Editor’s note: The following story is the first in a three-part series about the challenges of training pastors under the Iron Curtain in Romania.
by Doru Radu
Behind the Iron Curtain that separated the Soviet communist block from Western countries, it was difficult to study theology. Officially, there was religious freedom, but Christians were still persecuted and discriminated against. The state had to approve everything church related, including the number of students at religious seminaries.
The sole Baptist Seminary in Romania used to get approval for only 3-4 students every other year. The government kept a tight control on books and other publications—resulting in a small, limited library at this Seminary, and made it difficult to establish a high academic standard. Church activity was developed at 2 levels: an official government sanctioned activity/gathering, and the unofficial activity/meeting called “underground church”.
Because of the small number of pastors, each pastor had to serve in several churches. Seeing this great need for pastors and Christian workers, American missionaries came up with a smart idea: an unofficial, moving seminary called Biblical Education by Extension (B.E.E.).
This type of education was used in communist Poland for unapproved university studies. I was part of this secret system of training, and I think that today when we see expanding restrictions in the US opposing religious freedom, it might be interesting to take a brief look at the education and life of Christians in communism. Many Americans are more and more attracted to socialism and communism due to the neo-Marxism that dominates American college teachings. These students believe that this is different from former Soviet Union socialism, but the basis is the same.
The secret seminar (B.E.E.) that we were part of was a real blessing despite the many risks involved. The teachers came to us from the missionary base in Vienna by rotation to confuse the suspicious and xenophobic border officers. In addition, those with dual citizenship used different passports alternately. We never knew the teachers’ real names. To do not draw attention, they dressed as Romanian as possible and avoided any interactions with the locals
I had a B.E.E. student number, which might seem conspiratorial even though it wasn't. No pictures were allowed; the only proof I have is the Certificate issued after communism fell.
The Americans had been smart. For instance, the book storage for the students from my city of Arad was in another town—Simleul Silvaniei. And the book warehouse for those in Simleul Silvaniei was în Arad. We only found out about the existence of the book warehouse in Arad (which supplied books to another center) by chance; the Militia was about to search for the Zene family. That's how I found out about the warehouse. Mr. Zene was a perfect choice to host a secret book storage. He was discreet, spoke German, and lived in a remote area. We owed him a lot of gratitude for the job he did. Due to so many precautions, I thought the Secret Police (“Securitate” – in Romanian) didn't know anything about us, but it wasn't like that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Doru Radu is one of the elders at Golgotha Romanian Baptist Church in Warren, Michigan. Radu immigrated from the communist Romania and likes to write stories about the good hand of our Lord who protected us during the 45 years of communist persecution.