When Frank and Aria Sawyer arrived in Hungary 20 years ago to teach at Sárospatak Reformed Theological Academy, church growth had halted during the country’s 40 years under Communist rule.
The academy had closed, pastors and church members were aging, and home Bible studies and outreach programs were forbidden. Whole generations had grown up knowing little about Christ.
Christian Reformed World Missions sent the Sawyers to Sárospatak to help train new church leaders and teachers.
Over time, the academy began adding programs. Many young people became pastors. Churches resumed outreach ministries. Seminary students became involved in youth camps and music ministries.
The academy offers courses in four overall areas: cultural programs, church music, diaconal work, and outreach to the Roma people of Hungary.
The school's Christian Events Organization track, for instance, teaches students how to host evangelistic-based events in Hungarian villages where historical and cultural programs, music and folk dance groups, and other activities are held to attract tourists and draw the community together.
Since a new law requires people coordinating civic events to have a diploma in “events organizing,” village pastors and their spouses trained in this area help lead these events.
“The last 20 years have brought endless opportunities for Christian outreach in society, which was forbidden before—television, radio, youth camps, and so forth,” Frank Sawyer says.
Having lived through oppression, he said, people show “a curious but often worthy blend of old values and new approaches, solid memories and great hopes.”