A Mission with Engineering Accuracy

2016. február 29., hétfő

Motivation, professional development, self-esteem, and belief – these are the values that the recently established Budapest University of Technology and Economics’ reformed chaplain wants to help the engineering students focus on. According to Balázs Németh, research fellow, lecturer, and pastor, many of the university students are friendless, not engaged professionally, and anxious that they won’t able to pass exams. The engineering mission could offer professional motivation, community, and counseling with the sharing of the Gospel.  

The reformed ministry at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, the venue of the largest and most respected engineering training program in Hungary, was established in the last semester in 2015. At the beginning, Christian students used to have two morning devotions in small circles for three years. “Among the approximately twenty thousand university students there could be a lot of believers; it takes time to find each other,” said Balázs Németh, university lecturer and Reformed pastor. This new mission began this past fall, and it’s leader teaches control engineering and dynamics control at the university. He began learning theology and mechanical engineering in parallel; on one side of the Danube he was preparing for his pastoral path and on the other side he attended at a doctoral course where he taught, studied, and did research. “I would like to keep my civilian job, but at the same time I felt a calling toward the pastoral profession and the mission for the engineers,” he explained.

Opened, informal, articulate

Balázs Németh, since the opening of the chapel for the university students, serves not just at the podium but also preaches, holds morning devotions, organizes community programs, and leads one-on-one counseling sessions with students. Regardless of denominational affiliation, he welcomes everyone, but primarily the ones who don’t belong to any congregation, he says. “Most of the students are college students or renters. The metropolitan’s could already have a congregation affiliation, but often the others go home rarely which means they are out of their local congregation’s life. Of course, our final aim is to reach the non-believers – that’s why we are trying to do everything we can to create an open atmosphere at the Thursday evening worship. We started the semester with a common evaluation, as it is expected from the engineers, and we scored the last year’s sermons from different viewpoints, like the timing, the content and the comprehension of the sermon to figure out what we liked. The informality is very important: we are trying to make the occasions interactive with conversation and guided questions and we spare spaces for these questions.”


Two feet on the ground

“The engineers are not so philosophical, they pose lifelike questions,” claims Balázs Németh. “Principally, they not as interested about the final points; they are concerned about the daily ethical issues that they cope with during their working career, but sometimes they turn to for advice before their job shift. Graduated engineers are also part of our community; to them we hold a reunion monthly called Work Circle. At these gatherings we talk about the relationships with our bosses and colleagues, about what means for us to work in a secular workplace as a Christian and what the differences are between the multinational companies, micro and macro companies, and the universities regarding the working environment.  For instance, an issue like this has risen recently: as a subcontractor, can I undertake a few hundred million investment’s subtasks if I know that this project could lead to destroying nature? It is also a question for the Christian engineers as to how the workplace could be a venue for the spreading of the Gospel.”

In equal rate

The sermons are also attended by tutors and the proportion of men and women shows equality. “This might indicate that women are typically the majority of the congregation as well. I will be satisfied when the ministry will show better proportion than the polytechnic [which is currently balanced between the genders], in a word: there will be more men among us.” They are slightly more difficult to reach, though, adds the pastor. “Most of our methods show better effects on women. Women speak more easily about some topics, like programming, engineers, or anything, than the men do. Men could manifest easier in professional questions. It’s important too, but it’s not the same kind of thing. We also take care to that it is not necessarily to speak in front of many people, because it could be uncomfortable to them.”

They are isolated

Balázs Németh says that the engineering students are often lonely. “In the last years, I used to have conversations in the colleges. It could happen sometimes that the college doesn’t offer permanently open places to foster free talking; there is a kitchen but we can’t find enough seating for there. There are a lot of students who have told me that students who live in university housing are living separately in their rooms, which leads to solitude. They even write to their neighbors on Facebook to tell them to turn down the music.”

Builds community

This was one of the reasons why the chancellor of the university urges to have a place for calming down, a place which is convenient for spiritual charging.  “Naturally, the ones who don’t have religious ties open up to us with more difficulties. Therefor – as it is an established custom in the university missions – we are trying to draw the sermon’s message closer to the world of the students so that they do not feel any inconvenience because of their membership. With some of them we are talking about why it is hard to confess our belonging to Christ, or even just being interested in a Christian community. It seems to us that the university life could make the former high school believers to neglect God’s path. They leave their homeland, they are surrounded by new faces and it is not sure that they could find easily a new Christian friend. Not everyone can go home to keep in touch with their congregation and many can’t find a new community here as instantly as they would like. The university always gives a lot of things to learn, thus these congregation programs are hard to fit into their schedule. That’s the reason why we hold the worship in one hour, so the students can punctually calculate their time in the hard weeks of the semester. Of course they could stay after the session to talk out of bounds if they want to,” says Balázs Németh.

Without motivation?

“I see, not as a pastor but as a lecturer, how many lost sheep are in the university,” comments Balázs Németh. “There are a lot of things that are learnable; these things only require energy and studiousness. So everyone could be a good engineer, everyone could acquire those tasks which could help them in their future profession. The key question isn’t that how many ‘A marks’ they were awarded in high school; the main thing is that they have enough motivation for the engineering profession. As a university pastor, I would like to help them find their motivation. The students often have a sensation of fear,” said the pastor. “They are pressed about how they will finish their studies. Due to a series of failures, many of them choose the wrong solution: instead of studing for an exam, they come into it unprepared and just glance at the test to see what material it covers, and they say that they’ll just study it later when they feel like trying. There are a lot of students who drop-out, mainly those who have lost their motivation. Others are interested in something, like model airplanes, or car racing, but are not really predisposed to examine these hobbies from a mathematical-physical perspective or through engineering studies. Because of their failures, they question their own competence too. At this point, we can intervene to order the thing a little bit: the engineering profession is not only about loving engineering crafts, but about the love of the road in which I can reach my dreams and because of this I can invest energy to my studies. Personal counseling is vital because energy exists if motivation exists too. As a pastor I feel a responsibility to motivate the students to finish their studies and get a job after graduating.”


