Margaret Emma Perry serves with the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH)
How would you describe the mission of our partner in Hungary?
The Reformed Church in Hungary sees its mission as to support those in need at every opportunity; this is part of its presentation of the gospel to society, not only in words but also in its deeds. Within this, the RCH supports fields of social work such as the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, organizes and supports mission programs of its congregations, compiles lectures, and publication materials, and also connects with other church communities and both regionally and internationally as part of their ecumenical efforts.
What is your role in their mission?
I work as an intern in the Ecumenical Office, focusing mainly on communications. I help edit articles that have been translated into English from Hungarian so that they may be re-published for the broader international community. I help edit and draft English language materials to be prepared for international audiences.
What led you to want to serve?
Global Ministries, and Week of Compassion, was always very prominent in my home church growing up; I distinctly remember filling up the coin boxes for Week of Compassion every year as a kid. I knew I wanted to apply to be a Global Mission Intern and work with refugees because it represented an intersection of all my experiences, both in service and academically, up to that point. The scripture 1 Peter 4:10 calls us to use the gifts we have in our service, and I considered extensively the experiences I had working with refugees and individuals experiencing homelessness in college, and the service experience with my home church growing up, as well as my studies in international relations/political science. I felt a natural tug that serving as a Global Mission Intern was a position wherein I could best offer my experience in these subjects while also pursuing a mission of service which I care very passionately for.
Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?
1 Peter 4:10: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
This scripture has special meaning for me because it speaks to how even if we feel limited, restricted by circumstance, or even in our own ability, there remains incredible agency to affect change as individuals. The key is to arrive at the table with an open mind and heart, willing and ready to offer yourself wholly, with humility and grace, and to use every tool in your toolbox to lend a hand. I think the message is clear, service takes many forms, and so too do the unique gifts we’ve been given, and it is up to us to find a sort of harmony between the two.
What are some of the challenges facing the people where you serve or our partner?
The biggest challenge looming in this region is Russia’s war against Ukraine. Hungary has taken in many refugees fleeing the violence, and the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid is responding by providing for the immediate needs of those refugees. There is a Hungarian Reformed community in the western portion of Ukraine, the Reformed Church of Transcarpathia, who the RCH works closely with. They are both a part of the broader Hungarian Reformed Churches. The Reformed Church of Transcarpathia responded to a large influx of IDPs fleeing Eastern Ukraine following the outbreak of the war, providing temporary shelter, soup kitchens, youth programs, etc. So, currently, there are pressures from the challenges stemming from the war in Ukraine.
What lesson have you learned from our partner that should be shared with churches in the U.S.?
I have admired the generosity and hospitality of the RCH and other regional partners in Europe. I have learned a lot about how different Church communities and organizations have moved to respond to the situation in Ukraine, and the solidarity is admirable. And also how those communities in crisis are willing to lend a hand to others suffering. Following the earthquake in Syria in early 2023, the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia sent a substantial donation collected from members of its congregations to the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon to help in repairing homes, housing affected individuals and rebuilding two damaged churches. The Bishop of the RCT said that their community knew what it was like to suffer. So they felt for their brothers and sisters in Syria very profoundly. I think this sort of compassion is something we can all learn from and try to emulate in our own lives.
Which books have influenced your understanding of your country of service, work, or theology:
“Goodbye to Budapest” Margarita Morris (2019): This book by Margarita Morris is a historical fiction retelling of the lead-up to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the student-led demonstrations which sparked it.
“Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914” Max Hastings (2013): This book includes an expansive look at the outbreak of World War I in Europe. Compared to many prominent retellings on the outbreak, such as another personal favorite Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, Hastings pays due attention to the fronts in Serbia and Galicia in the east as well.
“The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine” Serhii Plokhy (2015): In this book, Plokhy, the director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, examines Ukraine’s past and the consequences of its unique geopolitical situation as an axis point between Russia, Asia, and Europe.
Which films have influenced your understanding of your country of service, work, or theology (choose 2-4):
‘Diary for My Children’ (1984): Set after World War II, this film tells the story of a young teenage girl who, after losing her parents in Stalin’s purges, must return to Hungary with her grandparents to live with her complicated and politically committed Stalinist aunt.
“The Fifth Seal” (1976): In 1944 Budapest, a group of friends is enjoying themselves at a bar when joined by a stranger. Following this, the friends begin a discussion involving questions of dignity and morality. A series of events soon turn these questions from mere thought experiments into live trials with real consequences. The friends find themselves in dire circumstances with the Nazi-aligned Arrow Cross regime, wherein they must decide whether their principles are truly worth their lives. This movie recalls similar works, such as Henri Alleg’s “La Question,” addressing themes of how cruelty and self-preservation warp individuals into abettors. This movie confronts issues of what it means to be an accomplice to injustice and the sustainability of resistance to totalitarian regimes.
