Romania Prepares for GCOWE September 20, 1994
Romania's soccer team surprised everyone in the World Cup Competition in Pasadena this last summer. In a thrilling match they beat Argentina 3 - 2 to reach the quarter-finals. There were no major expectations upon them, but led by the exciting Hagee, they were explosive. They not only won the affections of soccer fans around the world but the respect of the other teams.
Romania is a country of hidden resources, talent and character. When the Romanian soccer team was unleashed in an international arena they showed what they can be. I believe that the Romanian evangelical movement finds itself in the same situation. GCOWE, (The Global Consultation on World Evangelization 1995, to be held in Seoul Korea next May) and involvement in AD2000 may be the evangelical World Cup that will bring out the Romanian potential in an international context. Could it be that the hidden key to the evangelization of Europe and parts of the Middle East lies in this Baltic nation the size of Oregon?
Seven things seem to indicate that the evangelical movement in Romania will surprisingly take its place in the world as a force for the Gospel.
- It is growing. Romania is passing through a time of spiritual harvest for evangelical churches. For example, Ion Fodor's team from the Brethren churches in the Suceava, Moldavia area have planted over forty congregations in the last four and one -half years. Manastur Baptist Church in Cluj-Napoca is packed to standing -room-only crowds. After starting two new churches, Pastors Gigi Cosman and Cornell Veresh thought that the people who went to the new congregations would leave some breathing room for those who remained. But after six months the same old problem of crowded morning and evening services has returned. Nelu Istrate and his team of church planters fill their tent wherever they set it up in the neighborhoods of Bucharest. These brothers from The Evangelical Church of Romania have been working on a church-planting strategy for the capital city as a follow-up to their tent meetings. Since the fall of the dictatorship in 1989, the Pentecostals have added over 700 new churches.
- It is tested. A large part of the men leading the evangelical denominations were those who were tested by the harassment and limitations put on believers in the time of Ceaucescu's dictatorship which ended in 1989. I asked the president of the Pentecostal Union, Emil Bulgar, about the promise in Matthew 10:20 that the Holy Spirit will speak through believers brought under interrogation before authorities. In his case, (which was quite often) he said, "Every time!" One brother, after being jailed and threatened with execution, passed through his ordeal with an extra amount of grace and peace. When he was released, the man who was responsible for his distress saw him on the street and fled in fear. The Baptist church in Blaj was demolished to rubble by communist authorities, and they were denied permission to rebuild. The believers met every Sunday in the midst of the rubble for five years until they were allowed to rebuild after 1989.
- It has a solid doctrinal base. The believers in Romania take Biblical teaching very seriously. It is not uncommon for believers in the pews to have dozens of Bible passages memorized which they use in every day conversation. Thorough knowledge of the Bible is a prerequisite for leadership among Romanian believers. Benjamin Faragau, a Baptist Bible teacher in Cluj, has established a six year Through-the-Whole-Bible curriculum, used seriously in churches throughout the whole country. His commentaries are sold and the two volumes on Isaiah are national Christian best sellers. Doctrinal aberrancies from the core evangelical essentials aren't tolerated among believers. Extreme teachings from the West, in areas of health and wealth, haven't found a place in Romanian churches. However, Christians of every denomination have no qualms about asking God (and with a lot of faith) to heal the sick. Believers regularly trust God to supply their needs in the midst of a severe economic crisis.
- It is addressing the challenge of evangelism and saturation church planting. The Alliance for Saturation Church Planting has worked together with Romanian evangelical leaders to fill the country with Bible believing, reproducing churches. In September, 1994, brothers who belong to the four major denominations (representing 500,000 Christians) formed a fellowship of church planters. Special courses from The Alliance trains church planters in five major areas of Romania; Bucharest and Craiova in the unreached south of the country; Cluj, an intellectual center; Suceava in Moldavia, the heart of Romanian culture and tradition; and Arad, the buckle of the country's Bible belt. Other training programs are beginning to spread through the country.
