By Joe R. Price
Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? (Rom. 10:13-15)
The country of Romania desperately needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. While spending almost six weeks in Bucharest, Romania this spring adopting our new daughter (May 15-June 21), many exciting things happened. One of the most exciting was my opportunity to observe its society and to assess the prospects of preaching the gospel in that Eastern European country. While a number of obstacles exist which must be considered by anyone going there to preach the word, I believe that an effective work of spreading the gospel can be done there.
Since the end of World War II, Romania has been ruled by communistic dictators who made no secret of their opposition to Christianity. Children were openly taught in school that they were their own god and that religion is dangerous and destructive. One Romanian told me that this description of religion was reinforced by using examples, such as the Jim Jones massacre in South America. Such atheistic instruction has reaped its harvest of godless values. Materialism, greed and worldliness abound in Romanian society. And, many Romanians are equally skeptical of their own Romanian Orthodox Church (the state church). During the past 45 years, their priests were often informants for the government. As one Romanian woman told me, “How could I trust a priest with my life’s problems, when he might turn my name over to the secret police?!” Besides the error of the Orthodox Church’s priesthood system (Jas. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:5,9), one can see how such behavior might cause distrust toward others who go there preaching the gospel of Christ.
With the overthrown of the Caucescu regime in December 1989, Romania did open its borders to numerous religious organizations (some had already been granted official status). It is now permitted to take Bibles and religious materials into Romania. Distribution is also permitted and is easily arranged. (I gave away 25 Bibles, 50 Bible correspondence booklets and 250 Bible tracts within the span of 30 minutes on a street corner!) Many religious groups now have a presence there (including an institutionally-minded church of Christ in Bucharest of about 75 members). While I was there, the leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church led a debate in the Romanian Parliament asking why so many missionaries from the West were coming to Romania. Obviously, he does not see the need and wants restrictions placed upon such work. However, interest in other religions appears to be growing. And yet, this interest is hard to accurately access. Many Romanians have a strong desire to leave their country, and the appeal of a religion from the West often carries with it the hope of escaping the political and economic chaos and hardship of Romania. Therefore, any proclamation of the gospel in Romania must emphasize that one obeys the gospel to enter Christ, not to enter the West (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27; 2 Cor. 5:17).
In practically every village of Romania, the most prominent structure is a Romanian Orthodox Church building. To a Romanian, the church is the building. And, while many Romanians consider themselves Christians, they believe they are granted moral liberty by their church. While talking with one Romanian about true worship and the need to regularly assemble with fellow Christian, he told me that as a member of the Orthodox Church he had “liberty” to do as he pleased. If he wanted to smoke or drink (which practically every Romanian does), it was not sin. It was evident to me that many Romanians separate their religious life from their moral life (this is no different from any other place, including America!). These is little or no concept of sin against God, even among those who consider themselves Christians (Psa. 51:4; Rom. 6:1-2). Anyone preaching the gospel there must be prepared to demonstrate that Christianity produces a radical change in lifestyle and is not a religion of convenience (Acts 26:20; Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:5-11). As one Romanian told me, “Our country is lacking a moral foundation. That must change if our society is to improve.”
Preaching the gospel in Romania (particularly Bucharest) will mean dealing with the presence of liberal brethren, who have been there since the first of this year. The Eastern European Missions organization (headquartered in Vienna, Austria and supported by churches in the U.S.) has sent preachers into Romania, and there are also churches in the U.S. which are sponsoring an English School which is conducted during the week at the same location the church meets. This church-operated English School is their major point of contact with native Romanians, as the Bible is their textbook. While teaching English to Romanians may indeed be an expedient means of introducing the gospel to them, such unauthorized arrangements must be avoided, and will have to be addressed by brethren as they preach the gospel there.
Taking the gospel to Romania will mean confronting the economic realities of this third world, communistic society. Its economy is in shambles. There have been two major commodity price increases there this year, yet wages have not kept pace. Romanian currency, the leu, is practically worthless. The exchange rate at the bank during my visit was 60 lei to the dollar.. But, many individuals were exchanging lei for dollars at the rate of 175 to 1. While a monthly salary averages 4000 lei, an average pair of shoes costs about 3000 lei! Consequently, the people are hungry for U. S. dollars. Any American going to Romania can expect to pay for many of the things he needs in dollars (at an inflated price, of course). Housing is mostly found in apartment buildings (called blocks) which rise to heights of 10-15 stories. Foreigners can obtain housing (either rent or buy), but only by using dollars. For a person intending to move there, it would be very helpful to have a Romanian contact assist in arranging a place to live. While single family housing does exist, most Romanians cannot afford it. A possible suggestion for preaching the gospel in the Bucharest area would be to rent or purchase a house which could serve as a meeting place for worship and classes, as well as lodging for preachers.
