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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Lutherans and relief work

A first-person look at relief efforts in Hungary 50 years ago

Marking anniversaries is an important way to recall history and gain perspective. This month marks 50 years since the Lutheran World Federation engaged in a dangerous effort to bring relief supplies to the embattled Protestants of Hungary during a people’s revolt against Soviet Union-enforced communist rule.

In November 1956 a convoy of four relief trucks owned by the World Council of Churches with Austrian Red Cross drivers headed toward the Protestant/Lutheran seminary in Budapest. The trucks brought food, clothing and medical supplies. As LWF news editor, I accompanied that convoy.

En route we passed about 16 Soviet tanks waiting for orders to seal the border with Austria. This was the first evidence we had that the Soviet Union intended to quash the Freedom Fighters, as we called them, and end the Hungarian Revolution.

The convoy stopped in Gyor at the home of the Lutheran bishop to consider the wisdom of continuing. Could the trucks reach Budapest, unload the supplies and return safely? We prayed fervently together.

It was decided that the trucks and Austrians from a neutral country would drive on. We two Americans and one Englishman from the LWF and WCC would have to go back in a car to avoid jeopardizing the mission. We returned to Vienna where we listened to radio broadcasts about the Soviet advance and thousands of Hungarian refugees flooding across the border into Austria, creating a major relief need there.

Two days later I was at the border as the convoy returned safely with empty trucks and news of the ecstatic appreciation from cold and semi-starving relief recipients. We heard of seminarians taking a banana they had never seen in their lives and cutting it up into tiny pieces, skin and all, so everyone could taste it.

I stayed in Vienna for the following month to help deliver paper diapers, clothing and food to refugee camps. I interviewed frightened and needy families. I was thrilled to report on Lutheran Refugee Service workers processing families by the hundreds to go to receptive U.S. churches where they were given homes, work and Christian love.

Thirty years later I met one of those refugees at a studio in Buffalo, N.Y. Steven Kemenyffy and his wife, Susan, have become famous potters. One of their new Raku wall pieces hangs today in our home.

We Lutherans have a right to be proud of our work with refugees then—and now—in so many parts of the world. We have helped make America a beacon of hope for millions who can immigrate and a source of sustenance for those who cannot.

Whatever observance of the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution is held in this country should include a tribute to Lutheran Refugee Service, Lutheran World Service and Lutheran World Relief and their supporters. We’ve done much good.


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