“I came to know Christ later in my life after a personal tragedy,” tells Ildiko, who, growing up and living in Hungary under communist rule, had no chance to hear the Gospel. “I was 49 when I lost everything and everyone that I had considered important. At this darkest point of my life, I started to seek God. After three years of intense searching, I finally found Jesus and accepted Him as my Saviour. In place of my own lost family, I found a new family in the Lord—the church.”
After discipleship training in Romania, Bible college in Switzerland, and serving amongst university students in Africa, Ildiko felt a calling to be a missionary in her own country. In the summer of 2015, she became a coordinator with the Set Free Movement in Hungary, to fight against modern-day slavery and human trafficking. This was the year of the European migrant crisis, which saw over 1 million asylum seekers and refugees enter Europe, with a large proportion of these travelling through Hungary to reach western Europe. “I saw another form of human trafficking had developed—people smuggling, with the promise of safe passage to Germany,” explains Ildiko. “During this time, I did as much as I could to help the victims. I began to understand that human trafficking is just a symptom of a deeper problem: that we are broken. We live in a broken world, in a broken society, with broken hearts and broken relationships.”
In the world today, there are thought to be more than 40 million men, women, and children who are victims of modern-day slavery. This means there are more slaves today, when slavery is illegal, than during the whole of the transatlantic slave trade.
Hungary is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. It is estimated there are around 36,000 enslaved people among the country’s almost 10 million inhabitants. “The most vulnerable groups include those in extreme poverty, Roma, people living on the streets, and those growing up in children’s homes or dysfunctional families,” explains Ildiko. “Women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country and across Europe, with high numbers estimated in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and the UK. Many of the victims are underage and exploited by traffickers whilst living in state-provided childcare facilities or soon after leaving them. Hungarian men and women are also subjected to forced labour domestically and in countries such as Germany and the UK.”
“Near the end of 2018, I felt God calling me to a wider, interdenominational mission,” Ildiko tells. “In the summer of 2019, I learned that OM had been praying for more than two years for someone to lead an anti-human trafficking ministry in Hungary. I was pleased to be able to offer all of my knowledge, experience, and contacts to OM and join them, knowing it was God leading my life.”
After joining the OM team in Hungary in March 2020, Ildiko’s first task was organising five days of anti-human trafficking training in Budapest from the 16th to 20th March. By the end of February, 20 people had registered for the training, which was run by members of the Traffick Wise team from South Africa and translated into Hungarian by Ildiko and another volunteer.
Unfortunately, as the training week approached, the coronavirus was arriving in Hungary. “As the situation developed, six people dropped out and four made the decision to join online. So, we organized classroom teaching for 10 participants and online teaching for the other four.”
On the first day, everything went as planned, but from midnight the Hungarian borders were closed and all events were banned across the country, meaning the face-to-face training could not continue. Not wanting to give up, the team quickly reorganized the training into online sessions.
“We had to overcome lots of technical problems, but all the participants were patient and understanding. The Traffick Wise team were able to provide an incredibly high level of training, and during the week we experienced God’s incredible work and presence. We felt the training had become humanly impossible due to the virus, but God was leading us step by step. I had affirmation that the training was His will and He put all the details together because there is a great need for this ministry. The 14 people that we trained are eager to speak, teach, and be involved in training others. They formed an incredibly good team, even though they came from different backgrounds and only met in person once. We now regularly pray together online for an end to human trafficking.”
Following the training, the lockdown stopped her from doing many things, but Ildiko continued to raise awareness of trafficking. “I had three opportunities to speak on the radio about modern-day slavery and human trafficking, from which I had much positive feedback. I also spoke on one of the most well-known Christian TV channels. My options were quite limited, but I tried to use time efficiently.”
Despite various ongoing restrictions in Hungary, Ildiko sees many opportunities to continue raising awareness of human trafficking. This includes education amongst the at-risk groups and potential victims about the dangers, speaking to young people, parents, and staff in schools and colleges, and improving awareness in churches. She also continues to build relationships with individuals and organisations, as she equips people with the tools and resources they need to prevent human trafficking.
Despite all the challenges that she has faced, Ildiko remains positive about the future. “I am thankful that in spite of all the difficulties and obstacles, we have been able to start the OM anti-trafficking ministry in Hungary and I’m excited to see what God will do!”