A Rock Concert, Three Girls,
and a Confused Preacher
God works in unexpected ways
I went back to my temporary residence that night feeling discouraged. My wife was not with me, and I was completely alone. Sleep evaded me as tears and feelings of disappointment dominated my night.
At times in our lives, all of us ask ourselves the question: Is what I’m doing really making a difference? You may be a secretary in an office typing letters or answering phone calls for your boss. Or maybe you’re sitting on a mundane committee, it’s almost lunch, and you’re burnt out as you continue to sift through seemingly meaningless details. It’s times like these when we inevitably question whether our lives are having any positive impact.
Most of us as Adventist Christians ask these questions because deep within our hearts we want to know that what we are doing is having a positive effect on someone, somewhere. However, there is one major problem with that question: It is our human nature to focus on the immediate consequences of our actions, but God looks at things through the eyes of eternity. Only when we walk the golden streets of heaven will we truly know the real impact of the “meaningless” things we have done. We can’t possibly have any idea how important a cheerful voice on the phone or a smile to a random person on the street can be in God’s master plan.
I’d like to illustrate that concept with an experience I had a number of years ago that was at first very disappointing. Throughout the years though, I’ve seen how God has used this particular experience to glorify His name.
18 YEARS LATER: When Finley returned with
his wife, Ernestine, to Budapest for another
evangelistic series in 2007, Mrs. Finley (left)
got to meet these three women for the first
time. Eniko (second from left) and Anikó
(next to her) are now pastors’ wives; and
Helga is a church planting Bible worker.
It was 1989 and I was serving as the ministerial secretary at the Trans-European region of the Adventist Church. During that year I had been asked to conduct an evangelistic meeting in Budapest, Hungary. Holding evangelistic meetings in Eastern Europe was extremely difficult because of the opposition from Communist governments. And 1989 was particularly tumultuous because Communism was near its end. In fact, during our time in Budapest there were more than 100,000 people protesting in the streets.
I arrived with my translator, Lazlo Hangyás, about 3 p.m. at the auditorium where our meetings were to be held later in the day. The plan was to have two sessions with one starting at five o’clock, followed by another at seven. We were expecting to have about 800-1,000 people at each meeting. However, as soon as we walked in I knew that something was terribly wrong.
As I entered the main auditorium, I saw the chandeliers shaking and heard the loud, pulsating beat of rock music. I couldn’t hear myself think, much less talk with Lazlo, as we tried to dialogue about what to do. I discovered that a rock band named the Bikinis had double-booked the facility and had planned a concert that was to start at 9:30 that same evening—only half an hour after our evangelistic meeting was scheduled to end. Even worse, they were practicing at the very time we needed to set up for our meeting.
I was concerned because this was the first time in 40 years that the Adventist church was able to hold an evangelistic meeting in Budapest. The Adventist membership in Hungary is small and these meetings were desperately needed. And so I asked Lazlo to talk to the band leader to try and figure out what we might do.
I could see the anxiety in his face as he returned. “Mark,” he said, “we have a real problem.” The band leader had no intention of leaving before five o’clock, because that was the time stipulated for us to use the building in our contract.
I didn’t know what we were going to do. We needed to set up projectors, screens, and otherwise prepare the auditorium for hundreds of people.
I decided I was going to go over and talk to the band leader myself through the translator. Even as I began to introduce myself to him, he rudely stated that this was his auditorium until 5:00 and there was nothing I could do about it.
Lazlo and I negotiated with him intensely. We explained it was not possible for us to set up the auditorium in just a few minutes. We needed at least an hour. Finally the Holy Spirit impressed me with this thought. Tell him if he is not out by 4:00, we could not guarantee his concert would begin on time.
Firmly, but kindly, we explained to the band leader that unless he gave us one hour to set up our equipment, our meeting would most likely start late, and we would not cut it short for a rock concert. He got the point. Reluctantly, he agreed to leave the hall by 4:00.
