A personal reflection by Milan Bruncko
Martin resident Milan Bruncko, a long-time member of the Lutheran congregation on CCE’s campus, grew up during the communist regime in Slovakia. Milan has been active in the church throughout his adult years, working with youth and serving as a lay helper to the pastor. A local businessman today, Milan coaches youngsters in a soccer program that includes Bible study. Following is his account of embracing Christianity while living under communist control.
“Life under communism was difficult,” says Milan Bruncko, “especially for Christians. There was no assurance of personal safety or protection under the communist regime. As a result, Christians did many things in secret—including operating youth camps. I like remembering my childhood experiences in youth camp: they were blessed.”
Living in combat conditions
“I began attending these camps when I was 15 years old. The camps took place during our vacations, in various locations like the Orava region, a village called Kálnica, and in eastern Slovakia. The Holy Spirit led me to the faith, and I became a Christian at age 19. In fact, it was at a camp meeting in Kálnica where I experienced being ‘born again’ in Christ.
Almost always, we depended on good weather because we simply had no place to hide. We took great care about our actions, but in many respects we had to rely on God for protection. Our Christian meetings and camps had to be held in secret, most frequently in the outdoors. I think of this part of my life as living in combat conditions.
“Imagine feeding 50 to 100 people at camp—especially in ‘combat’ conditions! It wasn’t easy. We had to find suitable locations where a group of 50 to 100 wouldn’t be noticeable. It was essential that we didn’t arouse any suspicion. We really struggled to find locations for camps. We used campsites and cottages as well as the homes of Christian families.”
“I remember attending a youth camp in Orava, a beautiful spot in the mountains where we looked forward to having a week of Bible lessons in the open air. But when camp started, it was pouring rain. We stood under the balcony of the cottage where we had gathered and wondered, ‘What are we going to do?’
I suggested we pray. About 20 of us formed a circle and began to pray fervently. After a couple of minutes, to our amazement the rain stopped. What’s more, there was no more rain the rest of that week. As we broke camp and packed up the last tent, the rain began again. It was truly a miracle.
I remember another camp—one that took place very high in the mountains. It felt as if you could see the entire world from that place! My aunt wanted to pay me a visit, and as she headed up the mountain looking for our camp, she came upon another group of children. Little did she know that this group had gathered to make their ‘pioneer promise,’ that is, a pledge to be loyal to the communist regime.
As she approached the group, she asked them where she could find the youth gathering I was attending: ‘They’re supposed to be here, too,’ she said. Everyone suddenly became very quiet. Drifting down from high above them were the sounds of gospel songs coming from our camp. Imagine that scene: A group of young people, about to pledge their loyalty to an atheistic government, hearing voices raised in song to the glory of God.”
“From time to time, we found ourselves in very difficult situations when our unlawful gatherings were discovered or we were betrayed by others. After one camp, for example, the police summoned and questioned some of us. They were investigating our unauthorized meetings. These kinds of encounters were difficult but became unavoidable. We were grateful for the adults from our Christian community who stood alongside us and supported us with their prayers.
I particularly remember the visits of our pastor, who offered huge encouragement to the young Christian leaders and coordinators who worked with youth and children. It meant so much to us when new young people joined us and wanted to spend time with us and give testimony to how their faith had changed them.
Looking back, I am profoundly grateful for these experiences of my childhood, when I learned to rely on God and be completely dependent on Him. Youth camp was a time of great blessing in my life and in the life of my Christian friends and our community. I will never forget those times; they are a permanent part of me.”
The pictures shown are from recent Christian camp outings. There are no actual pictures available from camps that met during the Communism era. No pictures were allowed to avoid persecution.
|Have you experienced a pivotal moment in your faith life? How did it change you? We’re interested in publishing the faith testimonies of other Christians. Please send your story to Hedwiga Tkáčová at firstname.lastname@example.org|