By Jessica Brodie
One South Carolina clergy couple is taking a tremendous leap of faith, selling all their possessions to become missionaries for Jesus 5,000 miles away.
The Revs. Weston Pendergrass and Chrisie Reeves-Pendergrass, along with their young son, Samuel, and their dog, Tramp, are actively raising funds to move to Hungary with One Mission Society, an evangelical, interdenominational faith mission. Members of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Reeves-Pendergrass family served in the Greenville District until June 30, Weston at Grace UMC, Greer, and Chrisie as associate at St. Matthew UMC Greenville. Now they are under appointment to extension ministry and have temporarily moved to New Mexico to live with Chrisie’s parents while they raise the rest of the funds needed for their relocation.
“It’s a huge leap of faith, and we’re still figuring out so many things, such as what we’re doing for health insurance,” Chrisie said. “But we felt God was calling us to fund this full-time, and my parents had the means to let us move in with them.”
It was clear: Their time was now.
Building trust, banding together
Both of them will serve in Budapest, Hungary’s capital city and the hub for OMS’s regional headquarters, encompassing Europe and the Middle East. Weston will be the disciple-making coordinator, building his own team and working with partner congregations to help them go deeper with their membership.
“Much like in America, you have people who go to church, just show up, worship and don’t do anything else faith-related,” Weston said. “It doesn’t change their hearts and lives.”
He will use a Wesleyan-based curriculum called “Banding Together,” based on Methodism founder John Wesley’s bands, to help encourage small group formation and other ways to live life as Christians. He will also develop a team to work with congregations and train leaders upon request.
He said there are a number of partner congregations there already, many of them United Methodist but also some Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Church of Christ and nondenominational. While there is a heavy Catholic presence, the majority are considered “nones” (not affiliated with any religious organization), partly because of the remnants of the Soviet influence. The Republic of Hungary began in 1989, and Soviet troops were didn’t fully withdraw until June 1991. This is the first generation there to live in freedom.
Chrisie will serve as the community impact coordinator, actively helping the team have a positive impact on the country and overseeing English ministries so Hungarians can better grasp the language and secure good jobs. The team is currently renovating a donated building and turning it into a preschool, which meets a great need as there are not enough preschools, but preschool education is required.
“Mostly it’s about building trust in the community,” she said.
Also, as they are the only pastors on the OMS team there, they will serve as the team and region’s pastoral leaders. As Chrisie said, they will be “caring for those who care for others.”
A winding road
Their path from pastor to missionary was a circuitous one. Chrisie felt called to be a missionary at age 17, inspired by her youth director and his wife who had served in Thailand and helped her understand there was a world beyond America.
“We learned about Heifer International and World Vision and Crop Walks, and I got really into it and discovered a heart for people who lived a totally different way from me,” Chrisie said, sharing how she began going on mission to places of extreme poverty, such as among the Navajo in New Mexico, where she was raised.
She studied foreign language in college assuming her life would gravitate toward missions, but then she was called on a different path, ultimately attending Duke Divinity School and becoming an ordained elder in the South Carolina Conference of the UMC.
But her hunger for missions never subsided.
“And now the two calls have converged,” she said. “I’m still very much going to be a minister, just not serving in the local church.”
For Weston, however, it was entirely different. He said he never felt called to mission work.
“It was a resounding no,” he said. “I didn’t feel that call, I did not want to leave the United States for a very long time, I was very adamant I would not leave the United States to live, and it was not until a few years ago really that I was even open to that idea.”
But when his wife shared that missions was something she had felt called to since she was a teenager, he said, “I felt I should be open to the discussion.”
Finally, he entered into a week of prayer. The answer took some time to emerge.
“I wasn’t told ‘no,’ and I wasn’t given a reason not to pursue it,” he said.
So they meandered along, inquiring and learning as they went, and ultimately, Weston began to feel a leading—a “push,” as he calls it—to stay on the missionary path. Soon they felt a direct steer to serve on the continent of Europe. At first they sought an opportunity within the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries, but with no opportunities open in Europe, they explored other organizations.
And when they found Weston’s position first, that was the final moment of clarity.
“That really affirmed the call,” Chrisie said. “He was the one who’d been reticent, but his job was the one that showed up first!”
Now they’re eager to finish the last steps, hoping to raise final funds and be able to move in January. They need to secure roughly $10,000/month of recurring giving, or the equivalent in annual gifts, to be considered “fully funded.”
To live and be like Jesus
Chrisie said what strikes her about their opportunity is that Hungary is a post-Soviet nation, and their path to Christ is a beautiful thing to be involved with.
“At our July 4 service, I was listening as we were all singing ‘God Bless America’ and talking about how much God loves America, but the truth is that God loves them, too. God doesn’t love them any less,” she said.
They will be living and working among a people who didn’t experience the same level of freedom Americans experience—they didn’t have freedom of religion or freedom of press, and they knew if spoke up about a leader it could be deadly.
“God calls us to see these people, but they’re often forgotten,” Chrisie said. “There are parts of Hungary that don’t have any water, and villages where no one has ever met a native English speaker. They’re deeply skeptical and distrusting of outsiders because they have been promised all kinds of things, and many missionaries have not upheld these promises.”
They will need to work hard to gain the trust of the people.
They will also need to learn Hungarian—a language the State Department considers to be the most complex for English speakers to learn.
“We’ll never master it,” Chrisie said. “One team member has been there 12 years and is only now able to lead in a purely Hungarian worship service.”
But that is one of the things God is asking of them—to model incarnation, to live among the people there, to live and be like Jesus.
Living into Scripture
Their first six months will be spent in intensive language classes for half the day. They plan to live in an apartment in Budapest, and Samuel will attend the International Christian School of Budapest, an English-speaking school geared toward an Americanized education system and toward college, as he has certain needs the Hungarian education system might not be able to accommodate.
“This way he will be in a familiar school style, will start learning Hungarian, will know some of the kids there and will feel more like what he’s used to,” Weston said.
Right now he’s homeschooling until they move to Budapest, and they said he’s looking forward to the experience.
“He’s so excited,” Chrisie said.
Between now and January, they are fundraising full time, meeting people, talking with churches, trying to gain monthly supporters and getting people to subscribe to their mission newsletter.
They sold nearly all of their belongings when they left South Carolina—their cars and most furniture, only keeping basics.
That was a liberating experience, Weston said.
“It was really so nice to get rid of our stuff and be free from it all,” he said.
Chrisie added, “It also felt like that passage from Scripture, ‘How do you get into the kingdom of God? Sell all your things and follow me.’ There comes a time when you have to really live into that.”
A need, not a question
While they said on the surface it looks like the experience is costing a lot—they have uprooted their life to live in a country they only visited for six days and where they know just 10 people, they don’t know the language or the culture, and they left churches they love and who love them—they said it wasn’t a “can we do this” but an “I must.”
“We can’t NOT do this,” Chrisie explained. “It was almost like a need to do this, to answer this call, to be obedient in this way, to see God’s people and see God’s face in a different place and work alongside people whose names I don’t know, whose stories I haven’t read yet, but who are also called to interact in my life. It meant I had to leave a lot behind, and it completely changed my life, but I couldn’t not do it.”
Weston agreed. “It’s exciting even if it is scary.”
To learn more about the family’s mission to Hungary, visit https://onemissionsociety.org/pendergrass-reeves, where you can sign up for their newsletter, donate and learn other ways to support them. They are also happy to speak at any church upon invitation.