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Bears, Snakes and Baptisms


Within the area of Transylvania in Romania, EMF supports Sándor and Napsugár Kelemen, both of them ethnically Hungarian. Sándor and Napsugár live and work in the town of Târgu Mureș, not far from the Carpathian Mountains. They have four children: Sara 14, Jared 10, Rahel 8 and David 4. Sara is at the point of change to high school, whereas David attends nursery school in the mornings. As Hungarian is spoken in the home, the children are not bilingual, although schooling happens in both Hungarian and Romanian, so they will become increasingly familiar with both languages.

A typical view from Transylvania

Transylvania is ‘home’ to the fabled Count Dracula, and was historically a part of Hungary.  Truth is stranger than fiction.  After the First World War, this territory was made part of Romania, so that many Hungarians then suddenly found themselves to be Romanian citizens.  This left a legacy of ethnic division, although at a local level, neighbours from both communities had grown up at peace with one another.  After the Second World War, the Soviet Union installed a puppet government and Romania became one of the harshest Soviet regimes.  Christians were obliged to form the ‘Underground Church’ to survive. During this period many Romanians were removed from their homes and transplanted to different regions including Transylvania.  Now Romania is a part of the European Union.  Only 6% of the diminishing population is ethnically Hungarian and 3% is Gypsy.  Eastern Orthodoxy is the majority religious grouping, although there has been a significant shift towards secularism since joining the EU.  This is the cultural context in which Sándor and Napsugár serve the Lord. Their church used to be ethnically mixed, but although they maintain good relationships with Romanian-speaking pastors, this blend of ethnicities changed about forty years ago, and the congregation is now mainly Hungarian.

Napsugár trained as an English teacher, and teaches four days a week, with a forty minute journey each way.  She is also doing a degree course in computer science which she loves (!) and she hopes to switch to IT as a means of employment in the future, which should free her up more.  She has a practical placement during the summer for six weeks that is geared in this direction, but she is unsure how she will be able to manage the following years of the course.  Doing a people job like teaching, then facing the heavy demands of children at home plus life as a pastor’s wife, does not leave her much space or scope for personal refreshment.  

The Kelemen family: Sándor and Napsugár with Sara (14), Jared (10), Rahel (8) and David (4)

Although secularism has been increasing, the schools in Transylvania are not facing the same kind of pressures as here in Britain, yet.  Napsugár and Sándor know from their children’s questions, however, that these ideas are out there already, and they are trying to prepare them.  Family Bible time gives the opportunity to discuss many things.  Sara is taking part in a Bible Study Baptismal Class run by her Dad, together with some other young people, one of whom was influenced to join by her faith. Once, when she was on camp, Sara was bitten by a poisonous snake and had to be rescued quickly, which was a scary time for Sándor and Napsugár.  Sara asked her mum if she was dying, but stayed calm at the prospect of death, giving them assurance of the reality of her faith!  As a family, they enjoy family outings and love the week or more in which they are able to camp as a family in the mountains, once the camps are over.

Every year, Sándor and Napsugár, with some helpers from their church, used to run children’s camps until Covid struck.  Although the church is now able to meet and sing together, these particular camps have not resumed yet.  That is sad, as many of the children previously attending were from non-Christian homes.

The Kelemens have recently, however, been helping with an annual camp for people with disabilities and their carers (July 5-10).  This event had thirteen people;  three were unable to come.  These camps have a permanent base in the Harghita area and were started in the past by Napsugár’s family.  Their group is called the Barnabas Bible Circle, and there is a Barnabas Foundation and Fund, which substantially helps with the expenses of the camps.  Sándor and Napsugár’s family all help out with this endeavour, and the older children have stayed on this year to learn musical instruments.  Sara is learning the flute, Jared percussion and Rahel the recorder. Sándor’s father is a brass player and composer and he has encouraged the children musically.  Brass bands used to be a big feature of the Hungarian churches.

They have just returned from a youth camp, held from 27th July to 5th August. Most of the young people who attended, ranging from 13 to around 25 years in age, were from non-Christian backgrounds. Many have previously attended children’s camps and were eager to do so again.  Including helpers, they had about 30 people. Their topic was "Cross on the Mountain" and they looked at the meaning of the cross and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. This camp was under canvas in the mountains, with only Sándor’s dog’s barking to keep the bears at bay!  There has been an upsurge in the number of brown bears in recent years, especially in Transylvania …

Young people's camp in Transylvania
By the campfire

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