By Steve Wallace
Recent events in Eastern Europe have stirred the hearts of freedom loving people all over the world. These happenings, epitomized by the breaching of the Berlin Wall, have come with such suddenness that we in the West have been stunned at the reports of the rapid decline of the Communist regimes and encouraged at the progress of reforms. Thoughts that we would not have dared to think are now becoming realities. The governments that have stood in the way of our actively and openly spreading the gospel in these countries are disappearing. In this light, what are the present possibilities of preaching the gospel in Eastern Europe? Specifically, could a man locate in one of these countries and preach? Having recently spoken with officials of three of these countries, I would like to give the results of my findings. In light of the ongoing reforms in these countries some of the conditions for establishing permanent residence will change for the better.
In order to get some firsthand information, I recently visited Prague, Czechoslovakia. One seeking to move to this country must report to the Czech embassy in Washington, D.C. to apply for permission for permanent residence there. At the present time the Czechs are most interested in Czech nationals who have emigrated from their country and are interested in returning. Therefore, it would be a real advantage if one had relatives in Czechoslovakia. According to the official I spoke with at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague, in the coming months changes will take place which will allow all who are financially supported and have housing in Czechoslovakia to move there. Realizing the problem one in the U.S. would have of first finding housing in Czechoslovakia and then applying for residency through the embassy in Washington, I asked if there was some other way. Two answers were given: (1) At present some higher authorities in the Czech government are of the opinion that one should be able to enter the country with a visa and then apply for residency after having found housing (30 day visas are fairly easy to obtain for each of the three countries dealt with in this article); (2) The official I spoke with was of the opinion that, in the future, it will be possible for one to simply prove that he has the money for housing in order to receive permission for permanent residence. If anyone is interested in moving to Czechoslovakia (or any other East block country for that matter), I will try to help from this end. I am confident that, under the existing conditions, it would not be much of a problem to locate there.
The progress of reforms has resulted in a more open environment for the teaching of the gospel in Czechoslovakia. Bibles can be purchased in the Czech language. It is lawful to hand out tracts and one can say what he wants on the street. One lady I spoke to was a member of a Pentecostal church. She said that, in the past, the authorities would sometimes hinder them from assembling but now everything had changed. Perhaps the situation there is best summed up by pointing out that the Jehovah Witnesses are allowed to do their work there.
There is a teacher shortage in Czechoslovakia. Teachers of the English language, sciences, and industrial skills are needed. Since most of the countries in Eastern Europe seem to be moving towards a market economy one would have to think that a number of relevant positions will be opening up.
One question that always comes up when one considers moving is the cost of living. It would be very cheap for an American to live in Czechoslovakia with the exchange rates being what they are. The following examples bear this out: One can buy a house in Czechoslovakia for $10,000 to $15,000. In case anyone does not know, they have electricity and running water. At a butcher shop on Wenceslas Square there were over 30 different kinds of meat ranging in price from one dollar to three dollars per kilogram (2.20 lbs.). Oranges sell for about 35 cents a kilogram. While the standard of living is not the same as in America, an American could live there without much discomfort or inconvenience.
Of the three countries reviewed herein, East Germany is in the most uncertain stage of reform. In spite of this, my questions to a representative of the East German government in Bonn, West Germany, produced encouraging results. As with Czechoslovakia, one must apply for a permanent stay in East Germany at their embassy in Washington, D.C. If one has housing in East Germany and financial support he has basically met the necessary requirements for an extended stay there. The official I spoke with said he thought that one would have no trouble traveling in East Germany and that there would probably be no problem in importing Bibles. He also thought that Jehovah Witnesses would be allowed to live and work there, and that teachers of the English language would be welcome.
East Germany has the highest standard of living of any East block nation. It would therefore be safe to say that one could expect better living conditions there than those described in Prague.
One can apply for permanent residence at the Hungarian embassy in Washington, D.C. Unlike the other two nations we have mentioned in this article, one can also enter the country on a visa, find housing and apply for permanent residence there. There are housing finding services to aid one in his search for a place to live. Travel in Hungary is unrestricted. It is legal to import Bibles. The laws would not hinder the teaching of the gospel, and as long as one did nothing unlawful, he would have no problems. They need a lot of teachers in Hungary – English language teachers and other kinds too.
Because Hungary has progressed the farthest in its reforms it would be my guess that it would be the closest to Western standards in the areas of personal freedoms. The official I spoke with at the embassy in Bonn was very sure of the answers he gave.
Early disciples, by pure faith in God, bridged the gulfs of geography, language and culture in spreading the gospel in the first century. Their conviction that the lost needed Christ and that Christ was with them propelled them through innumerable barriers. They loved their home country and even returned for visits, but they left because their work demanded that they “go” (Matt. 28:19-20). Their example shines as a light for us today. Let us follow it!
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 6, pp. 168, 184
March 15, 1990