WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Across the Atlantic Ocean, a continent away, the gospel spreads across a landscape dominated for decades by an atheistic death-hold of communist power.
Where Marxist ideals once ruled with an iron fist, the embers of spiritual revival glow red-hot, fanned by the advance of a key theologically conservative Baptist university and seminary with ties to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
Birthed from an underground movement during the communist regime, Emmanuel Bible University and Seminary was created shortly after the collapse of Romania’s communist government in 1989.
Today, the school is now accredited and has an enrollment of more than 500 students from 11 countries. Located in Oradea, Romania, it awards degrees in theology, literature, languages, social work, education, music and management.
Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention, is a member of the Romanian school’s board of trustees. Patterson has been friends with the president of the Romanian seminary, Paul Negrut, for 10 years.
During that time the two schools have shared resources and personnel. Patterson’s commentary on 1 Peter in the New Testament has been translated into Romanian. Several Southeastern faculty have taught courses at the seminary in Oradea, and in the spring eight Romanian nationals were enrolled at Southeastern.
“In my estimation, the seminary in Oradea is one of the most remarkable miracles of our era,” Patterson said. “That such a seminary of that size and magnitude could have grown up so quickly in such an adversarial culture has to be something that is unique to the century.”
Negrut, the school’s founder and president, labored diligently for years to establish an institution of higher Christian learning.
In the mid-1970s, a grassroots evangelistic movement began spreading rapidly across Romania. Sensing the need for more trained ministers, evangelical leaders such as Negrut and fellow colleague Nik Gheorgita started a school, called the “School of Prophets,” to train church leaders in Romania. Students met secretly in the woods or in a fellow Christian’s home.
Negrut and other Romanian Baptists were severely persecuted during the communist regime. Looking back on his sufferings, however, Negrut said the blessings have far outweighed the pain.
“Oh yes, I have been arrested many times,” he said. “My family and I were followed and threatened. I would not say that persecution is a romantic thing. It is not the sort of thing that one wishes for, but I would not trade it now for all the riches of the world.”
During the communist rule, churches were controlled by the state, and people were taught that belief in God was mystic and childish. Churches could not select their own pastors, but had to petition the state to appoint one. At the fall of communism, there were only 125 pastors for the 900 Baptist churches in Romania.
Emmanuel has three Southeastern alumni currently serving on their faculty: T.T. Bulzan, who is presently enrolled in Southeastern’s Ph.D. program; Onesimus Mladin, a December ‘96 graduate; and Ilie (Elijah) Tundrea, a December ‘97 graduate.
Additionally, Ilie (Elijah) Soritau, a master of divinity student from Oradea, is returning home following his graduation from Southeastern this spring to teach in the school’s pastoral theology department.
Soritau credits his training at Southeastern with fueling his fire for evangelism. “We came here and were inspired to have the vision we have for Romania and the world around us,” he said.
Negrut and Patterson envision using both schools to reach their arms around the globe for the cause of Christ. Through Emmanuel, students are being trained to take the gospel to millions of people scattered throughout seven time zones and 11 countries, several of which are Muslim territories.
“I believe what they are doing there is of such substantive importance that it really constitutes the hope of all Eastern Europe, and I think that they have a vision large enough to encompass that,” Patterson said.
With Emmanuel as a training center, Negrut’s desire is to see the “farthest corners of the post communist world” impacted by his graduates. Emmanuel alumni are already serving as pastors and ministers throughout Eastern Europe and even as far away as Siberia.
Galarza is a newswriter at Southeastern Seminary.