Hundreds of people showed up to the first meeting, and I felt God move mightily.
After the people left the first meeting, the auditorium was flooded with scores of young people from the street, who thought the rock concert was about to begin. As I looked out over the crowd, I saw people everywhere—behind the screen and five deep on the balcony. I thought I was the speaker at a youth rally.
PROUD PAST: One can see monuments of
victory and triumph of the old
Hungarian-Austrian Empire throughout
Budapest, one of the most beautiful capital
cities in the world.
I began to preach, but many of these young people were not receptive. They caused a loud ruckus. Amid the confusion of the overflow crowd, I got confused while preaching on Daniel 2.
I have preached on that topic hundreds and hundreds of times, but this time I felt I wasn’t connecting at all with my audience. At times I stumbled over my explanations of the rise and fall of kingdoms and the dates. In my mind, it was one of the poorest sermons I had ever preached.
I went back to my temporary residence that night feeling discouraged. My wife was not with me, and I was completely alone. Sleep evaded me as tears and feelings of disappointment dominated my night. As I wept, I cried out to God, “Lord you gave me the opportunity to conduct an evangelistic meeting in a place that hadn’t had one in 40 years, and many people came. And I did so poorly.”
My mind was in a state of confusion. It was a very difficult night for me.
Still, the meetings had to go on. The next night the auditorium was packed once again. I don’t know why all the people came back, but they did. In the front row I saw three young women and felt impressed to go down and talk to them. I introduced myself and found out their names were Anikó, Eniko, and Helga. Eniko was an economics student at Karl Marx University. Anikó and Helga were young professionals. I soon found out they had been brought up as atheists. They had questions about the Bible, Jesus, and the hereafter.
They seemed open, but with no background in Christianity, they had very little knowledge of spiritual things. I inquired how they came to the meeting. They explained they were friends with the leaders in the rock band, and that they came to the meeting the previous night while waiting for the concert to start. They went on to say that they were standing five deep in the balcony and could not see the screen, but were deeply touched by something that I said. So they decided to come back that evening. And they kept coming—every night.
During the meetings I began to study the Bible with them a few times a week. At the end of the meetings they expressed their desire to be baptized. Since they were so new, the Budapest church was a little hesitant. But in the end the church board agreed that the Holy Spirit was leading them to baptism.
HUNGRY FOR THE WORD: Thousands attended
the October 1989 evangelistic series, eager to
hear the message preached.
Eighteen years later, early 2007, I returned to Budapest and was very interested to see what had become of these three young women. Their lives today are truly a living testimony. Anikó and Eniko are both wives to Seventh-day Adventist pastors, while Helga is a Bible instructor, currently conducting 24 different Bible studies, and is now in the process of planting a new church.
Here are three young women who have gone from an atheistic background to being powerful vessels for God’s work. And it can all be traced back to that night of the rock concert.
While my wife and I talked with them, I praised God as I rehearsed the story in my mind. My memory flashed back to that sleepless night as I lay on my bed crying before the Lord, complaining that my sermon had been worthless, that it was one of the poorest sermons I had ever preached.
Although I felt disappointed, the Holy Spirit had been working powerfully on these three young girls—now three women of extraordinary faith.
On the days when it seems as though our work is meaningless, remember that even when we deem our actions as failures, God never stops working. The Holy Spirit takes simple things that we do and uses them for the glory of His kingdom. Romans 8:37 puts it this way: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
We serve a great, big God who works in ways that we cannot understand. Our God takes the phone calls we answer, the letters we write, and the decisions we make and turns these simple tasks into mediums to enhance His kingdom. He takes whatever we have—the five loaves and two fishes, the “bad sermons”—and multiplies them into much greater things than we could ever have imagined.
Let’s wait patiently and see the eternal influence of our “failures” and “mundane tasks” when God sets them in the light of eternity.
Mark A. Finley is a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.