Faith Narratives

A Faith Story by Luminitza Nichols

Lumintza

Communist Romania gave the Protestant Church of the early 80’s little room to function, and the Christian faith, in its entirety, was being barbarically oppressed. When stories of early persecutions of pastors and Christian leaders reached my generation, they proved to be only a foretaste of much greater atrocities to come, as communism tightened its iron fists around every gestures of free expression. The Romanian communists were known to have pioneered brainwashing techniques in Eastern Europe. As children, we were exposed to communist propaganda from as early as preschool, while religious education was expressly forbidden.

Although the Romanian Constitution theoretically guaranteed rights such as freedom of conscience and religious belief, the government recognized no religious holidays and often demanded “voluntary labor” on Christmas and Easter in an obvious effort to limit church attendance and erode any faith related influence. Churches had to maneuver their way carefully through censorship, government-enforced limitations, potentially compromised “Christian”-spies, and a host of other adversities. Believers could not engage in religious activities outside the few “officially assigned” religious buildings; and often met without license or paid enormous daily fees.

My Christian journey began in such underground church, a small house in which someone allowed us to gather. I accepted Christ at the age of 13, when a friend invited me to go to church with her. My decision to follow Jesus was received with absolute hostility not only by my parents, who both entered the communist party to promote their career aspirations; but also by relatives who often crowded our house in attempt to gain up and coerce me into recanting. Not long after my conversion, I was called into the principal’s office to answer the rumors that I had become a Christian. Unaccustomed to breaking the rules, I entered his office visibly afraid, only to find him reposeful and strangely amiable. He showed genuine concern for my future and insisted that my premature decision will only lead to certain unhappiness. I thanked him and assured him that I had counted the cost and that I could not go back. He crushed his cigarette in the ashtray and pointed to the door.

As I entered high school, I was known as the “repenter”. Often mocked by my teachers, I was asked to stand up in front of the class to be laughed at, and was warned that my “religion” may hinder my graduation. But it was at home where my faith took the hardest hits. My parents viewed my new found convictions as an affront to their authority, nothing less than dangerous sectarian indoctrination which jeopardized my success in life. My father, afraid for his job and our family safety, began threatening to disown me and asked me to stop frequenting church or to stop coming home. When his threats did not achieve the intended result,he would slap me non-stop “interrogation-style” in spontaneous outbursts of anger, and demand that I called him “god”. Burning tears rolled down my numb face, and only God gave me the strength to turn yet the other cheek.

One evening, when I was sixteen years old, I walked home from church carrying my Bible in my hand instead of my purse and thought nothing about it. Halfway home, a police officer stopped me and asked me to follow him to the station. The offense was the Bible I was carrying. Communism placed severe restrictions on printing or importing Bibles; and possessing or distributing any religious literature was counted as a criminal offense. I was interrogated in detail until late that night and asked to give out names and the source from which I obtained my Bible. Because I did not cooperate, they were certain that I hid Christian material in my home. My house was to be searched and if anything was found, my parents would have been arrested for possession of religious literature. On our way home, I prayed ferociously, when unexpectedly the two police officers noticed a dangerous-looking individual carrying an axe across the street. This took precedence over my house inspection, and they decided to follow him instead. My house was never searched.

One December evening when I was nineteen years old, I found myself in the middle of a restless crowd. First, with feeble voices which gradually grew less cautious, people started demanding food, heat and freedom, asking openly for what was forbidden to us to even think of for decades. I knew in an instant that this was bigger than I was; bigger than all of us and more dangerous than anybody had ever attempted. Yet, I wanted to be part of it. I had the choice to leave while things were still under control, but in my heart I believed in their cause. Their wish was what I wished; their cry was my own. I knew that freedom was a gift from God and no man or government had the right to take it away. I joined the crowd and we left to tell the big city its deliverance had come. Army of soldiers with tanks and machine guns came against us; huge fire trucks with water pressure at maximum tried to disperse us, yet nothing stopped the crowd. But freedom, as anything else of value, comes at a cost. I was arrested that night and taken as a political prisoner to the biggest federal prison in western Romania.

