Monday, January 10, 2011

A Story of Persecution in Moldova

My Day 8 photo of the day was titled, "Stories of Persecution."  We finally got the time to type out the main story that the man in that photograph told us, and I'd like to share it here.

On Saturday, Josh preached in the village of Radoaia.  Afterward, two of our students who are brothers invited us to their home for lunch.  Their father, Victor, planted a church in a nearby village and has been a preacher of the gospel from before the fall of the Soviet Union.  At lunch, he shared the following story about the persecution his parents had suffered for Christ.

But before we begin, let me make the following disclaimer.  The story was told to us almost completely in Romanian.  Igor, Josh's translator, only translated at the times when he knew we were completely lost.  So, in recounting the story, there may be slight inaccuracies, but I believe that I am telling the story as faithfully as I can.

The church in Radoaia was started in the 1930s.  First, Victor’s mother became a Christian, and then soon after his father did as well.  During the time between the World Wars, Moldova was ruled by Romania.  Beginning in 1940, General Ion Antonescu became prime minister of Romanian.  Under Antonescu, Romanian nationalism was married to the Romanian Orthodox Church.  To be a loyal citizen meant that you were Orthodox.

To show their loyalty to Romania, the people of this village, at least, were required to kiss a crucifix and sign a document of loyalty.  Victor’s parents refused to do this.  Victor’s paternal grandfather was an officer in the army and was greatly shamed by the situation.  He pleaded with VIctor’s father to kiss the crucifix, saying, “What does it matter that you do this thing outwardly?  You can still believe whatever you want inwardly.”  The Orthodox priest came demanding that they kiss the crucifix saying that to not do so would be to disobey the commandment to honor your father and mother.

Under this kind of pressure, some of the Christians of Radoaia caved and kissed the crucifix, but others, including Victor’s parents, refused.  They were arrested and marched to Chisinau, and then marched across Romania (we don't know how far into Romania they walked, but just from Radoaia to the Romanian border through Chisinau is over 120 miles).  During this march, they were given very little food and were very hungry and tired.  As word reached the Romanian Christians about these Moldovans who were being marched across the country, the Romanian Christians sat food and water along the roadway for them.  The soldiers were amazed at this bond between Christians who did not even know each other.

Eventually, they arrived at the prison, where they suffered under horrible conditions.  Yet, their faith remained strong as they continued to show the love of Christ to their persecutors.  Often local farmers would pay the prison to send prisoners to work the fields, and the prison would send the Christians rather than the other criminals since the Christians worked hard and were honest.  One day, some Christians were working in a field, and the soldier guarding them was so confident that they would not run away that he drank alcohol until he passed out.  The Christians finished their work and then two of them carried the drunk soldier back to the prison while another carried his gun.

Because they knew the Christians would not run away, the soldiers chained each Christian to a criminal. In this situation, the Christians suffered not only at the hand of the soldiers, but also the other prisoners.  When the criminals wanted to use the bathroom, the Christians obliged, but when the Christians needed to do the same, the criminals would refuse.

When World War II began, Romania initially sided with the Germans, but after a coup in 1944, Romania joined the Allies.  Their once German allies began bombing the area of the prison intensely.  So, the guards decided simply to release all the prisoners, letting every man try to save himself.  Following this sudden release, Victor’s parents began the long trek back across Romania, into Moldova, and finally arrived at their home.

The people were astonished to see them return.  In fact, all of the arrested Christians returned to that village, but after the war none of the Christians who had caved to pressure and kissed the crucifix returned.  They had all been drafted into the Romanian and Russian armies, presumably dying in battle.

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