Dr. Károly Dobos, Reformed Church pastor, was born on 8 December 1902. Below are excerpts from an interview with Rev. Dobos on the celebration of his 100th birthday.
Among my first memories is a visit to our grandparents when I was two, with my father. He was then shop leader at the train machinery factory at Szolnok, a major town on the river Tisza about 80 miles south-east from Budapest. In Szolnok I grew up and finished secondary school in 1921, but then the studies at the Reformed seminary made me to move to Budapest.
In the meantime, however, the world around us had changed tremendously. I was 12 when that fatal shot went off in Sarajevo that triggered WWI. At the time all of us were eager to see revenge taken on the assassinators. Still, mobilization orders did not affect my father, given the 8 children he had to maintain. Four years later, however, I myself stood in the crowd at the Parliament Building to witness the announcement of the republic—and also witnessed the bloody tyranny that followed a few months later by the Reds, watching them shoot the enemy, members of the White Army who crossed the river, into ditches in the cemetery.
Years following these events were no less easy with constant poverty. We, children, had to have our share in supporting the family so I with a friend from school grew some vegetables on an empty plot nearby. Another way to ease the burdens on my family was to gain exemption from the tuition fee which led to a formal learning competition between us, brothers and sisters, and resulted in excellent graduation marks on my side.
Having experience at hand in growing vegetables, it was only obvious that I applied to the College for Agriculture. My application — party due to my low birth — was rejected. The other possibility I had for further training was the seminary.
It was the time of a great renewal in the church, the ‘awakening movement,’ that reached students at the seminary. I myself held it important that pastors should not be Christians by profession only: their first and utmost duty is to serve God’s glory throughout their lives. At this time seminary students had English lessons, once a week only, but I always stayed a little longer, being subject to ridicule among my fellow-students. When however an American seminary teacher visited us in 1923 and offered to take four students back with him on scholarship if they speak at least some English, it was my fairly advanced knowledge of the language that helped me be selected.
A nice memory from New York is when the four Hungarian young men entered the underground with a bowler hat on the head and a stick in the hand, people around smiled. We did not realize then that the bowler hat and the stick were at the time the privilege of Charlie Chaplin!
Parallel to my studies in the US I worked as a pastor in Daisy Town, a tiny Hungarian-inhabited miners’ village. I could have stayed on easily, having been invited to Cleveland, to be the pastor of the main Hungarian community in the US, but I was awaited back home, too, to be involved in the organization of the religious youth. So I returned home to become a youth pastor, with much traveling and organizing, visiting almost 1000 congregations in the course of 10 years.
WW2 with German occupation and persecution of the Jews found me in one of the famous Budapest congregations as assistant pastor. In my apartment nearby several of those pursued (some for their race, some for their political views) found shelter. As a result, the Israeli government nominated me for the Jad Vasem prize in 1994.
After WW2 I had the possibility to visit London for a conference. There I met with Hungarian refugees who fled to western countries from the Russian occupation. I organized a small reformed congregation in the few days I spent there, and it is still existing.
However, at home the war was followed by a similarly difficult period: hard-face communism in the 50’s executed big pressure on churches and pastors. Along with so many of the pastors, I had to leave Budapest for a small village in the “Big Hungarian Plain” area. After a congregation of 10,000 I found myself serving among about 70 families, smallholder farmers, most of them scattered about in great distances from each other. Here I rode an annual 3000 km on my bicycle to keep contact with the congregation members – and there was not even a church or community house, so sermons were held on great holidays only, borrowing the ex-Presbyterian school of the settlement.
This led me us to the idea to try and build a small house, not a church but merely a ‘congregation center’ out of loam, as most buildings were built there. Even this was not going to be easy as in the ten years following the war building materials were scarce and even if available, the state would not waste them on useless purposes like churches. There was, however, a body of the Hungarian government of the time that could get hold of anything for American dollars. So I thought I would write to my old American miners’ congregation to raise funds for us, for which the Hungarian state would give us building materials – and to re-pay the loan, members of my community sent fresh eggs to disabled’s homes in Budapest labeled as ‘American aids’ for 10 years.
So we did build a small church after all, moreover, one with a small tower, which is what traditionally has made a church a church in Hungary. In the following years this church building attracted a pretty little settlement around it which awarded me the title of its ‘honorary citizen’ when I turned 100.
It was not before 1965 when I was allowed to return to the capital – just in time as I was finding it more and more difficult to ride the bicycle. Here I was placed to one of the congregations on the outskirts of Buda, a nice green area, and stayed there until my retirement in 1978.
It was in the meantime, however, that the Lord entrusted me with a new job: reacting on a message from England in 1973, I started organizing the Hungarian Mission for Lepers. This ended in regularly sending home-made towels, sheets and gauze bandages to 17 lepers’ hospitals – without ever being to any of them. Still, from the thank-you letters of the hospital directors it was clear: such poverty prevailed in these places that patients were laying on mere dried palm leaves.
Today I have no active role any more in the Mission but I still sign the letters in which we thank for donations. This is the last service I can do — besides praying.
Our dear brother Károly Dobos went home to be with his Lord in 2004, at the age of 102, leaving 13 grandchildren and (so far) 18 great-grandchildren behind in the family.