Light Out of Darkness

by Marvin K. Gardner

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    Decades of repression left a land of spiritual darkness. Now, Hungarian youth are turning gladly toward the light.

    Imagine living in a city planned by a dictator. The dictator imports thousands of people from throughout the country to create a worker city, filled with row after row of gray apartment buildings and enormous factories spewing black clouds from tall smokestacks. Freedom of any kind, but especially freedom of religion, is practically nonexistent.

    Until just a few years ago, Dunaújváros, Hungary, a small city on the Danube River, was such a place. But now, after a generation without religion, young people are learning about the plan of salvation.

    What began as a small branch in 1989, has now grown to two branches, 230 members strong. Many of these new converts are youth, and like the Saints in the days of Joseph Smith, these members are discovering the newness and beauty of the gospel—and telling others about it.

    Something New

    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 his branch 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.

    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’s 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 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 describe what kind of feeling it was for me.”

    Helping Each Other

    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. I felt the Holy Ghost and felt that my testimony had been strengthened. I was very happy after that.”

    Testimony Builders

    Seminary provides regular opportunities for these testimony-building and unifying experiences. “There are two important 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. This gives me a lot of strength.”

    Other milestones were trips to the Freiberg Germany Temple in April and August 1994 to be baptized for the dead. 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 the people I was being baptized for,” says Somodi Zsuzsanna, 18. “But about halfway through 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.”

    A Wonderful Feeling

    Where there was once only gray industry, seminary students in Dunaújváros are now finding the beauty in their city. They are learning to rejoice in their newfound gift. They are striving to share 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. Background photography by Welden Andersen

    (Above) Perger Ildikó, (right) Für Mária and Bozó László. (In Hungary, the given name follows the family name, as in “Smith John.”)

    At first, only excerpts from the Book of Mormon were available. Now the full book is available, along with seminary, which helps in learning its truths.

    (Above, clockwise from left) Csapó András, Bozó Brigitta and Vereckei Krisztina, Klein Kinga.

    (From left) Somodi Zsuzsanna, Valkai Nikoletta, Horváth Attila, Borsos Éva and Péter, and branch president Váczy Károly with Bozó László and Brigitta.

    First, democracy entered and brought freedom and a spirit of hope to a whole nation. Then the gospel entered these young lives, bringing the ultimate hope and freedom that are found only in Christ.