Letter to James Houston – mostly about freedom

With James Houston, Eastbourne, UK, 1999

I met James Houston, one of the founders of Regent’s College in Vancouver, in 1998, at a reunion in Colorado Springs, in preparation of the International Leaders for Discipleship Conference in Eastbourne, UK, in 1999. Before going any further, I have to confess that meeting James was one of the greatest spiritual gifts I have received from God in my life. If you have ever met him in person, you will understand what I mean.

In October 2000 he accepted to be the main speaker at the first World Vision conference I have organised in my new job with this organisation. His memorable lectures about Christian discipleship constituted later on the substance of his book The Mentored Life: From Individualism to Personhood.

A few years later we have spent two weeks together in Armenia and then, still later, a few days in Hungary (Kovagoors) and Romania (Timisoara).

About eight years ago, James asked me to send him a text about freedom, in the form of a letter, to be included in a sort of topical lectionary that he published later on in two volumes under the title Letters of the Faith Through the Seasons: A Treasury of Great Christians’ Correspondence (see HERE and HERE). I have never had this book in my hand (it is on my wish list) and I have no idea if my text was included in the book or not. Anyway, I publish here for the first time this little text. Enjoy!

* * *

Iasi, Romania, June 21, 2002

Dear James,

You asked me to write about freedom and I have accepted the challenge.

I ask myself now if I can do it without going again thorough the painful memory of the 35 years I lived under communism. But why would I want to avoid it? I was told that those who forget their history, risk repeating it. Maybe the pain if the best medicine, the only way to avoid the nightmare that started as a generous idea and ended by producing over one hundred million victims.

I was always interested in politics and social matters. I became aware of the world through listening in secret, with my father, to Radio Free Europe. That was my first school of freedom.

I still remember vividly the disappointment I felt in my teenage years, when I realized that my church did not seem to be interested a bit in the suffering and pain of this world. It was because of that that I felt attracted to Marxism. At least it claimed to have a solution to the trouble in the world. My childish enthusiasm hoped it could be true, but it was not to be. My idealistic Marxist convictions proved not to hold water when put to test. One night, as I was meditating about it, looking for a way out of my personal struggles, I realized that what was not an answer for a human being like me, could not provide a solution to society that was made of people like me and you. I gave then my life to Christ and I have never regretted it.

I found in Christ a freedom that did not compare with the illusionary liberty claimed by communism. Nevertheless, the road did not become easier, but even more difficult.

From Marxism, I went straight into anti-communism and I became involved in a dissident movement, fighting for religious freedom. We were asking for human rights to be respected. We were defending our legitimate rights to freedom of opinion and religious faith. We were demanding free access to the media. However, when twenty years later we got, more or less, all these freedoms, we became conscious, to our disappointment, that we were hardly ready for them. Now, when I look back, I understand that freedom is an empty word, unless filled with the right spiritual content. Moreover, we also need spiritual maturity in order to be able to handle freedom appropriately. I meet sometimes with people who were in those days freedom fighters, like me, and I must confess that I am utterly disappointed. They seem to be devoured by the same anti-communist passion, now remained without object. They are all away from Romania now; mostly disunited, fighting with each others or with the ghosts of the past. As for me, I am glad I have chosen a different path.


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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