Joining World Vision Regional Team
Four years later, in the summer of 1999, Chris Shore sent me the job description for a new position in World Vision called, at the time, Regional Director for Christian Witness and Spiritual Formation. He told me: ‘I think this is really for you. I suggest you should apply.’ When I read it I had the definite impression that it was really written with me in mind. The Regional Leader, Philip Hunt, who initiated and applied for funding for this position, turned to the National Directors in his team and asked for suggestions. Since Philip knew me already, as we were involved together in Advisory Board of WV Romania, Chris Shore told him that I could be a potential solution for this position. With Philip’s permission, he sent me the job description.
My feeling, reading that document, was as if all the various strings in my life – my theological interests and expertise, especially in Orthodoxy, my interest in ecclesiology, my ecumenical commitment, my cultural interests, my passion for travel – came together in this position. My wife and my closest friends had the same clear feeling. However, things were not simple at all, as applying for this position would have had major implications on my previous involvements.
It was a year already that I had left the theological school in Oradea where I was teaching, as the school narrowed its perspective and moved strongly to the right theologically. During the next year I had taught religious education to high school students at Wurmbrand College, a private K-12 school that I had started together with a number of friends in 1995. I was also the Chair of the Board of that college and heavily involved in fundraising. I knew very well that if I get into the new position, I will not be able to continue this kind of commitment. And that was, I thought at the time, the best thing in which I was involved during my entire life. My hope was that, at the end of my life, they will write on my grave, ‘the man who made a school’. So, was it time for me to let go and move to a new chapter in my life? Was that a call from God, or a temptation from the devil? I would have never imagined the distance between the two could be so paper-thin.
This reminded me of another crossroad at which I was 27 years before, immediately after my conversion. When I have received the call of God to follow Christ, I have (mis)understood that as being a call for me to become a pastor. To my surprise, everybody was against it: my family, my church and, most importantly, my mentors. I would have never imagined that. Wasn’t this, I thought, the supreme way of following Christ? It seemed not, as it came out from the opposition I faced, and as I realised years later, after I grew somewhat in spiritual maturity and understanding. The final blow to my clerical plans came through a really prophetic message I have received from one of my mentors at the time, Ulf Uldenburg, a strange man, who travelled a lot to share Christ in the communist lands. His letter, which I keep almost as a holy relic, told me, in essence: ‘this is not God’s plan for your life. Instead, God will bring before you at the right time, the right people and the right books. And, from time to time, he will put you to test. If you take the test, he will open before you a large avenue of ministry.’ I have to say, this is the story of my life. Ulf ended his letter saying; ‘the Baptist Seminary in Bucharest is no good’. As I was already beginning to be involved in some dissident activities, in support of religious freedom in my country, I knew what he meant. The Baptist theological school in Rpmania was heavily controlled by communist authorities and I would have quickly got in trouble there. So, I changed course, and went to study economics. Decades later, I was at another life turning point, and I needed to understand what God’s way was for me.
Furthermore, when I talked with the Regional Leader about this position, Philip told me that, if I take the job, I will have to move to Vienna, where the regional office was located. I told him that I have refused to listen to the suggestions and pressure of the secret police to leave the country during communism, and I am not ready to leave my country now, under freedom. He told me to think and pray about it, and then to apply for the job, if I think that is the right thing to do.
During that summer, I travelled a lot inside and outside of Romania, which gave me the opportunity to consult with at least fifty of my good friends in various places in the world. Almost all of them encouraged me to apply for the job and to trust God for the implications. One of the decisive suggestions came from Samuel Kamaleson, former Vice-President of World Vision International, whom I knew from some conferences in Romania. He told me: ‘You should definitely not move from Romania. You will be a foreigner wherever you will travel. You need roots. You need to minister from the strength of a community.’ That really confirmed my gut feeling.
A few weeks later, God’s answers started coming. A former member of the Board of Directors at Wurmbrand College, with whom I did not share my struggles, came out of the blue and offered to give a hand in areas where I was involved in the school. I took it as a sign of providence and I did let go.
Then, in October 1999, I travelled to Vienna for the final discussion with my boss to be. When I saw him, Philip asked me: What do you think? How do you feel?’ I said: ‘I am scared to death. I have never had a job interview in my life’ (still did not, even today). I joked: ‘I am a communist. What do you expect? They give us jobs, if they want, and they take them from us, when they want. But we don’t interview for jobs.’ Philip relied: ‘Forget it. This will not be a job interview either’. ‘Thanks be to God’, I said to myself. ‘So, what do you think? Do you take it or leave it?’, said Philip. With a nod in my throat, I said: ’If the condition is for me to move to Vienna, as tempted as I am by the job, I will have to decline’. Mr. Hunt replied: ‘We have made some calculations and it is cheaper for us if you work from Romania.’ I said, ‘I don’t like the argument, but I love the conclusion’. So, I have signed the contract on the spot. There were no negotiations (what did I know about it? I told you I am a communist J ), no discussions of the level of salary and benefits, nothing. Later on I paid quite a price for overlooking that, but those aspects of capitalism were completely obscure for me. To be sincere, they still are, to a certain extent. After all, I had live more than half of my life under communism.
After signing the contract, I asked Philip: ‘So, what do I do now?’ My new boss replied, with a smile: ‘You tell me. I have hired you because I know you can it. This job did not exist before. You have to invent it. Start from the job description and build on it.’ And he added: ‘If you want my advice, take a year, visit every National Office in the region; ask questions, listen, learn, meet people, and, at the end of that year, come up with a strategy’. (As a side comment, such a wise approach is not possible anymore in WV, given the speed at which tings are moving and changing constantly within the organisation.)
So, that is how my professional adventure in the WV began. I remember very well (maybe I should have forgotten, but it was a hard blow) that one of the young people for whom I was a mentor, and then became a colleague in the theological school where I was teaching, prophesied that I will not last there very long in this new job. After all, my longest time in a job were the ten years I had worked as an economist under communism. To be fair, I did not imagine I will last very long either. Yet, here I am, sixteen years later, looking back, and ready at turning another leaf in my life. The show must go on, it seems.
To be continued…