When I found out I would be serving at Summer English Camp 2017, I honestly wasn’t too sure what to expect. I personally am a big fan of my comfort zone, and a trip to teach English in Eastern Europe would definitely force me out of it. Growth can be uncomfortable, but it’s undeniably worth it. God used my trip to Hungary to grow me in so many ways. Here are the three biggest things I learned:
1. There is something incredibly humbling and powerful about a language barrier.
The Hungary trip was my first time being in a country that primarily spoke a language different than my own. Since English is widely considered to be “the global language,” I expected that most locals would speak it and I wouldn’t need to know any Hungarian to function. I was wrong. Most of my time at restaurants was spent fumbling through fragmented Hungarian sentences and pointing at menu items. Every single student at camp witnessed me frantically looking for a translator after I overwhelmed them with too much English. The countless blank stares I received were frustrating at first, but they prompted a powerful realization.
Sharing the gospel across a language barrier is far more impactful than any ministry I’ve ever experienced stateside. The language barrier made us equals – just as the students didn’t know much English, I didn’t know much Hungarian. I wasn’t some high-and-mighty missionary preaching down to the students. I was fully reliant on translators to convey my message, and it had to be presented in a way that could be translated quickly and easily. This meant I couldn’t use many of the words that dominate American Christian conversations (“Christianese,” if you will), but I had to go back to the basics of the gospel: God has always loved you, God sent Jesus to die for you, God has a purpose for you. No caveats, no gimmicks. Just the truth. And the truth is entirely enough.
2. Regardless of cultural differences, and regardless of whether or not there is a shared faith, God’s love (and our desperate need for it) is common ground.
Eastern European culture and American culture are vastly different. Eastern Europe has been an established culture far longer than America. Hungary in particular has dealt with oppression from almost every entity that has ever held power in Europe. It has survived communism, both world wars, and the Holocaust in the last two centuries alone. After World War I, Hungary lost approximately 70% of its land to other countries. Roughly 550,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to concentration camps or killed in World War II. Americans are understandably a bit more optimistic than Hungarians. This optimism can make sharing the gospel a daunting task. How can I possibly expect people who’ve lived with the effects of this tragic history to believe in hope the same way I do?
The answer, I found, is much deeper than nationality. Cultural differences are important to recognize, but at our core, we are people. Every single one of us is made in God’s image, and He relentlessly pursues every other person on this earth the same way He pursues me. We are imperfect. We struggle. We have insecurities and things we aren’t comfortable sharing with others. This is a reality for Christians and non-Christians alike. Too often, Christians put on a front in the interest of preserving the “Christian lifestyle.” We go through life afraid of vulnerability and unwilling to be real with people. We fear that people will question our faith once they see the sides of us that aren’t easy to confront.
The reality is, it is these struggles that make us relatable. The gospel is infinitely more impactful if we are willing to step down from our pedestals and be honest about how much we truly need it. Fake perfection is not approachable, nor is it credible – especially with the rise of a generation that is seeking authenticity in religion more than anything else. As hard as it is to admit imperfection, perhaps it is our struggles that allow us to relate to others more than anything else.
3. Relationship over religion. Every single time.
This was not an entirely new idea for me when I arrived in Hungary. The phrase is becoming more widely used in the modern church. Instead of focusing on legalism in religion, we should focus on a deep relationship with Christ. You can fake a perfect Christian lifestyle all you want, but if your relationship with God isn’t solid, your lifestyle is worthless. Attending church and reading the Bible are both crucial aspects of Christianity, but they can’t stand on their own. Relationship comes first.
What I didn’t realize, though, was that this principle doesn’t just apply to our relationship with God. It applies to our relationship with others, too. As a worship leader, I have a tendency to put too much focus on technical efficiency and musical excellence. I use my responsibility to create a good worship set as an excuse to isolate myself from people. I stay in my comfort zone and avoid the sometimes uncomfortable process of building relationships with people. I’ve learned that I can’t impact others from a distance. Taking time to invest in people shows them that you care, and Christianity needs more people who genuinely care.
My time in Hungary changed my life, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be on this team. To all of the people who supported Summer English Camp 2017 with their finances, their time, or their prayers – thank you. My story is just one of the many ways God moved in the lives of the staff and students who attended this year. He is doing incredible things throughout Hungary and throughout the world.
“God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” – 1 Corinthians 12:6 (NLT)
– By Bailey Rasmussen, OMS Hungary English Camp Volunteer