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Recently, I joined a group from the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH) and from the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) to visit Béla Nagy, the Lay President of the Sub-Carpathian Reformed Church District, in Sub-Carpathia to show solidarity and support for the important work that is being done there for Hungarians across the border. Though our group of five was there for less than 36 hours, we visited and learned about many types of social ministry that the Diaconia office there runs, like a sustainable farm to supply nourishment for the citizens, the crisis kitchen that makes use of all the wonderful products from the farm, a retirement home for the elderly, and a crisis center for victims of domestic violence.

Not only did our joint group express cooperation and partnership, but we also dropped off supplies donated from the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (HRCA) and the PROK brought a generous donation on behalf of Korean congregations in both Korea and Germany to support the vital work that is being done in the region.

The first building that our group visited was an old apartment building on the outskirts of town to drop off donations from the HRCA that had been brought along from Budapest. Families and children gathered around the vans as we pulled in and soon everyone had formed a line to get their bags of clothing and supplies. While things were being passed out to folks, a young girl stood to the side and began speaking to us, hesitantly at first, but with more confidence the longer we spoke. She told us that the building is home to around 60 people total, but that they don’t have tap water or a gas supply to heat the building, and there are only two working toilets total for everyone to share. She talked about how holes are dug in the ground to collect rainwater for people to drink, and how wood-burning stoves are their only choice for heating their small homes, even though finding wood is time-consuming and difficult. She comes from a family of eight, and three of the six children in her family are deaf. Her face was earnest as she told us about life there, and soon another woman joined us and invited the five of us to come up to her apartment. As we walked up to the third floor we learned that she has a sick child. She is a single mother and her young son has a brain tumor that was found when he was just six months old. The medicine he needs for treatment is too expensive, and all the best medical care is in Hungary, but it’s too costly for them to get it. Due to the war, health care in Ukraine has suffered greatly as doctors and nurses move to other countries to find better paying work. This means that, for those who stay, there is very little care for their ailments even if, by some miracle, they could afford to pay for them.

Since food supplies in sub-carpathia are not always reliable, the Diaconia office there has come up with a creative solution to make sure that those who need it will always have sustenance: they started their own farm. In order to make sure that there is a consistent supply of food, a mother and her son, who would otherwise be homeless, have agreed to live in a small house on the property and be the caretakers for this small plot of land; they care for pigs, horses, cows, and more. The people who depend on this farm like that they can source their own food — they know exactly what they’re eating and they know that the animals have been well cared for. A vet comes regularly to check on the livestock and to be sure that they’re fully healthy. All of the buildings on the farm were built out of recycled materials from other buildings that were no longer in use on the property, so they didn’t even have to buy new materials. With this model, the crisis kitchen of the Diaconia office is able to be self-sustaining and doesn’t have to depend on donations from outside sources so heavily to feed those who are in need.

Another ministry that we learned about during our time in sub-carpathia is the elderly home that is run by the church. Compared to the average standard of living for people in sub-carpathia, the residents of this Diaconia-run retirement home are well taken care of. They have spacious rooms, time to socialize, as well as daily church services that they can choose to attend. The cost of one person living in the home is 4,100 euros, which covers everything from housing to utilities to food. 85% of a residents retirement pension goes to cover the cost of their stay in the home, and the other 15% goes directly to their account and they can do with it what they will. This particular ministry is hard to budget for due to the plethora of unexpected costs that can come up, like the extremely high costs of medication or if a resident develops a serious medical condition. These things cannot be planned for, and thus it’s hard to budget and save for them as well. One of the more colorful characters who resides there is a former RCH Bishop who was deported to a gulag in Kazakistan to work at a labor camp there for over six years. During his time there, he lived with other Christians from around the world, including a group from North Korea. The retired Bishop is now over 90 years old and he uses his own stories of strength and survival to pass along a message of hope to others who live in the retirement home with him.

Next door to the retirement home is a crisis center for mothers and children who have fled from situations of domestic abuse; there are currently seventeen people total living there. The center offers help to these people for up to three months if the family is in need of that, and they can extend to stay for up to six months total if they can demonstrate real need. Six months used to be enough time for these women to get jobs and start standing on their own, but today the times have changed and it’s not long enough for people to get back on their feel. Despite a shrinking workforce, many employers are now discriminating against mothers with young children; they don’t want to hire them because they think they will not be as reliable of a worker and that they will miss shifts because of their children.

The one thing that I kept hearing Béla Nagy, the Lay President of the Sub-Carpathian Reformed Church District, say over and over again during our trip was that, “These are hard days and we are praying and trusting for God to show us the way.” Despite all of the set-backs that the Diaconia office in Bereghovo (Beregszász) faces, the amount of faith that they face these challenges with is awe-inspiring. The weather may have been grim during our short trip, but the hearts of everyone that we met with were warm, welcoming, and determined to help the Hungarian population that lives just beyond the border.