People talk about “retirement plans”. And I guess these differ. But in church planter Ghita Sarbu’s case, they differ more than most.
We were first introduced to Ghita back in 2010, four years before Romanian Ministries registered as a charity. Back then he was immersed in his ninth church plant just outside the town of Arad. Stories of the Lord’s goodness and encouraging providences abounded.
Ghita was a short, bespectacled man of relatively few words and modest dress. His wife worked as a seamstress from home in order to supplement family income.
Ghita worked part-time manning the security barrier of an Arad Hospital. He said the relatively quiet work was ideal for preparing sermons in his mind.
When his wife died in her late fifties from cancer, having maintained a faithful testimony to the end, Ghita’s son and his family moved in. This alleviated some of the loneliness of new widowerhood.
Ghita soldiered on in his church plant, while we in Romanian Ministries spent time with his other son, who serves the Lord in the northern town of Sighet.
And it was while visiting this son that we were alerted to Ghita’s retirement, aged 65. Only it was retirement with a difference. Because as Ghita started to draw his pension, another pastor having replaced him, he sensed his work for the Lord was not over.
“Loving Heavenly Father,” he prayed, “You have given me the privilege of planting nine churches in my lifetime. I thank you for this. But I sense in my soul a desire from You to plant a tenth church. What should I do? Where should I go?”
While praying, a village called Alunis came to mind, 12 km from Ghita’s home. He had first visited there 30 years previously.
Alunis was originally populated by Romanian-Germans. This is reflected in local architecture and also the names on war memorials. It also means that the Romanian Orthodox church is not as strong as in other villages, and meets today in what effectively is a converted house. There is no evangelical church, just gaping spiritual need.
And so in August 2019, by this pastor-pensioner, a new ministry began.
With no driving license, Ghita’s first challenge was transport. This was solved by some good old-fashioned hitchhiking, perfect, he said, for some en-route gospel witness.
His next activity was to walk through the village praying for each of the approximately 300 houses. This took one month.
Ghita targeted bank holidays and also religious festivals, when people in the village would not be working. He also travel to Alunis on Saturdays and Sundays. On such days, villagers relaxed by sitting on benches outside their front gardens on the street.
Ghita would try to engage such people in religious conversation. Sometimes they’d be willing to talk. On other occasions they could be rude, as when a group of teenagers blew cigarette smoke in his face.
But there have been encouragements. The village boasts a splendid Greek Orthodox church, in which no services have been held for four years. Ghita contacted the priest with oversight for the area, who surprisingly gave permission for the fledgling work to meet in a back room, heated by a fire.
Our visit inside the sanctuary revealed great columns and robust pews, as well as an elevated pulpit. The back room was a cosy cubby hole by comparison, ideal for a dozen chairs and informal fellowship.
As we in Romanian Ministries considered this faithful soldier of Jesus Christ and his labours, traveling, praying, visiting, speaking, hoping and loving, for whom widowerhood and retirement have been no barrier, we yearned to help.
We have therefore promised Ghita our prayerful support, as well as financial resources should they be needed for items such as Bibles or Christian literature. And he is most certainly guaranteed our interest as he ploughs his lonely furrow. He’s not alone.
True, there is no one who worships with him on Sundays as yet. He has no evangelical believers to meet with so far. There are doubtless many who would dismiss him as an idealist and an aging fool. And yet he has a calling from the Lord in a spiritually needy village, which is exactly how his other churches began.
Do pray for Ghita and Alunis! And, should you be approaching retirement, or even there already, do remember his example and the possibility that your work for the Lord might not be over, but most excitingly, just about to begin…