The streets were mobbed yet hushed. Few people looked at me; no one spoke to me. Hundreds stood at car-less street corners, obediently waiting for “GO”. Clothes choice seemed to be limited to grey-brown or brown-grey.
For someone brought up in rambunctious, sociable, rebellious, colorful Glasgow, Hungary in the late 1980′s was a really weird experience. At least initially. But as I slowly got to know many Christians in the privacy of their own homes, I gradually came to admire the resilient beauty of the Hungarian character, and to love the people of that long-suffering country.
As some of these persecuted Christians shared their physical, mental, and emotional scars, I also came to understand the public hush, fear, suspicion, and desire to blend in with the crowd. Decades of communist oppression had done its personality-destroying work.
Eastern Europe Spring
However, I also had the privilege of living through the “Eastern Europe Spring” when countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary took advantage of the weakening Soviet Union to throw off the shackles of Communist party rule and embrace long-lost democracy and freedom. Heady, unforgettable, tear-filled days!
But, at least in Hungary, these days were also tinged with deep concern and fervent prayer for neighboring Romania, still under the iron fist and foot of Nicolae Ceauscescu. As Hungary’s freedom blossomed, my work focused more on helping the refugees who were fleeing Romania, and also to getting basic food and clothing into the country, especially the Western area of Transylvania (yes, it’s a real place), where many Hungarians had friends and family.
Eventually, after a year or so, I had to return to Scotland. But as I told the story back in Scotland, many churches and individuals pressed money into my hand and urged me to return to pass on their love-gifts. Thus in December 1989, two poor Scottish students jumped into an ancient mini-car and drove 1600 event-filled miles to the Romanian border.
From euphoria to depression to euphoria
But our euphoria at arriving intact was soon turned to depression as we were turned back at the border despite having all our visas in order. We tried two more borders with the same result. We noted that the guards seemed more jumpy and aggressive than usual – some of them accusing us of being Western journalists – but thought little of it. We did comment that almost everyone else was turned back too.
We left the money with a Hungarian pastor to pass on to his Romanian contacts, and started on the long, weary, quiet journey home.
As we drove off the ferry and on to British soil, we turned on the radio to hear: “Ceauscescu has fallen.” Shivers tingled our spines and tears washed our faces. As we listened, we realized that the place we were driving to, Timisoara, had become the center of the Romanian revolution. Unknown to us, in these pre-cellphone days, while God had mercifully shut the door on us (1000 people died during the uprising), He had powerfully opened the doors of freedom to the Romanian people. A few hundred miles later, we heard the never-to-be forgotten news: “Nicolae Ceauscescu is dead.”
I often use that “God-of-the-impossible” memory to motivate prayer for the suffering people of North Korea. And I found my prayers further kindled this morning as I read New York Times editor Bill Keller’s piece, The Day After North Korea Collapses. Keller points to a number of factors that evidence widespread weakness in the present regime, and traces this to “human influences” like “market forces.” However, as we survey some of the providential developments in and around North Korea over the past few years, including “market forces,” we cannot but conclude: “This is the finger of God.”
Friends, we may be on the cusp of great times for humanity, freedom, and the Gospel in North Korea. Let’s daily encircle that weeping nation with prayer until “the walls come tumblin’ down,” and another despot hears those irresistible divine words: “Let my people go!”