Is there a special food you would like to share a recipe for?
A stew with a beef shank (or top round, top sirloin, or sirloin), packed with spices such as paprika (paprika is a signature spice in Hungary–in fact, my apartment came stocked with three spices: salt, sugar, and paprika), cumin, caraway, and peppers. Though the dish may look very similar to your run-of-the-mill beef stew, these spices give Hungarian Goulash a very distinct flavor.
6 strips of chopped bacon
2 pounds of beef shanks cut into 1” cubes
2 peeled and medium diced yellow onions
3 finely minced garlic clove
1 seeded and medium diced red bell pepper
1 banana or cubanelle pepper cut into rings or medium diced (Here in Hungary, I buy the green paprika peppers at my local store; however, you must work with what you have)
3 cored and medium diced vine ripe tomatoes
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 cup red wine-cabernet sauvignon for cooking and a chianti for sipping
4 cups beef stock
2 bay leaves
2 peeled russet potatoes cut into 1” chunks
3 peeled and large diced or thickly sliced carrots
optionally add 1 cup each of large diced peeled celeriac root and turnips
salt and pepper to taste
- Start by cooking some bacon in a large pot over medium heat until it is browned. Set the crisp-cooked bacon lardons aside.
- Add the beef to the pot with rendered bacon fat (the leftover fat from taking out your cooking bacon) and cook over high heat until they are well browned on all sides, and then set them aside, which takes about 10-12 minutes. The beef drippings will absorb after 5-6 minutes, and the beef will brown much better after that.
- Next, add the onions to the same pot and cook over low heat until they are browned and caramelized, which takes about 20-25 minutes.
- Pour in the garlic, peppers, and sauté over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes while occasionally stirring.
- Place in the tomatoes and stew for 6-8 minutes or until a lot of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Next, add back in the beef and bacon, along with the cumin, paprika, and optional caraway seeds (I personally opt out of this because of the citrusy hint caraway has), and cook for 4-5 minutes. The flavor, scent, and color should really intensify right here in this section.
- Deglaze (loosen up the food particles stuck to the bottom) with the red wine and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes or until the amount of liquid is reduced by one-half. Make sure the heat isn’t too high, you don’t want to sour the wine
- Pour in the beef stock along with bay leaves, salt, and pepper, and place a lid on the pot and cook over low to medium heat for about 90 minutes or until the beef is tender.
- Add your desired root vegetables to the stew and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- Serve in a bowl with a garnish of chopped parsley. (Take out the bay leaves before a guest accidentally tastes one)
Can you send us a song they sing at church in your placement?
“Be Thou My Vision” -Translated by Mary E. Byrne (1905) from the Old Irish Hymn “Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile,”
1 Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
be all else but naught to me, save that Thou art;
be Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, Thy presence my light.2 Be Thou my Wisdom, be Thou my true Word;
be Thou ever with me, and I with Thee, Lord;
be Thou my great Father, and I Thy true son;
be Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
3 Be Thou my Breastplate, my Sword for the fight;
be Thou my whole Armor, be Thou my true Might;
be Thou my soul’s Shelter, be Thou my strong Tow’r,
O raise Thou me heav’nward, great Pow’r of my pow’r.
4 Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
be Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
be Thou and Thou only the first in my heart,
O High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
5 High King of heaven, Thou heaven’s bright Sun,
O grant me its joys, after vict’ry is won;
Great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be Thou my vision, O Ruler of all.
Is there a piece of traditional art that you can send us a photo of and/or explain?
Title: Saint Sebastian from Egervár
Artist: Philipp Jakoub Straub (b. 1706- d. 1774)
Medium: Lindenwood, carved, painted
Date: 1757 ce
Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary
This sculpture of Saint Sebastian and a similar sculpture depicting Saint Roch, both of whom were prayed to in order to ward off the Plague, act as personifications of pain and suffering. The sculpture portrays the martyred Saint Sebastian bound to a tree, strewn with arrows, his gaze downcast, tears falling from his closed eyes. In contrasting the agony of Saint Sebastian’s wounds, the sharpness of his sorrowful expression, and the impression of tension in Sebastian’s physique and the motion of his cloth, the artist effectuates in the reader a feeling of personally bearing witness to Saint Sebastian’s resignation as it is happening.
Emma’s appointment with the Reformed Church in Hungary is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, Week of Compassion, and special gifts.