Sunday, June 28, 2015

Nyíregyháza: 16 Évvel Ezelött

16 years ago I served in a small city in the eastern part of Hungary called Nyíregyháza. Nyíregyháza translated into English means "birch church". I was there for eight months and I have been fortunate enough to have kept in contact with a few people I met there. So, when we visited Hungary we planned a day trip to visit them in Nyíregyháza. It was truly a highlight to meet with and interact with people we had some connection with while there.

Here is the main square on Nyíregyháza 16 years ago. My companion and I are here on a P-Day. That's Elder Grover, who was with me for a few months.

This time I have my favorite travelling buddy with me, Craig!

Nyíregyháza is a town of about 100,000 or so people. It's the smallest town I served in as a missionary. It's a really nice town with a very clean city center and lots of statues...

... including one of Kossuth Lájos. Remember him from my last post? In addition to being in Washington D.C., he's found in almost every Hungarian town.

Here is a picture of the Nyíregyháza Branch all those years ago. This isn't everyone, but it's most of them. We were a small branch, but many of those pictured here are still faithful in the Church. I'm going to make a more particular mention of two families, although there are lots of stories from the people in this picture. I am in this picture, and if you're sharp, you'll find me somewhere in the middle. This was the last day I was in Nyíregyháza back in October of 1999. To the right of me (my left in the picture) is Vékony Sándor, and at the far right of that row is Kovács Ferenc with the gray hair and glasses. Back then, we rented out a building on Sundays to have church meetings in.

This is a few months earlier, when Vékony Sándor and his mom, Jelena, and brother, Viktor were baptized. Sándor is the boy on the left and Viktor is on the right. Yup, I'm in this one too, without my glasses. In those days we rented out a swimming pool for baptisms. The swimming pool is Olympic-sized, and Olympic deep! Poor Viktor and Sándor couldn't touch the bottom of the pool. So, being the enterprising 20-year-olds that we were, we grabbed plastic chairs and sank them in the pool so that Viktor and Sándor could stand on them during their baptism. So Viktor and I went into the pool together, and the chair idea seemed to work very well, until after the actual immersion, when Viktor was kicking and hanging on to me because the chair had floated away while he was under the water!

Here we all are on dry land with the Vékony family in their apartment. Jelena and Viktor still live in Nyíregyháza. Sándor works in another city near Budapest, but visits on the weekend. Sadly, their father passed away from cancer a few years ago. Viktor, the smiling little boy in the front, reached out to me a few years ago on Facebook. Viktor is now a dance instructor, and teaches ballroom dance in Romania. He also served his mission in Romania, and is currently serving as the Branch President in Nyíregyháza!

And here is the Vékony family now! I didn't recognize Sándor at first - I can't believe he's taller than I am! Jelene is still the same, always smiling and happy. And Viktor is also taller than I am. The cute blondie in the middle is my little boy Craig, now 10 years old! The Vékony family treated us to some wonderful Ukrainian lunch that we all enjoyed!!

The Vékony family weren't the only ones to invite us over. Kovács Ferenc and his lovely wife also had us come! They made the quintessential Hungarian dish for us: Paprikás Csirke. I think we all had at least 3 helpings!! While we were there, Ferenc reminded me of a few things that I had forgotten about. Ferenc was found by the Sister missionaries and was baptized just a month or so before I came to Nyíregyháza. I was assigned as his first home teaching companion, and later ordained him to the Melchizedek Priesthood. After I left, Ferenc was called as a councilor, and then as the Branch President. He is currently serving as a councilor in the District Presidency. He reminds me of a Stake President - a priesthood man through and through! I could not have imagined that Heavenly Father had such a work for this man to do!

And the little Nyíregyháza Branch also has a place of their own! They have a long-term lease on the second floor of this building. They have almost outgrown it, and are working hard to have a permanent church built nearby! They are still small but mighty, with plenty of new faces and a few familiar ones.

As this clock in Nyíregyháza can attest to, time sure flies! I can't believe I waited this long to visit, and I will be sure not to wait that long again! Isten veled míg újra látlak!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hungarian History through Monuments

From 1997 to 1999 I served as a missionary in the Hungary-Budapest mission, and its people and their history is near and dear to my heart. So, when we visited Hungary this past May, I wanted to make sure to share the history with Jennifer and Craig. Hungarian history is beautifully told through the many monuments and statues that have been erected around Budapest.

So where did Hungarians come from? Are they related to the Huns? Are they Slavic? German? Well, Hungarians are actually Magyars, an ancient people who migrated to the Carpathian Basin (Hungary) around 896 A.D. This monument at Hősök Tér, or Hero Square to you non-Magyar speakers, was built in 1896 to celebrate the 1,000 year anniversary Hungary

Here at the base of the main column are the seven chieftains of the ancient Magyars, lead by the grand-daddy of all Hungarians, Árpád! Legend has it that they followed the mythical Turul bird, which dropped a sword where the Magyars were to settle down.

