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Stories from Romania

24 February 2011

Stories from Romania and my reflections

LigiaLigia Macelaru is a social worker and family counsellor.  She has worked for many years with children for adoption, and advises them when they come back to her over the years. I heard Ligia tell these stories when we were together in a consultation in Prague on Child Theology. 

“…For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
                                                                                                Matthew 18:10

My name is Ligia Macelaru and I was born as the second in a family of 10 children.

I am writing these following two stories at the request of CT Consultation Committee, as a part of my contribution to this consultation held in Prague on April 1 – 5, 2005.  I had the privilege to share these stories with Professor Haddon Willmer on a previous occasion.  As a result of this, he asked me to share them with the whole group.

The 1st story

As a child, I grew up in a poor family in Romania, and even though my parents were working very hard, many times we were struggling for survival. 

It was the winter of 1976, a cold and unfriendly season both with the weather and a tight financial climate for our family.  At the time of this story, there were 7 children in our family, 5 girls and 2 boys, ranging between 13 and 2. I was 11 years old.  My father was working as a tool maker in one of the factories in Timisoara, and my mother was a homemaker, taking care of all of us, and at this time she was pregnant with my sister Debora (the 8th child).  Timisoara is my home city, and it is one of the largest cities in Romania, about 500 000 people.

In the Romania of those days it was hard to find meat in market places and even more, we could not afford it anyway.  Some neighbours living next to our house were preparing a pig in their courtyard (killing and processing the meat).  This was and it still is a common practice before Christmas.  Actually, the action was taking place in our courtyard, as we had no fence between our proprieties.  As we were a large family and the neighbours were not, they came to us for some huge pots (which were the normal size for cooking in our family).  The whole day long, we, the seven children of the family at that time, were staring through the windows and watching the whole process.  My poor mom!  The whole day she had to answer to all sorts of questions:  why we could not afford to buy a pig, do we have a chance to receive some samples to taste at the end of the day (also, a very common practice between neighbors in Romania), and all these kinds of questions children would pose on their parents… 

The evening came, and as the whole process for preparing the pork was finished, we were so exited, typically for any children, expecting the goods that will come along with the return of the pots. But all the pots were returned empty…  Saddened enough, my mom could hardly find any words to comfort us, and holding in her feelings somehow, she sent us to bed, but meanwhile, she encouraged us to pray about this.  She and my father prayed about this situation, too.  She didn’t pray especially for a miracle, just simply prayed and lament before God, as the only one who really care, sympathize and comfort.

While this was happening in Timisoara, in a small village church about 400 km away, a group of believers were praying.  It was a special occasion of the church, as they had a very nice way of giving their gifts in kind.  Each month, one or more families from the church would bring a pig, hens, eggs, or other products from their own farms.  Then, after fasting and praying with the whole church, they would decide together about where to give these gifts.  This was their way of bringing the “tithe to the temple.”  This practice was monthly based in that church, but may be a little more emphasized at Christmas and Easter.  While this simple bunch of people was praying, one of them had a revelation.  He saw an angel from heaven that came to him and pointed in a specific direction.  When he looked in that direction, he saw us, the children of our family (he understood in his spirit that it is our family) knelt in prayer, with both hands reaching out towards them for help.  They knew my parents from before, as my parents visited that church.  Based upon this revelation they came the very next morning with the whole pig portioned and ready to be processed.  This is how our family had food enough for the next months.

As an insider in this event, I can’t say anything more than, beside that God knows even children’s hearts desires and He is faithful to care and fulfill His plans for us.

The 2nd story

Almost two years later, in the end of September – beginning of October 1978, our family was confronted with a very difficult and complex situation.  At this time, I was 13 years old, and I still remember these facts very clearly.

