At the top of Mr. Gellért, high above the magnificent city of Budapest, Hungary, two sister missionaries search for a secluded spot in a grove of trees where they can be alone and unobserved.
They open their scriptures and bring out a typewritten copy of a prayer—the apostolic blessing, newly translated into the Hungarian language, that Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve pronounced on Hungary in April 1987. It was here on Mt. Gellért—overlooking the Danube River, with the hills of Buda on one side and the plains of Pest on the other—that Elder Nelson originally gave this prayer, asking the Lord to pour out his blessings upon the nation and its people. Now, kneeling reverently among the trees, the sisters quietly review the prayer aloud in their own tongue. Overhead, a warm breeze gently stirs the leaves, and the bright sun shines in a cloudless sky. For a few moments, the sisters are enveloped in a spirit of warmth and peace.
Sisters. They love the sound of that word. There’s no family relationship between Sister Nagy Erika and Sister Pálinkás Bernadett. (Hungarian surnames are used first, followed by the given names.) And they met for the first time after becoming missionaries. But no sisters could feel more united in purpose and spirit. Their mission is filled with a sense of history in the making: These sisters are sharing the privilege of being the first two Hungarian citizens ever to serve as full-time missionaries in Hungary.
“For me,” says Sister Pálinkás, “it’s unbelievable that we Hungarians can actually do this now—hear the gospel message and then serve as missionaries.” Indeed, the events that brought them to this opportunity are miraculous. For nearly 40 years, Hungary was a communist-controlled socialist state, with no freedom of religion. In June 1988, just one year after Elder Nelson gave his dedicatory prayer, the Church received official recognition in this land. In October 1989, Hungary became a democracy, and in July 1990 a mission of the Church was opened in Budapest. Sister Nagy and Sister Pálinkás were baptized within a month of each other in 1992.
“I believe Elder Nelson was an instrument in the hands of God when he gave this blessing,” Sister Nagy says. “As I studied it again today, I thought about all the missionaries who are here right now and all the missionaries who will come later, after us. The prayer talks about all of them. I thought about the youth. I thought about all the stakes and wards that Elder Nelson prophesied would dot this land. I thought, too, about our Hungarian national anthem, which starts out ‘God Bless the Hungarians.’ God really has blessed the Hungarians!”
“Of course, we Latter-day Saints aren’t the only ones proselyting in Hungary,” says Sister Pálinkás. “Missionaries from many, many other churches are here now, too. This makes it hard for the people. After a long period of everything being forbidden, now it’s completely free as far as religion goes—and the people are a bit scared and confused and overwhelmed with all of these churches. Many keep to themselves a little bit and don’t want to make any decisions.
“That’s why our way of spreading the gospel is so important. If we do it with love, with Christlike love, and show them that we care for them and are not doing it for other reasons, then I don’t think there’s a person in the world whose heart won’t be touched.”
Both of these sisters know firsthand the religious confusion and uncertainty some of their investigators are feeling. Sister Pálinkás Bernadett is from Dunaújváros, a factory city built by Joseph Stalin as a model Communist city. For many years, there were no churches at all in the city. “My parents are not believers in God,” she says. “But somehow I felt close to Him and felt that He loved me.
“I often thought about what I was doing here on earth, what the purpose of life was, why I was born here in Hungary and not somewhere else, and why now and not earlier or later. Something was missing in my life, but I didn’t know exactly what.”
When Bernadett was almost 20, two American missionaries came into the store where she sold office supplies. “My co-workers and I could tell from the very first that these young men were different from others,” she remembers. “There was something shining from their eyes that made me very curious as to who they were and what they were doing here in Hungary. I felt that they could show me something that I didn’t know—something that I needed to know.”
Bernadett and a co-worker arranged to hear the first discussion. Although her friend soon lost interest, Bernadett attended sacrament meeting alone the following Sunday and was baptized a month later, on 22 August 1992. A year and a half later, she became a full-time missionary. None of her family has yet been baptized.
