“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” – Luke 5:4 (NIV)
Soon 70 years old, Alex Erdélyi has had a colourful life. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, but moved to his mother’s native Czechoslovakia at the age of one. The Christian family lived in Bratislava, and Alex grew up within the influence of a local Baptist church.
Life was coloured by post-WWII Communism, and young Alex was quick to learn the limitations and the oppression that came with the political regime. His father was an artist who had used his skills to create fake passports for Jews in order for them to flee war-torn Eastern Europe during WWII. With his father’s example, Alex, too, had the courage to challenge the norm. He became a smuggler.
‘YOU ARE A WEAK CHRISTIAN!’
Alex made his personal commitment to Jesus at age 19 and began immediately to study the Bible as well as other Christian literature. He believed that “a burning heart wasn’t enough” but that one needed “the brain” as well. He tried to switch his major from machine building to theology, but the switch was denied by the state and he was forced to finish his studies. However, the university did not allow him to graduate.
Around the same time two British OM workers visited Alex’s church. Although associating with foreigners was forbidden, Alex invited them over to his house for lunch. He had been printing handmade tracts at home and wanted to show them to the OMers. The visitors were impressed and asked Alex if he’d be willing to receive and distribute Bibles in Czechoslovakia.
The prospect was dangerous. With smuggling and distributing came the risk of getting caught. It meant putting oneself and one’s family at risk. But at the other end of the scale were his fellow Czechoslovakians who suffered under Communism, who needed to hear about the God of Hope.
Alex agreed to “some Bibles”. “It seems you are a weak Christian!” the OMer exclaimed. “There are 15 million people in Czechoslovakia. Shouldn’t you ask for 15 million Bibles?”
A few weeks later, a group of English students arrived in Bratislava with 200 Bibles. For the next 25 years, Alex received a truck or a car load of Bibles and Christian literature on the last Friday of every month. He became known as “George”, one of OM’s main contacts in Czechoslovakia.
THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS
Alex got married, smuggled Bibles even on his honeymoon, and had three children with his wife Ruth. The smuggling impacted his family life even though it was rarely discussed. Alex and his wife had full-time jobs, and their children attended public schools. Every weekend Alex packed the family car full of Christian literature and the family went “camping”. The children slept on top of boxes full of illegal books.
Together they travelled even to the farthest corners of Czechoslovakia, and even abroad to other Communist nations. The books exchanged hands in dark parking lots in the middle of the night. On the way home the family briefly stopped at popular tourist attractions so that the children had something to tell their friends and relatives. The fear of getting caught was ever present.
“If you have to hide something, it becomes impossible to have a normal social life,” Alex admits. “You cannot have very close relationships with people at church or at work. You keep people at a distance. The constant stress and always being on the road certainly took a toll on my family.”
Yet God always protected the Erdélyis. Alex may have many stories to tell about his encounters with the authorities, but he was never caught. The work was done in secret, and no records were kept of Alex’s many travels. However, Alex himself estimates that, over the nearly 48 years of ministry, he has been directly involved with the publishing, printing and/or distribution of millions of books and other printed materials.
The exact number may well be very close to the 15 million that the young Alex, as a “weak Christian”, did not have the courage to ask for.