Food shortages do exist, depending upon the time of year. Romania has rich farmland, but much of its produce is exported for currency (to support its domestic work force). Such items as butter and cooking oil were in short supply during my stay. And, lines can be seen as people wait to buy what is available. Winter is expected to bring with it many more shortages. Don’t expect to find McDonald’s, Denny’s or an American style supermarket in Romania!
Medical care in Romania is archaic by western standards. The hospitals are reminiscent of those of the 1940s and 50s. Even the most common medical supplies are not always available. Syringes am still used for multiple patients (which led to the spread of AIDS among many children there). The doctor I stayed with told me of hospitals without rubbing alcohol! Obviously, one going to Romania to preach the gospel will not receive the level of medical care in Romania we have come to take for granted in America.
The past two years have seen a great deal of political unrest in Romania. There was the December 21-22, 1989 revolution which ousted Nicolai Caucescu. Then, the riots of June 13-15, 1990, which saw many Romanians killed when coal miners were hauled into Bucharest to put down the unrest. I witnessed near riot conditions in Bucharest during the anniversary of this event, as eight bus loads of soldiers with riot gear stood by if needed. It is clear that many Romanians are dissatisfied with their current government, which is still very communistic. Unless economic and political reforms show some real progress soon, I fear that more violence will erupt.
Getting into and out of Romania, while possible, is still quite an adventure. Entering by train took three hours at the border. Entering by automobile can take up to 24 hours. Armed guards patrol the borders and the airport. There is no easy access into the country. Expect to be searched and searched again when entering and leaving Romania.
One might be tempted to say “Romania is a lost cause” after considering the religious, moral, economic and political conditions of the country. But remember with me the Roman Empire of the first century. It was religiously and morally bankrupt. It was steeped in paganism and idolatrous immoralities. Economic hardships were a way of life for millions, and political unrest could be found throughout the kingdom. Yet, the gospel of Christ was “preached in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1: 23). Souls were saved, churches were established, and the influence of Christianity spread (Acts 8:4; 1 Thess. 1:7-9; Rom. 1:8; Matt. 5:13-16). Our faith in the power of the gospel of Christ as well as our compassion for lost souls must compel us to give serious consideration to taking the gospel to this country which so desperately needs it. Unless we act, Satan will continue to hold sway over the 22 million souls of that nation.
Can such a task be accomplished? Yes, but two things will be needed. First, churches must be willing to support preachers to go to Romania to preach the gospel (Acts 13:1-3; Phil. 1:3-7; 4:15-17). There is currently a great deal of interest among brethren over Eastern Europe. This must not merely be a momentary concern. Let it be a genuine zeal to do what can be done to spread the gospel to these lost souls. There must be an ongoing commitment to sustain men in Romania to do the work there.
Secondly, there must be preachers who are willing and able to do the work which needs to be done. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with five fellow preachers in Bucharest before I returned home. Brethren Buddy Payne, Gary Odgen, Joe Rose, Lonnie Fritz and David Teel were touring Eastern Europe to visit brethren, distribute literature, and to survey future opportunities for spreading the gospel. Brethren Rose, Fritz and Teel intend to move to Eastern Europe in the near future. We discussed at length the Romanian situation and the prospects of men going there to preach. Let there be no doubt, sacrifices will have to be made by preachers and their families in order to accomplish the work there. Communication with the West is difficult, food and medicine are not plentiful, and political revolt is possible. But, the rewards will be tremendous! I found the Romanian people to be warm and friendly, eager to help. Although I speak no Romanian, the language barrier was not a problem, since many Romanians also speak English. The gospel must be sown there. It will find receptive hearts (Lk. 8:11-15).
Due to the current situations which exist in Romania, my recommendation is that, if possible, a rotation of preachers alternate going into Romania. Perhaps two or more men could go to Bucharest (a city of about 2 million) and obtain housing, etc. with the help of contacts which already exist there. After staying for a period of several months, they could rotate out as other men move in. This would eliminate the need of taking a family into the difficult circumstances of Romanian society. And, it would allow for some continuity to be maintained in the work. However, this would require the harmonious (not to mention scriptural) working of a number of evangelists. Perhaps brethren based in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or some other European country could make such expeditions into Romania to begin and strengthen the work there. Or, brethren from the States could go whenever possible. Any scriptural arrangement is encouraged. I would be happy to discuss this sort of effort with anyone who is interested.
When the Lord sought for one to go to Israel to warn the nation of its sins and to urge repentance, he said “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah replied, “Here am I; send me” (Isa. 6:8). Who is ready? Who will answer the call to take the gospel to Romania? “How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 17, pp. 520-522
September 5, 1991