Bible in the kitchen, Békés
A third of Hungary’s population is living below the poverty threshold, every fourth citizen of this third in deep poverty. All of this in a vicious circle from which there is virtually no way out. Hundreds of factories and co-ops having been shut down, work opportunities providing employment for the massive unskilled population have ceased, and after decades of unemployment, these people lack motivation to study further. Aids push masses into passivity, while their chances are at best improved by a breathing straw, if at all, so no wonder the majority fail in this endeavour, or simply give up trying.
I have visited a number of Roma rows and villages in deep poverty, where the question of the society’s responsibility would often emerge during conversations with residents. Why the state doesn’t provide work, why the aid is not enough. And soon the responsibility of the individual would come up. Why he or she hasn’t done everything possible, why he or she hasn’t tried a thousandth time.
However, I met families who were living on the Roma rows in similarly shoddy houses, but their court was clean, their child would be doing homework late at night, and they were economizing with the little they earned. They did have hope, and as it turned out, most of the time this hope had its origins in their faith. Dozens of small churches and even historical ones undertake pastorship for the Roma, featuring a separate mission for the Roma, converting the poor, for whom often the only ray of hope is faith, for which it is worthwhile to make the hundredth effort at seeking employment, and which helps them be confident that tomorrow everything will turn better.
It was surprising to experience that there is barely a town or village in Eastern Hungary where there would not be a Christian congregation, and barely a weekend when there would not be an immersion taking place somewhere. The latest studies in Hungary estimate the number of Roma attending various Neo-Protestant congregations or missionary groups at around twenty thousand. They are among the largest groups in today’s Hungary whose life has barely been documented.
More than eighty percent of the Roma who found faith mostly following the regime change attend charismatic congregations. The Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement is one of the most dynamically evolving Christian movements in developing countries. While in the 70s only ten percent of the world’s Christians were members of charismatic congregations, by today this has grown to 25 percent. Typically popular in slums and poor neighbourhoods, the success of the movement lies, among other things, in the fact that they believe that the holy spirit can take effect not only with the mediation of educated priests, but through anyone who accommodates it – be they illiterate, poor or ex-convicts. In Hungary it is also typical that converts later become pastors who evangelize in neighbouring towns and villages, create groups based in private homes, and having outgrown those, establish community houses. Second and third generation believers who have been brought up and socialized in these communities together with their families and relatives are now becoming adults. This stable core ensures that by today most pastors and missionaries come from Roma communities.
Conversion entails a turn in lifestyle and mentality as well, bringing them closer to the lifestyle, morals and norms of the majority society. According to a number of studies, a considerable part of those involved in the movement eventually become better citizens, even if this has not been among their goals upon conversion. When giving their testimony, several converts have reported that they stopped going to the pub, devote more time to their families, or gave up their addictions such as drugs or smoking. The protagonist of their new experience is God, standing above all, accepting them without any reservations, and simultaneously being above those who used to discriminate them.
“Acceptance, love and forgiveness.” According to father Lourdu of the Catholic Society of the Divine Word, this awaits those arriving at his church in Köröm. Most people hope for forgiveness, as often even the pastors themselves don’t have an immaculate record: in Uszka, an ex-pimp is now a missionary; in Békés, the preacher is an ex-skinhead with a tattoo of the name of “Szálasi”, leader of the Hungarian post-war fascist party. Both were empowered by faith to reconstruct themselves, their families and their environment – and this dark past gives a lot of inspiration to congregation members, most of whom are not average middle-class citizens.
Pastors praying before immersion, near Horgos
The Orgováns are preparing for the Sunday Mass, Uszka
Pastor József Rézműves preaching, Kótaj
Praise and Worship in the Congregation of the Enlightenment of Nations, Uszka.
Praise and Worship at the Bread of Life Congregation, Tiszavasvári
Service at the Bread of Life Congregation, Tiszavasvári
People returning home after the Sunday Mass from the Methodist church in Alsózsolca. Standing in the middle, Árpád Balogh was converted 20 years ago. Before, he had regularly beaten his family; today, even his grandchildren attend Bible class. The factory in Miskolc where he used to work was almost instantly liquidated after the regime change, and so this is the only occasion every week when he puts on a shirt and dresses up nicely. The gypsy mission of the Methodist Church was launched in 1952 in Alsózsolca, where the largest Roma congregational church of the country can be found today.
The home of Worship Leader Dezső Vadász, Tiszavasvári
Statue of the Virgin Mary on the side of a house, Kompolt
Men in collective prayer before the Sunday service at the Bread of Life Congregation, Tiszavasvári
Pentecostal House of Prayer, Kompolt
Woman in trance from the blessing, Bread of Life Congregation, Tiszavasvári
Exorcism, Taktaszada. The majority of new converts still believe in superstitions and such magical elements as a curse.
Woman in trance, Bread of Life Congregation, Tiszavasvári
Mass of the Catholic Society of the Divine Word, Köröm. The goal of the gypsy mission is to make the Roma feel acceptance, love and forgiveness at the church, says Father Lourdu of India, leader of the congregation.
Mrs. Dezső Kocze is the oldest Roma convert in Uszka, a village with a Roma majority. Its population had been converted by the Hungarian Free Christian Congregation back in the 70s. Since then even the pub has closed in Uszka.
Worship, near Horgos
Klaudia Farkas crossing the Sajó River to Alsózsolca. The flood of 2010 wreaked havoc in the region – however, it had entirely spared the Roma part of this village. ‘God had mercy upon the faithful Roma’, say the members of the Methodist Congregation.
Pastor József Rézműves at his home, Kótaj
Converts waiting for immersion, near Horgos. The condition for immersion is converting to Jesus Christ and having faith in him. Immersion symbolizes the absolution of sins, revival to resurrected life, and becoming an integral part of the Congregation.
The congregation’s leader Edgár Kovács preaching before immersion at the Free Christian Church, Uszka.
Albert Durkó, leader of the National Roma Mission of the Hungarian Pentecostal Church immersing a congregational member, Kótaj
Valentin Németh’s family converted 9 years ago. They were living in worse conditions then, his dad drinking a lot. Through the years Valentin saw his role model change: his father now prays every morning, he has a job and the family is better off. As a result, Valentin also converted 3 years ago, and had his immersion on the day the photo was taken.
Orgovány picking walnuts as a day labourer before the Sunday Mass near Uszka. Due to the high unemployment rate most of the people in Uszka are day labourers.
Jenő Orgovány was a pimp in Budapest before he converted. Now he is the leader of the Congregation of the Light to the Nations in Uszka.
Service at the Pentecostal Church, Ózd. The region suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Hungary.
Kis Istvan is a former skinhead with a tattoo of the name of “Szálasi”, leader of the Hungarian post-war fascist party. He converts now Roma youth and preaches at the Congregation at the Pentecostal Church in Békés.