The Rev. Raafat L. Zaki of the Presbyterian Church (USA) visited Budapest from April 20-25 to talk with interested people in the city about welcoming refugees. Zaki is a native of Sudan who graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary and holds a Ph.D. from Chicago Theological Seminary. He studied in Egypt and Korea and speaks some Korean and is fluent in Arabic and English. Zaki is currently the Synod Executive for the PCUSA Synod of the Covenant, covering the states of Ohio and Michigan. He previously served three congregations, two General Assembly Mission Council offices, and Habitat for Humanity International.
Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy, one of Kalunba’s founders and current Head of the Reformed Church in Hungary’s Unit for Refugee Integration, met Zaki during her trip last autumn to the United States for the PCUSA International Peacemakers Program. Dóra traveled all over the United States speaking to churches and with church-affiliated groups about the refugee integration work being done in Budapest, and it was at one of these talks in Cincinnati, Ohio that she met Zaki.
During his time in Budapest, Rev. Zaki shared his expertise and ministry in a variety of ways – by leading a worship for Arabic-speaking Christians in the city, helping to lead a bilingual Arabic/English worship at St. Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest, and also speaking with Kalunba staff about his work.
His Arabic worship service drew a small but lively crowd during his visit as men and women from different nations and backgrounds gathered together to worship. For this service, the songs, prayers, and sermon were all in Arabic.
The following day, Rev. Zaki was at St. Columba’s Church of Scotland to co-lead a bilingual Arabic/English worship service with the team there. The Scottish Mission has a long history of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange – something that was evident during the worship service where the prayers and sermon were done in a combination of Arabic and English. The church welcomes people of all walks of life and faiths, and has been a huge source of support for Kalunba over the years. On this Sunday, the already diverse international congregation was stretched out of their comfort zone as a way to make the space even more inviting for people around the world. Those in attendance were Christians, Muslims, and others who were simply interested in visiting the community.
After the church service, Rev. Zaki stayed at the church to talk with interested congregation members about his experiences in welcoming refugees in the United States. St. Columba’s has long been a place of refuge and community for those on the margins of society, and this Sunday was no different. “We must not pay attention to the written word, but forget about the living word,” Zaki said while speaking with the congregation about seeking a just peace.
“Just as this used to be a place where Hungarian-speaking Jews were just as welcome as English-speaking Christians, today Arabic-speaking Muslims are also welcome,” said Rev. Aaron Stevens about the events at the church. He continued, saying that St. Columba’s, “is a place where people can talk about their beliefs rather than thinking that keeping it quiet is the only way for peace. Sunday was our way of living that out.”
Though his visit was short, the effects of Rev. Zaki’s trip will have ripple effects on the communities here. Through supporting both communities of faith that work with refugees and also supporting Kalunba staff in their intersectional work, Rev. Zaki’s expertise was poignant and timely.
The congregation at St. Columba’s has supported refugee integration work in Hungary from the very beginning. The Reformed Church in Hungary’s Refugee Ministry was started by people at that church and has since grown into Kalunba Ltd. The organization and the church congregation still partner together on a multitude of events, from hosting community events there, sharing meals on religious holidays together, and even housing training seminars in the space.
Article by Kearstin Bailey