"And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: And the high priest asked [interrogated] them.." (Acts 5: 27)
As newlyweds, we honeymooned in Timisoara, staying in the homes of relatives. Taking long strolls, we enjoyed the spring weather. Flowers, butterflies, and birdsong as from the pages of the Song of Solomon beautified Timisoara's many parks.
Our wedding was still much in our thoughts. We could not forget the surprise and joy on the faces of the people when a real bride and bridegroom entered the church--just as the pastor was preaching about Isaac and Rebecca! He told how Abraham had sent his steward to far off Padan-Aram to seek a wife for his son Isaac. Guided by the Spirit of God, the steward was led straight to Rebecca. There also came a specific word to us: "God will bless this marriage. It is to God's glory."
But soon it came time to turn away from Timisoara and move to Dornesti, far to the north on the Romanian-Soviet border.
Moving from the more urbanized life of the Banat region to the mountain country of Moldavia-Bucovina brought a dramatic change, but Aurica was trusting in her refuge under God's wings. She soon settled into her new nest. Since we lived with my mother until our own house was ready, Aurica had convenient help when our first child arrived (also in 1964). Early in the marriage God told Aurica we would have ten children! Yet she did not falter in the decision she had made, though she had come from a small family of five.
Aurica was a dedicated believer in Jesus from twelve years of age. Her mother and father were devout Christian parents. When she became a wife and mother she was equipped with her own special armor. God had given her a gift of hospitality. She knew how to help others in a gracious way, with deep compassion for the poor. She was given clear dreams that imparted specific direction for us to take in difficult times. Her dreams also enabled her to put away fears and doubts when she was later confronted by thoughts of dangers involved in my escape from Romania.
For three years we stayed with my mother while we built a new house nearby. The house was designed for underground church meetings so there was one large room, while the remaining family rooms were kept small. It was cement and stucco (for I had learned these trades at work)--a simple, white cottage.
We began the house on faith, for the cost was impossible to afford for a common workman, however long he saved. My government construction wages were so low we had to budget very carefull. We could not have survived unless we raised most of our food in our garden, along with chickens, geese, and a few sheep.
It was a miracle of God that we could even begin to build. Yet somehow we always had means to continue, moving into the unfinished house and working on it until it was completed. The fact this house was not affordable on a workman's salary later brought trouble with the government, which being atheistic refuses to acknowledge God's proven ability to help His children do impossible things. In five years the new house was finished. But just two years afterwards, God told us to leave and move back to Timisoara in preparation for our deliverance from Romania. We had spent five years building our new house. But as we built the house, God was building our faith. That was his real purpose.
Yet, before we were delivered, more faith-building opportunities came our way. They all had to do with our membership and involvement with the underground church of God, and Bible deliveries into the hands of fellow believers in Soviet lands. With the lives of our children at stake, we were painfully aware of the fact that any wrong step could be fatal. Yet, as evangelical believers determined to follow Christ and the path of the Cross, we knew there was little chance of avoiding trouble with the authorities, however much we wanted peace.
We would not have suffered as much if we had walked the broader path of impersonal and formal religion. Over ninety percent of Romanians have a formal church background, whether or not they hold communist party membership. Maybe once or twice a year they attend services (though there are always more devout individuals). But for those who meet every other night and stress the reality of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the path is indeed narrow.
State control over the economy was totally established. Efforts to control all other aspects of national life also received top priority in the communist Romanian state. Religion was made the responsibility of a government bureau and all churches had to be registered in order to be recognized as leitimate religious bodies (just as, in America, all Indian tribes must be registered with the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in order to be recognized as legitimate tribes that can claim government aid--Editor).
Registry, of course, entailed government supervision and constant scrutiny to insure that baptisms and evangelism--so vital in evangelical circles--did NOT take place. Most Christians, evangelical and orthodox, complied, because the regime thought nothing of using mass imprisonment and execution.
So it was, in order to be free to follow the Lord completely, that Aurica and I chose to be part of the bitterly persecuted underground church that met secretly. To be caught meant huge fines, unpayable with common wages. When the fines could not be paid there was imprisonment. Caught three times at a secret meeting, a believer was sent to prison. That could entail torture, loss of a job and expulsion of his children from school.
Communist countries are more than happy to show Western tourists and distinguished churchment lofty constitutions that guarantee freedom of religion. Certain government-registered churches are always shown as examples of how freely Christians can worship in a communist society. Yet Christians who want to be free suffer greatly in such societies. They are condemned to lurking in the forests to escape detection, meeting late at night in private homes, only to suffer huge fines and imprisonment when caught. This is what it costs them to follow Christ as He, and not the atheist government, would lead. Nevertheless, these people pray continually for their persecutors, knowing who is the real foe.
I heard of a little boy who witnessed of his Savior in school. "How can anyone see God?" the teacher scoffed. "No one can see this Jesus of yours!" Yet the boy was not at a loss. The eighth verse from Chapter 5 in the Gospel of Matthew came instantly to his mind, "Blessed are the pure i heart, for they shall see God." The instructor severely chastised him as soon as he spoke these words of Jesus.
