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  • Beth Lantinga

Into the Underground

In this post, Daniel Szabo describes his involvement with underground work in Romania during the late 1950s. He mentions Trianon, a reference to the treaty signed following World War I, a treaty more harsh for the crumbling remains of the Austro-Hungarian empire than for Germany. More than half of the territory considered theirs by Hungarians was pared away and distributed among surrounding countries. In Romania, the treaty disrupted life in villages that had been inhabited by Hungarians for centuries, and exacerbated relations between Romanian, Hungarian, and German villages. At the end of World War II, Stalin ignored earlier agreements and treaties, saying that the one who controls the land, controls its destiny. With the backing of Soviet troops, Stalinism was imposed on the people of Romania. Its leaders overpowered all opposition, but increased pressure on Hungarians after the failed revolution of 1956. Anyone who dared breathe a hint of opposition or appeared to disagree, was sent off the prison camps, known as death camps for dissidents. Everyone lived in fear and hunger, not only for food, but more importantly, for freedom. Daniel Szabo’s smuggler story continues here.

Daniel Szabo Telling the Story in 2003

From my position at the hotel, I began to clearly see the circumstances around me. I realized that there was much work to do and that we would need more freedom to do it. Then I read in Galatians 5 about the fruits of the spirit and read that against such things and behavior there is no law. The Bible is not some confused teaching or anachronism, but is absolutely true. There is no law in the world that tells you to love your enemy or to forgive those who have hurt you. I realized then that I am free to do anything for the Lord and for his people when the law violates the Lord’s higher law. So, I began to do some kind of underground work.

Into Romania

I never wanted to work in Romania because it was too much to look at the result of Trianon and to see the misery of our people there. I felt like weeping because I could not change the situation. Then one day a friend of mine who had just been visiting in Romania told me about a pastor who had been hospitalized for a long time following a terrible auto accident. My friend said, ‘Dani, that pastor needs some parts to repair his damaged car. We need a group of people to smuggle parts over the border.’ So I went and arrived at the hospital, and there was my acquaintance, totally helpless in bed with fifteen or more broken bones in his legs and arms. When I saw him, I began to weep. I couldn’t keep from crying. He was for me a symbol of the Transylvanian Hungarian Reformed Christian situation – in prison, lame, hindered, broken. From his hospital bed he asked why I was crying. I said that it was because of everything I had seen of the situation in Romania. He told me, ‘Dani, don’t cry; work!’ Really then, the Lord touched my heart. It’s all right to cry, but we may not stop with the crying; we must also work. The Lord helped me commit myself to underground work and I learned to be a smuggler. With three others we made a team. We traveled often and visited families where a father or someone from the family was arrested, those who had come back from prison, or pastors who were committed to Christian work under this pressure.

We smuggled Bibles, books, theological writings, medicine, food and clothes over the border into Romania. We learned well how to hide things. We smuggled out manuscripts and memoirs from Romania, sending them to my brother in Canada and my sister who translated them into English to tell what was happening in Romania. It was a dangerous thing to do, but we were not the only ones, and we were not the bravest people – I never have been a brave man – but the Lord gave us this work to do and we did it. It was a joy to be able to do it. More and more I was convinced that it was out of our power. It was the Lord’s work.

We met a special professor, Janos Dobri, who had been in prison himself for six years He was a good strategist and taught us how to move and work. He gathered the news and knew who needed help. We smuggled money over the border, money we had gathered from my brother-in-law and from dear Dutch Reformed people in Holland, and gave it to Janos Dobri. Then he had money for gasoline and for many things. When we arrived, he would be ready with a plan of who we would visit and how. It was dangerous for the people we visited so we never told them who else we were visiting. Later some Dutch people from Kampen went to Romania for conferences. I was invited to translate for these Dutch professors. Although they were covert and hidden, the conferences happened every year over and over. The professors and I kept coming back. I felt more and more at home in this Hungarian part of Romania.

Footnote: In October 2003, the Cluj Theological University awarded Daniel Szabo an honorary doctorate in recognition of his work to relieve the suffering of Reformed Christians in Romania during the years of the dictatorship.

Serving With an Open Heart

Now – it wasn’t easy even inside Romanian Reformed society where sharply defined categories created splits and rifts. There were pietist groups, folk church groups, historical Reformed thinkers and so on. Not everybody could accept our free movement from one group to another. Sometimes they even asked how we could help the others who were not real Christians. This was our response. If somebody suffers for the Lord even now; and among the groups there are children and orphans; and if those who are sick can’t manage for themselves; and there is a congregation that needs help; and a committed pastor who can’t do it on his own; we don’t differentiate in such a strict way because there are all kinds of disciples. As time passed, our team became larger and larger and even involved some professors from the theological academy. The Lord taught us how to manage more things. It came to a point where we could smuggle some dollars and even buy a whole pig in Romania on the black market – a big 200 kilogram pig. Then we would give money for people to carry packages of 20 or 30 kg of meat. Then they could prepare twenty – twenty five packages from that. So we had only to smuggle the money somewhere. And we came nearer and nearer to the suffering people.

Janos Dobri Klara Dobri Denes and Ilona Fulop

In addition to working with Janos Dobri, we also worked with the parents of Laszlo Tokes, the Hungarian Reformed lion. Starting with little steps, the Lord showed us that national commitment and hearts full of love for our dear people was not enough to give them. Really, we needed the Gospel – they needed the Gospel – because the pressure was more than human power could stand. We have to honor any human effort, any positive human behavior, but we must also know that only the Lord is able to preserve our nation. Therefore, the more we are following the Lord and the service of the Lord in his kingdom, the more we do hope that the nation will survive for the Lord and be useful for the Lord.

Not Alone

The Lord helped us develop some special friendships with people from Holland, then later from Germany, Ireland, and Scotland. At last a consensus grew that Denes Fulop would found an orphanage. So our Scottish friends took me to Scotland and then to Ireland and with my terrible English I preached there, and we were able to collect the money to buy the home. Then later the Dutch and others came to help complete this and other projects. So after the preaching it came together, and later we joined together with full heart with Denes and Deszo Bustya to provide medicine and cheap doctor visits.

Ferenc and Julia Visky Laszlo Tokes Istvan Tokes

Sometimes in the very cold winter times we slept in the car when it was minus 15 and sometimes minus 20 because it was too dangerous for us to spend the night with a family. So often we moved about only during the night, and when we were exhausted, we sometimes slept on the floor, hidden in houses during the day. We were careful not to make problems for the families, not to bring additional persecution and interrogation on them. So we usually just slept in the car.

Many important church leaders came out of prison after seven or eight years: the Viskys, Tokes, Dobri, Fulop and many others, historical church personalities – absolutely terrified and absolutely free people in their hearts, people who loved the Lord. They couldn’t always love each other, but always loved the Lord. Sometimes they made distinctions about who was nearer to the Lord or who was farther from the Lord, but that wasn’t my question. It was given to us to love them, to honor them, to serve them, to sense the differences and to be wise about how to move, what to tell here or there – but to love them all and even those who were the so-called unbelievers, the secularized Reformed Christians. We were convinced that serving them all was the Lord’s work.


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