On July 27, my sister Melita was born in our family.  She was the 9th child born alive in my family (my mom had a miscarriage and two stillborn also).  Melita was born with a congenital defect.  Her diagnosis was “Progressive Hemolytic Anemia.”  This means that her spine function was defect, and her spine would not produce red cells in the blood.  In order to survive she would have to receive blood by transfusion periodically.  My mom and Melita were in the hospital for almost three months, but nothing could be done to cure her condition.  At this point of the story, Melita’s percentage of red cells’ in the blood was lower then 1, while the normal percent would be 95 or more, which would mean that she was barely breathing.  My mom would drip water on her lips in order to prevent them from drying out.  She was 1 kg lower that her birth weight (3.2 kg).  My mom asked the doctors to release her and the baby home, as five of us started school on September 20.  Melita was so weak that she would not even have the power to cry, and she was suffering so much that my both parents were devastated.  They would take turns beside her bed watching her dying.

My father was diagnosed over one year before this event with “Chronically Progressive Hepatitis.”  He already took over 1000 injections to improve his liver function, but the condition was getting worse day by day. At the time of this story, his illness was so critical that his doctor asked him to quit working.  The doctor suggested it many times before, but it was extremely hard for my father to accept this, as he was the only source of income in our family of nine children.  His dossier was completed and classified for medical pension and he was going to quit his job anytime.

My mother was very sick and weak after so many pregnancies (She had less than three months after the 12th delivery).  Her medical condition was hard, and she was scheduled for a Hemorrhoid surgery, but she didn’t consider her condition as critical as my father’s or my sister’s.  Anyways, she is a self-sacrificial mother and she would never try to solve her problem while the other two were in progress.   But she was a woman of faith and, as always, she came in long nights of prayers before God pleading and asking Him to intervene in the situation.

One night, her heart was so burdened by Melita’s critical situation that she was crying and pouring her heart out to God, to better take Melita’s life than to let her suffer so much.   Now, to understand how my mom could pray like this, you should know that she is a prayer warrior.  Beside, she would never insist before God for healing, as she would always envision the future.  What I mean is that she would pray something like this:  “God, please heal my child.  But if You see that, sometimes in the future she would depart from Your path, rather take her life now, than to see her soul lost.”  I know these are hard words, especially coming from a mother, but this is my mom!  She would base her prayers on biblical examples, which, after being healed, their life was not a glory to God, or a good example to follow (i.e. Hezekiah).  As I said, in one of these nights, my mom prayed that God would rather take Melita’s life than to see her suffering so much, or if He had a plan for healing her, to do it soon, because she could not see her like this.  Until then, every single medical option was considered, and the doctors quit hoping for something else to keep her alive.  Going twice a week for blood analysis was the only medical supervision for her at this time.  The last result, before the miracle, was 1% or less red cell in blood.

It was a regular Wednesday morning.  My father left for work, while my mother was still praying.  The day went on, with things around the house, my mom was doing laundry and we, the children, were in school, kindergarten, and the younger ones, at home.  My father used always to work extra hours in order to increase a little the income of the family.  He would work about 12 hours/day.  Before my father returned from work, around 6:00 PM, a car pulled in front of our house and two men came inside.  One of them was my uncle from a different city (Oradea), approx 180 km away from my home city (Timisoara).  The other, a stranger, had never met my family or been to Timisoara before.  I remember that afternoon as I was late in school in the afternoon classes, and as my brother came to tell me to hurry up back home.  The whole family was gathered together.  My father just arrived few minutes before, and when he heard about the unexpected visit, he wanted to share with my mom a dream he had the night before. 

In his dream, two men came into our house and handed him a stock of money. 

He didn’t recognize any country’s currency, but he understood these are much more valuable than any money on earth.  He said that the whole day long he was captivated by this dream and he understood that something good ought to happen.  As he entered the house, he recognized the stranger as being the same person as the one in his dream.  My uncle introduced this person as a brother from about 350 km away from Timisoara.  His name was Ionas, and he was living in a small mountain village.  On Monday morning, two days before this Wednesday, he was praying as usual, when an angel riding a horse appeared in a vision and told him to go in Timisoara because God will use him there.  This brother was never before in Timisoara, so he decided to go to the closest place to Timisoara where he would know someone.  As he knew my uncle from before, he went to his house in Oradea, about a half way to Timisoara. 

