Budapest is a beautiful historical city that sprawls along the banks of the Danube River and is considered to be the cultural and political center of Hungary. It is to this city of approximately 1.7 million people that Foursquare Missions International (FMI) Missionaries David and Susan Ballantyne moved in June 2007.
While pastoring Faith Center (Great Falls Foursquare Church) in Great Falls, Mont., for 16 years, David and Susan were deeply marked by the call to missions in former Soviet nations. During their last two years of ministry at Faith Center, they felt the Lord’s leading toward long-term missions work in Budapest.
Spiritually speaking, Budapest is a challenging place to live. Many Hungarians self-identify as Christian because of the country’s Catholic history, but very few of them have a real understanding of Christianity, much less the life of Jesus and the gospel. Influencing Hungary for Christ is a long-term process of building trust and relationships, reaching into the hearts of the Hungarian people and introducing the gospel narrative to those who have never heard it before.
Describe your heart for the people of Budapest.
David: The Lord gave me a vision of a hard-soiled land with weeds, rock and very little “good seed” on the hard earth. In the vision, the dry land was next to an abundant territory where excessive seeds were being stored and piled on the ground in heaps. Seeds were falling into my hands, and God asked me, “Where will you cast your seeds?” I knew instantly that I was being sent into the “hard soils” of Central Eastern Europe.
What I love about Budapest is the amazing sense of 1,500-year-old history that shapes the Hungarian culture. The country has always been ruled and conquered by other nations through the centuries, yet the Hungarians find ways to maintain their history and relevance as a people group. The Hungarian people pride themselves on being clever and strong survivors.
What are some of the biggest challenges to ministry in Hungary?
David: One of the biggest challenges is also our biggest opportunity for the gospel. There is a high level of skepticism directed toward anything Christian, but the skepticism is grounded on nothing of substance other than Christianity’s history in the country.
The majority of people view Christianity as a religion that is irrelevant to modern life and its challenges. Because young people under 30 have a dearth of knowledge about the gospel, the challenge is to build understanding about the life and mission of Jesus. However, this lack of prior knowledge is also a great opportunity, because we do not have to undo many false teachings related to Christianity.
The government also challenges us. Within the current legal structure, most evangelical churches are not granted governmental rights or recognition. So we labor to establish a faith community without official government recognition.
On a personal level, the biggest challenge we face in Hungary is simply the language that we are struggling to learn, and the normal sense of distance we feel from family whom we obviously miss.
What strategy has God given you for reaching the city?
David: The strategy for reaching the people of this city is centered on becoming relationally connected to the Hungarian people. From the beginning, our Hungarian friends have asked us, “So, when are you leaving?” We answer, “This is our home; we live here.”
Our answer is typically met with skepticism. For us, one of our greatest testimonies is our constant presence in the city. People now trust that we are really here to stay.
The structure of our church plant, The Bridge, is a non-traditional approach and directly shaped by the cultural dynamics of the city. Working with a post-Christian, post-modern and, essentially, skeptical population, our primary aim is to encounter young Hungarians, particularly 40 and under, who have essentially no teaching or training in anything Christian.
We meet in our apartment with an average group of 25 people and engage in conversationally driven teaching based on the life of Jesus. We begin with a meal, followed by social interaction that leads into guided conversations about Jesus. The group is open-ended and yet has a distinct liturgy that is driven by “the four C’s”: Community, Communion, Call and Commission.
We also have launched a volunteer serving ministry, Serve the City Budapest. Through this organization, we create volunteer events in the city. Volunteerism is a foreign concept for Hungarians, so we work mainly with college-age people who discover that volunteering is a great way to actively help shape the city. We use Serve the City Budapest as an effective way to meet Hungarians.
How to Pray for the Ballantynes
- Pray for their ongoing learning of the Hungarian language, which David notes is difficult.
- Pray for financial support for their community outreaches.
- Pray for the Hungarian Foursquare Church to grow in deep discipleship and leadership development.
How to Bless the Ballantynes
Foursquare missionaries are always encouraged by and grateful for any prayers and correspondence they receive. Whether it’s a gift sent on a holiday, or simply a letter or note of encouragement, you can make a difference by expressing your support in a practical way.
To send correspondence to David and Susan, send them an email or write to them at the following address:
David and Susan Ballantyne
33 Vorosmarty utca 1.1
Budapest, Hungary 1064
Interview conducted by: Amy Swanson, a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministry at New Life Church (Santa Barbara Foursquare Church) in Santa Barbara, Calif.