Through the working of the Holy Spirit in Europe many years ago, souls responded to salvation’s call as preached by Brother Froehlich and his followers. During the 1800s, ‘Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists Assemblies’ were established in Switzerland, France, and Germany, and then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In central Europe, the political unity of Austria-Hungary allowed brethren (called Nazarenes) to move freely over a large geographic area traversed by the Danube River. Over the years, hundreds of congregations were established in lands that today we call Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and southwestern Ukraine (Bukovina). The faith also spread overseas as believers immigrated to America for religious freedom and economic opportunity.
By 1900, Nazarenes in central Europe were estimated to number about 80,000. However their numbers soon declined due to war and religious persecution, and many fled abroad. After World War II, Nazarenes in Eastern Europe were forced to live under atheistic communism and became isolated behind what was called an ‘Iron Curtain.’ Many churches were forcibly closed or used for other purposes by the communists. Because Nazarenes would not take up arms in the military, many were imprisoned or even killed. The believers had to assemble in secret, often in small groups to escape the notice of the authorities. By God’s grace they endeavored to keep their faith, but in doing so, they were targeted for religious persecution and economic oppression. The severity of repression took a heavy toll. Many young people were not converted to the truth of the gospel, merging into the godless society in which they were surrounded. Thankfully in 1989 communist governments in Europe were forced from power.
During the years of communist oppression the light of faith grew dim, but by God’s grace it did not go out. Today the believers can freely assemble together to share their faith, unhindered by the government. However the transition to a free market society in former communist countries has not been easy. The collapse of the old economic order and the restructuring of its currency ushered in unemployment, decline in government services, and hyperinflation that diluted wages of workers and decimated savings and pensions of older brethren. Because of underemployment and low wages, young people who had opportunity to do so moved away to seek better employment, accelerating a decline in church attendance already reduced by death and attrition. For faith to survive, it was apparent that assistance, hope and opportunity were needed, to which HarvestCall is responding.