It’s not the sufferings in my story that should never have happened, but the healing.
“In many contexts, until we let go of what is not good we will never find something that is good. The lesson: good cannot begin until bad ends.”
— Dr. Henry Cloud
Weall have a first memory of life. Mine takes me back to a hospital in 1972. I was only 5 years old. Most of my childhood memory is around sickness and abuse. Since my birth, my childhood was marked either with life-threatening diseases or with painful abuse. My battle for life started when I was only six weeks old. The small town, Siófok, where I grew up in communist Hungary had an untrained pediatrician who diagnosed me with a simple flu. On that evening my mom had a surprise visit from a relative who happened to be one of the leading pediatricians in the country. At the moment he entered our apartment and saw me in my mother’s arm, he picked up the phone and called the ambulance. He said that this baby won’t survive the night if he is not taken to his hospital in Budapest. My situation was so severe that the ambulance had to stop half way to Budapest and put me into an ICU before they were able to carry me to the final destination the next day.
As I mentioned, my first vivid memory of life is marked in my brain from age of 5. In that year I spent 200 days in the hospital. The doctors suspected that I have a fatal kidney dysfunction, which diagnosis was later changed to leukemia. The predicted life-expectancy was very short. Eventually none of those diagnosis proved to be true, but they gave all kinds of treatments to cure my scary symptoms. When my mom went home with the news of my diagnosis and shared it with my dad, he just kept watching the soccer game on tv without giving any notice to this troublesome news. The treatments and the side-effects were so brutal that for a time I was not able to walk. A weekend came and the doctors allowed me to go home for a visit. My father was not willing to drive me home so my mom had to carry me on her back to our apartment which was located on the 4th floor and there was no elevator in the building.
That was my first moment to realize the cruelness of my father. I thought that the every day physical abuse and harsh yelling words are the norms everywhere. Another incident after my lengthy time in the hospital deepened my fear from my father. I had a bicycle accident and I broke my left leg. Regardless of my pain and inability of walking, my dad forced me to walk on my broken leg, terrorizing and yelling at me saying that I only fake the pain. With tears rolling down on my cheek I tried very hard to please him. I forced my self to walk by overcoming the excruciating pain. Later, my mom took me to the doctor who said that my leg is broken in spiral form. I ended up being hospitalized again. The plaster splint on my leg took me out of school for another 8 weeks. Those memories were the beginning of a long discovery of the brutality of my father. The lasting marks of his brutality are shadowing me in my adulthood. Even up to these days, when people misread me, mistreat me, my very first feeling is what I’ve felt as a little 6 year old boy limping in pain, commanded to walk, trying very hard to please his dad while he ignored his own pain. My trust in a loving father ended.That moment (later confirmed with many other experiences) created a life-pattern for me to ignore my own pain and needs to please others, planted in me the seed of hopelessness and fear, and made me doubt the existence of a loving, providing, caring father. The fear and doubt soon was revealed in physical symptoms. The first among those was that I’ve started to stutter.
In the next two years my father’s abusiveness and his regular unfaithfulness to my mother was elevated to a new level. My mom was not able to tolerate it anymore. She saw only one way out: suicide. One day she was laying down on the train tracks waiting in tears on a train to come and take away her pain forever. A few men tugged her off from the tracks before the train speeded over the area. A “bloody” divorce ended their painful marriage when I was 8. Although I witnessed and suffered the terror of my father, the news of their divorce shocked me. Our family was ended. I was not able to imagine how life will go on from that moment.
My mother, with my sister and me, moved into a small rented room where we’ve shared a kitchen and a bathroom with several other families. I only realized how poor we were when coming home from school I didn’t find my little dachshund, who was my only friend to share my pain with. My mom had to trade her for a piece of sausage so we would have something to eat.
Finally the judge decided that it’s best if I live with my dad and my sister stays with my mom. This move launched a four-year-long journey of a daily torture for me. My father’s verbal, emotional and psychological terror accompanied with physical abuse and severe beatings.
