1999
Pen-Pal Mission
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“Pen-Pal Mission,” Ensign, Oct. 1999, 66–67

Pen-Pal Mission

The year was 1948. World War II had been over for three years, and Hungary was occupied by Russian troops. In Vienna, Austria, just a four-hour train trip from Budapest, I was working as a hostess at the American Red Cross recreational club for American servicemen. One day two young GIs invited me and another hostess to join them on a trip to Budapest to visit their friends and attend an industrial fair. Through some finagling, they had been granted passes to cross what we had heard was an uncrossable border into Hungary.

Nervous but excited to travel behind the “Iron Curtain,” we boarded the train to Budapest. We arrived at the border, which was complete with barbed wire, concrete barriers, land mines, and grim-faced guards. After having our luggage searched, we were allowed into Hungary.

For three days we visited with the Hodasz family. Their daughters Mary, Stefy, and Lilly were about my age. We talked for hours. They spoke perfect English, having lived in New York in the early 1930s. Our friendship blossomed.

A few weeks after my visit to Budapest, I wrote to the family. Mary and Lilly wrote back, and we began exchanging letters. Sometimes months would go by without hearing from them, and I was tempted to stop writing. But each time I thought that, something said to me, “Don’t stop writing.” So I kept in touch. Soon these sweet women seemed like my sisters and like my children’s adopted aunts.

As the years passed, I spoke of the gospel in my letters to the Hodasz family, telling them about God and about how I lived my life as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Papa Hodasz got a Book of Mormon after the 1956 revolution and read it. Before his death he said, “If I had the chance, I would join the Church.”

Three of our daughters and their friends visited the Hodasz family while participating in travel-study programs. They delivered hugs, Church books, and copies of the Ensign to my friends.

In the 1970s, after Papa Hodasz died, Mama Hodasz gave me permission to have temple ordinances performed for several generations of her family. “If you feel so strongly about it,” she wrote, “it must be right.” After we completed the temple work, I received a letter from Mary saying that she had had a dream and felt a great peace that all her relations had accepted the gospel.

Yet Mary and Lilly were now growing older without the benefit of being baptized into the Church. The Iron Curtain’s steely barrier kept the gospel from spreading into Hungary. I often thought they wouldn’t have the joy of the gospel during this life.

Then the Iron Curtain suddenly crumbled, and Hungary was opened to missionary work in 1988.

Forty years had passed since Mary and Lilly had first heard about the Church. Because of our continued correspondence and visits, the sisters were well acquainted with gospel teachings when they met the missionaries. I wept as I heard of Mary’s baptism in 1989, with Lilly’s following soon after.

Today Mary and Lilly are active members of their branch. Mary wrote, “Now that we are sisters in Jesus Christ truly, I ought to write more often. But as a Church member, I’m quite busy now, translating for visiting authorities.”

Mary and Lilly are indeed my sisters in the gospel, and we are united spiritually as never before. I feel that our Heavenly Father brought us together in 1948 for a purpose only He could see at the time. I am grateful that I never gave up writing to my friends, even though we spent such a short time together those many years ago.

Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson