Recognising God's work in the unexpected: Ministry with Roma

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'You have to allow the unexpected to happen in order to fully understand the miracle of life' Paulo Coelho once said. Zoltán Kurdi, pastor of the UMC in Hungary, has probably been blessed by the unexpected too many times to contradict the Brazilian writer. (Zoltán and Erica Kurdi pictured right)

zoltan-and-erika-kurdi Actually... When a sentence begins like this, the unexpected is not far away. It was no different in the life of Zoltán Kurdi. Actually, he was a teacher and for 15 years he had accompanied young people through the present and prepared them for the future. But then he had the impression that God was calling him to pastoral ministry. Trusting and confident, he set out on a new path – and experienced how God repeatedly turned the unexpected into a blessing. He has now been pastor of the UMC in Hungary for 21 years – and he also coordinates the nationwide work with members of the Roma minority.

How did it all begin? It was in the 1990s. A resident of the small town of Abony had founded a far-right party. On leaflets, its members demanded an end to the toleration of the Roma population, their spatial concentration in a segregated area, and the implementation of other similar ideas. This stirred up a great hatred towards the Roma population throughout the country. Zoltán Kurdi, who lived in Abony at the time, and his wife were deeply frightened. They actually asked God to intervene - but then God told them instead to show the Roma how much God loves them. They did so, and as more and more Roma turned to God, a church was born that exists to this day. The far-right party, on the other hand, was completely dissolved in 2005...

In 2000, the first appointment as a UMC pastor led Zoltán Kurdi to the Roma community of Alsózsolca. The Spirit of God reinforced prayer in the community – with amazing results. A young man named László and his relatives, who until then had made well-paying merry music, decided to fully contribute their musical talents to the Lord. László was called by God into full-time ministry, and he has served as pastor of this church ever since. The faith of many members became deeper, more sincere, more honest. For example, one group boarded a bus on the way home from a church retreat. The driver, marked by his prejudices, offered the Roma not to have to buy a ticket if they gave him half the fare and he could put the money in his own pocket. A classic win-win situation, then. Or so he thought. The Roma, however, were outraged. They would not accept this immoral offer – after all, they had just come from a "God camp". And the driver was ashamed that the much-scolded Roma were more honest than many a white Hungarian...

In 2001, the Kurdi family moved to Kaposvár. Years ago, a woman from the local community had taken in a homeless young man. After he had turned out very well, he moved away with his wife and the children they had been given. God and their former church had become quite distant by the time the two fell into a serious marital crisis. Zoltán Kurdi heard about it, contacted the couple, and thanks to God's help, the marriage was strengthened. Then, with new perspectives, the family moved to Kürtöspuszta. There, the opportunity to buy a house had opened up for them. But life in this small Roma village "behind God's back", as the people themselves put it, was characterized by lies, crime, alcoholism and profound poverty. Zoltán Kurdi continued to visit the family regularly – and combined this with contacts to the children and poor of the village. And once again, God's love bore fruit. A lively community grew up, camps are held every year, and again and again evil is overcome with good. Kürtöspuszta is now a mission center where young people from other places go every year because, as they say themselves, they need the Roma at least as much as the Roma need them. - Yes, actually Zoltán Kurdi had only wanted to help a couple in trouble...

zoltan-kurdi-worship-service-pecsIn 2015 the move to Pécs took place. (Worship at Pécs pictured right)  Again, it was a matter of daring new things and allowing the unexpected to happen. A youth group consisting of university students was formed. Two years later, some of the members were ready to accompany Zoltán Kurdi to Drávaszabolc, a village on the border with Croatia. In a library, they told the people about the love of God. Again, God touched many hearts. A 50-year-old woman was delivered from her drug addiction. She, who had tried to end her life several times before, is now spreading hope with her own songs. A church member's seriously injured horse also received healing - and this after it had already been scheduled for transport to the slaughterhouse. God had answered the prayers and made David’s song from Psalm 36:7 very real: "You care for people and animals alike, O LORD."

Yes, sometimes it is indeed precisely the unexpected that is a language in which God speaks to people.

Zoltán Kurdi (57) is a pastor of the EMK in Hungary, currently in the Pécs district. With his wife Erika, to whom he has been married for 37 years, he has three grown-up children who, although not in church ministry, are nevertheless on the way with Christ in their own way.

Source: Zoltán Kurdi / Superintendent László Khaled / Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff