“We need to invite the youth to get together, listen to each other, and feel that we belong together,” believes Rev. Péter Szenn, Bishop of the Reformed Christian Calvinist Church in Croatia. The representatives of the Hungarian Reformed youth organizations in the Carpathian Basin met this autumn in Kopács, where they could get to know the situation of the Reformed people living in Croatia.
“I am very proud that every child comes to church regularly in my congregation, but the bad news is that there is only one child,” greets the participants of the autumn GeKIB (Youth Committee of the General Convent) Meeting Rev. János Hájek, Vice-Bishop of the Reformed Christian Calvinist Church in Croatia (RCCC), summarizing the situation of the Hungarian Reformed people in Croatia. He adds immediately that in this year he has already baptized more than he buried.
Although more than two decades have passed since the end of the Yugoslav Wars, among the Reformed people living in the Presbyteries of Baranya and Slavonia the related memories are still vivid. The ten pastors serving in the Reformed Church in Croatia look after twenty-three congregations, in addition they are trying to pay more serious attention to the service among the youth and the children, because they all believe this is needed for survival. That is why Bishop Péter Szenn invited the members of GeKIB to Kopács.
Let Us Make Ourself at Home
For Bishop Péter Szenn it is his mission, to “place” the Hungarian Reformed people living in Croatia “on the map,” and to have an active presence in the life of the Hungarian Reformed Church. “We wanted to finally host and welcome the participants with the same love, that usually experience across the Carpathian Basin,” explained the bishop. As he says, it’s important that the Hungarian Reformed youth get to know what comes with the history and change in which the members of the RCCC are living. “Our Reformed faith is the only way of survival for us, that’s why it’s important that our children also see it; to serve among the youth is a particular task. Between our everyday worries we should not forget, that we need the youth, they have a place in our congregations, in our church, among us!” highlighted Péter Szenn.
The bishop believes that the situation can only be improved if the children make themselves at home in the church. Besides it is worthy to keep in mind that through the religious education we can also reach parents. In the last two years different programmes, summer camps at the beach were organized for the children, and after ten years for the first time they are invited to a “biblical Play House”. “We have still a lot to do ahead of us, but we need to search for our young people and we need to invite them. I believe that comes from our mission, as the Lord has sent us, He has sent us out from the parishes and church buildings in order to search for the lost sheep,” reminds us Péter Szenn. He adds, “here the distances seem great for us, but they are manageable, and the young people wish to be called and invited”.
It is a process full of challenges, for example, religious education brings up difficulties in the only Hungarian middle school in Croatia as the communication with the leadership is not going easy, but according to the bishop “there is some good in every bad”. This situation teaches us that we must seek out for the parents personally, we need to make a contact with them too. We are growing slowly, but the dedication of our pastors give us a reason for hope.”
The experience shows that the youth do not wish for a special call, but for a community and personal meetings, conversations. “We need to invite them to get together, listen to each other and feel that they belong together. This is special about the Hungarian Reformed Church,” highlights Péter Szenn.
The youngest pastor of the Reformed Church in Croatia is Rev. Gergő Svantner, who arrived to this community from Hungary. He finished the Reformed Theological Academy of Sárospatak two years ago, he served one year in Australia through the Kőrösi Csoma Sándor Scolarship Programme, then decided that he would gladly serve as a pastor of the RCCC. “The service here is like of the Reformer Mihály Sztárai was once: he also came here and preached the Gospel in Hungarian, which here is not only a force of faith, but also of a retainer of the nation,” explains the pastor who thinks that the Gospel can move masses in Croatia because “those who live here are longing for the Word of God”.
He felt that there is a huge need for his service already when he came here as a student pastor for visiting. He has experienced the believers that come to the services are interested and pay real attention to the sermon. “We organized the GeKIB closing worship in the morning of a weekday, still many have set out and came, even traveling 30 to 50 kilometres,” continued Rev. Gergő Svantner. As a response to this interest they organized the youth mission too and thanks to that they are already doing this for 88 children. “In the summer at the beach I could already see, how much the children would like to listen to the stories too, go to Bible classes and we receive a lot of love from them too. We are moving slowly, but I see the small miracles every day,” highlights the pastor.
Different, Than It Seems Like
“I can’t work personally with young people as much as I would like, because I don’t speak their language that confidently, but my wife serves actively among them. I think, that we have to give opportunity to those, who know how to talk to them and reach out to them,” told Rev. Darko Tursic, a Croatian born Hungarian pastor.
Rev. Hedvig Ilona Andel, the oldest pastor of RCCC serving in the Reformed congregation in thinks similarly. “Since we have a young bishop who is trying to gather the youth, this community strengthens more and more, the work is of the people, the blessing is of the God, and we are pastors for doing everything we can among the youth. God provides everything else.”
The pastor adds that it was an experience of a lifetime, meeting with the young people who came to GeKIB, “I’m glad, that this world is not what it sometimes seems like, and there are joyful, God-fearing young people. Until now we have worked little with the youth, now I start to feel that we are renewing,” explains Ilona Andel. She asks everyone to pray for them, and for having enough workers and leaders, who will serve with their whole heart and soul among the young people. “I can no longer promise, that I’ll work actively with the youth myself, but I will be always praying for you,” sends her message.
Written by: Zsuzsanna Farkas
Photo by: Ervin Rácz/ refszatmar.eu, László Sebestyén, Dorottya Vékony
Translated by: Tímea Tőke
Edited by: Avery Gill