Betty Marcontell – Mission Accomplished. Iasi, Romania

Twenty years ago today, I arrived in a city called Iasi (pronounced Yash), Romania. God took me on an incredible journey that started a relationship with many Romanian people for the next 20 years! Here is my story about this first trip to Iasi.

Twenty years ago this month, I embarked on an adventure beyond anything I had ever attempted to do in my life. In March of 1992, I suddenly found myself preparing to go halfway around the world to Iasi, Romania to teach computer literacy to a group of adults that I did not know. They could not speak English and I sure could not speak Romanian. How in the world did this come about — GOD!

Ed, my husband, and I were members of Houston Northwest Baptist Church at that time. Our pastor and youth minister had gone to Iasi, Romania in September of 1990 to participate in the first open crusade only nine months after the revolution in Romania that knocked out Communist control of their country. The country was nearly in ruin under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, but the underground church became strong enough to lead an overthrow of the government in December of 1998. During that crusade in Iasi, a very confident young man, 25 years of age, introduced himself to our youth minister and said “When I come to America someday soon, can I stay with you and learn about student ministry?” His name was Radu. Well, eleven months later in August of 1991, this ambitious young man knocked on Mick’s door and stayed for six months to be a part of the student ministry at our church.

Radu and I became friends after he came to speak to the Christian Club at my school about his vision for the students of Romania turning to God. When he found out that I taught computer software, he asked if I would come to Iasi to teach the adults in their church foundation. I thought about this for a while before telling Ed about it. There were several obstacles that made the project seem impossible to me. First, they did not have any computers to teach with. That was problem No. 1. We did buy a computer for Radu to take home with him, but one computer would not be enough. I still felt God was calling me to do this! Radu returned to Iasi in February of 1992, and I was left seeking God with no details from Radu. Ed prayed with me about it and basically God told him to let me go. One stipulation — he wasn’t going and I could not go alone. I agreed, and we started looking for the path to get this project started. I can’t really remember how I kept contact with Radu after he left; I think by fax and some phone calls which were hard to connect at that time in Romania as they were trying to build an infrastructure to connect with the rest of the world.

My first step was to find someone who knew DOS based software–Word Perfect, Lotus, and dBase III that could go with me and help teach the courses. Suddenly, I found a graduating senior in our church who was very computer literate and knew how to use the programs that we needed to teach. He was very interested in going and his parents said yes. I presented the project to the church finance committee to see if they would help with expenses for used computers to take with us and travel expenses for Tim, my new colleague on this adventure.

Next problem, computers!!! I remember one day at school, a fellow teacher told me that she went to auction at a warehouse in the area that had used computers which she was looking at for herself. She had no idea that I was looking for used computers for this trip. As soon as school was out, I went to the warehouse to look around and a man approached me to see if I needed help. He was there to buy used computers to send to South America for resale. I told him about my project and said he felt like he needed to help me. I think he could tell I did not have the expertise to pick out computers that were good enough to make this journey. My very first thought was “Wow, God! You are directing this project, aren’t you?” I told Ed about this guy and we prayed that God would direct his path. I can’t even remember his name, but he delivered the computers that he bought to my house a few weeks later. Of course, they needed a little tweaking, and I suddenly realized we needed someone who could work on this hardware because Tim couldn’t do it alone. We were about six weeks away from flying to Iasi and my faith was a little weak. I kept telling God that I wasn’t sure I could do this. His reply (almost audibly) — “I know you can’t but I CAN!!

One night at our Wednesday church supper, I spotted a 2nd-year college student, Brian, who had been a missionary kid in China. He was a computer science major; and when I saw him, I knew he should be going with us. When I asked him about it, he immediately said YES! He said he kept wondering why he could not find a summer job. Now he knew! He had three weeks to get his passport renewed and get our computers running smoothly and all the software loaded. Thank you LORD was my response. We had a very busy three weeks of repairing, packing, and planning the course work. I think back about how I packed these computers and monitors and other stuff, and I am amazed that they didn’t arrive in little pieces. We checked a total of eight boxes at the airport, and we carried our clothes in a carry-on bag for a five week trip.