The seven chieftains are flanked by two colonnades with some notable Hungarian kings and statesmen. This is Szent István, or Saint Stephen, the first Hungarian king. He is the grandson of Árpád, who converted to Catholicism and had the pope crown him. He then shared his new found religion with his subjects, who either joined or were killed. Szent István's success as a missionary impressed the pope so much that he was given the Apostolic Cross.

Skipping over a few kings, we come to King Béla IV. He is remembered for driving the invading Tartars out of the country. Being at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, the Magyars weren't the only ones to invade Hungary. First came the Tartars, and later the Ottoman Turks, then the Nazis, and finally the Soviets. King Béla is known as the second founder of Hungary.

This is Nagy Lájos, who expanded Hungary's territory to its historical maximum, which included parts of Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Boznia-Herzogovina and even an attempt to take over Naples.

Next comes Hunyadi János, who won the Battle of Belgrade. He ruled in the 1400's, which were dark times for Europe. Constantinople had fallen to the Ottoman Turks, and they set their sights on taking over the mighty Hungarian kingdom. The Sultan Ottoman Mehmed the Conquerer rallied his forces and they lay siege against János and his forces in Belgrade (Nándorfehérvár in Hungarian). In a surprise move, János and his forces came out in open battle against Mehmed, wounding him and forcing the Turks to retreat. This decisive victory established peace along Hungary's southern border for a century and a half.

During the 1500's, the Turks came back, and eventually occupied Hungary for almost 150 years. In 1686, the Hungarians struck a deal with the Hapsburgs. In exchange for help in defeating the Turks, the Hungarians would give the crown to the Hapsburgs who ruled from Austria. This worked great - except that the Austrians used Hungary as a buffer zone against invaders and retained most power in Vienna. The Hungarians fought Austrian rule through a few civil wars. Kossuth Lájos, pictured above, was one of the leaders of a failed revolution. Eventually, the Hapsburgs relented, and Hungarians were granted control over the eastern half of the country, which created the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even though Kossuth Lájos failed to usurp the Hapsburgs, he is still revered for fighting the good fight. A bust of Kossuth Lájos is one of two non-Americans to be in the United States Capitol building today.

Next up in the list of invaders are the Germans. Unfortunately, Hungary was on the losing side of World War I, and lost about 2/3rds of its territory in the Treaty of Versailles. During the 1920's and 1930's, fascism began to take hold in Hungary, and the Hungarians joined the Axis powers and participated in the invasions of USSR and Yugoslavia with the Germans and Italians. However, they weren't loyal to the Germans, and secretly began negotiating an armistice agreement with the U.S. and the U.K., Upon discovering this, the Germans kidnapped the Hungarian leader's son, forcing him to abdicate and then a dictator backed by the Nazis took over. The headquarters of the Nazi secret police (and later the Soviet secret police) is pictured here.

The Nazis weren't around long enough to erect any monuments, but they did leave an impact. An estimated 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during WWII. About 20,000 or so are buried here. When the Germans knew defeat was imminent, they went on a killing spree. They rounded up as many Jews as they could to this courtyard of the synagogue and opened fire.

Today, this weeping willow, in the form of an upside-down Menorah, stands as a memorial of the Hungarian Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

After the Germans came the Soviets. They stuck around long enough for a few statues. This one shows a Hungarian worker welcoming a Soviet soldier.

At first, things in Hungary were pretty good under Soviet rule. Eventually, however, Stalin brought about many hardships, including confiscating land, shipping enemies off to prisons, and bankrupting the country. Huge military parades would march in front of statues of Stalin until Hungarians had enough, and in 1956, cut down Stalin at his boots.

Led by the reluctant Nagy Imre, Hungarians tried to negotiate more autonomy from Moscow. However, tensions escalated and finally broke when the Soviet-controlled police opened fire on protesters. The 1956 uprising lasted for 19 days, when, on November 10th, Soviet tanks rumbled into the streets of Budapest and crushed any resistance. Nagy Imre was killed in a prison camp, and buried face-down in an unmarked grave.

After 1956, the Iron Curtain fell and Hungary was isolated from Western European countries. 

Gradually, Hungary gained more autonomy and, in 1989, bid a final farewell to the occupying Soviet forces and Hungary became the modern country that it is today. Here we are, holding hands with one of the Americans who helped oust the Soviets, Ronald Reagan.

Check back soon for more blogging on Hungary!