Returning to Hungary and the New Normal

The day I visited the village of Röszke, Hungary, it was relatively quiet. At times the refugees seemed to barely outnumber the T.V. reporters and police. Our OMS team had brought a van load of food, water, and supplies to the makeshift refugee camp. Along with many other volunteers, I helped clean up garbage. Little did I know that in less than 48 hours this place would be the site of riots as angry refugees tried to force their way past a newly erected border gate while the police repelled them with water cannons and tear gas.

Refugees, police, and TV crews on a quiet day in Röszke, Hungary
Refugees, police, and TV crews on a quiet day in Röszke, Hungary

We left Röszke on Monday afternoon at about 4pm. Even while we were still on the way back to Budapest we saw the reports that the Hungarian government had closed the border earlier than previously announced. We had a feeling trouble was coming.

Over the years we have often been asked about the situation in Hungary regarding immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants. My standard response was that Muslims made up a very small minority in Hungary and that not many immigrants wanted to come here. This year, that all changed. The number of immigrants entering Hungary went from a trickle to a flood virtually overnight with Syrians and other nationalities fleeing ISIS. For the most part, they have no interest in remaining in Hungary. But they started coming here as the easiest point of entry into the European Union’s Schengen zone. Once in the Schengen zone they could cross into other countries without hindrance as easily as we are used to travelling from, say, New York to Pennsylvania.

When I was at Röszke I saw refugees of all kinds – men, women, children, families. I have seen reports that the refugees are predominantly fighting-age males, and that there is a concerted effort by militants to use this situation to infiltrate Europe. I don’t know how much of that is true, but there is a lot of anger being directed at Hungary from the moment. A lot of that is, I think, unfair. The Germans heavily criticized Hungary for not making it easier for refugees to get through but then followed that up by closing their own border in contravention of the Schengen treaty after the number of refugees became overwhelming.

Our OMS team along with some other volunteers in Röszke

It would be an understatement to say this is not what we expected to find when we returned to Hungary.

Perhaps partly because of the refugee crisis, the housing market in Budapest was much tighter than we have ever experienced. When we moved back in 2010 I looked at nine apartments, any one of which I could have rented, before choosing one that seemed most suitable. This time around it seemed like there were hardly that many apartments available at one time in the district we wanted to move to. However, the Lord blessed us with a very nice duplex house in the 22nd district that was in our price range. We have been working hard at moving in, unpacking, and getting it livable before I (John) return to the U.S. for a week of classes in Virginia.

We are getting adjusted to the new reality in Hungary, a new location, and new teammates whom we are very excited to work with. Please pray that we will find ways to be effective. There is much work to be done here, and we look forward to being a part of it.


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