In 1989, there was a significant change in world history as we in the United States saw with wonder the beginning of a new era in Europe. In November of that year, we watched news of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain that separated much of Eastern Europe from Western Europe. The iron curtain separated many families and prevented them from freely traveling throughout Europe and the world. For years I had thought that the cause of this great historical change came about because of the tough stance and policy of the Presidents of the United States - those firm embargoes of USSR and the communist block countries of Eastern Europe that brought down the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. That is only part of the story and gives reason for further inquiry so we can find out for ourselves rather than accept how the American media and the politicians spin news to make one believe that all that came about was because of American policy. A part of it yes but not all the reasons why it fell.
On this day I saw the place and felt the spirit of a people wanting to be free. It began with a group of students in Debrecen, Hungary who planned to unite families of East Germany and West Germany along the Austria-Hungary border, just outside Soprone, Hungary. Planning took place over several months with students organizing the event. The premise was to provide families who were separated by the Iron Curtain to come together for a picnic. Organizers contacted families through letters and flyers on both sides of the borders that the picnic would take place on August 19, 1989. Students contacted government officials that the event was being planned. World economic conditions was not favorable so that the USSR or other Eastern European Block countries could provide a military response. Looking at a map, families in Germany had to travel hundreds of miles to get to the picnic site. East German families travel first east through the Chekezslovakia, south through Slovenia, and Hungary, and then west through Hungary to the Austrian border. West German families had similar circuitous route, traveling southwest through Belgium, Switzerland, and then East through Austria to see family, that for some,they had not seen since they were children and whom the next generation had neither seen or in many cases not heard from. As news of the event spread among the people that the gate between Hungary and Austria was to open for a few hours to families living behind the Iron Curtain, families began to gather.
Consider the following. The border is locked between free Austria and communist Hungary. There was a small garrison of soldiers that guarded the border. The Iron curtain spans 3500 kilometers from the North to the Adriatic that separates the west and east. Here in Soprone the fence is approximately 2 meters high and constructed with concrete posts approximately 3 meters apart. there are 15 strands of barb wire about 100 cm apart, maybe closer. On the Hungarian side of the border there is an inner fence and outer fence with the outer fence 5 meters apart from the inner fence. the space between the two fences is plowed. There is a guard tower, with armed guards, about 20 meters tall overlooking the road leading to the border about 200 meters from the gate with the picnic area between the gate and the tower. The picnic area is about a hectare square perhaps larger.
As news spread that the border would be opened for a few hours many families began to gather at the border. The expectation of a couple hundred would gather was greatly under estimated. Thousands gathered and created a problem that could not be responded to by the guards on the Hungarian side. As the hour approached the commandant requested instructions for a response. Receiving none and as people began to move toward the border the little garrison of soldiers were ordered to get out of the way or the mass of people would walk over them. The number was so large that even when the order came to close the gate came it was to late. The rush to freedom had begun and the first stone to tear down the curtain began. A few months later in November of 1989 the Berlin Wall came down.
Many families had packed all their earthly belongings into the vehicles they drove to the picnic with, and were told that if they went across the bolder all their things would be confiscated by the government. The people left all their stuff behind and took only what they wore and could carry and crossed the border into Austria to be free at last. To choose what they can become without anyone to determine who they will or can be. Unlike October 23, 1956, this time Hungary became free. No Suez canal to distract the cause of freedom and Hungary became the first to begin cutting down what Churchill called the iron curtain.
That is still only part of the story. In 1979 President Spencer W. Kimball, concerned that millions of people were unable to hear the gospel, said that that the Lord would prepare a time when the gospel would be preached to all people, whether there is an Iron curtain, bamboo curtain, they would all fall so that the work can go forward.
In 1985, the Temple in Freiberg, Germany, was dedicated. Due to the good relations and publicity with the People's Republic of East Germany, in 1987, the Hungarian People's Republic invited the church to Hungary and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated the land of Hungary for the preaching of the Gospel.
The first missionary effort in Hungary began in 1885, but not having much success the missionaries left after three months. The first known Hungarian convert was baptized in Turkey in 1887. Although the church had sporadic presence in Hungary, a 100 years would pass before a sustained missionary effort would occur. The first young Elders arrived in 1987. In 1988 the Church is fully recognized in Hungary. The first meeting house in Hungary is dedicated in 1989. The Hungary Budapest mission is created in 1990 and their are 130 members in Hungary. In 1991 the Book of Mormon is published in Hungarian. By the end of 1992 there are 600 members and grows to 1800 members by end of 1994. The Doctrine and Covenants is published in 1995, and by end of 2002 there are 3600 members. In 2006, the first Stake is created in Hungary, and was the first stake created in all of the former communist controlled Eastern bloc nations. Today there are slightly more then 5000 members here in Hungary.
In the dedicatory prayer by Elder Nelson, he indicates the following, "Previous scattering of Israel's blood has sprinkled that choice seed in great numbers throughout this land. Yet they know not who they are. May the promised gathering of thine elect bring them safely back to thy fold - that wards and stakes may dot this land." With this statement he invokes the following "may the future servants, foreordained before the world was formed take their places here....to hasten the day...to unveil the message to thy sons and daughters of this great nation." An apostolic blessing to this nation brought about some astounding results that the gospel goes forth unimpeded regardless of the barriers that were set in place. As the church grows the same problems that occur in other areas also happens here. The church is in its early years here and will continue to grow and receive guidance from the prophet and other general authorities so that there is order in structure and growth.
This is my take "of the rest of the story". It's great to be serving here. While we struggle with the language I know that we were called here long before we even thought about going on a mission.
Have a great week.
Elder and Sister Viernes