The following incidents exemplifies well the kind of terror he exercised week after week. One day he couldn’t find a part of something he disassembled. He suspected that I was responsible for the missing part. But I didn’t even know what he was looking for. He kept insisting that I stole the missing part yelling at me: “You stole it! Admit it! If you don’t admit it, I’ll call the police and they’ll take you to prison!” I was begging him in tears not to call the police. I was so terrified and hysterical with fear that I admitted that I stole the part he was looking for. Later he found that missing part and then he punished me for admitting something I didn’t do.
My ongoing fear and isolation just grew as my father was remarried and his new wife brought two girls into our broken family. Missing my mom and the newly arrived family members’ privileged situation forced my soul into the dark corner of devastation. My pain inside soon showed up on the outside in the form of dangerous physical symptoms: at age of 10 I’ve developed severe asthma-attacks and allergy. Once again, I ended up being hospitalized for months. Medicine in the 1970’s in the communist Hungary was not well-developed to handle the severeness of my attacks. The doctors again predicted a short life-expectancy: for sure I’ll die before the age of 18 or 20.
In January of 1979, after my 12th birthday I’ve told my mom that if she wants me to see alive, she’ll need to rescue me from my father’s hand. She had also been remarried by that time and her new husband brought a young girl into their new family. My mother hired a lawyer to help in the legal process of getting the custody. The lawyer immediately told her that the chance to win the case is less then 1%, because 4 years earlier the judge already made a decision and it’s almost unprecedented to get that decision reversed. Regardless of the implausible chances, the legal process had been started. Basically it meant that at the age of 12 I was going to sue my father with my mom’s assistance, while I was still living under his roof, trying to prove that he was not qualified to be a father. The daily emotional and psychological terror I had to put up with during the 11 months long legal process was indescribable. My dad was so determined to win the case, that he told my sister that he would rather see me in a coffin than with my mother. “You can prepare the flowers for your brother’s funeral” — concluded his discussion with my sister.
Doctors and experts from all kinds of field were involved in the case. My father forbidden me to visit my mother hoping that I’ll change my mind and will not want to leave him. The peak of the case was when I had to show up in the courtroom for a hearing. I knew it was unusual for a 12 year old to be heard. By that time it was at least a month I’ve not seen my mother. She was sitting outside of the courtroom as I’ve entered into the courthouse being ushered by my father and his new wife. He didn’t let me even greet my mom. Soon, it was time to enter the courtroom. Only the judge, my father’s lawyer, my mother’s lawyer and two other people were present as I entered this big room. The whole seen was horrifying. I felt just like a small dot whose life and future is in the hands of these giants around me. The judge asked several questions before she turned to the most important one: “Do you want to live with your dad or with your mom?” I broke out in tears and answered: “I want to live with my mom”. Immediately my father’s lawyer jumped up from his chair yelling at me: “You are only saying this, because your mom is giving you gifts.” I was speechless as my tears were rolling down uncontrollably. The judge’s summary closed my short visit in the courtroom:“This child is deeply wounded.”
After this event I knew that I can’t survive this any more. I needed to escape from my father. One day after school my mother with her husband was waiting for me and stopped me on the way home: “Do you want to escape from your father?” — my mom was asking. There was only one answer I could give: “YES!”. In the next moment we were on the road to Budapest with the clothes I was wearing on that day. Every single thing I ever had or owned — toys, clothes, bicycle I worked for, books — I left behind. I’ve never crossed the threshold of my childhood’s home again.
My childhood ended on that morning in September of 1979 as I left for school not knowing that I’ll never return. I was on the road to a new life with hopes, but with tremendous fears. After arriving to Budapest, my mother called my father and told him that I’m with her. He immediately went to the police and reported my mom for kidnapping me. Knowing that the police will chase me, my mother took me to the hospital where I’ve already spent several months before with my asthma trying to hide me and to win some time before the decision of the judge arrives. Of course she had to go to the police and they were considering arresting her for kidnapping me. But the officer was gracious and was willing to wait on the judge’s decision about the custody before deciding about her arrest.
