God after communism

Article published on Sept. 30, 2005
Article published on Sept. 30, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

There are more than 150 registered Churches and countless missions in Hungary, among them questionable fundamentalists like Youth With a Mission.

Budapest, 5pm on a weekday: cool beats are emanating from a filthy subway to the train station in the west of the city. A song of praise for God and his almighty love is coming from the amplifier. The band belongs to the fundamentalist Christian organisation Youth With a Mission, founded during the 1960s in California and active in Hungary since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is one of the countless American Missions that began operating in Hungary after the collapse of communism. They have made themselves comfortable, thanks to the liberal legal situation. It is not difficult to obtain official Church status, explains Judit Németh, adviser in the department for Church-related issues of the Hungarian Ministry for Culture. “The missions that came here straight after the fall of the wall enjoyed great freedoms. They therefore thought, why not establish a Church?” In Hungary, you only need one hundred members, an organisational structural and a teaching to get started. Hence, there are 150 Churches and numerous missions in the country today.

All for God

However, Youth With a Mission is not a Church but a movement, claims Martin Axelsson, a member of the band from the train station. Martin is 25, from Sweden and has been involved with the mission for the past four years. To become a member, he paid a fee and participated in the mandatory workshop. With a few other youths, he lived in a rented house for three months and went to the teachings about God and the bible every morning. They spent the afternoons cooking, cleaning and doing work in the garden. In the evening the ‘students’ prayed for countries like China and Russia, still enduring ‘demonic influence’. ‘Spiritual Mapping’, a division of the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, is typical of Youth With a Mission. After three months of school, the newcomers had to apply their knowledge in a placement abroad. Martin spent his in India. Afterwards, he returned to Sweden to work and save some money, so that he could afford a stay at the mission in England. The missionaries’ work is unpaid; they finance themselves with savings and donations. Everyone has to find his, or her, own supporters. Steve Johnson, the head of the movement in Hungary sustains his seven-member family in the same manner, with donations. When the dollar was still very strong, Youth With a Mission bought a house in the Paulay-Ede-Street in Budapest. Today the organisation’s Coffee Shop, where free English classes, concerts and readings take place, is located there.

The miracle-Balázs

8pm in the mission’s coffee shop. Provided with coffee, fanta, coke, water and tea, approximately 40 youths are waiting for the arrival of miracle-Balázs. He used to suffer from cancer, but feels perfectly well today. Balázs is playing the guitar; he is improvising. Afterwards he starts telling his story. His eyes sparkle while the sweat starts showing on his forehead. He smiles broadly, even though he is talking about his sufferings. He didn’t use to be a very good Christian and thought mostly about his career. Then he was diagnosed with liver cancer. He underwent surgery, lost 25 kilos and his hair. “Why should I carry on living” he thought, and sought solace in the bible. “God, take me with you, maybe you have a room where I can play guitar?”, he used to ask God in heartfelt conversations. And then the miracle happened: he is healthy today and even his liver, severely damaged by the cancer, has recovered. The nurses started calling him the miracle-Balázs.

Miraculous healings play a vital role in the fundamentalist interpretation of the bible undertaken by Youth With a Mission. Uncompromising belief that Jesus is “the only way” is equally important. No wonder Martin Axelsson starts getting nervous when asked about the mission’s attitude towards other religions. Every five seconds he takes sips from his empty coffee cup and declares in a distressed manner, “there is only ONE way. Islam is the life of the enemy.” But everyone loves Jesus, “even Osama Bin Laden”.