Around seven years ago, OMer Marcel Buchner (Netherlands) was sitting in his office in the town of Tata in Hungary. He and his Hungarian wife, Lea, were already working to help people in poverty through distributin food packages and clothing. He had short-term workers coming to visit and summer camps running. But something was missing.

“We didn’t really have a goal of where to go,” he says. “We were just doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I thought, what should I do? I went to church and started to pray. And then, there was no lightning, there was no thunder, but afterward when I came back to the office, this vision came of a place where people can come to, a safe place to be together with other people where they can tell their story.” 

That’s how the OMers’ dream of opening a community centre in Tata began. In March of this year, the vision became a reality when the DOCK centre opened its doors to people of all ages looking for a place of safety, connection and encouragement.

“A dock is a place where a ship comes in from the sea and is being lifted out of the water and repaired,” says Frans Van Aken, another Tata team member. “The ship can rest in a sense and be made ready to go back into the sea again. And we also want to be a place like that—where people can come in and be repaired and rest and create relationships with one another. And if they want direction in their life, as Christians we know Who to point to.” 

Waves of challenges

On the wall of the main room in the centre is a colourful painting of a lighthouse, created by a talented teenager who attends there. The artwork seems symbolic not only of the centre’s purpose to provide guidance and help to others, but also of the OM Tata team’s journey through several storms before finally reaching calmer waters.

First came years of waiting. With only Marcel and Lea’s family in Tata in the beginning, there weren’t enough people to start making the vision a reality. It was only in 2015, when the team had grown to six people, that serious work on the project could begin.

Next came the search for a building. Some team members were walking along the street when they came upon the DOCK’s current facility, which was in ruins at the time.

This place is terrible, but there is something we can make of it, Marcel recalls thinking. The team set to work with the goal of opening in a few months. But the months stretched into a year and a half.

“We started, but Satan really didn’t like our plan,” Marcel says. “So we had a lot of struggles—building struggles for months, and also relational problems with miscommunications, illnesses, everything.”

Walls had to be plastered. The kitchen had to be moved downstairs. A toilet had to be moved and a new sewer had to be placed—a seemingly straightforward task that would turn into a structural and legal nightmare.

“The sewer was the biggest drama because we hired people for it who did a horrible job,” Frans says. “At one point we were in the basement trying to fix wrongly placed sewer pipes, and suddenly there was toilet water and everything from the neighbours’ flooding the place because of the wrong way the pipes had been connected. That was the lowest point. We had to clean up, and we felt like this was never going to be finished. A lot happened where things didn’t work, and it was really hard to even stay focused and really believe in it, that it was actually going to happen one day.”

But the team persevered, taking a solidary breath when hidden blessings revealed themselves. At one point, an unexpected gift of $1,000 from a supporting church allowed the team to keep working when finances were low. Bit by bit, decision by decision, prayer by prayer, things came together.  

“Now it’s time to not look back, but only forward, and forget what’s behind us,” Frans says. 

The light(house) at the end of the tunnel

On 17 March 2017, the centre officially opened its doors. Crisp white walls, natural light and upbeat music welcomed students, team members and the community to celebrate. Smiles flashed across the room as teens grabbed snacks and challenged each other on the foosball table, dartboard or PlayStation. Adults sipped coffee and chatted or prayed. It’s loud and bright and full of hope. A laughing baby drew everyone’s attention from his mother’s hip. Frans’ wife, Eszter, readjusted her son and continued talking about her excitement for the centre and those who will attend.

“There are many broken families in this area,” she says. “We meet lots of youth who are struggling at home, and their parents either don’t have time for them or are divorced, and they have lots of pain and hurt from their childhood. And we’re hoping that they would come here and just see a positive example of how adults can be, and we hope they will see God in us, too.”

Right now, the centre is open Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for youth ages 12 to 18, to enjoy food and hangout time. But the OM team hopes to eventually hold programmes for adults on weekday mornings and for youth in the afternoons.

“Today is really special,” Eszter says. “It seemed like it would never happen, and finally we’re here, and it’s so good! I’m looking forward to people coming and us having an influence on them and just showing God’s light to them. It’s exciting.”

Marcel’s height makes him easy to find in any crowd. Today his imposing yet gentle demeanor is accompanied by joy and relief.

“It’s the end of a season,” he says. “We are in a new one now, and it’s a bit frightening as well, but also exciting. So I’m really, really happy that we are here and we can start.”

Please pray that the Lord will draw people to the centre both to serve and be served; for Frans, who took on leadership of the centre from Marcel in June; and for wisdom for the team in taking the next steps of establishing relevant programmes.

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