Coppages in Hungary: FAQs

The Frequently-Asked Questions

The Answers

Why did you decide to go to Hungary?

This is an interesting story that begins in 1992. You can read about it on our Family History page.

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What is the Hungarian language like? Is it difficult?

Hungarian is an agglutinative language in the Finno-Ugric family. This means that (a) Hungarian is of Asian origin; it is not an Indo-European language, (b) its grammar is alien to most of Europe and the Americas, and (c) if you didn't learn it from the cradle up, it's obvious to any Hungarian within earshot. Here are some details....

Hungarian has two vowel sounds that Americans normally do not make unless the food is particularly bad. Hungarians roll their R's. Grammar is determined not by word order but by a complicated system of suffixes (like Latin, but much worse). Word order is relatively free and is used for emphasizing the important parts of the sentence.

There are only two regular tenses of verbs: past and present (which might be of cultural significance). There are different verb forms depending on whether the verb takes a indefinite or definite object: "I want an apple" and "I want that apple" require different forms of the verb "want". Almost everything that we use prepositions for is managed through dozens of suffixes or separate postposition words (not "in the car" but "the car-in"; not "under the table" but "the table under"). Furthermore, most of the suffixes have at least two forms; the correct choice depends on the vowel classification of the word in question. Possession is indicated on the item that is possessed, not on the owner: (not "Dan's car" but "the Dan car-his"). Quantified nouns do not take the plural form: there are books in the library; you can check out one book, two book, three book, or many book!

YES, Hungarian is difficult to learn. One lucky thing is that they use the Roman alphabet--our very own ABCs--and the rules of pronunciation are pretty regular. Therefore, if you know how to pronounce the letters, then you can read any text and have a Hungarian understand it with only a few giggles. If they used a different alphabet like the Russians do, then most foreigners would either leave the country in disgust or jump off a bridge in despair.

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What are the Hungarian people like?

The stereotypical Hungarian is pessimistic, historically conscious, pessimistic, cleverly pragmatic, contradictory, pessimistic, and appreciative of the fine arts and good food. Did I mention pessimistic?

Many differences between American culture and Hungarian culture can be found on the Cultural Differences page.

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Are missionaries really needed in Hungary? Aren't most Hungarians Catholic?

A photo of the Basilica in Vác on Constantine Square The Basilica in Vác

Over 50% of Hungarians identify themselves as Catholic. There are also sizeable proportions of Reformed (Presbyterians or Calvinists), Lutherans, and non-religious people, too. But saying "Hungary is a Catholic nation" is like saying "America is a Christian nation". It's in their history and heritage, but the great majority do not consistently apply core Christian beliefs or ethics to their everyday lives. What is lacking here (like everywhere) is a personal relationship with God through Jesus that results in new life empowered by the Spirit of God. If you ask a typical Hungarian, "Are you a sinner?" they will answer, "Well, nobody's perfect, but I'm not a bad person." The concepts of separation from God or a personal savior are usually just not there. Their Christian identity is mostly wrapped up in their Hungarian identity.

There is a creed engraved on many public monuments, and it can even be found in front of some churches here: "I believe in God, I believe in the unity of my country, I believe in eternal divine justice, I believe in the resurrection of Hungary." This is a reference to the punitive Treaty of Trianon after World War I, which gave large portions of historical Hungary to neighboring countries and left millions of ethnic Hungarians outside of the revised borders. The vision of this creed is not that Hungarians enter in to the kingdom of Heaven, but that the old kingdom of Hungary be restored. Unfortunately, such quasi-idolatrous nationalism is the extent of much of "Christianity" in Hungary.

Diagram of the parts of Hungary awarded to other countries in 1920
The partition of Hungary, 1920
according to the Treaty of Trianon

Most Hungarians know about Jesus, but few actually know him. The result is a nation of practical atheists, people whose faith resides only in their heads and not in their hearts or words or actions. Our job as missionaries is to be the necessary outsiders who do four important things. We must live noticeably different lives animated by the Spirit of God; we must inform people of their actual situation relative to God; we must introduce them to the One True God and salvation through Jesus; and we must train Hungarian leaders who can do the previous three things better than we can.

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How did you start working among the Deaf?

Doug started working with an interpreted ministry to the Deaf when we were part of Jefferson Park Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia in the late 1980s. This story deserves a good telling, and it will be given its own page in the near future.

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Do you know American Sign Language?

Doug: I have been signing since the late 1980s. At first I was taught Signed English by a Deaf teacher. During one session, a student asked the teacher to show us ASL, and the teacher tried, but he was so accustomed to using Signed English among hearing people that he couldn't continue for long. Plus, our Deaf audience at church consisted of older Deaf people who used Signed English, not ASL. I was starting to learn and use more ASL in my interpreting when we moved to Hungary.

The short answer is Yes, I know some ASL, but I require the signer to go slowly so that I can recall American vocabulary. My mind is now too full of Hungarian signs.

