After some time of waiting, my text on engaging in developmental ways, from a Christian perspective, with post-authoritarian contexts has just been published by World Vision International and I have received both a number of the printed copies and the PDF file of the final version of the book.
Since many of my readers here do not have access to WV channels, I can send a copy of the PDF file to all those interested. All I need is a request and an email address. Feel free to distribute the book to all those interested. As some of my friends know already, I believe in copyleft. However, as decency requires, please give proper credit to any quotation you take from this text. Thank you and may God use this little tool for those who really need it.
I am adding here, for those interested to understand more about the book, the Forward, written by Tim Dearborn, the head of my sector in World Vision, and my Preface to it.
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Shortly before World Vision was formed, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). We work as an organisation for a world in which men, women and children claim these rights, but we work in a world where these rights are only partially permitted. Whether because of government policies, unofficial practices, social and cultural prejudices or religious convictions – not everyone enjoys the equality, the freedom from oppression, the justice, and the opportunity for religious expression endorsed in these rights.
Though we publish this book in the year of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in which some authoritarian regimes have crumbled, we also live in an era of many chronic as well as emerging forms of authoritarianism. How we understand, serve and advocate in both kinds of contexts, authoritarian as well as post-authoritarian, deserves special attention, insight and wisdom.
Danut Manastireanu is an insightful expert on this topic. He has endured and learned through life under an authoritarian regime, and provided leadership for his society as it sought to re-establish a moral compass, social cohesion and spiritual vitality once the artificial dictates of the dictator were removed. World Vision offices around the world have benefitted from his guidance and counsel as a theologian and strategist as they seek to do the same.
I am grateful that now his insights can be made available more broadly. I know this will contribute to World Vision’s envisioned future:
We look forward to a world where every child experiences life in all its fullness.Where they are protected, cared for and given the opportunities to become all God meant them to be. They grow strong in communities free of need and full of promise. Where families are valued, creation preserved and the most vulnerable live in security and confidence. They become responsible citizens of well led nations. Where peace and justice reign and all have the opportunity to contribute. They flourish in a world where the treasure of our hearts and the measure of our wealth is the happiness and well-being of all the world’s children. In such a world, all taste the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Partnership Leader, Christian Commitments
World Vision International
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This publication was prompted by a desire to help readers in authoritarian and post-authoritarian contexts to acknowledge the profound experiences they have lived through, along with the challenges these experiences pose for building healthy communities.
After a half-century of humanitarian work around the globe, including many authoritarian and post-authoritarian contexts, World Vision is in a unique place to collect and circulate evidence of the potential for genuine well-being and realistic hope through transformational development of whole persons that includes, as the well-known prayer says, ‘the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference’.
As the author of this book, I draw first on my own experience of living under the communist regime in Romania, the post-communist euphoria and let-downs that followed, as well as years of study, travel and direct interaction with people living in dictatorial or post- authoritarian contexts in more recent years. Many colleagues, inside and outside of these restricted contexts, convinced us that numerous conclusions and principles extracted from that particular context can be applied effectively in many other countries and societies.
I was born in communist Romania and lived for 35 years under that regime. I grew up in church, but became disenchanted because of what I perceived as an otherworldly perspective on life. As an idealist teenager, I became attracted by Marxism, which seemed much more down-to-earth and socially engaged than what I had seen in church. Yet, around 18 years old, a series of personal crises put to the test my Marxist beliefs and I realised they did not hold up. This ideology pretended to have a solution for society, but could not offer a solution to individual people that form society. At that point, I turned to Christ and I was never sorry for my decision. He gave meaning and purpose to my life.
From being a Marxist, I went to the opposite extreme and became an anti-communist, involved in dissident activities, particularly in defending the rights of Christians persecuted by the communist government.
This attracted the wrath of the regime and tight supervision from the secret police. I was, obviously, aware of it and I consciously assumed the risk. Yet only after the fall of communism, in 1989, when I got access to my surveillance files compiled by the secret police, did I become aware of the extent and full impact of their actions. I did not find many surprises but, with rare exceptions, I do not know yet the real names of those (friends, church members, colleagues) who reported to the secret police about my life, as in those files they all have code names. My greatest surprise – something that in truth broke my heart – was to find there a particular note amongst many signed by the pastor of my church, the man who baptised me. In it, he suggested to the police that I might have a mental illness (like an aunt of mine who, largely with his co-operation, was isolated for 10 years in a psychiatric prison and was never again a normal human being). It is only by the grace of God that the secret police did not follow up on his suggestion and that I can now write this text for you.
In time, through the influence of godly mentors and lots of reading, I came to realise that my anti-communism was as poisonous as the communist ideology, and incompatible with my commitment to minister to all people, whatever their ideological stance. The rest of my life, after that turning point, I have dedicated to serving people from different social, cultural, ethnic and national backgrounds.
I have never considered my experience under communism as a wasted time, but as God’s providence for me. In fact, normality, or at least some degree of it, is possible under almost any circumstance, no matter how harsh. It all depends on the inner freedom that one has, which comes, amongst other sources, from a deep personal faith and a feeling of personal destiny. When we draw from these sources, we can smile even when, as the Bible says, we go through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’.
This painful yet strength-building experience under communism gave me a unique insight into the fabric of authoritarian systems. Furthermore, my Christian faith and the story of the people of God described in the Bible gave me an interpretive context for understanding principles that can allow people living under those regimes, or in the period immediately after, to make sense of their experiences and not merely survive, but thrive, in spite of those circumstances.
At the urging of my World Vision colleagues, I had the privilege of sharing my understanding of this topic with community and faith leaders in various communist and post-communist countries in Asia. I continued leading such seminars in my own region, Eastern Europe, and also in places throughout Western Europe, Africa and Latin America, in more than 20 countries. My hope and prayer, as I share these thoughts with you, is that what I have learned through those experiences, both from living under communism and from sharing the lives of those living under authoritarianism or in post- authoritarian contexts, will provide insights and perhaps be a blessing to you too.
I owe special debt to a number of friends, particularly to David Fitzstevens and Chawkat Moucarry, who reviewed the manuscript and made useful suggestions. I am particularly grateful to Rebecca Russell. Her editorial suggestions made this a much better text than it would have been otherwise. Yet all the shortcomings that remain are mine entirely.
I am aware that not everybody will agree with my perspectives – in parts or perhaps as a whole. My sincere desire is not to impose on others my own conclusions, but to stimulate a conversation that eventually leads to better development practices in totalitarian and post-totalitarian contexts.
My special consideration, amongst readers, in writing this continues to be the World Vision staff working at the grass roots, in area development programmes taking place in risky, difficult and often insecure authoritarian and post-authoritarian environments. My hope is that as they can better assess the contexts in which they work, they will be more effective and compassionate in rebuilding the shattered communities in which they are called to serve, as they follow in the footsteps of Christ.
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Those who are browsing this blog for some time may be aware that this little book is a major revision of my initial text called From Bondage to the Desert. A Christian View of Communism and Post-communism, which has been published on this blog and that also exists in Vietnamese, Armenian and Albanian translations.