“Bringing hope and helping people to be reconciled with God” is the ultimate purpose of hospital pastoral ministry. At the same time, chaplains ensure that patients will not be left alone in the most challenging time of their lives.
Erzsébet Feketéné Trankusz began working as a pastor in the Tisza Conference of the Hungarian Union in 2015. In addition to fulfilling her pastor’s role in the Adventist church, she did some volunteer chaplaincy work in the Hospice ward of the Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County Central and University Teaching Hospital in Miskolc.
The hospice is for patients who are in the end-stages of illness, the majority suffering some form of cancer. While in the hospice, patients are given support physically and mentally to deal with their end-of-life process. The care is provided by doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists/mental hygienists, social workers, pastors, dieticians and trained volunteer helpers.
The team provides complex (physical, mental, social, and spiritual) support. When asked why she got involved with the chaplaincy work, Trankusz said, “My answer is very simple. The faith I have received is priceless, which I think needs to be passed on to others.”
At the end of 2019, the Tisza Conference was unable to find pastoral work for Trankusz in or near her hometown, and for family reasons, she was unable to move. But when one door closes, another opens. Because she had volunteered at the hospice, Trankusz was able to become more involved there.
The hospital director gave her the responsibility of being the chaplaincy coordinator for the hospital. There was one small challenge, however. Chaplains are provided financial support from the state because they usually come from the major denominations in Hungary, with whom the government has made agreements.
While the Seventh-day Adventist church is a recognized denomination, it does not currently have such an agreement with the government for the payment of chaplains. The Tisza Conference and Hungarian Union looked at the finances and together applied for support funding through the Trans-European Division Mission Board to provide Trankusz a salary for 2020.
Trankusz tries to visit every patient in the 22-room hospice weekly—an average of 44 patients and their families. Giving support to the patients and their families involves mental health care and counseling, being there for the patients in their last hours, and providing spiritual support and prayer, including grief and loss seminars for families after a patient dies.
Trankusz also organizes worship services on Sabbaths and coordinates the schedule of services conducted by Catholic priests and Calvinist pastors. “Our patients are very thankful when they are able to participate in divine services. They appreciate these events, which may be the last time they can listen to, can understand and accept God’s invitation,” she says.
The chief medical officer of the hospice ward commented that Trankusz is “able to give patients an understanding and loving presence, listening, facing, and accepting a seemingly hopeless future. In many cases, achieving a reduction in anxiety and fear of death. We consider the service she performs to be extremely important and will continue to demand it in the future.”
The majority of patients and their families are open to receive chaplaincy support, but Trankusz tells of one young mother who asked for no visits from psychologists, pastors or volunteers and no mental health support. This was respected and Trankusz confined herself to praying for the young woman.
One day as she walked past the woman’s open ward door, Trankusz stopped, went in, introduced herself, and although she knew of the request for no visits, she simply asked if there was anything the young woman needed help with.
It was a hot summer day and the patient asked for a bottle of cold water to be opened as she couldn’t do it herself. As Trankusz was leaving the room, the young woman asked her to come again. The request for visits was readily met and Trankusz had the opportunity to pray with the young woman a couple of times before she passed away.
Very often when patients realize there is no cure for them, they are angry and overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness. When visited, they talk about themselves and their stories and Trankusz feels the anger they have towards God because they believe their illnesses and sufferings are God’s doing. Trankusz takes time to be with them and opens the Bible’s picture of God to them, so when their last day comes, they can leave this earth being reconciled to God, with the hope of eternal life.
Trankusz has many stories she could share, but one that is close to her heart is about an elderly man who divorced his wife and abandoned his family about forty years ago. He asked if they could find his family because he wanted to apologize and say goodbye to them.
After four weeks of trying, Trankusz had not been able to make any contact. The elderly man’s condition worsened daily. One day her phone rang, and it was one of his children. After a few minutes of conversation, the daughter said that neither she or her siblings were willing to meet their dad. She did agree, though, that the hospice could contact them with news of their father from time to time.
After a number of such phone calls, the daughters finally agreed that they would visit the following weekend. Unfortunately, before that happened, their father’s health worsened and Trankusz called the family with the sad news. She then sat and read from the Bible and prayed with him.
Shortly afterward, his family arrived and as he apologized to them, he finally received the forgiveness he longed for. He couldn’t speak anymore but signed to them and they remained with him until he died, twenty minutes after they had arrived. Trankusz trusts that the man “died with the belief, ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth’” (Job 19:25).