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Hungry in Hungary

PC(USA) delegates reflect on Hungarian Reformed Youth Festival

August 12, 2011

A group of youth delegates in Hungary together for a photo.

The international ecumenical delegation that attended the recent Hungarian Reformed Youth Festival in Tata, Hungary. —Photo by Krissy Moehling

LOUISVILLE

Two young representatives of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who were part of an international ecumenical delegation to the Hungarian Reformed Youth Festival in Tata, Hungary, have written reflections on their experience.

Krissy Moehling of Pittsburgh and Allison Tirone of Wheaton, Ill., attended  “Csillagpont” (“StarPoint”), which drew more than 3,300 young people from 30 countries from July 17-23.

Their participation was funded by the Department of Ecumenical  and Agency Relations of the Office of the General Assembly and the Youth Ministry office of the General Assembly Mission Council. The Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH) is a partner denomination of the PC(USA).

Reflection by Krissy Moehling:

Three numbers stick out in my mind when reflecting upon my experience with the 2011 StarPoint festival: 3304; 662; 30. There were 3,304 campers present for this four-night festival representing close to 30 countries. StarPoint itself is completely organized and run by volunteers ― 662 of them, mostly youth.

They are a phenomenal representation of dedication, inspiration, yearning, and a call to connect to and deepen relationships with God and other Reformed Christian youth. God is indeed moving in Hungary. I felt honored to witness His calling for healing, revival, and a deeper impact ― a transforming relationship with Him that would reverberate to impact all across the country.

This message was especially present for me when listening to the nightly speaker, Bishop Jozsef Steinbach, who shared his experiences, witnessing to the gift and power of Jesus’ “touch” upon his life and who called these youth to right relationships, outreach and witness to others, and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This year’s theme was “Touches,” and each day’s two main lectures and host of breakout sessions, small group conversations and concerts revolved around aspects of what it means to be touched by God, touched by your family, and touched by your peers.

I was amazed and impressed by the Hungarian youth’s attentiveness, especially as the morning lectures ran 90 minutes and were, from all accounts, heavy with meaning. This is a people hungry to learn and to be touched by God and others. It is inspiring to see it in the youth and what that can then mean for the Hungarian Reformed Church.

Our international delegation heard a special presentation by the [RCH] General Synod delegate and the first organizer of Csillagpont. They told us that this movement of youth and the vast numbers that are responding to this biennial festival from all across Hungary is astonishing to the church. The RCH was at first hesitant, but now most of the churches are backing this festival and supporting it as much as they can. 

The morning lecturer was a nationally and internationally renowned female psychologist. Evening lectures were given by an RCH bishop. Concerts were presented by famous Hungarian musicians, including a very popular band comprised entirely of persons with disabilities. The prayer tent was always packed and the walk of blessings road held at the end of the festival ― where people could pray with and receive a blessing from pastors ― was inspiring and moving.

The enemy was out in full force that week, starting with a torrential downpour the first night just as the festival was getting underway and we were all spread out in the grass. Rain continued to hammer us for the majority of the days.

The front office also experienced a lot of unusual technical problems with registration and other events. More than 3,300 youth coming out to be touched by God and strengthen ties with others is an impressive but terrifying number to contend with. But God was faithful and prevailed.

Despite the rain and the multitude of logistical and technical adjustments, the festival went smoothly and successfully on. I was touched, too, by the warm greetings, hospitality, and presence of God evident in all those who served us (staff, volunteers, concert folks, lecturers), despite the weather and constant upheaval of moving spaces.

The fellowship with the other international delegates that came was also an inspiring and touching experience. There were 20 of us: two from Taiwan, two from South Korea, two from Lithuania, six from Germany, two from France, three from the UK, one Canadian, and Allison and me from the U.S.

All of the delegates were actively involved in some type of ministry in their home church, most working with youth. It truly is a wonder to experience the universal church here on earth ― connecting with one another in Christ despite our language and cultural differences and sharing something so divine, so deep, so sacred as this fellowship of believers. It is a beautiful gift and an inspiration to be able to learn from one another and encourage one another.

We spent most of the week hanging out together, attending the main lectures (which were translated for us), those breakout sessions that were translated or taught in English, having our own Bible study and small group discussions in English each day, and attending all the concerts we could.

The five Hungarian translators and volunteers assigned to our group were spectacular, exceedingly gracious, and amazing hosts. In addition to making the festival possible for us to enjoy, they were always eager to give us more insight into the Hungarian people, this festival, and the response of the youth.

We were also blessed enough to be able to spend some time in Budapest, where our guides led us on a four hour walking tour of the absolutely beautiful city. They also arranged a one-hour boat ride around one of the lakes in Tata.

