God has done something extraordinary in Romania. Consider Emmanuel Baptist Church in Oradea near the Hungarian border (Oradea has a population of 230,000; Romania, 23 million). With sacrificial giving from inside and generous help from outside, it has played a crucial role in training pastors and church planting, and has experienced phenomenal growth. Behind all this is an amazing story of courage and commitment to Christ.
Under the dictatorial regime of President Ceaucescu in the 1980s pastors were watched closely by the secret police. Some were even betrayed by close friends who had worked for decades as informers.
Pastors were required to report every Monday morning to local government officials and give information on numbers in the church services, new converts, sermons preached and foreign visitors. Atheistic bureaucrats decided who could be baptised and who could not.
Then in 1989 Baptist pastors were granted permission to meet together solely to discuss budgetary matters. But when 47 pastors met for this purpose in December 1989 they had another item on the agenda – to write a letter to President Ceaucescu.
Their letter reminded the dictator that he was not God, but subject to God. It requested believers be allowed to meet without state scrutiny. It urged many other freedoms, including permission to import Bibles (normally recycled by the authorities as toilet paper), translate and print Bibles and conduct evangelism.
The signatories (43 of the 47) were very afraid; it was like signing a death warrant. One pastor told me he told his wife what he had done and they both cried, knowing this could lead to a long term of imprisonment.
Yet within a few days Ceaucescu had been overthrown and killed. Maybe this Baptist correspondence was the last thing he ever read! The writing was on the wall – his evil regime was at an end.
The country was exhilarated with its new freedoms and God blessed the church leaders who had put their lives on the line; men like Paul Negrut and the youngest signatory Doru Hnatiuc (married with two children) – who today, along with Peter Vidu and Cosmin Marc, make up the pastoral team at Emmanuel.
Emmanuel had known spiritual revival in 1974 with 399 -people being baptised – a doubling of membership. But it was blessed immensely after 1989. There were 1,800 members in 1977; 3,020 in 1993; and 4,029 by the end of 2003.
The church started various institutions: a Christian university in 1990, with 428 students and 78 lecturers (936 students have graduated since); a high school, primary school and kindergarten; Bethesda Medical Centre in 1992 (with 7 full-time and 11 part-time staff, including 12 doctors – 12,592 people received free medical treatment in 2003); and other charities, including an orphanage and hospice.
The ‘School of Prophets’ gives Bible training to evangelical ministers. The Slavic Gospel Association has been regularly involved in the school’s work. It had 42 graduates in 1998 and 18 in 2003/04.
Emmanuel is involved in outreach too. It has planted many churches. Salard was started in 1990 and now has 30 members and 15 adherents; Les in 1998 and has 15 members and 15 adherents; Sacadat in 1991 and has 20 members and 10 adherents; and so on. Not all the churches in Romania are as big as Emmanuel, but they are all a witness to Jesus Christ.
I asked Doru Hnatiuc, ‘What one thing has been central for the growth and health of the Church?’ His reply came without hesitation – ‘Preaching the Word of God!’
Everything else has emerged from that, including a Christlike compassion for the sick, abused and abandoned.
This church is not modelled along ‘purpose driven’ or ‘seeker sensitive’ lines. It just gets on with preaching Christ! Romania has much to teach us about the love of Jesus expressed in word and deed.
It is amazing what God has done in such a relatively short space of time. Let us pray that the gospel will continue to prosper in Romania.