Without God, All is Gray

Last week in our Sunday School hour we welcomed Ande Truman, a missionary who is raising support to go to Trnava in Slovakia with a Christian ministry called “The Building.”  She will be doing several things there, including teaching English, building relationships with Slovak teenagers and sharing the gospel with them, and using her graphic design skills to publicize the ministry there.

When I was younger, I read quite a bit about life under Communism.  It is now almost 20 years since Communist rule ended in Czechoslovakia (which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993), but it appears that the scars of Communism still remain.

The most visible sign of Communist rule is in architecture.  Buildings from the Communist era (1940s-1980s) are instantly recognizeable by their plainness and ugliness.  (They are even uglier than American public housing from that era.)  Marxism, as a political embodiment of atheism, had no place for beauty.  Older Slovakian buildings had character, and newer buildings also look nice, but there is a 40-year period of ugliness.  Even in their advertising, they do not use much color now, so Miss Truman is actually trying to figure out a good “look” for the ministry, which will be attractive but not “over the top.”  

Social and family relationships were also harmed by Communism.  I remember from some older books like “The Bridge at Andau”, by James Michener, that the Communist government encouraged everyone to spy on everyone else.  Neighbors were encouraged to turn in neighbors for “un-patriotic activities”, and even children were asked questions in school to determine if their parents were “good citizens” or were “subversive.”  Miss Truman mentioned that one difficulty with ministering in Slovakia is that people are not very open with each other, and it can be hard to form trusting relationships.  This could well be a result of a generation when it was very dangerous to trust your neighbor, or even to tell your family what you really thought.

Finally, there is now a spiritual vacuum in Slovakia.  The country was once Catholic, with some other religious minorities, but of course that was suppressed by Communism, which tried to enforce atheism.  Now the Communists are gone, but the Catholic Church is weak and many Catholics barely practice their religion.  Meanwhile, atheism is increasing, and there are probably some cults moving in.  

The Bible pithily describes a period when Israel was oppressed by foreigners:

Village life in Israel ceased (Judges 5:7).

This seems to be an apt description of the oppression, both political and spiritual, which engulfed Slovakia and other Eastern European nationss under rulers who sought to banish God from society, and who sought to re-make man according to Marxist theory.  As the rulers rejected God, they also damaged just about everything that people care about.

Let us pray that Miss Truman and the small ministry there provide an effective Christian witness in the town of Trnava, and that the gospel will work powerfully in the Slovak culture.


14 thoughts on “Without God, All is Gray

  1. Hi Ray… Sad to know that’s been the case during those years! The family-structure is so important and they completely ruined it! During my teaching training we studied the communism..(and I know they don’t study it anymore in SA) because communism has a way of damaging education. Anyway..here is a link.. when I met hubby…he supported this organisation in SA…they are doing great work too in countries all over the world…on this link you can see in what countries they work and till a few years back, they had big difficulties to get into some of the countries they work in, it was always interesting to read their newsletters and to see what they were going through to bring the Word of God to those people who needed it.
    Nice post!

  2. That is interesting about Open Doors. I read God’s Smuggler a long time ago. It is good to see that they are still working, but the target areas have changed a lot since the 1950’s, when the main focus was Eastern Europe.

  3. What’s really interesting about this is that for most of my life, I have had this mental image of the old communist East as literally being black and white, like black and white film. I suppose it goes back to seeing old film footage from the 50’s or something, and then western media not having gotten much video out of there after color film became common. As I got older, I realized that obviously, it’s not all black and white — trees and grass are still green and so forth. Yet I still couldn’t help conjuring up a picture of colorlessness in my mind when I would think of these places.

    It’s interesting to realize that my image wasn’t all that far off — except for naturally occurring color, there really hasn’t been much. We got the same story a few years ago from the appropriately named Eastmans who are ministering in East Berlin. Maybe my slightly confused mental images reflected reality somehow.

    Come to think of it, someone named Truman going to Slovakia also has its irony. God has a sense of humor, definitely.

  4. Hi Ray… yes, it did change as I can recall the one day in Church when they reported about the Open Doors…and the work they were doing at that stage… it was a country in Eastern Europe which is not on their list anymore… they told us that Sunday how they got help from a man near Greece…he worked on a ship and how he helped them to smuggle the Bibles through- I don’t know if it was from Greece, but I know it was in that area…it’s quite a long time ago now..you know…memory lost… 😉 but I think those people did a wonderful job! always put their lives at risk for God… guts… that’s what you have to have.

