Assembly Work and Testimony in Romania
‘As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country’, Prov. 25. 25.
Romania is the largest country in South East Europe and is slightly smaller in area than Great Britain. It has dramatic mountain scenery and a coastline on the Black Sea. It is usually very hot in summer and quite cold in winter.
A brief history
The Romans conquered the Romanian’s ancestors in AD 105 and after the Romans withdrew around AD 271, Slavs, Saxons, Turks, Magyars and Tartars migrated to the region, conquering, annexing territory and mingling with the population. Until the 19th Century, there were three separate principalities: Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania. These were united into a single country called Romania in December 1918. At the end of the Second World War, Romania was occupied by Russian troops. Under Communist rule it was transformed from an agricultural to an industrial nation. Many people moved to towns for work and, as a result, assemblies significantly increased numerically in towns and cities.
After the overthrow of Communism in the revolution of December 1989, economic reforms caused massive unemployment and uncertainty. Romania joined the European Union in 2007, following which substantial foreign investment has taken place. New jobs have brought stability and prosperity for some, but others still struggle to survive. The infrastructure has greatly improved. The pace of change has accelerated and large numbers of people have emigrated because of very low wages in contrast to Western Europe. This has opened up opportunities for Romanian believers to evangelize their own people and other nationalities in the countries they have moved to.
The current population of 19.1 million (84% Romanian, 6% Hungarian, 3% Romanies) is projected to decrease to 15.2 million by 2050. Religious adherence traditionally runs along ethnic lines, with the majority of Romanians being of the (Eastern) Orthodox Church (86%) and 4% Roman Catholic. Some of the 1.4 million Hungarian-speaking people living in Western Romania attend Catholic and Hungarian Reformed Churches. There has been a large German influence, mainly Lutheran, in Transylvania. By the Black Sea there are some Turks and Tartars who are Muslim. A significant Romany population is spread throughout the country and they are increasingly responsive to the gospel. Such assemblies are keen on Bible teaching and reach out to their own communities with the gospel.
Beginning of Assembly testimony
In 1899 an English missionary, E. H. Broadbent (1861-1945), was returning from Russia and visited Constanta and Bucharest. He saw the great need for the spread of the gospel and the establishment of assemblies. On the main street, Calea Victoriei, in the capital Bucharest he prayed with tears for the nation. On returning to England, he promoted prayer for Romania and the need for gospel workers to visit. His article was translated into French and published in Switzerland. A Swiss brother, Francis Berney (1869-1939), read the article and was called by God and commended to work in Romania. He and Charles Aubert arrived in Bucharest with their families in September 1899. Initially, they met in Berney’s house and the meetings were in French. The first Romanian-speaking assembly was planted in Bucharest in November 1901 and the first German-speaking assembly was planted in the city of Sibiu in 1909 by the German missionary Karl Wägner. In Transylvania, the gospel was first preached in the German-speaking communities and, later, in the Romanian-speaking communities. The assembly in Râ?nov was planted by E. H. Broadbent himself, who, with Francis Berney, spent several months in the area between 1902 and 1903. The missionaries were involved in Bible teaching in different areas.
Foreign missionaries were expelled in 1909 as a result of pressure from the Orthodox Church leadership. Several Swiss believers took up jobs in Romania and were involved in gospel preaching and Bible teaching. Romanian believers devotedly took the gospel to many towns and villages and new assemblies were established and the work developed. The first Hungarian-speaking assembly was planted in Cluj in 1931.
At the end of the Second World War, the godless system of Communism dominated Eastern Europe until 1989. During these years, believers from Great Britain and other countries visited to refresh and encourage the faithful and courageous Romanian believers, both practically and spiritually, in their very difficult circumstances. There was a great shortage of Bibles, Bible study books and commentaries. This may be the main reason why assemblies were weaker in Bible teaching than they are today. However, some literature was brought into the country and brethren studied the scriptures in secret. Open-air evangelism was not allowed but a major flood in 1970 and a huge earthquake in 1977 clearly spoke to the nation and souls were saved.
The revolution in December 1989 and the fall of Communism resulted in significant changes. New opportunities arose for concentrated evangelism and there was impressive numerical growth. There were 270 assemblies in 1989, today there are over 700 and the number of believers in these assemblies has doubled. There are twenty-one Hungarian-speaking assemblies, one German-speaking and the rest are Romanian-speaking. The extent of the work and God’s power in the gospel can be seen in that there are more assemblies gathering to the Lord’s name in Romania than in the rest of Eastern Europe.
