They leave their homelands and come to Hungary fleeing war, famine, poverty and political and religious persecution. Refugees from more than 50 countries choose Hungary because it is easier to get a visa there than in other European countries.
But the situation they encounter upon arrival is not easy.
Learning the new language is difficult. Finding work is nearly impossible — they are the last hired and the first fired. And in the last decade their adopted country has gone from being the strongest Central European economy to the weakest.
This is the situation Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers Joe and the Rev. Kathy Andress-Angi confronted in 2001 when they were commissioned to serve with the Reformed Church in Hungary’s (RCH) refugee office.
While the Hungarian government provides basic care for refugees through housing, food and limited health care, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the RCH must step in to meet other needs. The HRC concentrates on providing help for families and schools.
Joe and Kathy Angi work in four areas: jobs, housing, language acquisition and community-building and support. They work with St. Columba’s Scottish Church, a diverse congregation in Budapest and home to many who are new to Hungary and the Christian faith.
At first, many refugees came because they heard that St. Columba’s offered help to refugees. The Angis say they continue to come “because they meet God in some way here and want to know God more.” The congregation has baptized 35 adults and continues to welcome more newcomers.
After Sunday services, a common meal that began out of necessity is now an important sharing event. Some refugees travel more than three hours by train. Others are on the road for 24 hours, arriving Sunday night. Members of St. Columba provide lunch and everyone dines together
Church members take turns cooking. On three recent Sundays, diners ate Iraqi, Ethiopian and Persian meals. Like the feeding of the 5,000, Joe Angi says, “Somehow, there is always enough food.”
After lunch, the group takes up Bible study. According to Kathy Angi, “Bible study is a tender time. We gather around the table after the dishes are cleared and begin the process of finding the day’s scripture.”
She says that such study is something “that many of us take for granted, but it has great importance for the people of St. Columba’s, many of whom are new to Christianity. There are questions, debates and laughter.”
And the Lord’s Prayer is said in unison in many languages.
Editor’s note: for information about and letters from Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers around the world, visit the Mission Connections Web site. — Jerry L. Van Marter.