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Isn't sign language international?

No. There is an attempt to establish an international sign language, but most Deaf do not know it. (Can you speak Esperanto?)

That said, it is much easier for the Deaf to communicate with Deaf people from other countries. If you take a Deaf American and put him in the Deaf Club in Shanghai, China, then in a short time he will have related important personal information about himself: who in his family is Deaf, his position among his siblings, whether he went to a Deaf school, his line of work, etc. Hearing people usually have much more difficulty in communicating with foreigners.

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How different is Hungarian Sign Language from American Sign Language?

A lot. The grammar set up is more or less the same, and there are some similar signs, but all in all the sign vocabulary is quite different, with much interference between the two. For example, if I make the American sign for CAN / BE ABLE, it means SERIOUS here. Likewise, if I sign American FINE / OKAY, it means DANGEROUS here. The American sign for SHOES is very similar to the sign for TO HAVE SEX at the Deaf School in Vác.

Furthermore, there are about seven regional dialects of Hungarian Sign Language, each originating at one of the seven Deaf Schools in the country: Budapest, Vác, Eger, Debrecen, Szeged, Kaposvár, and Sopron. This adds even more confusion. For example, the sign for FRIDAY in Budapest means BREAD in Vác, which is only 25 miles to the north. When two Hungarian Deaf from different parts of the country meet each other for the first time, they take a while to get used to each others' signs, and one of the first questions after introductions is, "Which school did you go to?"

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How many Deaf people are there in Hungary?

In any normal population, approximately 0.5% of the people will be culturally Deaf. That is, regardless of their hearing ability, they live and move among the Deaf and use sign language as their first means of communication. In Hungary, a country of about 10,000,000 people, we can expect that there are approximately 50,000 Deaf. Our knowledgable Deaf friends estimate that 20,000 of the Hungarian Deaf live in the Budapest metropolitan area.

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Where does your child go to school?

Our daughter goes to Juhász Gyula Általános Iskola (Jules Shepherd Elementary School), a public school in Vác. She must communicate in Hungarian along with her classmates. Since she already knows English, her language class is German. (We have told her that we don't care what grade she gets in German class!)

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Are Hungarian schools different from American schools?


American schools value critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. Hungarian schools teach rote knowledge.

American schools value "self esteem" and other individualistic traits. Hungarian schools value competency and more group-oriented characteristics.

American schools have trouble teaching actual content, and they make up for this by imposing batteries of minimum achievement tests. Hungarian schools have trouble teaching things that apply to real life, and they do not attempt to compensate.

In an American school, each student has an individual schedule, and they travel around to different teachers' classrooms each hour. In a Hungarian schools, each class learns together in its own room, and the teachers come and go according to the class's schedule.

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Why don't you blog?

Lea: The main purpose of our general communications is to get people to pray. This is why we send out regular newsletters by both e-mail and regular post. I think a purposely-sent message is more likely to remind others to pray. Some people read blogs regularly, but I'm not one of them...yet.

Doug: I am not interested in a blog for three main reasons. First, I have never read another person's blog. Second, I am terrible at maintaining journals, diaries, logs, etc. I would probably lose interest in a blog much sooner than the average blog-junkie. Third, I think that we have enough material of interest to put on this web site that a blog would be just so many more words. If I have something to say, I will put it on a new page.

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What mission agency sent you?

Since 2005 we have been partners with Christian Educators Outreach (CEO), a small missions enabling organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia. They are not a sending agency; they do not send missionaries. Our home church, Tabernacle Baptist Church of Richmond, sent us. CEO does not pay us a salary or benefits, and they do not tell us what to do in our missions work. They do give us legitimacy and a whole lot of other intangible support. We are very grateful to be on the CEO team!

Find out more at the CEO website:

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Do you have enough money?

So far, yes! Our friends, family, and fellow believers have been very generous in supplying necessary funds beyond what we make as part-time English teachers. On the average, we earn about enough money to pay the rent on our two-bedroom apartment. All the rest comes from donors. We are very grateful!

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If we donate to you through your missions group, will they keep some as "overhead"?

Yes, and it is money well spent! CEO allocates 10% of designated donations to their general budget. We benefit very much from CEO's help, and we feel that it is only fair to divert a small part of our donations to the organization that does so much for us. And ten percent is far below the national average.

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How can we help you?

Pray, give, and go!

If you are a praying person, then PRAY. In general, you can pray for the Hungarians and for us. Pray that we will serve God faithfully. Pray that Hungarians will answer God's call on their lives and step into his kingdom. We put new prayer requests in the right column of our home page every Wednesday. More detailed requests will be under the PRAY link on our home page.

If God wants you to give, then GIVE. You can donate money toward our life and ministry in Hungary through our missions partners, Christian Educators Outreach. If you want to send us a care package, let us know so we can give you helpful instructions on how to post it.

If God calls you to GO, then definitely go.

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