I like to think of myself as an “Old Adult in Global Mission.” I retired last summer after almost 33 years of ordained ministry, most recently as the Lutheran Campus Pastor in Albuquerque, NM. I spent my sabbatical here in 2015 getting to know the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary. Now I am here as a volunteer Associate in Global Mission for the ELCA. Most of the time I live in Dabas, about 1 hour south of Budapest. Pastor Eszter Balog is the pastor of Gyóni Evangélikus Gyülekezet (Gyon Lutheran Congregation) here in Dabas. Eszter pointed out that to graduate from high school and be admitted to college, every student needs to pass a foreign language exam (both oral and written). All the students receive good language instruction, but only in the larger cities do students ever have the chance to hear a native speaker of English. Students and even teachers in the countryside must rely on recordings of English to improve their speaking. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage when taking the oral part of the exam. Eszter’s idea was that I could spend time in the schools, or with students after school, to help them improve their ability to speak English.
I had never thought of becoming an English teacher, but I could see that if students came to the church for an after school English program it would be an important outreach in the community. We met with teachers, the principal, and even the mayor to talk about how this could be done. The church made an apartment for me in an old Sunday school room, and I arrived towards the end of October. My theory was that if I could do it, others might like to come serve as “Old Adults in Global Mission” too. I hope to make that possible.
Fast forward four months. I now spend one day each week at Táncsics Mihály Gimnázium in Dabas working with students in grades 7-12. There are 7 class periods in a day. The five teachers divide me up so that I get to work with each of the classes over a few weeks’ time. Every period is a different age group with a different number of years studying English, which means shifting gears every hour or so. Most of the time I work with small groups reviewing their lessons, correcting verb tenses and pronunciation, and practicing for the exams. Every time I go to the school one of the teachers has a question about word choices, idiomatic expressions, or pronunciation. I have been included in special celebrations at the school, teacher appreciation dinners, and even a large dinner dance for parents. The teachers are a delight. I am amazed at how much they do every day. They plan the lessons and give me a task. Sometimes I have even subbed for an hour when someone has been sick. The students are respectful and hard-working. They know how important English will be for future education and job opportunities. They also can tell that I care about them, I don’t give grades, and I’m just trying to help them do their best. Usually when I walk into a classroom they don’t know I will be coming, but spontaneous smiles of welcome break out across the room. Students try out their English on me in the lunchroom and hallways, and everywhere around town if I run into them outside of class time. It’s been a blast. Now we are starting an after school English group at the school for those who would like extra practice.
At the church we have had an overwhelming response. Right now, I have weekly groups for 4 children ages 6 and 7 who are just starting out, 10 boys ages 8 to 13 with varying abilities, 5 individual students who come for extra help, 4 adults in a beginner class, and 4 other adults who come individually as they prepare for the next exam that will enable their career advancement. Clearly there was a need, and we have given the congregation greater visibility in the community because of the “English Corner.” We also started a weekly Bible study on the Gospel of Mark for those who are relatively good at English. It is open to people of all faith backgrounds and none. I studied a little Hungarian, so I am improving – even though everyone wants to speak English with me all the time.
That’s my weekly Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Next time I’ll tell you about what I do on the other days of the week. For now, I can truly say that I have been the recipient of some truly amazing hospitality in Dabas. They put this verse into practice, and I hope to learn from them. “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2