Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this is the first overseas tour that a Moderator has been able to undertake since 2019. Based in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, Dr Kirkpatrick and his wife Joan will be the guests of PCI’s partner church, the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH), who will host the visit, which will also include time just over the border in Transcarpathia, 260 kilometres east of Budapest and 800 kilometres west of Kyiv.
Since the war began Irish Presbyterians have responded to the humanitarian emergency by giving £1.3 million to the relief effort. The amount raised from congregations form across Ireland has been distributed equally between the denomination’s relief and development partners, Christian Aid and Tearfund, and the RCH through its relief and development wing, Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, who have supported refugees who have fled to Hungary and Internally Displaced People in Ukraine fleeing the conflict in other parts of the country.
Looking ahead to the visit Dr Kirkpatrick thanked everyone who had contributed to March’s Moderator’s Special Appeal for Ukraine. “The generosity of congregations, and others, up and down the land, has led to one of the largest amounts raised for a PCI appeal in living memory. It is a wonderful demonstration of the faithfulness and kindness of people, even in these uncertain economic times at home, and I am looking forward to seeing how it has blessed people both in Hungary and Transcarpathia.”
Arriving in Budapest late on Monday evening, during the week Dr Kirkpatrick will travel the four hours to Ukraine to see for himself the ongoing relief effort in the south west of the country. During his visit he will meet with senior representatives of the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia, who make up the community there, including Bishop Sándor Zán Fábián, who leads the Church, to discuss the impact of the war and humanitarian response to it so far. He and Mrs Kirkpatrick will also visit congregations and see the work of the Church’s various education and social welfare bodies.
“At our General Assembly in June the conflict in Ukraine and the refugee crisis was brought close to home when we heard directly from Rev Dr Zoltán Literáty who spoke in the Assembly Hall. A minister in the Reformed Church in Hungary, who was born and raised in a village in Transcarpathia, he told us that 500,000 had fled to the province from eastern and southern Ukraine. I look forward to meeting him again while I am in Hungary along with Dr Károly Czibere, President of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, who briefed the Assembly via video in June,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
“Much has happened since June with the war often sliding down the headlines, and off the front-pages. But the ongoing work of the RCH and the wider Hungarian Reformed Church to help and support those caught up in this unnecessary tragedy continues. A lot of what we will be doing is simply listening and encouraging, especially to those pastors in Transcarpathia, their families and elders, who have taken courageous decision to remain behind to co-ordinate the relief effort in their local parishes and welcome those fleeing from central and eastern Ukraine.”
Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “Only when I am there will I get the full measure of what is taking place, and how our brothers and sisters in Christ are coping and providing for those in need. At the same time, however, seeing how the Lord is at work, even in the midst of such tragedy, will be tremendously encouraging.”
Speaking from Budapest, Ódor Balázs, Ecumenical & International Officer of the Reformed Church in Hungary said, “I look very much forward to the visit of the Moderator of a church which have been very close to us in many ways in the past years. The tremendous gifts that the PCI community offered also through us in Ukraine was just another proof of its commitment and great sense of Christian solidarity.
“It is for me personally a great opportunity to honour this solidarity and help you express this through the visit of Dr Kirkpatrick directly in Ukraine, and the affected community in Transcarpathia. This we plan to do in a critical situation when the aggression has escalated once more. There have been shellings in different regions in the past week or two, even in the western part of Ukraine. The visit of the Moderator will be a tangible sign of sympathy and solidarity,” he said.
Reverend Uel Marrs, Secretary to PCI’s Council for Global Mission helped to organise the overseas visit. “We have a longstanding relationship with the Reformed Church in Hungary with a number of Moderators having visited officially over the years, the last being in 2017. Dr Kirkpatrick’s tour is an important fraternal visit of solidarity as he goes to support our colleagues and see first-hand how our financial appeal for Ukraine has impacted the lives of people affected by the war.”
“While the Moderator will be in Transcarpathia in western Ukraine for just over a day, the majority of the visit will take place in Budapest. Here he will visit Hungarian Reformed Church Aid headquarters and meet its CEO along with the head of its Refugee Ministry, and others, who co-ordinate the humanitarian response. He will also visit the RCH’s Mission Service and its theological college. On his return, I look forward to hearing about this important visit,” Rev Marrs said.
Photos: (1) The Moderator and Mrs Kirkpatrick in Portrush, where he has been minister since 1993 (photo credit David Cavan) (2) a map of central Europe showing Transcarpathia in western Ukraine (credit Hungary Today) (3) Refugees fleeing-Ukraine following Russia's invasion of the country in February (photo credit Tearfund Jana Cavojsk)