Romanian dissidents were ordinarily tried and convicted as criminals in military courts. They could receive sentences from five to fifteen years of hard labor for “slandering the state” or for “any action aimed at changing the socialist order”. But in desperate situations, such as an anticommunist protest,many who were captured were instantly executed and speedily cremated to eliminate evidence. For almost a week, in the women’s penitentiary,I witnessed abysmal conditions of brutality and dehumanization. From the lack of water and ventilation, to hundreds of maggots crawling out of our plates; from the deafening screams coming from surrounding cells, to the violent interrogations with their beatings, “disappearances” and attacks against hope — we were cruelly deprived of compassion and were shown no trace of basic civility. Soon after my arrest I was asked if I belonged to a Protestant faith. I freely admitted that I was a “repenter”. We were thought to be the instigators who started this uprising. To be a Christian in that hour was instantly a guilty verdict. But I had what these others did not have: hope beyond this ugly life, faith in an eternal life, and a friend closer to me than the shirt on my body, waiting at the edge of my eternity. And there, in that dirty cell, I had the joy of comforting and introducing my fellow prisoners to this friend, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Like many who survived imprisonment under totalitarian rule, I returned to freedom believing that suffering was necessary to the Christian faith. As for me, I never felt happier than when I was forced to rely solely on God’s mercy. I never felt His presence more closely and never prayed more sincerely and successfully than in the clutches of that prison cell. “For it has been granted to you” says Paul, “on behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.” Philippians 1:29 (NIV) Looking back, those seven years lived as a believer under communism were the most productive years of my Christian existence. They were the first seminary I ever attended.

 

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Luminitza Cristescu Nichols was born in Timisoara, Romania to a family of non-believers. She received Christ as her Lord at the age of 13 and her only sister followed suit two years later. Ten years after her conversion, her father accepted Christ as his personal Savior and presently serves with her mother in the same church where she first began her faith journey. Luminitza came to America as a student when she was 20 years old, and graduated with a nursing degree in 1996. Her husband Eric and her have a girl, Ana Iova. She graduated from Eastern’s School of Christian Ministry at Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Currently Luminitza is enrolled at Palmer Theological Theological Seminary for the MDiv degree.

Women in Ministry

By Regina Downing-Hassanally

This has not been an easy article for me to write. The topic, women in ministry, is broad and I feel a need to cover all the bases. Admittedly part of me desires to make sure, in the end, every reader agrees with me, that every person who reads this article will put it down, stand up and shout “I support women in ministry.” I am not naive enough to expect that, I have had too many life experiences to expect that. But still I hope.I cannot hide my bias. I am a woman in ministry; I expect to be most of my life.
 
I believe I am called, called to be ordained, called to preach, called to serve God as a leader of the church. I know not everyone believes in that calling. This topic is personal. I have had my heart broken and my self-worth crushed. I have wrestled with God and ran away from obedience simply because I am a woman called to ministry. There was a time in my life when I completely ignored any inclination I felt toward ministry, that time came just before the period in which I wept and cried and begged God to call me somewhere else. This topic is emotional. Not for all, but for some.
 
For women who know they need to preach, teach, minister, or pastor. For men and women who believe that is sin.In the end we all reach our own conclusions. Which, in the end, is fine by me. I would like for every reader, for every human, to fully support women in ministry because it would make my life easier, so that when I preach congregants would not walk out, when I seek ordination denominations would not automatically disqualify me, so when I lead I would not be met with hostility. They are all selfish reasons and there is no use in hiding them. More than anything, this topic is part of who I am. The beliefs of others, the teaching of the church, my own wrestling concerning women in ministry, all of these aspects have melded together to make up a part of the person I am and the person I will be.
 
I suppose when I am realistic what I really hope every reader will do when they put down this article is think, to look up the verses, to read various resources from all sides of the issue, the begin to form their own informed opinion. I am offering here what I have to give. It is nothing fantastic. The following have been key scriptures, thoughts, and ideas as I have waded through the theology and the arguments in light of my own life. I ponder issues of equality and gifting, the voices of Church history, and some of the verses most frequently cited in this conversation.
 
