I think most of you know that we got home from Hungary; I got our Christmas letter written and then promptly got horribly sick. I have a lot I've been wanting to share about our trip, but my schedule was messed up so much, just finding time to catch up and get back into normal life has been hard. I'm still working on Christmas cards, I have about 30 or so left to get mailed. But I'm also wanting to get things written down, it's how I process often.
There are many of you whom we've met only in the last several years. You may simply know that we 'were missionaries in Hungary before' or that Norbert is Hungarian and we met at Bible College in Austria. I've been asked a lot of questions since we've announced we're moving back to Hungary. Our story is rather long, and there has often not been the time to really explain our past connection to Hungary, yes, Norbert is Hungarian but it is so much more than that. And so, I'm going to try first to share a brief (ha ha!) rundown of our history as it connects to Hungary.
Norbert's hometown is Szeged, Hungary. It was there that he met Calvary Chapel missionaries and got saved, back in the earlier 90's. At the same time I was attending the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Millstatt Austria. I got to return as staff the following year, and it was then that God clearly 'called' me to Hungary. While on staff I was able to spend a weekend in Baja, Hungary where my heart was touched and broken. I returned to the school knowing I was going to Hungary in a few months, so I began to spend time with the few Hungarian students. I've shared this story in much more depth before, so I'm sorry if I'm leaving out lots of details now. But that was how Norbert and I connected and then fell in love. I moved to Baja in 1994 to help the church there and be a needed roommate to another missionary girl, he went home to Szeged, we wrote letters, got to meet infrequently in either Baja or Szeged (they're about an 1 ½ bus ride apart, I knew that bus route very well). My time in Baja was really my only time living on my own; it was a growing and exciting time for me. When we married I moved to Szeged, where he was leading worship for the church. I got pregnant and had all sorts of visa issues; I did not have enough money for a long-term visa, even though I was an American. We moved to the US at this point where all three of our kids were born. Norbert got his US citizenship, continued his computer career and we moved from Maine to California. Anna's birth and his citizenship papers coming in sort of signaled that our time in the US was over, and we began to look into going back out as missionaries. This was in 1999. It had been our plan since getting married to be missionaries, they had made such an influence on Norbert's life especially. But at first Norbert was not sure about going back to Hungary, that was 'just going home'. God really worked on his heart, and when by the time we were asked to go back and help in Szeged, he was ready. Hungary had never left my heart.
We returned to Szeged as a family with three small children (boys were 3 and 4, Anna was 15 months) in 2000. We were helping the Calvary Chapel where Norbert had gotten saved, though it had gone through several pastor changes through the years. We didn't really know the current pastor until we arrived. Norbert was doing worship again, as well as administrative work for the church. I helped with the children's ministry. But we were also simply living in Szeged. I have never been an evangelist, but I do love what some call 'friendship evangelism', where you simply live, relationships happen and grow and by sharing our lives, we share Jesus. So many Hungarians were so amazed just by the fact that Norbert had been living in America and chose, actually wanted, to come back. It made no sense to them and opened so many doors to share the love of Jesus - they could not deny his actions. We tossed both boys in Hungarian pre-school, called Ovoda. They went for just half a day, but it was still so hard to take my 3 year old Joshi and leave him. Still, they both learned Hungarian so well this way, and we made more connections through their classmates and friends. We were fully at home in Szeged, and had just begun to consider buying a house when things began to fall apart. Churches are not perfect, mostly because they are full of people, and us people will never be perfect until Heaven. We found ourselves needing to move from Szeged or find another way to support our family outside of our role as 'missionaries'. It was with very heavy and broken hearts that we returned to the US in 2003, back to CA. It was a job offer, the first full-time job opportunity, that lead us to Colorado after we moved back. Having heard from God so clearly to go to Hungary, this was a very hard time in our lives. God provided and loved us so gently. But we really felt we were 'walking in the dark' with no real clear direction. It was a huge faith stretching time for us, and we really grew as Christians and as a family. We didn't know anyone in CO, had no connections. It was our first time living without any family around at all (My extended family are in CA, my parents are in Maine, Norbert's family are all in Hungary). And while that was challenging, it was also really good for our little nuclear family. It was a fresh start for us in Colorado. Norbert focused on his IT career, was able to finish his college education through an online university while working full time. We've been blessed to sit under several amazing pastors, and really learn about our own strengths, our spiritual gifts and how God wants us to use them. It has not been only 'waiting', but a time and a place the Lord has really used in our lives and we are so grateful for it. But we also know it has been preparing us, preparing us for returning to Hungary.
