Florin, a bright and enthusiastic 24-year-old Romanian, received a summons from the president of the Communist commission in his city. Although his strong work ethic and personal skills had helped him rise through the ranks of the Communist Party, Florin expected this visit with the authorities to be filled with tension. Everything would change. He would be excluded from the Party, or worse.
First a Communist
For several years Florin had devoted himself to spreading Communist propaganda in support of the Party. He had served for sixteen months in the military, where he was stationed among missiles and rockets. He had been a fervent defender of Communist ideology.
One night, his devotion to the cause led him through the doors of a Baptist church—as a spy.
Most of the Communist leaders in Romania did not believe in God; they sought to hasten the demise of organized religion, so they reduced the church’s involvement in politics. They shuttered charities, shut down church schools and colleges, and stopped all religious teaching in the school system.
As part of the crackdown on religious expression, Communist officials asked Florin to attend a series of revival meetings in a Baptist church in his city.
“I was there to take notes,” he said later, “to see who was aligning with the Christians and then inform the secret police about the proceedings.”
Although he was committed to the Communist Party, Florin was curious about the Christians and their foolish beliefs and practices. On the night he stepped into the church building as a spy, Florin was stunned by the preacher’s message.
“The Spirit of the Lord was upon him,” Florin explained later, giving his spiritual interpretation of what took place in that moment. “I don’t remember the passage of Scripture he preached from,” he said, “but I never forgot the message: Jesus is King.”
At the end of the sermon, Florin, the agnostic young man rising in the ranks of the Communist Party, cast aside his hopes and dreams for earthly prominence and surrendered to Jesus as Lord. When the preacher asked people to raise a hand if they wanted to trust in Christ, Florin shot both of his arms into the air.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, I’m Yours,” he prayed. “I’m giving myself to You.”
Opposition on All Sides
Florin’s wife, Jeni, opposed her husband’s newfound faith. “I told him, ‘This is your business,’ ” Jeni explained. “Don’t expect me to ever believe such a thing.”
Florin was nothing if not persistent. His personality tended toward irrepressible persuasiveness. He either won you over or tried to run you over, but he would do all in his power to convince you of the right path.
Later that week, on an evening when her work schedule permitted, Jeni reluctantly joined him for a service at the church. And what had happened to him earlier in the week, happened to her. She heard God’s Word preached, she saw herself as a sinner, and she put her faith in Jesus.
Now it was Florin and Jeni’s family members’ turn to stand in opposition. “God forbid!” they said as they tried to steer them away from the crazy path they were on. “Don’t you understand the cost? The sacrifice of power and prestige in the community? The difficult days ahead?”
Communist ideology described religious faith as a drug—the opiate of the masses that helped weak-minded people to be content in their suffering—that only Communism provided salvation from the imperialists and capitalists who harmed society.
To be a patriot was to be a Communist. To disagree with the Party or to take a position that seemed backwards and against progress constituted a direct assault on the ideology that had been inculcated in the people from the time they were schoolchildren.
A Step of Faith
Florin knew what they would tell him when the Communist leaders summoned him that day. The conversation would take place in a context of social pressure.
He knew about the Christian leaders who languished in prison, were exiled to remote places, or faced death under mysterious circumstances. He didn’t worry about the worst of those things since he was only a new Christian and not a pastor, but still, the summons was enough to startle him.
In the days leading up to the meeting, Florin and Jeni tried to calm their nerves by praying for wisdom when discussing what he should say. The authorities would not understand; they would not approve. But could they accept his testimony or at least agree to leave him be?
“It was like the verse dropped out of Heaven,” Jeni said. “Florin was reading the Gospels, and he came across the instruction of Jesus to His disciples—when He says they shouldn’t worry about what to say when they are dragged before the authorities because the Holy Spirit would give them the right words at the right time.”
Florin felt bolder because of that passage, but as he stood before his accusers, he realized something: The right time was here, and the right words had not arrived.
Christianity Is Good
The commissioner got right down to business. He launched into his questions, rapid-fire, leaving barely any time for Florin to answer before the next question came: “Comrade, why would you choose to repent? What benefits are there? What are these people teaching you? What does this religion do for you?”
Then, as calmly as possible, Florin said what immediately came to him: “Christianity makes me a man who is honest and faithful, and it assists in the overall education of the people. In other words, whether or not you realize it, Christianity is good for me and good for our people.”
The commission head informed Florin that he was excluded from the Communist Party and stripped of all his membership privileges. He waved him off with a warning that he would be watched.
That was an understatement.
For the next fifteen years, Florin knew of three secret police informers who kept tabs on him—one at church, one in his apartment building and one at the train station where Florin ran a restaurant business.
“Whenever we would host Americans as visitors, they would have to come individually, from different points in the city,” Jeni explained. “Never as groups, so as not to arouse suspicion.” Their telephones were tapped, so anything subversive of the Communist regime had to be said indirectly.
Florin responded well to the Communist pressure, relying on his irrepressible personality, his commitment to treat his enemies well, and his faith that nothing could truly separate him from the love of God.
Florin was a chef, and whenever Communist officials or informants came into the restaurant, he told the kitchen to whip up something special. He added items to the menu and treated his political opponents as diplomatically as possible, with a combination of courage, flattery and over-the-top kindness. They didn’t know what to do with him, so they usually just left him alone.
Unlike Christian leaders who were jailed or martyred for their faith, Florin was a common Christian with a common occupation, who demonstrated uncommon courage in the midst of trying times.
I know this story well because Florin was my father-in-law, and his witness makes me wonder.
Romanian believers, like my father-in-law, knew their government was pushing an ideology. But what about us? What do we know?
What if we are falling for false stories—not because they are in our history books but because they are in our everyday habits?
Are we even asking the right questions?
Trevin Wax‘s new book, “This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in the Light of the Gospel,” was released this month. In his book, Trevin examines some of the most interesting questions of our time and asks the reader to consider this: What if we are asking the wrong questions?