Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Szolnok, Hungary: Communicating, Teaching, Encouraging

Szolnok is a city situated 100 kilometers east of Budapest, where the Tisza and the Zagyva rivers meet, and a point of convergence of Eastern Europe’s Great Plain's waterways, railways and overland routes. The town has 78,000 residents, the eleventh largest town in Hungary. It is an economic, cultural, tourist, education and health center.

Hungary is struggling to override the effects of years of communist rule (until 1987) and the resulting lack of skills, consequently, parents are extremely concerned that their children get all the educational opportunities possible. As soon as school lets out for the summer, they stop at nothing to enroll them in as many day camps as possible for learning reinforcement. The NVBC Crossing the World team plan was to lead a baseball camp (a sport virtually unknown in Hungary) for the first week, with English, crazy Americans and a foreign sport used to spark the interest of as many Hungarian children and their parents as possible; then after establishing friendships and the right to relate, the second week was a Bible camp (VBS) using the Putting on the Armor of God theme.

In the weeks prior to leaving Tepic for Hungary I found myself on multiple occasions asking, “Why on earth did I commit to this effort? Obviously it’s not about my baseball skills…I haven’t touched the business end of a bat in over 35 years! Oh, yeah, the promise…OK, God, you opened the door, I walked through, so…the outcome is up to You.”

On our last day in Hungary, at the airport in Budapest, Chad, our team leader, directed us in a time of reflection. He asked the question: “What has God used you for, specifically, in the past 2 weeks?” Three main responses came to mind: communicating, teaching, and encouraging Hungarian church leadership.


Months before we left, I got hold of a Beginning Hungarian CD, and though I learned basic greetings, “Where’s the bathroom?” and to count to 30, it was obvious that we were going to be strapped to an interpreter for real communication. On the flight to Budapest through London we were immersed in “proper Queen’s English” as the British flight attendant exclaimed to an unreasonable passenger, “MAH-dam, I am NOHT johking…it’s noht Oh-Kie with me!” In addition, Nick, one of our outstanding American teammates took it upon himself to persistently immerse me in US vernacular (i.e. “Dude, me and DJ have been best friends nearly all my life!”); I took it upon myself to constantly adjust his grammar. Though we all made the effort to connect the best we could in Hungarian (i.e. köszönöm=thank you; szia=See ya!; hello= good bye, hello, or Attention, please; jó reggelt=Good morning, etc), when I asked Katalin, one of our dedicated interpreters, how long it would take me to master her beautiful language, she replied, “You vould NEVAH learn to speak Hungarian vell in your lifetime…Americans CAHN’T.” Hmmm! In spite of obvious barriers, God used everyone on the NVBC team to fruitfully convey meaning with God’s perfect love, the language that has been proven to communicate effectively in London, among my American friends, with Huichols, with Mexicans, and with Hungarians. See slides 1-12.

God also used the passion for the gift of teaching He has given me. First, I had the opportunity to show a Power Point presentation of this past year’s Awana activities in Tepic to the congregation of the Bible Baptist Church of Szolnok. The final section of the presentation includes a picture of one of my kids’ classes in Mexico over 25 years ago. I told the story of a boy named Nacho who came to church and gave his heart to Jesus then invited his best friend, Martin, to come hear the Good News. Martin also gave his heart to Jesus. The final 2 pictures of the presentation are of Pastor Nacho and his family, and of Nacho’s best friend, Pastor Martín and his family. The two concluding questions were: 1) “Adults, is it worth investing our lives and effort in children?”, and 2) “Which of you children will be the future Pastor Nacho or Pastor Martín of this church in Szolnok?” Second, on the last day of Bible camp we team-taught, Putting on the Armor of God, I gave the final summary including the importance of receiving God’s gift of salvation, joining His army, and resisting the temptation of Satan, the enemy, by using all the armor God provides. Jani, Balázs, Nora, Bianka, Csilla and Ákos each testified that they had made the choice to give their hearts to Jesus and join us in God’s army. Third, before I left Tepic for Hungary, one of the girls in our Awana Club gave me $100 pesos ($10 US) that she had saved to fulfill the requirement of giving a special offering to a missionary. I used her gift to purchase a Hungarian Bible that ultimately was awarded to Balázs for having memorized the most verses during the week of Bible camp, including the entire Ephesians 6 passage on the Armor of God. See slides 13-24.


