FBC Belton’s mission to Romania, an adventure that none imagined
Gospel shared, stories of courage, inspiration heard, despite raging flood waters
Special to The Pathway
August 9, 2005
Suceava, Romania – In January the First Baptist Church of Belton entered into a partnership with the Maranatha Baptist Church of Suceava, Romania. In July the church’s first mission team found themselves in the middle of a real-life adventure.
What was supposed to be several preaching engagements and a Christian youth camp, turned into a natural disaster, dinner at a former Communist dictator’s home, and conversations with national leaders regarding freedom.
The mission team was led by Executive Pastor Brian L. Baker, also a State Representative in the Missouri Legislature. When local Romanian leaders discovered Baker was a government official, they wanted to meet and visit with him about a variety of issues.
The team represented a diverse background – Baker; Alan Bass, a pilot; Quinn Lollis, a baker; Jeff Stone, a contract negotiator for a pharmaceutical company; and Derek Creason, a Baptist Student Union student.
The team began their 12-day journey on July 3 where Baker preached and Bass gave a testimony at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Suceava. Baker then performed a Romanian wedding in a local village near Suceava. That evening the mission team gave greetings to 8,000 Romanians at a stadium worship service.
At the stadium service, Baker presented a Missouri flag to the president of Suceava Region. Baker and his team would meet with the President twice during their visit.
“It was an amazing event,” Baker said. “I told the Romanian people that America considered them a great friend and we were pleased with their efforts to spread democracy and freedom to Eastern Europe. I expressed how God was smiling down on them and that they had the opportunity to follow Christ as they continued rebuilding their country.”
Baker received a hug from the president after the greeting.
On July 4, the team was invited by the president of Suceava and the mayor of the city to meet and discuss governmental issues. The request delayed the team’s arrival to the youth camp, but Pastor Dan Boingeanu, of Maranatha Baptist Church, thought it was very important the team satisfy the request.
The meetings focused on the development of democracy in Romania and the Romanian Revolution of 1989 that changed the nation.
“They have the same worries and concerns that we do,” Baker said. “They are especially concerned about improving education and healthcare in Romania. It is amazing what they have accomplished with what they have. They desperately want to start a student-teacher exchange program with us.”
After meeting with the officials, the team was told to go to a special home for lunch – it was a place that would leave them in awe. In 1989, communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were shot by a firing squad after a secret military tribunal found them guilty of crimes against the state, including mass genocide. After his execution, the state took all his property and mansions. One of these mansions is in Suceava and the mission team was invited to dine with government leaders at the former dictator’s home.
“It was amazing,” Baker said. “Here we are in the home of a former dictator who killed millions of people; we were discussing Christ, freedom, and faith. We sat on his back patio and discussed how God had blessed Romania with freedom.”
The president is a Christian and a member of a local church. He was extremely interested in talking to the team about faith in Christ. Pastor Dan Boingeanu said that he had never known anyone to visit the home of the former dictator and that it was only reserved for dignitaries of the government and Romanian Parliament. He was able to join the team for the event.
“One of the leaders told us that under Communist rule, birds did not fly over the dictator’s home,” Bass said. “It was clear that the former dictator had ruled with an iron fist. Yet, we had the opportunity to share Christ in his home.”
The team discovered how strong the “iron fist” was when Pastor Boingeanu told them a story about the police that served the Communist party. Prior to 1989 Christians would be arrested for interrogation purposes. They would be placed in a room at the police station where they would be asked a few questions. The Christians would then be left alone in the room to fill out some forms and make a statement about their faith. After a long waiting period, the police would then escort them out of the station and let them go.
For some time, many Christians thought it was just harassment by the government. But within a year, these detainees would become sick and doctors could not figure out why. Then after two years, sometimes three, these people would die after being very sick. After the overthrow of the Communists in 1989 the police stations files revealed that while these Christians were left in the interrogation room, the room would be flooded with radiation.
“It was a sad and disturbing eye-opener,” Baker said. “These people are still recovering from severe persecution, to the point that many of the senior citizens still do not trust the freedom they now have.”
The rest of the mission trip was spent serving a local Christian youth camp about an hour outside the city of Suceava. The team worked with about 50 students. Activities included playing games, going on mountain hikes and participating in small group Bible studies. Each night the team would return to Suceava and sleep at Maranatha Baptist Church because there was no room for them at the camp.
