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  • Beth Lantinga

Living in Romania


During my conversation with Ilona Fulop, a small neighbor boy joined us, snuggling close to her, and the phone rang more than once . It was clear that her regular responsibilities were calling, but she finished telling their story.


In 1973 Denes moved to the parish in Harmosfalu (Tre Sate), a series of three villages whose pastor had decided to go study in Holland, a curious fact since most citizens were forbidden to travel even to neighboring Hungary. When Denes asked what he was planning to do, the pastor replied that he was going to write an article about the true Richard Wurmbrand. He said that Wurmbrand had told lies about his torture and imprisonment in Romania. Denes knew the truth, though, that everything Wurmbrand had written was true; in 1959 Denes had spent time in a cell with him. Though travel restrictions for pastors were severly enforced, it was interesting that the regime allowed this pastor to go to Holland for the sole purpose of discrediting Wurmbrand.


After his release from the labor camp, Denes was always under surveillance. For years, the state security officials used other Reformed pastors to spy on him. One young pastor, a friend coerced into spying on Denes, faced an impossible dilemma. If he didn’t report, he would be in trouble, but betraying Denes was unthinkable. Really, he was in agony and couldn’t sleep or eat. Finally, he went to an old, respected pastor, and poured out his heart. The old pastor advised him to go to Denes and tell him the truth and ask his help with answers to the Securitate’s questions. That’s what he did and together they answered in a way that hurt neither of them. This is how pastors helped each other.

By 1988, Denes and I were very much in the habit of resisting the intimidation and the fear tactics of the local official bullies. The testing never ended though. One time, following our regular Thursday evening Bible study, we showed the film, Gandhi. A young theology student had picked up the film from another pastor who had highly recommended it, so we showed it. We were not surprised when, on Saturday, a state security official came by and demanded to know about the terrible film. Obviously, someone in the church had already told him, but when I gave the title, he acted horrified and shocked growling, ‘How did you dare show it?’ Instead of answering his question I asked one of my own: ‘Did you see the movie?’ He looked a little embarrassed, and when he said, ‘No,’ I asked how he dared criticize such a good film without having seen it. Then he gruffly asked, ‘Are you trying to make a revolution?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ I answered, ‘Me and all the old women of the village!’ He made one last attempt to frighten me by threatening to take me to the Securitate for questioning. ‘Why don’t you arrest everyone who saw it? I replied. He was baffled by my attitude, so he left, realizing that this was a battle he would not win.


Some of the pastors in Romania were becoming bolder and resisting more openly in 1988. One of these was Laszlo Tokes who organized students to take part in protest activities. Let me tell you something about him. I believe that he will be an important historical figure even though he is often attacked and criticized, especially by fellow pastors. His biggest fault is that he speaks impulsively without stopping to consider the implications when he might benefit from sleeping on it.


I helped his effort by making backpacks for the students, even though this would link me with the protestors. It was a bit risky. On the same day that I turned over the clandestine backpacks, some friends from Japan were in Romania for a wedding and stopped in to visit Denes and me. The wedding hosts had an extra cake and gave it to the Japanese couple who then brought it as a gift to us. Five minutes after the torte arrived, so did a Securitate agent. I was worried that he had discovered my involvement with the protesting students and the backpacks, but I smiled with relief when he asked whether the Japanese ambassador was in our home. Attempting a snarl, he demanded ‘And what did he give you?’ ‘Let me show you,’ I responded and brought out the torte. I offered him some, but he declined, not graciously I might add. When I offered him some palinka (brandy) instead, he turned and stalked out.


By this time, we were usually cautious about everything, but one evening in 1989, I made a mistake. That afternoon, visitors from Holland had dropped by while Denes and I were out at a funeral. Our children, Denes and Zsuzsi, were at home and knew how to be good hosts. They prepared coffee for the guests. Someone was watching. Around 6:00, Zsuzsi left to play flute in a local concert. So when a voice on the phone, said he worked at the Continental Hotel and asked for Zsuzsi to come and translate for his friends, I wasn’t suspicious. I assumed it was one of our visitors from Holland and said that Zsuzsi was playing flute at a concert but would be free later in the evening.


When I hung up the phone, Denes looked at me with alarm and I knew instantly that I had made a mistake. We immediately sent our son to the concert to warn Zsuzsi, but it was too late. She was already in one of the long black Securite cars. When our son protested, he too was taken along with Zsuzsi to headquarters for questioning. The interrogation lasted for 25 hours. The kids were held in separate rooms the whole time, each worried that the other might be thrown to the dogs. This was one of the nightmarish tales circulated by the authorities to create terror and quash rebellious aspirations. When the children did not come home, we tried to call some of our contacts but discovered that our phone line had been cut. After a long night and a day, the children were released unharmed, but you must know, they were shaken.

Following the overthrow of Ceausescu and his regime in 1989, Fulop played a role in quelling violent civic disturbances in Marosvasarhely (Targu Mures). Reflecting on those events, he advised clerics to do whatever they could to eliminate harmful and dangerous nationalistic attitudes. Both Denes and Ilona knew that rebuilding society would be a long difficult task. Yet they jumped in, and along with many others, they worked to establish a drop-in center where street children can receive a hot meal each day, an orphanage, and an elders’ home. In addition, their community has begun a program for elderly people in need of daily meals and regular visits from a nurse. A program also began to assist large families with safe affordable housing. They have also launched summer camps to teach life skills to village children. Though Denes Fulop’s earthly story ended in 2005, his vision for a healed community is still alive.

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 © Beth Lantinga 2020