Living beyond the limits of your past — Part III. Difficult beginnings
It’s not the sufferings in my story that should never have happened, but the healing.
“The most important thing is this: to sacrifice what you are now for what you can become tomorrow.” “God has already written the first chapter of the new life that awaits you. All you have to do is start reading!”
— Shannon L. Alder
My attempt to reestablish my relationship with my father in my early twenties didn’t ended the long, silent and lonely years of my life. The arrival of Dave and Karen Robinson to Hungary in the late 80’s and their new leadership in the ministry of CCC (now known as CRU) brought new hope for me, too. I had been re-invited to be a part of the student ministry again. In my last year in seminary I started to work as a paid office worker in CCC’s small office: cleaning the office, organizing events, developing materials was my job.
Our relationship with Edina led to marriage in 1991. On our wedding day a pastor came up to me and as a congratulations he gave an odd blessing: “I never thought that you guys would get married, this is not a good match.”
A year later we’ve obeyed God’s calling and joined staff with CCC. Our excitement as new missionaries were over very quickly: we were burned out, tired and wanted to quit. In 1993 we’ve decided that we need to leave staff. Many friends and respected pastors supported our direction. A different mission-agency recruited us to join their ministry. There was only one person who came to our small, tiny apartment and asked us to reconsider our decision and stay on staff with CCC. That person was Dave Robinson. We’ve listened to him and stayed on staff.
Soon, it turned out that this was the right decision. In 1994 — after many clumsy attempts trying to launch a community ministry — God opened the door to start “Youth at the Threshold of Life (YTL)”. You can read about the details of that in the book Dave Robinson and I coauthored, titled “The Outrageous Promise”.
When we launched YTL it was so new, so different than anything we’ve ever done before, that we had to face massive opposition. The opposition came from believers, while the support came from non-believers. (Pretty much a recurring pattern of my ministry ever since.) Our vision and attempts were ridiculed. Christians were criticizing and judging us. Our faith was laughed at. It was new. It was different. It was outrageous. The rest is history: 22 years later YTL is present in 62 countries. Millions have heard the gospel.
Thousands got saved. Hundreds joined the mission because of that impossible attempt. And millions of dollars were given to missions.
A new challenge was added to the turmoil of the newly launched YTL in 1995 when we were expecting our first child. In the midterm of the pregnancy the doctors came with a very bad news: this child will be sick and we need to abort her. Of course abortion was not an option for us, but prayer was. Thousands started to pray. I remember the doctor’s rough verdict as we’ve told her we won’t abort that baby: “You are putting a horrible burden on the shoulder of our society with your decision”. God had another plan. 20 years later that little baby is now studying science in the 15th highly ranked university of the world! (Read more about that story here.)
As YTL grew, so did the health-challenges in our family. In 1998 our second child’s birth was quite dramatic. The c-section took 2,5 hours and as they finally lifted him out he absolutely was looking dead. They had to revivify him twice before they rushed with him to the ICU where he spent 10 days. I was standing there horrified by watching our newborn son as they tried to bring him back to life while at the same time the doctors were fighting for Edina’s life, too. In the middle of the night, after my wife’s life was secured, I went up to the ICU and talked with the doctor. She said that there is a very little chance for our son to survive, because they already had to revivify him twice, he lost a lot of blood, he got pneumonia and they don’t know if he got a stroke or not. I remember driving home with tears rolling down, not knowing if I will have to raise up my little girl alone or not. We named our son, Renato, a name meaning: born-again; which name prophetically proved to become true. Edina still had horrible pains, fever and was in ICU as well. She had not even seen the baby she gave birth to. We’ve arranged her to see Renato. She couldn’t move or get up, so they rolled her bed to a place where she could see him through two windows as he was laying in the incubator with tubes coming out of him. In the moment she saw him, even from such distance, she started to get better. She got up a little later, her fever went down and was able to leave the ICU. Miraculously 10 days later we could take Renato home. It took another year, and regular check-ups before the doctor told us that most likely he will be healthy. The severe lack of oxygen he had at birth is usually caused major brain damage. There were no symptoms of that lack of oxygen for 10 years. When he became 10, suddenly he developed epilepsy. When the doctor saw his MRI, she saw the obvious signs of the lack of oxygen in his brain caused by the drama of his birth. She was greatly surprised that this MRI is his, because with such MRIs kids are often in wheelchairs. Six years after he was diagnosed with epilepsy, he was cleared to be healed from his epilepsy. There had been many other significant and very memorable health-challenges with him that came with tremendous physical pain. (Read more about that story here.)
