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Tony Coffey, minister for the Ranelagh Church of Christ in Dublin, Ireland, thanks Zdenka Hamerlikova for a recent tour of downtown Bratislava — and her devotion to Christ. Coffey hosted a church retreat for Christians in Slovakia. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — She remembers the days when she couldn’t go up the river to Vienna, only down the river to Budapest.
Standing at the gates of Bratislava Castle, Zdenka Hammerlikova pointed to the Danube River. Her city, once part of Czechoslovakia, stood at the western boundary of the Iron Curtain. Twenty-six years after the fall of communism, she does what she never dreamed of doing as a child — giving tours to visitors from western Europe and the U.S.
She also worships God, freely, as part of a small Church of Christ.
Roman Halamicek, the church’s minister, was 10 when the Berlin Wall fell. His grandfather, a Catholic, once lost a job because he wore a cross around his neck.
Now, the Christians in Bratislava watch the news from the country on their eastern border, Ukraine, as pro-Russian separatists seize territory.
“It brings shivers and sadness to my heart,” Halamicek said. “I’m sad for the people on both sides. In the light of the Sermon on the Mount, it is hard to justify any violence. And war is always violent.
“The oppressed need freedom from the oppressors. The oppressors need freedom from their wicked desires to rule over others. … My prayer is that both sides find freedom in Jesus.”
When communism collapsed in Central Europe, it was a time “full of hopes, full of fresh air, full of new breath,” he said. “Nothing seemed impossible in the fall of 1989.”
Slovakians could “say what we think,” Hammerlikova said, and could make decisions about their own lives.
But nothing was guaranteed — including employment, she said. Slovakians watched as businesses grew, shrank and even failed.
Missionaries planted Churches of Christ throughout the region. Many struggled to thrive as the missionaries returned home, Halamicek said.
Embracing newfound freedoms, many Slovakians entered “the bondage of materialism,” he said. “Consumerism captured the hearts of many.”
The minister said he sympathizes with the Ukrainians as they struggle to overcome the aftermath of their communist past.
“We are learning that freedom is not that easy,” he said. “The battle for freedom happens every day in our hearts.”
Lipscomb University professor John Mark Hicks, right, talks about the book of 2 Corinthians with theology students at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, as minister Roman Halamicek translates his lecture into Slovak. See our related blog post, “Communist Coke and shared grace in Central Europe.” (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)
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