It is early afternoon on the first full day of the 2017 Starpoint Reformed Youth Festival in Debrecen, Hungary. The foreign participants enjoy their entertaining introduction session in the form of a ‘Kitsch Party’, introducing objects that may be unusual, but which represent their nations, to the others. Following the program we engage in a conversation with two jolly young ladies, Alice Hoyle and Valli McAdam from Woking, representing the United Reformed Church in England.
Did you know that the cobblestone road is called ‘makadám’ (macadam) road in Hungarian, too, after the 19th Century engineer, John Loudon McAdam?
Valli McAdam: Maybe he was one of my ancestors, who knows…
You mentioned that this is your second visit to Hungary. Do you work for the church or do you represent a local congregation?
Valli: Me and Alice are from Woking and are youth members of the church.
Alice Hoyle: We were invited by the URC Youth, which is the youth body in our church. I think we represent rather the whole church than our home one.
Valli: We both used to be members of the URC Youth Assembly, which is our national youth council.
Alice: Valli used to be on the Board and I am still, on a national level. Our church structure is very democratic, and, accordingly, we have a youth council, too.
What do you do besides your church work?
Alice: I’ve just finished a job in a school, and from September I will continue in a different school, working with children with special needs, disabilities or mental needs.
Valli: I’m at the University of Bristol, studying Chemistry, and I love that. I’m interested in science journalism.
What do you expect from Starpoint? What was the reason you chose to come to Debrecen?
Alice: I’ve never been to Hungary before, and I really enjoy travelling and seeing other parts of the world, so I was excited to come here. When I learned a little bit more about it, and realised we were going to be meeting youth delegates from all over the world, I thought, wow, that’s a great opportunity, meeting Christians from as far as Taiwan, Syria, other countries in Europe, that’s going to be amazing. Thirty of us, coming from all over the world, can meet and talk about our churches at home, our cultures and share this festival experience together.
Valli: I was quite excited at the idea of learning about how Christianity is celebrated in Hungary. Is it different or is it the same? Also, in the UK Christianity is on the decline, so I always find it fulfilling to come to international events, and see how it is spread all over the world.
Have you seen such a large scale Christian youth event before?
Valli: In the UK we have Christian youth events, but the really large ones with several thousand participants are usually with many denominations.
Alice: We have one event called Soul Survivor with young Christian people from any denomination. It is similar, you camp in tents, and you have speakers and workshops.
Valli: Within the United Reformed Church we have the National Youth Assembly, but it only gets around 150 people. Rather than a festival, it is a decision making, voting process.
Alice: Sometimes the URC Youth take issues onto national level. A couple of years ago we addressed raising awareness towards people with mental disorders. This was passed by the Youth Assembly, and then we took this proposal to the General Assembly. It did get passed, and now it is a really big push in our church to teach people on mental health and support those who have issues with it.
What was the most striking experience you’ve had in Hungary?
Valli: We were staying in Budapest, and it was really nice when on the second day we all hung out together in the evening and just talked and got to know each other. At the end of the night we all climbed onto the roof, and we had the most amazing view. People from different places, but also connected at the same time.
Alice: It’s very difficult to choose. It’s been such a whirlwind the past few days, we’ve done and experienced so much, that, similar to what Valli said, I just can’t believe I’ve met these people 2-3 days ago — it feels like we’ve known each other for such a long time, as this event brought us together. We all have that one thing that connects us, our faith in God and our belief in Jesus, that we are able to connect. It’s incredible that such an event can bring people from all over the world and make us feel we’ve known each other for a lifetime.
Do you already have anything to take home with yourself?
Valli: Be a bit more confident when people ask you about your faith. Sometimes it’s really hard to be a Christian, especially nowadays, when a lot of people judge you, so you feel you might be weird. But I’m going be a lot more confident, because this has just been a really fulfilling experience.
Text: Zoltán Körösvölgyi
Foto: Andris Dimény