Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Early On

Summer Camp Staff - 2001 
It didn’t take long to discover that American directness didn’t go very far. In 1999, I accompanied a mission group of fact-finders. They, too, were shocked by the conditions in the Ukraine and Rumania and genuinely wanted to know more. In typical American style, they asked direct questions, fully expecting to hear straight answers. Instead, they were introduced to a style of discourse rooted in years of Communist control.

They heard polite evasions when they expected direct answers. Church leaders and ordinary farmers evaded questions that in the United States would have been candidly asked and answered as a matter of course. It was both puzzling and disconcerting.

I wondered where this dialog style had come from and heard this from my colleague. “During the days of the dictatorship, the truth was only told between four ears,” meaning that after 40 or more years of surveillance, oppression and sometimes torture, fear trumped truth-telling. Later a seminary professor would tell me that it would surely take at least forty more years to erase such embedded patterns.

Beregrakos, Ukraine
For the next few years, as an American contact for the Ars Longa Foundation of Hungary, I traveled to Rumania, the Ukraine, and Croatia as well as to Hungary. I participated as an English teacher in summer camps held for children and young people in Baranya County, Hungary and visited weavers in Transcarpathia, Ukraine. There, Reformed Christians had launched clinics, homes for abandoned children, and Christian schools.

I walked the main street of Szent Laszlo, a Reformed village in Croatia that was ravaged during the Bosnian conflict.

Reformed Church
Szent Laszlo, Croatia 2001
Each trip made me more aware that the Hungarian character and culture would not be easily revealed and that I was limited because I could only see with my American eyes. Janos Erdos, my main contact with the Ars Longa Foundation, never volunteered explanations or offered tour-guide talks. He waited for questions and then answered but only obliquely. And after fifteen years, while some aspects have become clearer, I still cannot claim to really understand what it means to be Hungarian.

However, in most of the churches I visited between 1998 and 2002, I did recognize many of the Genevan Psalm tunes and could even sing along - sometimes. In Transcarpathia I saw full churches and wondered how faith had survived. Even in very small Reformed congregations, I heard psalms sung with remarkable conviction not only in the Ukraine, but also in Hungary, Rumania, and Croatia. I wondered about the music of the Genevan Psalter and the survival of faith and hope during the Communist era.

In 2003, with encouragement and support from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and with the logistical support of the Ars Longa Foundation of Hungary, I set off on a journey. I was part of a team that gathered the stories of Reformed Christians and the Genevan Psalter during the Communist period.

Looking back, I can say that while many may have felt abandoned by God and humankind, there were those whose faith sustained them through long hard years. And these men and women of faith survived with their spirits intact and a vision of God’s kingdom that has led to the rebuilding of churches, schools, homes for abandoned children, and clinics. A living faith blossomed in many communities; yet it has been a difficult road for the faithful – overcoming the destruction of trust and the withering of community cohesion. Rediscovering charity as the overflow of full and grateful hearts, these faithful men and women told stories that gave voice to the words of the Psalms, stories of hope and fear, doubt and faith, and most of all, of God’s amazing grace.


  1. Hi again. Posted below at your first entry. I also like the pictures!