Christian radio stations have been established in key cities providing access to Bible teaching and the message of salvation. Some Christian schools have opened, providing a good education and also a spiritual input into young lives.
Our first visit to Romania was in August 1990, when we travelled with Martin and Margaret Baker, from our commending assembly in Cheshunt. After eighteen visits, we moved to Romania in May 1996 commencing language-learning and adapting to the culture.
Growth has slowed down but there is still considerable outreach in public buildings and tent campaigns, with a good interest being shown and a response to the gospel by people from a variety of backgrounds, including some priests. Assemblies are seeing blessing in the gospel, especially through personal evangelism. Special occasions, such as baptisms, also provide excellent opportunities in the gospel and halls are always packed. Baptisms in rivers draw large crowds from the local area. One memorable occasion was witnessing the baptism of thirty-three believers in the River Siret in M?r??e?ti. It is most encouraging to hear of, and to visit, newly planted assemblies resulting from the sacrificial labours of Romanian evangelists, working in pioneer situations, visiting homes door-to-door.
Growth, however, is much more than numbers. There is a need for spiritual depth, maturity, stability and a deepening understanding and application of God’s word. Over the years, the Holy Spirit has raised up and prepared gifted Bible teachers to build up the assemblies. Godly elders seek to minister to various needs and guide a new generation of believers in a rapidly changing world.
Working together with local elders and believers, the sovereign Lord has wonderfully opened up different avenues of service over the years.
Gospel tent work – a suggestion from an evangelist in the north of Romania led to the purchase of a tent for gospel outreach in May 2008. Through that vision for evangelism, which has grown in the hearts of believers in different parts of the country, the work has expanded and there are now thirteen tents in Romania and one tent in the Republic of Moldova. Last summer, tents were pitched 150 times in 141 towns and villages, motivating a younger generation of workers to get involved in God’s work. Souls have been saved, baptized and added to local assemblies and Sunday Schools have been strengthened or commenced in areas where there was no outreach to children or young people.
Bible teaching – it is a privilege to be invited to take all-day Bible studies and series of ministry meetings, together with other Bible teachers throughout the country. There continues to be a need for expositional and systematic Bible teaching. Please pray for spiritual dividends as time is invested in the younger generation, as well as in believers of all ages, teaching them systematically from the scriptures and guiding and encouraging them in the Lord’s work. Bible teaching is long-term, not short-term, and there are no short-cuts.
Website and Bible correspondence course work – in the early days, after the revolution, a website called ‘Search the Scriptures’ was set up, providing sound gospel and Bible teaching material. Many visitors from different countries accessed the website and requested Bible courses and Christian literature. Although interest is declining, as people have less spare time, prisoners are studying the scriptures by this means and some have been saved. Believers have developed Bible courses for children and young people, both online and by post, and a good interest is still being shown. There are many devoted believers working amongst children and teenagers on a weekly basis.
Bible Exhibition – after working together with Romanian and British brethren, a Romanian Bible Exhibition (RBE) was completed in 2013. The aim of the RBE is to communicate the gospel and fundamental Bible truths using eighteen panels and five display tables. It has been used in hired public buildings, Christian schools, and large shopping malls and provides a good opportunity for younger and older believers to work together.
Literature work – translating and printing good gospel and Bible teaching material has been undertaken by different believers over many years. During the last twenty-five years, we have been occupied in printing Bible commentaries, Bible teaching books and booklets, Bible study courses, as well as books for children, gospel tracts and booklets. Very large quantities of gospel literature are distributed by individual believers where they have openings, by evangelists and by local assemblies in gospel work, at the Bible Exhibition and at tent meetings. Literature is also used by Romanians working in the Republic of Moldova and Western Europe. Christian literature written by Romanian believers is also available.
Commended workers – as a nation, Romanians are deeply indebted to those who brought the gospel to them and they are now taking it to others, serving the Lord overseas in places like Malawi, Niger, India, Peru and Mongolia.
The Lord of the harvest continues preparing His workers for future service in Romanian assemblies. It is important to remember that it is the Lord’s work and it is the sovereign Lord who has worked and continues to work to His praise and for His eternal glory.