Stake in Hungary Eastern Europe's 2nd
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BUDAPEST, Hungary The first stake in Hungary was created June 4 by Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the Seventy and president of the Europe Central Area.
"For years and years the Church has waited for the day when all the blessings of the gospel will come to the people of Eastern Europe," said President Hafen as he presided over the meeting at which was formed the Budapest Hungary Stake, the first stake created in the former communist-controlled Eastern bloc of nations. The Kiev Ukraine Stake, created in May 2004, is the first in the former Soviet Union.
Members gathered from many parts of Hungary and other nations, filling to overflowing the Tihany Ter meetinghouse in Budapest.
Elder Hafen spoke about the growth of the Church in Hungary. "Now we are not just establishing the Church in Hungary, we're establishing Zion, a stake of Zion."
He said that the countries of the Eastern bloc have had a special character. "These were lands of freedom who fought back against oppression," he noted.
It was in the early 1990s that membership numbers began to take off in Hungary, growing six-fold from 600 members in 1992 to over 3,600 by 2002.
President Hafen introduced Elder Hans B. Ringger, an emeritus General Authority and former area president, saying, "This man has done more to bring the gospel to Eastern European communist countries."
In the 1980s, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Twelve instructed Elder Ringger, then a member of the Seventy, to go to Hungary.
"I didn't know what he had in mind, I didn't even know where Hungary was," said Elder Ringger. When he arrived in Hungary in 1986, Elder Ringger met a lone member, Margit Toth, in the city of Debrecen. She had been baptized in Bern, Switzerland, in 1937, but after her studies in Switzerland and France had returned to Hungary where there were no Church services. She asked him to administer the sacrament for her.
They started to work with the communist government to seek recognition of the Church. He said that some asked, "How could you, as a free Swiss, go to these people?" Elder Ringger said he replied, "I believe we live in the world with other people. We cannot separate ourselves from them. We have another belief and style of life, but we have to show the beauty of our faith. That's what we did."
Speaking of the recognition of the Church in 1988, Elder Ringger said, "That was the beginning. We could send missionaries, but there were no missionaries who spoke Hungarian." He explained that he was touring a mission in Germany when he spotted a missionary with a Hungarian name. He was Canadian, but had been taught Hungarian in the home by his Hungarian parents. "I told him, 'Get your luggage together and you will go to Budapest.' We found ways to talk to the people. We did everything we could," Elder Ringger said.
He told the congregation, "You have a great potential for influence in this country and I believe you can change society. It won't be fast or easy, but I know in my heart you can do it."
In June 1985 the Freiberg Temple in the German Democratic Republic was dedicated. In 1987, standing on top of the 140-meter Gellert Hill and overlooking Budapest with the Danube flowing between the two parts of the city, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated the land of Hungary for the preaching of the restored gospel. The Church was granted legal recognition the following year.
Although responsibility for Hungary had been held by other missions, the first in-country mission president of Hungary was James L. Wilde who presided over the Hungary Budapest Mission, which was created on June 1, 1990. President Wilde served a mission to Germany as a young man. When President Spencer W. Kimball suggested that the Lord might lead the Church into nations then closed to missionary work, including Eastern Europe, Brother Wilde and his wife, Patricia Kathleen, learned Hungarian, long before they had any idea that they would be called to serve a mission in Hungary.
Brother Wilde explained that they arrived in Budapest in 1990, shortly after the Berlin Wall came down, when there were just 130 members. By the time of their release, membership had risen to 1,800. "To see this growth happen is just unspeakably beautiful; I couldn't even begin to put it into words," said Brother Wilde, who attended the conference with his wife.
In bearing his testimony, Brother Wilde told the members, "When I think about Mormon pioneers, I think of you. This will be a real Hungarian Rhapsody."
One Church pioneer in Hungary is outgoing District President Sandor Juhasz. He read a book about the Church and sought out the missionaries two years before the Church was granted official recognition. There were few members then and no branch in Budapest; they met in the missionaries' accommodation. President Juhasz believes that the dedication of the Freiberg temple in the German Democratic Republic was a significant step in the development of the Church in Hungary. Membership began to increase and a few small branches were established in Budapest. There are now 19 branches, five of which are now wards in the new Budapest Hungary Stake.
Another Hungarian pioneer is Erika Ibolya Kozma. She was the first sister missionary to serve from Hungary, in the Budapest Hungary Mission between 1993 and 1995, having become a member only a year before her mission call.
Miklos Bekefi, who had served as district clerk, said that he has been privileged to see up close how the district was prepared and responded to the challenge to prepare to become a stake. "It's very exciting to see all the things that seemed impossible become possible. It shows that nothing is impossible with the Lord," he said. "We didn't see it when we had sacrament in our own building for the first time in 1989. There were about 20 members but 80 chairs had been ordered. People said it was a waste of money, there would never be 80 members. It teaches us to trust the promises of the Lord and work towards them."
In 2005, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve gave Hungarian members specific challenges to accomplish in order for a stake to be created. President Juhasz said that each branch was asked to reactivate three or four priesthood holders or youth. "I said, 'It will be done.' And it was done. We had the challenge and we committed ourselves. This is my dream and what we worked for. We've had this vision for so long and we're so happy it's finally come to pass. It will bring a lot of blessings to Hungary and also to the surrounding countries. I'm thankful to the Lord that it's finally happened."
Pioneer member and author Molnair Laszlo Miklos joined the Church in 1979. He first became aware of the Church during his research into the American West. He also wrote about the Church in his Hungarian language publications. He sought out the missionaries. Brother Molnair explained why Hungarians have been receptive to the gospel message: "From the formation of the Hungarian Republic people had a lot of interest in new things, including the Church."
Newly called stake president Gabor Klinger observed that in Elder Nelson's dedicatory prayer he spoke of stakes, in the plural. "I believe more will come," he said.
After the conference, Hungary Budapest Mission President Douglas Clement noted that the Hungarian members have recently received the new translation of the triple combination scriptures, which has been a major revision. "They've been very excited, especially to see the footnotes and the new combined dictionary and index. That's been a great blessing to them," he said.
Speaking at the Saturday conference session, Elder W. Craig Zwick of the Seventy and first counselor in the Europe Central Area presidency said, "Today has been a miracle day in Hungary, but it didn't start at midnight last night, it started years ago." He challenged the members to be a temple-going people. "Remember this, by being a gospel-sharing people and a temple-going people this great stake will never fail."
At the Sunday session, Elder Zwick said, "This is not the stake of the people of Budapest Hungary. . . . This is the true gospel of Jesus Christ and at the head of the Church is the Savior Himself."
Many members expressed their joy and excitement at the creation of the Budapest Hungary Stake. In traditional Hungarian costume, Attila Kovesy of the Erd Branch said, "Over the centuries there have been many problems in Hungarian life, but having a stake will make things easier."
The example set by college roommate Nora Southwick led Rita Somafi to join the Church. Sister Somafi eventually served as a missionary on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
"I was so happy to be able to serve a mission. I think one of Nora's missions was to prepare me to accept the gospel so I could take the gospel to others," she said. Both were thrilled to be present at the creation of the Budapest Hungary Stake.
"There had been a general idea that there would one day be a stake, in years to come. Now it has happened."