As a student studying abroad in Budapest, I am not surprised to be captivated by the major tourist attractions of the city: the Danube River, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Hungarian Parliament Building to name a few.
But what surprised me was my sheer fascination in a place easily found throughout America – church.
I felt delighted when my roommate Austria suggested we attend a church service in Budapest as I regularly do at home. After researching our options, we picked an English-speaking church and found a few friends to accompany us. I figured it would not be much different from my American church, but little did I know what we would find.
I anticipated to encounter a grand-looking building with a cross and a vast, open door welcoming people in. Instead I found an austere building with a rickety staircase leading to the church on the first floor. (In Hungary, the first floor is what Americans consider to be the second floor). With each step up the staircase, I remembered the wooden panels that make up the boardwalk back home in Ocean City, New Jersey, as I heard a familiar creaking noise underneath my feet.
I thought the building was the last of my surprises but then came worship. Even though everyone sang in English, my ears widened as I heard “Lord I Need You” sung in a plethora of distinct accents. A cultural pool surrounded me. On my right, a Hungarian woman, Andrea, sang stressing the beginning of each word, while in front of me a Hispanic man sang rolling his R’s. My amazement was only strengthened when everyone visiting for the first time introduced themselves, saying where they are from. From Moldova to Canada, I counted at least seven countries.
Apart from faith, Andrea and I discovered other similarities. We recognized our mutual interest in languages, and she helped me hone my pronunciation of the Hungarian version of “bless you”: egészségedre. Although we grew up on opposite sides of the globe, we both migrated to Texas to pursue our studies. She moved to Houston and I chose Waco. I smiled at the beauty of finding similarities through our differences.
According to the pastor, Rich Millhouse, an average of 32 countries are represented by the congregation on a given Sunday. My jaw dropped in disbelief of such a number.
At that moment, I realized it did not matter what country the people came from or how they got there, but that this bare-bones building brought various parts of the world together at one time for the same purpose.