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Seeing the one among the crowd - Hungarian Baptist Aid continuing to serve after 26 years

For 26 years, Hungarian Baptist Aid (HBAid) has been responding as witnesses of hope during wars and natural disasters. Béla Szilágyi, the current president of HBAid, left career prospects in law after finishing university to be a founding member of the board of HBAid in 1996 and later joined as an employee in 2000. After 22 years of service responding to crises in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Syria, he now is overseeing the response to Ukraine. Over the summer, he shared his reflections on working with HBAid and how responding to Ukraine has been different from other aid responses.

In some ways for Béla, war is war. Regardless of the circumstances, the suffering, terror, and death that come along with the evils of war are always difficult to experience first-hand. Yet Ukraine still has been different for many Hungarians. With so many Hungarians living in Ukraine and so many Ukrainians living in Hungary, the war is hitting much closer to home. He commented, “when people started to flee it was like welcoming family, welcoming a very close friend, welcoming people who were neighbours.” This feeling has been felt across Europe as many are realising just how robust their local communities of Ukrainians were prior to the war breaking out.

Even in the midst of the suffering of war, Béla still sees God working. He noted that in aid work it is very easy to become detached from the humanity of the work, looking instead only at numbers, reports, structures, and donors. Yet he has felt God reminding him and his team to not forget about the individual among the crowds. He pointed to the ways that Jesus noticed individuals among the crowd, saying “Jesus was in the crowd and he was able to notice Zaccheus. He was in the crowd, and he was able to notice the woman who caught his garment. He was in the crowd and was able to see blind Bartimaeus who everyone wanted to keep away from Jesus.” He shared a few of the individuals that have not been overlooked by HBAid in the past few months.

There is a nine-and-a-half-year-old Alina* whose father died and mother abandoned her and after suffering abuse from her alcoholic grandmother was left at an orphanage in Rivne. Because of the orphanage's proximity to the airport, the kids had to spend six nights in the cellar because of rockets falling. Béla met Alina closer to the Hungarian border after they were able to escape. After playing games with the kids, distributing aid, and praying for them Alina came up to Béla and asked, “are you going to leave me as everyone else did in my life?” Béla visited her for the next consecutive weeks to assure her that she would not be left behind.

There is Dima* who, with his wife, has one biological child and 11 other adopted children between six and eighteen years old. As they were pulling out of their street fleeing their home, the family watched a rocket fall on their house and explode. Further down the road a rocket fell on a fuel station and exploded as they passed by. When Dima recalled the story to Béla he said, “God made me a promise that if I adopted these children, then he would take care of us and protect us no matter what. I never imagined it would be such literal protection from harm. As long as I live, I will tell my children the story of how God saved us like he saved the Jews fleeing Egypt.”

And there is Diana* a middle-aged woman who Béla met in the Irpin region. She fled from Irpin the night the war started because her home’s proximity to the Antonov airport was targeted by rockets. She escaped the horrors that occurred in Bucha but returned once the Russian soldiers had retreated to find her apartment building partially destroyed and leaking in multiple places. When Béla met her she was in her small partially destroyed garden cleaning her raspberry bush and harvesting berries. She said to him, “I will not allow destruction to take my life away.”

Béla noted that seeing pastors in the Baptist family who stayed behind in occupied and conflict areas of Ukraine encouraged him to keep working– those who had the resources to leave for safety, but chose to stay behind and minister to those who could not leave. These are the people and the stories that keep Béla and the HBAid team motivated after so many years. For Béla this is not simply a job, but a calling. He has had many offers to switch out of aid work but has chosen to stay serving with HBAid.

“Over the past 22 years, I have received so much more spiritually than I have ever given to others,” he said. This is the math of God’s Kingdom that is often foreign to the world. That the least of these and seemingly undeserving are the ones who receive God’s abundant grace and care. The ones whom Jesus sees among the crowds and whom Béla and the HBAid team continue to serve so faithfully.

*Names have been changed to protect those mentioned.


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