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Spring 2014 GEO Gathering in Hungary a Chance for Refreshment, Reflection

From Left: Ben Helge, A.J. Davis, Sarah Berta-Somogyi, Bob Flohrs, David Fiala, Melissa Karges, Rita Flohrs, Kendra McNatt, Miriam Carter, Ryan Volkman, and Rich Carter.

From Left: Ben Helge, A.J. Davis, Sarah Berta-Somogyi, Bob Flohrs, David Fiala, Melissa Karges, Rita Flohrs, Kendra McNatt, Miriam Carter, Ryan Volkman, and Rich Carter.

On March 28-31, 2014 Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) Missionaries from the Eurasia Region joined together with other missionaries for a GEO Gathering in Győr, Hungary. These events take place twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. Career Missionary David Fiala, who is the Project Coordinator for Central Europe, supervises most of the GEOs in the region and works with others to offer this time for refreshment, reflection, further learning and fellowship with each other.

Attendance included the GEO Missionaries working with David in Central Europe as relationship builders through English. They include: Sarah Berta-Somogyi, Győr, Hungary; A.J. Davis, Kosice, Slovakia; Benjamin Helge, Havířov-Šumbark, Czech Republic; Melissa Karges, Sopron, Hungary; and Ryan Volkman, Tranovice, Czech Republic. Also joining the Central European GEOs were DCE Intern Kendra McNatt, serving as a GEO in Frankfurt, Germany; Rev. Robert and Rita Flohrs, Career Missionaries from Frankfurt, Germany; and Rev. Rich and Miriam Carter, friends of the Eurasia Region. Of the group, Melissa says: “I feel that our current GEO team is really uniquely connected.  Sarah, A.J., Ryan, and I have been on the field together for a long time, and Ben, Sarah, and I have all been connected through our experiences at Concordia University Irvine (CUI) and in short-term missions, and well, Kendra is just awesome, so we already have a good relationship base.” 

Sarah cuts the cake at the surprise baby shower thrown by her fellow missionaries. Sarah and her husband are expecting their first child in May.

Sarah cuts the cake at the surprise baby shower thrown by her fellow missionaries. Sarah and her husband are expecting their first child in May.

Rev. Dr. Carter and Miriam previously served as missionaries through the Board for Mission Services (BFMS) in Nigeria (1981-1987). The Carters were in Europe as a part of an initiative where some of the Concordia Universities partnered to set up a semester abroad. Dr. Carter taught the first half of the semester in Wittenberg, and then he and Miriam traveled to visit other friends and missionaries with whom they came in contact on volunteer visits from 2009-2011.

The weekend began with dinner together on Friday night, as well as a devotion (a regular feature of the meetings). Activities throughout the weekend included a close study of The Small Catechism. Recently, David Fiala earned his Masters of Arts from Concordia University, Chicago and his Thesis was on the history of the Explanation of The Small Catechism. Using this as a jumping off point, David presented the GEOs with a resource on praying the Catechism while Rev. Dr. Carter offered further study of the Small Catechism, looking at Law, Gospel, and service to the neighbor. Ben says of the study of the Small Catechism:

We were given a resource for using the Catechism for prayer and being strengthened though this. Dr. Carter also discussed with us that the Catechism holds more that just specific sections. It has themes that run throughout everything that is written in it, such as sin, forgiveness, grace, and the church at large. I appreciated this view and way of looking at these writings and the usefulness from Dr. Carter’s study.

The study of the Catechism will be something the GEOs can use in their daily work. In addition to the Catechism, the group also went through some documents on missions from the International Center and discussed them, again with the help of Dr. Carter. The missionaries discussed the documents, how they see things working in their own contexts, and what the similarities and differences were.

Ben Helge presents on his work in the field since arriving two months ago (left). David Fiala listens to the right.

Ben Helge presents on his work in the field since arriving two months ago (left). David Fiala listens to the right.

Throughout Saturday and Sunday, each of the GEO missionaries presented on their work. This is traditionally done each year, but this year there was a twist: The GEOs were asked to look at the whole of their time on the field, not just present on the current year or a specific aspect. Melissa found the presentations to be one of the most meaningful aspects of the weekend. She says, “For me, that meant going through three years of pictures and reflecting on all that has taken place in that time, all the places God has led me and all of the lives I have connected to.  Reflecting on His work is very humbling.” Ben also found this to be the most meaningful aspect of the retreat, especially because “[s]ome GEOs have been here for almost six years. I have been here about two months. It encouraged me in seeing what God has done through each of these people as they serve in various roles. I am inspired by some stories that were told as well.”

