We are here in Romania, at the end of our week here, after teaching at a retreat for a recently planted church, Petra, on the promises of God in Romans 8 and their implications for our lives. The teaching was well received, and we had a number of good conversations with the church members, many of whom were involved in the IFES group in Romania before they graduated from University (and a few of them were still involved in IFES as they were still students). We were impressed by the depth and vitality of this young and growing church community, and enjoyed our time with them.
After the retreat, our host and the pastor of Petra took us a couple hours out of his way to drive us to Brashov, a beautiful town in the center of Romania with a lovely old town with beautiful buildings and parks. On the drive to Brashov, we stopped in Bran, the location of the castle of the man who inspired the Dracula myth. We didn't have a great interest to tour the castle itself, but we did enjoy a Hungarian pastry of thin bread crust cooked rotating over coals for a few minutes, and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, nuts or cocoa. All 8 of us (Alex, Nati his wife, his four kids and the two of us) devoured these tasty confections in no time. Brashov itself was filled with tourists and others enjoying a bright Sunday afternoon in the walking mall area of the old town. Alex and Nati told of their love for Brashov and we could easily see what attracted them to this beautiful city.
On the drive home to Pitesti, we spoke about the challenges of church planting in Brashov. Alex is pretty aware of the church scene in Brashov, as he has spent a fair amount of time there. When he was on staff with IFES in Romania, he invested in the student work there, and got to know a number of the pastors in the evangelical churches. He said he has preached in most of those churches. He said that, over the time he has been visiting Brashov, perhaps 10 church plants, funded mostly from the US, have been attempted, but none has really succeeded, often because (from his perspective) they didn't think through the cultural realities in Romania but sought to model their churches too tightly on what has worked in the US.
Romania is generously sprinkled with Orthodox church buildings that are largely empty on Sundays, but to which the population is oddly loyal. At Petra's church retreat, one woman in the church, Mariana, had brought her friend, also Mariana, who she told us was not a believer. At the end of the retreat, it seems that friend Mariana was moved and glad to be prayed for. Sister Mariana invited a few church leaders to pray for her, and Alex invited me to join. Several of us prayed for friend Mariana and then one man asked her to offer her own prayer to God. She felt she didn't have any idea of how to pray the way the others were. Eventually, she said, as if to excuse her lack of ability to pray in her own words, "I am Orthodox" and she settled on praying the Lord's prayer, which of course she had committed to memory. It was both encouraging and a bit discouraging at the same time. Thankfully, sister Mariana is in friend Mariana's life, and God is at work drawing her to Himself.
Petra saw 10 baptisms last year--an accomplishment for a young and small church anywhere but perhaps especially here in Romania where most evangelical churches are not growing. The church has a number of young kids, but it is adult baptisms and not infants Alex is counting. Most of these baptisms are re-baptisms, because most people who come to faith through Petra's ministry were baptized as infants in the Orthodox church even if their parents really didn't have any deep faith. Alex is encouraged and has faith for big expectations for his church, and has clearly seen God work in many ways on his behalf and through him in the church. What a privilege it was to come alongside his ministry this past weekend, and to spend a week with his family. We will see him again twice more this fall, and look forward to more chances to relate to God's precious flock entrusted to his shepherd care.
Rich and Lisa Lamb