“We would start early in the morning and come home late at night,” commented Quinn Lollis of First Belton. “I was doing pretty well until I took up hiking the tallest mountain in the area. The end was great, but it took me two days and two good naps to get over the hike.”
However, it was that kind of participation and involvement that led to the most exciting part of the mission trip. Twenty-three students prayed to accept Christ as their personal Savior.
“We felt the Lord working in hearts, so we gave a mid-week invitation and God changed hearts,” Baker said. “Kids were crying and asking Jesus to forgive them of their sins and live in their heart.”
On July 8 the team decided they wanted to spend the night at camp with the students. The next day was to be their last at the camp. The team was supposed to return to Suceava Saturday so they could prepare to preach in five churches on Sunday, July 10. However, Mother Nature had plans for them to stay a little while longer. On the next afternoon it started to rain.
“The camp was located on the side of the hill next to a small rock-bed creek that was about two inches deep,” Baker said. “We were holding a meeting with some Romanian youth leaders when we noticed the creek had deepened to about three feet.”
In just over an hour the team saw the creek rise to 12 feet and take out the only bridge to the camp. Water was hip deep covering the camp parking lot. The water came down the mountain like rapids approximately 100 yards wide. Later the team discovered that two people with a home just south of the camp died trying to save their vehicles. A house across the creek from the camp collapsed.
Flash floods engulfed the entire region and army and police officials were called into the area to try to reach people.
“First, you have to realize that villagers in the area – whose families had lived their 150 years – had never seen that creek rise about three or four feet.” Baker said. “No one in the area had ever experienced a flash flood. For the Romanians, it was extremely frightening.
“They don’t have the infrastructure and engineering that we take for granted in this country. We are used to severe weather and flash floods and they are not. Giant bull-dozers carved access roads all night and worked to redirect the raging water. Once they reached our area, the rain and river had subsided enough they could throw bottled water across the flooded areas. We had to clean the mud off, but it helped us get through the night.”
Lollis and Jeff Stone, also of First Belton, said they were impressed with how calm the team members were during the flooding. They attributed their demeanor to them having been exposed to flooding in Missouri.
“We believe God had us there for a reason,” Lollis said. “We were able to help the camp leaders stay calm and help calm the fears of the students. We had to tell some people to let their cars go. Some were trying to get in their cars as they floated away. It was very dangerous.”
Creason, who had been in Romania for seven weeks prior to his team member’s arrival, captured the entire flood event on his video recorder. After the team was rescued, the army and local officials requested a copy of it. It was released to every news station in Romania and Creason was interviewed by several media outlets.
On Saturday (July 9) night, amidst the flood, the camp held a worship service. Baker preached, and the students sang songs and shared testimonies.
“We were not about to let nature stop us from worship,” Baker said. “We spent time in small prayer groups and just focused on what God was doing in the lives of students. We reminded the students that water could not wash away what Christ had done in their hearts.”
The team and students were rescued around noon on July 10. Thus, they missed preaching in the local churches they were scheduled to meet in. However, that evening Baker preached from Nehemiah 2:17-18 at Maranatha Baptist Church and told the Romanians that they had a great opportunity to rebuild their country, both after the floods and after Communism.
“I encouraged them to ‘put their hands to the good work’ just like Nehemiah did. The Romanian churches have a foundation in Christ that cannot be moved. Communism could not move it. Growing pains in freedom could not move it. I encouraged them to rise up and build on the foundation of Christ.”
Creason also shared his personal testimony.
“The whole trip was a tremendous learning experience,” he said. “Everyone I met was extremely kind and generous and showed a general interest in our stories and sharing of our faith in Christ. I’m glad to be back, but I will miss the people of Romania and am very grateful for the opportunity to meet and talk with them.”
“There are so many stories to share,” Baker said. “I spent nearly two hours visiting with a former MiG-21 pilot who flew during Communism. He asked Christ into his heart this past spring and was working at the camp. He has a real testimony on how he sees God protected him during those frightening years. There is so much to tell.”
Baker is planning another mission trip for 2006. He hopes to take a team to conduct school rallies in Suceava. He is also working on a student-teacher exchange program.
He will also be encouraging Missouri Baptists to continue in their partnership. Many Baptist churches in the region are waiting for a Missouri church to partner with them. “They have asked me to give a report to our convention leaders. There is a real desire to do more and to work together in the proclamation of the Gospel.”