This month, there is another, equally important 25th Anniversary commemoration worth remembering: the December, 1989 bloody revolution which brought down the cruel Romanian Communist regime of President Ceausescu. The catalyst in the chain of events which unfolded the following two years — the freedom movement sweeping across Communist-dominated Eastern Europe was ONE courageous young man: a youth Pastor and his congregation of committed believers in Jesus Christ! It eventually caused the Iron Curtain to fall, The story is compelling enough that, although published five years ago on the 20th Anniversary of the event, I have chosen to do a reprint of that article which you will find below — our Christmas gift to you!
In God’s providence, years earlier, I had a small — but not insignificant part — in the dramatic story by helping save the life of this young pastor, Laszlo Tokes, who became known as the man who sparked the Revolution!
This Christmas, as we look to the nations, we see so much darkness, turmoil, war, and suffering — especially in the region of the Middle East. In many ways, the unrest and uproar against wicked regimes and religious oppression in those countries are comparable to the situation in the communist countries just before the Iron Curtain fell. We believe another curtain is about to fall, this time in the Middle East — and the doors to sharing the Gospel will be wide open!
Friends—let us not take our liberty and freedom of expression of our faith and convictions for granted! The descriptions of the names of Jesus Christ, written by the Prophet Isaiah (9:6-7) 700 years before His birth, echoed down the generations for another 2000 years, testifying that He is indeed the Light of the World (John 8:12)! This son mentioned in Isaiah, also said about himself in John 8:36, “If the Son makes you free, you become free indeed!”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”
DECEMBER 1989 – 25 YEARS AGO – THE FALL OF EASTERN EUROPE’S IRON CURTAIN
Ephesians 2:10 declares, “… for we are His (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Have you noticed that these good works are most of the time not bombastic, earth-shattering events, but sometimes a string of day-to-day “happenings”? They are likened to a woven tapestry; we see only the pattern on the top side, but on the underside the Master Weaver has intricately interwoven connections of the threads which each represents a human life. When we as believers live in harmony with God and one another and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, His purposes are accomplished on this earth!
The Lord did the greatest miracle in the history of mankind — the birth of Jesus, by revealing Himself to a young maiden who simply responded, “Lord, let it be to me according to your will”. She bought forth EMMANUEL – God with Us!
My Christmas gift to you is a reprint of a true story from my life. It involves a Mission Director in Germany, a Theology Professor and his Pastor son in Romania, a Senior Pastor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and myself. The “happenings” in each of our lives intersected as woven threads, and— unknowingly at the time, we each had a part in helping spare the life of the very person who became the spark-plug in bringing down the Iron Curtain!
A CHRISTMAS STORY – A Personal Testimony by R.K. Ulrich
1983— Christmas and Händel’s Messiah
From my seat in the balcony, I glanced around the white cathedral sanctuary festively decorated with hundreds of red poinsettias, filled to capacity with men and women in their best attire. The massive, magnificent pipe organ above the altar provided a majestic background for the 100 voice choir and full orchestra of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC) as the magnificent annual Christmas performance of Händel‘s Messiah echoed throughout the building.
Leaning back, while enjoying the rich beauty of the sights and sounds of the music, pondering the profound depth of scripture verses from Isaiah to Revelation describing our Savior, I began sobbing and simply could not stop. It was a heart cry of intercession on behalf of the hundreds of wonderful brothers and sisters I had met from the underground, suffering church in countries behind the Iron Curtain while serving a two year tenure with an East European Mission located in München (Munich), Germany. I was emotionally distraught at the tremendous wealth displayed in this church sanctuary, while the Christian brothers and sisters I had just left behind in Eastern Europe did not even have their rudimentary physical needs met. Just a few weeks prior, I had returned permanently to the States from my stay at the Mission with a commission from the Lord: a vision of a bridge spanning America, Europe, and the Soviet Union with the words, “Return to the States and be a Bridge – do not build one!“ I was to be a voice in the West, representing the believers who were suffering for their faith in the oppressive communist countries, while being a conduit for bringing resources from the believers in the West across this Bridge to the East (2. Cor. 9: 6-15).
