MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Christians should become missionaries only if they’re willing to suffer and die for the gospel, an Eastern European Baptist pastor told college and seminary students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual “Beyond” missions conference Feb. 18-20.
“If you’re not ready to suffer, you better stay home because missions has a lot to do with suffering,” said Paul Negrut, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Oradea, Romania, one of the largest Baptist churches in Europe. “Do not play with God, fool yourself or deceive others in saying otherwise.”
Negrut was a main speaker at this year’s conference, held at the Mill Valley, Calif., seminary, the theme being martyrdom and witness. Growing up as a Christian and later becoming a minister in the former communist country, Negrut told the crowd he was no stranger to persecution. He also noted that God really doesn’t need human beings to help fulfill his will.
“He is in no need for help,” Negrut said. “He didn’t ask me or you or John or Peter to hold the sun until he found a good place for the moon. He is Almighty God, but he is also a loving Father who welcomes us to join him and be co-workers with him.”
One example of this was Jesus using a little boy’s lunch to feed five thousand. “Being God, he could’ve said the word and McDonald’s would have come into being right there and fed everyone,” Negrut said. “But Jesus invited the little boy to give his lunch. Imagine the little boy telling his parents later, ‘Do you know what Jesus and I did today?’
“In world missions,” Negrut said, “God can send angels and archangels, but he is looking for ordinary people like you and me.”
When Jesus asked the disciples to pray while they were in the Garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep, Negrut continued, noting, “We should keep watch and expect great things from God, but men and women with no expectations cannot stay awake.”
During Romania’s 45 years as a communist country, Christians were under great persecution and given no hope or future in the country, but they still had expectations that God would work, Negrut said.
“The government and press portrayed Christians as the most uneducated and stupid people in Romania, so there was no place for us in higher education or good jobs. We couldn’t elect our own pastors or deacons, and for a while we couldn’t meet in churches more than once a week. We couldn’t buy one piece of furniture without permission. Yet the church grew, and we prayed that radio, television, sports halls, military barracks, schools, prisons and those on the streets would be places where people would hear the gospel. God has made all that happen. We had expectation in prayer.”
Jesus’ disciples in Gethsemane didn’t understand the time they were in, Negrut said. “They figured that they had spent hours with Jesus before and thought there would be so many more, so that hour was nothing special to them. Therefore, they could just miss it.”
Negrut asked the students if they understood the time in which they live. Though there is currently freedom to spread the gospel in Eastern Europe, the liberation brought many undesirable things into the culture as well.
“France gave Romania complete abortion clinics for major cities. Italy gave us our first prostitution centers. Drugs and pornography came from Western Europe. Cults and false religions have flooded in. Your colleagues at universities there may be hooked on sin and drugs and their lives destroyed before they can reach a point to make a decision for Christ.”
For God’s will to be done, believers must be willing to pay the price, Negrut said. He visited a gifted Romanian hymn writer who was put in prison for 17 years and tortured daily for refusing to write songs glorifying communism. Each day, after being thrown into sewage and kicked by other prisoners, he wrote another hymn. Romanian churches sing from this collection of hymns today.
“I went and visited him after he was released to get some encouragement,” Negrut said. “When I arrived, he was bleeding because minutes before I got there communist police had come and tortured him. I got angry, but he said we aren’t on earth to complain, but to praise the name of our Lord Jesus. He praised God for the beauty of suffering and prayed for his torturers.”
This hymn writer had even told the torturers he loved them, and in 1988 a Secret Police officer had become a Christian through his witness.
Negrut also used Matthew 5:10-11 to show that persecution is a blessing. “When people bless you, do they ask for someone to come beat you up and torture you?” he asked. “Somehow, in our mindset, we associate blessing with a time of peace, prosperity and abundance. But if we’re broke, ill or suffering, or if we’re arrested or someone is murdered for being a Christian, we believe that God has abandoned us.”
But Jesus linked the kingdom of heaven with persecution, Negrut said. “There are blessings that only come with persecution. Suffering and persecution are essential parts of the Christian life. It’s not something strange, and when you suffer, you’ll experience the presence of the kingdom of God.”
Suffering shows what a Christian is made of, and that is almost why the communists persecuted them, he said. “When something around us is strange and unusual, we want to see what is inside to see if it’s real. Would it last?”
One believer was put in prison for not denying Christ and wasn’t given any food, Negrut recounted. He knelt and prayed for God’s provision and will. From the very first day, he said, in a small hole in the wall, a chicken laid a fresh egg every day for this man.
“After several weeks, the guards wondered why he wasn’t dead,” Negrut continued. “It’s because Jesus is Lord and he can feed him there. Some police in the jail accepted Christ because they learned that blessed are those who are persecuted.”
Another blessing that comes with persecution is that Christian love reaches its essence, Negrut said. Officials put a group of pastors in jail and said they would only feed one of them after a few days. They hoped that national television would broadcast any resulting fights to put down the idea of Christian love.
“Days later, the pastor who got the food didn’t touch it. He said he was unworthy to eat it because all the others had greater ministries. He said if he died, it wouldn’t be a great loss to the church. None of them actually touched the food, and the communists couldn’t believe it.”
Persecution also gives strength, Negrut said, telling of a stroke he suffered after a very difficult time in his ministry in 1988, and for months his left arm and foot were paralyzed. He couldn’t go to the government hospital because nurses there probably would’ve given him a shot that would kill him. His family nursed him in the mountains, and he played with the idea of leaving Romania for good.
“I prayed with a friend of mine about it, and he left and came back with a prayer of a Christian man who had died in prison that had been sent to families to encourage them. It said that he was looking forward to seeing Jesus face to face and seeing the whole Christian family together. He asked that during the parade of the martyrs if he could wear the uniform of a Romanian prisoner for he wanted to be a prisoner of Christ. It was because of that letter that I decided to stay.”
Still, times weren’t easy. His wife suffered a stroke after the family suffered a police attack, and he had a second stroke the following year in 1989. He was arrested and nearly executed in November of that year. Thirty-six Baptist pastors, including Negrut, wrote a letter to the dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu Dec. 13, telling them that they honor Christ and that he should stop telling the people to worship the leader when he needed to humble himself.
“We were all ready to be arrested and probably executed,” Negrut said. “Even the Romanian Orthodox patriarch praised Ceaucescu.”
But things began to happen quickly. On Dec. 17, Negrut got a phone call to preach at a crusade in Timisoara. When the communist police were about to arrest a pastor there, a group gathered around his house. In two days, the crowd grew to 10,000, and they moved to the headquarters of the communist party to pray there.
Ceaucescu sent troops, Negrut said, and opened fire on those up front, killing them. “What I saw in those next few moments is hard to put into words,” he said. “We all knelt down for a moment and then stood up and shouted, ‘God exists! God exists! God turns his face to Romania!’ over and over until past midnight.”
The government in Bucharest called the people in Timisoara hooligans influenced by the FBI and the CIA, Negrut said, but people began protesting in Bucharest. On Dec. 24, the army arrested Ceaucescu and executed him Christmas Day. He quoted one newspaper headline saying, “Christ is born; the Antichrist is dead.”
“If you serve the kingdom of the world, it’ll be gone soon,” Negrut said. “But the King of Kings is my king, and his kingdom lasts forever. Suffering is normal, but with it comes the glory. Life doesn’t end here, but begins here.”