Being Set Free
It wasn’t an unexpected visit, so when the secret police arrived asking for Paul Negrut, he knew his time had come. Others of his Christian friends had been swept up in the nets of Ceaușescu’s minions. Paul knew that for him it was just a matter of time.
It was in the 1980s, when the harsh heel of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu held its ruthless rule over the people of Romania. Rising to power in 1965, he modeled his regime after Stalin, creating the infamous Securitate, imposing control, surveillance and dominance from 1965 to 1989. It was considered the most repressive regime in Europe. Finally during the revolutionary days of 1989, after he ordered his troops to fire on crowds gathered in Timisoara, they revolted, and he and his wife were shot as they tried to flee.
Since Paul served as a pastor, it wouldn’t be long before the police would pick him up. He was sent to a concentration camp rather than a prison so officials could avoid the annoyance of having to lay charges and completing his documents.
Paul, previously a clinical psychologist, had spent six years working in the local hospital but in time decided his real love was to serve as a pastor. In time he left the hospital and became minister of a Baptist church in Oradea.
What he didn’t know at the time was that scores of people, even among the closest of his colleagues and friends, were linked into the surveillance network of the Securitate, looking for reasons to draw him into their net of control. When sent to camp, the only reason they gave for his imprisonment was that he was considered a fanatic.
After six months a senior official of the concentration camp showed up: “Who do you have higher up?” he abruptly asked. Not knowing why the question Paul responded: “I have God.” Dismissively, the official retorted, “Don’t give me any of that. Who do you have on your side in Bucharest?” Again Paul simply said “God.”
“Well, get your things, you are leaving.” And with that as Paul walked from the camp to a waiting car, he kept looking over his shoulder, convinced this was a hoax and they would change their minds and haul him back into camp. But no one did. He arrived home and in the arms of his beloved wife, simply embraced their newly found freedom. But the “why?” was left unanswered.
What had happened was that some time after his arrest, a Canadian working in Romania heard of Paul’s arrest and went to their apartment asking Paul’s wife for a photo of Paul. Composing a letter describing the stifling oppression and lack of religious freedom, he wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, not sure if it would ever reach the Prime Minister’s desk.
Canada, producer of the Candu nuclear reactor being built in Romania in the 1980s, was linked to the economic life of this eastern European nation requiring many professionals who moved back and forth from Canada to Romania.
Bilateral talks necessitated President Ceaușescu visiting Canada. On one occasion, after official niceties, the Prime Minister sat down with the Romania President for a private conversation. After asking him about the state of religious liberties in Romania and getting the usual song and dance of how wonderful, peaceful and free was his nation, the Prime Minister had a surprise.
Reaching into his briefing file, he pulled out a picture of Paul Negrut and asked, “Then why is this Baptist minister in prison?” Buffaloed by this unexpected confrontation, within hours Ceaușescu sent a curt message to Bucharest. “Get Negrut out.”
What is not surprising is that Negrut’s freedom would have interested the Prime Minister. His track record of standing with Mandela, doing his best to strong arm Margaret Thatcher in getting her to pull the Commonwealth on side of a South African anti-apartheid strategy is part of his legacy.
In 1989 the wall of repressive communism tumbled and the country found itself in a liberated eastern European world: the Soviet world was reduced to Russia; Yugoslavia came unraveled; the failed experiment of Albania in building walls harboring atheism manifested its shallow and bankrupt ideology. And Romania, a people and nation pushed and pulled over the centuries by Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Russian powers and more recently by Communism, now was unglued from the political constraints of its past.
In Romania, a mainly Orthodox country. Evangelical Protestants have emerged as a small but potent voice of faith and political fairness. Felt marginalized by the dominant Christian community they instead have chosen to go public in their concern for public issues.
Ironically, the government, making up for the decades of political oppression, now provides – according to the BBC – annually over 100 million Euros to the Orthodox Church. Evangelicals as well receive funds based per capita, primarily used for building amenities.
Paul Negrut completed a PhD and is now president of Emanuel University in Oradea. Besides his role as president, he moves about, challenging people worldwide to engage in the issues of life, never taking for granted one’s freedom.
It took the unheralded and critical initiative of one and the simple yet precisely timed question of a Prime Minister to sponsor freedom.
Brian C. Stiller
Global Ambassador, The World Evangelical Alliance