Arrival day in Bucharest, our port of entry into Romania, was June 14, 1992. I still have a vivid impression of the condition of the airport facility. It looked like there were still WWII airplanes on the grounds. The building was small and very old, dark, and dingy. Radu was waiting for us on the other side of a glass wall. They finally let him come through to interpret. Unfortunately, he did not come with a letter from the church foundation stating our purpose for bringing these computers into the country. Therefore, they took all six of the computers from the boxes and held them in customs until Radu could come back with the proper paperwork to get the computers back. We loaded up the boxes with all the cables, software, printer, camera equipment and our carry-on bags in a white bus-like vehicle that had originally been an ambulance in England. Radu rented the bus with a driver from a new company in Iasi. It had side bench seats in the back half of the bus; all in all, not really very comfortable. It did have windows, but they were all up so there was no air circulating in the bus. We were faced with about a seven-hour ride to the northeast corner of Romania. It was about 10 p.m. when we finally got on our way. I remember stopping several times to cool off the engine. Each time I thought we were breaking down for sure. There was a cover over a very dim overhead light at the front of the bus that kept flopping down. Radu kept pushing it back and it would flop down again. After multiple times, I reached in one of the boxes and somehow found the roll of duct tape that I brought. Problem fixed! I clearly remember Radu’s response. “Americans, you have a solution for everything.” We also had companions on the trip with us. Radu had picked up a man and woman he met at the airport to ride back with us. Hmmmm. Radu’s big heart, I think. The trip was lonnnnnng; the roads were rough and very dark. Street lights were rare in those days. Remember, infrastructure was very poor in the whole country under communist rule. We were all tired after traveling for a total of 36 hours by the time we reached Iasi in the early morning hours but my adrenalin was still running high.

Radu got us to the house we were staying in and they unloaded all the boxes. I think Radu and Brian got no sleep that day. Radu went straight to the church foundation leaders early that morning and got a letter from the Filocalia Foundation to take back to the customs office at the airport. One of the church members drove Radu and Brian back to Bucharest (6 hour drive) to get the computers that same morning. All I can say is “Praise the Lord!” They got back late that night safe and sound with all the equipment, and the next day we started working to get the computers up and running. The insides of the computers were actually shaken loose from the airplane travel and transfer from one airplane to another on the trip. Every one of them had to be tightened up and tweaked. Brian and Tim were amazing. I could not have begun to accomplish this mission without these guys. I think we started teaching our first class in three days. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! Like the Lord said, “I know you can’t, but I CAN!! “

I started teaching first with two classes a day of Word Perfect. I think we had two people per computer. I remember commenting that they were so attentive and so good at following directions – translated from English to Romanian. Radu did most of the translating, but we did have a volunteer to help us out – Daniel, son of one of the church leaders. He was a great addition to our team. He was 16 years old and was a computer whiz, spoke perfect English which was amazing and could actually speak Texan!

I remember commenting one day that if I was teaching an adult class like this at home in a continuing education program, I would be making $25 an hour minimum. I don’t know why I said that – crazy American! Everyone just stopped and got very quiet. The atmosphere felt very awkward and I asked Radu what was the problem. He remarked that $25 an hour was unimaginable to them as most people who had jobs made an average of $100 per month. I think it is sometimes difficult for Americans to understand how to communicate with people from another country, especially one like Romania that had once been a very prosperous country in its prime, but suddenly had everything ripped from them and treated like prisoners in their own homes under communist rule.

We continued teaching our software classes each week for four weeks. Brian and Tim taught Lotus and d-Base III. Every afternoon between classes, we were guests at different church member’s homes for lunch. Everyone lived in apartment blocks around the city. The outsides of the apartment buildings were quite dingy and run-down looking. If there were elevators in the apartment buildings, they were so small that only two to three small people could squeeze in. Most everyone walked up very poorly lit stairways. Everyone on our team was made to feel right at home by very hospitable people. I was told that Romanians are known for their hospitality, and we definitely found that to be true. The Romanian style food that was prepared for us was delicious. My favorite was their sour soup which was served at every meal. Before we came, one of my fears was that I would not like the food, but I found it to be very tasty. In the summer there were outdoor produce markets with delicious vegetables and fruits available. Apples and cherries (one of my favorite fruits) are grown in that region and are very good!

We would shop around some of the stores during our break between classes and found that the store shelves were beginning to be stocked with items from other countries, but people didn’t have much money to buy the goods. The guys would find some things that we could cook fresh each night for supper. The home we stayed in was made ready just for us to live in for five weeks and also teach our classes in. It was owned by a couple in the church – he was an actor and a carpenter; his wife was a music teacher. The old house had originally belonged to a Jewish family before WWII; but, of course, all the Jews were removed from Iasi to Ukraine in concentration camps. Romania was forced to become an ally of the Germans and when the war was over, they were given over to the Russians.

