July 1, 2013

New Country, Same Salvation

Though my world as a child growing up in Romania did not revolve around politics or the social problems of society, I was aware of the oppression and mental anguish that was all around me. My thoughts centered on whether or not I would get anything for Christmas that year, and if so, what? Would I ever get a doll, a purse, or shampoo? Would there be oranges and candy? Most years we received the latter. And the Christmas when I was five, I did get a doll, and was so intrigued by how it closed and opened its eyes that my friend and I decided to find out. That doll was never the same and I never received another, other than ones made out of corn stalks.

My concerns in those years were how far I had to walk and how long I had to wait in line for the sugar, oil, and butter that was rationed to us. Was I going to get squished in a crowded line about ten people deep, with everyone pressing to the front to get sugar? Would the stores even open, or would we have to wait for hours and then be told to go home? I knew one thing: I was glad I wasn’t an adult. They had to get up at four or five in the morning to get in line for milk for their young children, and then go to work after that. They also had to shop at nearly empty stores that had dusty shelves with just a few cans of beans and jars of pickles stacked up like decorations. Out of the meager supplies they could obtain, they had to figure out what to cook for dinner that night. Our family was more fortunate than most. We had a small farm so we grew our food and got milk from our black and white cow, Rindunica. She would kick the bucket and spill the milk a few times a week when my mother milked her, but at least we didn’t have to wait in line!

Propaganda infiltrated every part of our lives. We heard it when we turned on the radio, went to school, or when as students we went out to welcome our national leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, to our town. We had to stand on the side of the road for hours and wave flags in case his helicopter showed up. He never did, but we heard repeatedly of what a “great” man he was. Every textbook had an image of him and his wife, and every day at school we heard about the glory of our governmental system and sang the national anthem while facing his picture.

However, reality was quite different than the propaganda we heard. People were overwhelmed by the burdens the government laid on their shoulders and had to continually battle discouragement, disappointment, and frustration. Particularly there was frustration over a lack of privacy. Every piece of mail was censored, especially if it was from a foreign country. For those who had phones, their lines were tapped. Often lines were accidentally crossed with the neighbor’s, which meant someone else could listen in on the conversation.

There was also frustration over our lack of freedom—freedom to think for one’s self, to choose a career and pursue it, or to express one’s thoughts and ideas, since even trivial things could be taken wrong or out of context. There was frustration over a lack of necessities. Electricity, hot water, and heat were often turned off without warning. Many people could not afford to buy food, let alone warm clothing, shoes, or uniforms and supplies for school. And there was frustration over mistreatment by the authorities and their unjust use of power. Christians had even more to overcome as their faith brought additional obstacles.

The longing of most of the people of Romania was to travel to America—the land of freedom. Many tried to achieve their dream and paid with their lives for trying.

The longing of most of the people of Romania was to travel to America—the land of freedom. Many tried to achieve their dream and paid with their lives for trying. Others learned that a relationship with God was the answer to their frustrations, and my grandparents were among that group.

Both my paternal and maternal grandparents became Christians after moving to the Western part of Romania following World War II. My father’s parents were of the Orthodox religion when they moved to Lovrin. As they began building their house, a friendly man from the Christian church offered to help them. He came by day after day and while helping, he sang Christian songs. My grandparents noticed his beautiful voice and talked to him about it. He invited them to his church, and one Sunday they went. They liked it, so they went again the next Sunday. By the third Sunday, the Orthodox priest contacted them because they had not been at church. They told him that they had decided to attend the Christian church and were changing their religion. Permission from the priest had to be granted to make such a change. Though not happy, the priest approved their switch to the Christian faith, and soon God saved my grandparents. Over time, six of their seven children were saved, including my father.

Since it was customary for the youngest child to take care of the parents, and my father was the youngest, my grandparents lived with us. After my grandfather passed away, I frequently slept in my grandmother’s room. We talked about the Lord often. Because she could not read, she had me read the Bible to her. One verse we read frequently was in Exodus 20 where God says that though He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation, He shows mercy to those that love him and keep his commandments. My grandmother often commented about what a wonderful promise that was. She also told me she was praying that God would give me a good husband, like He had given her. I know her prayers have followed me all my life.

On my mother’s side, my grandparents became Christians after they were married. One example of their faith occurred when the Communists came and pressured my grandfather into signing his property over to them. Afterward, he treated that property as if it were no longer his. Many Christians felt that they could continue to help themselves to whatever the government cultivated on “their” lands, but my grandfather felt that would be stealing. When he spoke out against that practice, he was persecuted by the others. However, he believed God could provide for him and his family without him taking what was no longer his, and God honored his resolve.

God helped my grandparents raise ten children under difficult circumstances, without ever lacking for food on their table. Many families did not have enough after giving the government its portion, yet my grandparents not only had sufficient for their family of twelve, but they even had extra to sell to their neighbors. My grandmother sold milk, cheese, foods from her garden, and rag rugs that she made with her own hands. With that income she was able to buy necessary clothing for her children. My grandfather loved the Bible and I have memories of him sitting on the edge of his bed reading it. He loved the truth found in it and passed that love for Scripture on to my mother.

