Mattoon First UMC builds partnership with Hungarian church


Mattoon First UMC sent a team of five to work with the Pest UMC in Budapest, Hungary, the last week of June.  After worship with our Embarras District partner church of four years, the Americans taught conversational English to the incoming freshman students at the Forrai School.  Hungarian Christians from both Budapest Methodist churches worked alongside the American team to build relationships and witness to the students while others hosted the Americans in their homes. The five from Mattoon First UMC were Ken and Teri Hutchens, Mike and Diane Snow and Kelly Pierce.

The Forrai school, a private artistic and advanced high school, was turned over to the UMC of Hungary last year.  An average of 30 students per day learned English, heard stories from the life of Jesus, and created art projects during the week.  One of the American couples led a discussion on healthy relationships on Thursday at the Pest UMC.  On Friday many of the students and their families attended a graduation ceremony at the church.  

Photo courtesy of Ken Hutchens

By Kenneth Hutchens
Mattoon First UMC

"Why did you come?" The people of Hungary asked us this over and over. "Why did you come all this way?" How do you answer that? "Why did you spend the money and take the time off to come here?"
Some looked for ulterior motives. Were we being "ugly Americans" who think they can tell the rest of the world how to live? Were we trying to take something from the Hungarians or get them to give us something? Did we just come to have a good time? To see a beautiful city and enjoy its charms? Were we throwing our dollars around in a power ploy? Why did we come?
Some at home ask the same question in a different form: "Why go over there? Don't we have enough problems to deal with in Mattoon? Aren't there those who need to hear about Jesus here?" Why would anyone go there when we have needs right here?
Some here also see mission in light of ulterior motives. "It is just a vacation under another name. It is just a power trip. It is just .." They too cannot seem to grasp the real reasons to go.
We go because we were commanded. Then Jesus came to them and said, "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20)." We realize that Jesus' command was not just for the original disciples. It applies to us today -- and Hungary is one of the nations. We were commanded to proclaim Jesus near and far. So we go.
We go because we were called. God has a plan. In that plan not all are called to go to a particular place. But some are. When God calls we will not be satisfied until we respond. When we do respond to that particular call we find in it blessing and challenge, reward and struggle. We are placed here but sometimes God calls us to go there -- if only for a little while. When we heed that call we find it impacts both there and here. For God is in the call. And God is with those who support the answer to that call.
We go because we care. We did not know Alexandra before our trip. She was randomly assigned to my English class. Her hair style, dress and demeanor said, "Stay away from me. I don't trust you and you better not try to take advantage of me." Perhaps someone had hurt her and she was stuck in the consequences. If I was asked ahead of time, I would have seen Alexandra as the least likely to respond to a message about Jesus Christ. Every day she wore black t-shirts extolling a certain heavy metal band that has an anti-Christian message. They were her heroes.
Alexandra did respond. She brought her grandmother with her to the church gathering about relationships on Thursday. She came without the black t-shirt. The gathering was really not designed for her and the students but that did not matter. She felt cared for and she responded. On Friday she brought her grandmother and both her parents to church for the graduation ceremony. She told us that she liked the church in Pest and would be back. For she had found out that they cared too. They had opened their homes for these Americans and had opened their church doors for the students to come and hear about Jesus. They did not know Alexandra but they wanted to get to know her.
We did not know Alexandra. We went because we knew that God knew those there and cared about them -- so we cared. She picked up on the care that would motivate a group to come from Mattoon, Illinois, to Budapest, Hungary. She heard about the concern that motivated others to give so the group could come. She experienced the care of Hungarian Christians in her own city. She heard about a God who also cares for her -- much more than we do -- and has a better future planned for her. Because a church in Illinois and a church in Hungary cared, Alexandra and others like her had a chance to get to know Jesus. Isn't that a good reason to go?
By the end of our time in Budapest the question had changed. No longer did they ask, "Why did you come?" We had answered that question in light of the command, call, and concern of God. Now they asked, "When will you come back? When can we see you again?" We could only answer, "God willing, it will be soon." Thank you for your response to God's love for the people of the world.
(Reprinted with permission from August 2014 issue of The Cornerstone, the newsletter of Mattoon First UMC)