During this concert, I had a sense that somehow, in God‘s providence, He had plans to intertwine His purposes for the persecuted church in Eastern Europe, CRPC and myself.
1984 — CRPC Missions Conference
After my return from Europe to the States with the new commission, I re-established myself in Fort Lauderdale. A lovely elderly couple in our local church gave me a condo for rent at a price I could afford. It was in that place, with the help of my church leaders and the Mission in Germany, that the small beginnings of The Bridge originated. It “happened” to be located nearby Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church whose dynamic senior pastor, Dr. D. James Kennedy, was well known for his strong stand against the evil of atheist communism, calling it a religion.
Through one of the teachers at their school, Westminster Academy, I “happened” to be invited to speak to the students on missions. As a result, in the Spring of 1984, I “happened” to be invited to participate at the annual week-long Missions Conference of the church, whereby missionaries from around the world participated. It culminated in the Missions Sunday service, where I “happened” to be chosen from among all the participating missionaries to present the passion for world missions to the congregation during Sunday service.
Mission Trip to Romania
The Bridge was given a generous donation of $1,500 for my participation—the exact amount I needed to go on a mission trip to Romania, which I did under the auspices of my friends at the Mission in Germany. It was one of my many courier trips during which a co-worker and I would clandestinely deliver Bibles and other Christian material to our specific contact persons within the country. This time, before I left for the trip, the Director at the Mission “happened” to ask me if I would take a side-trip to the city of Cluj, located in Transylvania (a part of Romania dominated by ethnic Hungarians, home of the notorious Dracula) to check out the situation of a persecuted Christian leader who had asked for help.
After the delivery of the pre-scheduled material to our precious believers, my co-worker and I drove through mountains and forests and arrived in Cluj late in the evening, in an effort to evade the infamous Securitate (secret police, known for its brutality). We found the address, sneaked into the dingy apartment building, quietly walked up the many stairs, and tapped the secret signal on the appropriate door. A stately, elderly gentleman opened the door and, without a word, waved us into the apartment which indicated that he was a cultured, well read intellectual.
Quietly, in German, Istvan Tokes began to tell an incredulous story. He was a senior professor of theology at the Reformed Seminary in town, and had for years been intimidated and threatened by Ceausescu’s leaders to collaborate in the government’s atheist agenda against the Christian believers. “At times, the pressure became too great; I gave in and helped spread disinformation through the church”, he admitted, tears running down his cheeks. He continued, “I have a son, Laszlo, who is a youth leader in one of our churches in the city of Timisoara. There is revival among the youth there. Watching their faith and courage has made me repent. Lately, I have also been speaking openly about the abuses of the regime and standing up for the church of Jesus Christ!”
Istvan then told us that he had learned that government officials had secretly plotted to kill both him and his son — one to be caused by a car accident, the other by radioactive material to be placed in the doorpost of his house. He then “happened” to hand me a typed, three page statement in German, outlining details of Ceausescu’s atrocities against the church and a plea for him and his son’s life. He asked if I would bring this document to America and give it to influential people, preferably in Washington DC, who could make their situation public? I accepted this precious document which was typed on an old-style typewriter. After we had prayed and said goodbye, I took the document and hid it in one of my boots — aware that, if discovered, I might be arrested and charged with Western espionage. There were stories told about Western couriers who had disappeared while on their trips, presumably caught and placed in Siberian prison camps.
Dr. D. James D. Kennedy
God had his protective hand over us; my co-worker and I returned safely to the Mission in Germany. From there I flew back to the States. I had no clue whom to contact. I did not know any prominent American government officials! The first I did, was to translate the document into English. Then, I “happened” to consider that the funds for this trip had actually been provided by Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church — why not contact Dr. Kennedy? After all, both men were Reformed theologians! I made an appointment. Dr. Kennedy met with me and graciously gave me ample time to present my plea for help to save the lives of these two valuable Romanian servants of the Lord. “What can I do?” he asked. “Please inform people who can give this maximum exposure”, I pleaded, while handing a copies of the original and translated documents over to him, “Ceausescu will never kill these men if he knows it will give him bad press in America.” Dr. Kennedy promised to pursue the matter. I left, confident that the Tokes family were in good hands and under God’s protective wings.
