Saturday, February 1, 2014

Denes Fulop and the Case of Richard Wurmbrand

In March of 2003, I traveled to Romania for preliminary meetings with the men and women we planned to interview in the summer. We talked with Denes Fulop for an hour before we shared lunch together. From those conversations, I gleaned a kind of overview of his life just before and
He chose to serve - 2003
following his arrest. 

Was Denes Fulop a terrorist?

As part of its attempt to control people and movements, Romania’s Communist government decided to join two universities, one Romanian and the other Hungarian. Denes had been asked to represent the seminary at a meeting of students from both universities. There was one other blot on his record. While still a student,Denes had attended the trial of Geza Paskandy, a well-known Transylvanian poet and writer. These anti-state activities guaranteed a visit from the secret police - three years later. The securitate had been busy hunting down other threats, but Denes remained on the list.

In 1959, Denes Fulop was one of hundreds swept up in massive arrests of pastors, students, and others labeled enemies of the state.  He was beaten, interrogated, tried twice,  and sentenced to 11 years in prison to be followed by 10 more years under government control. He spent one year in the prison and three years at a the Danube Delta. He was released in 1963 because of pressure from the U.S. government, but remained under government control for several years.

So What About Richard Wurmbrand?

At that March meeting I asked whether he knew a pastor called Richard Wurmbrand. He not only knew him, but in 1959, Denes had shared a cell with him. I was surprised to hear him describe Wurmbrand as brilliant, extremely kind, deeply humble, courageous, and a man of great faith. His description did not much correspond with the man described by my cohort in the U.S. They hinted at moral flaws and dismissed him as a bit of a crackpot. However, other Reformed pastors in Romania shared Fulop's view and affirmed that Wurmbrand was responsible for sustaining hope when brainwashing, torture, and starvation drove many to long for death.

Denes illustrated Wurmbrand's character with this story. In the Romanian prisons, conditions were especially harsh for political prisoners. It didn't take many weeks for them to be reduced to skin and bones. Denes, like others fed just enough slop to stay alive, soon was in the same state. Everyone was always hungry and longed for home, remembering the scent of roasting pork in their mothers' kitchens.

Richard Wurmbrand, however, never participated in these sessions. Instead, each week he gave his dinner to the person who was suffering the most. Denes wondered how Wurmbrand, a large-boned man, could do such a thing and asked, “How can you do this when you yourself are skinny and starving?” Wurmbrand answered, “You can survive forced hunger by choosing voluntarily to be hungry.” Denes watched and copied Wurmbrand, no longer talking about food  or complaining about hunger. And he found the near starvation endurable.

Pastor Fulop wondered how and why Richard Wurmbrand was known so differently in the United States than among Christians in Romania. So did I.

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