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Romanian villages provide challenges & tests of faith for mission teams

IASI, Romania (BP)–Romanian pastor Florin Vasiliu notified the mayors of Dancu and Tirgu Frumos that he would like to hold Christian meetings in their villages’ public parks, in anticipation of evangelistic assistance from Romanian American Mission, a mission team comprised of American and Romanian missionaries.

Influenced by priests of area Orthodox churches who felt threatened by an evangelical presence, the mayors in these northeastern Romanian villages declined Vasiliu’s requests.

Undaunted by the fact that stray dogs seem to have more legal freedom than evangelicals, the pastor continued his own witnessing efforts with the hope of also finding new locations to host the meetings.

Remarkably, local businessmen in both villages offered their facilities — the most unlikely of places for the meetings — bars. Not only were the bars private property, which made the meetings legitimate, they were strategically located in the middle of their respective communities.

“The locations were better than the ones we were originally targeting,” said Vasiliu, pastor of Biserica Crestina Baptista Nr. 1 in Iasi, Romania. “The evangelistic meetings were held in the same places where much of the daily activity took place,” he said, explaining how the evening gatherings followed a day of medical clinic ministry, home visitations and youth/children Bible school activities.

Youth group members of Vasiliu’s church began each nightly program with praise and worship songs followed by skits, testimonies and evangelistic messages from different team members. Romanian American Mission missionary Romica Nastrut ended each evening with a viewing of the Romanian-language “Jesus” film, a straightforward presentation of the life of Christ from the Gospel of Luke.

Even after the arrangement of the locations, challenges still existed for the ministry teams, particularly in Tirgu Frumos, a village yet to be touched by evangelism. Registered nurse Quanna Smith, a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary student from Baton Rouge, La., recalled how Pastor Vasiliu tried to prepare the medical team for their work in this village about 45 minutes from Iasi.

“I sensed Florin’s anticipation and apprehension as he told us that we would be the first Christian medical team to go into this area to evangelize,” she recounted.

There was reason for the apprehension. Only three years before, Vasiliu explained, nine Romanian Baptists were attacked by hundreds of people led by Romanian Orthodox priests in the Iasi county village of Ruginoasa. The Baptists were trying to attend a church service in a home when they were approached and insulted by the mob of people. Mob members then assaulted the Christians, some of whom were women and teens. Some of the Baptists were beaten until unconscious, Vasiliu charged.

However, what Satan meant for harm, God meant for good. Since the violent episode, the congregation, currently led by Romica Nastrut, has thrived.

RAM team member Larry Baker, a New Orleans Seminary student originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., witnessed the unity and strength of the congregation when he preached a couple of sermons in their house church.

“You could really sense the love for God in these people,” he said, explaining that tears streamed down their faces as they prayed. “There was an added depth to their dedication that was very noticeable,” he added.

Most of the RAM team wondered if the village of Tirgu Frumos would provoke similar opposition.

Aware of the possible danger ahead, Smith recounted how the morning was fairly quiet as the medical team was transported to the clinic and given two doctors’ offices by the Palestinian medical director there. However, shortly before lunchtime, Smith said, word came that some gypsies whom they had treated and given free medications were in the marketplace selling them. Word was also spreading among the gypsies (“faster than the Internet,” said Vasiliu) about the free medicine.

“On our arrival back to the clinic after lunch, we found that we had 72 people with the 40 numbered tickets waiting to be seen. These people were becoming loud and more agitated as the crowd continued to grow,” Smith said. “I soon became aware that the only thing between the out-of-control crowd and myself was an unlocked door with a peephole.”

Then the medical team heard a gunshot. Not long afterwards, the medical director informed them that they would have to leave immediately and not return the next day because some of the building’s tenants were complaining of the disturbance.

“Our team was then notified that two police officers were unable to control the crowd and that they needed to escort us out of the building,” Smith said. “As we were led by one of the officers through the crowd, I noticed that the atmosphere had miraculously changed. Like God parting the Red Sea for Moses and the children of Israel, a narrow path formed between the gypsies and ourselves.”

The medical team returned to the same village the next day but this time set up clinic in a vacant third-story apartment kitchen within four blocks of the previous clinic. Their day was without incident, Smith said.

She added: “Our Iasi medical team began every morning with joined hands in prayer, which was the same way we concluded our last clinic in Tirgu Frumos. The power of God was so strong as we began thanking him for allowing us to come and serve him by planting seeds in this new harvest field.”

Tirgu Frumos was also a challenging environment for the children and youth workers during their July 29-July 13 RAM outreach. In their first meeting, the five Americans and their teenage translators faced more than 200 people, many of whom were older teenagers ready to mock their efforts. Hot, tired and burnt out from four straight 10-hour days, the youth workers felt inadequate, and even fearful, about their ministry the next day.

How many more people would show up, they wondered. How would they handle the opposition?

“By the end of the first day, I was stunned,” said Susan Gannon, New Orleans Seminary master of divinity student. “While the youth were singing during the evening evangelistic meeting, I looked at each person in the crowd. I just began praying for each one.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to return to this village the next day but I knew God wanted us there. I had to go back,” she asserted.

That evening, fellow student Ashley Bell, from Memphis, Tenn., shared prayer concerns with family members and students staying in her dorm back on the seminary campus in New Orleans. As a result, a team of seminary students posted bulletins requesting prayer against the opposition. The bulletin read, “Romanian trip is having difficulties. Come join us for prayer.”

Unbeknownst to the Romanian mission team, eight to ten students banded together in the seminary’s Intercessory Prayer Room, offering prayers of protection and for God to perform miracles in Romania.

The Bible school team experienced dramatic answers to their prayers.

First, Pastor Vasiliu was led to share a devotion the next morning from the Gospel of Mark. Explaining how Jesus went from market to market (“Tirgu” translates into market), he shared how Jesus also faced harassment, fatigue and large crowds.

“You are experiencing the same thing that Jesus experienced,” he encouraged. “He will give you the strength to face the day.”

The challenges seemed more surmountable when team members could visualize their surroundings through the eyes of Jesus. The dusty roads in the foreign land could have easily resembled the environment that he faced.

Energized by prayer and by the idea that they were walking in Jesus’ footsteps, the ministry team began the new day with optimism.

The day was miraculous. Not only were the children well-behaved and attentive, they were eager to learn about Jesus. “It was as if God swept his hand over the entire day,” said Ivona Selea, one of the Romanian translators who help lead the music and lessons. Her faced shined as the children sang the songs and laughed at the skits performed.

One child named Alex said in nearly perfect English, “We are having the best time.” And later, when asked what they were most thankful for, he responded, “I am most thankful that all of you have come here today to teach us about Jesus.”

Another boy, Adrian, expressed similar sentiments. Ken Taylor, associate professor of urban missions, said to him, “I am praying that one day Jesus will come into your heart.”

“I invited him into my heart yesterday,” said the brown-haired, brown-eyed boy. “I already have him in my heart.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo titles: SINGING PRAISES.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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