Thank you for sending me to this festival. I am grateful for the experience, the adventure of  camping out in tents for the first time since I was a child, the friendships forged, the connections made, and God’s touch that I was a witness to and also experienced myself.

Reflection by Allison Tirone:

My trip to Csillagpont was an incredible adventure that I will never forget!

My first impression was overwhelming awe at the organization and effort of the Hungarian youth who planned and ran this event ― more than 650 volunteers worked to pull it off and 11 of them were specifically dedicated to the foreign delegates such as me. 

These youth volunteers somehow managed to get a famous Hungarian clinical psychologist, Dr. Emoke Bagdy, to lead the main sessions. They also organized evening sessions, 30 concerts including folk musicians and well-known Eastern European Christian bands, meals for 3,500+ people, 44 breakout lectures targeted at issues relevant to Hungarian youth, folk dancers, special trips, game shows, sports competitions, ministry tents, and more. 

Five translators reproduced the Hungarian programs, maps, and handouts so we could have them in English. I could not believe the number of pastors, organizations, equipment, and ministries it took to pull this off and was astounded by the sheer amount of work these youth volunteers must have invested in this event.  There is no comparable event in America that I’m aware of.

My most valuable Csillagpont experience was meeting and sharing ideas with youth workers from around the world. Before meeting the global delegates, I had assumed that the apathy toward religious activities and lack of church attendance that typically begins during adolescence and continues until parenthood in the U.S. was atypical compared to the rest of the globe. 

I was feeling discouraged about the number of youth who are “lost” during this stage of life.  I was expecting, from Christian news reports, that churches outside of America would be more impassioned and faster-growing, and thus have fantastic youth ministries. 

However, as I spoke with delegates from Canada, France, Germany, Wales, Scotland, Hungary, Lithuania, Taiwan, and South Korea, I discovered that youth ministries in the United States are much more popular and stable, and better supported with people and resources than other countries. 

Protestants make up less than 3% of the population in France, Lithuania, and Taiwan; less than 34% in South Korea, Hungary, Germany, and Canada; 51% in the United States; and 60% in the United Kingdom. These numbers represent the number that identify themselves as Protestant, so it stands to reason that numbers of active believers are even lower. 

I had no idea that Protestantism was such a small force in most of Europe and Asia, and I’m guessing most Americans are just as clueless. This led me to feel grateful for how free Americans are to identify as Protestants without fear of being belittled, rejected, or even persecuted.  This stands in stark contrast to those in Lithuania and France where Protestantism is viewed as if it were a cult, due to a lack of knowledge about what Protestants believe. 

According to other delegates, the trend I observed in the U.S. of a sharp drop in attendance at the start of adolescence is matched or exceeded in Europe and Asia. The difference is that, while U.S. “lost” youth tend to come back to the church around the time they become parents themselves, delegates reported that their “lost” youth don’t reappear in force until they are grandparents. 

Delegates thought this trend may be caused by political situations, post-modern pressure to find a personal and not universal “truth,” and a lack of people and resources to support a youth ministry, considering congregations are typically made up of 50-100 people. 

Lack of resources forces churches to rely on volunteers, typically a parent or young adult who runs a youth ministry for a year or two and then moves on, causing the quality and consistency of youth ministry to fluctuate over the years. Youth cannot depend on a consistent, enticing or even available program. 

On a more positive note, the 20 delegates I met were all passionate about a need for youth and young adult ministries and are willing to continue volunteering their time and energy to make it happen. Another major anomaly is the massive force of youth that organized the Csillagpont conference in Hungary!

I came away from Csillagpont with a much more positive take on Protestant youth in the U.S. and a strong desire to see youth ministry flourish across the globe. As a whole, American youth are more likely to identify themselves as a Protestant, consistently participate in church, and engage in youth groups.

I still believe that our churches have a long way to go in order to make youth ministry sustainable and effective in encouraging life-long faith in our youth, but there is at least a lot that we are already doing right. I also discovered that our “job” as Christians to spread the gospel of Christ “to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” is not nearly as close to being finished as Americans tend to think.

There is so much more work that needs to be done, not just in remote jungle tribes, but even in European countries. Let us pray for a revival of living faith throughout the world and consider how each of us can contribute to it.

My new relationships with youth workers from around the world won’t stop here. We have established a Facebook group in which we can share ideas and support one another in our respective ministries. I look forward to learning from their experiences. 

I am reminded of the 2011 Csillagpont theme, “Touches,” when I think of how the Csillagpont translators and foreign delegates touched each other’s lives in an unforgettable way during this week camping in a rainy village in Hungary. Thank you for the opportunity to experience Csillagpont 2011 and God bless.

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