About 13 years ago, then 50-year-old Györgyi Vályi was invited to Hope Church in Budapest, Hungary. She had never seen anything like this United Methodist congregation before: The group was mixed, even some homeless people attended the church services — and there was a pronounced social sensibility that still characterizes this congregation today.
At that time two older members were studying theology, and when Vályi saw their enthusiasm, she wanted to expand her knowledge by studying theology, as well. Without any particular aim. Simply out of interest. And most important: without any idea that God might have a plan for her.
She studied while working full time and caring for her bedridden grandmother for several years.
“God gave me the strength for all this,” she said, adding that without God’s help, she would probably have given up.
As part of an internship in an old people's home, she led weekly Bible studies, which she continued after completing her studies with a focus on social counseling. At the same time, more and more ministry opportunities opened up for her in The United Methodist Church and she was asked by the church leadership to take over the responsibility for Hope Church, the smallest of three United Methodist churches in Budapest.
Vályi hesitated, but said she read John 15:16 — and had the impression that God would speak to her: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you...”
So she said yes. “I began to understand that this turn of my life was not an accident, but God's plan,” she said.
Now, she leads the church as a mission worker. After more than 40 years as a beautician and entrepreneur, she was suddenly a beginner again. Her service in the church presented her with hurdles that had to be overcome — “and it taught me humility,” she adds. “I had to grow and learn day by day — not only in my knowledge of the Bible, but also as a leader.”
At the end of her first year, she became insecure because of the many difficulties. Was this really what she was supposed to do? Again, God spoke to her through the Bible: “Listen to my advice! Do not go to another field to gather corn.” (Ruth 2:8).
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new vocational certainty grew in her and she continued her ministry. For many weeks, it was not possible to meet in the rooms of the church. Contacts via the Internet and telephone became increasingly important. But during this unprecedented time, the church even moved closer together.
“There are not many of us,” Vályi said. “About 15 to 20 people gather regularly for the worship services.”
“We keep in touch even outside the church, pray for each other and spend time together,” Vályi said.
Above all, she said everyone in the church serves people on the fringes of society and helps to ensure that hope is planted in people's hearts in a very practical way.
“Humanly speaking, we may serve beyond our means, especially since our average age is between 60 and 65 years. But because we are responding to a call we have received from God, we can also draw strength from above,” she said.
“Klári Szabóné Papp and Bandi Andor Szabó preached to the homeless in an underpass until restrictions made this ministry impossible. Bandi has also preached in hospitals, and Klári works as a counselor in a home for mothers with children who are homeless or have fled from their violent husbands and fathers,” she said.
“Zsóka Lászlóné Rácz makes visits to an old people's home. With Nora Kerner’s help, we have supported a Hungarian-speaking community in Transcarpathia (Ukraine) – financially and in other ways. Marika Sándorné Dávid works with street children and visits Roma families in Tatabánya (60 kilometers from Budapest). Betti Erzsébet Kenyeres and her family are involved in a Christian literature ministry. Kata Katalin Kardos is committed to helping people who are on their way from an alcohol disease to a new life.”
While the pandemic may limit or redirect work of Hope Church, she said she prays “that our church will recognize the way that God wants to show us.”
She trusts that God has prepared wonderful things for those who love him. And while she confidently waits for this to become visible, she works to make Hope Church a church of hope for many people.
Schweizer is assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area, Zurich, Switzerland.
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