Seminary on the Danube

By Marvin K. Gardner

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    You’ve heard of the Danube—that famous river flowing through central and southeastern Europe. For many people, the name brings to mind the sound of violins playing in beautiful cities along the banks of a sparkling ribbon of blue.

    In recent decades, however, that sound was stifled in the city of Dunaújváros, Hungary, on the bank of the Danube. Before 1949, this city was a small agricultural village known as Dunapentele. Then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin transformed the village into his idea of a model communist city. Renaming it “Sztálinváros” (“Stalin’s City”), he imported thousands of people from throughout the country and created a worker city—filled with enormous factories spewing black clouds from tall smokestacks and with row after row of gray concrete apartment buildings. The city was designed for maximum efficiency and practicality. Missing was the beauty—not a single church was built in Stalin’s model city. Freedom of religion, the press, and assembly were essentially nonexistent. A whole generation grew up without a chance to learn about God and his redeeming Son.

    But in recent years, stunning changes have taken place in Hungary. In 1987, Elder Russell M. Nelson pronounced an apostolic blessing upon the land. In 1988, the Church received official recognition. In 1989, Hungary became a democracy. In 1990, the Hungary Budapest Mission was opened. The Book of Mormon was published in Hungarian in 1991, and the first issue of the Church’s Hungarian magazine was published in June 1993.

    While dramatic events were occurring in the country as a whole, remarkable changes also took place in the “model communist city.” After Stalin’s death, the citizens of Sztálinváros gave their city yet another new name: “Dunaújváros” (“New City on the Danube”). It is still a major industrial center—but now, with the birth of democracy, there is an atmosphere of hope. The taste of freedom is still very sweet to its citizens.

    The first Latter-day Saint baptisms in Dunaújváros took place in 1989. In the six short years that have followed, there has been a great harvest of converts. Now there are 230 members and two branches of the Church in the city. And a new sound is beginning to be heard—the vibrant voices of Latter-day Saint youth who are finding the beauty of the gospel, rejoicing in their new-found gift, and sharing it with others.

    Like the Saints in Joseph’s Day

    Twenty-year-old Csapó András was one of the earliest converts. (Hungarian surnames are used first, followed by the given name.) Baptized in 1989 at age 15, he is now the seminary teacher in Branch Two and is preparing to serve a full-time mission.

    As he welcomes his class members to seminary this evening, 13 students arrange their chairs around a table covered with their well-used copies of the Book of Mormon. They sing “I Am a Child of God.” A young woman offers the opening prayer.

    Since the Church is so new here, everyone is a recent convert. Seven of these students have been members for two years, five for only a year. Three are the only members of the Church in their families. Four have brought parents into the Church.

    And everyone’s life is somehow intertwined with everybody else’s. Several were baptized because somebody else in the class introduced the gospel to them. As a result, there is a remarkable feeling of love and oneness around this table—along with good-natured teasing and laughter.

    These seminary students are tasting the same spirit that the Saints in Joseph Smith’s day must have enjoyed: The newness and beauty of the gospel. The experience of discovering for oneself the truthfulness of it all—and then telling others about it. The feeling of being at the beginning of something wonderful, something exalting, something destined to fill the whole earth!

    The New-Found Gift

    Two young women in this seminary class, both 16, are named Brigitta. “From my classmate, Seres Brigitta, I heard about the Church for the first time,” says Bozó Brigitta.

    “I began attending sacrament meeting and made a lot of friends here. So when youth conference came, I naturally thought I needed to go. At the conference, I felt for the first time that I needed to belong to this Church. I was baptized a week later.” Two months after Brigitta’s own baptism, her mother and her 15-year-old brother, László, were baptized. (Her father had died six years earlier.) “Now the three of us—our whole family—are members of the Church. It is wonderful!”

    “At first I thought just my friend would be baptized,” says her classmate Seres Brigitta. “I was amazed that her family also joined the Church.”

    When an LDS classmate invited Horváth Attila, 16, to sacrament meeting, Attila liked what he saw. “Then, when my friend told me that the Church was very family-centered, I became even more interested.” Within weeks, Attila was baptized.

    Three months later, his father asked to hear the discussions. “I knew enough about the Church by that time,” says Attila, “that I could help my father learn about it. The knowledge I had received in seminary helped me explain the scriptures to him. But since he smoked and drank coffee a lot, I didn’t have the faith that he would be baptized. I was amazed when I saw how—with the help of our Heavenly Father—he was able to rid those things from his life. Two months later, I baptized my father!

    “Then, when my mother saw how happy my father and I were in the Church, she also started to be interested. I baptized her three months after baptizing my father! The next day, my whole family came to Church and bore their testimonies. It’s not possible to say what kind of feeling it was for me.”

