HeartCry Ministries (Paul Washer, Director) out of Alabama was the arranger of this ministry trip to Europe. Mack Tomlinson, a long time friend of HeartCry from Denton, Texas asked me to go along with him to preach in both Romania and Ukraine. I added a short trip to Germany and met up with Mack in Bucherest.
First stop: Frankfurt, Germany. My plans included this visit at the home of the Gerd Roth family in Huttenberg-Rechtenbach, near Frankfurt all because of a contact with their college-aged daughter, Susi, in South Africa. Susi and her parents translated Wasted Faith in hopes that it could somehow be printed there. They had translated other works in the past. So, it seemed reasonable to stop over there on my way. And, it was a tremendous blessing to do so!
My friend and former intern, Todd Thomas, is there in Frankfurt working with a certain language group right now. I got to spend the first day with Todd and Tara, talking over old times, and considering several ministry issues. In the middle of the day Todd and I visited a “doner” shop, for a delicious wrapped sandwich made by his Turkish friend. To our amazement, his friend told him that his baby had died in his young wife’s womb and that the operation was taking place that day. So, we had some ministry for a needy unconverted friend right there.
Todd drove me to the Roth’s for supper and our first encounter with the whole family. I spent two days there, visiting about so many important issues. I found out that the number of reformed baptistic believers in Germany was only about 125, in two struggling churches, and a Bible study group. They had attempted a church start there themselves in that village earlier, but it sadly aborted. However, they are still thinking of ways to impact Germany with good theology. Interestingly, when a friend of theirs tried to find a German language copy of Luther’s Bondage of the Will, his most famous book, it was not in print in Germany, the land of the Protestant Reformation! They found it in a .pdf file online, and that, only after a lot of searching. Although there are Lutheran (Evangelical) Churches, Luther’s homeland is not too fond of him now, and most have forgotten the gospel he preached also.
We are attempting to work out some way to print Wasted Faith there, but if nothing else, the Roths are hopeful of beginning a new website where items can be published for all the reformed believers, along with interested friends. I recently heard, to my great joy, that the Roths will attempt a church start again in Frankfurt. Let’s pray for them.
I flew to Bucherest on Tarom Airlines and met up with Mack and Sorin from HeartCry. Along with Mack, Mike Preston, a Dallas businessman joined us. He would give his interesting testimony several times on our trip. Sorin is the leader of the HeartCry work in Eastern Europe, particularly Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova. What an amazing man. He’s an “available” batchelor, serving Christ so faithfully there, by traveling and preaching, leading teams, encouraging church planting, etc. Sorin comes to the States for his seminary training at Southern Seminary or otherwise studies at home under their tutelage. God has blessed Sorin with a big heart, and an effective preaching ministry. Please pray for him. Nicu also joined us, to help with the translating.
We laughed a lot about our first evening in Romania. Of course, we were all so tired from the jet lag we were experiencing. The hotel we used was all we could find because of some festival in town. We carried our bags up the three flights of stairs to the tiny rooms. There was barely enough room to turn around in the room. The toilet howled—no exaggeration! But the real challenge was with the local band playing downstairs (also howling) in the smoke-filled hall. We heard every note, especially the bass ones. It ended exactly at 2:16 a.m., but I was too far gone to sleep after that. I think I got only one hour of fitful rest finally.
The trip by van to Ukraine was a long one. We ended up in the home of John and Elen, a dear indigenous Ukranian missionary. We worked in the southern portion of Ukraine, which is mainly Romanian speaking. We settled in for three nights stay there in that gracious home. The next morning we each began our preaching schedule in separate venues—each of us speaking in three villages that day. The villages I visited were beautiful rural places, with animals and farm homes. You could still see the care the people had in their homes prior to the Communist period. Many villages during that 45 years had been destroyed and apartments put up to make people easier to watch, but other villages were left intact, such as those we preached in. Each church came complete with a privy!
The people were warm and loving. The women and men sat on different sides, usually. The women had their typical scarves over their heads, such as they wear all the time anyway. They sang eagerly and heartily. I recognized some of the songs; others had that familiar Russian sound, so I just sang “la-la-la” on what I thought was a sound bass part.
Monday and Tuesday, Mack and I taught pastors, about 50 of them, in a larger church building. I taught an exposition on John 6, the passage that I had been in for 10 weeks in our church here. Mack taught about the sovereignty of God. Not everyone agreed with our position in these messages because the pastors came from all kinds of churches, some very strongly biased in a different direction. Discussion between them was quite animated at times, but we knew all in all that this was important. They were passionate enough about the Bible to discuss it with each other. We have great memories of that cold building and the warm-hearted pastors we met. I also learned something there about the word “control.” Here we find the idea of God’s “control” over us to be a good thing, but to these men who had been under Russian domination, the word means something very different, such as “interrogation, beating, domination” in a very negative sense. In fact, we did not get to our American idea of that word in their dictionary until about the sixth place. So, we had to change our language to fit the situation. The word “master” worked.
For the next nights we made our way into Romania to preach in various towns and villages on our way to Bucherest. In these venues, Mack and I both preached, and Mike gave his testimony. Often Sorin had an additional message to give. Mike’s story is an illustration of a powerful change in a man who once scoffed at Christians as weak people. He was an angry, pugnacious man before conversion, drinking and selling drugs. But God changed everything. These long evenings or preaching in the churches were well received even though translated messages take almost twice as long as otherwise.
We usually ate a meal with the pastor at the end of the busy day of traveling and preaching, while enjoying the direct heat of their large ceramic woodburning stoves. What great fellowship we had, often laughing or engaging in stimulating discussions about church life. I can testify that Romanian food gets eaten! On Sunday, we preached twice to end our ministry portion of the trip. Our last stop was in Brimstone (the English way to say it) where I heard six mandolins accompany our singing!
One pastor named Raul (Saturday night and Sunday morning) told me of 65 cities where he wished to plant churches in around his town. They were working frantically to get this work off the ground, with some reasonable success through an eager team of very young church planters. But imagine that! Sixty five towns without any gospel witness; perhaps not any Christians at all.
Monday was a free day. We visited a beautiful spot in the snow covered mountains where we had soup with a view. Then we drove a long time into Bucherest. The traffic was horrible. Though I’m not usually a “party pooper,” I was so tired that I decided not go out to eat that final night, which would have included another hour’s drive on each side of that meal. When I forfeit a meal, I’m really worn out! We had to get up at 3 in the morning after all, so I wanted to get as much rest as possible. The trip home was 22 hours of plane flights and airport stops, through Amsterdam and Detroit, to Kansas City. I sat next to an idol worshipper from India on the long flight. You can imagine the conversation. I did not sleep the whole way home, so I think I did the right thing by sleeping a few hours before beginning the trip.
I had been in Romania only once prior to this time. It was 22 years ago, the year my mother died. Pam was with me. It was a different world them, with Coucescu in power, and the Communist machine at work. Our border crossing was hours in length. They asked us then if we carried guns, drugs, pornography or Bibles. We were bugged, spied upon, and our bags were searched in our hotel rooms, etc., just for coming in with the gospel of Christ. Now there is freedom to preach the gospel as openly as possible, but Orthodox priests don’t like it, and cause problems, especially if they are friends with the government officials. In most places the door is open wide for the gospel, however, and now is the time for formative work. May God grant huge success to the pastors and missionaries who serve there while there is time.