Dan and Patty Peters who have been missionaries in Szolnok for 13 years related to us the sad story that the former national pastor of their church had used the church as a cover-up for his involvement in illegal financial dealings. As a result, the church has gone through some serious setbacks, from which they are still struggling to recover since he had to leave the church a little over a year ago. Zoltan Ferenczi has stepped up to the plate as a very compassionate, hardworking and committed lay-leader. He and his wife, Eva, with great personal sacrifice, took two weeks’ vacation from their jobs to invest their all in the children’s camps and related activities.

The night before I left Tepic for Hungary, “Someone” “just happened” to direct my attention to Kirt’s Arizona Diamondbacks baseball cap still sitting on the shelf of our closet. Something told me I would need that tool on the trip. I ran the cap through the dishwasher and set it on the stove over the pilot light to dry overnight. As I was leaving the house early the next morning to catch the bus to the Puerto Vallarta airport, I stuffed the cap in my suitcase with the other “Baseball and Bible Camp” supplies to take to Hungary. The cap stayed in my suitcase in Szolnok until the Thursday night before we returned to Phoenix.

The NVBC team invited Dan and Patty along with all of the indispensable Hungarian workers to a nice restaurant for a worker-appreciation dinner. After dinner, each of us took the opportunity to express to the nationals how much we love them and appreciated their hard work. When it was my turn to share, I revealed that one of my goals in the 2-week effort had been the communication of the example of the continued faithfulness to Christ and exemplary growth of the Tepic church in spite of our loss of Kirt as our shepherd. I told them that their Mexican brothers and sisters were praying that their faithfulness would become a pattern for the church in Szolnok, Hungary, as well. They are also praying that the NVBC visit might spark an interest in beginning an AWANA club for the children of Szolnok in order that future leaders may be prepared by hiding God's Word and His principles in their hearts from an early age as the current Tepic church leaders have done. NVBC sent representatives to Tepic for that same purpose 13 years ago, and the results have been remarkable. Then as I removed Kirt’s Arizona Diamondbacks baseball cap from my bag, I announced that, “This purple and turquoise hat is very special for a couple of reasons. First, it is one of the original Arizona Diamondback hats. They don’t make them in this color or style anymore. Second, it is very special because it was a gift several years ago from my parents to Kirt.” Then I directed my comments to Zoltan, who has accepted the very difficult task of leadership in his church. I told him that throughout Kirt’s ministry here on earth, just like Jesus, Kirt looked for FAT people with whom to work. Zoltan’s puzzled expression showed that he thought something must have been lost in the translation. Then I went on to spell out that Kirt looked for people who were Faithful, Available and Teachable. I shared, “Zoltan, Kirt would have admired, respected, and loved you as a leader of the Baptist Bible Church of Szolnok, and he would have considered you one of the FATtest men in all of Hungary! So, on behalf of the Bible Baptist Church of Tepic, and the North Village Baptist Church of Phoenix, this FAT cap is a gift to you to serve as a reminder that we too admire, respect, care about you, and love you; and we will pray for you, your family, and your church, our sister, the Baptist Bible Church of Szolnok.” I explained that we know it is not always easy, and at times we feel all alone in accepting positions of leadership; however in spite of temptations, tempests, trials, and tragedies, Jesus said He would build His church, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” God used our team to edify, encourage and enrich the lives of the Hungarian church leadership as we went to represent our Savior. Our investment has already paid off with dividends we didn’t dare imagine, and it will continue to compound with daily interest as we carry on upholding our sister church in Szolnok in prayer. See the FAT cap presentation in slides 25-32.

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