When he arrived in his house, they knelt in prayer and the same angel appeared to him telling him that he was supposed to go to my uncle’s relatives in Timisoara.  He asked my uncle if he had any relatives in Timisoara who were sick and would need miraculous healing, because that’s why God sent him.  Of course knowing our situation, my uncle came to our house.  He asked my mom to tell brother Ionas the problems they were praying for.  But this brother told my mom that there was no need for such thing, because The One, who sent him, already knows them. 

I can remember exactly how we all knelt down in prayer and this brother was walking among us with a tiny bottle with oil, anointing us, according to James 5:14 (Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord).  Interestingly, he first went to my sister Melita who was in my mother’s arms and anointed her.  Then he went to my father in the opposite corner of the room and anointed him, and then he came back to my mother and anointed her, then all of us, the other children in the family.  When the prayer was over, my parents asked him how he selected who to be anointed first, and how he knew that Melita was in the worst condition and then my father.  He replied that the same angel he saw before was walking in front of him, and he was only following that angel. 

That very evening the miracle took place.  It was nothing out of control or out of order.  It was just a simple prayer filled with faith and trust in God, the prayer of this uneducated man who was sent for this purpose in our house.  I don’t want to diminish the value of prayer, as I know, there were a lot of prayers and tears bounded to this condition of our family, but I refer to that specific evening, when the miracle happened.  This brother Ionas, was of a very simple kind, never attended any school, and the only book he ever read was the Bible.  After the prayer, my uncle and that brother left the house. 

As a result of this prayer, that very evening Melita had her first bottle of baby milk and she drank it entirely, as any normal hungry baby (60 ml). 

My father said that he felt like everything inside of him was new and he ate regular food starting that very evening; his liver function became normal and he never had to give up his job. 

My mom was feeling much better, and she never had to have the hemorrhoid surgery, either.

The next morning was the day after Melita’s regular blood test.  My mom took her to the hospital and everybody presumed that her condition had worsened, and that’s why my mom took her in.  They did the blood tests, and then, they repeated it, and did it again, and again.  But the same result came out: over 65% of red cell!  My mom told the doctor what happened and the whole hospital knew within minutes.  Year after year, the doctor who was in charge with her case, the Head of the Hematology Department and a Professor in the University of Medicine, would talk about Melita’s case and present it in the class.  She would describe all the medical data to the students and make the students to reason what treatment would work in this situation.  Then, she would tell Melita’s story, and even invite Melita sometimes in the class, and tell the students:  “Always remember, when man has no more solutions, God still does!”  And this was a witness of God’s work, in spite of the Communist dictatorship in Romania. 

Melita is a Music University Graduate, she plays violin in the Barcelona Symphony in Spain, and she has a husband Viorel and a beautiful little daughter, Sara, who is two years old now. 

My father was never back on medication for hepatitis and he still eats whatever his heart desires.  He is still a very active business man, in spite of his retirement due to his age; he is also the music director in my home church, and he serves the Lord in every direction as he always did. 

My mother is very active in helping everybody, she is invited frequently as a guest speaker at women meetings, she always has women groups coming over to our house for bible study, or just for entertainment and she loves to visit families and talk to people about God’s wonders.  

I feel very blessed being part of this family and I do not regret any of hard times we have been through together, as these experiences bound us closer to each other and to God.  There are ten children in my family, all of us grown-up now, but still close to our parents and to each other.  Life has broadened the distance between us and extended us into five countries, but wherever we might live, we all carry these prints deep within us.  And these prints make us parts of God’s story among humans.  It is our aim, and we all try to live in such a manner that will glorify God and witness His Kingdom into the world.

These stories related here are only two of the many miracles we have experienced as a family.  I wish that whoever will read these stories will be encouraged and build up their faith and trust in the Almighty God, who cares for each one of us, even for the little ones whose angels in heaven always see the face of the Father.

My reflection on the stories

What do you think about these stories?   What do I think? 

I do not doubt their truth.

