A Better Life for Gizella: How Good Leaders are Creating Hope in Eastern Europe

15 Nov

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It’s been over 150 years since Hungarians have experienced inspiring, well-known leaders who have had a long-term positive impact on the nation. Whereas in the U.S. if you ask a group of kids to name positive examples of leaders they can rattle off a bunch of names, in Hungary, kids can only think of negative examples—from two world wars in the 20th century and two brutal dictatorships (the Nazis and Fascism, followed by Communism), where many people were murdered and families were separated. People learned they couldn’t trust anyone—especially leaders. A very negative image of leadership was formed.

What these realities meant for our team in Hungary was that it became very important for us to walk alongside and support leaders for the long-haul, to help the country raise up a new generation of leadership: listening, training, mentoring, coaching, encouraging, problem-solving and advising with them, and just sowing seeds and planting vision.

The story of Janos is helpful in understanding the significance of this process in a place like Hungary, because not only was his life changed, but the lives and destinies of many others as well.

But before we start, let’s get to know a young woman named Gizella (name changed). At 17 years old she was the mother of a six-month-old baby. Gizella is a Roma (or Gypsy as they are sometimes called.) What kind of future does Gizella have in Hungary? Well, according to the research, she most likely won’t finish primary or high school, she’ll have 3–5 kids from different fathers, most of whom will spend a significant part of their lives in prison. She won’t have a job and will live off of welfare and child support for most of her life, which is about $300–$400 a month. It’s a difficult life. And then there’s also the question of eternity. Is there a chance she could have a different life and destiny? The answer is—yes! Because God still calls leaders to make a difference.

So let me introduce you to Janos. He is a Hungarian leader that our team has worked with for almost 25 years. We first met him as a young pastor in a small city in western Hungary. Janos initiated planting churches in western Hungary and asked for our help. Our team provided mentoring and training for church planters when there was no such training in the seminaries at the time. Janos wanted to start a church-planting movement, and we maintained a mentoring and partnering relationship with him for years.

Then, in 2002, he accepted a leadership position with the Baptist denomination in Hungary. Over the next ten years, his responsibilities continued to grow until in 2012 he was elected president of the denomination. At this point, Janos had the position of influence to start implementing a vision and strategic plan that we had helped him develop for the denomination ten years before.

At this exact same time, God brought about an interesting political change in Hungary. The government decided to take oversight of the schools away from local governments and give those schools the choice of either coming under the national government or underneath one of the recognized churches. As a result, a whole bunch of schools approached the Baptist denomination, wanting to become “Baptist schools.”

God had already given Janos and the Baptist denomination the exact vision they needed to say yes to this opportunity. A key part of the strategic plan that Janos wanted to implement was for their churches to be present in society and influence the important institutions. So when the schools came asking for help, he was ready.

The denomination took on over 20 kindergartens, and 65 schools all over Hungary, which gave them influence on 25,000 students, their parents, and the teachers. This was a massive undertaking that would make a profound difference in the lives of these people. Most of these schools were in the poorest regions of the country, in the Northeast, where the majority of the Roma population live. They started Bible studies and put chaplains in each school who were reaching out to care for the students, parents, and teachers spiritually. They also organized summer english language camps where many of the students and teachers began following Jesus. In some cases, churches started to form out of the schools as well, as parents became interested in what their children were learning.

So now back to Gizella. Many of these schools are located in places like Gizella’s hometown—places where girls like her would have very little opportunity to avoid a future of poverty and single-motherhood. But the Baptist denomination found a way to give more opportunity to these young women. In many of their schools they’ve built nurseries where young mothers like Gizella can leave their babies while they continue their studies, so that they don’t drop out of school.

So what difference can a Christian leader make in a place like Hungary? Well, as a result of Janos’s leadership, these girls, who haven’t had much hope for change, have the opportunity for a better life and future. Better yet, they have the opportunity to hear the gospel and encounter Jesus. The impact of a visionary leader can’t be fully measured, but stories like Janos and Gizella’s help us see just a bit of the transformation God can bring about when his people get a vision and courageously follow him.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bobby Booze joined the CRM-Hungary team in 1996, training and mentoring church planters, pastors, and church leaders. In 2014, Bobby and his wife Debbie moved back to Greensboro, NC. As the operations director for Ethne, Bobby uses his experience and passion for the nations to help lead and support the work of 110+ CRM staff impacting 50+ nations.


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