Budapest, 5th June 2003
'But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses ...'
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Friends and Family,
The headline in the Moscow Times this morning read, 'Extraordinary June snow in parts of Moscow!' I felt quite jealous about this during a meeting of the Missiological Research Fellowship held for the first time in the new seminar room of the Missions Institute, situated in the attic. For the second day in succession, despite all sorts of preventative measures like sunblinds, ventilators etc., the temperature was near to and sometimes even above 40 degrees centigrade. Boiling hot. We almost melted. To be honest, it was not easy to concentrate on the particularly interesting lectures by, for example, Prof. Dr J. Andrew Kirk, about apologetics and secularisation, and Rev. András Lovas about his recent study trip to China.
In the past two weeks during the intensive block weeks of the postdoctoral course, the temperature was not much better. Even for the South African guest lecturer Prof. Dr Nico A. Botha the reception was a bit too 'warm'. One thing was very clear - the installation of the air-conditioning cannot be put off any longer.
Many of you responded to my last Sign of Life of over three months ago about 'rejoicing' and 'not being anxious'. It was really heart-warming. Donations began to flood in from Hungary and from abroad. We even received a check for a considerable sum from an organisation whose shares had been reduced to almost nothing due to the crisis on the stock market. I simply could not believe my eyes. Partner Churches, missionary organisations, foundations and friends of the Missions Institute showed an incredible willingness to support financially, which was a great encouragement to us. One American donor wrote that recently Roma people broke into his home. Just at that time this family received a newsletter from the Mission Institute sharing about training people for ministry among the Romani. They re-committed themselves to regularly support the Mission Institute! Even the building contractor chipped in and suggested that we paid part of the bill later in the month.
Even more surprises
There were surprises of all sorts: what do you do if you are expecting a group of fifty students for an intensive two-day course and you do not have the money to buy chairs? It appeared that a Church conference centre about a hundred kilometres from Budapest was just in the process of renovating the kitchen and was prepared to lend us fifty chairs until the middle of June. (We still do not know what we will do after that!) A couple of friends from the Netherlands came to visit and during the farewell dinner said that they had decided to adopt-a-student in the postdoc program.
And the Hungarian Churches took their share as well. A quote from a letter from one of my colleagues Zita: 'I left with Kati (our business manager, AMK) a gift of 61 euros from the pastors' fraternal in M. for the support of students for the postgraduate program in missions and evangelism, and 40 euros for the same cause from the organisation Serving Love. The Reformed Women's Union in M. collected 80 euros for students who have families with several children. I expect that Reformed women's unions from other towns will also give money for the support of the students, because everywhere plans were being made for collections.' To date we received over 12,000 euros from the Hungarian Churches.
All together, in the last three months, we have received more than a hundred thousand USD of which about half are for the extension projects and the other half for the operating budget. This means that our reserves have risen from six weeks to five months, while we always aim to have six months' reserve. Thank you all for your response! It is a great encouragement to continue.To complete the seminar room - including the air-conditioning and tables and chairs - a sum of about 25,000 USD is still needed.
At three o'clock in the morning of Saturday 22nd March the telephone rang. I jumped out of bed. It could only be my brother-in-law Jan. He shared the good news that Mattias Cornelis had joined their family, exactly three years after the doctors had told my younger sister Willemien – at that time suffering from cancer - that she would probably never have children. Something like this only takes place once, and you have to be there. A surprise visit of one day was the result.
This event occurred exactly in the middle of the first intensive teaching weeks of the postgraduate program. By now, the second teaching weeks are. As youi can image there is a lot involved in setting up a program like that. In February, there was an unexpected spanner in the works with regard to the discussion about international recognition. But a new door opened, as it happened in South Africa. Intensive discussions were conducted with the University of South Africa (UNISA), with a positive outcome. An interesting - providential - coincidence was that I have known the head of the missiology department for years; we followed the missiology lectures of Prof. Jan A.B. Jongeneel, Missiologist at Utrecht University.
Some responses of students: 'These teaching weeks forced me to conduct a personal re-evaluation. My whole life was shaken to the core.' Another, who had been a pastor for ten years, said that he had come as 'a dried out sponge, now able to suck up spiritual and intellectual water'. Many agreed that the lectures by experienced lecturers from the Netherlands, Norway, England, South Africa and Hungary were a huge stimulus and offered them a new perspective on the work of missions and evangelism. It seems that eleven of the sixteen students have been 'adopted'. The support from within Hungary is also taking on shape.
At the end of April, a delegation from the Rhine Evangelical Church in Germany paid a visit. It was mutually very stimulating to gain insight into what it means to be a missionary Church in each of our situations, and in the questions we face
A few days later, I visited some Reformed/Presbyterian Churches in Ukraine and Poland with an international delegation. We heard of vast Church growth, especially among the Baptist Churches. One of the high points was undoubtedly a service in a small Church in a Czech village which was not even on the map. Christians from different backgrounds and nationalities who had never met or wanted to meet came together to praise and glorify the Lord. We heard of God's faithfulness in families, in which the parents or grandparents had been imprisoned for their faith. It struck me particularly how important the role of grandparents was in passing on the faith. Many had prayed faithfully for years for their children and grandchildren. They literally kept the strain of praise going. I wish you could have heard the wonderful singing - in Czech!
Relaxation after a hectic time
You will understand that the past months were not easy because of the financial problems at the Missions Institute. Besides this, on a personal level, other disappointments and uncertainties played a role, which did not leave me unmoved. 'But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses'. In missionary work, there is always a Comforter at our side. We are not alone. I was able to experience this, when the responsibilities sometimes weighed very heavy. This meant that it was good to be able to get away for a few days in the middle of May with my German friend Ute. In three days, we cycled round Lake Balaton, a trip of about 200 km. It was wonderful to leave everything behind and enjoy the beauties of nature.
'A friend in need is a friend indeed.' In recent months, we have experienced this at the Missions Institute. It was good to stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with colleagues in the battle. What motivates us in this? To help the Churches to be a shining light and the salt of the earth in Hungarian society, so that they can live out the gospel! The new Bishop Istvan Szabo expressed this recently in conversation with a colleague: 'We look to the Missions Institute for help in analysing the situation of the Churches and of society, and to offer a significant contribution in missionary training of the congregations.'
On a personal note, on Saturday 28th June, I will be awarded my professors degree at 10.30 in the Great Church of Debrecen.
Yours sincerely in Christ,