A Congregation Based on Vegetables

2017. április 12., szerda

New jobs have been created near the Romanian-Serbian border due to the Church Farmers Market Network, and a sense of hope has also come to the members of the Reformed congregation, in an area where Catholics are the majority. The reformed congregations in Kiszombor and Maroslele want to develop themselves through agriculture, but the program is agricultural in many ways. In this season of rebirth, may the seeds of love fall not only into the soil, but also into the hearts of townspeople.

If there is no sowing, there will be no crops.

“The church needs to be strengthened at the geographical borders too, that’s why it is important that in Kiszombor and Maroslele people sow not only into the soil, but also into the hearts. We trust them and show them that we are not perfect either. We create new contacts and form the basis of a new congregation, too. I believe that it will be successful. Of course we do not know whether we will grow or not, but if we aren’t sowing now, growth won’t be possible,” says the pastor.

Instead of a closed church

We have arrived to the Reformed chapel in intense summer heat, where pastor Ágnes Szabó is waiting for us. She asks for patience because she is consulting with the accountant. It could be strange to hear it at first time because we are not in a congregation in a metropolitan area with institutions, but in the Reformed Mission Congregation in Kiszombor-Maroslele, in a community close to the currently Romanian-Serbian border at the southernmost part of the district of Csongrád. Here many things need to be accounted for because the congregation is an active partner in the backyard program of the Hungarian Reformed Charity Service. They employ about twenty people, and due to this number they count as a considerable employer in both settlements. While we are waiting for the pastor, the newspaper “Sowing and crop” lying on the table catches our eyes. Honestly, the title page interested us first – a church covered with snow that was a sight for sore eyes in the thirty degrees heat. Little did we know that the name of the newspaper would gain a new meaning a few hours later.

The pastor has been serving for more than ten years, and she says the first few years were not easy – she had to help many in the congregation to work through issues of apathy and depression. There were people who said that in a few years they would have to close the church in Kiszombor. So far they are still not right. Although a big movement have not been started in the settlement, Sundays three or four of us go to worship.  And before we say that the life of the congregation does not exist anymore, remember of the words of Jesus: “Where two or three assemble in my name, I am there between them.” (Matthew 18:20) You can feel this in the community, too. The children appear here as well: there have been two christenings recently and they teach twenty-five children due to the compulsory ethical education, where many students choose the option to take a religious education course.

They did not teach how to grow onions in theology class

The mission congregation says that local churches are not in a good financial situation, but then an idea came: they should try agronomy. They did not have land, but the garden of the parish in Kiszombor was big enough for it. Next to the chapel, in what is now the vegetable garden, there are zucchini, green beans, yellow onions and garlic, tomatos, paprika, cucumbers, sunflowers, poppies, corn, carrots, cabbage, beetroots, parsley, strawberries, squash, and potatoes, too. They received seeds and also seed-potatoes from the backyard program of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid so they could start working.

We ask the Pastor how strange the life in a village was, growing plants, because I assume that in her theology studies they did not teach her how to grow onions. “No, they did not,” says Ágnes Szabó, but she learned a lot in her family, from her grandparents, and there are a number of people in the congregation for whom the land means life.

 Before we take off to Maroslele the pastor hands out the tasks for the next few hours. She realizes at the door that the colleagues of the municipality are digging a trench and are putting the earth on luggage trailers and want to bring it away. After a few seconds of consulting and telephoning, they managed to arrange that the dirt get placed in the yard of the parish and not taken to the border of the village. “It will be good to have it,” says Ágnes Szabó.

Vegetables free of chemicals, from reliable sources

We take off for Maroslele, where the team is waiting for us. On the way we are talking and the pastor is telling us that the congregation in Maroslele has eight to ten active members. They have recently bought the community house where there is currently the room of prayer, the office and the centre of the backyard agriculture program. They were able to buy it from the compensation received for the reformed elementary school building. They can provide a salary for the participants of the program due to the Hungarian Reformed Charity Service and a program of the European Union. The pastor tells us that in Maroslele they do not have as big of a plot of land as the parish in Kiszombor, instead they have many small parcels of land. The inhabitants of the settlement offered them their small or large gardens or lands, which have not been tilled or in use for years. The congregation can use them- temporarily for one year- as a landholder, free.

We arrived in very warm weather, and in the kitchen of the community house of the congregation the weather is even warmer, especially next to the gas cooker where Ibolya is making zucchini jam in a huge cooking pot. We taste it, compliment it, and try to get the recipe but it is a secret, so we have to be satisfied with a slice of bread with zucchini jam. We learn as we talk that Ibolya has been a member of the congregation for many years. She says that the backyard program was a great idea, it got together a nice company of people, and it is good to work here day after day. “It is due to the boss, too,” she added. “He does not command, but ask, he is a democratic leader,” she says. She also says what many other female employees have echoed – the job is family-friendly.

Another employee, Erika, says that in the last years she looked after her ill child at home, but before it she did not have a job for more than ten years. According to her it is very good that the local Reformed congregation entered as an employer into the life of the settlement. This job is a good opportunity, especially for people with family, because the working time is flexible. According to Viki, the job is also family-oriented – which makes sense as we learned during the interview that Viki’s mother is Erika. Apart from this, the girl had absolutely other experiences working in agriculture, but she says honestly that she likes working here. Both of them say that they can offer the vegetables for consumption – they know that the plants were never handled with chemicals. Erika says that her hands and the tools were the weed-killer.

Vegetables, jams and cheeses are available temporarily especially in Szeged, in the markets staged by different congregations. In the future they want to extend the supply and they plan to sell tomato juice, garlic, hearty base for ratatouille, cucumber and pear jam, too. And what if the frost is coming? With the weaving loom of the congregation they are going to make rugs from scrap fabric in the winter, but this is another story.


Article by Márk Hegedűs

Translated by Petra Kecskés

Edited by Kearstin Bailey

Cover photo: The Sower by Van Gogh via artsfon.com

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