East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 12, No. 3, Summer 2004, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Hungarian Missionary Sending Efforts: A Case Study

Scott Klingsmith

Editor’s Note: The next several issues of the East-West Church and Ministry Report will feature case studies of indigenous Central and East European missionary sending efforts excerpted with permission from Scott Klingsmith, “Factors in the Rise of Missionary Sending Movements in East-Central Europe,” Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity International University, 2002. As well as thoroughly reviewing existing literature, the author conducted 44 interviews with 50 respondents in four countries. The first case study, published in this issue, treats a joint effort of Hungarian Reformed and Lutheran churches sponsoring a missionary couple in India, as well as providing a thought-provoking critique of indigenous and Western efforts to promote this missionary sending effort. Other cases to appear in future issues examine a charismatic church in Timisoara, Romania, which has sponsored two missionary families to Albania; the Polish Biblical Mission Association, which has sent missionaries to Central Asia and other regions; and the Romanian International Mission, a broad partnership of mission agencies, denominations, churches, and training institutions, sending missionaries to a variety of countries. Scott Klingsmith’s pathbreaking study deserves serious study by anyone with a concern for church growth and missions in Central and Eastern Europe. Please note that missionary statistics date from 2000-2002.

Periodically, East European Protestants have served as missionaries. For a time between the two world wars, Romanian Baptists had their own missions agency and Hungarians served as missionaries with the American Southern Baptist Convention as well as with the interdenominational German Liebenzeller Mission. Today, Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC), Operation Mobilization (OM), and Youth with a Mission (YWAM) are active in most, if not all, East Central European countries. In some cases, most particularly with Campus Crusade, workers from the region have been sent to other countries long term. Hundreds of young people have participated in some kind of short term cross-cultural experience with OM or YWAM. Pioneers-Europe has recently been incorporated in Slovokia, with headquarters in Budapest. It currently has some 23 missionaries, many from Eastern Europe. In addition, in the 1990s indigenous missionary sending efforts began to emerge in the region.

Hungarian Missions Before 1989
The best known Hungarian missionary was Maria Molnar, who was killed by the Japanese in the Admiral Islands in 1943. Many other Reformed missionaries served with other mission organizations. In Hungary in the 1950s, when no mission activity was possible and no money could leave the country, Lutheran Missionary Society women produced handcrafts that were sent to the West to be sold to support missions. Under the Communists, two couples were sent to Kenya in 1974 with an official agreement between the Reformed Church of Kenya and the Reformed Church of Hungary. One was a theologian and professor in a theological faculty. The other was an engineer. Some people looked on them with suspicion, wondering how it was possible in 1974 for someone from Hungary to be officially sent as a missionary. Nevertheless their sending was an important fact, showing the Hungarian Church that they could play a part on the world stage.

In the mid-1980s, after government restrictions began to be eased, the Balints family went to Zimbabwe for six years as technical experts through the Lutheran World Federation (LMS). Their work in Zimbabwe was not necessarily related directly to missions, although members of the LMS viewed them as “real missionaries.” After the 1989 Revolution, they served in Papua New Guinea helping with road and bridge construction. They were sent by a three-way partnership of the Bavarian Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea, and the Hungarian Lutheran Church. Although they are Hungarian, they are largely supported from Germany.

Growing Hugarian Interest in Missions
Missions interest in Hungary’s historic churches is growing. A missions orientation course at Gaspar Karoli Reformed University enrolled a record 28 students in 2000. The Reformed Church offers a number of mission training events. The five Hungarian theological seminaries and universities offer missiological courses to approximately 100 students. Missionaries with mainline church roots serve, or have served, with Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), Operation Mobilization (OM), Liebenzell, and Neuendettelsau missions in Central Asia, Ecuador, Peru, Spain, Ukraine, China, and on the OM ship Doulos. One Lutheran missions day in western Hungary drew over 400 participants. And 35 Reformed seminary students participated in short-term mission projects in Romania and Ukraine in 2001.

Anne-Marie Kool, Missions Catalyst
Without question, the most influential person promoting cross-cultural mission awareness and involvement in Hungary, at least in historic church circles, has been Dutch Reformed missionary Anne-Marie Kool. She first came to Hungary in the 1980s with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). To get a visa, she came as a student herself, to do doctoral research on Hungarian Reformed missions history. Although people told her there was not enough material, her research uncovered far more than anyone expected, resulting in a dissertation of over 1,000 pages. Respondents, almost without exception, referred to her book as prompting their thinking about missions. Her research on two centuries of mission sending efforts encouraged Hungarians to see that what they once did, they can do again.

