The pastor and his young family spoke in hushed tones while we met in their small apartment in Bucharest, Romania on a cold winter’s night. They knew that the Communist government placed their apartment under surveillance, and openly discussing the translation of our curriculum could lead to arrest and imprisonment. I was just twenty-three years old, fresh out of college, and part of a mission to write and translate seminary-level curriculum for pastors in Eastern Europe.
The year was 1983, when Nicolae Ceaușescu—who was likened to Stalin—ruled Romania, then a Soviet-bloc country. His Communist regime was one of the most brutal and repressive, especially toward Christians. As a result, any type of seminary-level training was forbidden except for one government-controlled seminary where only five students were allowed to enroll every two years.
Our publishing office was based in Vienna, where we wrote theology and Bible curriculum to train pastors in Eastern Europe. I was asked to go into Romania to teach Christians how to use our floppy disks (remember, it was 1983) to access the files for translating our curriculum.
I’ll never forget crossing the border with those disks hidden in my luggage. I tried to act like a nonchalant tourist as the guard looked through my bags. Thankfully, the disks weren’t discovered, and I made it through customs.
The next morning we had prearranged that I would go to a neighborhood park and wait on a park bench. A man was going to come up to me with a newspaper under his arm, briefly greet me, and then I was to follow him to his car. True story. As a mother now of twentysomething daughters, I can’t believe it either!
That man was the pastor who would later invite me to his family’s home for dinner. He had sacrificed so much to make God and His Word known in Romania. He had given up his medical practice to pastor at least five small underground churches. He had been arrested and beaten many times before I met him. And yet he was risking further persecution just to get our curriculum into the hearts and minds of other pastors and leaders.
Decades later, the impact of my visit stays with me. How do you ever forget young families willing to risk beatings, imprisonment, and even death to disciple others? How do you take for granted the freedom to gather openly to worship and study His Word together?
I just read that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a package of anti-terrorism laws that usher in tighter restrictions on religious freedoms. Christianity Today reported, “The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20. To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.”
While reading these headlines, it took me back to a tiny apartment in 1983 Bucharest, when a humble pastor, his wife, and twelve-year-old son shared a meal with me as we whispered His Name.
What about you? I’d love to hear how you guard against taking your freedom for granted to openly worship and study the Bible in community. Leave me a comment below.