From Persecution to Revival: The Church in Romania

April 2, 2015

romania

By Matt Morrison
Content Editor


Dan was nearly home when he heard the piercing squeal of tires coming from behind his car.  It was the last-second warning before the crash that jolted his vehicle.  After collecting himself, he stepped out of his mangled car to find hundreds of Bibles strewn across the street.

With sirens screaming in the distance, Dan knew he had only moments before the police would arrive and arrest him for possession of Christian literature.  He quickly called out to the crowd gathering around the scene, “If you want Bibles or Christian literature, take them and go!”

Officers arrived only moments later.  Not a single Bible remained.

As Dan and the pastors shared their stories from Romania’s communist era, our team sat there in complete amazement.  Despite our exhaustion after three full days of ministry in the communities surrounding Suceava, no one could leave the dinner table.  We were hooked.

While our team had already spent the better part of a week holding medical clinics across northeastern Romania, openly sharing the Gospel along the way, such freedom has not always existed in this small eastern European country.  In fact, our ministry earlier that day had nearly been derailed by political opposition from the mayor and priest who were less than thrilled by our evangelistic intentions.

The Socialist Republic of Romania was officially established in 1947.  The next four decades would be marked by fierce persecution and zero tolerance for political dissidence.  The Romanian Orthodox Church became the official state religion.  Beautiful cathedrals towered over the town squares of even the most destitute villages.  Priests often used their access to the personal lives of Romanian citizens to spy on behalf of the government.

When Nicolae Ceausescu assumed power in the 1960s, the decision to follow Christ came with a high price.  Ceausescu was considered one of the harshest leaders of the 20th century.  But despite the constant threat of imprisonment, torture, forced labor, and death, the Church never gave up.

The pastors with whom we served would carve out space under the backseats of their cars so they could smuggle Bibles across the border.  For particularly large deliveries, they would empty one of the three fuel tanks in a freight truck and fill it with Scripture.  They were chased through train stations, followed across the countryside by secret police, and perpetually one misstep away from capture.

AN UNFORGETTABLE CHRISTMAS

In 1989, a young pastor named László Tőkés was serving in the western city of Timișoara when he made critical remarks against the government on an Hungarian television show.  In addition to questioning Ceausescu’s policies, he boldly suggested that the Romanian people lacked any understanding of their God-given rights.  As a punishment, the government moved to evict him.

But in the days leading up to László’s removal, his congregation held a prayer vigil outside his family’s apartment.  Onlookers soon joined in support.  When officers arrived on December 16 to take him away, they were met by widespread protests, which quickly turned violent.  As the situation escalated, the people attempted to burn down the Communist Party headquarters. Officers fired into the crowd, leading to thousands of deaths and complete anarchy.  Every attempt to quell the protests only fueled the fire.

On December 21, Nicolae Ceausescu addressed the people in the capital of Bucharest.  Eight minutes into his speech, the people began chanting “Ti-mi-șoa-ra! Ti-mi-șoa-ra!” with the entire nation watching.  Nicolae and his wife, Elena, narrowly escaped as protesters overtook the complex.  The two remained on the run for several days until their eventual capture.  On Christmas Day, Nicolae and Elena were publicly tried and executed by firing squad on national television.

AN UNSTOPPABLE REVIVAL

With the reign of terror over, a new chapter began for the Church.  The faithfulness of Romanian Christians birthed a revival that is still alive and well today.  Dan and the other ministers continue to establish new churches, mentor pastors, and disciple young believers in Suceava county.  It’s a phenomenon that is taking place all over Romania.

After decades of control, Romanians today are desperate to know their individual worth.  They are seeking the authentic love that only comes from Christ.  Young people, in particular, are increasingly receptive to the Gospel.  According to Operation World, at least ten home-grown missions agencies have developed since 2000.

But there is still much work to be done.  While Romania is home to one of Europe’s largest evangelical communities, it still only accounts for 5% of the population.  One in five people groups in Romania are still considered unreached.  Meanwhile, the Orthodox Church remains a central player in Romanian culture, often exerting its influence in municipal politics.  Years of deceit have left Romanians with a well-earned skepticism and a warped view of Jesus.

The Gospel is exploding in Romania but the Christians still have their work cut out for them.  Serving alongside these men and women is an experience I will never forget, and one I hope to repeat in the years to come.  Their selfless devotion is a vivid reminder of the New Testament Christians who courageously spread the Gospel against growing opposition.


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