12 August 2007

A Tale of Two Baptist Churches in Romania, 1984

During our year in Romania on a Fulbright linguistics research grant during 1983–84, the Far Outliers were able to attend a few Baptist church services, thanks to one of our colleagues who had both family ties to Baptists in Georgia, where she was from, and relatives in Romania, where her parents were from. I'm not sure whether she also had ties to the Bible smugglers active at the time. (When we first crossed the border into Romania, the customs officers who came through the train asked if we had any Bibles, guns, or typewriters—three signature items of subversion forbidden to private citizens at the time.)

One Sunday evening, our friend led us to a small church far out on the outskirts of Bucharest where we attended a pleasant two-hour service that mostly featured singing and mandolin-playing. There were a lot young people in the congregation, all of whom knew each other and who were very friendly and welcoming toward us.

Another Sunday morning, our friend led us to an unofficial house church in a suburb of Bucharest, but it was so overflowing with people that we couldn't even get in the door. So we turned around and headed for an officially recognized church where we found a seat in the balcony of a fairly large sanctuary. Before an audience of several hundred that included both casual visitors and regular informers, the pastor chose his words carefully. After recounting various afflictions of war and famine elsewhere in the world—in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iran and Iraq, Nicaragua and El Salvador—he was careful to add that Romania was better off than ever before. The congregation was mostly middle-aged and elderly, with very few young people.

We made one more visit to the small church on the outskirts to hear a visiting evangelist from Florida preach. Two more resident American couples joined us. The American evangelist was accustomed to preaching in Spanish as well as English, and he would sometimes forget that his audience on this occasion understood Romanian, but not Spanish. His interpreter was the Romanian pastor's son, who spoke excellent English and hoped to go abroad for seminary training. He did a spectacular job, translating not just the words, but mimicking every gesture and change in voice quality. I have never seen the like of it, before or since, even though I had witnessed as a missionary kid in Japan more than a few bilingual sermons, translated sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph from one language to the other, usually in manner that was stultifying in either language.

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