A second area where Anne-Marie Kool has been influential has been through the establishment of the Protestant Institute for Missions Studies (PIMS), an official program of the churches, offering a variety of mission-related courses. It also sponsors various consultations dealing with topics such as urban ministries and ministry among Roma (Gypsies). Formed at the suggestion of a Reformed seminary professor, and in consultations between Hungarian church and mission leaders and leaders of the Reformed Missions League of Holland, PIMS is recognized as the center of missions life among mainline churches in Hungary, and, to a certain extent, among free churches as well. Kool has also become a professor in some Hungarian state universities, where she has been able to bring an evangelical perspective into institutions that are theologically more liberal. The third area of Kool’s influence has been through her networking ability. For example, when Wycliffe wanted to start work in Hungary, Dutch Wycliffe workers came to her for help. She put them in touch with many of the most important people in the churches, including missions professors, key pastors, and sympathetic bishops.

Janos Bütösi, Missions Catalyst
Janos Bütösi is credited as being one of the most influential people in reviving a missions vision in Hungary. As a young pastor and evangelist he was active in the revival during and following the Second World War. In 1948 he was sent to Western Europe to study revivals, but he was not allowed to return to Hungary. He moved to the United States, finished a doctorate, and became a Hungarian Reformed bishop. In 1990, one of the bishops invited him back to Hungary to teach missions in the Reformed Seminary in Debrecen where he reestablished the chair for mission and ecumenical studies. According to Bishop Bölsckei, “his main task and main point was mission, mission, mission.” He served as one of Kool’s mentors on her doctoral thesis and was the founding board chair of PIMS. Bütösi energized and encouraged young people both to study missions and to consider missions for themselves. He promoted missions study and research, but always emphasized that missions was the task of the church. Influenced by David Bosch’s book, Transforming Missions, he could communicate at a high academic level with church and theological leaders. As a teacher in Debrecen, he had the opportunity to touch a whole generation of young Reformed pastors. Further, since he was the board chair of PIMS, church leaders had to take the Institute seriously.

Hungarians Serving in India
In 1999 the Hungarian Reformed and Hungarian Lutheran churches sent a young couple, Andras and Angelika Jo, to serve as schoolteachers in an international school in Kodaikanal, India, where they teach religious education, world religions, and values. Andras comes from the Hungarian Reformed Church and his wife, Angelika, is a member of the Hungarian Lutheran Church. They both studied theology—he at a Reformed seminary and she in a Lutheran seminary. In addition, they studied English at the Reformed Seminary in Budapest. In October 1998, they met an American missionary, David Zomer, who was teaching in the English department of the university. Around the same time they met Anne-Marie Kool, who also taught there. Starting in January 1999, during their final year of university study, they participated in a six-month-long study of missions at PIMS in Budapest, where both Kool and Zomer taught. Zomer contacted the school in Kodaikanal and potential sponsors in the United States. In the summer of 1999 Andras and Angelika began service in India. The situation is unique because the Reformed and Lutheran churches, which typically have very little to do with each other, agreed in this case to cooperate.

David Zomer, Missions Catalyst
A missionary with the Reformed Church of America (RCA), and an English teacher at the Reformed University in Budapest, David Zomer taught the Jos and was a networker between American and Hungarian churches. When the Jos were considering further missions study in India, he arranged the connections for them with the RCA and the school in India. He has led several short-term experiences for university and seminary students, primarily to Romania.

Missions and Money
Everyone interviewed says that economics is perhaps the biggest hindrance to Hungarian churches sending more missionaries. Many people say it will be impossible for Hungarians to be sent out by Hungarian churches alone. They are able to contribute in a small way, but for the near future Hungarian missionaries will require support from Western partnerships. Most churches are worried about meeting their own financial needs, paying pastors, and restoring church buildings. Church members have not developed a habit of regular giving. A Lutheran pastor says that one of the biggest problems is that the church is 90 percent supported by the state.

To the question of whether lack of financial giving is a true economic problem or a lack of vision, the typical answer was “both.” A lack of vision is commonly cited as a cause for the economic weakness of Hungarian churches, particularly regarding missions. Although the economy is growing and many people are better off than they were under Communism, life is still not easy. In addition, materialism has become a major factor. Many people are now building their own homes, which demand financial resources.