    Supporting One Another

    As these young people are converted to the gospel, they help one another remain strong. Last summer, Klein Kinga, 19, and another young member of the Church found employment away from home. “There weren’t any other Church members around—just the two of us and the world,” she says. “We had a lot of adversity. When we came home in the evenings, we always prayed together, read together from the Book of Mormon, and waited for the letters we received from our Church friends here in Dunaújváros. These things helped us endure that difficult time.”

    Balatoni Gábor and Borsos Péter, both 18, had a similar experience while working away from home. “All around us, others smoked, drank, used vulgar language, and had other unworthy habits. At first, it was difficult for us,” says Gábor. “Then we found a place where we could pray together each day. It helped a lot.”

    One afternoon, Vereckei Krisztina, 16, was home alone. “I love to feel the Holy Ghost, to feel that this Church is true,” she says. “But that day, I wasn’t feeling it, and I missed it a lot.” She tried listening to Church music, reading the Book of Mormon, and praying. But for some reason, she still wasn’t feeling the Spirit.

    “I went to visit my friend, Seres Brigitta,” she says. “I asked her to come and walk with me. As we walked, we talked about Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. Without thinking about it, I told her my testimony, and she told me hers. We sat on a city bench for two or three hours, sharing our testimonies with each other. As we sat there, with lots of people going by, we could imagine that God was looking at us and that He was proud of us because we were talking about Him. I felt the Holy Ghost and felt that my testimony had been strengthened. I was very happy after that.”

    “Nobody Could Sleep”

    A milestone in the short history of the Church in Hungary was the youth conference held in Budapest during the summer of 1993. Nearly 200 Latter-day Saint young men and women came from all over Hungary. There were talent shows, sports activities, and workshops. But the highlight was the four-hour testimony meeting.

    “It’s not possible to tell you how beautiful the testimonies were,” says Valkai Nikoletta, 18. “Everybody cried. The Holy Ghost was there. After that, nobody could sleep that evening. The next morning, we didn’t want to go home. We had a closing prayer to end the conference and left feeling very sad that it was over. But at the same time, we were happy. We felt so close to one another that we sang together on the bus all the way back to Dunaújváros. The Holy Ghost was there as we sang.”

    Seminary provides regular opportunities for these testimony-building and unifying experiences. “There are two reasons why I think seminary is an important program,” says Borsos Éva, 16. “First, if you prepare for seminary, you have to read from the Book of Mormon regularly. And this is a good thing. Second, seminary gives us opportunities to be together. The youth in this branch are strong and are close to one another—and we can thank the seminary program for this. When we share testimonies with each other—and we do this a lot—it’s very worthwhile. About a week ago in our seminary class, we had a testimony meeting, and the Spirit was very strong. I felt the same feelings that I had at youth conference. This gives me a lot of strength.”

    “The Temple Had No Roof!”

    Other milestones were trips to the Freiberg Germany Temple to be baptized for the dead in April and August 1994. Latter-day Saint youth from all over Hungary crowded onto buses to make the 22-hour journey. Then they returned home with a mission: to tell others about it so everyone could share in the power and beauty of the experience.

    “I didn’t know who the people were who I was being baptized for—or when they lived,” says Somodi Zsuzsanna, 18. “About halfway through, without warning I suddenly felt the Spirit. I felt that perhaps that person had accepted the gospel in the spirit world and had been waiting for somebody to be baptized in her name. I have never felt such a wonderful thing, before or since.”

    “When I was inside the temple,” says Borsos Péter, 18, “I had the sensation that the temple had no roof—that there was direct contact with heaven!”

    “Knowing that Our Heavenly Father Loves Us”

    Finding the beauty. Rejoicing in their new-found gift. Sharing it with others.

    “There’s no feeling more wonderful,” says Vereckei Krisztina, 16, “than knowing that our Heavenly Father loves us.”

    These Hungarian seminary students—singing a new song in their city on the Danube—have that assurance.

    Photography by Brian K. Kelly and Marvin K. Gardner

    In a city that once bore Stalin’s name, branch president Váczy Károly, above, discusses the gospel with seminary students. Perger Ildikó, left, is a recent convert. Horváth Attila, below, baptized his parents. Right: Für Mária, Vereckei Krisztina, and Bozó Brigitta have become great friends in seminary.

    After finding the beauty of the gospel, Hungarian seminary students, such as Somodi Zsuzsanna, Valkai Nikoletta, and Klein Kinga, above, and Borsos Éva, below, eagerly share it with others. Twenty-year-old Csapó András, left, is the seminary teacher.