From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17:26-28
By 2002, my continued encounters with Reformed Hungarians had made it clear that singing the Genevan Psalms was an important part of their worship and had provided courage and strength during decades of suffering, most recently during the communist period. Collecting stories of faith and survival began in earnest in March of 2003 when we made preliminary visits to Reformed pastors and lay people in Romania. One memorable March visit was with Reformed pastor, Ferenc Visky. (Vishkey)
He joined the Christian Endeavor (CE) movement through the words of a vibrant, young woman, Julia Sollich. She captured his spirit and his heart; they married not long after. As the core of its efforts, CE ministered to spiritual needs, but it also organized efforts to meet the physical needs of neglected members of society.
Both Ferenc and Julia participated in CE activities even when it was banned by Romania’s communist regime in 1948. In 1958, Ferenc was arrested for his work with the CE and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Dauntless, Julia continued with CE work, and was soon deported with their seven children to the Danube Delta labor camp system. In spite of the suffering that faced them, both Julia and Ferenc lived with the assurance that in spite of all that happened, God was never far from them.
That March meeting with Ferenc Visky began and continued in a fashion unlike any interview before or after. First, he invited us into his small office – Janos Erdos, my colleague, Geza, a theology student who served as my translator, and me. The first thing Visky said was, “Come, let us get close together like little pigs in this small pen. I don’t mean that you are pigs; I don’t want to begin by hurting anyone,” he paused and shrugged, “But if the shirt doesn’t fit, don’t wear it!”
Next, he turned to me and quite innocently asked whether my church sang any Genevan psalms. I responded that we sang a few but infrequently. However, I was quick to say that to my knowledge, we had never sung Psalm 119. He grinned. It was clear that though he had attained the age of 80, his mind was as sharp as ever. I think he was determined to discover whether I knew anything at all about the Psalms and was reassured that I wasn’t completely ignorant
Just to get dates and times out of the way, he briefly outlined his prison stay. “I was in prison from the end of May 1958 until August of 1964. Political prisoners were released in 1964. The decree of mercy was published in the spring, but it was not amnesty. This so-called decree of mercy meant that your punishment was only suspended but not cancelled.”
“We diligently sang the Genevan Psalms from the official psalm book of 1672, and in many of the Psalms we read the expression, Selah. I don’t know whether you are aware of a meaning of this expression, supposed to be untranslatable. I learned this from a Jewish Lutheran pastor, Richard Wurmbrand. What is Selah? Even its sound is fine. Wurmbrand explained that when a song finishes, it leaves a kind of sign, an echo in the congregation or in the singer. It leaves a sense of goodness and joy that lingers. Selah is the moment when you hear at once what has been sung, an impression beyond the melody and beyond the text.”
Visky then reflected on the words of Psalm 98, Sing to him, sing praise to him, tell of all his wonderful acts. “So, it is very interesting for me that the words, or the singing itself, is an imperative. It is not depending on my will, whether I am in the mood or not.”
The Lord said, ‘You praise.’
I answered, ‘But, Lord, I don’t feel like it; I’m not in the mood!’
The Lord replied, ‘I don’t care about your mood.’
‘But here I am, in prison.’
The Lord responded, ‘I told you that you must sing, and the fact that you are in prison or on a sinking ship, it’s not interesting, not important.’
Visky continued, “Do you know how good this is? Because if my singing is depending on whether it tastes good to me or not, then I pick and choose. You know, He says, He orders, ‘Sing new songs to the Lord!’”