THE WALL IS DOWN!
The Wall had just come down that had kept Eastern Europe "captive" - isolated from the rest of the world, which included Bibles and many other things, which included medicine, food and news. Because Neal and I were going to a Conference in Austria, where he was one of the speakers, we were asked to continue on into Czechoslovakia (then, still one country) and Romania to find out what their needs were - now that the "Wall" was down. The organization that asked us was one that had secretly provided Bibles for them for many years.
So! We rented a car and began our journey, armed with a map and names and addresses, that the people had deliberately scrambled for their own protection while under communism. There were no cellphones, and no Internet in those days! Can you even imagine that?! And we were supposed to sort it all out.
The Red Cross put big red crosses on our white rental car and gave us a letter to help us to be able to get across borders, since we were carrying medicine to the people. The next step was to pick up as many Bibles as we could in Germany, since that also was our mission.
How did we "feel" about this trip? We were excited and happy to be doing it, but also had some feelings of having "cold feet" - to be going into such an unknown area to do unfamiliar activities - alone! We needed to be sure of God's leading! And, of course, we would have to find places to stay all along the way!
We crossed the border into Hungary and just asked a woman on the street where we could find a place to stay. She directed us to Level, which was an amazing, new enterprise where they had rooms for rent, a snack bar and full meals. The next morning, we headed for Budapest. We saw signs for IBUS, which was a tourist information place. There we picked up a map of the city, and - from a list, they called a private home for us to rent a room - in an apartment with a lady and her son. Can you even imagine doing that?! Of course, freedom had only been in Hungary a very short time, but they were very quick to take positive opportunities that they now had.
We had been told that there was no unleaded gas in Romania, so we bought 3 big gas cans to fill with unleaded gas, as the car required that! We were able to make one good contact out of the three contacts' information that we had been given. We had no language in common - but we managed to communicate, very awkwardly, with a Hungarian/English phrase paperback book that we carried.
I was amazed at how Neal was already getting familiar with the city and drove so well, even with all the one way and dead-end streets! He could read the maps and street signs, even in the foreign language! I can't even read maps in English! We found a wholesale place and bought flour, rice, sugar, coffee and medicines to take into Romania. Next, we had to find unleaded gas to fill the cans. It is so easy to write this, but the activities in these 2 paragraphs took a 14-hour day!!
The next day we drove until we were close to the border that we needed to cross into Romania the next morning. We were blessed to find a very nice Panzio (B&B) where we had dinner and stayed overnight. I can still remember the delicious stuffed cabbage we ate for dinner there! There were others staying there who were taking food and medicine to an orphanage in the Eastern part of Romania, as they had done on a previous trip. The drive was interesting. We saw women in dresses and stockings riding bicycles, and we saw huge birds in nests on top of telephone poles - they were storks. There were miles of fields with beautiful wildflowers.
The next morning, we bought bread, cheese, juice, peanuts, oranges, bananas, etc. and crossed the border into Romania. We had no problem because of the big red crosses on the car and also the Red Cross letter we carried. Our first stop was at a Pastor's house in Oradea, where we listened to him debrief and enthusiastically share plans for the future - now that they had freedom. We learned a lot, which often happens to all of us when we are good listeners. Next morning, we left him Bible Study tapes, coffee, bananas & oranges and then continued on our way.
Our next city was Cluj-Napoca, where we met Don and Lydia and their 2 little girls. They were very happy to receive the Bible study and music tapes and our company! They insisted that we sleep at their house, which we were happy to do. Don took us to see his work at their church - sculptures and paintings, and then by a square where a crowd was "talking" - with obvious unrest. Don said we needed to leave there, quickly, which we did.
We were up early the next morning to go to a wedding with the family. This was totally unexpected, but we knew that we really needed to "flow" with things on this trip. We left the house at 9a.m. to go to a ceremony at the groom's house, then we all went to the bride's house. We learned that this was the normal way things went in that country.
