I grew up understanding how the world worked. East and West, the fracturing of Europe after the war, the continuing cold war. It was just how it was. What went on behind the Iron Curtain was the subject of spy novels and a mystery to most of us. I avidly read books like Bother Andrew’s ‘God’s Smuggler’ as a boy, amazed at the terrifying adventures and near misses. Never really thinking that things would be any different, that this closed, controlled world of the communist regime would open up.
Of course it did, and it is now with some awe that I find myself working into Romania, amongst believers who lived through these times, whose lives are still shaped so profoundly by having endured the totalitarian regime. Today, I can travel door to door from my house and be in a city in a former Communist state in under 6 hours. Today I can openly visit churches, preach the gospel, carry a bible, all without fear of imprisonment or worse.
It is hard to express just how incredible these changes are in such a relatively short period of time. To remind myself, I have been reading Brother Andrew’s old book again this week, writing of a time when he visited Romania under cover in the early 1960’s in order to smuggle in bibles. Here is a taster to whet your appetite:
‘It took me four hours to cross the Romanian border. When I pulled up to the checkpoint I thought I was in luck, only half a dozen cars in front of me. When forty minutes passed and the first car was still being inspected I assumed they must have something on him to take so long. But when that car finally left and the next inspection took half an hour too I began to worry. Literally everything that family was carrying had to be taken out and spread on the ground. Every car in the line was put through the same routine. The fourth inspection lasted for well over an hour. The guards took the driver inside and kept him there whilst they removed hub caps, took his engine apart, removed seats.
‘Lord what am I going to do?’ I said as there was just one car ahead of me. Any serious inspection will show up these Romanian bibles straight away.
‘Lord, I know that no amount of cleverness on my part can get me through this border search. Dare I ask for a miracle? Let me take some of these bibles out and leave them in the open where they can be seen. Then Lord, I cannot possibly be depending on my own strategies, I will be depending utterly upon you.’
While the last car was going through its chilling inspection, I managed to take several bibles from their hiding places and pile them in the seat beside me.
It was my turn, I put the little VW into low gear and inched up to the officer standing at the left side of the road, handed him my papers and started to get out. But his knee was against the door holding it closed. He looked at my photograph in the passport, scribbled something down, shoved the papers back under my nose, and abruptly waved me on.
Surely thirty seconds had not passed. I started the engine and inched forward. Was I supposed to pull over, out of the way where the car could be taken apart? Was I?....surely I wasn’t….I coasted forward, my foot poised above the brake.
Nothing happened. I looked in the rear view mirror, the guard was waving the next car to a stop, indicating to the driver that he had to get out. On I drove a few more yards. The guard was having the driver behind me open the hood of his car. And then I was too far away to doubt that indeed I had made it through that incredible check point in the space of thirty seconds.’