Rev István Lakó, the Assistant Pastor and Roma Mission Leader of the Reformed Congregation in Salétrom Street, in the eighth District of Budapest, talks to the RCH about the unique ministry happening there. He discusses the set-up of the Roma ministry that takes place there, the special draw that this work has for volunteers, and the importance of making volunteering something that is easy for people to do.
Could you talk a little bit about the set-up of the program here and how it’s organized? What kinds of services do you provide for the community here?
Our long term goal is to plant a new church which focuses on this neighborhood, on the Magdolna district, which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in this district and maybe in all of Budapest. We would like to have this community as a reformed community, so we would like to keep it conservative and confessional and with biblical truths. We don’t want just fleeting or something. We would like to involve Roma people in this ministry as well, as there are 90,000 people in the eighth district and a third of them are gypsies, and most of them live in this neighborhood. We would like to do outreach to the gypsy people around here, and not just outreach but we want to even involve them in the ministry as staff and as team members. We would like to have a new church congregation which becomes a mentor church to other congregations.
So our goal is to not just to have this community set up and be happy with it, but we would like to extend it and in a few years plant new churches starting from here. We would like to somehow show God’s different ethnic groups throughout this ministry. We don’t want to just preach and share the message verbally, but we would like to somehow act to show god’s mercy and beauty and let people come to us and ask, “Why are you doing this?” We are happy to be here and we would be happy if this district would benefit from our presence.
What kind of role do you play in all of this?
My official title is assistant pastor. I started at the Salétrom Street congregation as a youth pastor and, when this ministry started 3 years ago, after a few months I became responsible for this. I’m responsible for the faith activities like the worship service and the community.
It seems like you have quite a few volunteers here who want to help. How did you get this large network of people and how do you keep them coming?
I’m honestly not sure – it just happens. From the very beginning we had a few people, around ten, who were interested in the ministry and mission to Roma people. Speaking about gypsies or Romas is, for some people, not an attractive thing. But, for the very same reason, for other people, it’s a very attractive, very sexy thing because Roma’s are those who are deprived and about whom nobody cares. For altruistic people it’s a very attractive area.
In the beginning we had a few people in the church youth group who were interested in that, but it’s not like we started the ministry and asked them to please help or to join us, that wasn’t the case. What happened is that I had a conversation personally with a few people and it turned out that some people just started to tell me, “It’s so strange that we live in the eighth district where so many gypsy people live and we don’t even meet them.” It turned out that different people, independently, had a strong calling to work with Roma people and so when this ministry started they said, “Okay!” and they were the core team of volunteers.
Different ministries were evolving and then new volunteers came and we became very conscious that we wanted to make it easy for the volunteers to join. There are a lot of people who want to help, but they don’t find a way to help because they don’t have much time or much money or energy. My personal goal was to make it very, very easy even for those who may say, “I have just one hour a year – what can I do with this one hour?”
This really helped us in outreach to volunteers and when the after-school program started last year, it was easy to join because it just takes one hour a week and you can really feel the impact of your work because you spend time with just one child and you don’t feel lost. There were volunteers who were going to the after-school program and they invited their friends and classmates, and the same happened with the Sunday events where people had a very great time here and then it was just word of mouth from there.
How many volunteers do you have?
We have about 50 volunteers. You cannot see them at once, but we have a list of active volunteers and it sometimes surprises even me. I look through the list and see that these people are all really active. About half of them are helping in the after-school program and we have 20 volunteers at the free-time activities, especially on Sundays, and at the worship services as well who play music or clean the room to prepare it for service. I sometimes forget how many we have and then I look at our contact list for the volunteers and I’m pleasantly surprised and filled with joy!
What activities do you provide for the community with all of these dedicated volunteers?
We run an after-school program, free time activities including the Sunday programs when we are learning about cultures and countries, and the worship service that was started almost 1 year ago. We would like to have regular short camps through the year for teenagers. We have this gap where we reach children and we reach their parents, but we don’t reach teenagers. We organized an English camp for two years now and we have a good group of teenagers who are interested in YOU+ME but they cannot easily connect with the programs for small children. We had a youth weekend for them and we would like to make this a regular thing every 2 months. I hope that, with our current set-up, we can make this a reality.
Article by Kearstin Bailey