Next, we went to the church, where we all had gathered - from 10-1! It was extremely crowded with people standing all along walls, and it was very hot inside! After the wedding, we all went to a hotel banquet room from 1:30-5! The first plate was sliced salami and cheese, a slice of ham, tomato, 3 small meatballs, deviled eggs, bread, juice and mineral water! We thought that was all - it was enough! Then there was soup, followed by sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. Next came the scalloped potatoes and sliced pork roast & beef roast!! Then dessert on top of all of that!
The Pastor had Neal give a greeting and he shared briefly from Colossians 1. The next surprise was that the pastor asked Neal to preach that night, with an emphasis on youth. There was only 45 minutes between the wedding and reception and the meeting! Neal shared Hosea 14. After church it was discovered that someone had let the air out of two of Don's tires! So, two people used bike pumps to refill the tires. Also, the car battery was bad, so he always had to push start!
Following all of that, people came over to Don's house until past midnight to talk about differences in what we did in our churches at home and their traditions. Questions, like – is standing to pray cultural or Scriptural? Finally, we all prayed together and ate again! Noodles with cheese, dessert and tea!
On our way South from Cluj, we stopped to leave some American goods at the home of relatives of our friend in California. They had no phone, so we just showed up. They insisted on serving us food, which included lard – yes! just pig fat compressed, and cut into slabs, sandwiched between two pieces of bread, along with cucumbers and turnips, flan and Vodka!! We ate as little as possible, yet to be polite and 2 tiny sips of vodka. We just could not get any more down! They very graciously sent the bottle with us, not knowing that we don't drink at all. We debated while driving what to do with the Vodka. We sure didn't want it in the car if we had an accident! So, we finally left it by a building along the road.
Our next stop was in Brasov - I hope you are following us on a map! We visited with our contacts, and then the Dad took us to the hotel where we could stay free because of bringing aid. After settling in around 8p.m., we went for a long walk to get some exercise and decompress until 9:30. It was still light and we saw the bullet holes in the school buildings and the store fronts, where shots had been fired from government buildings and left big gouges. This was from when the people rebelled from the harsh rule of communism.
We spent the next day with another contact we had been given - a family and their friend. I listened mostly to the 19-year-old daughter about relationship problems. They were all Christians, except the husband and daughter thought the wife/mom might be a "spy" for the old government! Can you even imagine that within the immediate family?! They wanted Christian music tapes, just instrumental. Also, more tapes like Hi-Tops. They asked for tapes on spiritual warfare, prayer, Creation, etc. We talked about seminars in the future, asking which subjects were most needed. They also wanted a book on medicines because they didn't know how to use them, as they had not had medicines available before!
We retraced our way back to Cluj to Don & Lydia's house, where we had dinner and stayed the night. We spent quite a bit of time listening and talking about his vision for concerts, evangelism, hotel, study room, sports room, snack shop. Goodbyes were sad the next morning. It is amazing how you can bond with someone so quickly!
We drove back to Angela's Panzio where we had stayed before. Besides the food and our room, it was good to talk and debrief with others returning from their trips of delivering things. There was actually a Lorry (truck) that had been driven clear from Wales bringing humanitarian supplies!
The next day we arrived back in Budapest. The previous place we had stayed in was full, so we decided to try the Citadella - there was a cancellation!! Our original plan was to stay there, but it had been full. We walked all around it and enjoyed being able to see the Buda side and the Pest side and overlook the Danube River! We were so excited and happy to be able to stay there!!