We prayed and hoped that our third child would not have any complications. We felt we had our fair share of health issues already. Yet God had another plan. Gergő was born with a rare tumor in April of 2002. We were going from doctors to doctors to get a diagnosis. The tumor on his chest was continually growing and bleeding. After much research the diagnosis came with a difficult dilemma. The doctor who finally was able to diagnose the tumor said that it is so rare that she saw this 15 years prior Gergő’s case. The clinicians were so excited that they immediately took pictures of the tumor and called other dermatologists to see it. The diagnosis just began the journey. What should we do with such tumor? What’s the treatment? Is it benign or cancerous? The number one expert said that we need to wait 3–5 years and it will just go away by itself. The other expert said that it will never go away and we need to have surgery to remove it. After doing our own research via medical journals and studies of Dermatology we’ve decided to have the surgery and to get the tumor removed. Gergő was only 7 months old when he went under this procedure. At the end of the surgery the operating professor told us that this tumor was such that it wouldn’t have gone away by itself, because it was directly connected to a vein! He handed the tumor over me in a little vial and asked me to take it to another hospital for pathology. It was a surreal feeling to drive over to the other hospital with my son’s tumor in my hand.
These are just a few of the multiple and ongoing medical challenges, painful surgeries, rare autoimmune diseases, countless nights spent in the hospitals with our kids and the many other impossibilities we have faced with. The hard moments of medical challenges were also mixed with many other significant challenges, like:
- major financial crises (more times we had that than not);
- seemingly impossible legal problems (like when it turned out that the apartment we owned we didn’t own, because of the mistake the local government made; or when the government took away the right from our ministry to be a religious order, etc.);
- the countless moves we had to make;
- being burglarized while we were sleeping in our house and our very first new car being stolen from us;
- and the list could go on and on with sometimes the weirdest challenges life brought on our path.
2002–2003 was not only challenging because of the countless health issues in our family and our youngest’s tumor surgery, but those years were bringing up major issues in the ministry, too. It seemed that everything was falling apart in the whole ministry. In a short year we’ve last over 70% of our staff, ministry areas were shot down, teams disappeared and close to $500 000 debt were accumulated. On top of that there was not one staff fully funded and we were facing major legal instabilities. In 2004, I was asked to step up and take over the leadership of the ministry of CCC, Hungary in this very challenging and seemingly impossible situation. I was 37 years old, unexperienced, with little children who were mostly sick, all of them having sever asthma, with a wife who also had significant health issues, and our own support was not raised yet. I had never been a campus director (which is the first-level of leadership in CCC). Matter of fact, I was never even in a campus team. In reality my first leadership assignment was to lead Youth at the Threshold of Life — YTL, which never had a strong and big team. So very suddenly I’ve found myself in a position where I had been challenged to take over the National Director’s role with the enormous problems we’ve never faced before.33
Each issue and problem we’ve faced with should deserve a whole chapter, because there are so many miracles we’ve experienced and so many lessons we’ve learned about people, mission, cultures and leadership. Looking back to the past 12 years, we saw miracles: all of our debt is paid, the number of staff grew 300%, every staff are raising their own financial support, our legal situation is solved (regardless the fact that the government took away our religious order status), multiplying ministry models were launched, new policies and systems were created to support organizational effectiveness, new partnerships were established, leaders are developed and most importantly the staff unity and morale is very high.
However, there were two major impossible situations which deserves to be mentioned. Although there were lot of financial impossibilities, the most difficult situations were never around money, but around people. People create more problems than money ever can create. A big chunk of leadership is solving problems other people create.
Over these years the most difficult issues were facing betrayals. There were three cases that were especially painful. God helped us to make the right decisions in each of those, but there had been very significant battles, sometimes with friends or with other leaders who were close to us and whom we respected. Years later, looking back to those decisions and seeing how those people’s lives had been turning away from God, those hard decisions proved to be right. But when you are in the middle of those decisions sometimes left alone, struggling with your own doubts, you can only hope that you are making the right decision.
The other very memorable impossible situation is tied to our legal case. First we had to find a legal structure which would fit well our ministry both financially and functionally.
It took a lot of effort, countless nights of researching, but finally my wife encouraged me to go and meet with a certain expert and pursue their help establishing a Religious Order. We got the government’s approval and everything worked well for the first time in 20 years. Unfortunately, the newly elected government in 2011 changed the church-law and banned us — along with 300 other churches — to be a Religious Order. Another hard decision and impossible legal trap we found ourselves in. We either try to sue the government in the European Court or just let this happen and suffer silently. After praying a lot, I’ve decided to go with the second choice. By now, this proved to be the right decision. Those who started a battle with our government, all suffered greatly and their mission had been hindered significantly. After a two-year-long, complicated process, we were able to establish a legal entity under the umbrella of the Baptist Denomination. The main reason why this was successful is because 25 years ago we’ve helped to plant a church in Rózsakert which became a Baptist Church. Rózsakert than helped planting Kőszikla another Baptist Church along with several other churches. Because of those church-plants we were able to go under the Baptist Denomination as an independent legal entity. Without that initial church planting effort 25 years ago, our work with YTL would not have a legal home now and we most likely would be loosing many of our staff.
There are many other miraculous details in the journey God allowed us to experience. Reading the chapters of our journey leaves us with three possible responses: 1. Worship God who is precisely and lovingly planned our journey. 2. Learn important lessons from the journey. 3. Believe and hope that He has not finished the story.
To be continued with the last part, Part IV: “Overcoming the past.”