"Our mission is to provide a home to 'newcomers,' to help rebuild their lives in humanity and to give Christ's love to them," said Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy, the head of the Refugee Ministry of the Reformed Mission Center in Hungary who won the Equality Prize on the Day of Social Work. We asked Dóra about her job's attractiveness, its difficulties, and we discussed how Christmas can be celebrated together with others who have different cultural backgrounds.
What is the main purpose of your mission?
The main purpose of our organization is to provide help for internationally protected persons and for recognized refugees to begin their lives in Hungary. People who have the right to live in Hungary and who were able to move away from refugee camps can participate in our programs. We support them in housing assistance, labor, education and everyday life. Recently three projects have been operating: a migrant’s afterschool program, a school integration program, and a housing project. In order to participate in our programs, first we need to consider who has the biggest need for our help, whose life would break without our assistance. Single refugee mothers, large families and unaccompanied minors are particularly at risk. Second, we take into account those whom can bring more to the table during that one, two-year period while we support them.
Refugee: The 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees applies the term “refugee” as including any person who is outside his or her country of origin and unable or unwilling to return there, or to avail themselves of its protection, on account of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion. Stateless persons may also be refugees in this sense, where country of origin (citizenship) is understood as “country of former habitual residence”.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, refugees and displaced persons were high on the international agenda.
To what extent is Hungary a target destination for Christian refugees?
The religious composition is quite varied, from the Buddhist of Nepal to the Muslims of other lands, and the Christians of Muslim countries. Our experience shows that immigrants do not measure each other by faith. However, every culture has its own stereotype. Many immigrants from Muslim countries do not know anything about Christianity or they think about it on a negative way. As soon as they arrive in Europe they experience some culture shock, discovering an opened Europe and thus they come to see Christianity in the same open way. After getting acquainted with our mission, they let volunteers and staff members get to know them. Through us they gradually come to realize that the trendiest clothing is not what expresses our faith, and we are not superficial.
Why does the church need this mission?
I am proud that the Reformed Church in Hungary undertakes and supports refugees just as it does with other underprivileged groups in society. It is a rarity in Hungary that a church is engaged in asylum, although in other countries of Europe the Protestant churches’ and the Jesuits’ support of refugees is very significant. In my opinion, we live in an era in Hungary when immigrants are still eager to know us; they accept and search out our help. This is why there is no problem in contacting them. I hope that after these newcomers are able to settle, meeting Hungarians and Christians, receiving love and support, that the future of this migration might be different from the Western one. Furthermore, I also think that our work can be a nice example of an extended hand for the new arrivals. Our mission is to give a home for them, to help them rebuild their lives in humanity, and to give Christ’s love to them.
How can the common voice be found with the most diverse nationalities?
By the time the refugees move away from the hosting camps, they configure a mixed language which is based on Arabic, English, Hungarian and Farsi, for communication. We have also started to speak this mixture of languages, although we think it is important to begin learning Hungarian for their own interest as soon as we are in contact. We use translators for the difficult conversations such as professional and legal topics. Many times we need to discipline ourselves to not speak in English, German or French with the refugees—rather do it in Hungarian—because they will need to use it in their daily lives. Then I get nervously anxious for their success with the Hungarian language test; we are glad we have been able to convince many people to take it. This is not compulsory. We simply believe that they will have more opportunity and it will be easier for them in the labor market with the language test.
What else is joyful?
We like to see when somebody is motivated and hardworking because then it brings success. Persons who cannot prove their qualifications at first, or meet Hungarian regulations, do not accept these limitations. Perhaps they worked as a bridge builder in their home countries, and now they work very hard and with integrity in order to complete educational attainment in a foreign language. It was a miracle that one of our teachers and an immigrant student decided to make a Hungarian-Somali student dictionary because it was not available earlier. We are also proud of the boy who got an internship position with a Hungarian fashion designer. Together they were very successful. Since then their cooperation has continued; for example, recently they made the Christmas decoration for a well-known hotel in Budapest.
Surely you have difficulties, too.
Laws and regulations are constantly changing, which creates big challenges and requires more responsibility from us because we do not know what to outline as a future picture for people who wish to settle here. We need to continually encourage them even if we cannot promise any long-term perspective. Hungary does not have a long-term integration plan. This is why it is difficult to see the possible chances for immigrants here.
We have already discussed that refugees come from the most varied cultures and many of them think differently. Doesn’t this cause a problem?
No, this is one of the beauties of our job. It requires creativity. It is a challenge to formulate the same message in many ways. We need to be prepared to get it across to a person who comes from a city from the Middle East, as well to an unschooled person who arrives from a small mountain village in Afghanistan. It is important to speak to everybody equally and tell them everything they need to know about how to get ahead in life.
To what extent can you evangelize among refugees?
Our main task is to provide a well-established life through which our belief and morality can be seen. Evangelization is also part of the Refugee Mission’s social life. Through our work as a part of our orientation in Budapest, we offer our church relations with the Scottish Mission on Vörösmarty Street to people who are open, because the language and cultural environment are very receptive there. Everybody can participate in the church services, from the western diplomats to the non-Christian refugee. They can talk with each other while drinking coffee or eating lunch at the church, where every occasion is prepared by people of different nationalities. I have been thinking about how to encourage our church communities to invite a refugee, regardless of religious background. I do not see my Christianity and belief defined only within the country’s borders. It is a huge blessing for me to experience the Christian fellowship from faraway places. The Church of Christ is beautiful with this linguistic and cultural diversity.
Who gets a Bible?
A variety of Bible translations are on our bookshelves in the common room. We have noticed that many take the Bible on their own, few ask for it, and there are also people who just turn the pages. If we know that someone is a Christian we recommend a community, but if not, we wait until the person asks to visit a church. We often go sightseeing with church visits. Because of this, many times there are interesting discussions about faith and religion between our refugees. It is important to let them talk about the beauty of their religion and holidays. Our lectures include the Hungarian holidays and the Christian religious celebrations, too. If they want to live here, this should be part of their knowledge.
How can Christmas be celebrated together with refugees?
There are some bigger occasions that we celebrate together through the calendar year such as Refugee Day and the end of school year ceremony. We also celebrate Christmas together. We give presents, cook together and talk about the purpose of Christmas. It looks like a family celebration with believers and non-believers. This year we gathered at the Scottish Mission, where all in all there were about 200 people.
Is it possible to celebrate Christmas together even if they think it is not their holiday? What do you think?
If we sow the seed, water it, and hopefully later we harvest it, then yes, celebrating Christmas together is the right thing. We cannot predict when the seed sowing will ripen because it is in God’s hands. But we do everything that comes from our heart and we think it is a correct step. The family celebration certainly needs to be done with our guests and loved ones. If people are open and interested in church services, they participate. It has already happened that refugees’ tourist friends and practicing Muslims visited the Scottish Mission because they wanted to know about the Christmas church service. We used the English song book there. I like the Scottish Mission’s song book because it collects many countries’ old hymns. I see this diversity as a treasure.
Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy graduated in international relations at College of Zsigmond Király and Corvinus University of Budapest. She worked with external relations, politics of energy and conference organization at Institute for Democratic Changes, at Constellation Energy Institute and at Europe for Christ organization. Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy has been working at Refugee Mission of the Reformed Church for six years now and she has been the Head of it for 1.5 year. Recently her job was rewarded on two occasions. She received the Equality Prize from the minister of Human Resources for her outstanding work promoting equality. The Award of Eurodiaconia was given to her in Brussels for her work with refugees. The service of the Refugee Mission combines her belief, the perspective of her Mission, and her commitment to her job.