by Wendell Karsen, ’63 (Th.M. Director, 2001-2006)
In August of 2003, Barna Szabolcs Kali arrived at Western Theological Seminary from the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania to participate in the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program. Blessed with a gregarious and warm personality and a keen mind, he soon blossomed where he had been transplanted. In May of 2004, he received his Th.M. degree. Then it was farewell and back to Romania.
Eleven years later in July of this year, my wife Renske and I had the wonderful privilege of visiting Barna and his wife, Tunde—now blessed with three girls, Anna, Rebeka and Sara. Barna and Tunde, both ordained pastors in the Hungarian Reformed Church, currently serve two parishes each in northern Romania: Tunde in the village of Mazőméhes and Barna on the edge of a small town named Ludus. They have been a great force for good and for God there. The four congregations, though small and poor, are flourishing, and the Kalis have been involved in several projects to improve the lives of the people in their communities. Barna also serves as the regional director of youth work and runs pastoral training programs.
Barna is not only a preacher, but is also of necessity a farmer. Since their congregations can only pay the Kalis the equivalent of $350 a month, they need to put their own home grown food on the table. Fortunately, the land around their manse provides enough space for them to raise chickens, rabbits, turkeys and bees. They have a large vegetable and flower garden and a small orchard with a variety of fruit. The Kalis bake their own bread from home grown flour and can a variety of delicious food to tide them over the winter. Honey from the bees is used to barter for additional supplies. They are not only blooming where they are planted, they are planting a lot of things that bloom!
Barna has an idea a minute of how to enhance their ministry and provide for needs, while Tunde keeps their family ship on a steady course. Barna’s latest project is to raise money to purchase a maxi-van. A number of people in their congregations are elderly and must walk long distances over rough terrain to get to church. Barna’s goal is to provide transport for these faithful parishioners.
During the four delightful days we spent with the Kali family, Renske and I had a great introduction to the province of Transylvania (transferred from Hungary to Romania at the end of WWI), to the complex post-communist political scene there, and to the Hungarian Reformed Church’s ministry in Romania (established in the 16th century with over 700,000 members today).
Upon taking our leave of the Kalis, two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was that through its Master of Theology graduates, Western Theological Seminary has made a significant impact in a number of countries around the world. The second was a question: How many American seminary grads would rise to the occasion if they were called to minister in a locale that would pay them $350 a month and where they would need to raise chickens, turkeys, rabbits and bees, bake their own bread, and harvest their own fruit and vegetables? The beauty of the Th.M. program is that Western is not only blessed to be able to enhance the ministry skills of our brothers and sisters abroad, but that the WTS community can also learn a great deal from them about dedication and discipleship right here at home.
Western’s 2015-16 Master of Theology students are from India, Azerbaijan, South Korea, North America, China and Uganda. Learn more about our Th.M. program.