David M. Howard, Jr.
February 28-March 10, 2001
I have just completed my seventh teaching stint at the Emmanuel University of Oradea in Oradea, Romania (formerly known as the Emmanuel Bible Institute), on March 5-9. On this trip, for the first time my wife Jan accompanied me, and this made for a completely different experience, far more pleasurable in every respect. We spent two days in Budapest, Hungary, and then drove into Romania on Saturday, March 3.
The week was a great pleasure for me because of Jan's presence. For one thing, it was just nice to have her with me, to have someone with whom to talk in the evenings. For another, it gave her a first-hand sense of what I have been doing for the past three years in Romania. She was deeply moved and changed by her encounters there, and has written up her impressions. If you are interested in reading them, I can supply a copy. Another way in which it was good to have her along is that people were anxious to roll out the red carpet for "Mrs. David Howard," so we were wined (metaphorically) and dined (literally) every night of the week. We had lots of good fellowship in restaurants and in people's homes, and are grateful to those who entertained us.
On Sunday morning we fellowshipped at the Credintsa ("Faith") Church just a mile from the school, where I'd spoken the last trip. It is a thriving church plant, bursting at the seams with a young, vibrant congregation. It has a more contemporary orientation in its worship, with some hymns intermixed with choruses, both Western-style translated into Romanian and indigenous Romanian compositions. They have land for a new building, which they hope to start soon. I was asked on the spot to bring a 20-minute "greeting," which I did, from Psalm 139. Churches services in Romania are two hours long, so there is plenty of time for such extended greetings before the main sermon, which is usually an hour long.
In the evening, we worshipped at the more traditionally oriented 3000-member Emmanuel Baptist Church, mother church of the Emmanuel University. In this service, a most remarkable set of testimonies was presented. One of my students from the third-year class - a student with a quiet and gentle spirit who asked thoughtful questions - told of how he had been in the habit of going into the dorms at the state university in town to share Christ there. Two weeks previously, he had been attacked and beaten unconscious by some students there who were offended by his witnessing, and who then took him to throw him off a bridge into the river. At this point, he prayed for God to receive his spirit, confessing his sinfulness at "having done so little" for Christ in this life, at which point his attackers fled, leaving him on the ground. He eventually made it to a hospital.
This student's wife then told how she had been called to the emergency room. The next day, she went to the dorm where her husband had been attacked, and asked for the students who had attacked him. Persistently, she asked which one had been the leader in the attack, and he identified himself. She then said, dramatically, that she forgave him, and that, more importantly, Jesus forgave him. The leader was terribly convicted by this small, quiet woman's actions and attitudes, and so he sought her husband out in the hospital and apologized. The long and the short of it was that he gave his life to Christ, and has been in a daily mentoring relationship with this couple now. He was also in the service and shared his part of the story with everyone, all three of them sitting together on the stage. It was a most moving testimony to the power of the Gospel. My prayer is that this conversion is a real one, that it "sticks," and that he gets grounded in the faith and does not revert back to his old ways.
During the week, I taught two courses. As always, the teaching is through translation into Romanian, although many students understand English, at least to some degree. The first was Old Testament Theology to the second-year group, my fourth course with them. This is a sweet, enthusiastic, unspoiled group of students, and I truly love to teach them. The group loves to sing, and we sang a Hebrew song that I'd taught them, as well as the Russian version of it, as there are several Russian students in the class who know it in their language. The second course was an exegesis of the book of Joshua (a book on which I had a commentary published in 1998) to the third-year group, my sixth course with them. This was a very good class, too, and it's been fun to watch them grow and mature into responsible young adults in the past three years.
On Thursday afternoon, I organized a basketball game between the two classes, using basketballs that I'd brought in October (but which had never been used, because there had been no basketball standards finished until this time). It was a vigorous and enthusiastic game, won by the second-year class. Then we adjourned to the soccer field to play a game they felt more comfortable playing!
That evening, Jan spoke to the women students. March 8 is "Women's Day" (formerly "Mothers' Day") in Romania and Russia, and all women are supposed to be treated with special dignity and respect on that day. Coworkers bring flowers and much is made of this day. Jan spoke to a special gathering on this day, on the life and example of Mary, Jesus' mother, and was well received.
This is a difficult time in the life of the school, as it is short-handed in terms of faculty staffing, and two faculty members have resigned this week, following my departure. Things are in a state of flux in many ways. It is also a difficult time in the life of the evangelical church in Romania. The new government elected in November is essentially the old Communist regime that was in power under the dictator Ceaucescu, dressed up in an only slightly different change of clothing. The government is proposing a new set of laws on religion that would have a terribly chilling effect on the Church, like the Laws on State and Religion passed in Russia in 1995. Among other things, the new proposals would mandate that any new church plant would have to gather the signatures of 5 percent of the immediately surrounding community in favor of such a new church, which effectively kills off the chance of starting new churches in most areas of the country, where the Romanian Orthodox Church exerts a near monopoly of religious and social (not to mention political) power. Another chilling provision would allow any church to be closed down if neighbors can show that it is impinging on their quality of life. There is much to be worried about, and the Romanian Church can be helped by prayers and expressions of concern in the West.
As always, I thank The Timothy Project of Wheaton, Illinois for funding my trip, Bethel Seminary's Committee on Cross-Cultural Travel for providing additional funds for incidental expenses, and Dr. Paul Negrut, president of Emmanuel, for having me. I extend special thanks to Bethel Seminary and Dr. Leland Eliason, Provost, for releasing me to go on this assignment; when I interviewed at Bethel a year ago, one question I asked was about Bethel's openness to such a commitment, and Dr. Eliason's response was an enthusiastic endorsement. I also thank my colleague Paul Ferris and his wife Lois for staying with our children for half the time we were gone, rendering excellent surrogate-parent and furnace-repair services, and my secretary, Amanda Bromberek, for doing the same (minus the furnace repair!) for the other half. I also thank my student assistants, Eileen Berry and Pat Mahin for coordinating the video showings of my lectures while I was gone. And, I thank the many students and colleagues who asked about and prayed about the trip.