It's an image I'll never forget: a sweeping valley dotted with elderly
people transferring 20-foot-high piles of corn, stalk by stalk, from the
ground to flatbed trucks. The weathered faces of feeble babushkas framed
delicately by scarves, their backs bent unnaturally as they labored . . .
the arms of thin, frail gentlemen hoisting corn continuously . . . both
juxtaposed with the bored, robust young men who smelled of cigarettes and
arrogance as they patrolled the elderly. It was a scene that perfectly
captured the heartless absurdity of Romanian communism.
In the 1980s, communism's topsy-turvy division of labor and resources and
constant suspicion and intimidation had left most of Romania living in
fear. Nicolae Ceaușescu, the cruel despot, had forced thousands to flee the
capital city of Bucharest and those who remained to go hungry and cold.
Ceaușescu literally starved his people to build his palace and repay
international debts. Those people in the valley? They could not eat the corn they harvested under this cruel regime. Their spirits
and their bodies were broken.
This was my first impression of Romania when I visited in 1981 with a pair
of missionary-interpreters from Campus Crusade for Christ. At that time,
Romania was a corner of the world where Christians met in secret, longing
to hear God's Word. The government was so hostile toward the gospel that we
had to "cleanse" ourselves of anything—a bookmark, card, necklace, anything—that might identify us as Christians before we crossed
Yet, despite such oppression, the seed of the gospel had already begun to
take root in Romania's broken soil due to courageous Christians who had
endured persecution, labor camps, and even death. I witnessed this seed
bearing fruit in Ava, one of the soft-eyed babushkas in the valley. We had
stopped our car along the side of the road to take pictures. As we were
leaving, Ava whispered, "Go in peace," to one of the
missionary-interpreters. Later, I learned that no one would say
"go in peace"—unless she knew Jesus.
All over Romania, believers gathered secretly, in 30-minute intervals, to
hear someone teach the Bible. We taught one of these precious groups, who
showered us with tokens of thanks. One token, a delicate apple cake, came
from a woman named Anna. She must have stood in line for days to procure
the ingredients to bake such a lovely dessert. I wanted a photograph of
her, but we knew the authorities would harass anyone they recognized in our
photographs. So I took only a picture of Anna's hands.
Upon my return to the United States, I couldn't stop thinking about Anna and
about Ava in the corn field, the believers in Romania starving for
spiritual nourishment, and so many others who had never heard of Jesus. Earlier
that same year, Chuck and Cynthia Swindoll had invited me to join the board
of Insight for Living Ministries—a ministry committed to teaching biblical
truth around the world. I wondered if God might merge these two significant
events in my life.
It took nearly a decade and a radical revolution, but God DID bring the two
In 1989, the wave of change that began with the fall of communism in East
Germany washed over Romania. The revolution began in the city of Timisoara
when word got out that persecuted pastor László Tőkés was going to be taken
away by the communist authorities. As many as 10,000 people surrounded his
church to protect him. The mayor told Pastor Tőkés to disperse the crowd;
instead, he led the thousands in The Lord's Prayer.
Into the night, their
unified voices cried out, "Deliver us from evil!" A few days later, God
answered their prayer. Romania's evil dictator was killed, and they were
delivered into freedom. One young man, a Romanian believer, told me shortly
after the night in Timisoara, "We had no weapons. We won the war with only
Today, I'm overjoyed to tell you that God opened the doors for Insight for
Living Ministries to establish an office in Romania in 2014. Ben and Anda
Mogos, who serve as its pastor and executive director respectively, were growing up in
Romania when I visited. Ben's father and grandfather were pastors who used
resources that Campus Crusade for Christ smuggled into their country!
As we motored away from the corn field that day in Romania, Ava locked eyes
with me and said: "Wherever you go in the world, greet the brothers and
sisters in Jesus Christ for me." So today, I greet you for her. We must
always remember the gift we have to worship, evangelize, and teach in
Jesus' name . . . and the power of God to open closed doors. Remember Romania!