The Northeastern Iowa Synod is hosting Pastor Erzsébet Molnár, from our Companion Synod in Hungary this week until June 15.
Pastor Molnár is the director of the Roma College, a college of the Lutheran Church, which is not a degree-granting institution, but rather a residential college that provides support, cultural education, etc. for Roma students attending the university.
The Roma (sometimes called “gypsies”) are a people who migrated to Eastern Europe centuries ago from Northern India. They face incredible discrimination and poverty in Europe. This is one of the reasons Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGMs) in Hungary (which our synod is committed to supporting 100%) are focused on working in ministries that support Roma families.
During her visit, Pastor Molnár will be meeting with people responsible for helping minority populations integrate into academic institutions at Wartburg College, the University of Northern Iowa, Augsburg College, and College Possible in Minneapolis as well as people who work for civil rights in the Department of Human Services in Des Moines.
Pastor Molnár took an interesting route to becoming a pastor and work with the Roma in Hungary. She grew up under Communism when the church was repressed. But as a teen, she attended a Lutheran camp where she was inspired by a young pastor named Tamás Fabiny (now a Bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary and Lutheran World Federation Vice President for Central Eastern Europe).
She came home and told her pastor she wanted to become a pastor. But her pastor saw little future hope for that, both because of the repression of the church and because she was a woman.
Instead, Pastor Molnár became a biology teacher. When communism fell and religion became more accepted, she was asked to also teach religion in the university. She did so but then was told she needed to go seminary to continue to teach religion.
“I had already been to college for 4 years to be a teacher. I did not want to go another 4 years.” However, her pastor reminded her of her desire to be a pastor as a youth and urged her to go to seminary, not to be a religion teacher, but to be a pastor.
Because there was no seminary in Hungary at the time, Molnár went to seminary in Australia. She had to receive special permission as a woman student because the Lutheran Church in Australia did not and still does not, ordain women.
Several years ago the Hungarian government committed itself to bettering the lives of the Roma who suffered more than others in the economic transition from the fall of communism. The churches were asked to help with this because they are more accepting of the Roma.
Through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, the Lutheran Roma College provides a community within the university in Nyiregyhaza to ease the transition for Roma students.
It is challenging work but Pastor Molnár is passionate about her call and is looking forward to exchanging ideas with people in education in our synod.