Twenty-five years ago, I was working with the European Baptist Convention to assist with their youth camp in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Students gathered from all over Europe to attend this camp. One year, we had a few Hungarian students attending; they had spent their lives growing up under the communist regime. The Berlin Wall had fallen, and Communism was quickly losing its grip on their country. The last Russian troops had left, and the people had found their freedom once again.
I became interested in these Hungarian students. While under the Communist regime, many of them refused to learn the Russian language. At night, up in their attics, parents secretly taught their children history, philosophy, the arts and mathematics. These young people stepped out of the oppression highly educated and with the skills to build a new Hungary.
After the camp ended, a friend and I rented a car in Brussels, Belgium, from a fellow mission organization, Operation Mobilization. The ancient Fiat was about the size of an extra-large watermelon, and the floorboard on the passenger side had rotted out.
As we drove on the Autobahn, we heard the high-pitched squeal of the small engine struggling to keep up as the highway went by only inches beneath our feet. We spent most of the drive praying that nothing would fall through the hole in the floorboard.
Fifteen hours later, we pulled into Budapest, Hungary. I knew no one and had no plan. We stopped at a subway station and asked about a cheap place to stay. They pointed across the street and said, “Knock on that door.” We knocked, and a woman opened the door. We made the universal sign for sleep, and she beckoned us into her living room.
There in the corner was a small metal spiral staircase; she pointed up. We climbed up to find two mattresses laid out on the floor. As I lay down, I took in the lights of the city. I remembered Psalm 2:8, “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” I asked God to give me Hungary.
Suddenly, I remembered it was in attics like this where the Hungarian children had gathered while their parents taught them. Now, I was asking my heavenly Father to teach me how to reach a nation.
Months later, I returned with a group of students and took to the streets and marketplaces just like Jesus. We talked to anyone who would listen. Early on, I met a student named Kalman Kovacs. I was riding in the front of a bus, and he was standing in the back, wearing a cap imprinted with the letters “J.C.”
I wondered if he was a believer. In a city of 2 million people, only 2 percent had a relationship with Christ. Threading my way through the packed bus, I tapped him on the shoulder and yelled, “Do you speak E-N-G-L-I-S-H?!”
“Very well,” he responded.
“Good! Then I don’t have to shout at you anymore!”
As we talked, he told me he had just graduated from high school a few days before. The previous summer, he had accepted Jesus at an English as a Second Language camp. “I feel called to the ministry, but I don’t know how to find Jesus’ employment office,” he said.
I invited him and a friend to come work with us. For years, Kalman traveled, interpreted and served alongside us in the harvest.
It was slow at first; many of the people we talked to had spent most of their lives devoid of any contact with the Bible or a knowledge of who Jesus was. We just continued day after day, traveling from city to city and marketplace to marketplace. We connected with the Hungarian Baptist Convention and became a part of their mission strategy. Traveling with their mobile VBS bus, we joined with their church planters and assisted them.
It all seems so long ago. Twenty-five years later, I am returning to Hungary, serving those who served me. I am retracing my steps, but this time, the country isn’t spiritually barren. God is at work in this nation; seeds that were planted 25 years ago have been watered, and the harvest is taking place.
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters are anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:6-9).