The hospital was my well-known environment, it felt secure. One day, just randomly, I stood up in the bed and was looking out of the window. At that very moment I saw him, my father, the one whom I had been running away from, crossing through the gates of the hospital. I was rushing to the nearest doctor begging her to hide me. After she’s talked with my father, she strongly tried to convince me to meet with him. But I didn’t want to see him. She kept insisting: “Your dad really wants to see you, he is so sad, what’s wrong with you that you don’t want to see him?” I knew from my instinct that I can’t see him. I decided to hide in a storage room. They couldn’t find me. Hours later my father was gone, I came out from my hiding place. It turned out that this was a critical move. The final round of the trial came. The judge’s first question to my father was: “Did you meet with your son?” My father replied: ”No, for the child is not ready to apologize.” The answer shocked the judge and she decided to give the custody to my mom. Based on the many expert’s opinions my father’s right for visitation was taken from him.
Deep wounds don’t heal fast. My healing came very slowly. For a long-long time when I saw a picture of my father or have heard of him, the ambulance had to take me to the hospital because of the severe asthma attacks I suffered, which was triggered by anything related to my dad. Healing speeded up as I’ve started to experience the healing love of my Heavenly Father as I became a follower of Jesus. My high school years were my first firm steps toward God. The very first thing I recall in my relationship with God is that I prayed to him in the dark closet in my father’s apartment. Growing up in a communist environment I’ve heard nothing about Jesus. But when I first encountered with the message that God can become my heavenly Father, I started to pour out my heart to him in the secret darkness of that closet.
I’ll never forget the life-changing moment when the very first time I personally felt that the healing hands of God touched my hurting soul. That happened right before I started high school. I opened the Bible, probably the first or second time in my life. I knew hardly anything about it. But I started to read a passage I would not recommend to read to any seeker or new believer. The passage was Isaiah 54. I felt pierced by every single words I read. I couldn’t move as I was just reading over and over again that one chapter. Every single words were speaking to me: “you will forget the shame of your youth” and than “for a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you… with everlasting love I will have compassion on you…”. Every words were healing my soul. From that moment, the Word of God became the key to heal my soul.
At age 14, as a new believer I was so excited about my newly found faith that I denied the demand of my school to become a member of the Young Communist Party (KISZ in Hungarian). Every student had to become a member of KISZ if they wanted to be accepted to university. I remember that the vice-principle of the school told me that I cut my own throat by denying to be a member of KISZ. My already fragile trust in my teachers endedwith that sentence. (It’s interesting to see that the same teacher 30 years later became the Deputy Secretary of Education in Hungary of a conservative government. The communists just changed their colors.)
Unfortunately, my mother’s second marriage was soon shipwrecked as well. My step-father was a severe alcoholic and a notorious womanizer. His daughter — with whom I lived under the same roof for 7 years and went to church — choose a very wrong path and became a professional prostitute. Later she gave birth to 5 children and all 5 ended up being in an orphanage. As it turned out, the environment I found myself escaping my father’s brutality was not the healing environment I needed. But even with the alcoholism of my step-father it was still a much better situation then my pervious environment. By the end of my high-school years, my mother’s second marriage was over, yet the two, now separate families (my step-dad with his daughter and my mom with my sister and I), still had to live together in a very small apartment for another two difficult years. This was the third time when family ended for me. Finally, my mom, my sister (who was married and pregnant) and I were able to manage moving into a one-roomed apartment.
