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First Baptist Church of Highland enjoys gratifying mission trip to Hungary

Belleville News-Democrat logoBelleville News-Democrat 12/27/2019 By Garen Vartanian, Belleville News-Democrat

First Baptist Church of Highland took its first-ever mission trip in September.

And the initial go around was a rousing success. FBC sent 10 members, including pastor Rob Kirbach, to Debrecen, Hungary, on a mission trip from Aug. 30-Sept. 10.

The group provided general professional support to classroom teachers and English language workshops to elementary school students in Debrecen

Furthermore, the group’s primary goal was to help students practice and sharpen their English conversation. The attendees included retired educators, who taught in a classroom setting and work alongside teachers and pastors in Debrecen, located 140 miles east of the Hungarian capital of Budapest.

“As far as the planning and logistics for the trip, everything went perfectly,” Kirbach said. “That was really encouraging. There were no flight delays, no issues with travel. With all the moving parts involved, traveling a third of the way around the world, it’s remarkable everything went as planned. The trip was fantastic in that regard.”

Kirbach also said the English instruction went smoothly.

“I think we were all very surprised at how proficient the students had already become in their English studies,” he said. “It’s quite humbling that they speak our language so much better than we speak theirs. Hungarian is not spoken anywhere else in the world. So for these students to have any shot for a competitive job outside their country, they have to be able to speak English.”

The church members teaching English, Kirbach noted, enjoyed their responsibilities.

“The overwhelming feedback from those who went along on the trip was it was very humbling that something as simple as helping a child with English grammar could make such an impact on that student’s life,” Kirbach said. “It’s not hard work — but important work. It’s very gratifying that something we take for granted is very much appreciated by these students.”

Hungary became the destination due a previous relationship Kirbach had with Jon Good. Kirbach grew up in Alton, and Good was his pastor. Now, Good and his wife, Amanda, are a missionary couple who live in Hungary.

According to Kirbach, First Baptist Church financially supports six missionary couples in three countries: Hungary, Thailand and Haiti. However, as previously noted, this represented FBC’s first-ever mission trip. The church was founded in 1948.

“The thing that struck me the most was they don’t take the church for granted,” Kirbach said of the Hungarian people. “The freedom to worship as they please is very new to Hungarians. So when new church was founded in Hungary, there was a lot of excitement about that. People are eager to be involved in the church because they can. That really struck me.”

Kirbach marveled at the country’s response to democracy and freedom as well.

“They’ve only truly been a free nation for less than 30 years. For the first time in their history they are able to vote democratically in elections,” KIrbach said. “It’s really neat to see that first hand.”

Mission-goers visit World War II site, deal with unseasonably warm weather

Another trip highlight included trips to various historic sites, including Shoes on the Danube Bank, a World War II memorial honoring Hungarian Jewish people killed by Arrow Cross militiamen. The site is located in Budapest.

“That was quite a moving experience,” Kirbach said.

Kirbach also noted buildings in Budapest still have bullet holes in them and walls missing as remnants from World War II.

“I’ve never seen World War II ruins like that,” Kirbach said. “It really put it in perspective — for me anyway — that war is something that you think only happens in textbooks and overseas. For Hungarians, they have daily reminders that war happened in their own country.”

One somewhat unpleasant surprise was the sweltering temperatures the missions-goers faced upon arrival. Kirbach said the climate in Hungary typically is comparable to Northern Illinois. However, when they arrived, he noted, they were at the tail end of a European heatwave, skyrocketing temperatures into the mid-90s. The country does not have any air conditioning either.

“We drank plenty of water, kept the windows open in the hotel rooms and classrooms we were working in ... it was hot for them, too, and much hotter than they’re accustomed to,” Kirbach said.

Church member Ford lauds the mission trip

Brenda Ford, a FBC member since moving to Highland in 1972, attended the mission trip. She admittedly had initial reservations.

“When we went, the whole purpose was to speak to help the Hungarian people — mainly students — to help with their English. I was kind of concerned that (that) was not enough,” said Ford, a retired teacher from Bunker Hill High School where she taught business education and computer classes. “That we weren’t going there to build anything, to paint, to cook, to offer assistance to anyone ... is this enough for a mission trip?”

Turns out, she admits, it was and then some.

“The schools that we went into, we were welcomed with open arms,” Ford said. “We bonded with so many of those kids. We had a really good time with them playing games, doing interactive activities with them, learning about their families, talking about our families.

“It was really, really nice and I had one group of girls I bonded with. I just love those four girls. It was just a wonderful time and a great opportunity to go and work with them on their English. It turned out to be a great trip.”

Would she do it all over again? Absolutely.

“I sent my family a group message every night to let them know what we had done during the day,” Ford said. “So I was able to still able to communicate with my family every day. I learned a lot and appreciated the opportunity that the people in my church gave me to go on this first mission trip.”

In turn, she advises anyone who receives a similar opportunity to pounce on it.

“Yes, the travel is long but it’s well worth it. And you get much more than you give,” she said.

Fellow FBC member Driesner enjoys trip as well

Linda Driesner has been a member at FBC since 1974, and she thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Hungary.

“I was impressed by the people; they were extraordinarily friendly, sweet and helpful,” she said. “We didn’t come across one negative, grouchy person. They were as nice and cooperative as they could possibly be ... people on the streets, in the restaurants. They went above and beyond being sweet and nice and welcoming to us.”

Ditto for the students Driesner and the others taught and the Hungarian teachers.

“The children were sweet and adorable,” she said. “They were open to everything we did and very cooperative. They enjoyed the games, activities and songs. That was just a wonderfully positive thing. There was a lot of creativity and love and talent and hard work that went into the activities that were being presented in those classes. I don’t think I have seen a teacher in our country any better than I saw there.”

Driesner, who taught German for 23 years between Carlyle and Belleville East high schools, also noted Hungary’s devotion to religion.

“When you get to these poorer countries — and Hungary is one of them — what impresses you is the churches are growing by leaps and bounds.” said Driesner, who herself has been to Germany numerous times. “They find friendship and companionship and support and love from the church. There’s an uplifting spirit there in the church they need. It’s just an inspiration to see.”

FBC appreciates community support, eyes next mission trip

Kirbach appreciated the outpouring of community support, as the the church did not have to put together any special fundraisers and funded the trip from people giving to the cause.

“The trip was fully funded in a matter of weeks,” Kirbach said. “I was astonished by that.”

Moving forward, Kirbach expects the church to take another mission trip, likely after 2020.

“I think the resounding feedback from those who went on the trip was ... not if we’ll do another trip, but when,” he said. “We had folks from the church who wanted to go on the Hungary trip but couldn’t for various reasons, so we may do another Hungary trip in the next couple years.”


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