Beneath the Strain, There is Peace
I have lost count of the times I’ve traveled to Romania since first going with my father on what he called the “Orient Express” from Vienna to Timisoara in 1993. Most of those visits, starting in 1993, were ministry-work assignments for me. On rare occasions, my wife, Doris, was able to join me.
Just a few weeks ago, Doris and I traveled together to Romania. It was my first time back since Eugen Groza’s passing in 2018, and it was the first time Doris was able to join me for more than 20 years.
Between Covid and Ukraine, we were not quite sure what to expect.It didn’t take long for us to get first-hand experience of the heartache that is the war in Ukraine. Following the worship service at Holy Trinity (the church Emil Toader, MLI’s President, co-leads), Doris and I were introduced to two women, Anna and Anna, both from Ukraine. One is now working in her field in Timisoara. The other Anna, with a girl and a boy of elementary school age, waits eagerly (everyday!) to hear from her husband who remains in Odessa (Ukraine). Incredibly, despite the devastation in Ukraine, she is still able to Facetime with her husband now and then.
Especially when I preach in Romania, I frequently finish a sermon and wonder if I have in any way offered a word of encouragement or exhortation. That feeling was particularly strong that morning as I looked into the teary eyes of this young mother and her children. It was not hard to see the ferocious affection of a mother for her children and the tenacious love of a wife for her husband now living in a city besieged by a foreign army. In that brief encounter, we glimpsed the brutal reality and the absurd surrealism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: families torn apart, tethered remotely via unreliable digital technology. This could so easily be any one of us.
Beneath the strain, Anna’s eyes also revealed a measure of peace she had found for herself and her children who were now playing with other kids their age at this small evan-gelical church in Timisoara, quite literally a sanctuary for her war-torn heart, mind, body, and soul. It was a simple but beautiful picture of what “church in mission” really looks like in Romania.
In fact, the holistic way the people of Holy Trinity Church are reaching out to Ukrainian refugees in Timisoara is replicated and magnified among a network of churches associated with MLI throughout the country. During our visit, we heard of partnering churches quite near the border that—in some cases at great risk—continue to transport food and water and other humanitarian aid to Ukrainian families trapped in their homes.
To name only a few of the Romanian church leaders who are creatively using their facilities and courageously mobilizing their congregations in this ongoing relief effort: Pastor Adi (and Gabi) Popa, Adrian Dordea, Cornel Mosman in Isaccea, Cataloi, Tulcea, and Luncavita; Pastor Stefan Moisuc in Dorohoi (north Romania); and Pastor Nicu Bragadireanu (Giurgiu).
Alongside these and countless others in the thick of it, we ask for your prayers as everyone involved struggles to make sense of the chaos and discerns how best to invest resources in an extremely unpredictable situation.
In addition to helping congregations in their refugee relief efforts, MLI continues to equip churches to be salt and light within their local communities through a host of initiatives: a national network of church-based training modules offered weekly by ENTRUST (formerly Biblical Education by Extension); regional workshops that create a slightly larger, more diverse learning community; quarterly intensives that draw strategic leaders from a variety of contexts (rural and urban) for a few days of retreat and reflection at Alpinis; and a four-day annual pastor’s conference that serves church-based leaders (and their spouses) from across the country. The article below discusses Pastor Sam Polson’s role in the pastor’s conference this September in the mountains of Sinaia.
For now, I’d like to share from my recent experience of teaching at one of MLI’s “Church in Mission” intensives.
First of all, it was a huge honor for me to participate in the first-ever training at the Alpinis Leadership Center. While the building is not yet finished, it was more than sufficient for 40 of us to gather over three days (June 2-4) around good food, great views, and rigorous conversation about how God surprised the world through his Son, Jesus Christ.
For more than 16 years at the original Alpinis villa, MLI has cultivated unique community among Christian leaders for the purpose of spiritual formation. With the Lord’s favor so clearly on the Alpinis Leadership Center, it feels right to expect a similar blessing on this new venue. Indeed, on our first evening together, a complete rainbow arced across the entire valley, spectacularly visible through the large picture frame windows of the assembly room…and totally disrupting my first lecture!
Yes, Lord, our restless hearts find their rest in you. And so we anticipate the move of your Spirit on this mountain and the many hearts that will soon visit it!
A second observation from the intensive training at Alpinis is this: while many Romanians have left the country in search of better jobs for themselves or better education for their children (the population devolution in Romania since joining the EU is significant) the example of Emmanuel (Emy) Vasile is especially encouraging.
