Friday, 23 November 2012

The ghost of Christians past and the modern Romanian

One amazing conversation in Romania last week highlights more than anything the huge shift that has taken place in 20 years or so since the fall of the Communist regime.
Aurel, a 26 year old teacher was a small child when Communism fell. Whilst things can still be incredibly tough for young Romanians, Aurel is a part of the generation that have grown up with relative freedom and without the oppression of the old order.

As a Christian, Aurel told me that he had got hooked on buying bibles! So many bibles, in so many shapes, sizes, versions and covers are now available: From red letter words of Jesus, to two tone leather pocket paraphrases - Aurel was hooked and buying them all!
One night recently in a dream, he had a conversation with William Tyndale! Tyndale is the father of bible translations, martyred for his English bible under Henry VIII's own brand of controlled regime.

Aurel says that Tyndale approached him in the dream holding a big black leather bible. Speaking in a stern voice, he scolded him saying, 'Will you just start to read this book!'
The next day, convicted of a sinful attitude regarding his growing bible collection, Aurel began to give his bibles away, keeping just the one, which he is now devouring every day - scared into change by a vision of a bearded Englishman!

Whilst this is great news for Aurel, it struck me as symptomatic of the new threat to Romanian christianity. A creeping familiarity and complacency, dulled by consumerism and materialism which could be more insidious than the more overt challenge of an athiestic Communist regime.
Remember, only 25 years ago, Brother Andrew was smuggling bibles into the city where Aurel now buys them by the shelf full. These smuggled, scarce scriptures were read, shared, copied by hand, even torn into portions and distributed in some rural areas. Young men and women gave themselves to memorising the portions that they had been privileged to receive.
Ioan Ianchis, who leads the group of churches we are serving had no bible until he was 25 and when he finally received one on the black market ,it cost him half his salary. 'How precious to me are your thoughts O God', is a sentiment that Ioan and his generation took literally - so precious that I will risk prison to own a bible and give away half of my salary!

In reflecting on this change, I'm thrilled that Aurel no longer has to face the pressure or hardships of those who have gone before. I'm thrilled that he has free access to bibles and books that will help him to grow. But I'm concerned about the challenge of complacency, and wonder whether the awful darkness of the Communist era actually produced stronger believers, who loved the word of God more as a result?
The answer is certainly not to long for the nostalgic days of persecution - there was nothing to be nostalgic about. But we must pray for Aurel and his peers to take hold of God in these days of openness, not to be distracted by western values that we have exported to them. Failing this, perhaps we can pray that Mr Tyndale will be engaged in more nocturnal visits to scare and stir this present generation into a true hunger and thirst for the word of God!

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