The Lutheran Church
Over the years Lutherans have been involved in some mission projects. For example, for a few years during the 1990s, they supported a Finnish woman in Marseilles, France, who worked with Arab children. Each year they sent approximately $200. They were able to raise around $500 to buy Bibles for Papua New Guinea. These projects gave them the feeling they were partners in missions. At the same time, their missionaries in Papua New Guinea are supported almost totally from Germany. Their missions pastor reports: “Some churches give a small bit, I don’t want to say nothing. I’ll give a small example. I visited 30 churches with the Balints. We raised enough for flight tickets, not more. Nothing for the work. This shows how weak we are in financial readiness, that 30 churches could only raise enough for the flight.” His point is not that the churches could not give more, but that they were not ready to give more. “If our churches would experience revival, financial responsibility would follow.” He spoke repeatedly of “sleeping churches” that could give a lot more if they were properly motivated. “It’s a two-way street, not only we give, but we also receive, spiritual treasure.” One missions leader says: “Our biggest problem is with the pastors. They are over-worked and do not want to hear anything about missions. Mission seems for many pastors to be unimportant. They say, that’s for Scandinavians, Germans, Americans who have a lot of money. We have too few pastors.” People who have not grasped the vision and church bureaucracies that delay even the simplest procedures lead to a lack of activity.

In 1990, immediately after the 1989 Revolution, the Lutheran Missionary Society (LMS) was reconstituted, having been closed by the Communists in 1952. During the Communist years, members had continued to promote interest in missions unofficially, contributing money where possible and encouraging prayer for missions. They had published samizdat documents, sharing information regarding world missions, giving items for prayer, and meeting regularly in small groups to pray for foreign missions. Most LMS members, whose average age is over 70, still have memories of the old, pre-Communist days. LMS members recognize they are old and feel they have lost their influence. Young people do not listen to them and they do not know how to communicate with a younger generation.

The Lutheran Mission Center (LMC), in contrast to LMS, involves a younger generation. A Lutheran pastor, Peter Gancs, is the director. Its focus is more local. Although the LMC sees the need for cross-cultural involvement, this occurs primarily in Hungary or countries nearby. The center publishes a monthly mission magazine and is involved in radio outreach. The magazine features articles about foreign missions, including reports about the Jo and Balint families. LMS and LMC together sponsor five missions conferences each year for children ages 10 to 14. Each issue of the magazine Misszioi has something for children as well. Both groups see the need to reach the youngest generation.

The Reformed Church
The mission situation in the Reformed Church is mixed. Most people view its missions department with great suspicion because Communists used it to control the churches. Even though it no longer has this function, the effects of the past are not easy to throw off. In addition, because of its institutional history, a pro-clergy bias exists. The missions director at the time the Jos left for India is reported to have said, “We can’t send him (Andras); he’s not a minister.” Apparently they were sent over his objections.

The missions department of the Reformed Church at this point concentrates almost exclusively on matters within Hungary. It sponsors drug rehabilitation programs, a handicapped children’s center, and Reformed schools. No official missions body exists in the Reformed Church that focuses on cross-cultural missions. Some people have been agitating for two or three years for the Reformed church to develop its own sending structure, and the prospects seem good, but the process is slow. The bishop sees the need for a sending agency in the church, but nothing has developed yet. The question was posed, “What would a potential missionary have to do in order to be sent?” The answer was that nobody knows. Many different ideas were given, but none demonstrated clarity of policy or procedure. Some informants said they would need to contact a foreign agency, either German, Finnish, or maybe Swedish.

Helping Hands
In general the churches seem to look to PIMS to give them supervision and help. At PIMS the churches see experienced missionaries, with outside contacts and a paid staff. They feel that PIMS people are more qualified and capable to take care of the sending details. Zomer did the most to get the prayer letters for the Jos distributed, although the LMS helped, and their letters were occasionally printed in the Lutheran missions magazine Misszioi. He also handled their schedule when they came back to Hungary for a few weeks after their first year in India. A difference of opinion between Kool and Zomer was apparent here. Kool wanted to encourage the Hungarians to learn to handle these matters themselves, while Zomer saw the need and simply did a lot himself. However, to be fair, he is also very concerned about helping Hungarians learn how to fend for themselves and to take ownership for their own missionaries.