Emy is the youngest son of Ion Vasile, a pastor who has worked faithfully and fruitfully in Cimpina, Romania for many years. He recently resolved to re-commit his life for the life of the church in Romania. He does so with a wife and children and with skills and capacities that are quite marketable in other countries; yet, like others associated with MLI, Emy chose to devote himself to his local community and trust God with the results.
In this way, Emy and others like him in Romania, might be compared to the man healed of the many demons who was told by Jesus to return to his hometown and live out his new life among old friends. Sometimes the hardest and most radical thing Christians can do is to invest ourselves locally.
"Sometimes the hardest and most radical thing Christians can do is to invest ourselves locally."
We should all pray for Emy’s quiet courage and the resolve required to relocate within and rise up as an indigenous leader; such local “relocation” is, says John Perkins of the Christian Community Development Association, a high mark of integral biblical development. Such is the heart and soul of MLI’s “church in mission” initiative.
Perhaps, if Putin’s forces remain restricted to Ukraine and the Covid ban continues to lift, you and yours can consider visiting Romania—as Doris and I recently did—to see the good work of MLI in person. I would love to help you plan such a trip!
Church Leadership Initiative
As one of MLI’s key pillars, the Leadership Development program continues to find new ways to train and encourage leaders, supporting them in their spiritual growth while equipping them to effectively lead in their community.
A new initiative at Alpinis Leadership Center is geared toward pastors, theology students, and others working in ministry. It will bring people together to share resources, experience, and knowledge in order to renew their passion as well as strengthen their ministry’s values and beliefs. This program will also include encouragement, training, one-on-one mentoring, and accountability.
Pastors and church leaders will be able to come for 2-3 weeks to focus on producing church curricula, sermon series, lesson plans, etc. for the next 3-5 years. Theology students will be able to focus on developing their dissertations with the help of mentors, theology professors, and their peers.
The team developing this initiative includes Emil Toader, Florin Iosub, Radu Gheorghita, and Emil Bartos. Radu wasthe speaker at the 2021 MLI’s Pastors’ Conference. Emil Bartos and Radu are two highly respected Romanian theologians and pastors.
This new vision will create another avenue for Missio Link International to provide leaders the opportunity and knowledge they need to develop their leadership abilities. Please pray that God may use this initiative to create change in Romania by building confident leaders whose foundation lies in Christ.
Pastor's Conference at Sinaia
Excitement is rising for the upcoming Pastor’s Conference in September at Sinaia! This year’s speaker is Sam Polson, the pastor of West Park Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The plenary session theme is “Overcoming the Virus of Fear.” Sam will be teaching from his book Corona Victus: Overcoming the Virus of Fear. This book will be translated to Romanian, and all participants will receive a copy!
Breakout sessions will also be held during the conference. Susan Polson, Sam’s wife, will lead discussions with the women focusing on “Experiencing God in the Trials of Life and Ministry.” Sam’s sessions with the men will concentrate on “Developing an Intentional Disciple-Making Strategy.”
Sam and Susan are looking forward to returning to Romania to equip and encourage Romanian pastors and their wives in their daily pursuit of serving the Lord.
A Word from Sam:
“The last 2 years have seen an incredible increase in fear and anxiety due to the global pandemic and military conflict. This virus of fear can overwhelm individual Christians and distract congregations from the mission of advancing the gospel. Never in modern times have the power and witness of peace-filled believers in Christ been more needed or more impactful. My prayer is that our time in fellowship, worship, and the Word at Alpinis this September 5-9 will renew our confidence and commitment to serve the Lord. These challenging days are filled with opportunities to share His hope with others.”
What's Coming Up:
- Mount Bethel Mission Trip to Deborah House: July
- Hillsborough Free Presbyterian Church Matching Grant: August
- Mitspa House Transition: Summer 2022
- MLI Annual Pastors Conference in Sinaia: September
Over 900,000 Ukrainian refugees have come through Romania since the beginning of the war. Our church partners in Romania took immediate action and are continuously working to provide practical support for the refugees at the border. Not only did our Romanian family answer the call, but so did our family and friends in the US. An overwhelming amount of support flooded in from individuals and churches. It is awe inspiring to see the Church come together during a desperate time to help their neighbors.
In this Church in Mission edition of The LINK, we want to specifically thank the churches that have donated to our Ukraine Special Project:
- Zionsville Presbyterian Church
- West Park Baptist Church
- Mt. Bethel Methodist Church
- Christ Church of Oak Brook
- Heights Community Church
- Central Baptist Church of Fountain City
- Westminster Presbyterian Church
Some of these churches created specific offering opportunities, held prayer nights, and deepened their partnerships with the churches near the Ukrainian border. Without the sacrificial giving from these churches, our Romanian church partners would not have been able to respond so effectively to this crisis.