by Alina Sopt, Phoenix, Arizona, site of the 2017 Romanian Pentecostal Convention, 2017.
NOTE: This article features paraphrased paragraphs out of minutes of sermons, but endeavors to remain faithful to the main ideas preached by pastors at the 48th Romanian Pentecostal Convention.
This is Chicago, Illinois. Skyscrapers and multi-complexes reach for the sun and stars here in the USA’s third most populated city. It is the definition of a metropolitan, a city that has withstood enormous unexpected growth and continues to thrive. This is also the city of hope, when after the 1989 Romanian Revolution, thousands of Romanians first stepped foot on American soil free at last from communism, overflowing with dreams of a better life.
Take a walk around the blocks, see for yourself just what a true traffic jam looks like, but this is also Chicago, Illinois, September 2nd. There is a call for awakening rising from behind the glass walls of the infamous McCormick Stadium. It is the 48th gathering of the annual Romanian Pentecostal Convention, and it beckons Romanian-Americans from far and wide to watch, to listen, and to worship.
Dressed in best and answering to the call, five-thousand Romanians from the top of Illinois to the tip of Arizona and many from Canada and the motherland herself trod across the navy blue carpet to their seats. This year it is time for the Romanian church community to remember what their mission as endowed by Christ is.
Luigi Mițoi, coordinator of the conference this year and pastor of Bethany Church in Chicago, invites Viorel Lozneanu to pray the first prayer of the three-day convention. “You gave us a mission, Lord Jesus, when You rose to Heaven. You gave what was Your mission before the cross to twelve disciples, and since then millions upon millions of people have followed You. And today, we want to learn about Your Church’s mission again, to remember how to maintain it in truth.”
Lights, cameras, worship. With Pastor Mițoi being the coordinator of the event, Bethany’s worship team are the leaders of worship. From Romanian hymns that bring tears and memories to those who are older to contemporary English hits that make hands raise in abandon, every attendee can feel welcomed and free to praise just as they like it. Astounding performances from the mixed choirs and band abound as well, each being a touching treat of their own accord.
Taking the podium first is Nelu Filip, pastor of Maranatha Church in Phoenix, Arizona, with the foremost subject of the formation of the Church and why it matters based on John 1:1-14.
“What does not define the church?” he asks, so he says he can better define what does, “First, it is not a human institution. It is ruled by the holy standards of Christ Jesus. The moment we cease to define it in its proper sense, we ruin the purpose of the Church. It is also not a structure or a building, not a place we come for diversion or to meet friends, and not a business.
“What is the church then? I want to turn to what Christ defined it as: ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,’ (Matthew 18:20). That is the essence. In the theological perspective, some experts have come to define the Church as being a community of humans alive in Christ, with a mission to edify, multiply, and send missionaries to the edges of the world with the Gospel.”
His subject is such a crucial part to understanding why we Christians exist as the Church that halfway through his message, flared up by the Holy Spirit, each word pierces into the 5,000 hearts present and 9,000 hearts streaming the conference at home.
“The moment I compared today’s Church with the first Church,” his voice softens, “my heart broke and I said ‘Lord, how far we’ve strayed from Your truths, how far we’ve run from what it used to be.’” The first Church, he says, was passionate while we are comfortable, risked their image and lives for the Gospel while we do not dare offend anyone, was so fixated on following Christ’s footsteps of holiness while we are impartial, had no air conditioning and cars and cathedrals yet still carried the Gospel across borders while we focus on our programs and schedules.