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  • Beth Lantinga

Literature or Liturgy, Pastor or Professor?

When Denes Fulop was finishing secondary school, his dearest hope was to attend university to study literature and writing. But his acceptance into the university was blocked by the word kulak. Here is what happened.

By 1947, Romania’s communist party had seized power and quickly moved to follow Stalin’s blueprint for rapid industrialization. Workers had to come from somewhere, and that meant from peasant villages. As in Russia, Romania’s leaders used the power of the state to collectivize small peasant holdings and turn farmers into factory workers. In the Soviet Union, a peasant resister was labeled a kulak and declared an enemy of the state. It meant death or deportation.

Peasants in Romania proved to be as reluctant to follow the plan as those in the Soviet Union. Communist leaders developed a Romanian-style method to speed along the collectivization process. They sent hand-picked party loyalists to each village to identify potential dissidents and apply the kulak label. Denes described how the label, kulak, affected him.

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“Although this new, communist system always spoke of the alliance of the factory workers and the peasants, it was a short-lived affair. Factory workers had been trained during evening meetings to be ideological servants of the system. Once trained, they were made leaders of village councils, with the power to decide the fate of the people. Such a man came to our village.

Like the other peasants in our village, our family was not wealthy, but we worked very hard. For example, we had horses, so two or three times each week my father went to the salt mines to haul heavy carts filled with salt. We had a stable, but certainly not a rich income for village people. When the party man came, he discovered that there really were no bourgeioise in the village, but nonetheless, he had to separate the peasants into three categories: poor, middle, and bourgeois. According to his decision, my father was bourgeois, a kulak.

After high school, without a doubt, I wanted to enter the university I entered a nationwide academic competition and finished near the top. However, because I attended a trade school, I needed the approval of 100% of the board to qualify for entrance to the university. My father was a kulak, so I did not receive this approval and was denied entrance to the university.

Unfortunately, I was of the age when young people were invited to join the army, so if I couldn’t attend the university, I would have been forced to join the army to labor in a southern Carpathian coal mine. I chose to attend the Reformed seminary, though it was not a glorious or bright period in my life. It was a period of doubt and spiritual crisis.


In the seminary, literary matters were always tempting me, and I also began to write, and many of my writings were published. One time I postponed taking my exams and had to repeat a whole year. The rector of the seminary called me into his office and told me that a small village church wanted a seminary student to come and serve there. He sent me there.

Working in this parish, my whole world turned. I went there with folksongs and psalms that I wanted to teach the youth. Even though those youngsters were working hard at the harvest, they came each evening to sing. The community we had there was a real, living community and we experienced joy in finding it. After this, I returned to the seminary a changed man, ready to serve.

After graduating from the seminary, I became an assistant pastor in the church in Marosvarsarhely/Targu Mures where they had a worship service each morning and evening. I served there for a few years, working every minute. Because it was an intellectual congregation, committed to questions of faith and life, I honored and respected these people. I was also a bit afraid and often went to the pulpit with fear and trembling to speak the word of God to them. Though I was dropped into deep water, I can say today that it was the grace of God that I worked among them. But this period of my life was quite short.


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