Overcoming Mission Impediments
Naturally the coming of political and religious freedom does not automatically bring with it a change in mentality and worldview. The effects of 50 years of Communism can clearly be seen in the holdover of old patterns of thinking about mission. The restrictions that were placed on any kind of missions activity, whether within the country or cross-culturally make it difficult now to think about reaching beyond church walls. The Communist-era paradigm of mission as almost equal to all regular church activities did not really have an outward component. Reports one Lutheran missions pastor: “We went through difficult decades. Forty years of dictatorship. ‘Mission’ was almost a forbidden word. I studied theology in Budapest and in five years I never learned missiology or missions history. The official ideology said, ‘The church will die out step by step. You can do something in the church, worship services, but outside the church you can’t do anything.’” The effects of this attitude persist among some people.

Some church people misunderstand the word “mission,” thinking of it either politically (NATO bomb attacks on Serbia) or in terms of the way Western missions have acted in Hungary. “People think we want to win something by force. The word has been misused.” Most people understand missions to mean work among Hungarians abroad. One view says, “We should help Hungarian speaking peoples worldwide, especially Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries: Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine.” A contrasting view is that, even closer to home, Christians should reach out cross-culturally. This second view says, “Maybe we can’t travel great distances, but why not reach out to Romanians, Slovaks, Bosnians, Albanians, or Gypsies?” This group points out the number of hidden minorities within Hungary, including Roma, Jews, Arabs, and Chinese. Someone remarked on the need for a paradigm change: mission is not just crossing geographical barriers, but also cultural ones. Kool reminds her Hungarian friends: “Mission is not only to Hungarians, but to all peoples. We need to read the Bible from a multiethnic perspective. Matthew 28 is not just a command to baptize, it is a command to reach the world.”

LMS participants perceive that the current generation of young people considers the desire or demand that someone convert from his or her own religion to Christianity to be illegitimate. “They have this idea of honoring other peoples’ ideas, leaving people in their own beliefs. They consider trying to change other people’s faith a violation of human rights.”

Negative Perceptions of Western Missionaries
The attitude of most respondents toward the influx of Western, primarily American, evangelical missionaries in the past ten years is negative, despite the very significant role that two missionaries have played in the development of missions involvement. This attitude does not seem to be related to ethnocentrism or prejudice against Westerners, whom Hungarians generally like. It relates rather to their perceptions of how missionaries have operated. Newly arrived missionaries are seen as not having done their homework, not recognizing the historic churches as legitimate, and not starting with the Christians and churches who were already there. A Lutheran pastor says, “Many Western missions came without learning. They didn’t learn Hungary. They acted like they needed to start from nothing.” The churches are concerned with proselytism. A Reformed bishop confesses some sympathy with Orthodox churches in Romania and Russia who complain about the presence of evangelical missionaries who evangelize those the church considers to be Christian already. “It’s very difficult to have these people here.” Hungarian mainline churches are angered by what Miroslav Volf describes as Evangelicals “fishing in their neighbor’s pond.” They believe their members should be off limits to Evangelicals, even if those members are completely inactive.

In Summary
Why did Andras and Angelika Jo go to India? First, several key people began talking about missions, spreading the idea within their circles of influence, and developing missions training programs. Second, the publication of a history of Hungarian missions alerted Christians to their heritage as a missionary-sending country and church. Also, political freedom opened doors for people to travel and put legs to a mission vision. Finally, the beginnings of financial support for missions demonstrated a growing desire for ownership of missions.
A concern for personal comfort and the renovation of church buildings usually overrides concerns for non-Hungarian peoples outside the borders of Hungary. However, new, younger, more missionary-minded leadership in both the Lutheran and Reformed churches has recently been chosen, which could change this pessimistic picture in the years to come. If a major missions movement is to begin, the churches have to gain a vision for mission in both its local and cross-cultural aspects, rather than rely on either foreign missionaries or a church-related educational institution.

Scott Klingsmith is a missionary with CBI International, Vienna, Austria.

Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Scott Klingsmith, “Factors in the Rise of Missionary Sending Movements in East-Central Europe,” Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity International University, 2002.

Scott Klingsmith, "Hungarian Missionary Sending Efforts: A Case Study," East-West Church & Ministry Report 12 (Summer 2004), 9-12.

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