Romania: What does it take to change hearts?

As I write this, our team is on their flights back to the United States. I apologize for the delay in getting out the last blog post… it was a crazy couple of days with traveling back home early and I didn’t think I would be able to do justice to our last days of the trip.

Our last days in Romania were yet again incredible… days we saw the Lord do glorious things for the sake of His name. Wednesday, we concluded our week of ministry activities during the day, and had one more concert at the local cultural arts centers. We saw a lot of children make decisions for Christ in our VBS times, along with many adults as well in other areas. 

Our last concert was in an absolutely beautiful setting, an older theater right off the large fortress where we had our first concert Saturday night. We saw many faces who had been to our previous concert, as well as many new faces. It was yet again a great concert with beautiful sounds, where the gospel was clearly presented… they enjoyed it so much they clapped for an encore. Afterward, our team got a chance to talk with many who attended. I saw a lot of emotional faces who were thrilled by our music and message, and saddened this would be the last time they would get to hear us.

Thursday, our team got to enjoy some sightseeing at Bran Castle, or “Dracula’s Castle”. Even though I had to leave the team early, I know they had a great day. But what was even more amazing is what happened that evening. All week, one of our team members has had the opportunity to make friends with a local man named John. He had shared Christ with John early that week, but John just wasn’t ready to make Jesus lord of his life. But as our team was ending their day and soon heading to bed, John decided to come to our hotel around 10 PM and see if he could find our team member who had shared Christ with him earlier in the week. He was ready. So after about an hour of talking, John decided to follow Christ and makes Jesus his Lord and Savior. John said he even ready to be obedient to baptism, so naturally we asked the hotel management to open the pool so we could baptize our new brother in Christ, John, and they graciously let us. With about 20 or so witnesses from our team still awake, we got the privilege to baptize John in the pool at Hotel Parc in Alba Lulia, Romania. How great is our God?

As I think about the last week and a half, it’s funny to me that a couple of months ago, some of us were worried this Romania trip wouldn’t even happen. At first, sign-ups for the trip were slow; and even on the pre-trip in February, there was concern that the logistics of such a big group would be overwhelming for a trip like this. But one thing after another, God showed us once again that His sovereignty is bigger than our doubts or concerns, that He had plans far beyond what we could have thought or imagined.

Talking with Marcel, our partner on the ground in Alba Lulia, I asked him what it meant to his ministry to have our group here this week. He responded that the work done this week by our team was a tremendous help to his ministry in Romania. But how? How could a couple of concerts, picking weeds, or painting children’s faces to name a few things, actually make a difference? Marcel added that people were blown away with our humility. It’s one thing that a group of people would come and put on professional sounding concerts, but it’s another that they would serve the least of these in their community... that these “professionals” would gladly get up on stage in the spotlight but the next morning give hand massages at an elderly home or feed the poor and marginalized. That combination spoke loudly to the community in which we worked and it was exactly what needed to happen for the people’s hearts to be softened to the message we were sharing.

Who knew, right?
God did.

He knew long before this trip was even a thought in our minds that He would use us in all kinds of strange ways to communicate is message of true joy and satisfaction to a people who are tired from seeking, who are tired of doing things for the sake of tradition rather than doing things out of a thankful heart of gratitude for what our Savior has done for us. This next story wraps that up clearly to me.

On Wednesday, one of our teams was wrapping up a great morning of VBS in one of the communities. As they were cleaning up and getting ready to board the bus back one more time, one of the moms of three kids who attended VBS this week ran up to one of our ladies who served there each day. She wanted Christ, and she wanted to receive Him right there on the spot. But what makes this story so incredible is that this woman knew all the answers. She grew up in church. She went to university and studied theology. She had incredible head knowledge of Christ, but lacked knowing him personally. What did it take for her to push her over the edge? It took someone who had seen where Christ had made a clear difference in her life. Someone who understood the difference between following Christ out of joy verses following Christ out of duty. This woman saw that… saw the difference and wanted to know what it is that filled our team member with such great joy. She said after she prayed to Christ for him to be Lord of her life, “It’s amazing… I already feel like a different person”. I immediately thought of 1 Corinthians 5:17.

This story, unfortunately, is far too common for the Romanian people. According to the CIA World Factbook, Romania roughly 93% Christian. That number is astounding, and leads many people to ask why in the world we would need to take the gospel to such a Christian-saturated culture. Stories like this woman’s was exactly why we need to come alongside great work that’s happening there. Romania has plenty of people who call themselves Christian, but like so many in America, are going to walk into an eternity separated from God because they spent their lives practicing religion rather than loving Jesus. There is so much more work to be done in Romania, and this week of ministry showed us just that. However discouraging it may be to think about this reality, it gives us hope to know that the work we did actually had impact, and that the work continues with folks like Marcel, who will continue the work there now that we are gone. May we never forget what happened in Romania the week God gave our team from Marietta, Georgia the opportunity to come and join in the great work He is doing. May we continue to pray for Marcel and the many others who are in the trenches of ministry in Romania. And may we ourselves let this be a reminder of what happens when we are obedient to the call for taking the gospel to the nations, and to our neighbors. Thanks for coming alongside us as we humbly respond to the call to take the gospel to Romania. We love all of you, and we are thankful to Jesus for all the great things he allowed us to be a part of doing.