Thursday, March 6, 2014

Whom Shall We Fear?

The Lord is my light and my salvation
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life,
of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1

I've been thinking about the purpose of the blog and also thinking about the hundreds of pages of material from the Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania that we gathered and translated. At first I had planned to include most of the material in the blog; now I'm taking a different tack. I'm working to publish the bulk of the material in a different medium, and will briefly introduce the men and women we interviewed and try to explain how their stories affected my thinking about the church and its mission. A young friend recently told m
Ilona Fulop served as the "executive secretary" of the parish.
e that she would like to hear more about my journey through East Central Europe and its effect on me. I'll try to do just that using short pieces from the interviews. And I'll try to remember to put my thoughts in italic.

Today, more about Ilona Fulop. I first met her in 1999 when I visited the church where her husband, Denes, was still serving. I soon realized that she was fearless, especially when she led us in the dark, over shaky scaffolds and through the construction site of a center to serve to the needy in the church district. Both she and Denes were instrumental in creating this center of welcome, warmth, and service in their city. Though Denes is gone, the ministry continues to this day.

In March of 2003, they told the following story over lunch, a few months before the official interviews began. 

Ilona knew that Denes was an extraordinary man when he came to her village. The Reformed church there had been torn by a conflict that began when a previous pastor had angered some of his parishioners. Denes knew that it would be a challenge, but was surprised by the conditions he found. The church building was neglected, the garden overgrown, and he had to share the manse with hoards of mice feasting on the grain stored there. The people from both sides watched and waited, eager to hear this latest lamb to determine whether, like the others, he was ready for slaughter. His first sermon surprised and confused them. Denes noted that the garden was filled with weeds and prickers, the gate broken, and the church neglected. He invited anyone who wished to help repair the church to join him the next day. "The End." Along with several others, Ilona took up the challenge and appeared the next day to help; she continued by his side for many years.

In June of 2003, the Fulops were one of the first subjects in Romania. Denes settled in the chair at the end of their dining room table, and the crew crowded in, equipment and all. It soon became clear that there wasn't much room for a silent observer, so I slipped out to find Ilona. I took pen and paper notes while we drank tea and talked without benefit of camera and crew. She told me how her family had been affected by the Communist regime.

I think that hearing the stories from the mouth of a warm, relaxed human being in an informal setting, somehow made them more real and believable.

Every small village in Romania was visited by an official of the state who was given the task of assessing and categorizing the villagers. All hardworking farmers were labeled kulaks. Although  the term kulak originally meant a wealthy, tight-fisted farmer, it came to be the designation for any farmer, wealthy or not, who resisted the confiscation of his land by the state. Once you were labeled a kulak, you were by definition an enemy of the state.

Here's what happened to her family. In 1959, when Ilona was still living at home, her father, a hardworking farmer, refused to sign away his land to the local collective. After repeated threats from local thugs and repeated refusals by her father, he had some help with his decision. One night a long black car stopped in front of their house and two security men offered him one last chance to sign away his farm. When he refused, they took him away. For six months, his family didn't know what had happened to him. When he returned home, everything was gone: the land, cattle, and all the farm machinery. From then on, grain grown on the farm belonged to the state, was collected and sent away, presumably to Russia.This story was repeated in every village of Romania.

At first, stories like these didn't keep me awake at night, but I was beginning to listen with different ears especially when Denes described his days in a camp at the mouth of the Danube Delta or Ilona described an incident in 1989, when the secret police came for their daughter in a long, black car. 

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