Between 1984 and 1987 I served as president of the Austria Vienna Mission. While there, I often spent time visiting the Hungarian area of the mission with Karl Trinkl, a talkative, five-foot-tall Austrian-Hungarian in his mid-sixties. The Hungarians affectionately called him Karlcibaci (Karl-chee-bah-chee)—“Little Uncle Karl.”
On one of our trips to Debrecen, we visited a family who had become interested in the Church after their son was baptized while living in Vienna. The family had invited two friends into their home to hear us talk about the gospel. As was often the case in Hungary, the discussion was preceded by a meal of soup and salad and then sausage and potatoes, followed by dessert and a few drinks of fruit juice and mineral water.
After the meal, I began the discussion, speaking in German. Karlcibaci translated my first sentence briefly. My second statement took him a bit longer to translate. I was pleased that he felt comfortable enough to add his own commentary. But by the time we reached the third principle of the first discussion, he had forgotten me altogether and had begun explaining the gospel in his own unsystematic way. At times, he was serious; at times, he laughed; always he spoke with great enthusiasm.
These people knew nothing of the Church. But they listened to Uncle Karl intently. And as they saw the love he had for them and for the gospel, his enthusiasm became contagious. Like water lilies unfolding in the warmth of the morning sun, they began to relax and enjoy the Spirit they felt so strongly.
We had planned to close our discussion with prayer and then to depart. So, after our prayer, I suggested we leave, but Karlcibaci countered with a proposal that we sing a few Hungarian folk songs before departing. And so we sang plaintive, melancholy melodies, expressing the struggle with the land and the war within oneself.
The hour grew late. Karcibaci volunteered to sing one last song, “Granada,” in his operatic tenor voice. Our hosts were overjoyed by his spontaneous outburst and were somewhat surprised by his talent. They kissed us on each cheek and invited us to return when next we visited Hungary.
As we drove home, I reflected upon what had happened. What could these gracious hosts have learned and remembered about the gospel after our discussion? The answer came quietly. Perhaps, I thought, Karlcibaci’s enthusiastic teaching, his love, his animated singing, and his good humor taught the lesson that lies at the heart of all our gospel teaching: Man is, that he might have joy.
That zest for life in confronting difficult circumstances characterizes the Hungarians. Karlcibaci is not unique among his countrymen. Most lack only the one thing he and others of the Church like him can offer—the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.