Then a terrible pain started in my right jaw, my teeth, my eye, and temple!! I took 2 Melubrina, 4 hours later Chlortrimeton, 4 hrs. later Tempra - just to take the edge off. The next morning, we went out for breakfast and discovered this place definitely had a night culture, because almost all the places were closed until 11-12 noon! So, we bought some fruit and bread and then went to rest. Later in the day we had stuffed pancakes! We really liked the atmosphere in Budapest - a man playing violin on the street, artists painting along the Danube River, a band playing, etc. But we had to move on, as this wasn't a vacation! :-)
As we drove the long route along the river to the Czechoslovakian border, it was raining lightly. We parked for a break along the river and ate at a quiet homey little place. But then as we approached the city of Bratislava, I felt such spiritual darkness - it was strongly repelling! I asked Neal to stop because I did NOT want to go into that city! He pointed out that there were 2 major contacts there that we needed to talk with. I still nearly begged him to not go into that city! Finally, we agreed that we would leave the city before turning in for the night. Hindsight, it was oppression, yes, but I also believe it was a battle to prevent the good that came in following years.
We knocked on the door of the first contact - it was cautiously opened by the 19-year-old son, Peter. Who were we? Who were we looking for? Why were we there? Etc? When he was convinced of who sent us and why, we were invited in. Then he called his parents to come home from where they were visiting a married son. What an amazing time! They had been a major receiver of Bibles before the "Wall" came down and had a secret room in the house where they kept them. They were SO HUNGRY for news from the free world! They had just hooked up to CNN and were shocked at the news they heard about the free world.
It was hard for them to believe, as they had been told all during the previous years under communism that the rest of the world was no better off than they were, as they had no medicine either, that food was very scarce - rationed, like theirs was. Yet they were seeing and hearing a different story on the TV.
So, there was question after question – also, like what makes a church "alive". How the teaching was - preaching or systematic study of the Word, etc., plus their sharing the spiritual hunger and strong Christian commitment of the people there. Dinner was put on the table and we were eating by 9p.m. They had begged us to stay overnight - Neal looked at me - I said yes! This family, this place, the talking and praying together would have made the whole trip worthwhile!! And the fruit that came out of that visit would take pages to share!
The next day Peter took us to meet with our other contact, who was a pastor who also had received Bibles from the organization we were representing. We had been asking in each place how they could be helped now that the "Wall" was down. His request was for a team to come and do a public outreach in a park - which had never been done before and was very scary to him, but he wanted it.
Traveling on to the next contact in another city was harder to find because of how the names and addresses had been deliberately scrambled under communism. Eventually we found one of the contacts, who was obviously very poor. He wanted Bibles, New Testaments, blank cassettes to copy sermons and Christian music, as did all the previous places, both in Romania and Bratislava. We were invited to stay overnight, but we went on to the next contact we had been asked to make. As we drove, we noticed how the people still wore very dark and drab clothes and how it was all so quiet on the streets. They did not know how to live free yet, as it had only been a few months, after years of not having freedom, nor medicines, nor enough to eat, etc.
So, another city and Neal, amazingly, found the contact we had been given - on a short, dirt road. They also wanted Bibles and New Testaments. We were about to leave for the next city, but he asked us to please stay, and his wife had made a small meal for us. Probably it was all that they had - a macaroni salad, bread, lemonade, some kind of canned meat - all in the size of an ice cream dish. He asked us to please stay and spend the night, which we did. We were able to help the 2 young daughters with their English lessons.
On our drive out of CZ towards Germany, we wanted to get a meal, but there were no signs, all of the buildings looked the same, and we had no contacts. So, as Neal was driving, I saw a woman walking on the sidewalk. I said, "Stop - I will ask that woman where we can go". So, by sign-language, meaning rubbing my stomach, making motions of putting food into my mouth, shrugging my shoulders and looking around, etc. - she got the message. She pointed, and counting out 2 blocks with her fingers, motioned to turn, and so on. We followed the directions and got to a building with no signs, and it looked just like all of the other buildings in the area. This was common under communism to make it more difficult for police to know who/what/where. We gingerly opened the door, and there was a busy restaurant inside. We had no words in common but communicated with motions that we were hungry. The waiter chose what for us to eat, brought it and we ate the delicious food - not knowing some of what we were actually eating. Another interesting, fun experience!
READ more stories by Neal and Yvonne Pirolo!