We just spent our evening meal with an 88 year old retired pastor, Paul’s former pastor, who told us story after story about growing up and leading the church under communism. He was leading several churches while in his late teens and early 20’s. He was finally ordained when he was 28 years old and already married. His wife knew what it would mean for him to be ordained under communist leadership and was not initially happy with his decision. Nonetheless, she stood beside him throughout her life, opening her home to multitudes of believers who visited and sometimes stayed with them.
He told how he went to study in the park one evening in 1946 because the Christians were praying in his house and he had an exam in school the next day. As he tried to study he began to realize that perhaps the Lord would visit the prayer meeting and he didn’t want to miss Him, so he hurried home. The Lord met him powerfully in the front room of his home in 1948, which led to his becoming a leader in the church.
He and his wife began a fellowship in the living room of their small home. That group grew to several hundred over the years. During the time of great repression, their church was the only one in the country that had an active ministry for college students. They had over 300 students each week in a Bible study. When the officials told him he could not hold such a study, he challenged their reasoning, stating this was the only place where these students could come together in a decent environment and meet and perhaps form healthy families. The local authorities were so impressed with his arguments, they asked him to write them down so they could be presented to higher authorities, who ultimately allowed them to continue.
He was constantly under threat of arrest and imprisonment and had to report every Monday to the authorities to explain exactly what went on during services the preceding Sunday. They demanded a list of everyone who was baptized. He was only allowed to baptize those who came from Christian homes, but many from “unrepentant” homes (as they were called) would come to him and beg with tears to be baptized. So he would baptize them. There was at least one informant in the church who would let the authorities know he was going beyond what they had allowed. Somehow he always managed to convince them he was doing what was required.
He indicates the degree of faith was considerably stronger under persecution. He knows the church has grown considerably since the fall of the communist regime, but he sees a lack of deep commitment.
Fascinating man. It was a great blessing to listen to him and to watch his face glow as he recalled his early days in ministry.
Tomorrow Paul and I will drive to Budapest where we will spend the night. I fly out on Thursday. Thanks so much for your prayers.