Refugees Showered with Love in Vajta, Hungary

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Believers in Vajta, Hungary, Shower Refugees with Love & Care

Story by Billy Rutledge and Jonathan Erdman
Photos by Billy Rutledge

Pastor Billy Rutledge of Hatteras Island Christian Fellowship, NC, is a volunteer chaplain and was asked to serve alongside Ukrainian chaplains.

*Names changed for protection

Eighty-two-year-old Ludmilla was still in her wheelchair as she was assisted off the bus filled with Ukrainian refugees. It was 4:30 a.m. While most refugees arrive at the Zichy Castle in Vajta, Hungary, in family groups, Ludmilla was alone. Her journey didn’t start alone, however.

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Two volunteers from Calvary Chapel York, England, assist 82-year-old Ludmilla, who had to travel alone to Vajta, Hungary. In Ukraine, although her home was spared from bombing, she witnessed the destruction of her neighbors’ homes. She was supposed to travel with two grandsons, but one was conscripted for military service and the other didn’t show up at the meeting point.

Ludmilla lived in Kyiv and had witnessed the destruction of all of her neighbors’ homes. Her home was spared, though, along with her life. She was accompanied by one of her grandsons as her journey began, and they had arranged to meet another grandson at the border. As soon as they arrived at the border, her grandson was conscripted to fight to defend Ukraine. Ludmilla was all alone as she waited for her other grandson, who never showed up. She would have to continue the rest of her journey unaccompanied.

After she arrived at Vajta, Ludmilla was no longer alone. Several volunteers from Calvary Chapel York, England, and others from all over the world were there to greet those like Ludmilla with warm food and direct them to their temporary lodgings. The weary travelers were all met with smiles and friendly faces, sharing Christ’s love by their concern, helping to ease the anxiety and uplift the spirits of those who had been through so much.

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*Irina arrives in Vajta with her son and baby girl after her husband was taken at the border to fight in Ukraine. At the Zichy Castle, a Calvary Chapel conference center, she is greeted with a warm welcome.

A Brutal Farewell
A smile masked the face of uncertainty of young mother *Irina when her bus arrived at the Zichy Castle, the former location of Calvary Chapel Bible College Europe, now a conference center turned into an oasis of hope for refugees fleeing Ukraine. Only hours before, her husband was forced to bid them farewell as he was conscripted into the service of his country, not allowed to leave with his wife and family. One could only imagine his apprehension as he said goodbye to his wife, son, and baby girl, not knowing their destination, hoping they would be treated well by strangers. After crossing the border alone, would they end up on a bus to Hungary, Norway, Denmark, Germany, or Poland? How would he find them, and would they be safe from traffickers and criminals with cruel intentions?

Irina relaxed as she was welcomed by a young man from Calvary Chapel York as she got off the bus. He directed her to the path where a hot meal was waiting. She would be given a private room for herself and her two children, once inhabited by over a decade of Bible college students.

                  

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As these Ukrainian families leave behind the world they knew so well, they leave behind the familiar—the normal. Leaving behind their homes, their pets, and in many cases their loved ones. Where will they end up? Most, if not all of the refugees, have no idea. But as Ludmilla and Irina observed, they now felt safe in this welcoming place at Zichy Castle.

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Svein Kritiansen (left), the president and founder of “Disciples Motorcycle Ministries” in Norway, talks with a woman from Ukraine (right), also from the same motorcycle club. His ministry chartered the bus to rescue refugees from Ukraine.

According to Svein Kritiansen, the president and founder of "Disciples Motorcycle Ministries" in Norway, whose motorcycle club had chartered the bus to rescue people, seven women he was already working with there had also experienced this brutal goodbye. One of these wives was a woman who belonged to a chapter of the Disciples in Kyiv. The bus missed the estimated arrival time of 7 p.m. and finally made it to the castle at 4:30 a.m. Svein saw the fatigue on the faces of the travelers from hours of confinement in the bus at the border and from the many tears they shed as their husbands were taken off to fight.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. Proverbs 15:3

From Hattaras to Hungary
Having ministered in Ukraine in recent years, Billy Rutledge, pastor of Hatteras Island Christian Fellowship in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, felt a connection with those he had previously served—and wanted to do more. He was asked to assist Ukrainian chaplains whom he had connected with when speaking at Calvary Chapel conferences in Ukraine. As he waited for the doors to open to serve alongside the other chaplains, Billy ended up at the Zichy Castle for several days and documented the refugees’ arrival.

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Szilard Markus oversees the Vajta conference center at Zichy Castle. Here, he observes the large number of refugees arriving on a bus, trying to figure out how to best host them. The number of arrivals increases each day. The castle has become a place of refuge as volunteers and staff step up to share the love of Jesus in this practical ministry. Szilard is pastor at Calvary Chapel Bekas in Budapest.

Tucked away in the countryside about a three-hour train ride south of Budapest is the small town called Vajta, which also is home to the Zichy Castle. The castle has served many uses since it was constructed by Count Aladár Zichy as his family residence centuries ago. What it is best known for, at least in Christian circles, is as the recently vacated location of Calvary Chapel Bible College Europe. In 2000, Pastor Chuck Smith of CC Costa Mesa and the founder of Calvary Chapel, purchased the 35-acre, 45,000-square-foot facility as the new location for the CC Bible College. The large number of rooms and land would serve as not only a space for ministry training, but it was large enough that Pastor Chuck envisioned it would be a “great place to reach Eastern Europe with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The college later moved to Calvary Chapel Budapest and two years ago was relocated to Tbilisi, Georgia, to be closer to students coming from farther east.