After our first week of teaching, we went to the Sunday church service at Filocalia, the group sponsoring our work there. I was told ahead of time that it was a little different from the traditional Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Brethren, and Pentecostal churches in Romania where the men and women sat on opposite sides of the isle and the women were not allowed to participate in the leadership of the church. Filocalia was breaking the mold of the traditional Romanian church. The men and women could sit together in the service. They sang praise music as well as hymns and they had a type of elder-run church – at least that was my understanding. The church was formed by a group of men from different backgrounds, but they had all been a part of the underground work for many years. They were renting a church building from the Seventh Day Adventist who met on Saturdays. My strongest memory of being in church that day was singing “How Great Thou Art” in Romanian. It really did move me. First of all, it was so hard to believe that I was sitting there half way around the world from my home and away from my husband doing something like this. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine myself singing “How Great Thou Art” in an open church service in a former communist country!! It was a bit overwhelming for me.

Earlier that week, we met with both of the main leaders of the church, and I told them that I felt the Lord wanted me to share a scripture with them that I had gotten in May before coming on the trip. I felt it was a direct message to them and where they were at this point in time – really a kind of prophetic message because I did not know anything about the vision of the church. After I shared the scripture with them, both of them said I should share it with the whole church which really surprised me. So, the next Sunday I got up and read the scripture. I thought this might be a bit different for them because of their beliefs about women speaking in the church, but I was not nervous about doing it. The most important thing was that I felt God gave it to me to share with these people and I needed to do it. The scripture was Hebrews 6:7-12: “7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. 9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised”. After I read the scripture, someone in the congregation said that there had been a drought for several weeks and, after much prayer, they had finally gotten rain for their potato crops that they were raising to make money for their church building program. Nothing was said to me about the scripture later on and its spiritual meaning to the church. My thought was they were being polite in letting me read what God had given to me and that was all there was to it.

At the beginning of our third week of computer software classes, July 1, the church leaders suspended classes for the day so that everyone could go out to the potato fields and pick bugs off of the potato plants. They took a big spread of food; and we worked in the fields, ate great food, and sang praise songs. This was also my 47th birthday and, of course, they all sang happy birthday! That night, a big group came to our house; and we celebrated my birthday with cake and flowers and wonderful fellowship. I also met Radu’s mother that evening. She came into town to give me a very special gift, a white wool blanket that she had hand-sewn with maroon stitching several years before. It was a cover for a couch which was common in Romanian homes. Radu said it took her a whole year to complete the stitching. She wanted me to have it as a special thank you for helping her son in the states and coming on this trip.

Radu’s mother is a very special woman. I have to stop my story about our trip right here and tell you about Mama Onu. She is seven years older than me. She raised two girls and three boys in a small village outside of Iasi. Her husband drove a truck and was gone a lot. She worked in the fields raising different crops, and she hired other people in her village to work with her in the fields. Raising crops helped feed her family and also provide income from the sale of the produce. In Romania during communist times, those who were working in the fields did not have tractors, just horses and hand tools. This was hard labor, but Mama Onu was very determined to do the best she could for her family.

Radu started telling me more about his life growing up. He said that when he was in the third grade, his mother became a Christian. He did not know how that happened, but he knew that things changed in his life from that time forward. She would not let him read anything but the Bible, other than his regular school work. As Radu read the Old Testament stories over and over, he loved to pretend he was different characters in the Bible while he was out playing in the fields. That blew my mind right there. I told him I could not even begin to tell him of a story like that in America in the late 1960’s and 70’s. That was just the beginning of his remarkable story! I am doing my best to remember what he told me.

Radu said that when his older sister was fifteen years old, his mother went into Iasi to find an apartment to rent for his sister and himself to live in alone and go to school. She wanted them to have a good education and this was the only way she knew to make it happen. Radu was thirteen and in junior high school. He said that in the beginning all of this freedom was not good for him. He started running around with kids and not studying, and his sister could not make him do what he was supposed to do. When his mother found out what he was doing, she cried and cried and this upset him so much that he decided he had to change his ways and get serious about studying and getting a good education that his mother had worked so hard to provide. It was during that time that he dedicated his life to God and really started living for Him and sharing God with his friends.

Radu did very well in school and went on to a vocational college for computer training. He also worked in a factory in Iasi and was constantly being approached by the Young Communist League about becoming a member. One day, one of the men from the party asked him why he wouldn’t become a member and Radu’s reply was “I am a Christian and my God won’t let me become a member of the communist party.” The guy said “you are going to have problems with the party if you don’t become a member.” Radu said “I would rather have problems with you and the communist party, than have problems with my God if I disobey Him.” Radu’s friends were shocked at what he said and that he stood up to this man, but they were even more surprised that they didn’t do anything to Radu and they left him alone after that encounter. It was 1984, five years before the revolution and Radu was 18 years old. He finished his degree at the vocational college and worked underground evangelizing the youth until the revolution and overthrow of the communist party in December of 1989.

