Vernon residents Virginia and David Fairbrother in front of Festhetics Palace in Kestheley

Vernon residents Virginia and David Fairbrother in front of Festhetics Palace in Kestheley

Adventures in Hungary

David and Virginia Fairbrother left Vernon to embark on a six-week trip to Hungary, where they enjoyed a cross-cultural experience

When David Fairbrother retired as pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Vernon, he never envisioned he would one day be teaching a Bible study class in a small town in Hungary.

But when the opportunity arose for Fairbrother and his wife, Virginia, to travel to Tapolca, Hungary, the couple jumped at the chance.

Over a plate of Hungarian treats — home-baked pagosca — and coffee, the Fairbrothers explained how they ended up leaving their Vernon home, their three grown children and five grandchildren for an adventure in Europe.

“I’ve always been interested in cross-cultural experiences and I love working cross-culturally and when we saw this advertised on the church bulletin, it seemed ideal, especially as we were both retired,” said Virginia.

The opportunity to spend six weeks in Hungary came about through Shawn Carlaw, a missionary from Enderby, and his Hungarian wife, Sondi, who are there under the auspices of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada Mission.

“One of their chief goals is to start a church and we found out that they were looking for someone who could teach the Bible and someone who could teach English,” said David. “Part of it is it’s one of the countries controlled by Communism, so Christianity and anything religious was very much suppressed, and part of the desire is to revive an interest in Christianity.”

It was a perfect fit for Virginia, who had recently retired after close to 20 years as an ESL teacher at Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society, and for David, who retired in 2006 due to health reasons that resulted in a 2007 liver transplant.

“You don’t have one unless you have one foot in the grave,” he said. “Recovery was not easy and there were points when I thought I’d never live a normal life. People who know us thought we were crazy to be doing this. But in Hungary, this also gave me the opportunity to tell my transplant story,” he said. “I’m here because of our medical system, which I hold in high regard, plus our faith. I’m a living example of how these two things go hand in hand to help me survive. When you go through something like this, it’s a gift.”

In Tapolca, Virginia taught children, teens and adults at English clubs Mondays to Thursdays, while David led an advanced English adult discussion group on Thursdays and taught Bible lessons three days a week. As well, they made four presentations about Canada at a local high school/trade school.

“The people we had contact with were very interested, very engaged, very friendly and very helpful,” said Virginia.

The couple taught classes from their apartment, a former pub, teaching three levels of English, beginner to advanced.

“All of the Bible study classes I taught were in English. These were all university grads all professional,” said David.  “All of them had worked all day and would still come to the Bible study at night. They place a high value on education.

“We talked about the fact that while Hungary has a long Christian tradition, it has fallen into apathy — not opposition, just disinterest. So there was the English side of things, and the Bible side of things.

“And the 2008 financial crash really hit them hard so a lot of it is that they are looking for some purpose and direction in life, there is a certain searching for something. But we made it clear that we were not there to tell them how to live, we do not have all the answers.”

Virginia also immersed herself in the culture by baking, both old favourites and Hungarian treats.

“This was a very different type of trip than we’ve ever done before, living among the people, travelling on the bus, shopping for groceries,” she said. “When we first arrived, we were a novelty, by the end of six weeks, heads turned in recognition.”

They had a warm reception from locals, in particular from students at the local high school/trade school, where they made a presentation to chefs-in-training.

“They were very interested in the foods we produced in Canada, such as lobster, Pacific salmon and maple syrup and they knew quite a bit about Canada,” said Virginia. “For me, one of the big differences was that daily life is much busier because there are fewer conveniences, such as an automatic clothes dryer, so we got used to hanging laundry to dry from the chandelier.”

For David and Virginia, who both grew up in the Fraser Valley, life in the North Okanagan continues to be a busy one. Since returning last month from Hungary, David is busy with the board of First Baptist Church in Armstrong, doing yard work and starting a Bible study, with plans to start golfing soon. Virginia has taken up her sewing and scrap booking projects and hopes to return as a volunteer tutor with the One-to-One Children’s Literacy Program.

They love spending time with their grandchildren and will take the youngest of the five on what has become an annual grandparent-grandkid summer trip.

The couple has not ruled out returning to Tapolca, where they say they have left a piece of their hearts.

“We feel we made a difference in Hungary, and people begged us to stay longer,” said Virginia. “Maybe we’ll both celebrate our 70th birthdays there next year — we’ll see!”