Roberta Bustin can't remember exactly when the ecology laboratory became part of the building that's now home to the Nazarene ministry in Tigmandru, Romania. It occurred some time after space was designated for a doctor's office and before the upstairs classroom became a sewing workshop. The church ministries have developed in response to specific needs in the 1,500-person village, so besides space for traditional church ministries, the building needed room for science, health, and employment training.
"This village has so many needs that we just have to minister to the whole person," said Roberta, a science teacher who's served as a Mission Corps volunteer in Romania for more than 10 years.The village of Tigmandru is built along European route E60, which is a popular route for European shipping through 12 counties between France and Kyrgzstab. The village is a two-kilometer (about one mile) line of small, brightly-painted brick and stucco houses that reflect the area's strong German legacy. Most of the homes nestle against the highway, so the road doubles as a gathering place for much of the Roma population, people more commonly known as Gypsies.
Unemployment is high among the population, which works mostly in the fields during the summer when there are crops to be tended and harvested. Heat, bread, and running water aren't necessarily a given, neither are literacy, job skills, or spiritual dialogue. But of the many needs in this community, the one that sparked initial ministry in the village was the need for answers to spiritual questions.
An Open Door?
In November 2001, several young people were in an automobile accident along E60. When the totaled vehicle was towed back through the village, most of the residents assumed the passengers had been killed. Discovering that the passengers' injuries had only been minor, people began to ask questions. Magda Cini, mother of two of the passengers, said the Lord had taken care of them. Magda's brother and his wife, eager to hear more about God, asked her and Roberta to come to their home. When the two arrived, the man began asking questions. "When I saw the van, I thought there were three dead people. But there weren't. Maybe God does exist.'' He added, "We would like our lives to change."
By the end of the evening, two new believers joined God's family. Relatives of the first two met in a home for several months, inviting their friends to the weekly time of prayer and Bible study. Eventually, they moved into the local community center, and others joined them, some out of curiosity, and some sincerely longing for spiritual enlightenment.
As the group continued to grow, they planned to construct a permanent building for the ministries that were taking shape: a weekly children's program, a summer Bible School which 100 children attended, a computer lab, classes, and worship services.
Believers in Tigmandru broke ground in July 2004.
Over the next three years, local believers worked hard to construct their building with the help of professional builders, Work and Witness teams, and support from Alabaster funds. Tigmandru now has a three and a half-story church building with three classrooms, an apartment, a computer room, a sewing room, an ecology laboratory, a doctor's office, and a sanctuary which seats approximately 175 people. The ministry offers a parenting workshop for young mothers, children's programs, youth ministries, literacy classes, an alcohol education program, and small groups that meet for Bible study and prayer.
From the doctor's office the local physician serves the village once a week. "It made sense to provide a service that was much-needed in the community," said Roberta. "It also gets people from the village in the door so they're more comfortable coming into the building. Hopefully, they understand a little more of God's love and want to come back."
And there's the ecology laboratory, where Roberta plans to begin an ecology club with local young people. "We want this to be an outreach for the church in addition to teaching about our responsibility to care for God's creation. The young people will learn about creation care by cleaning a stream, picking up trash, analyzing (and hopefully cleaning) water from local wells, using the microscope to see organisms in water, and planting trees. Our central heating system burns wood, so we feel responsible to replant trees and help the people think about living sustainably and planning for future generations."
Lives are being changed in this small village. And in such a small place, changed lives have a great impact. One such transformation occurred when a local man, who had been in prison, drank a lot of alcohol, and beat his family, became a Christian. He became sober and started providing for his family. He and his family come to church regularly now, and it's a transformation that the rest of the village has noticed. God has also changed the lives of many other people who are now reaching out to their families and friends.
Lives also changed when a woman who took the church's literacy class for adults read the Christmas story from the Bible at a church service. "There were not many dry eyes in the house," said Roberta. "Now the others thought, 'If she can learn to read, I can too.'"
Tigmandru may be expanding the traditional definition of what "church" looks like, but it's certainly not abandoning the basics.
The congregation meets twice on Sunday and several times during the week. The group loves to sing, and one recent service included music in four different languages. Services also have time for praises and requests, collective prayer, fellowship, and testimony. No one, Roberta least of all, takes these for granted.
"People are learning to pray," she said. "They enjoy coming to church. There's a concern for each other that wasn't so apparent before." 'This outlook was reflected by the other churches on the Romania District in November 2007, when the district held its annual assembly in Tigmandru, someplace other than Bucharest for the first time in its 16-year history. Before business began, believers from the churches in Bucharest and Sighisoara joined a special service to dedicate the new building in Tigmandru. One hundred fifty people witnessed the induction of 20 new members, who were given new Romanian Bibles and honored in front of prominent members of their community.
It was an event that celebrated years of people seeking God, seeking transformation, and seeking to serve their neighbors.
"We had nothing to do with it," said Roberta. "We just stood back and watched God work. And we're so pleased. We certainly give Him all the praise."
Simone Finney is the Eurasia Region Communications Coordinator. Kimberly Waggoner is the Mission Corps volunteer whose assistance keeps her sane. Both live in Büsingen, Switzerland, where they're praying someone will open a Chipotle soon.
Please note: All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of original publication but may have since changed.