Abraham and Sarah, the newborn Jesus and the first Christians all experienced the compulsion to flee and the difficulties of integration, but all of them also knew the care of God. The Hungarian Bible Society and the Reformed Mission Centre have prepared a traveling exhibition that urges us to see the vulnerability of refugees and highlights our relations to them.
The travelling exhibition with the title of “I was a stranger and you invited me in…” (Matthew 25:35) is available for circulation in the country staring in Békésszentandráson before being seen in Szeged and Füzesgyarmat. The 12-piece exhibition was also available in many other places, among them Debrecen and Budapest. Shocking pictures, stories and words from the Bible try to give a broader picture about the lives of refugees and show what the Bible says about them. It has already been seen in the Reformed church, parochial schools, at professional conferences and also at the Startpoint Reformed Youth Festival.
Actually, there is not only one, but two identical tableau series prepared. One of them belongs to the Hungarian Bible Society while the other is owned by the Reformed Mission Centre of the Reformed Church in Hungary. This is not a coincidence because this exhibition is a result of the cooperation between the two organizations, based an Austrian example. The Hungarian Bible Society collects donations for decided goals and this joint project is financed by the income of December 2012. The exhibition was completed that spring and brought out for the public at Deak Ferenc Square in Budapest on Pentecost alongside the traditional Bible reading.
“The Austrian Bible Society inspired us, mainly the intellectual work of the Austrian Secretary who has the refugee issue at heart”, said Miklós Göndöcz of the Hungarian Bible Society. This is not a surprise because there are 4-5,000 asylum seekers, refugees or stateless people in Hungary, based on UN data, while in the neighbouring country of eight million inhabitants this number reaches 75,000. The aims of this exhibition are to warn Hungarian people of this problem and show them that this is not a new phenomenon.
Refugees with the face of Jesus
Worldwide there are 250 billion immigrants, 15 billion refugees living abroad and another 15 million that have fled within their own countries. Economic reasons, war, violation, lack of religious freedom and expression, political repression or environmental disasters are the main reasons for immigration in many cases.
Since Hungary is part of the Schengen area, it has become more and more popular as a transit country, because it presents a better future picture for migrants in the European Union. This year, more than 10 thousand people arrived in the country because of an amended legislation. The majority of them are from Serbia and are trying to pass the Green Border illegally in order to come to Hungary. The helpless people who have been on the road for months – many of them unaccompanied youth – are set up in refugee camps where they wait months for applications to be processed.
If they are lucky, people claiming refugee protection can receive refugee status, so they are not deportated but their difficulties are not over. They should learn the language. They should integrate into a new culture and they should be treated for their traumas. The employees and volunteers of the Refugee Ministry of the Reformed Church in Hungary have been trying to help with this for a decade now.
Ágoston Dobos, the priest of Békésszentandrás has visited refugee camps for eight years and he has tried to give refugees hope. He takes Bibles in foreign languages to Christian refugees and sings together with people from different nations. “I am surrounded by Afghan, Arab and African children. In cases like this, it comes to my mind that Jesus Christ as a child fled to Egypt. He said it later: ‘…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).’”
From suffering to blessing
“Our mission – providing help for internationally protected persons and for recognized refugees to begin their lives in Hungary – cannot be successful without the cooperation of the hosting society”, said Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy, the head of the Refugee Mission. That is why it is important for them to present the realities of daily life. With this travelling exhibition, they bring the message of hospitability to congregations, schools, small communities and bigger festivals.
Looking at the pictures, it turns out that the refugee question was a problem in Bible times, too. Abraham, Sarah, Joseph and his brothers, Moses – there are many scriptures that tell stories about somebody who lives in a foreign environment under force. Newcomers were not always met with a warm reception, but from those stories it turns out that God is especially close to refugees, stands by them and may shape their suffering into blessing.
The exhibition wants to redefine our views about foreigners who live around us mainly about refugees and asylum seekers “By the time we read the pictures, we understand that God’s people also live as newcomers on Earth” wrote the caretaker of the congregation in Elek. The memory of Egypt’s imprisonment, the experience of being a newcomer enabled the Jewish to be hospitable to foreigners. Foreigners live around us, too. Do they experience God’s love through us?
The Refugee Ministry celebrated World Refugee Day on Friday, 20 June with a festive event for refugees, volunteers and staff held at St. Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest. It was a place for a community to come together and enjoy each other’s company with singing, dancing, and delicious homemade food for all to enjoy.
Written by György Feke; translated by Rita Harda
Photos: Árpád Galsi; cover photo: András Kontsek