Mission Without Borders
"Reaching people for Christ: helping thousands of children, families and communities out of poverty into a sustainable future"

Building a church in an atheist city: Pastor Timotei’s story

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2018-03-13

"Keep your head up, keep your head up", Pastor Timotei can be heard saying to a child in need of encouragement at the After School project.

"I know what it is like to suffer as a child," he says," to have nothing, to experience grief, confusion, poverty and heartache. I know what it is like to need to be encouraged. Therefore, I will never stop supporting children in this city and telling them about the Good News of Jesus Christ."

When the Iron Curtain fell and the Revolution swept across Romania in 1989, Timotei Stanea came to a city called Victoria. Victoria was known as the atheist city, a place where all religion, even the orthodox church, was banned.

"I heard about this atheist city and knew in my heart that that was the place I had to go," Pastor Timotei says. "I was determined for the people here to know God and that drive has never left me. When I arrived, I went in to a local shop, the shop keeper asked me why I had come, I told him, and he just laughed and said: 'get a litre of wine and go and relax.'"

Pastor Timotei was born in the Alba-Iulia region of Romania. His father passed away when he was small and then tragically at the age of 11, his mother also died.

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"I was angry at God for letting this happen to me," he says, "but now as I look back, I realise that He was preparing me for everything I would come to do in Victoria and how I would relate and understand the needs of the children here."

When Pastor Timotei left the orphanage at 18, he went straight in to the army and then after finishing his service, he got married.

"After I got married I felt terribly alone, not physically, but spiritually. I had an out of body experience where I saw myself alone on judgment day. I was not a Christian, but I had some knowledge of these things from my childhood. I cried out to Jesus to help me as I felt I needed someone to defend me against the vision that I saw.

"After this, many things changed. That evening, I still went to a bar with some friends, but as I sat there with a beer, I realised it was the last place I now wanted to be."

Once in Victoria, Timotei began to build an evangelical church out of nothing. He was passionately compelled to tell people the Good News, but in a city where atheism was deeply engrained, this was a huge challenge.

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"There was no fear of God here, no knowledge of him at all. I was persecuted many times and on many different levels. In the beginning, I started distributing Bibles and people burnt them in front of me. But the one incident that stands out was when I was baptizing a teenage girl. The mother burst into the church, shouting, swearing and I saw a knife in her hand. As I watched her approach and she tried to stab me, I was filled with an indescribable feeling of calm and grace. I put my arm around her, even as she continued to swing the knife at me, and we walked out of the church together to talk. Today, I still see this woman and I help her from time to time with things she needs."

Ten years ago, Pastor Timotei launched a Soup Kitchen at the church in partnership with Mission Without Borders (MWB) in response to the huge needs in the city. Since the city's chemical plant closed, unemployment soared and most young people left to try and find hope elsewhere. What is left are jobless adults, vulnerable children, who have little hope of getting an education, and an elderly population who have no one to care for them.

The Soup Kitchen has now developed in to an After School project that supports 35 of the most vulnerable children in the city's poorest communities.

Furthermore, the church and MWB together support ten families through a Greenhouse project, which is helping parents and children to learn new skills, become self-sufficient, and they also produce enough crop for the children who come to After School.

"Please keep praying for me," the pastor says. "Prayer is the foundation for everything. We ask for wisdom in how we use our resources and how we portray the image of God as a church, as we are holders of the torch. I see what we are doing as God's work, not mine, but despite the challenges this ministry is a huge joy for me. We ask supporters to look at what we are doing here, and we hope they are inspired to get involved and to be part of it. Put simply, we would not be here if it wasn't for the Mission's support."