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  • Beth Lantinga

Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid?

When we conducted the interviews in 2003, several people mentioned – somewhat offhandedly – that they had counted on the Americans to come and help them. Of course, they did not know that their fate had been decided in 1943 when Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met in Tehran to plan the future. Perhaps President Roosevelt was naïve, or perhaps his acquiescence to Stalin’s demand for control of East Central Europe was tactical. In any case, Stalin’s intentions were clear when in 1945 he said, “This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise. ”Abandoned by the West, hundreds and thousands of Christians, like Visky, were incarcerated because they opposed the ideology of the regime. But many never abandoned trust in God’s loving care. In this post Visky’s knowledge of Latin was a surprising source of hope.

“I want to tell you something about this Gherla prison housed in the Martinuzzi castle built during the years of Empress Maria Theresa. When we were taken through the prison yard into the inner palace, we had to pass through the main entrance gate. The palace was built in the Gothic style with stone carvings and engravings – you might see, for example, engraved stars – all the interior is charming.

Whenever we passed through the entrance gate, we saw the words engraved above the gate, DOMINVS ADIVTOR ET PROTECTOR QVEM TIMEBO, God is my help and my fortress, of whom should I be afraid. It was written, of course, in Latin. What luck! The Communists did not understand Latin. The words didn’t tell them anything, but it did tell something to those who were jailed there.

Genuine Ecumenism

“Let me tell you about Jozsef, a priest I met in prison; we were together there for a long time. He has since moved into eternity, but he was a bright and good man, a Roman Catholic pastor honored by our family. Some Roman Catholic pastors with whom we lived in a sense of saintly ecumenism are still living. In the situation in which we were living, it would have been a great luxury to quarrel over minor differences. I hardly believe that Shadrach and Abednego were arguing over theological questions in the fiery furnace. It was obvious that the priest was preserved by the same God who also saved us. Sharp denominational differences and pride died in prison. It turned out that we were all only human.”

You must know that I was often together with Romanian Orthodox and Greek Catholic priests, even with bishops. However, in prison, you cannot behave as a bishop for very long. There you reveal who you really are. Somehow, prison is the place where men undress and only the slippers remain. In prison I shared an iron bed with an orthodox priest called Dorova. We slept head to foot, foot to head. More than once I woke up, aware that this Romanian Orthodox Dorova had covered my feet with the smelly, horsehair blanket that we shared.”

The American Connection

“This story is for our American sister. After my release we were living in the manse, and one day, some members of the congregation came to us to say that a large car had stopped in front of the gate, a large car with an American flag on it. Remember that every one of our steps was watched by the Securitate, the secret police. So, we invited the people from the big, black car to come in. Two men introduced themselves, and one of them said that he was the secretary of the American embassy in Bucharest.

As you can guess, I was not very happy and said to them, ‘My dear sirs, you should have applied some basic common sense. Here the authorities know everything about us. They see and take pictures of everything. They will see this car, and tomorrow I will be taken by the Securitate.’ The secretary who knew some Romanian said, “Look, we couldn’t come incognito; we would have been seen as spies. We could only come in an official capacity, and that is why we are here as we are.’

I decided that since they were there, I wouldn’t be able to deny their presence, so I might as well accept the situation and talk with them. They had many questions about my experiences and asked me to answer them. Then the secretary told me that President Reagan had written me a letter. The president had heard about me through connections with the United Nations Security Council. Janos Butosi was a member of the Security Council. He and I had been colleagues in the Budapest seminary, and when he went to the United States from Budapest, he knew about our situation.

In another way we can also know God’s strategy. A Romanian engineer and his family asked for asylum in the United States. A member of his family became a housecleaner for the Reagans. So, the difficult state of the brothers in Romania was also known by President Reagan in this way. Of course, I never held the Reagan letter in my hands because it was surely stopped by the Securitate, but I got the message that the president had written me a letter. Maybe he thought that his position and authority could provide some kind of protection for our family, and maybe it helped. Though I was interrogated many times by Romania’s central intelligence, they never asked me about my connection with the American president.”

This was the last March 2003 story. We would see him again in June.


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