1987 — Wedding and Food Parcels
in the ensuing years, with my partners in the US and overseas, I kept building the network of relationships of The Bridge International, domestically and internationally. Our powerful bi-monthly intercessory group prayed continually throughout the eighties that God would smash the Iron Curtain and open the doors for the Gospel. The believers kept suffering!
In 1987, when Steve and I married, we asked that our family and friends, in lieu of wedding gifts, donate a monetary gift via The Bridge toward food parcels for starving Christian families in Romania. Over $6,000 was sent overseas. Steve and I joined hands and hearts, and – while living in South Florida, have continues serving the nations with the Gospel with one hand, while doing business with the other.
1989— Fall of the Iron Curtain
In the late eighties, media news reported on freedom movements that had begun emerging in Eastern Europe. It began with the Pope’s visit to Poland and the Solidarity uprising led by Lech Walesa. Increasing in scope and intensity, it caused, in the Fall of 1989, a largely bloodless political upheaval in Poland, continued in Hungary, then led to what became known as the “Velvet Revolution” – a surge of mostly peaceful revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country to execute its head of states!
Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu
Nothing matched what happened in Romania! During his 21 years as Romania’s president, Nicolae Ceausescu, one of Communism’s most cruel and oppressive dictators, kept up a reign of fear, suppressing all opposition with the help of the brutal Securitate, with the largest network of spies and informers in Eastern Europe. In December 1989, his downfall came as a result of his violent overreaction to public unrest over issues such as food shortages.
A week later, while standing in line at the grocery store, I picked up a news magazine from the nearby rack. On he front was an image of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu’s dead bodies, shot to death by their own people! As I read the feature article, I was stunned – it described Romania’s bloody revolution and revealed an incredulous tale – Lazlo Tokes and his father, Istvan, were the two Romanian pastors I had pleaded to be helped by Dr. Kennedy! Following is an excerpt from this news-article:
“Laszlo Tokes — the man who Sparked the Revolution! It began on December 15, with demonstrations in the western city of Timisoara against the harassment of a dissident ethnic-Hungarian Reformed Church pastor, Laszlo Tokes, who had the courage to speak up against the atrocities in his country. On that day, an order was served to remove Laszlo from his post, causing his congregation to demonstrate against the order, which was violently put down by government security forces. The revolt blazed a trail to Bucharest and the rest of the country. This soon swelled into a massive protest, during which slogans like “We want bread” soon turned into “Down with Ceausescu”.
Ceausescu sought to restore his own authority, but amid bloody street battles on December 22, an angry mass of people stormed Ceausescu’s offices. He fled by helicopter, but was seized outside the city. In a summary court martial held in secret, he and his wife, Elena, were accused of ordering the deaths of 60,000 people. On Christmas Day, they were shot to death.”
Dr. D. James Kennedy recounts in one of his books, “Interestingly, in the providence of God, I may have had a small hand in that situation. In the mid‑1980ties, I had been asked by a woman missionary, working behind the Iron Curtain, to write a letter to Nicolae Ceausescu. She wanted me to tell him to stop harassing two pastors in Romania , a father and son (who was a youth minister). Frankly, I felt such a letter would be in vain. Why would a Communist dictator thousands of miles away listen to an American preacher? But I wrote it anyway. I mentioned that the eyes of the world would be on the situation. After the tyrant’s fall, I received a note from the missionary thanking me for that letter which I had forgotten all about. She said that after my correspondence, “although the harassments did not stop against the Tokes family, they had diminished. The important part is that their lives were spared.” The name of the youth minister was Laszlo Tokes, the man who had been instrumental in the fall of Communism in Romania!”
On December 16, 2009, on the occasion of the anniversary of 20 years since the fall of the communist regime, U.S. Ambassador to Bucharest, Mark Gitenstein, compared Laszlo Tokes with Martin Luther King. “When Laszlo appeared in the window and gestured his followers to come close, he was not aware that the Romanian revolution started at that moment. With that simple sign of encouragement he said in fact: ‘Come here and let’s confront tyranny’. The same as Martin Luther King and Rosei Parks, Laszlo Tokes inspired those who were deprived of any right, to exert their God given rights, and so he gave the signal of the Revolution’s start”.