THE VOICE

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Band ends its year in Europe

By Rachel De Smith ('09)

For members of the Dordt College Concert Band, the dictionary definition of the word “hospitality” came to life this summer. “The act or practice of being hospitable; the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, with liberality and goodwill” was exactly what forty-two members of the Concert Band experienced on our amazing trip to the countries of Hungary, Romania, and Austria. Throughout the sixteen-day trip we were shown many striking instances of people who followed Peter’s injunction to “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” and “use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:9-10)

St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest was just one of many amazingly beautiful, large, and old churches the band members visited.

St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest was just one of many amazingly beautiful, large, and old churches the band members visited.

Our trip began with long flights and lines. By the time we got to Budapest, we were exhausted. As we trudged through the airport, dragging suitcases and instruments, we were met by a short woman with curly red hair and a huge smile—and we were welcomed. Marta was an excellent—and hilarious—tour guide. She made us laugh even as we were groggy from the time-change and our teeth needed brushing, as we headed in the opposite direction from our hotel to see the sights before we ate or slept. Marta was our first hospitable Hungarian, welcoming us with pride and humor to her country.

Another welcome awaited us. Gáspár, our bus driver, had a smile equally as large as Marta’s and a nature just as welcoming. He loved to have fun and spend time with us, and as the trip went on, he became our most valuable asset. (A man who can parallel park a bus and trailer in the narrow streets of European cities is not to be taken lightly.) His calm assurance in the face of whatever happened—bus breakdowns, accidents, lost people, forgotten instruments, long bathroom lines, rain—made us feel safe and accepted. Hospitality, “liberality and goodwill,” has no better true expression.

Our band played six concerts in various parts of Hungary and Romania, interspersed with days of sightseeing. In many places we were definitely tourists; however, in the places where we gave concerts, especially those where we stayed in host homes (the cities of Gyula, Magyarlona, and Papa), the welcome was overwhelming.

In a little town called Magyarlona, we were the first band ever to visit, and the people didn’t know what to expect from us. But music did there what it does everywhere: brought us together in appreciation of it and one another. Nowhere was our audience’s appreciation (and ours of them) clearer than in the Hungarian national anthem, a moving hymn which speaks of the suffering of their people. When we played this song at the end of our concert, everyone stood up to sing with such reverence that I found tears in my eyes. They cried too—grown men and women weeping because of a foreign band playing the slow chords of a song they loved; that moment, recurring at each concert, was a hallmark of our experience.

After our concerts, the churches and host families fed us well and toasted us with strong drink. The families found places for two, four, or more college kids to sleep in their small homes and gave us chocolate and trinkets in addition to the enormous lunches they packed for us. They talked to us—whether we could understand or not—and when we left, they hugged and kissed us as if we were their own children. One church even called us a week later to make sure we were doing well.

The time came, after all those concerts and two “relaxing” days in Vienna, to say farewell to Europe, to Marta and Gáspár, and to each other—and it was difficult to do. Had we made such a trip elsewhere, we would surely have been welcomed, but the openness and giving of our Christian brothers and sisters in Hungary and Romania were unique in my experience. Though the people we stayed with were not wealthy, we were given the best of everything. We were loved unconditionally; to borrow a phrase from 1 Peter, we were shown grace.

Looking at photos from the trip, I find that some of the best pictures are from our home stays. They inevitably contain some American college kids and a Hungarian family of various ages and sizes, sitting on a couch or around a table, sometimes standing by a wall or bus. The best part is that, try as I might, I can’t tell which smiles are bigger—the ones on the faces of the receivers or the hospitable givers.