By Evan Casey
As I looked back over the past 15 months my family and I have lived in Hungary and worked with the Christians here, it occurred to me that a lot has happened in just over a year. This is a very exciting time for the work in Hungary, with positive steps being taken and, Lord willing, more to come. I am over here with my wife, the former Lydia Humphries, and our two-year-old daughter, Rachel Olivia. Since my monthly reports furnish a pretty good overview of progress made and challenges faced, I thought I would begin each section of this article with an excerpt from a report, as a way of introducing the topic.
This is my first report from Hungary. We have already been here nearly one month and, as promised, I will keep everyone updated about our progress here. There are two churches in Hungary, which are one hour apart by train, for whom Janos (a member of the Budapest church who preaches sometimes) and myself will have to preach (October 1999).
The congregation in Budapest is the larger of the two Hungarian groups, with 20 members. There are presently no elders, nor does it seem as though that will be a possibility in the near future. The second congregation is in the small city of Székesfehérvár, located to the northwest of Budapest. This congregation was started when a member of the Budapest church, Klara Vathi, caused her sister, Margit, to become interested in the gospel. In turn, Margit led her daughter, Krisztina, to the truth. Concerning the salvation of those who are lost, these two women illustrate the point that is just as true in Hungary as it is everywhere else in the world: The work of an individual Christian in talking to those in the world is much more effective than we may realize. In our experience here, the Christians who reach out to their friends and family bring more souls to Christ than ten years’ worth of correspondence courses and like efforts, although those are certainly important, also. A relatively new convert to Christianity, Julia Hiller, lives in a nearby village and sometimes is able to join Margit and Krisztina for worship service on Sunday. You’ll find more about Julia below.
Janos Duszka is a mature Christian in his 60s who, by the time of this writing, has taken on much of the preaching responsibilities for the Budapest church. His lessons have gotten progressively more complex and reflect much study on his part in the past year. The Hungarian Christians are very blessed to have such a dedicated and humble worker among them.
To summarize our work here, we are presently studying the Bible with many in this country, either through personal studies or the Bible correspondence course which is doing well. Since we have begun advertising the course, the list of active students has increased from one to roughly 84. We have several on-going, individual studies taking place each week, with both Christians and non-Christians. One interesting thing that has come to light since the correspondence course has gotten into full swing again is the fact that many Hungarians are what we would call “deep thinkers.” Often when our students send in their lessons to be graded, they will include a page or two of questions that they would like to have answered. These questions sometimes reflect the wide range of religious influences that individual has had in his life: “What is illness?”, or “Please tell me about the book of Revelation,” or “Did Jesus ever go to India?” are a representative few questions that come to mind. I answer each question as thoroughly as time will allow, and a translator will then put the answer into Hungarian, and we’ll send it on out to the student with the next lesson. Sometimes this leads to a personal study as I’ll explain later in this article.
After much time was invested with research and going to look at possible meeting places, the Budapest church has found a new place for worship and Bible study. After the church had the chance to look at the flat and decided that this is the place that we wanted, we laid down the deposit for the church’s new meeting place this past week. This flat is exactly what we had been looking for . . . (December 2000).
On Wednesday evening, December 27, the church in Budapest met in its new home for the first time. For the past year, the church here has been working on purchasing a new meeting place. It can be a challenge for small groups outside the United States, in a country where the church is not legally recognized by the government, to attain stability in terms of a meeting place. Rising rent costs, problems with testy neighbors who are suspicious of the Christians, and paranoid landlords worried about renting to an “illegal” religious group can create difficulties for congregations with no permanent “home.” In the case of the Budapest church, we are too large to meet in the typical small apartment’s living room, and as most church members are part of a non-Christian family, we cannot meet regularly in someone’s home. The time was right for the Budapest church to try to secure a permanent meeting place, and with Hungary’s imminent entrance in the European Union, time was also short. The price of real estate jumped up 50% during the year 1999, so we had to try to move quickly. The church put its resources together with help from individual Christians in other parts of the world who desired to help, and with the Lord’s help, it was accomplished.
As you can imagine, attaining our own, permanent meeting place has been a shot in the arm for the congregation, giving us a sense of stability and security that, Lord willing, will last for many years to come. The members of the congregation are excited and interested in being involved in a variety of ways with fixing up the flat so that it will be a functional meeting place for the church. We are able to bring together in one place study materials and church equipment that had been scattered in different members’ homes, due to lack of storage space. Now there is centrally located place in the city for personal Bible studies, a place to hold gospel meetings when visiting preachers come, and for the womens’ class to meet, without the church being burdened with extra rent costs. We are indeed very thankful to God for this new development for the church in Budapest.
There is a woman who lives near Fehérvár with whom I have been studying on a regular basis through correspondence. Julia Hiller has now indicated her desire to be baptized. Janos, and the translator, and I are going to meet with her on June 13. Julia lives in the countryside and she has no phone (June 2000).
Evangelists working overseas are usually very excited by the possibility of enlarging the area of their work, and it is no different here in Hungary. In this case, Julia Hiller, a recent convert who lives in the village of Kincsesbánya is proving to be an enthusiastic participant in the spreading of the gospel. She often studies with her friends, can gather a small group in her home to study the Bible, and is always eager for someone to come and lead the study. Meeting requests like Julia’s are probably the area of greatest need right now in Hungary. Because I live in Budapest and have a full workload here, my biggest problem is getting to these towns to teach those who have indicated an interest in personal study. Most preachers who have labored alone in an area can perhaps identify with the frustration of not being able to be two or more places at once and get more accomplished. I believe that there are areas of Hungary that are about to explode with converts because of the great interest that has already been shown there.
József Nagy, another correspondence student, lives in a village called Böhönye, located about four hours by bus from Budapest. Like Julia, József is an enthusiastic Bible student with many questions, and he requested a personal Bible study. So, Janos (the Hungarian preacher), David Bunting (a preacher who formerly lived and worked in Hungary and was visiting for a couple of weeks), and I made the trip to the village. The study went well and Janos and I hope to return for additional study with József soon.
After having studied the Bible for about six months, Edit Serfözö was baptized on October 13. There is a photograph of the baptism on my Web site at http://www. Evan.Casey.net. She continues her weekly studies with me here at our home (November 2000).
American preachers working overseas these days may be making more and more use of the Internet, from the improved ability to keep in touch with those back home through e-mail to Web pages they can build that focus on the work of the church where they are. My Web site has been a work-in-progress since our arrival here, and it has been a thrill to be able to share up-to-the-minute details about new developments with stateside Christians interested enough to look up the site after reading a report. Technology allows us to quickly share, as well, uploaded pictures of the Hungarian Christians and special moments, such as the baptism mentioned above, that help Christians in the U.S. better understand what is happening concerning the church in Hungary.
In conclusion, cultural differences certainly prove challenging at times, and we miss home, family, and friends, but it is a great privilege and pleasure to be working here in Hungary. Although there is a great need for workers here, particularly in Székesfehérvár, where there is a small congregation and interested Bible students who have not yet been converted living close by, at this time there are no preachers with a firm interest in locating here for an extended period of time.