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Reformed Great Church of Debrecen, Hungary
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Hungary for Jesus: Dinner with a tenacious, spirit-led soul

DEBRECEN, Hungary  — He’s one of those guys who just won’t give up.

But Gian Monzon also is one of those guys who’s willing to go where the Spirit leads.

I guess both of those mindsets played a role in our brief meeting with Gian in this central European nation.

Gian Monzon talks about his journey from Venezuela to Harding to Hungary.

Gian Monzon talks about his journey from Venezuela to Harding to Hungary.

To be honest, we didn’t have a good reason to stop in Hungary beyond the fact that we were, well, hungry.

Our small team, representing The Christian Chronicle and Sunset International Bible Institute, had crossed the border from Ukraine to Romania the night before and was en route to Slovakia. It was the halfway point in our two-week trip to see how Churches of Christ were responding to the war in Ukraine and the resulting refugee crisis.

I had failed to make contact with any of the congregations in Hungary, though I corresponded with a Christian couple who had housed Ukrainian refugees. Hungary has opened its borders to more than 400,000 Ukrainians since the war began, but few stay. The language is notoriously hard to learn, and the country of 9.75 million souls has a reputation of being anti-immigrant thanks to the rhetoric and policies of its prime minister, Viktor Orbán.

It would have been easy to just drive through Hungary, but I was determined to stop, to find at least one righteous person we could meet (taking a cue from Abraham’s conversation with God in Genesis 18).

Then the Spirit (or, more accurately, former missionary to Hungary Jeff McGlawn) put me in touch with Gian, who biked over from his home to meet us at Bonita Biztró, an Italian restaurant in beautiful downtown Debrecen.

Gian is a former long-haired punk rocker from the South American nation of Peru. He moved to Venezuela and could part a crowd just like Moses parted the Red Sea. Folks would give him a wide berth as he walked down the streets of San Antonio de los Altos.

The Csonka Church, originally built in 1661, in downtown Debrecen.

The Csonka Church, originally built in 1661, in downtown Debrecen.

Then missionary Lynette Rowland invited him to study the Bible with an Iglesia de Cristo (Church of Christ).

“So here I am in this Bible study, and nobody minded how I was dressed,” Gian said. “Everybody treated me with respect, like a human person.”

He kept studying and was baptized. Bob Brown, a longtime missionary to Venezuela, became his adopted father. Later he met a group of campaigners from Harding University and decided to attend the Christian school in Arkansas, though he didn’t know how he’d pay for it. God made a way.

After graduating in 1998 he studied at the Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn. He worked at three different jobs to cover tuition.

He did mission trips during his college years. He was preparing to go to Kenya (and was learning Swahili, which he says is similar to Spanish phonetically) with a team of Harding students, but the mission team got too big and he was cut. One professor, Anita Hamilton, who was like a second mother to him, suggested he join a trip to Russia and Hungary — newly ripe after the fall of communism.

Related: From Bucharest to Transylvania, Romanian churches serve Ukraine

He had visa issues in the Budapest airport and got kicked out of Hungary. But he didn’t give up. God found a way to get him back in.

He fell in love with Hungary — and with a Hungarian named Anita. He was teaching English in Debrecen, and she was one of his students. He asked if anyone wanted to study the Bible, and she was the only one to raise a hand.

Anita later told him that, in Hungary, you don’t ask for a show of hands. You just call on people. (She raised her hand because she felt sorry for him, Gian said with a chuckle.) Anita was baptized in 1999 and they married in 2003. Now they have three children.

Gian doesn’t know how much longer they’ll be in Hungary. He’s a marriage and family therapist, but in recent years it’s been difficult to find work, especially for immigrants. He and Anita may take jobs with a school for the children of missionaries in either the Philippines or Senegal.

Debrecen, Hungary

Gian may end up in Africa after all.

Wherever he goes, I know that his tenacity and his willingness to be led by God will get him to where he needs to be. Who knows? Maybe we’ll meet again in another faraway land.

I’ll insist that we stop there, too.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Reformed Great Church of Debrecen, Hungary

Reformed Great Church of Debrecen, Hungary.

Filed under: Bob Brown Debrecen Gian Monzon Harding School of Theology Hungary Insight International Jeff McGlawn Opinion Sunset International Bible Institute Top Stories Ukrainian refugees

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