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Interview with Visky Andras

In 1944, the Communists liberated Eastern Europe from Nazi oppression, but by 1948, the Communists had imposed complete tyrannical rule. They tried to forcefully silence Christians, because Christianity was a threat to the regime

This copy appeared in the program booklet for Divine Reverberations.

Christians were manipulated and forced to preach propaganda thinly veiled as sermons. Christians who resisted were imprisoned in prison camps called gulags. In these gulags Christians were starved, beaten, brainwashed, and killed.

Over 40,000 Hungarians were used by the regime to spy on their neighbors. By 1953 almost every family had a member in a gulag. Forty percent of men taken to the gulags never returned home. In the Ukraine alone, 21 million people died under Communist rule (roughly three times the number of those killed in Nazi camps).

Many, but not all, of these pastors knew each other, and, while all of them were imprisoned, not all of them were imprisoned together.

INTERVIEW WITH VISKY ANDRAS

Visky Andras (Visky is the family name) and his wife, Sarolta, live in Cluj, Romania, with their four children. Andras is a poet, playwright, and theatre professor at Babes-Bolyai University. The play he wrote about his mother's life won a prize from Magyar Radio and is now in its second season at Thalia Theatre in Budapest. Sarolta is a founder of and teacher at Protestant Elementary School, the first Hungarian Reformed school of its kind in Romania. It uses the Montessori method and raises scholarship money to take in orphans and street children.

Visky Andras attended the Calvin Worship Symposium in January 2004. He saw Divine Reverberations,which included his father's stories; he spoke with the actors and audience; and he shared these thoughts.

We are Hungarians, ethnically Transylvanian. My father, Visky Ferenc, was a pastor. He was sentenced in 1958 when I was one year old. My mother, Visky Julia, continued the church activities of my father.

We-seven children and our mother-were taken away a few months later, when the authorities realized she could not become coerced or frightened. We all came back, practically together, in 1964.

I have an official paper that says that I, at almost two years of age, was a dangerous animal of Communism. We were put in a prison camp in southeast Romania. German prisoners after World War II constructed the village streets in the shape of a hammer and sickle.

Prisoners are the most free people, because everything for them is about daily survival. It's a great experience to know that not just your stomach is hungry, but also your bones and skin. Hungriness is your shape, your form. Hunger becomes a metaphysical problem.

We developed a deep relationship with grass-my mother tried to prepare it well. When we arrived in the camp, my oldest brother was only 11. My brothers learned to fish during the night, when the guards couldn't see them. Not so far from us was a very very nice vineyard. During summer, when it was easier to survive, my brothers would steal foods for us.

My mother was a genius in trying to help us forget our hungriness, telling us stories of our father, learning us to sing, to pray for something to eat. We fell asleep listening to endless stories of my father.

I don't remember to have a Genevan Psalter in the camp. But we sang them daily. My mother was a church organ player. She had a lovely voice. People were telling her that in other circumstances she would be a professional.

In my family the Genevan Psalms are considered traditionally the most valuable way of singing. When my father would go to a new congregation after prison, the first thing he would do is find out how many psalms they knew.

There was a Franciscan priest in that camp who was Hungarian. But we were the only Hungarian family. We didn't speak the Romanian language. A Romanian university student, sentenced for helping Hungarians, was very kind with us. He taught us to speak the language, so we could go to the school in the camp. The teachers there were also prisoners. Now all of us have university degrees.

A very important Romanian literature professor was in that camp, and he was so kind to my mother. He would come to our hut and say, "Okay, Julia. I will take three or four of these boys off with me for a while. You rest now."

We had one Bible. I remember this very well. When we left the prison camp, my mother gave it to the professor. Even now when I meet him, he reminds me. He is amazed to find me a professor.

At our mealtimes now, we sing, we have a Bible passage, and we pray together. For my teenage daughter, the most precious is Psalm 24. We sing Psalms in church, too. In the Transylvania Reformed Church, we have two districts. I was raised in the west district, which had psalms in our hymnbooks. Now I live in the east/central district. I advocated to change our hymnbook and now we have every psalm.

I am not a very conservative thing. I am doing theatre. But the Genevan Psalms are very important to me. At my university, the students have to know and learn about the Psalms. Otherwise they cannot understand the Hungarian literature.

In the gospels, we read we are to be stewards of the kingdom, stewards of the old and new. We need to acknowledge the whole of Christianity. It could be easy to make our Christianity uniformized-but that is not Christian.

To a congregation, the body of Christ must mean various languages. I am not you. You are not me. Still, the Genevan Psalms can be so vigorous in expression. Please don't forget that David and Asaph were great poets. If we would not forget Shakespeare, we should not forget Asaph. (Asaph is actually a family name, not a person.) The Psalms have been part of worship since ancient life.

I had a rock band in high school. You know what the name of our band was? Asaph. My brother Peter is a minister nearby, and our sons and their cousins have a band. They chose a name: Asaph Junior.

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