I knew that the vast majority of my work in Budapest would be English related. English Clubs. English Camps. Building English curriculum. But the biggest surprise for me was my work in the 8th district, teaching English to Roma (often referred to as Gypsy) teenagers.

My first meeting I had when I arrived in October was with István, a Hungarian pastor our team works with. He shared a vision that he had carried for several years. The idea was simple enough: empower the Roma children to break the chain of poverty. But how? He thought the key was education. If teenagers in Hungary want to get into university, they have to pass a foreign language exam. This presents a problem to many Roma kids, as the schools they attend are often the lowest performing schools. The opportunity to go to university would be huge. The Roma people have been marginalized for years in many places, including Hungary. If they want to move beyond the 8th district, one of the poorest districts of Budapest, passing the language exam is important. But, as their schools are lacking, they are not well prepared for these exams. They  were missing someone to teach them English and help them study.

I cannot lie. I was skeptical in that first meeting. Teaching Roma children English was not in my plan, and I was apathetic to their struggles and hurt. But, as we talked, my attitude changed. I agreed to teach English two times a week to help prepare the teenagers for their exam coming in May.

Jonathan told me about his vision for the 8th district as we went home from the meeting. He compared the 8th district to Goliath. When David slayed the giant, it was talked about because it was miraculous. It seemed impossible. If the 8th district were to change, all of Budapest would talk about it. It seems impossible for the 8th district and the people in it to change. But with the Lord, all things are possible. And the key to this change seemed to be education.

As I worked preparing my lessons, I became fearful. I had heard difficult stories of these kids—not behaved, bad attitudes, and angry. If I saw Roma people on the streets, I would avoid them. I began to think that this task was too big for me.

When it was time for the first class, Clarissa walked me to Te+Én (You and Me), the church plant where the Roma after-school programs are held. I was so nervous, but there was something in me telling me that I had to do this. I prayed that the Lord would fill me with the strength, courage, and love I needed to be like Him.

God took my heart of fear and changed it again. My heart broke for the teenagers that I work with. They never asked to be discriminated against. They cannot help who their parents are. My heart melted for them as I heard more of their situations. I have grown to love these kids that I work with. I rejoice with them as they learn more and become more confident in themselves. I mourn over the difficult hand that life has dealt them, fathers in jail and mothers who don’t care. I pray for them as they attend school or work the night shift at their family’s pub.

I realized that one of my roles was just to love these teenagers. Look them in the eyes, congratulate them as they learn, to show real interest in their lives. Being a patient teacher is one thing. Being the heart of the living God is another thing entirely. If these kids feel the love of Jesus through me, then the classes are a success.

*The featured photo on this blog is Sadie teaching at one of our other English club ministries.

– By Sadie Sprankle, OMS Hungary Team Member