We knew we were honored with great respect, and during our conversation, we had a few pieces of strange, delicious fruit. It didn’t take long and we were invited in the sanctuary to distribute the Bibles. Three rows of benches filled the large sanctuary the size of a gym, while the light shined generously through wide windows on both sides. The big platform in the front was spacious enough to accommodate one hundred people.
There were churchgoers sitting only on the benches in the middle, all women dressed in the same uniform, blue skirt and white top. They looked festive, but it was something sad about that, since everybody had to comply with such a strict dress code. Choir members enjoy wearing matching outfits, but I’ve never seen that applying to an entire congregation. It hurt to see my sisters garrisoned like that. The faith in Jesus comes with the liberty of the spirit and a deep sense of a new vibrant life. There I could sense oppression. Christians were free to gather, pray together and listen to a sermon, but only on a rigid platform totally controlled by the state.
We took a seat on the front bench next to the boxes with Bibles. The pastor prayed and then started to give a short speech. Our interpreter translated to us. He thanked us for our great gift and praised the government for freedom of religion. When he finished his discourse, the people applauded. I looked back to see them and it sounded like a robot. I’ve been there. As high school students, we were required to do a lot of hand clapping and show appreciation to the dictator Ceausescu when we listened to his allocutions in school. Twice a year, on May 1st and August 23rd, the most celebrated days in communist Romania, we were on the stadiums or marching the city shouting slogans and applauding the communist leaders. With no water and in plain sun, many of the students fainted and were taken to the hospital in ambulances. We had to endure, and I praised God my endurance was great.
The distribution of the Bibles was precious, with us presenting book after book to our sisters, and their stretched hands to receive it and place it on their chest. That was their profound and very personal moment of pure happiness, and nobody could touch or alter it. When we finished, there was not much to be said. Everybody stood up and applauded us as we walked to the door. The two agents, each with a plastic bag full of fruit, got in their car and waited for us to leave first. That was the routine. The pastor stayed there on the steps and waved at us until we turned to another street.
Our first day of the mission we came for, was over. The back of the van was empty now. We, with mixed emotions and too tired to chat, were watching out the window.
The Chinese dinner in that small restaurant was good, and we spent time to talk and listen to each other. My two American teammates were born and raised in the United States, and didn’t have the experience of a strange, dangerous political system the way I did. With all of that, they perceived what was going on in the big church the same way I did. It was such a difference between the two churches we had visited that day. Same system, same oppressors, but we could tell the main government’s attention was on the church in the city that had hundreds, maybe thousands of members, than on the small gathering of peasants. We couldn’t help with anything else, but distributing the Bibles and loving everyone.
After dinner we went for a walk downtown. I couldn’t spot the men who followed us for the past two days. It was possible the agents worked in shifts and new ones were in charge to supervise us. We joined the crowd of young people strolling the sidewalk, and loud American music blasted from the bars we passed by. The stores were closed, and after taking a tour of the central neighborhood, we came back to the hotel.
We had to take some rest before the next day.
-to be continued-
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