Christians help toxic flood victims in Hungary

By December 6, 2010

Hungary (MNN/BP) — Devastated families in Hungary have been the focus of relief efforts by Southern Baptist representatives and national partners after two disasters in that country.

Three villages were flooded when 185 million gallons of toxic red sludge burst from the reservoir of a refinery in Ajka, Hungary. In less than an hour, the hot liquid killed at least eight people, injured more than 100, affected the lives of 7,000 residents, and will leave a lasting imprint on the ecological conditions of the area for decades to come.

The worst tragedy, however, is that there is no evangelical witness in this area and no interest in having one, Christian workers said.

Peter Marki, a national church planter in southwest Hungary, has been doing relief work in Devescer–one of three villages affected by the toxic spill. Although the disaster occurred Oct. 4, Marki said the hopelessness lingers.

"In Hungary, we have a 'Day of the Dead' [Nov. 1] when we go into the cemeteries and light a candle," Marki said. "Walking in Devescer and seeing candles in some of their windows made me feel as though I am walking in a graveyard. It is like they are waiting for life to start again."

Marki has organized volunteers to help rebuild homes, but the city's newly-elected mayor, voted in on the eve of the disaster, has made it difficult to give real hope.

"The mayor told us not to evangelize and not to preach the Gospel," Marki said. "The town leadership doesn't want us doing any pastoral care; we only have freedom to pass out material and food."

Because of the environmental issues related to the flood, Devescer has been closed to outsiders. Only approved organizations are allowed to help in the wake of the disaster. Of the 100 daily volunteers, Hungarian Baptist Aid is maintaining a presence, cooking for workers and inhabitants of the city. Marki has organized a group of 20 Christian college students to deliver food and clothing and help clean.

"We are praying and helping and talking. The area is cold spiritually and we can't move freely," Marki said.

This is not true in all of Hungary, however. Only 80 kilometers away in the city of Keszthely, the assistant to the mayor has been helpful in efforts to share the Gospel, according to David and Tina Taylor–an International Mission Board church-planting couple who have begun a home group there.

The Keszthely group, with 10-15 people attending regularly, took up offerings and donations to send to Devescer and is praying for the possibility of future work there. A Christian publisher in Hungary has offered to publish 100 books for distribution in the disaster area, which Marki hopes might provide an open door for witness.

The Taylors asked Christians to pray for open doors in Devescer and for the ongoing ministry opportunities there, that true life will begin to emerge in the wake of the disaster.

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