Tyranny and Trust: Meet Lajos Gulacsy
Guard my life and rescue me, let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. Psalm 25: 20
In a recent post you met Barna Horkay, one of the authors of the infamous letter to Stalin. He was the first of the Eastern Circle of Friends to be arrested and was sent to Siberia. In this post you will meet Lajos Gulacsy, another member of the circle who was arrested and sent to a Kazkastan camp, another showplace of Soviet hospitality. Though gracious, Gulacsy made it clear that his days were full and we should not dally.
We were able to catch him following the mid-week service at the Reformed Church in the town of Munkacs/Mukachevo, Ukraine. Having met him in 1998, I began by saying that Rev. Gulacsy didn’t look any different at all. His response revealed a man whose agenda was still full in spite of his 78 years. “It’s because each year I subtract one. There is no time to get old because there are still so many tasks.”
Gulacsy was pleased to show us the medical clinic in a nearby building. The clinic was needed, he said, because the collapse of the former system left a poverty-stricken population without health care. With the support of the church, a group of doctors, mostly from his congregation, created a clinic that kept health care within the reach of those who needed it most. And then he led us into the church for the interview.
“Another project,” he continued, “Is an old people’s home and another is a Gypsy conference center. Right now, today, 40 children are attending a summer camp in the village of Papi. I would like you to see it.” We assured him that we were looking forward to a visit to the camp that afternoon. That assurance seemed a good end to the introductions, and all it took was a question about church life and he began.
“By the end of WW II, the church in Karpatalja, the Hungarian designation for Sub-carpathia, was not as active and faithful as it should have been. It was evident in the life of the pastors when forty left their congregations and escaped to Hungary before the Russians came. Those who stayed were afraid because they had heard terrible things about the Soviets - how people working in churches were arrested and interrogated.
The Soviet strategy was to torture church people to convert them. The goal was not just to silence the pastors, but to turn them into spokesmen for communism. They used three ways: torture, humiliation, and threats to prisoners’ families and children. Everyone was afraid and many who could, escaped. Where there was not true faith and trust in God, it was easy to step away.
In this situation, where the fear was so strong, the remaining pastors formed a group of friends to preach, encourage, and bring faith and trust to the people. Tension developed within the group. One side said that to be active would draw the attention of the Russians; they advised being quiet. But the mission-minded group argued that the time was short, and if they did not begin working immediately, there would not be time later.
The Soviets declared that everyone could worship as they pleased because in the Soviet Union there was religious freedom. It was a lie! They used that brief period to watch to see who was really working in the church, and they made a detailed record of who was doing what. Those who did little were not dangerous – ones the authorities could pay off with money or position. It was an evil tactic. We who stayed were part of the Eastern Circle of Friends and conducted Bible studies, crusades, and worship services, held confirmation classes, and organized youth camps. About 35 pastors did this work. You already met Barna Horkay who was a leader of the group.
In 1947 the leaders of the Circle of Friends wrote a letter to Stalin - and that’s when the trouble really began. Only four leaders wrote the letter - including Barna Horkay - so as not to endanger the others. I knew about it, but because the writers didn’t tell us the exact content, we could truthfully say that we didn’t know when the rest of us were questioned. Today we see that the Reformed pastors here were brave to write this. Twenty-four of us were arrested and none of us denied our faith, but endured the humiliation and pain.”