Friday, March 13, 2020

Eastern Europe 1990: Yugoslavia

Villagers at Dalj on the Danube River
enjoy the evening light.

Surviving, somewhat to our surprise, the Flight of the Dirty Birdie (also known as a shabby and dirty Yugoslav Airlines two-engine propeller-driven puddle-jumper), we arrived from Berlin to Beograd in what is now Serbia on the morning of March 10, 1990 in need of a bath but otherwise little the worse for wear.

We were kept on the move for our two days in Yugoslavia; visiting churches in cities such as Sremska Mitrovica, now in Serbia, Vincovci, now in Croatia, and Dalj, a lovely village on the Danube River, also in Croatia. Yugoslavia was all one country in those days; now it has broken up into seven separate nations. It's a bit confusing to try to retrace our tour of 30 years ago, but Google Maps is our friend!

One of the small Church of God
congregations in Yugoslavia.

The Pentecostal movement, of which the Church of God is a part, came to Yugoslavia in 1925 when a Yugoslav man became an evangelical Christian while living in America. He returned to his home country and began starting independent Pentecostal churches. In 1968, one group of them united with the Church of God.

Under the repression of the Marxist government, the congregations remained small and struggling, numbering only 25 by 1990. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Communist countries struggled against unbelievable odds because they refused to be licensed by the government, which essentially would have meant allowing the government to run their churches. 

The Yugoslav believers are fervent in spirit.

Although the Berlin Wall was probably the most visible portion of the Iron Curtain within which the Marxist governments kept their peoples captured, their greatest effort was to build an even more impregnable wall around the minds of their captives: a wall to keep the Word of God out and the darkness in.

That's why Communism's greatest persecution has always been directed against religion. They have sought zealously to drive out the Word of God and replace it with the atheistic religion of Marxism.

Most of the Yugoslav Christians are
working people and not well-to-do.

On the surface, they were successful. By 1988, it is estimated there were only about 250,000 bibles in the entire Soviet Union. There were no Bible story books for the kids, no Sunday School literature, no schools to train young people for Christian service; in fact, in many of the Iron Curtain countries it was against the law to teach the Christian religion to children under 18.

Finding the promises of Communism to be empty,
many young people are turning to Christianity.

Conditions for Christians in Yugoslavia were not as bad as in some of the other Iron Curtain countries, because there was some limited religious liberty. Life was still a struggle for believers; yet in place after place as we traveled around the country we found small groups of fervent, enthusiastic believers who were not daunted by the odds against them. And everywhere we went we were welcomed with great  warmth and hospitality.

A barge on the Danube near Dalj.

(Photographs made with Olympus OM and Leica M cameras and lenses, Fujichrome 100D and 400D films.)