When my mother married my father, they were both Christians, so I was born into a Christian family. As a young child, I remember attending church in Lovrin in a dilapidated building, where the simple congregational singing—often unaccompanied but always heartfelt—and the fervent and warm prayers touched my heart.

Other times as I grew older I felt God’s Spirit, but never quite like I did the night I was saved. That was a special night. My sister and I shared a bed in the kitchen. That night she had fallen asleep and I was listening to music I had recorded at church. Even though I was sleepy, I felt as though I wanted to touch Heaven that night and tell God that I was ready to give Him my life. Questions I couldn’t answer troubled me. What if the Lord were to come? Where would I go? I sensed that I needed to persevere. As my prayer became more focused and determined, I realized that I wanted God more than my sleep, and I began telling Him everything that was on my heart. I was sorry for anything I had done to displease Him and for my lack of commitment to Him. Soon the Spirit of God came down and touched my heart and I knew I was born again. What a wonderful feeling that was!

In September of 1981, my father left Romania. He saw no future for his children there, but he wanted to leave the country legally and not risk his life. Few Christians were able to obtain visitor’s visas to a foreign country back then, but he prayed that God would open that door for him. Miraculously, God answered, and my father traveled to Bulgaria on a visitor’s visa. From Bulgaria, he went to Turkey, and then to Italy, and finally a year later he arrived in the United States.

I was fourteen years old at the time—old enough to understand what was going on, but young enough to be somewhat oblivious to the fact that my life was about to change in a dramatic way. Eventually, the rest of us received permission to leave Romania, and the necessary paperwork was completed. I can still remember leaving our family and friends at the train station in Timisoara, traveling to Bucharest, and then boarding a huge airplane that carried us over the ocean to the land of freedom.

In the days that followed our arrival in America, I continued to be amazed by a range of new experiences—it was as though I was watching my life in color instead of black and white. My father took us to Fred Meyer, a large grocery store, where the shelves were loaded with boxes of goods in all shapes and sizes, colorful and inviting. The candy aisle was a dream come true—I had my first Snickers candy bar and was hooked. Immediately I began saving my pennies, and couldn’t wait until I got to thirty-five cents because that meant I could buy another one. When I saved a dollar, I could get three Snickers bars! That was a sweet day!

I immediately recognized the same Spirit of God I had felt in Romania. Although I did not understand the language, I connected with Him at the altar of prayer.

The first church we attended in America was the Apostolic Faith Church, and there I immediately recognized the same Spirit of God I had felt in Romania. Although I did not understand the language, I connected with Him at the altar of prayer. That made me feel at home, and this church has been my spiritual home ever since. That summer of 1983, I attended my first camp meeting where the Lord sanctified me. I felt totally transparent and pure—it was a wonderful feeling! The following January, after a young people’s service, the Lord filled me with His precious Holy Spirit.

In the following months and years, adjusting to a new country, culture, and having to grow up at the same time certainly presented some challenges. It was fun to have so many choices in ice cream, candy, and clothing, but it was also overwhelming not to understand the language and culture.

When conversing, I could only express myself in a limited way, and I noticed that people often smiled when I talked. For example, the word “really” caused one of my friends to look amused each time I said the word. But why? What was so funny? Probably it was because I still wanted to roll my r’s. Also, I was used to pronouncing the letter “i” like “ee,” and sometimes I simply said the wrong word, coming up with statements such as, “I’ll meet you in the chicken” when I meant “kitchen.” I would wonder, Will there be “desert,” or was it “dessert”? Oops, I couldn’t remember if I took, take, or have taken the book back to the library. If I could have had a Google translator as an iPhone app, I would have used it all the time! Instead, I had to do mental gymnastics each time I wanted to communicate. In time, God gave me a husband (who helped me practice the English language) and God has blessed us with three lovely children.

Seventeen years ago my mother was diagnosed with cancer. At about the same time, we learned that the baby she was carrying, my brother Jeremiah, would be born with Down Syndrome. During that time, the Lord reminded me that He does all things well. That was a great comfort to me, and looking back, I can see how God has done just that. My mother is still with us and Jeremiah has been a great blessing to our family. Most recently, God has helped my mother once again when her cancer returned, and after the surgery the doctors gave her a positive prognosis.

In these thirty-one years of serving the Lord, God has given me many privileges in the Gospel. He has indeed done all things well, even when my efforts fell short. He has shared in times of happiness and joy, and has carried us in the valleys. Living in America has far exceeded anything I ever dreamed of for my life. Having God in my heart has given me the hope of an eternal home that will truly be out of this world—a place where the blessings God has prepared for us have not “entered into the heart of man.” I look forward to that day!

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