April 28, 2017

Olde World Baptists: Mihály Kornya, Peasant Prophet

David Potter

This is the first in a series of posts about the life of Mihály (Michael) Kornya, who, along with his friend and colleague Mihály Toth, were known as the Peasant Prophets. His exploits for God are legendary. Many older people who live in the towns and villages of the areas where Kornya preached still remember hearing anecdotes related to them by their grandparents, which I will record in future posts.

Kornya was christened in the Hungarian Reformed Church of Salonta, Bihar County, Romania, on February 28, 1844, his parents being Mihály and Katalin (Kovacs) Kornya. In the mid-nineteenth century, Transylvania was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even today a large number of ethnic Hungarians live in this area on the Romanian side of the Hungary-Romanian border. Salonta[1] today lies just ten kilometers from Hungary.

After his father’s death, Kornya entered the service of a wealthy landowner and lawyer named Gyorgy Rozvany. Kornya’s diligence soon brought advancement as he increased his skill in working the land and managing animals. Kornya was responsible for driving the master’s carriage, which afforded an opportunity to develop a close relationship with him. He also developed a relationship with Mari Pataki Zsigo, a kitchen maid in the Rozvany household. On May 23, 1866, Kornya married Mari in Salonta and struck out on his own. He became a share-cropper who also raised pigs and poultry.

God blessed Kornya’s first marriage with seven children.[2] Maria died in 1890 and Kornya the following year married Zsuzsanna Toth Mate, widow of a Mr. Takács, whom he had baptized ten years previous. His second wife had two children by her first husband.

In 1874, Kornya became aware of a new religious movement in his town. Antal Novak, an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, did missionary work in eastern Hungary, western Romania and the northern part of the Balkans. As part of his work, Novak visited Salonta and encountered a group of peasants interested in studying the Bible. Mihály Toth, a friend of Kornya, invited him to a Bible study at the home of a gunsmith named Janos Lajos (John Louis). Kornya learned to read for the purpose of studying the Bible.

From this study, they became convinced of the necessity of repentance for salvation and that immersion of believers was the biblical pattern for baptism. The closest place they could obtain baptism at the time was Vienna. So eager was Lajos to follow the Lord that he was willing to sell his house in order to have enough money to buy the train ticket. Novak persuaded him to await the arrival of Henrik Mayer, a missionary sent out by Johann Oncken of Hamburg, Germany.

Kornya spent an extended time studying his Bible before he was convinced. August 24-26, 1875, Mayer examined the candidates for baptism very thoroughly as to their understanding of Scripture and their personal testimony of conversion. According to Mayer’s diary, Kornya expressed a willingness to forsake anything, including the distillation of Pálinka (whisky). On August 26, under cover of darkness at 3 AM, Mayer baptized Kornya, his wife Mari and a few others in the Fehér-Körös River near Gyula, which is now in Hungary. From that time on, Kornya testified boldly of his faith in Christ, backed by his changed life. By 1881, the infant church had 47 baptized members.

In November of 1877, Oncken himself visited Salonta to hold a missions conference, which included workers from Bosnia and what is now Romania and from Hungary. At the close of the conference, Oncken ordained Kornya to the ministry and Toth as an elder in the church. The contact with Oncken had a great impact on Kornya, for Kornya embodied Oncken’s motto: “Every Baptist a missionary.”[3]


David Potter serves as a missionary in Hungary with Baptist World Mission.

  1. Nagyszalonta is the Hungarian name []
  2. Julianna, wife of Laszlo Balogh, died 1905., Zsuszanna, wife of Lajos Borbely, born 1868., Maria, 1876-1888., Erzsebet, wife of Istvan Fuksza, 1877-1905., Sara, wife of Lajos Bereczki, born 1879., Terez, 1882-1902., Mihály, married Eszter Szunyi Szucs, died a war hero in 1914. []
  3. Most of the information in these posts comes from Kornya Chronicle by Bertalan A. Kirner, translated by Béla Horvath. []


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