For a number of people in the Lehigh Presbytery, the two students who visited form Transylvania this summer offered a rare glimpse of life in a country most have only read about. As for the students, well…they went home with a deep appreciation for burgers, fries, affordable electronics, and friendly American people.
Sara Antal-Forizs, 19, and Csongor Tussai, 20, spent a month in the Lehigh Valley this summer as part of a program hosted by Worldwide Ministries of Lehigh Presbytery. The Presbytery has a covenant partnership with the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania, which Sara and Csongor are both active. Sara is from the partner district in Oradea and Csongor is from the partner district in Cluj.
The pair hadn’t met before their trip, but quickly became friends as they navigated the new country and language they were both a bit unsteady with, although they had studied it in school.
“I was nervous to speak English to American people,” Sara admitted during a visit to First Presbyterian of Hokendauqua, where the pair enjoyed a traditional church picnic after worship. “But everyone is very nice about it.”
During their time in the Lehigh Valley, Sara stayed with Joe and Noralee Manzek, members of First Presbyterian Church of Easton; and Csongor stayed with Bill and Diane Bryson, members of College Hill Presbyterian Church, also in Easton. For most of their time here, they worked as counselors at Kirkwood Camp.
Sara, who is studying graphic design, worked mostly with the younger campers doing arts and crafts, while Csongor, a licensed pilot, spent more time doing outdoor activities with the older campers.
“They were great,” said Tommy Campbell. “They got on so well with everyone. I would welcome them both back as staff at Kirkwood.”
Both the Brysons and the Manzeks said they learned so much from their weeks they shared with Sara and Csongor, a sentiment shared by the interns.
They saw much of what the Lehigh Valley has to offer during the summer, including Musikfest and an Iron Pigs game. They also visited Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, New York City, and did plenty of shopping.
“They swore our Coke is sweeter than what they get in Romania,” Bill said. “Csongor couldn’t drink it, it was too sweet for him. By the time Sara left, I think she was a little bit hooked on it.”
Noralee said both of them remarked that they gained weight during their trip. “They loved burgers and fries,” she said. “And Sara fell in love with peach cobbler and chocolate chip cookies. She liked cobbler so much, she learned how to make it.”
Both of the students speak Hungarian, Romanian, and English, and although they confessed to being a bit timid about speaking English when they first arrived, by the midway point of their trip, they were conversing much more easily.
Sara reported that during her second week at Kirkwood, she suddenly realized she was “thinking in English.” She told Noralee it was one of her most exciting moments.
Another notable moment came when Worldwide Ministries Care Team chairman Jack Ferlino gifted Sara with a new laptop computer for her studies. Electronics in Romania cost twice what they do in the United States, making it difficult for most families to afford.
While Sara and Csongor are back to their lives in their home country, they have sent notes of profuse thanks for the experiences they call life changing.
“It helped about enjoying every moment of our life, and also I have learned a lot from the people from the camp and, of course, from our hosts,” Csongor wrote. “It showed me that there is always a new beginning, a light in the dark.”
Sara said the experience, particularly her time at Kirkwood, had a profound effect on her Christian faith. “I met with a lot of good, kind, and funny people,” she wrote. “We had a worship a day, lots of smiles, and kind words. It was amazing being with God’s people. I learned a few new games and I made strong friendships with these experiences with a month behind my back. I’m truly glad because I found the way in my life where I need to be. Perhaps this was never gonna happen if I’m not meet with people I met here.”
By Rev. Christine Kass