Bernadett’s parents are not happy with either decision—to be baptized or to serve a mission. “It hurts them because they don’t understand what I’m doing and why, even though I’ve tried to explain it to them. When I decided to be a missionary, my first goal was to somehow bring my parents closer to the Church. Now I recognize that each person has to personally walk the road to get to God, and it takes some people longer than others. I write to my parents every week and pray for them always.”
Although Bernadett doesn’t hear from her family, she is grateful for letters from branch members—especially the youth—back home. And she has a lot of support around her in the mission. Her first zone leader was the missionary who had baptized her in Dunaújváros a year and a half earlier! “When he baptized me, he was a beginner missionary,” she says. “Now I was a beginner, and he was more experienced. I felt very proud to be able to work at the same time with him.”
In April 1992, Nagy Erika was 20 years old and was living with her family in the city of Nyiregyháza when a friend encouraged them to listen to the missionaries. Erika’s father, a devout Christian, had taught his family about God, and the whole family had attended their own church earlier that day. “But when the two elders came in the door and greeted us—my parents and all eight of us children—we felt a surprising feeling of happiness because of the spirit that came from them.”
With that spirit, the missionaries “became our friends,” says Erika. “It was wonderful how they showed their love to us—to my younger brothers and sister, to us older children, and to our parents—and how they talked about their own parents with such love and respect. We thought that if someday, somehow, we could show this much love to other people, that would be a great thing. When they began talking about God and Jesus Christ, a wonderful discussion flowed between us.”
After the second discussion, the family suddenly lost contact with the missionaries. First, one of the elders was transferred. Then, unexpectedly, Erika’s family had to move to Budapest. “Every evening I tried to pray—the best I knew how—and I asked God to help me find somebody to talk to about what the missionaries had taught us.”
Two months after moving to Budapest, Erika had one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong. First, she missed her bus. Then she had to walk a great distance in the rain. When she finally reached a subway station, she was feel’mg pretty discouraged. “Then, whi1e waiting for the subway, I suddenly noticed two elders-and one of them was the one who had taught us in Nyiregyháza! I couldn’t believe it—in a city of more than two million people!”
The discussions immediately resumed with the family, and Erika was baptized alone on 13 September 1992, just five months after first meeting the missionaries. By December, seven of the ten family members had also been baptized. And she is confident the other three will follow. “In every letter, I send them good spiritual messages, and they are progressing,” she says with a smile.
A year after her baptism, Erika received her mission call to Hungary. “I was happy to be called to serve my own people in my own language. But I worried whether I was worthy to be the first Hungarian citizen to serve in Hungary and if I would be able to give the people what they needed. I prayed about it and felt many special feelings that night. I knew that God loved me and my family. I felt very close to God.”
As the two sisters reminisce about experiences they are having as missionaries, it is obvious that they are being richly blessed by the Lord in their efforts. “When I went to my first city as a new missionary,” says Sister Pálinkás, “my companion and I looked in our planners and there was nothing scheduled. I said, ‘Oh no, what are we going to do?’ But we went out and worked hard. I learned that when there’s an empty day in our planners, we can say, ‘No problem; we’re going to teach three or four discussions.’ Then we include in our prayers a plea to the Lord to help us with that righteous desire. I’ve learned that if we ask with real faith and real intent, the Lord will help us with it, as long as it’s according to his will.”
The joy of seeing a person change his life and be baptized is the greatest reward. “I can’t express how excited I was for my first baptism as a missionary,” says Sister Pálinkás. “I felt as if I could fly because of the happiness. It was a great thing to know that this wonderful person was going to be a member of the Lord’s church—a person whom I and many other members could learn from.”
As these sisters see it, the preaching of the gospel in Hungary is both a beginning and an end. “The gospel gives us Hungarians a new start,” says Sister Pálinkás. “We have a chance to come to know God and his gospel and to know ourselves. Maybe this means an end to the feeling some people have had that they needed to be apart from everyone else, that they couldn’t love each other.”
“Big walls are falling down and gates are opening up because of the gospel,” says Sister Nagy. “Over the years, we’ve built walls to protect us from things that were going to happen in our lives, and love and brotherliness were missing. But the gospel helps us open the gates to love and service.”