That’s So Cool!

I stopped by Willie and Betty Murray’s home in NW Calgary on Christmas Day to give them a copy of my newly-released book, reGeneration: Stories of Resilient Faith in Communist Romania. As I drove there, I rehearsed a little speech for my presentation of the book to Willie. I’ve given that speech many times. Every chance I get, I tell Willie that because of him I can tell this story. Long before his memory began to fade and his world became confused and befuddled by dimentia, I’ve thanked him many times for his impact on my life. As I stood in the doorway on Christmas Day, unable to go in because of COVID restrictions, I handed him the book and said, again, “Willie, in 1983 God used you to change the course of my life. I’ve come to thank you — and bring you a copy of my book.”

In the early 80s Willie and I served together on the pastoral staff of First Alliance Church in Calgary, he in a missions capacity and I as pastor of children and families. Willie and I shared a passion for the nations that my birth in China had ignited, but it was Willie’s influence that made that little fire burst into flame. As a student at the University of Calgary in the early 70s, instead of going every Friday night to the bar with my friends I sometimes found myself on my knees at an old-fashioned prayer meeting at Willie and Betty’s home, praying for suffering believers in places like Albania, Czechoslovakia and all the east bloc nations. It was Willie’s stories from Eastern Europe and his bold cries to God on behalf of suffering believers that opened my heart to God’s call to Communist Europe.

In June of 1982 Willie realized he had inadvertently double booked himself. He needed someone to take over a commitment he’d made to teach 20 short term mission participants in Hershey, Pennsylvania, all of them excited about a summer in communist Europe, smuggling bibles to believers, bringing encouragement to churches in fascinating places they’d never dreamed of visiting — Romania, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine. . . Because he was so late in asking me to replace him, he apologetically offered me notes he’d begun to collect for his daily lectures on topics like how to think as a Christian about Bible smuggling and an apologetic for ministry in contexts where, if the regime knew what we were doing they would not approve.*

It was a life changing week in Pennsylvania that summer. While there, I met Tom Lewis from Vienna, who shared the teaching with me all week. Tom came from the trenches, mesmerizing the young people with stories about men and women whose decision to follow Jesus meant they were fired from their jobs, they were followed relentlessly by the secret police, their food ration cards were cut, attempts were made on their lives,;some landed up in prison. The young people listened with rapt attention — and so did I.

During that week Tom Lewis told me about a group of educators who snuck into eastern bloc countries, right under the radar of the secret police, teaching a full-blown seminary curriculum to pastors who might otherwise not be trained. My heart told me, “I want to do that!” It was the conception of the stories I tell in the book I handed to Willie on Christmas. Day. His eyes looked past me, but his face lit up with some measure of distant recognition. Our love for Europe and for the persecuted church was a bond that even dimentia cannot totally erase. After I made my little, rehearsed, one-minute thank-you speech, Willie looked at the book in his hands and gazed intently at the cover. And I heard, quite distinctly, the words, “That’s so cool!”

And it is.

*Chapter 3 in the book, “Doing Ministry in Hard Places: Ethical Issues” had its beginnings in the rough notes Willie passed along to me when I took his place in Hershey, PA in the summer of 1982. His ideas were lived out in the experiences of twelve years behind the Iron Curtain, which is what the book is about. That’s so cool!

An Unusual Love Story

My book, reGeneration: Stories of Resilient Faith in Communist Romania, is written for the next generation of International Workers, those who will take the Good News to hard places in our world. It is also written for faithful men and women in local churches who support those who go by their prayers, encouragement and financial support. They join forces with those who will go to the nations.

In Chapter 5 (“Lambs Among Wolves: The Local Church and Mission”). I tell the story of how as a young adult I fell in love with a local church, Foothills Alliance Church in Calgary, AB. It was my first experience of the unusual relationship that can exist between a local body of believers and someone seeking to know God’s call – sort of a reenactment of Acts 13 – an unusual love story in which the elders of the church recognized my gifts for ministry, affirmed my growing sense of God’s call, and voiced their commitment to explore with me what God’s call might mean. Read the story of that morning in April 1978 when the elders asked to speak with me after church. They stood around me in the lobby, telling me they recognized God’s call on my life and were ready to stand with me if I was willing to take the next steps to prepare for ministry. And they did! Their legacy lives on in me and in others whom they have affirmed down through the years. The elders of this church named my book the “Legacy Project.”

Olive on a toothpick

31 years ago today (1989) I was in Romania, being taken under cover of darkness to the meeting place of a group of women students gathered to study the Bible in secret! As we settled into the back seat the driver turned and whispered, “Miriam, we just heard on Radio Free Europe that the Berlin Wall is coming down!” Shock filled the car! I leaned forward and asked, “Does that give you hope for Romania?” To which he responded, “It’s hard to have hope in this country!” On December 25th, barely 6 weeks later, Ceausescu was executed and Romania was free!

Just over one year ago I stood on Revolution Square in Bucharest where blood was shed. Courageous men and women fought for freedom! Some died! I stood and looked at what was supposed to be the centrepiece of the square, Memorial al Renașterii, the Memorial of Rebirth that honours the victims of the Romanian Revolution of 1989. I felt a sense of hopelessness as I looked at the monument that had been erected there to commemorate the 1989 losses—around one thousand lives. The monument features a twenty-five-metre-high pillar reaching to the sky, upon which is impaled a metal “crown.” Its name, Memorial of Rebirth, alludes to the hoped-for rebirth of Romania as a nation after the collapse of Ceausescu’s dictatorship. Described by some as a “potato skewered on a stake” or an “olive on a toothpick,” the controversial monument is now guarded around the clock because it is so often defaced with graffiti. In 2012, the bottom of the metal “crown” was defaced with a splash of bright red paint, so inaccessibly high on the pillar it has never been removed. Perhaps it speaks of blood shed in the name of the fight for freedom.

Remembrance Day tomorrow will be a time of great celebration and gratefulness here in Canada to honour those who gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy.

I’m also excited to announce that my book has gone to the typesetter. Keep your eyes open for announcement of my soon to go public website AND the arrival of my book “reGeneration: Stories of Resilient Faith in Communist Romania.”

One Year Ago

Originally posted on Facebook October 30, 2020.

One year ago In Romania!

I spoke briefly to a women’s conference organized by Vio Ticarat who is related to me in faith (2 Timothy 2:2) having been mentored by Ica Popa who was mentored by Nicoletta Mitra who was in one of our 1st Generation group in Oradea during the 80’s…. Vio has mentored hundreds of young women through groups that study Linda Dillow’s Creative Counterpart! Until this trip I’d never met the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation!

So if you’ve sown seeds don’t be discouraged! God’s Word will yield a bountiful harvest! Read my book, soon to be released — reGENERATION: Stories of Resilient Faith in Communist Romania (Word Alive Press).