  5. Zielona Góra

    Not all Communist-era high rises are gray. Look in the windows of many and you’ll find beautiful lace, hand made curtains. And maybe a huge pot of geraniums on the windowsill.

    The CR, Slovakia, and southern Poland share the Tatras mtn range. It’s quite beautiful. I was in the Karkonosze range in northern CR last year.

    Slovakia has made pretty astounding progress in recent years with increasing their GDP and standard of living. I’m very familiar with Poland, and speak with colleagues there everyday. I’ve heard the argument from other Americans that their society is still gloomy, poor, turning to Atheism…It’s not. I think too many of us grew up with this strange bias or sense of depression when we think of nations formerly occupied or controlled by the USSR. It’s turning around. Maybe not so quickly in Russia itself. Ask a Slovak or Pole about Russia’s government and the joke is “Russia doesn’t even understand it’s own government.” They’re proud of escaping the depressed conditions that existed in the early 1980s, and are very pronounced about this.

    Eastern Europe is a very fascinating place which I would like to travel to again. I think you may be surprised when you see it for yourself.

  6. Sure, Melissa, and the missionary mentioned that people were painting some of the buildings to spruce things up. But that’s an alteration to the original, made more recently.

    The point is that the communist worldview apparently produced colorlessness, outwardly. And it probably reflects something inward as well.

  7. I thought that, too, to some extent. But the Poles, for example, are a very self-effacing lot. There’s a movie I watched at some point before going over there – Mis (The Teddy Bear). It’s a “comedy” about early 80s Communist Poland. Despite the fact the country was so bleak, they claim this to be one of the best comedies ever made. Somewhat of a “yeah it was real, but hey, look at us now!” sort of attitude.

    The Communist viewpoint did indeed produce that, but it’s not so apparent. You notice the effect more in business dealings – the spying bit, yeah, that’s right on. They’re very protective of intellectual property (not saying that we’re not anal retentive about this in the States as well), but unless you’re accepted into social or business circles, conversation can be mimimal or it may seem they’re keeping “mum.” This varies from generation to generation, too. There are very specific hierarchies of formality in business and in social situations. Things can come off as cold, abrupt, and to the point in initial dealings. It’s very different, of course, when you get to know people well and use their informal names.

  8. Fair enough. Americans do tend to think that people who don’t go slopping their thoughts and feelings all over everybody else at the drop of a hat are somehow “cold,” when it’s just a different cultural personality. But Ande did mention that, and yet I think her thought having spent time there, was that there was an oppression of spirits (in the mundane sense) that went beyond that, as well.

  9. hi SheWhoPUT ..sorry to shorten your nickname! 😉
    I do agree with you about colour… during my training as a teacher, we studied communism and Marx…etc… and we also said that “they” didn’t like colour…and “they” also looked at all “rubbish” of “art” and suddenly “evertything” was “art”… art which you and I know for sure, is not art, was in “their” eyes “art”… (same with music)

  10. On an somewhat related note, I remember listening to some “New Soviet Music” on our National Public Radio station once.

    The title of the piece was “Dnieper River Power Plant,” which was described as “the dorkiest piece of music ever written.

    It sounded like you would expect a hydroelectric plant to sound, if the generators were not lubricated properly.

  11. I think Poland is the only place I’ve been in which I witnessed a 60 year old man rocking out to techno on the radio.

    It made me LOL, but totally with respect, since that’s the majority of what plays on my own radio. I still listen to Polish and German radio online for the dance remixes. Good stuff 🙂

    Russian music is…interesting…haha.

  12. Thanks for writing a bit about what we talked about a few weeks ago at the missions conference. You are right in that it has really been since the fall of communism that colors, architecture and even art has dramatically changed for the better. Melissa, you’re also right in that Slovakia has made some astounding progress in the past few decades, especially in their economy.

    Atheism is on the rise though, and that’s seen in factual statistics. I gave some stats about the Czech having an extremely high ratio of atheists as well. My Slovak friends tell me that the Roman Catholic churches are becoming less and less populated, and usually just left with mostly people from the older generations.

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