- The gospel is beginning to penetrate secular society. Ion Alexandru, a godly man has held the case for Biblical Christianity before the nation's leaders. He and fellow parliament member Peter Dugulescu were repressed in the previous regime. Ion Babosh, who serves in the President's cabinet, is a dedicated Christian and man of prayer. Another pastor is a special consultant on human rights. Christian Moisescu is the mayor of Arad, one of the ten largest cities in Romania. He and other Christians involved with city government begin their day at his office with prayer for God's guidance and Bible study. He is having the words of Jesus from John 14:6 engraved into the stone of city hall, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." Christian books and Bibles are on open display in secular bookstores. Joseph Tson has begun quality Christian schools at high school and university levels. His vision is that graduates would enter and influence the largely unreached intellectual strata of society.
- There are choice servants of God in the country. Besides those already mentioned, a list could go on like the believer's Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. What else could one say about Vasile Talosh, who withstood incredible pressure and persecution and now ably leads the Baptist Union? What about Constantine Chisalitsa, who has developed a nationwide plan for church planting in villages? At the Evangelical Alliance, Ion Achim's dedicated life of prayer and Nelu Peia's organizational skills serve all of the evangelical denominations. Nelu and Lydia Dan are a unique team; he is a regional Christian leader and she evangelizes in women's prisons and develops Christian camping ministry. The list could go on forever as these are only a few of the heroes of faith in Romania.
- They hold a unique geographical, cultural and social position. Romania borders the Ukraine, Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia and has many cultural and religious ties with these Slavic peoples. A common Romanian saying is that, "We are Latins in a sea of Slavs." Ukrainians from the north pour south into Suceava for commerce to sell Russian made products and trade for hard currency. Yugoslavia and Bulgaria are Romania's southern neighbors and once fellow members of the former Warsaw Pact. Some strong ethnic, commercial, and cultural ties still exist with them.
The largest ethnic minority in Romania is the Hungarians. They make up approximately 10% of the country's population and can be found in Transylvania, which once was a province of the old Austro- Hungarian empire. There are strong evangelical churches among the Hungarians in Transylvania. One of their Christian leaders is Levante Horvath of Koinonia Ministries, an evangelistic outreach to students. He also manages a publishing house that translates and publishes Christian books for all of Hungary as well.
Another large ethnic minority in Romania are the Gypsy or Tsigany people. More gypsies live in Romania than in any other country on earth. Gypsy believers have developed some very lively and joyful Christian music.
Turkey shares the Black Sea coast with Romania. The southern part of Romania, called Olthenia, was often conquered by the Turks in the Middle Ages. Vlad Tsepesh (Dracula) and other Romanian heroes gained their fame in wars against Turkish invasion. Many died martyr's deaths as Olthenia remained Christian rather than turn Muslim. Yet their Muslim neighbors have influenced southern Romania in some cuisine and left a permanent mark in Romania's national memory. Today, Turks have many small businesses in Romania. Especially in Bucharest one can find Turkish restaurants, boutiques, and small grocery stores. Romanians go to Turkey to buy Turkish products and sell Romanian goods there.
The opportunity for Romanians to reach all these people groups is bigger than ever before. A mobilized Romanian missionary movement could significantly impact Eastern Europe and some of the Near East.
With all of the forward movement and opportunities at hand, there still remains some significant challenges ahead. Only a few women's ministries are organized to meet this moment of destiny. Youth can be mobilized as a force for missions on a much broader scale. A more visible spiritual movement among these two categories would pour gasoline on the fire of the Gospel in Romania. A need exists for more ministries in the arts, among students, and businessmen. A spiritual movement among these people would make evangelicals more relevant in society. More attention to all of these would mobilize a Balkan army for prayer, resources, and people for the evangelizing of Europe and the Near East for Jesus.
The Global Consultation on World Evangelization 1995 (GCOWE 95), to be held in Seoul, Korea from May 17-26,1995, will draw 4,500 delegates from 200 countries. Romania plans to send thirty-four delegates to GCOWE. Like their World Cup soccer team, they should come from obscurity to make an impact for Jesus' Gospel in today's world. Pray for this country to come into its own.