“Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it” (Jeremiah 18:6-10).
I could not believe my ears. The news was sobering and exhilarating all at the same time—sobering because two people were dead, exhilarating because we were watching Eastern European Communism collapse before our very eyes. That Christmas Day, 1989, we not only celebrated the Lord’s birth, we also celebrated the liberation of Romania.
I am getting closer to my 60th birthday with each column. Having witnessed and participated in no less than six decades of human history, I’ve enjoyed recounting personal recollections from the 50s, the 60s and the 70s.
Now let’s tackle the 80s
At the outset of this decade, Communism was still strong, particularly in Eastern Europe. Moreover, it was a constant threat to the Western free world. And while this godless political system seemed remote to many of us Americans, the plight of oppressed Europeans became real to me in a missions class at the seminary I attended in Texas.
Seated next to me in that class was John Moldovan, an exiled Romanian Baptist preacher. John was a serious but friendly student. He frequently published “prisoner bulletins” revealing the persecution of Christians in his home country and imploring American believers to pray for these suffering saints.
John’s own story was compelling. The trouble began when John, as a young man, gave his life to Christ. His baptism marked him for harassment by governing officials. Not long afterward, John’s evangelist father stepped into a city street after a church meeting one night and was run down and killed by a truck. John says it was an obviously arranged “accident.”
After John responded to the call to the Gospel ministry, local officials stepped up their hostility. One night he was arrested for leading a group of Christians in an unauthorized house church meeting. They demanded to know the names of all the other participants. John refused to tell them.
The following weeks were hellish.
His persecutors kept John in a small, isolated cell. Food was scarce; the cell was cold. Interrogation sessions lasted for hours. When John refused to cooperate, they would beat him bloody with rubber truncheons, then force him to clean up his blood off the concrete floor. At one point he was about to give in.
“Why continue to resist?” he wondered. He was afraid he would lose his mind.
John said in that darkest moment, the Lord surrounded him with a strong sense of His presence. He reminded John that He was there and in charge. John said the surge of strength he felt was unbelievable. He stood firm.
Word of John’s trouble reached America, and pressure from the West secured his release.
But when the Romanians released him from prison, they also expelled him and his family from the country. Exile from the country of your birth, he said, is quite depressing. Nevertheless John has done well in the United States and is now a professor at the seminary.
I am sure he felt a measure of vindication on that Christmas Day of 1989. Not many weeks earlier, the Berlin Wall had been opened and would soon be torn down, the two Germanys reunited. Now in Romania, because citizens had assembled en masse to protect a persecuted priest, the oppressive Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena was brought
Dictators and regimes and armies can seem so dreadful. But God can overturn them in a moment, as the 80s clearly demonstrated.