Helping female engineers

The female students are in a special situation, because the engineering career is more popular among men, so they only meet a few women not just in the profession but during the courses too. According to a recently study, some of them are specifically concerned about it. “There were one hundred and fifty female students who were interviewed; 35 per cent of them said they were ‘pretty worried’ and 15 per cent of them said they were ‘markedly worried’ about how they could develop be fulfilled and stay successful in their career, which is commonly thought of as a man’s job. It is important to take care of these women and organize programs and panel discussions in the near future,” comments Németh.

Lines lead to the families

Some outsiders think that the University’s students are too interested in partying and drinking. The lecturer thinks this is a stereotype, because these things are present at every university. He feels noticeable differences, compared to other trainings that the students here can afford to attend occasionally at the courses. This prompts many of them to make bad decisions. At first, they miss the lecture at eight o’clock in the morning and then they miss the ten o’clock one after that. “Many of my students have slipped years because of this,” cautions Balázs Németh. “As a lecturer, I could tell it is a great proportion when the rate of the fails is fifty per cent. It has happened that, out of fifty students, only three could pass an exam, even though we give them examples to practice, and then on the exam it is the same example with a little twist in it – many of them still got lost in the process. For an engineer, it is important to examine a problem from different viewpoints. I often hear those voices from my colleagues that today’s students’ performance is even worse than the previous ones. It is true, regarding the last decades, that many of them start their university studies with less knowledge, responsibility, and willingness, but it is not sure how much they are solely responsible for that issue. All of our students come from individual environments, with unique familial and educational backgrounds, and we have to take that into account. This is the reason why I liked to take on pastoral care in addition to my tutor role. A university student, in a sense, can be like a scientific selection out of nearly twenty thousand students who have been rendered the national statistics. Many of the students do not get a stable background and spiritual support that was previously given by their families and schools. It is a gift when students open up and allow me a glimpse into their private life.”

From racing car to the pulpit

Balázs Németh got his calling when he was getting his bachelor’s degree. “I also had that period in my life, which shows itself in every sophomore or third year student’s career, when I had to think about that: is it that I wanted to do in my life or not? I wanted to be a Formula-1 engineer since the beginning of elementary school. However, the university made me to think it over: is that what I’d like to be living for? If I said yes to this question, I would probably be in Germany or England in one of the racing stables or I would work day and night at a car factory’s development department.”

Calls for more

“For me, the turning point was in 2007 at the Starpoint camp [an annual meeting event for Christian youth of the Reformed Church in Hungary],” he said. “I got an answer for my previous question about staying here in Hungary or going abroad. However, thanks to God, I got much more than a response on that. One of the lecturer’s sentences was key for me: ‘Hungary builds here, at the Starpoint.’ From this point I had already know that my place is here, but after there was another issue which keep my mind occupied: what should I study in Hungary? God has shaped this question in me and Starpoint made me more open, thus I started to organize programs in my local congregation; however, it was simply unimaginable for me that I was capable of this service. In my last year at the University I found myself at a cross-road.  At this time, I had already been to four National Scientific Students’ Associations Conferences; I liked the control engineering and the dynamics control, so it was obvious that I started the doctoral training. But I knew that God called me for more. I wanted to share the Gospel in any form. I told myself that if I didn’t start the theological studies at that time, I would never have any time or energy to finish it. After many struggles I started seminary and the doctoral school at the same time. That’s how I became a pastor and got my doctors in engineering studies with the help of God.”

One of us

The number of colleagues who know that he is the University’s pastor is growing, thus credibility is essential for him, says Balázs Németh. “It is important to work at the University as a lecturer and as a researcher, not just as a pastor, and do everything that the other students and engineers do. I can’t make a slip in speaking in the questions of profession, because if it feels like I can’t handle the factual matters, then why would they turn to me for advice?”

It is not a new congregation

This ministry is founded with the support of the Danubian Reformed Church District.

Balázs Németh stresses that with the name of ministry he wanted to highlight that it is not the aim to create a university chaplaincy in the institution; he sees the ministry more like the outstretched arm of congregations and the church towards students. The connection with the congregations is being strengthened by that, most of the engineers, who share their testimony during the Thursday evening worship services, are coming from these congregations. Balázs Németh thinks that an engineering mission’s purpose is to show that it is possible to live out the Reformed beliefs of joy, hope, and strength with the Holy Trinity of God and the community with each other as well as in accordance with the engineering profession.

Community of Reformed engineers

“Although the focus is on the Gospel, we are thinking in a wider sense about the engineering mission,” he summarized. “Our purpose is that the Christian engineering students get to know each other professionally as well. They can see its benefits when they are searching for a job, or they have a network of professionals to turn to with their questions. That’s why we launched the Work Circle. We would like to assist in creating the Reformed technical intellectuals community. It would surely have a huge power if there were a platform for the Reformed engineers where they can show their unity in faith. Engineers play an important economic role in our country; if you look at the macro-economic data, a growing number of investments and developments link to the engineering profession. That’s why it should be important for congregations to pay special attention to engineers as they have an important role in our society.”

Sources: Parókia.hu/Ágnes Jakus

Translated by Lilla László

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