responses, but I had no clue what it was.
This lesson was clarified during a visit to Torocko, a beautiful historic Hungarian village, close to our Partner Church. While seated at a bench with Iby, her cousin Karoly and his wife, Tunde, and speaking in English, and an America from Romania, asked me how I liked their beautiful country. I replied that I was enjoying visiting this beautiful Hungarian village with my friends. Conversation stopped, frozen in place and shortly discontinued. I later asked Tunde, what happened. Is there still so much tension in Romania for Hungarian? If so, how would she describe it? Was it dislike, animosity, hatred? She replied “It’s hatred.” I was stunned. Despite hearing about the discrimination for years now, experiencing it first hand is very different. I return from this trip newly educated about prejudice and the fear that drives people apart.
I stand with more awareness about my dear friends in our Partner Church and the struggles they still experience in 2018.
seen in photo: Blanka, me, Iby