That brings us up to the middle of this story in 1992, helping to teach computer software to a group of people with a vision for the future – starting a Christian school, building a first-class medical center, creating small businesses based on Christian principles, and building a new church building!!! Wow! They knew what they wanted to see happen and they were all working hard to see this vision come to pass.

We did get to see some of the countryside around Romania while we were there. Our second weekend there, we rented the same little bus we road in to Iasi from the airport in Bucharest. We gathered up camping equipment from friends in the church and went into the mountains to camp out – me, Brian, Tim, Radu and Daniel. Wow! This was my first time to every camp out in a tent – and in the mountains of Romania, no less! It was a lot of fun being with these guys. All of the guys liked to sing praise songs and just relax and take in the scenery, so I didn’t have to do anything to keep them entertained. It was a blast! The countryside was gorgeous – small villages were old and the people were living like they were still in the late 1800’s; sheep herders were beautiful to see out in the fields; rushing waters in the rivers through the mountains were breathtaking. We had a great time. Radu’s youngest brother, Ben, and a friend of his stayed at our house to make sure everything stayed safe, he taught himself all of the software programs. He had just finished high school and was brilliant with computers. He and his older brother, Dan, helped Radu develop their vision of a student ministry. More about that later.

Before starting our camping trip, we made a quick detour to Kishinev, Moldova which is just over the border from Iasi. We had to deliver some money and a letter from our church to a church pastor in Kishinev. Our church team had partnered with this Moldovan pastor when they made their trip in 1990. That was also a very interesting adventure – crossing the border into another formerly held Soviet country. We had a great visit and were on our way back to begin our camping trip.

The following weekend we all took the train to Constanta, Romania, southeast of Bucharest on the Black Sea. We rented a couple of motel rooms and stayed out on the beach for two days. It was a very interesting trip. I remember watching America’s 4th of July celebration on a TV in a bar/restaurant. Bizarre! There was something unique about Romanian beaches – you would likely see topless women and even a couple of nude men sunbathers. Unique for me!

Our last week of the trip was spent moving all the computers to the church office, and get everything up and running there. We all met with the church leaders for one last time before returning home. Of course, they were very grateful for our time and sacrifices made to make the trip. I taped their message about their vision to take back to our church in hopes that they would be inspired to help. One of the comments made to me by one of the leaders was “You will be back many times. I have no doubt about that.” I felt that was a prophetic word, but truthfully, I could see no reason that I would be back. I didn’t really know what I could do.

We went to another church service before we left on July 16 (mine and Ed’s 26th wedding anniversary). We had made some good friends the past five weeks, and it was hard to say good-bye. One significant thing happened after that service was over. We met an American man, named Matthew, who had been attending Filocalia church for about a year while teaching English in a public school in Iasi, and he was about to go home to Kentucky to share a vision he had about helping orphan children in Iasi. We had been too busy to meet Matthew during our weeks there, but the Lord knew exactly the timing He had in mind. I got Matthew’s address and phone number in Kentucky so I could talk to him when we both got back to the states and find out more about what he was called to do in Iasi. That five-minute encounter changed our life for the next 12 years as we got involved in praying for and supporting Matthew’s vision for the orphan kids. Radu went on to pursue his dream of evangelizing the young people of Iasi. Our relationship with him continued for years to come.

Soon after returning from home, God gave me a scripture that assured me I would be returning to Iasi to continue His mission work there. The scripture was II Corinthians 9:6-15 v6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. v7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. v8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. v9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” v10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. v11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. v12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. v13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. v14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. v15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Wow! I could never have imagined what was to come. Here’s a brief list that will cover from 1993-2005 – 13 trips to Iasi for me and 6 for Ed gave us the opportunity to help support Radu’s student ministry vision and Matthew’s vision to provide better living conditions and education to the orphan kids in Iasi. We were able to help contribute and raise much needed funds along with others in their network of friends for both of these visions as well as give spiritual support as the ministries were growing. When I went back in June of 1993 (alone with financial support for Matthew’s orphanage vision), I learned that the Filocalia Church had some leadership disputes and some of the leaders broke away from the church; but for those who remained, their vision was still the same. I knew from the scripture God had given me to give them in June, 1992, prophesied hard times ahead, but they would pull through. My trip back to Iasi in June of 1993 was aimed at getting Matthew’s vision started with the conditions of the orphanages. Radu had been living with Matthew since September of 1992. His place in Filocalia had faded, but his vision for student ministry had not. It was just on hold for now, and he was helping Matthew with is vision.