At Dornesti came a word from God. He intended to set us free. But it was also God's plan to send me out of Romania first, without Aurica and the children. Later, we were to reunite in some free country
Having known and suffered relentless persecution as Christians, we wanted to experience freedom of belief. But Aurica did not have peace when she heard I was to go alone and she was to follow with the children by a way God would provide. She grew more disturbed when we heard about a Christian friend who was shot and killed trying to cross the border. It was vital that we be united in heart in this matter. A wife and family cannot be left temporarily behind without mutual agreement and trust.
God made our two minds to agree in this way. Aurica dreamed two dreams. First, she saw a great, rushing river with me swimming across. She could see I was a powerful swimmer, able to overcome the strong current of the river. I reached the far shore safely where angels stood on guard against the soldiers and police dogs that patrolled the river's edge. In the second dream Aurica saw me crossing the river in a boat pulled by angels. Again I was brought safely to the farther shore and was able to gon on my way unmolested because I had been made invisible to the eyes of the soldiers.
Aurica understood that the "river" was the border. She had seen God's mighty deliverance and His almighty power to bring me safely across, surrounding me with protecting angels, despite the guards and dogs.
I will never forget the look on her face when she told me her dreams. Her face was shining with joy and peace. God had given her His rich grace to understand and accept His chosen way.
Meanwhile, I continued to work as a plasterer and minister to a church that met in our little, white house. We also continued to make Bibles available to fellow Christians in Soviet lands.
For years, the supplying of Bibles was a burning concern of our hearts. Romanian Christians had a much greater access to the Bible than Jesus' flock in the Soviet Union. The USSR was more determinedly atheistic than some of its satellites such as Greek Orthodox Romania and Catholic Poland. Lavishing millions of rubles on a center for atheism in Moscow, the KGB gave top priority to stopping the entry of Bibles into the USSR (though officially there was no law against Bibles in the USSR).
As far as the KGB was concerned, Bibles were considered to be as powerful and dangerous as plastic explosives, or bombs. Terror-stricken at the supposed threat to their power, the secret police treated people severely who were caught bringing God's scriptures into the USSR. We also knew Romanian authorities supported Sovit anti-Bible policies. So we realized that a single misstep of ours would likely bring torture and death. We had to depend on God every minute. Otherwise we could not have surived in this extremely dangerous work.
Years passed. As we continued to supply Bibles undetected, we succeeded in bringing another kind of persecution upon us: government trial. Aurica and I were amazed to learn that the government intended to sue us because we lived in a house of our own that they said we could not afford on a workman's salary. Naturally, the case was already decided against us when we first heard of it. Once they decided to bring us to trial, we already stood convicted in the eyes of the law. It only remained for the government judge to declare our punishment.
Everyone in Dornesti soon heard of the coming trial. They all said we would lose the house. There would also be enormous fines and lengthy imprisonment, according to them.
The first trial began. The prosecutor reviewed the files of my income for a ten-year period. Then he subtracted how much it cost us to live. On that basis he charged that we could not possibly build a house.
Questioned, I told the court that God had enabled us, bit by bit, to build a house. Furthermore, I told the court that He is a God who can do the impossible. I also said that the house they assessed at 200,000 lei had actually cost me only about 50,000 lei (about $12,00 US) because my relatives helped me to do the work. My only expense was the materials.
Yet the government intended to fine me 150,000 lei! They reasoned that I had somehow obtained the money illegally, and now I must pay for my "crime."
Since nothing but these unsupported charges surfaced at the trial, the judge was very upset because he could not declare us guilty. Everyone was amazed when we were let go. But our rejoicing did not last long. A higher court, hearing the decision, ruled that the lower court had made a mistake, justifying a retrial.
Facing a second, grueling year, we sought God again for His deliverance. He answered by providing an excellent lawyer with a lion's fearless heart. He stood up against the government's charges, reviewing my entire life in detail using government records. He than charged the government with harassment of an honest, hard-working citizen! The lawyer proved me to be a thrifty working man who had succeeded in building a house for his family...even buying a car. By the time he finished speaking, he had shown conclusively that not a thread of the government's evidence could stand against my public record. The judge and prosecutor were struck speechless. Then the judge ruled that the charges be thrown out. We had won--against the seemingly almighty government! Such a thing was truly impossible and is still being talked about in Romania today.
We had seen God's truly almighty power deliver us from our foes. Our faith was greatly strengthened, and we felt we could not believe God for our escape from Romania. Nobody had ever beaten the government in court. No wonder people told us we could not win and that our situation was hopeless. "Jesus is the Way," I replied. "We are not finished, for Jesus gives victory." We kept hearing that everything would be taken away from us, that we would lose our home. "No way," I told them. "It belongs to God." Then later, when they heard about the victory they said to me, "You must have ten Jewish heads in one." But they were mistaken. I am not the brilliant man of jurisprudence and law that they thought--I was just a plasterer on government projects. "It's not me, it is God," I said.
Aurica and I truly knew what Peter was talking about when he wrote to encourage others concerning various trials of faith
"Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." (I Peter 1: 6-7)