The Early History of ACSI Europe (Budapest Office)
On Christmas Day 1989, the Christians in Romania were released from the bondage of the communist regime and saw the dawn of a new day. Within days Rev. Peter Dugalesco, Pastor of the Baptist church in Timisoara, called Dr. Phil Renicks of ACSI in the USA, requesting assistance to develop Christian schools. In February 1991 Dr. Renicks and Henry Toews, Director of a Christian school in Germany, made a survey trip meeting with educational leaders; Pastor Louis Simonfalvi in Hungary, and Dr. Joseph Tson in Romania. The ﬁrst priority was to establish an ACSI European Center. Prague, Bratislava and Budapest were under consideration and after careful evaluation of each, Budapest was selected as the strategic location for the development of Christian schools in Europe.
With the help of local friends, a house in district 18 of Budapest was selected as a suitable venue for the new European Center of ACSI; with possession date of July 1, 1993. Through the generosity of American friends, we were able to make the purchase. The building had the potential for ofﬁce space, seminar rooms, living quarters for staff and a few guest rooms, with access to telephone and internet.
Henry Toews had been appointed as Director of ACSI Europe and together with his wife Margaret, were the ﬁrst to move into the new Center. God had also called Ed Balzer from Canada as Assistant Director and with his wife Agnes, served as a host couple for the Center. Ardeth Frisbey was a special gift to ACSI, coming out of early retirement to ably serve as the ofﬁce manager; one year at a time for a total of 8 years. At a celebration together with close friends and supporters, the Center was dedicated and named “The Dr. Gene Garrick Center for Christian Education”. This was in recognition of Dr. Garrick, the ACSI Missions Director, who had the original vision for serving Christian schools internationally.
It was a delight to work with the dedicated Christian school directors in the region with their zeal and energy to start schools in spite of having virtually no resources and only a few Christian teachers. “For over forty years our children have been indoctrinated within an atheistic system. We must now take advantage of the opportunity” they insisted. As ACSI staff, we recognized our responsibility to walk beside these energetic people, offering encouragement and counsel, helping them to better understand and apply principles of biblical integration in the educational process.
We were pleased to welcome additional resources when Dr. Art Spooner and wife Ursula joined our staff. A special blessing to us was the addition of László Demeter, who served initially as a translator and computer specialist, but soon assumed full responsibility as a professional instructor on the team. Enikõ Simonfalvi was another valuable addition to our ofﬁce staff who frequently also served as a translator. With national staff on our team, we were becoming more sensitive to the local culture, looking forward to the time when the team would be truly “international”.
The Future of ACSI Europe
Laci Demeter, director of ACSI Europe, became connected with ACSI in the 1990s and has served as European director since 2011. Born and raised in Hungary, he’s a product of ACSI’s commitment to invest in national leaders for sustainable transformation in their cultural contexts.
Many Christian schools have reopened in the wake of Communism, but they lack quality training for teachers and vision for the future. That’s where ACSI has stepped in.
“It’s common to find a desire to simply reinstate the traditional approach from 50 to 60 years ago,” Laci shares. “But we need a more Christ-centered model. ACSI brings the methodology to translate that vision into practice.“
ACSI was aware for several years how God was moving among a German school association, Verband Evangelischer Bekenntnisschulen (VEBS), and hoped to establish some level of partnership. Eventually God led ACSI and VEBS to enter into a formal agreement in July 2015.
VEBS is still fairly young, and its leaders want to learn from ACSI leaders how to better support schools and educators. Its leaders also regard ACSI as a partner with whom to join hands for missions in Eastern Europe and Africa. ACSI/VEBS have already collaborated through publishing, conferences, and other events, and ACSI is offering various levels of support and resources.
“This partnership represents the future,” Laci says. “There’s such a hunger for leadership development throughout Europe. We’re witnessing the ripple effects of our investment as new leaders pour into others.”
The momentum continues to build. “More than ever before I’m seeing interest in establishing partnerships to model and exchange Christian education best practices,” he relates. “New things are unfolding in the Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, France, Albania. There’s a sense of urgency to become involved with what God is doing.”
“Schools are bringing the Church together for the common purpose of providing Christ-centered education,” he continues. “It’s beautiful to see how ACSI is serving as a unifying element of interdenominational harmony.”