The ideas here are not exhaustive, they barely scratch the surface. Above all this is an invitation; wade with me through some of the issues and we shall see where the path leads.
 
Issues of Equality
Are men and women equal? Rather than saying men and women are not equal perhaps it would be better to say men and women are not the same. To assert men and women are not equal is to begin to question whether God values men and women equally. Nowhere in the scriptures does God appear to favor men or to despise women. On the contrary, Christ, God incarnate, displayed a counter-cultural attitude toward women. While society at large discounted the role of women (and valued a woman only if she was attached to a husband or a son) Christ himself interacted with women, ministered to women, esteemed women, and involved them in his ministry. John 4:1-42 The gospel of John recounts Christ’s interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. There are two social stigmas working against the woman at the well. The first, she is a Samaritan, a member of a people group disdained by Jews.
 
Second, she is a woman. Not only was she inferior because she was a Samaritan, she was doubly inferior because of her sex. Yet Christ speaks to her, interacts with her and ultimately accomplishes kingdom work through her. The episode recorded in the gospel of John displays much about the character of Christ. Christ empowered the oppressed. If the Samaritan at the well had been a man, this fundamental aspect of Christ’s character would still have been displayed. But the biblical story goes beyond beginning reconciliation between those with power and those close to
power.
 
The biblical story, the interaction between Christ and the Samaritan woman, indicates a God who is concerned with reconciliation between those with power and those with none. The world said the Samaritan woman was worthless, inferior, unworthy. Christ said the Samaritan woman was human, equal in the eyes of God, called and capable of taking part in kingdom work. In the end, the sinful, Samaritan, woman- a human being falling into every single disdainful social category- was used to bring a community to belief in Christ.
 
Are men and women equally gifted?
God can gift whomever God wishes with whichever gifts God wishes. It is not for humanity to impose human made rules onto the workings of God. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 that God gifts every single person and Paul makes no indication there are gifts specifically for men and others set aside for women. God gifts men and women alike. Sociology can argue that men and women are naturally inclined for certain tasks. Or that men exhibit certain characteristics more abundantly and clearly than women and vice versa. These apparent differences ought not lead to the exclusion of one sex from certain activities. If a member of either sex displays certain gifts their sex should not prevent them from using those gifts to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians makes it quite clear all members of the body are necessary to the body.  A healthy ministry will draw upon the gifts and natural inclinations of men and women in order to be whole.
 
What does Church History Say?
Prominent church history fathers spoke harshly of women. Thomas Aquinas asserted women are “defective and misbegotten” while Tertullian referred to women as the “devil’s gateway.” In the views of these men, women are obviously sub par, inferior to men, and more prone to sin, as such they have no authority in the Christian spiritual realm. The voices of the early church fathers bear with them significant influence and rightly so. The saints who have gone before, who shaped and influenced the Christian faith from its very beginnings, have much to offer but no human outside of Christ, man or woman, famous or forgotten is infallible. The teachings of every human being ought to be regarded as such. To refer to the thoughts of Aquinas or Tertuallian as solid reasons to exclude contemporary women from all or certain capacities of ministry is an abuse of church history. The voices of church mothers and fathers must be listened to in context, with a critical ear. They have much to teach contemporary Christians but that does not give ultimate authority to those teachings, they must be weighed against the infallible teachings of Christ.
 
Furthermore, the mothers of church history cannot be forgotten, their contributions, like those of the church fathers, shaped and influenced the Christian faith. Among those women is Priscilla, who along with her husband Aquila, is recorded in Acts 18 to have discipled Paul and then, as indicated by Paul in Romans 16, continued in ministry. Perpetua, perhaps one of the most well known early Christian martyrs was fed to lions as a consequence of her unwavering faith. Her writings offer great insight into Christian faith of the time.
 
Julian of Norwhich, a mystic and follower of Christ. Julian of Norwhich is best remembered for the special revelations she received from God and her personal experiences of the pain of Christ. She recorded her revelations and was the first English woman to do so. After the death of her husband, Katherine Zell began preaching in his place, spoke against the Catholic Church, and presided over the selection of pastors for Lutheran congregations. Teresa of Avila, a mystic in a vein similar to Julian of Norwhich, established new monastic orders in effort to create space for a stricter keeping of the Christian monastic life.
 
