God's Call Comes in Many Forms - The Meaning of "Mission" in Hungary

Amy Lester serves as a Global Mission Intern in Hungary.  Her work with Global Ministries is funded by your offereings to Week of Compassion.

If someone had asked me a year ago how Week of Compassion funds were used in our church, I would have had no idea. I knew that it went toward mission work of some kind, but what does that even mean? Mission is such a broad term with so many different meanings in so many different contexts. So, if you donate to Week of Compassion, whom are your funds helping?

I cannot tell you the specifics of the program, much to the chagrin of my bosses at Global Ministry I’m sure, but I do know one thing. It supports me, a Global Mission Intern. It supports other young people like me who have chosen to uproot their lives for a year or more to serve alongside our partners around the world. Your generosity makes it possible!

Currently, I am serving a one-year term with the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH). I work in the Ecumenical Office of the national church, which focuses on maintaining international relationships with partner churches and organizations throughout Europe and around the world. I live in a big city with a routine, but fulfilling office position – not exactly your definition of mission, I bet!

So, why am I in Hungary if I’m not doing “real mission work?” Well, that’s an easy question to answer for me. They needed me, and I needed them. God’s call comes in many forms, who am I to consider one need greater or less important than another?

The situation in Hungary is a complex story; one that I am just now starting to recognize and am far from understanding. From an American perspective, it is incomprehensible. Historically, Hungary has been on the losing end of many battles and ruled by several monarchies. The Reformed tradition in Hungary dates back to early on in the European Reformation, when German merchants brought over Reformed ideas.

Since then, the church has been a place of refuge for a people that desperately needed a respite. Only the brutal counter-Reformation of the Habsburg Monarchy in the 18th century was able to effectively squelch the spreading of Reformed practices. This bloody campaign essentially made Protestant believers in Hungary second-class citizens, thus allowing for a reemergence of Catholicism. Today, Roman Catholic remains the main religious demographic, with Reformed being the second largest affiliation.

However, the biggest blow to the Hungarian people has been the dislocation of two-thirds of its territory following the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy’s loss in World War I. The Trianon Treaty in1920 not only decreased the size of Hungary’s borders, it effectively ostracized Hungarian communities from their home and culture. Now, there are clusters of Hungarian-speaking societies in surrounding countries like Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania. Within these countries, Reformed people face several minority situations because first of all they speak Hungarian as opposed to the countries’ national languages and secondly because they are from a Reformed background not Orthodox or Roman Catholic.

One of the main focuses for the RCH in the last few years has been to connect the historic relations between these separated people. Today, it strives to live as an example of a “border crossing community.” This was evidenced by the creation of a Hungarian Reformed Church in 2009. This wider church is a community of Reformed Hungarian-speaking churches around the Carpathian Basin with a common Synod called the General Convent, which can pass legislation and statements concerning issues decided upon by participating members. This unity strengthens the churches and offers a sense of solidarity in the face of hardship and distress.

In addition, the RCH has been facing the same trials that churches all over the world must handle. Congregations are getting older and local churches are dying because there are no young people to take over the reigns. For this reason, the RCH is currently in the process of a church-wide revision process. The RCH’s main decision-making body, the Synod, approved a committee with the intention of evaluating the church’s function during the last two decades and the altered social framework that now surrounds it. This process includes dialogue with pastors, presbytery bodies, local congregations and experts in certain fields as well as a sociological research study to determine the best course of action to challenge these issues.

Needless to say, it is an important time in the life of the church, but unfortunately, because of the uniqueness of the Hungarian language, it is difficult to communicate both the RCH’s work and its struggles outside Hungary’s borders. In a time of international ecumenical relations and awareness, this communication is absolutely necessary. Literally everything must be translated from Hungarian to German or English if there is even the slimmest chance that European church organizations will read and share the news. To combat this, the church started an English website and newsletter last year to be the conduits with which to share the life of the RCH. And, this is where I can help – where I am needed.

That is what mission is about; offering the skills you possess to match the need, whatever it may be, of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is about walking with our partners to live and learn together as members of Christ’s body. I am truly thankful for my time in Hungary, for the support of so many back home, for the people I work with, for the work they do, but most importantly for the work we do together.

So, if you asked me that same question about Week of Compassion today, I still would not know the specifics of where your money goes, but I would have an answer that somehow explains it better than any flow chart ever could. Week of Compassion not only supports mission, it supports people, it supports progress, it supports unity, it supports discussion, it supports equality and it supports a call of joint service. Week of Compassion supports the body of Christ.