Many of you can attest to the fact that we kept trying to move back to Hungary. I scared many friends, often, with announcements of moving back 'this year', or 'that year'. But most of those attempts were us striving in our own pathetic human endeavors. Yeah, they never worked. We're still here. But we have wanted to go back for a visit for many years, and as we talked and prayed, we knew a visit needed to happen before any moving decision. The kids especially needed to go back and have clear experiences there again, their memories are hazy or non-existent. We had also left in such a painful manner; we personally needed to experience seeing certain people again, mend fences if we could. And just BE there again to be sure and hopefully, to hear from God clearly and certainly. Norbert's mom was able to come out last summer, and it was while she was here that we planned to visit over Christmas. We originally talked about a summer visit, but tickets are much, much cheaper in the winter, so we changed our plans from this summer to this past Christmas. We gave ourselves over a year to save up for the trip. And I can honestly say that when we first planned our visit, it was simply that, a visit. And then God began to set things in motion, exciting things. Doors kept flinging open in front of us. Norbert was offered a job that I've shared about before, but his new position is fully over the internet and as the clients are all over the world, his location does not matter. Major relationships that were broken at the time of our leaving Szeged were on the mend, in ways that really surprised us. And so, by the time our trip was upon us, we were looking at it as much more than a visit. It was a test. A time to see how the kids reacted to Hungarian culture, to a different lifestyle. A chance to meet with some dear old friends, reconnect with folks, explore our old city. Pray and listen.
Being back in Hungary was amazing. It felt just the same and at the same time we kept noticing differences. It was so fun to hear Josiah get animated about things he remembered, as places and things jogged his memories. Norbert's mom's apartment is right downtown, very conveniently located for walking to all sorts of places. And yes, we did walk everywhere we needed to go. I love that aspect of European towns, being able to walk places. We soon realized our list of things we wanted to accomplish was just not going to be completed on our visit; it was really much too short. And while we knew beforehand that everything would close down for Christmas, and the 'Second Day of Christmas' (the 26th), and then Sundays, and then all over again for New Year's Day weekend… it was very different experiencing that after our years back in America, plus with our tip only being 17 days there total, we lost a good 6 days to everything being shut down. And while that was annoying for us, on our short trip, it was also a wonderful thing that I miss about living there - real, actual Holidays where NO ONE is working, so everyone gets a holiday, even waitresses and store clerks.
Norbert several times joked with the kids that he could return home by himself, pack up our stuff and return, leaving me and them there in HU to avoid all the traveling hassle. They didn't think he was that funny. But we did have such a feeling of 'being home' and rightness while we were there, even crammed into his mom's tiny one bedroom apartment. And then God gave us such a neat confirmation on our very last full day in Szeged (we ended our trip with a couple days in Budapest). We walked around our old neighborhood, past our old apartment, the kids' old schools, etc... We found it really funny that our name is still on our old apartment buzzer button. And then just a few houses up from Siah's old school is the home of some old friends. Their little townhouse has always been my 'ideal' when we discuss possibly moving back to HU… "if we can find a house like theirs, same neighborhood, similar size, that's just what I want", etc… After seeing our name on our old place, we laughed to also see their name on a plaque on their old door too - they moved back to the States maybe a year after we did, so 7 years ago. I found this so funny, and so shared it with a mutual friend later that afternoon at a church service. My friend Cathy informed me that the plaque was still there because they still owned the house; they've been renting it out to students. I e-mailed our friends that day, and heard back very quickly that they'd love to rent us their home! They've also been trying to sell it for 3 years without luck, not that we're in the place to buy it, but it is an interesting idea. Anyway, it was so cool, how it all happened. And the kids were really impressed. Joshua announced that God didn't want to give us a house 'like' the one I wanted; He wanted to give us THAT house! If for no other reason, it was so powerful for our kids to see God's obvious hand behind everything. So yes, we already have a house lined up for us to rent, my 'ideal' Hungarian home no less!
I've shared before that we aren't totally certain what we'll be 'doing' this time. But we can share some aspects of it. We feel God is calling us to a much wider focus this time, beyond just one church or even one city. And while we do love the city of Szeged, we know that God is sending us back to Hungary, not just to Norbert's hometown. Szeged is just a natural first stop for us. I hope this answers some questions for some folks. And then, I just had to share the house story with everyone. I e-mailed family and close friends the day that all happened, it was really exciting. I sort of get the impression God is making up for our years of waiting and wondering, He's moving fast and unmistakably in our lives right now. We're just holding on!
For those who really want to know, follow the link to our old website, it's 'frozen in time' from when we came back from Hungary in 2003 - and has pages on our backgrounds.
'Who we are' is such a loaded statement. Our history is long and sort of crazy. Basically, we're a family striving to follow where Jesus leads, living for Him, serving Him. Specifically, we are Norbert and Rachel Lakatos and our three children, Josiah, Joshua and Anna. We are moving back to Hungary in Sept. 2011, from Colorado. And this is our story in the making....
Norbert's testimony, 'Of Swords & Spears'.
For those of you wondering.... where in the world is Szeged, anyway? Follow this link to a map, with Szeged highlighted in red and circled.