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A teen from Calvary Chapel York, England, welcomes refugees as they arrive in Vajta.

Fast forward 20 years, and the facility that was once used to send the Gospel to the far reaches of Europe has a new purpose. The far reaches of Europe were now coming to Vajta in the form of Ukrainian refugees. While Pastor Chuck and the Hungarian CC pastors had a big vision for this facility, it is now being used as a midway station for refugees on their way to countries unknown. Szilard Markus, pastor at Calvary Chapel Bekas in Budapest, had been placed in charge of the castle’s new role as a conference center. He now found himself running a refuge center for those escaping the invasion and bombing of Russian forces.

The mind of a person plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

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People arrive in Vajta with only their suitcases and what they can carry. Here, one woman brought an additional comfort from home, her cat, tucked into her coat.

No Time for Medical Treatment
The uncertainty and weariness of every person arriving at Vajta could be clearly seen on their faces, reported Billy Rutledge. Every person and family arrived at the retreat center with a story.

For one family, their flight from Ukraine meant facing the difficult decision of what to do about their son’s broken arm.

As the family had been sheltering in a church basement to escape the shelling before leaving the country, their young son was playing ping pong with the pastor, who was trying to keep the child entertained and in good spirits, despite the difficult circumstances. As the boy dove to hit the ball, he missed, fell, and broke has arm.

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Before leaving Ukraine, this boy (right) broke his arm while playing ping pong in a church basement, their shelter from shelling. Because they couldn’t risk a trip to the hospital, they wrapped his arm in a makeshift sling until they arrived in Vajta.

Knowing they couldn’t risk the trip to the hospital, they had no choice but to wrap the boy's arm in a makeshift sling and continue preparing for the journey. The boy arrived at Vajta with his arm still in the sling, and as Billy recounted, was quiet and showed no sign of weakness, even after traveling for an entire day. This family was welcomed with care as volunteers prayed with the father for their future.

“Come to Me, all you labor and are heavy ladened, and I [Jesus] will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

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A Calvary Chapel volunteer in Vajta (right) prays for the father of a boy who broke his arm before leaving Ukraine.

A Goodbye Gift for Grandma
Pastor Billy confessed that the volunteers and staff at the castle face this challenge: How do we minister the love of Jesus and bring some measure of joy where there is such sorrow and paralyzing pain? The Ukrainian children are witnessing all these events and their lives are in many cases forever changed. One little girl was found collecting pinecones, as the retreat center is home to many pine trees. She was saving them for her grandmother whom her family had to leave behind in Ukraine—a grandmother she might never see again.

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As her mother watched, a child picks pinecones for her grandmother. They had to leave her grandmother behind in Ukraine—and may never see her again.

The little girl, along with her mother, *Natasha, had to leave her father behind to fight in the war. Like countless other women, Natasha was forced to face the unknown by herself. To make matters even more stressful, once they arrived at the border, they were met with buses destined for various countries. Natasha had to choose which bus to take and only had a matter of precious minutes to decide on their destination. Yet, she was so encouraged by the volunteers in Vajta. Billy relayed how she shared with the volunteers that “despite the turmoil in her head, she had been greatly impacted by the love that had been poured out by strangers.”

Billy described the responses of the women and children at the castle. “Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the story,” Billy recounted, “is the strength these mothers had, which was displayed in their ability to smile.”

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A spot of beauty in the middle of war. While picking up pinecones for her grandmother, who is still in Ukraine, this little girl also found a flower.

All refugees passing through Vajta have before them a long journey—both geographically and emotionally. It is the prayer of the staff and volunteers at the castle in Vajta, though, that their time will be filled with the merciful love of Jesus, who sees them and meets them where they are. Continue to pray for the workers at Zichy Castle and for thousands of refugees fleeing war in their country.

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A father fleeing Ukraine is pleased to see a smile on his daughter’s face for the first time since the war began. He was allowed to leave because his wife, the girl’s mother, died last year of cancer. Conference center director Szilard Markus is on his cell in the background as he tries to keep up with the needs of the arriving refugees.

Sharing His Own Pain
Svein, who knows Pastor Billy’s strong testimony, asked him to board the bus, say a few words to the refugees as they were leaving, and pray. “It was an honor, and the words came from the Holy Spirit so clearly,” Billy declared. “I told them that I have a terminal cancer and a broken back, and that in this struggle, I have a very uncertain future due to my present situation.”

Billy continued his words to them: “You, too, are in a painful struggle today, and there is much uncertainty. However, if you fully give your life to Jesus, He will walk you through this valley and into the future that He wants for you.” Afterwards, he prayed for them that “the Lord would protect them, whisper loving things to them on the journey, and that they would hear His voice, repent of their sins, and follow Him.”

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Pastor Billy Rutledge (right) is offered the chance to give a word of encouragement to the refugees leaving for Norway on the bus chartered by Svein Kritiansen, president of “Disciples Motorcycle Club." Billy shared the hope of the Gospel and prayed the Lord’s protection over them.

Financial & Prayer Support
Following are ways that the worldwide Calvary Chapel family can support efforts in Ukraine:
• Donate to the Ukrainian Refugee Fund with Shepherd's Staff
• Give through CC San Diego, click here
• You can also give through Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia at app.securegive.com

                  

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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