1984was an important year for me. I met with an American missionary couple, Mike & Kathy Uno. Of course, I didn’t know they were missionaries, because they had cover jobs. That’s how missionaries managed to live and serve in Hungary during communism. Mike started to disciple me. My excitement for evangelism grew greatly and at least 4 nights a week I went to a dorm to secretly meet with students, showing them the Jesus film in an 8 mm projector in their tiny room. Well, eventually my enthusiasm for evangelism took me to the place where I didn’t want to be. In the summer of 1985 I had been arrested. Sharing the gospel at the beach of Lake Balaton was not welcomed. The police searched our house for gospel literature. This incident had an impact on my attempt to go to university, too. Graduating from high school they banned me to start my studies. Only a year later I was allowed to start college, but in a so called, “evening” course. They were afraid that I’ll be a “bad influence” on my peers.
Regardless of my growing enthusiasm for the Lord, my family background left some very painful marks on me and now I daily faced with the brokenness of my mother’s second marriage. The Uno’s offered a very generous opportunity to move into their home and live with their family in Budapest. I gladly accepted that offer. The next 18 months were the healing environment I badly needed after being tossed around during all my childhood. First ever in my life, I’ve experienced a real family: eating together, playing together, talking with each other. A life-changing and healing experience. Of course, the necessary departure of the Unos to leave Hungary arrived soon. Another painful, yet necessary ending was added to the many I already had. I felt left alone. While they were in Hungary, I was involved in the underground ministry of Campus Crusade. Right after the Uno’s left the country, the Hungarian man who grabbed the opportunity to lead this young, underground ministry decided to shot down everything and banned me to be a part of the student Bible-study group. He told me that there is no good reason to invest in me, because there is absolutely no potential for ministry or leadership in me at all. He finished our conversations with these harsh words which still rings in me: “Mike Uno sinned when he decided to disciple you!” It was a sin to invest in me! These painful words ended my trust in other believers. I was giving my everything to this young ministry, I had been arrested, because I was sharing my faith, I was banned to go to university, because I was following Christ and now I was left alone. I was already kicked out from our church because they viewed sharing my faith and joining to an “American underground group” as being in a cult. I was kicked out of this new underground ministry of CCC, because I was “not worth” investing in. At the age of 19 I was without friends, without church, without family, without work, without a future, carrying the burden of a very painful past. I felt horribly alone. In the moment of total loneliness again God’s Word gave me comfort. I remember how reading the comforting words of Psalm 121 helped me to lift up my heart and learn that God is enough: “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:2–3, ESV)
After the Uno’s left I moved back to the tiny one-roomed apartment with my mom and sister and her newborn baby. My mom and I slept in the hallway on mattresses. I got a job in a small factory and worked there mostly during the night from 7 PM to 7 AM. Then I slept in a closet in the factory until 12 PM. After getting up I went home, changed, took a shower and did my studies. After working two years in difficult physical labor I was able to get another job where I could work during the day. This was the time when Edina and I started dating, and some sunshine began to sneak into my life.
During those lonely years I knew that if I ever want to get well and healed, I need to be able to leave behind my past. I knew that I wont be able to overcome my father’s abuse he committed against me unless I’m willing to forgive him. I’ve decided to meet with him after the 9 long years we’ve not seen each other. His involvement in various corruptions in business sentenced him to be in prison for more than 3 years during that 9 year we have not seen each other. The reestablishment of our broken relationship was initiated by me. I’ve tried to extend the forgiveness I’ve experienced through Christ to him. He never ever thought that he did anything wrong and he blamed everything on me and on my mother. Despite of his hardened heart, I’ve tried to maintain a relationship with him until he died, so at least he had a chance to have grandkids and see them regularly although he never knew their birthdays and never gave them anything. His written will revealed his angered heart: he disinherited me and my sister and left all his wealth to his new wife. It was a sad moment. Not because we didn’t get any money, but because it showed that his heart was full of hate and bitterness. His anger disabled him to show any respect to his own parents by passing on something to his grandchildren from the wealth he inherited from his ancestors. He lived angry and died angry. The only mark he left on earth was anger. His anger didn’t make anything better, but hurt a lot of people among whom he was the chief victim of his own anger. His death was another painful ending of a painful relationship.
To be continued with Part III: “Difficult beginnings”.