6th September, 2002
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Ps. 23:4
"Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." Ps. 103:1-2
Dear Brothers and Sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Last Wednesday, the hour had come! After a summer of hard work and (literally) being in a cold sweat, I left loaded down with at least sixty-five pounds of paper, consisting of eight bound copies of my thesis and a thick file of publications and necessary documents, for the University of Debrecen to present myself officially for the qualifying examination. The home stretch really was hard going. In putting the finishing touches, I received some fantastic help from my colleagues. Veronika and I spent four days sitting on my terrace reading out aloud the entire text, in my experience the best way of doing the final corrections. Mariann compiled my professional CV, with all the publications, lectures etc. (which showed me that I have not been letting the grass grow under my feet in recent years!). Szilvia arranged for my thesis (of "only" 180 pages) to be copied and bound. Pali rushed to my assistance in loading my heavy bags into the car. The official defence of the thesis and the two public lectures I have to deliver will take place in the autumn.
When you are studying for something, sometimes you can't help but ask yourself, "What am I doing? Is it worth it: investing so much time and effort in getting another qualification?"
Looking back, it has been very good that in recent months I have been forced to summarise and evaluated the past decade of ministry in Hungary and Central and Eastern Europe. The research for my doctorate was based on the past. Now I have attempted to link lessons from the past to an analysis of the present with an eye to the future. I hope that this study will make a contribution to the discussion about coming to terms with the Communist past, which often hangs as a shadow over the present, and still acts as a millstone around the necks of Church and society. Pretending the shadow is not there does not solve the problem. Focusing on the relationship between individual and community in the transition period of the last ten years, I have tried to analyse in more detail the missiological questions related to this transition, concentrating on the missionary calling of the Church in today’s society. I have investigated these questions from a Biblical and missiological perspective.
As a conclusion, I have outlined elements of an emerging relevant missiology, of a missionary ecclesiology for Hungary and Central and Eastern Europe at the beginning of the twenty-first century. With this approach, I have also tried to show the relevance of the subject of missiology (the science of missions) in theological education. This discipline has not only to do with far-away-countries, with church and mission in the non-western world, but also with the difficult missionary task of spreading the Gospel in our Western culture. The reflection on a so-called domestic missiology is in many places still in its infancy. It seems as if it is easier to deal with issues of far-way countries and cultures!
In my study it struck me anew that we can learn a lot from Churches in the non-western world. This implies that we must take on an open, listening and learning attitude with regard to what is going on in the Churches in the "traditional" missionary fields, even though there are often great differences. They know from experience what it means to live as a minority among people of other religions. Then what really matters is living out the gospel as an alternative Kingdom community. We can also learn a lot from their missionary spirituality!
Another conclusion is that in Europe we have the tendency to idolise Church structures and traditions bound up with them. I intentionally speak of traditions in the plural. Our missionary task in Hungary and in Europe is to translate the Tradition with a capital letter into a way of being the Church, which is Biblical and relevant. This means that many sacred cows will have to be sacrificed, in order to live as a witnessing, healthy, commissioned Church, which is "in the world", but not "of the world".
Postgraduate program in missiology
For a few years we have been working on developing a postgraduate course in missions, evangelism and Church development for pastors and religious education teachers. Probably people who have degrees in different subjects will also be eligible to apply. In recent weeks, we have been able to make considerable progress. In many respects, the studies for my second thesis have been the theoretical basis of this! It will be a two-year course with six weeks of lectures each year, with a strong focus on individual study, peer tutoring and practical placements. We expect that we will be able to start at the end of January 2003. The program will also be open to students from outside Hungary. It will intentionally be bilingual (English and Hungarian). The process of validation in Hungary and by an English university is at an advanced stage!
How can we help?
Often I am asked, "How could we support the work of the Missions Institute?" It is a great miracle that until now we have been able to function without serious financial problems. To be honest, I don't like writing about finances. But now I feel have no choice. The responsibility is becoming too great to bear alone.
On average, yearly about 40 % of the operating expenses have come from within Hungary, despite the fact that the budget has increased considerably in the last seven years. But in recent months, we have really been experiencing the effects of the worldwide recession. From various quarters, we had received (even written) pledges for considerable gifts, a total of 65,000 euro, partly pledges for covering the operating costs and partly for the expansion project. This is about half of our year budget. Unless miracles happen we will probably not receive this sum. From our side: we feel that more than ever, we must appeal to Hungarian Churches and individuals for support. We are thankful that Mrs. Ágnes Kertész is now part-time employed to help in the area of development and constituency relations. In the meantime, we will faithfully carry out the task that the Lord has entrusted to us. We trust that the Lord will then provide for the rest.
Facility development project
Last year you helped a great deal with the roofing tile project! We are thankful for your sacrificial support even in the last months. More than sixty five percent of the next fase is received or pledged. But for the seminar room to be used in the postgraduate program by the end of January 2003 thirty-five percent of the total sum completing the seminar room is still needed, about 35,000 USD. Beside this, ten extra study carrels with computers are needed in the library. The expansion of the library requires in total 10,000 USD.
To put it differently: the seminar room provides places for thirty-five people, the library needs ten study carrels, so in total forty five places are needed. We have already received gifts for twenty-three places, and are looking for Churches, organisations and individuals who are prepared to take out "shares" in the remaining twenty-two places. With an investment in these “shares” for the Kingdom, you will have the promise of a reward in heaven! One places costs symbolically 1,000 USD.
Nothing much came of a holiday this summer. After I had dotted the final "i" of my thesis at 3 a.m. in the morning of 12th August, I left at 7 a.m. for the Netherlands. Some eighteen months ago I had been invited to give a lecture at a Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians (FEET) near Cologne, and I decided to make use of the opportunity to pay a brief visit of a day to the Netherlands. But, it turned out to be two days! The car journey of 1000 miles went very well. I made it in a day, also thanks to the warm hospitality and delicious meal of my special friend Barbara who lives near Salzburg! It was very good to meet my parents and the rest of the family.
After an enthralling conference about European Christianity in a worldwide perspective, I went to the east of Germany, to the famous town of Halle, where once the first chair of missiology was established. I attended a very interesting European conference of missiologists. It was the first time that I had met European colleagues and could exchange views with them. I knew many by name and from their publications, but not personally. To my surprise, the theme of my thesis fitted seamlessly with a part of the conference. This meant I was already able to “test out” some of my conclusions before the actual exam. Actually, I had the feeling that this was already the exam. I am thankful that I can report that I did not "sink"...
Thank you for your continued concern and prayers. I received a lot of cards, e-mails and telephone calls as tokens of support. This helped me a lot with the home stretch of my second thesis. At the end of this year, I hope to come to the Netherlands again for a (brief) home assignment. This will be from 10th December to 12th January.
Yours sincerely in Christ,