Iosif Varan, our missionary in Romania, visited Bristol in the middle of June. Why did he come? What cause in Romania does he serve? For what purpose our involvement in his ministry? For answers to these questions we must travel to a town in southern Romania named Scornicesti, and consider its link with the most famous Romanian of them all, whose dark shadow is never too distant even from impressions of Romania today. His name? Nicolae Ceausescu.
Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania's erstwhile communist dictator, was born in Scornicesti on 26 January 1918. One of nine children, his father was so drunk when registering his child's birth that he forgot he already had a son named Nicolae. And so now he had two. Nicolae the younger lived with his family in a three-roomed cottage in Scornicesti until the age of 10. He then left for Bucharest to become a shoemaker's apprentice.
Today a sculpture of the dictator sits imperiously outside the dwelling in which he was raised. Its supersized shoulders seem to reflect the semi-divine nature of Ceaucescu's hold on power during the years of his reign. In the Romanian psyche, his name is inextricably linked to Scornicesti, in a manner similar to our connection of Shakespeare with Stratford on Avon or the Caesars with Rome.
A huge football stadium, built 30 years ago in honour of Ceausescu, dominates the town's skyline. Lying partly derelict, occasional flocks of sheep wandering by, its 20,000 seats far outnumber the town’s population of 11,000 people.
True Christian influence here is minimal. Only 0.2% of the region's population makes an evangelical profession of faith, compared with 6.1% of Romanians nationally. Twenty years ago there was no evangelical church for 15 miles. Beneath outward adherence to Romanian Orthodoxy, paganism and vrajitura – Romanian witchcraft – abounds. And yet it was to this town that Iosif and his family moved in 2001 to plant a church.
Iosif and one other Christian worker met for several years in Iosif’s flat, before a building was constructed in 2006. Co-labourers came and went. One of them considered his carefully crafted sermons deserving of a larger audience, and so departed. Another, the godly Nelu Maior, died tragically of a brain haemorhage in 2013 aged 51.
Iosif received calls to Christian service elsewhere in Romania, all of which were politely declined. The storm on the horizon, however, concerned his need for financial support. Working in Germany for four months a year not only disrupted his ministry but placed unbearable strain on his family. In the Lord's providence he was brought into contact with Romanian Ministries in 2014 for a support package to commence, which continues to this day.
What does Iosif do? Iosif speaks in his church and does regular door-to-door visiting in Scornicesti and its outlying villages. He helps with outreach at a local factory and co-ordinates shoe box distribution to poor families each winter. His church runs an extensive program of children’s ministries throughout the summer, co-ordinated by Iosif, and each day sees him spending time talking to people with a view to planting spiritual seeds. Literature and tracts are also distributed.
And fruit is slowly coming!
Today a congregation of 40 or so meets in Scornicesti each Sunday. The children of church families are coming to faith, and other young people have been reached through evangelistic activities. Recent months have seen conversations with adults from the Romanian Orthodox Church lamenting their emptiness of soul and searching for a real relationship with God.
So there’s much to rejoice in and everything to pray for!
And yet in 2019 we needed to raise a little more support for Iosif. He was therefore invited to speak at a church in South Wales and also at our Romanian Fellowship on June 16th. It was a happy time, with £2,070 being raised in total. This means that almost all funding for Iosif in 2019 has now been received – praise the Lord! We commit the needs for 2020 to our Lord's good hands. On the days that followed we prayed and planned for the Lord’s work in Scornicesti, and visited some local attractions, most especially Tintern Abbey near Chepstow.
Please pray for Iosif and his pastor Titus! Pray for them to discern the Lord’s will regarding outreach activities; for them not to feel discouraged when progress is slow; for unity and love within the church; for protection from the devil and spiritual darkness; for new ministry opportunities, especially in schools, which have resisted approaches by evangelicals; and for this town, long recognised throughout Romania as a centre of communism and spiritual darkness to be home to a thriving church to the glory of God!