Karen Pearce is an IMB worker among European peoples and contributing writer.
AJKA, Hungary (BP)–Devastated families in Hungary and Serbia have been the focus of relief efforts by Southern Baptist representatives and national partners after two disasters in those countries.
In Hungary, three villages were flooded when 185 million gallons of toxic red sludge burst from the reservoir of a refinery in Ajka. In less than an hour, the hot liquid killed at least eight people, injured more than 100, affected the lives of 7,000 residents and will leave a lasting imprint on the ecological conditions of the area for decades to come.
The worst tragedy, however, is that there is no evangelical witness in this area and no interest in having one, Christian workers said.
Peter Marki, a national church planter in southwest Hungary, has been doing relief work in Devescer, one of three villages affected by the toxic spill. Although the disaster occurred Oct. 4, Marki said the hopelessness lingers.
“In Hungary, we have a ‘Day of the Dead’ [Nov. 1] when we go into the cemeteries and light a candle,” Marki said. “Walking in Devescer and seeing candles in some of their windows made me feel as though I am walking in a graveyard. It is like they are waiting for life to start again.”
Marki has organized volunteers to help rebuild homes, but the city’s newly elected mayor, voted in on the eve of the disaster, has made it difficult to give real hope.
“The mayor told us not to evangelize and not to preach the Gospel,” Marki said. “The town leadership doesn’t want us doing any pastoral care; we only have freedom to pass out material and food.”
Because of the environmental issues related to the flood, Devescer has been closed to outsiders. Only approved organizations are allowed to help in the wake of the disaster. Of the 100 daily volunteers, Hungarian Baptist Aid is maintaining a presence, cooking for workers and inhabitants of the city, and Marki has organized a group of 20 Christian college students to deliver food and clothing and help clean.
“We are praying and helping and talking, but we work all day, the area is cold spiritually and we can’t move freely,” Marki said.
This is not true in all of Hungary, however. Only 80 kilometers away, in the city of Keszthely, the assistant to the mayor has been helpful in efforts to share the Gospel, according to David and Tina Taylor, an International Mission Board church-planting couple who have begun a home group there.
The Keszthely group, with 10-15 people attending regularly, took up offerings and donations to send to Devescer and is praying for the possibility of future work there. A Christian publisher in Hungary has offered to publish 100 books for distribution in the disaster area, which Marki hopes might provide an open door for witness.
The Taylors asked Christians to pray for open doors in Devescer and for the ongoing ministry opportunities there, that true life will begin to emerge in the wake of the disaster.
Broken glass, ceramic tiles and rubble littered the streets of Kraljevo, Serbia, after a 5.4 magnitude earthquake shook the city Nov. 3. More than 500 homes have been declared unsafe and 60 buildings, including apartment buildings that house multiple families, have been condemned because they are now unstable. A total of 4,000 houses were damaged.
Two people were killed and more than 50 injured. An entire wing of a hospital was damaged, forcing hospital staff to send the patients home.
Karl and Julie Bannert, International Mission Board workers partnering in Serbia with World Net, an international educational organization, have been spending their days helping with repairs and praying with frightened residents.
“We saw firsthand, people sleeping in their cars and going door-to-door asking for a place to stay,” Julie Bannert said. “I talked and prayed with many people, hugged the women and encouraged them that God is in control.”
Karl Bannert and a local home missionary are heading up a team of national volunteers who are experts in masonry who will help rebuild chimneys and replace roof tiles. Local homes have wood stoves for cooking, necessitating the need for chimneys for ventilation and roofs made of loosely laid clay tiles. The earthquake shook the tiles loose and many homes now have huge holes in the roof. The government made replacement tiles available to residents, but workers were needed to help with repairs.
“There is an urgency,” Julie Bannert said. “And it is mostly the poor and elderly who are in desperate need.”
Josh and Kristen Hepner, the World Net partners in Kraljevo, said the government has estimated it will take more than three years before many of the homes are repaired.
The majority of people in Kraljevo are Orthodox by tradition but not believers, so they have no foundation for peace in a time of crisis, the Hepners said. They have begun a home Bible study, and a few house groups are meeting, but only one evangelical church has been established in the city of 70,000 people. The Baptist Union in northern Serbia appealed for all its churches to go to Kraljevo and help.
“They are there prepared to offer help and ready to share their faith,” Julie Bannert said.
“Jovica, the church planter that has come to work with us, is using this opportunity to pull brothers and sisters together from all over Serbia to help,” Kristen Hepner said. “He will use this to share the love and hope found in Jesus”
Karen Pearce is a Southern Baptist representative in Europe. To learn how to help in Hungary through volunteer work, donations or prayer, e-mail David Taylor at [email protected] To stay updated about relief work and to get involved in ministry in Serbia, visit www.pray4serbs.org.