Budapest 15 January, 2007
A new year has begun. Another year has passed. New perspectives are opening up in my work at the Károli University. After thirteen years, it is time to give the Signs of Life from Hungary a new look. The Moravians' text for the year from Isaiah poignantly expresses my feelings, „Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing...”
Old and New
What is old, what has not changed, is my physical place of work. You will find me in the same office. But still I considered it important to make a new start by literally turning my desk around 180 degrees, and hanging new pictures on the walls. I assumed I could manage with my old chair, but my chair thought differently, it collapsed a week later...
What is new is being part of a larger entity, a university with four thousand students. Now it is possible to build on the support of skilled, competent and dedicated members of staff from the Rector's office, under which the new Institute for Mission Studies is located organisationally. It is literally at a stone's throw from the 'old PMTI', which continues to function as a legal entity only. The activities have been taken over by the synod office and by the university (CIMS) respectively.
It is also new to be actively involved in considering the Christian identity and mission of the Károli university, as I was asked to give the keynote lecture on the mission of the Károli at a retraite with 120 lecturers early December.
What is old and new with regard to the content of my work? In fact not much has changed! My vision for the renewal of the Churches of Central and Eastern Europe, and a strengthening of their vision in cross-cultural mission has not changed! A glimpse into the first working week of this new year!
After giving my apartment a thorough sort out (how much better that makes you feel...), I decide to go shopping at IKEA. As a reward for the hard work, I allow myself a cappuccino, and get into conversation with an Arab doctor from Libya, who, because of her husband's studies, has been living several years with her three children in Hungary. We exchange experiences as foreigners, and discuss at length her experiences about living as a Muslim in a 'Christian' country. I am reminded of Christmas Eve with Gábor and Kati: fifteen of us (of five nationalities) squashed like sardines in a tin into their living room around the Christmas tree. The party included their daughter, who recently married a Palestinian, and a Jewish neighbour, a professor emeritus at the University of Budapest. She realised that she actually knew nothing about her own roots, but was very interested in talking more about it.
After the Christmas holiday, I try to pick up the thread again. At about eleven, I go to the Rector's office to attend the weekly devotions and to collect my mail. The meeting has been cancelled today because the Rector is absent. In the afternoon András comes by. He is going to lead a working group which is going to prepare my lectures of the last ten years for publication on the Internet. We discuss whom we will ask to join this group.
In the evening, we have our usual 'prayer triangle' with Éva and Vera. We pray especially for the preparations for my sabbatical.
Early in the morning, I leave for Soponya, a village with 2,400 inhabitants near Lake Balaton, to meet Serena. We discuss possibilities for her to take over my lectures in Papa for the next three months. I have not seen her for five years.
'During my studies, I learned a lot from the missiology lectures. I am thankful for the theoretical foundations which I gained.'
She tells about her experiences in three small rural villages, which used to be strongly Communist.
'There were fourteen of us in one of the Churches, six in the other and very few in the third too. We started with a prayer meeting, and I took up home visitation. For seven years, the Church was without a minister. Now, five years later, there are over sixty people. Many of them have grown from being completely unchurched into faithful co-workers. Every week, there are at least eight different meetings, for children, youth, catechism, 30+ and 60+ groups, etc. Through the children, the mothers come to the Church, and because of their changed lives, their husbands come to faith as well. We really have seen great miracles, for example in a family in which there was domestic violence, where the mother was getting increasingly into debt and in desperation wanted to take her own life. Through pastoral care, the children came to the children's club. Then first the mother came to the Church and later the father. Now they are leading the 30+ group. The family is again living in harmony. It is a matter of much prayer and pastoral care. The key is that whole families come to faith, and that it is then evident that they are living as true Christian families. Credibility in their way of life - that is what counts.
“Paradoxically, what strikes me”, Serena continues, "is that those who have attended the Church for many years are now opposed to seeing the former atheists coming to faith and joining the Church.” It is difficult for them to overcome the past.
Despite this disappointing attitude of the Church people, I go home immensely enriched. It seems that it is not impossible that the rural Churches come to life, as so many claim. The Word of God continues to transform and change people. Even today, miracles are still happening. And in seemingly hopeless situations, suddenly a ray of light can break through.
We speak about the possibilities for her to do her PhD at the Károli on the subject of rural mission so that her experience can be made fruitful to other people.
When I get home, I set to sending out invitations for the graduation ceremony where the Master’s thesis of the postgraduate students will be presented, followed by the handing out of the diplomas. I realise how urgent it is to get more administrative help when I come back after my sabbatical in June.
Initiatives have been taken by some friends of CIMS to create a CIMS friends network as one of its activities. Preliminary information is attached. Please let Mrs. Mineke Hardeman (email@example.com) know when you would like to join or have ideas for its development. Would you join us in prayer for the Lord to provide in our needs?
László calls from the synod’s office diaconal department. “Thank you so much for the invitation to graduation ceremony. It greatly interests me”. One of the thesis is about social aid.
'How many people may I bring along? How good that you are organising a day like this!' What an encouragement.
Good news. The contract with the university and the Károli to take over the rent of the 'old PMTI' facilities has finally been signed.
In the afternoon, a meeting with Rev. Wellmer, the pastor of the German-speaking Church in Budapest, offering his help with the correction of the dissertation by Rev. Sipos, who hopes to graduate in Utrecht on 12th June.
We have an open discussion about the Church situation in Hungary as 'initiated outsiders'. How can we cooperate more in order to strengthen the missionary awareness in the Churches?
In the evening, the weekly Bible study group. We sing a lot. I learn Ps. 121 from them. What a good start to the new year.
After getting home, I put the finishing touches to a report about the study trip with Dutch and Hungarian students to Ukraine. The meetings and conversations made deep and lasting impressions on them. Let me know when you are interested in receiving a copy.
At ten o'clock, an appointment with Niké, a member of staff for international affairs at the Károli. We discuss logistics matters regarding the graduation ceremony the coming week, and the meeting of the IAMS (International Association for Mission Studies) ExCom in two weeks time.
Next I have a conversation with Dr Ferenc Szűcs, the Rector of the university, about some matters concerning the new Institute for Mission Studies. As always, it is good to exchange ideas with him.
Later than expected, I telephone my friend Dóra! We have agreed to spend a few days out of the city, working on our research projects. For weeks I have been planning to work on the preparation of my Princeton lectures (March 5, 6). Twenty years ago, we worked together in student work. Now we are again colleagues at the Károli, where she lectures in English.
It was very good to be in the Netherlands for a week at the end of November on the occasion for my parents' golden wedding anniversary. An unforgettable party, with unforgettable meetings.
'See, I am doing a new thing...' When I look back on this first week of the year, I see what this heralds. It is good first to recharge my batteries a bit for the coming months. I am thankful for this opportunity.
Please pray for my sabbatical (14th February - 30th May, Princeton, NJ, USA). Two weeks are available in May to visit friends and Churches! I’m looking forward meeting many of you. Just let me know what time fits you best!
Pray that the many openings for the new Institute for Mission Studies and for the necessary support. This effects the degree to which the plans can be realised.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Anne-Marie Kool was seconded by the Reformed Mission League in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (GZB) in 1993 to the Reformed Church in Hungary, with the assignment to establish the Protestant Institute for Mission Studies (PMTI) in Budapest. In 1998, she was appointed as a professor of missiology at the Reformed Theological Academy in Papa, and from 1 September 2006 at the Gaspar Karoli Reformed University as Professor of Missiology and director of the Central and Eastern European Institute for Mission Studies. She is also actively involved in the Reformed Church in the high-rise residential area where she lives (Gazdagret, Budapest).
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