David sums up the importance of these presentations and the time spent together reflecting on their service in this way:

I really like stories.  At GEO Gatherings we get to hear (and tell) ministry stories to a group of people who really “get” what it is that is said.  There is a component of empathy which pervades the atmosphere.  All of us are directly involved in ministry in a variety of contexts, each is unique, but each overlaps with each in many ways.  This environment for sharing, processing and discussing ministry is an essential component of GEO service.

Being able to share each other’s ideas and methods is helpful to everyone involved because it spurs new possibilities. The Gathering allowed for extra opportunities to do this for some. A.J. explains

One helpful aspect in regard to my work, is being able to verbalize the type of service that I do with others, and find out different teaching approaches that help incorporating God into English lessons. While I was in Győr, I was able to sit in on a lesson by Sarah, and see how she interacts with her students and see a different approach to sharing Christ in the Classroom. 

A group poses with one of the landmarks during the photo scavenger hunt.

A group poses with one of the landmarks during the photo scavenger hunt.

On Saturday, Sarah Berta-Somogyi, who helped to host the event in her city of service, Győr, arranged for a tour of the town with some of her students. This allowed for more opportunities to build relationships, as well as explore a new city and culture (or get to know the area better for those who had visited in the past). Sarah created a city-wide scavenger hunt and the participants were split into three groups with students as guides. A.J. says that

I enjoyed learning about the geography of the region and the language, I always find learning Hungarian an interesting language because there is no other language in the world to compare it to. The geography of the city is really cool too, because the city is where three rivers meet, and there is a beautiful island with a nice walk along the river bank, and in between an old city wall. Simply put: very peaceful.

Sarah gives directions for the scavenger hunt as some of her students and the Carters look on in the background.

Sarah gives directions for the scavenger hunt as some of her students and the Carters look on in the background.

Ryan said that he was really interested to hear about the students’ school and how they viewed it. His group was able to pray with them as a small group at the end of the scavenger hunt. While the GEOs and other missionaries benefitted from the students’ expertise concerning their city, they still also used the activity as a way to make connections and show their care for these students.

The group enjoyed many meals together, including eating with Sarah's students after the scavenger hunt.

The group enjoyed many meals together, including eating with Sarah’s students after the scavenger hunt.

On Sunday, the group was also able to worship at a local Lutheran church together, which is a traditional aspect of the Gatherings. Ryan says, “On Sunday morning we worshiped together with the Evangelical Church in Gyor. It is always interesting for me to worship with Christians in different countries and cultures—to pray for them, to sing with them, and to hear God’s Word together—and to realize the message of Christ is the same across all borders.” 

Following this, they then had an English language service together led by Rev. Robert Flohrs. This is an important part of the Gathering, as well. The GEOs worship every Sunday in local Lutheran churches, most of them (except for DCE Kendra, who is serving an English language congregation) in another language (Hungarian, Slovak or Czech). Several of the GEO missionaries expressed the refreshment that came with hearing the Word in the English language, and of course being able to partake of the Lord’s Supper under the care of an LCMS pastor.

The final activity of the Gathering is a time of prayer for one another. Melissa finds this to be one of the most meaningful things that takes place during the Gathering. She says, “I find prayer to be a powerfully encouraging tool, and getting to use it with one another is a tremendous blessing.” 
The service of GEO missionaries is a tremendous blessing, as well. Dr. Carter, looking in from the outside, so to speak, had this to say specifically about the GEO missionaries:

Miriam and I were encouraged by their presentations and conversation with us:

1) Their significant personal persistence to manage living in difficult social, community, and work settings, including coping with, and moving towards fluency in, languages I will never learn.

2) Their personal and professional competence both in teaching English and in gathering Central European students in social events, retreats, etc.

3)  Those two put together yield a net result of  Christian witness and work with Central European youth and young adults whom I would never be able to serve, though I have behind me years of teaching experience and theological study.  To hear the GEO stories, along with struggles, of the Spirit’s work in Central Europe—that was a gift for us. I wish the whole Church could visit, to be encouraged in faith as they catch a glimpse of these missionaries at work.

  • If you would like to support a GEO missionary, simply click on their names when highlighted above to view their online support pages.
  • Interested in serving in Central Europe on a short-term team and seeing first-hand the work in Central Europe? Read this story from yesterday to learn how!
  • Are you interested in becoming a GEO missionary and serving for a minimum of 1-2 years? Click here to learn more.
  • Learn more about past GEO Gatherings.

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