The patriarch of my host family here in Hungary, Tibor, teaches earth sciences and is an avid naturalist. There is a glass case in my room with a gem and mineral collection, including petrified wood, a shell collection, and a bug collection (I thankfully noted that they’re all dead). Tibor had been teacher of the morning the day I arrived. Unfortunately, I missed it because I arrived close to midnight.
Tibor likes to learn the English names for plants and animals. The other day he approached me with a plant to smell—I knew it immediately: rosemary. He brought me another one: basil. But he stumped me on the third one, which I had never seen without flowers: oleander. There are also several orchids around the house, and lots of flowers in the garden (where I discovered kittens first thing in the morning after I arrived).
There is a river that runs through their town, and just outside of town is the confluence of this river with another river. He translated for me the names of the rivers: the Black and the White rivers. He delighted to show me the rivers at their confluence and the river dam, where the fishing is good on the spillway and the dammed part is good for motor boating. I saw several holes in the ground as we walked back to the car, and asked about them. When I see holes in the ground, I think “snakes.” But Tibor said that they are mole holes. Given the large number of holes, I think moles are far more likely than snakes.
At the Summer Camp, where I’ve been helping out all week, there is another avid naturalist, Alexander. Unlike Tibor, I think Alexander is strictly a hobbyist, but his passion for all things natural is obvious. Since he doesn’t speak any English, Alexander had never approached me. But since I have a curiosity about nature, I approached him. Alexander brought an enormous telescope to church and had it set up in the yard during snack time. It was equipped with a special filter for viewing the sun. He showed me a book with a picture of sunspots and gestured at the telescope. I looked through it and sure enough, there were several sunspots, just like in the book.
The next day Alexander brought a jar, and from it he produced a live bug about an inch and a half long. He was letting the children touch and hold the bug (depending on their willingness). I looked on, amazed as always at how children could touch something that I simply cannot bring myself to touch. Seeing my curiosity, he approached me with the bug and held it out for me. My body language made it obvious to him that I have a fear of bugs. He tried to reassure me that it was harmless, and even if I had understood the words he used, it would have made no difference. There’s something deep inside me, an ancient revulsion, that cannot be reasoned away. I’ve faced all my other fears and conquered them all: flying, heights, public speaking. But as much as I would like to conquer this last fear, there’s just something too ingrained to be overcome.
The following day Alexander came to me holding a bug that was four inches long—it was made of rubber. He tried to get me to touch the rubber bug. I couldn’t even touch it. I understand that he was trying to help me overcome this unreasoning fear of bugs. And I appreciate it, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch it. He didn’t push it, but backed-off as soon as he saw that I couldn’t do it. The bug had a suction cup on its belly, so he stuck it to his watch, and proceeded to show me other things he had brought: a plastic lizard, a wooden turtle, and several nature books.
The final day of Summer Camp, Alexander showed me several old calendars he had: calendars of Alaska, calendars of sea creatures, calendars of birds. As he showed me page after page of wonders, he chattered as though I could understand. What I did understand is both his passion for nature, and his kindness toward me and toward the children.
Last night Tibor had a surprise for me. He took me to meet the town cheese-maker. The cheeseman showed us how he makes the cheese. He put a piece of aged cheese under my nose and was surprised to see how much I appreciated the smell. I explained that I live in Italy, so I know that the stinkier the cheese is, the better it tastes. He appreciated that.
Today there was a conference for the seniors of the church, at which Pastor H. Koraćs Gėza spoke. I was told that I would have about five minutes to speak to them. So of course I prayed about it, and here’s what I said:
Looking out here at all the gray hair, I am aware that many of you and your parents kept your faith in Christ under the oppressive rule of the atheistic Communists. I have two things to say to you: First, I am deeply sorry that my country believed the lies of the Communists and did nothing to help you. Secondly, I know that someday you will trade your silver crowns for gold crowns. I am here to honor you for your faithful service to your Lord and mine.
To the young people here I say: learn from these elders, and share the love of Christ with everyone you know.
And finally, I would like to thank Pastor Gėza for coming. It is an honor to meet you.
When Pastor Gėza returned to the platform, he observed that Christianity had actually flourished and grown under Communist oppression. He said that Christianity now faces a far more dangerous enemy in the form of complacency. I believe he’s right.
Tonight at dinner, Piroska, the matriarch of this family observed: today has been a day of spiritual cleaning. Yes, indeed, it was!