By Mike Juntunen
After thirty years of pastoring in the U.S., God called us to be missionaries to Hungary and Romania, where we were introduced to new cultures that changed the ways we saw ministry. The first thing we noticed was the way the Open Bible churches, both in Hungary and Romania, went out of their way to help us get settled into our new homes. They helped us find an apartment and went with us to get utilities hooked up and all the other legal things that were required to live in their country. We have often thought since then that churches in the United States may be missing out on a ministry opportunity. Could we do a better job of helping new residents to our communities, especially those who are from a different culture and do not speak the language well?
Another thing that impacted us was listening to the stories of the older saints. Both Hungary and Romania are former communist countries. It was sobering to hear the testimonies of those who experienced persecution, imprisonment, and loss of jobs and property because of their faith. It was fascinating to hear these old saints pray. They knew how to enter the throne room of heaven when they prayed.
One cultural difference we noticed was their attitude towards time. Americans tend to be very time conscious and expect things to begin and end on time. Our language classes at the University in Debrecen were filled with students from many countries. It became a joke that the American, German, and Japanese students would arrive to class early while the other European students would usually come late. Although they followed schedules and made appointments, relationships were more important than schedules. As a result of that cultural difference, we learned to be flexible and “go with the flow.” For example, one time we were planning on getting some work done at home when we received a call from a member of the church. They stated that a family was planning a picnic and wanted to meet us, and they wondered if we would be interested in joining them. We said we would like that and asked when the picnic was, and they said, “Now!” So we changed our plans and went to the picnic.
Of course, the main challenge was learning a new language and adapting to new foods and different ways of doing things. It did not take us long to realize that the American way is not always the best way and that just because something is different does not mean it is wrong; it is just different. We grew to enjoy the different food and culture of our new home.
As far as the impact our ministry had upon the people of the countries in which we ministered, we often heard testimonies of how thankful they were that we would leave our home and family to come and minister to them. They especially appreciated that we would make the effort to learn their language and live among them, that their home country became our home also.
What thrilled us the most was seeing the growth of those who studied INSTE. It was exciting to see their hunger to learn the Word of God and to watch them become involved in the work of the church, even taking on leadership roles. One example is Sándor and Margó Pántye. They have been faithful in the Open Bible Church in Debrecen, Hungary, for years. Sándor played the guitar on the worship team, and Margó served in small ways where needed. Since graduating Level One INSTE, however, they have both become more involved in ministering in the Open Bible churches in the villages. Sándor leads worship while Margó has stepped up into a role of teacher.
This only makes us realize, though, that we are still missionaries regardless of which country we are in.
During our thirteen years as missionaries, we have often thought of Jesus’ words: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29, ESV). This is definitely true for us because we have developed many, many close friendships that will last forever.
Now that we have moved back to the U.S., how has the transition been for us and how has our ministry been affected by our experiences overseas? There has been a little “culture shock” upon returning to the U.S., especially in the grocery stores when we see the aisles filled with so many options. In fact, sometimes the number of choices we have can be overwhelming. Also, America is not the same country it was when we left thirteen years ago. Even though we have been following the news from overseas, it is still disheartening to see what has happened to our country. This only makes us realize, though, that we are still missionaries regardless of which country we are in.
As we begin our new ministry in the church here in Hardin, Montana, one of the things that we are bringing back with us is a change in our focus. Our emphasis will not be on developing programs to enlarge the size of the congregation but will instead be on building up people. A major emphasis will be on prayer, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and discipling people so they will be spiritually healthy enough to disciple others. We believe that as we center our attention on these areas, God will add to the church daily those who are being saved (Acts 2:47).
About the Author
An Open Bible College graduate, Mike Juntunen and his wife, Nancy, pastored in various Open Bible churches for thirty years before being appointed as Open Bible missionaries in 2007. Mike served as the Director of INSTE in Hungary for eleven years and mentored the new pastor of the Open Bible Church in Gherla, Romania, for the past two years. The Juntunens have recently moved back to the United States and serve as the pastors of the Church of the Open Bible in Hardin, Montana.