Whether or not it has been encouraged or considered socially acceptable women throughout history have shaped and influenced the Christian faith, as have men. Church history may emphasize the contributions of the church fathers, and whether that is evidence of current or historical bias is of little consequence, the emphasis of church history aside the contributions of women from the very beginnings of the Christian faith cannot be denied.
 
What does the Bible say?
The following in no way accounts for the entire biblical perspective on women in ministry. Rather, what follows are some often cited verses in the conversation regarding the role of women in ministry1 Timothy 2:12 If this verse is read on its own it seems abundantly clear that women should not serve in any teaching capacity, certainly not have any authority, and even refrain from speaking. 1 Timothy 2:12 is not however the only verse in the Bible, indeed 1 Timothy 2:12 is not even the only verse in 1 Timothy.
 
The point is all scripture must be read in context. This includes scripture giving direction concerning women in ministry. 1 Timothy is a letter written by Paul to Timothy thus the entire book must be read as a letter keeping in mind that letters are written at a certain time, in a certain culture, to a certain person or group of persons, for a certain purpose. Evaluate 1 Timothy in light of this knowledge. Paul is giving instructions on proper worship to both men and women in the surrounding verses. In verse 11 it is assumed women are learning (which was completely different from Jewish teachings) and they are to do so with quietness, a phrase used elsewhere when directing men, and in submission to what is being taught. No one can learn unless they submit or humble themselves before the material they are learning. Thus it makes sense a woman, in this particular setting, is not teaching, she first must learn . It can safely be inferred that women were a part of the worship service, or there would be no need to instruct them in worship etiquette. Ephesians 5:22-23
 
Again, the importance of context cannot be overemphasized. Ephesians 5:22-23 reads, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is savior.” This pair of verses is often referred to in demonstrating the biblical mandate for the submission of women. There are several issues with this argument and the first is an issue of context.Too frequently verses 22 and 23 are read apart from verse 21. Verse 21 sets the stage, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians chapter 5 must be read in its entirety with an understanding of the context of the whole book. Verse 25 places a heavy call on husbands: “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Husbands and wives are called to place the needs of the other before themselves in the fashion of true submission. Wives ought to submit to their husbands and husbands ought to submit to their wives. Paul is calling for a mutual submission, a spirit of humility in relationships that glorifies Christ.
 
Further, the mandate a husband receives to be subject to his wife does not prohibit him from any aspect of ministry. It does not logically follow that based on the instructions of Ephesians 5 women should be prohibited from any aspect of ministry. Both husbands and wives are called upon to submit, this call for mutual submission is not grounds for either party to be excluded from ministry. Galatians 3:28 In the midst of a discourse on the law Paul speaks of the amazing reconciliatory power of Christ. Galatians 3:28 declares, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Paul is not saying all are the same in Christ Jesus, but rather that the barriers have been removed, the inequality has been eradicated by the power of Christ.
 
In entering the body of Christ people do not lose what makes them unique but an oneness and unity pervades. There is no longer the have and have nots, the powerful and the oppressed, all are one in Christ. Men and women, though not the same, are equal in the eyes of God. Clearly I have not offered all the answers. I have merely begun to offer some brief thoughts. Yet, I know where the path has lead me up to this point. I am about to enter my second year of seminary. I hope to earn a Masters of Divinity and to be ordained by a church that will fully affirm me. But the path does not end here.
 
There are still issues and fears. There are still conversations to be had. I suppose my invitation still stands. Wade with me through the muck and mire, think critically and honestly, share your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs and in the end we will find ourselves on the same path, but, if all goes right, we will be better people who trod it.
 
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Regina Downing-Hassanally had her mind set on becoming a medical practitioner and while studying for this, she felt a call to study theology. Regina graduated with a MDiv from Palmer Theological seminary located in King of Prussia, Philadelphia. She is married to Terrance Hassanally.

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