Matthew’s work with orphans would include:
*Completely remodel two orphanages in order to give the kids better living conditions.
*Sponsor many many humanitarian aid shipments from friends in Germany that would help many improve living conditions for many kids and adults as well. It was estimated that the value of the goods received as donations from many different sources would be at least $2 million dollars.
*Start a Romanian foundation with two good Romanian friends who felt called to Matthew’s vision – Liviu and Dan (Radu’s brother).
*Set up a large media center and library (with goods acquired from U.S. military bases downsizing in Germany) where kids would come to enhance their education and also learn how to use computers.
*Provide work with pay for several Romanian adults to oversee all of the projects
*Provide tutoring in English, music, and other course work in school
*Teach Godly principles for living through Proverbs and Psalms and teach them the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
*Provide a transition apartment for kids to live in after they finished high school and were ready to leave the orphanage.
*Set up boys and girls clubs with the help of other missionary workers and Romanian friends involved in the ministry.
*Teach the kids how to work in a horticulture business raising and selling flowers. His new Romanian wife, Selena, was a big part of his success even when she was working with him in the beginning just learning the Romanian language and working in the media center.

Radu’s work with student ministry:
*Meet with students on a daily basis, evangelizing and disciplining those who became Christians.
*Provide a place to meet as a group weekly (rent and utility payments required). We helped provide support for Radu’s living expenses and transportation
*Organize week-long camps in the summer for young high school college students
*Plan special activities for evangelism and outreach
*Start a new church which grew into two outreach churches in the city and a church in Moldova
*Bring teams to help with camps and outreaches

More details about all this work will be in my next chapter of “Mission Accomplished — Iasi, Romania.”

And finally —

To Ed – thank you for hearing God to allow me to go on this extraordinary trip and for praying through all the details that made the trip such a success. I love you!

To Tim and Brian — thank you so much for working so hard to make this adventure happen for me and for God. I did not see or hear from Brian and Tim for many years until we reconnected on Facebook three years ago. Until this writing, I’m sure they have no idea what happened with the work I was involved with for years to come. Had they not been able to go on this trip with me, I would not have been able to go, and the future would have looked totally different for many people in Iasi. Brian and Tim have beautiful families now, and they are on their way to being almost as old as I was when I went on this trip to Iasi in 1992.

To Radu — thank you for being God’s instrument for inspiring me to leave my comfort zone and step out in faith to accomplish something I never would have dreamed of. Radu now has a beautiful wife and with three sons. All of his family — brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews — are together in Iasi and still ministering to the people in Iasi. Mama and Tata Onu have much to be proud of – a beautiful family of five children, 14 grandchildren?, and 2 great grandchildren.

To Houston Northwest Baptist Church – thank you for your support for Radu throughout the years. You are blessed for it.

To Mick – thank you for going on that first trip to Romania and reaching out to Radu when he approached you that one night at the crusade in Iasi. One encounter can change a life forever.

One last note of interest: My daughter was also on a mission trip for the Baptist Student Union. Her group was sent to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan ministering in a children’s cancer hospital and a juvenile detention center (prison, in other words). Ed’s one request from God was that he would be able to talk to both of us by phone in these distant and foreign lands. God granted him that request. Shannan was staying a dormitory and the one phone on the floor was beside her bed!!! Ed and I kept in touch by fax and by phone, and he would let me know how Shannan was doing on her amazing adventure with God.

IT WILL BE CONTINUED

(I have published very moving story, at least for us, who witnessed it, with the author’s permission.)

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

One thought on “Betty Marcontell – Mission Accomplished. Iasi, Romania”

  1. Here is the message I have left for Betty, on her Facebook page where she has published this text:

    Dear Betty,
    This is, indeed, an amazing story of grace. Reading it, I relived those emotional times. Since then, we have all moved in different directions, as the Lord guided or as we have decided to go. Some of our dreams came true and others ended disappointingly, as did some people, but God’s grace remained the same.
    Please allow me to share this story on my blog. Some of my readers are not on Facebook and they may benefit from reading it.
    Thanks a lot, and thanks to God, for your contribution in our lives. Those were fabulous times, and God used us because of our desire to serve him, in spite of our naivete and immaturity.

    Like

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