It may sound peculiar to be supporting a Romanian missionary in Romania. Rather like a British organisation assisting a British pastor in London! And yet a better knowledge of the southern region of Oltenia explains much.
Romania has a slowly growing population of evangelical Christians, up to 6% at the time of the most recent national survey. This, however, is not spread evenly across the country. While the west of Romania may be richly blessed, in Oltenia in the south only 0.2% make an evangelical profession.
This is compounded further by the darkness of the Romanian Orthodox church in that part of the country. Deeply superstitious, with pagan roots and a morbid preoccupation with death would be the best way of describing it.
This, according to missionary Iosif Varan, creates the culture of death that he is committing to battling. Iosif was raised in a Christian family in the opposite side of Romania. He married Mihaela in the late 1990’s, she hailing from Oltenia. Once married, they felt the Lord’s call to Oltenia and the historic town of Scornicesti.
Scornicesti, you see, is associated with one name in Romania, this being the name of Nicolae Ceausescu. Romania’s former communist dictator lived in the town until the age of 10.
In one sense, it is difficult not to pity the young pretender in the days of his youth. It is said that his father was so drunk on the day when Nicolae’s birth was registered, he overlooked the fact that he already had a son called Nicolae. So now he had two. And Romania was raising the one whose iron fist would subdue the nation for 23 years, before his execution on Christmas day 1989.
Iosif has served the Lord faithfully in Scornicesti for 16 years. Initially, lacking a church building, meetings were held with a few other believers in Iosif’s flat.
A building was eventually completed in 2006. The serving pastor, however, tired of small congregations, decided to move to a different region in the hope of his labours being applauded by greater numbers. Iosif persevered.
Tragedy struck in November 2013 when godly pastor Nelu Maior suffered a brain haemorrhage while washing his car outside the church. Bereft of a pastor and numb with disappointment, Iosif persevered.
Financial needs in 2014 meant that Iosif needed to travel to Germany to work for four months of the year. This placed an intolerable strain on his family. It also curtailed his ministry to a considerable degree.
Facing an uncertain future, Iosif was referred to Romanian Ministries as someone deserving of support in 2014. Following prayer and receipt of some kind gifts from Christian charitable trusts, our sponsorship began.
Iosif’s quiet missionary work in Scornicesti was complimented in 2016 with the arrival of a new pastor, Titus Achim, and his wife Neriah.
Titus, a graduate of Emanuel University, arrived as a young man with a sense of destiny. He believed his calling from the days of his youth had been to come and serve the Lord in the Scornicesti area.
He, too, stood in need of financial support, and this is largely provided by Romanian Ministries through money we receive from the Romanian Christian Fellowship in Bristol.
It was most encouraging to visit Scornicesti in September 2017 and witness the growth of the church in the past year. As is usual, such blessing was also being attended by numerous challenges. But there was a general sense that the spiritual wind was at our backs, and we pray with hope.
It was fascinating as part of this visit to return to the extraordinary football stadium in the centre of Scornicesti. Built in honour of the town’s most illustrious (or notorious) son, this 20,000 seat arena somewhat dwarfed the small surrounding populace.
It was noticeable, however, that having previously been derelict, much of the stadium had been renovated. Fresh paint brightened the walls, and much debris had been cleared. And even a football match was being played while we were there!
Most interesting, however, was the identity of the person who had been responsible for the renovations. It was our own Iosif Varan! Having been elected to the position of town councillor, this had been one of Iosif’s responsibilities.
And so we beheld the tantalising spectacle: our brother, according to the position granted by the Lord, had overseen something of a cultural revival in his town. This much is good. His greatest hopes, however, are for a spiritual revival. The first drops of blessing have been felt. We hope for a blessed tomorrow!