Mr. Veldman is a member of the Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.

People have often in the past expressed to us interest in hearing the story of the Romanian refugee family which is attending our Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan. We have always been willing to share that I story with others, because we ourselves have been thrilled by the opportunity given us to have a part not only in this family’s coming to America, but more especially in their becoming members of the Protestant Reformed Churches in this country When therefore we were asked to write a short account of our experiences with this family we readily, though somewhat fearfully agreed to do so.

It was back in 1986 that I received a telephone call from Rev. Bekkering, informing me that a representative of “Freedom Flight Refugee Center” had contacted him to ask about our church’s willingness to sponsor a refugee family. At Rev. Bekkering’s request I met with the man to try to determine if there were any way in which we could work with that organization.

I learned that Freedom Flight Refugee Center works through churches, attempting to persuade as many of them as possible to become “sponsors.” We realized of course that sponsoring refugees is not the calling of the church, and we explained our position to the representative of Freedom Flight. At the same time, we expressed our willingness personally (i.e., as a family) to become involved in such a project.

Freedom Flight agreed to that arrangement and we were soon busy with them, in meeting after meeting, screening and evaluating the requests from the many families who had fled Romania and were waiting in refugee-camps. We learned that the majority of these families, who were of all kinds of religious backgrounds, gave political reasons for their flight. Only one declared that they had fled to escape persecution—persecution which they had to endure, partly because they were Hungarians in Romania, and more particularly because they were Hungarians who were Reformed Christians. We informed Freedom Flight Refugee Center that this family was our choice, and the Center in turn filled out the necessary application forms to file with our government, requesting that they permit this family to come to the U.S.A.

May we introduce to you at this time the Barabas (pronounced Bare’uh bus) family? The father’s name is Zoltan; the mother’s, Irma (with a Dutch r-r-r-r). The older of two sons is also named Zoltan, and the younger is Csaba. At the time of their flight from Romania, their ages were, respectively, 44, 42, 20, and 12. They had tried first to escape through Czechoslovakia. When that failed, they determined to make another attempt through Hungary. Being themselves Hungarian they had relatives in that country; and they prevailed upon an aunt to send them an invitation to come and visit her. With this invitation in hand, they went to the Romanian police and, to their great delight, were given permission to go. Now they could cross at least one border without trouble. But they were of course, for all that, still behind the “iron curtain.”

After visiting their aunt they boarded a train, not for Romania, but for Austria. They moved purposefully to the front part of the train. That gave them a slight advantage; for when the train stopped at the border, the first few cars were in Austria, while the rest-were yet in Hungary. That meant that the border guard who asked to see their passports was Austrian, not Hungarian. But in no way could they rest easy at that point. For though they could produce passports, it would be immediately clear, when they did so, that they had received no authorization from the Romanian government to travel to Austria. If the guard therefore would, in accord with international law, turn them back, then prison, or worse, would be their lot. Needless to Say, their hearts pounded. What will the border guard do? He looked at them, looked again at their passports, shook his head and said, “Get off the train…and may God bless you.”

They were overjoyed, of course, to be able to step out of that train onto “free” soil. What they did not anticipate however was that they faced in Austria a wait of no less than 22 months, living in a one-room apartment without running water. That’s a family of four!

The Barabases had come from a part of Romania called Transylvania. That was land which had once been part of Hungary but had been taken by Romania. Many of the Hungarians were forced to leave, and as many Romanians were moved in to take their place—in the hope that the Hungarians who remained would lose their ethnic identity. It happened that the Barabas family was left alone. They were allowed, too, with other Hungarians, to go to church. If, however, the people of the church planned an activity during the week, the communist government more often than not would find a reason to cancel it. Church services, though, were possible in Romania. And, ironically, now that they were in Austria, they found that that privilege was no longer available to them. For 22 long months in the refugee camp…no spiritual care!

Finally, in June of 1987, came the happy news to the Barabases, “You have a sponsor in the U.S.A.” More months passed however with little apparent progress. Then, early in 1988, there came a knock at their door. A stranger it was, and he asked simply, “Does the Barabas family live here?” After an initial, I fearful denial they admitted that they were in fact the Barabases. And who was the stranger standing at the door? None other than Bruce Jabaay from Faith Church in Jenison, Michigan. He had been in Germany, on a business trip, and decided to travel to Austria to look up the Barabas family. What a happy encouragement that was to the Barabases.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a “Laymen’s Committee” had been formed to make the necessary preparations for the arrival of the family from Romania. Through their work, and through the willing donations of individuals in various of our congregations, there was soon supplied adequate bedding, furniture, food, etc. During that time too, many of us corresponded with the Barabases regularly, even managing to send them a Hungarian Bible—since they had not dared to take their Bible with them out of Romania. Our letters were painstakingly translated by them, and their response to us was always to give God all of the praise and to trust in Him Who had so marvelously given them escape.

Finally on July 21, 1988, the big day arrived. The Barabas family landed at the airport. Though it was a daytime arrival, there was a good-sized crowd waiting for them. A gratifying experience that was, for them; but then began the hard work of settling in a new country. The language barrier was of course the most immediate and the greatest obstacle. Now they had actually to learn that terribly difficult English! Even with their thorough acquaintance with the Heidelberg Catechism, the drift of the sermons in Faith Church still often passes them by.

For the boys, this is different. Zoltan, Jr. understand everything now—since he had a good beginning in the basic English he had taken in school in Romania. Csaba has advanced more slowly, but nevertheless steadily. Very soon after the family’s arrival, he went to our Hope School to be tutored by our patient and helpful Miss Winifred Koole. Now he is attending our Heritage School, and catechism classes in Faith Church. And he’s even beginning to forget some Hungarian words!

Right from the start, they have been happily employed in the woodworking and building trade. They are very good at their work. Several times we have received calls indicating that their craftsmanship is much appreciated.

Mr. and Mrs. Barabas still find the English language a handicap. They do in spite of it experience the friendship of the members at Faith Church. But our hope is that they may begin better to master the language, so that there may also, by the working of the Spirit through the preached Word, be a growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Savior.

The family is happy to be in this free country. But their hearts go out to their daughter and her husband and family who live yet in Romania—as well as to both Zoltan’s and Irma’s parents. All is not well in Transylvania. Now there is fighting between Romanians and Hungarians. The Barabases here have taken steps to try to help their daughter and her family to move to the U.S.A. That’s not likely to happen soon, however, because for the present the grandparents need the protection of this young family in Romania.

More and more we realize that we live in perilous times. God’s sovereign power is clearly visible not only in floods and in earthquakes but also in revolutions. We in this country have yet a great measure of freedom. Let us pray for, and, as we have opportunity, help those who are terribly persecuted, in other lands, for their faith. The King’s command is:

“Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (Heb. 13:13).

“For the Lord heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners” (Ps. 69:33).