They tell of a world of faith which is strange to me.  It is no use pretending that I live in such a world.  It is not only that I as an individual do not think or practise in this way –  for this is not a story about an individual of exceptional faith.  These stories are of a large family related to other people of faith.  The relations partly exist because people are in touch with each other by normal connections; and partly exist by dreams and angels.   We see here an extraordinary kind of networking.  And to me, and most people I know, this world of faith is strange.  It is not like a foreign country I could imagine visiting and getting to know – I hope to holiday in Portugal for the first time this year: at the moment it is an unknown place, but I expect next year, I will be able to say I know it a bit, and could live there competently.   The world these stories present to me is not like that.   I cannot imagine being able to live in the world where Ligia is at home.   (I was brought up in a home where there was some believing and praying of the kind she describes, but it did not work out persuasively as it did for her.  As I grew up, I learnt to respect it as a mystery of otherness, but for myself, I had  to find other ways of living.)  

Romania is a place where stories like this may happen more than they do in England, but it would be a serious mistake to explain it by saying it is Romanian.   Even in Romania, it is strange.   There are many Romanians who do not see angels,  do not pray like this and do not live with the practical tenacity infused with faith in God, which we see in Ligia’s mother and father.   Stories like this are strange, not because they are located in a different national culture, but because they are humanly strange.   In a way, I suspect, even in the praying, faithful family, events of this sort are strange.  

When they happen, they are a surprise.  When the surprise happens, we should not say, It cannot happen: it is out of the natural order.   We do not say, Unless I have a scientific explanation, I won’t take this seriously.   No – when it happens, we say Thank you, we enjoy it, we build life on from it. 

And we tell it, as Ligia does.  Soberly, factually, as grateful testimony.  So she writes:

“These stories related here are only two of the many miracles we have experienced as a family.  I wish that whoever will read these stories will be encouraged and build up their faith and trust in the Almighty God, who cares for each one of us, even for the little ones whose angels in heaven always see the face of the Father.

These stories are given to us, with the wish to build up faith in God.  But how?

I am relieved that Ligia does not tell the story to say to us:  ‘You too can experience this kind of miracle, just because you want to’.  Or: ‘You should look to know and believe God in just this way, and by means of dreams and angels in this form’.   The telling of these stories does not impose on hearers, for that is likely to pressure people into grasping after what they imagine, rather than experiencing reality.  It could bring them into disappointment and guilt – which often happens when people are told to pray for healing, and when it does not happen, they are told it is because they did not have enough faith, or that they had unconfessed sin.  Note that there is none of that in Ligia’s stories. In the first story,  her mother “didn’t pray especially for a miracle, just simply prayed and lament before God, as the only one who really care, sympathize and comfort.” Lament prays realistically before God and leaves the matter with God, respecting God’s freedom.  

These stories do not try to recruit me for a particular sort of miraculous Christianity.

They do, however,  include me in the whole company of Christ, the universal church, where I am in fellowship, koinonia, sharing, with all sorts of strange people, whose strangeness brings me to face the strangeness of God.  This strangeness, of people and of God, may seem remote.  It may even seem hostile.  It may be unwelcoming.  But God in Christ by the Spirit is welcoming, friendly, close – but never unstrange.  Living in the community of God means living with respect, amazement and peace (that is paradoxical) with what is forever strange. 

The way we tell these stories is almost as important as the stories themselves.  If we do not tell them truly, with respect for the sharing together of the strange, we stifle the grace and life in them.   If we try to universalise them, as though everyone should be like this, life should be composed of miracle, we do not respect the strangeness and lose its life-giving grace.   If we make them the basis of a division of Christians into first-class and others, if we tell selected stories in a way that makes them the norm, we do not let them build up people in faith. 

I have no story to tell like Ligia’s. I am glad she has this story and can tell it  and live from it.  It builds me up in faith even though nothing like it is my story or is likely to be.  It builds me up partly because it calls me out of my own little world,  out of what is possible to me, and lets me live with what will never be my personal property or experience. It thus does something to free me from myself (Say No to yourself!) and to be free for and with others who can never be taken over or absorbed into my being.    

I have another story to tell, and it has to be told in quite other ways.  The story of the sort of  scholar I am comes out in other kinds of events and processes. They seem  strange, off-putting, dangerous or irrelevant to many Christians. Their strangeness is undeniable. It is a pity for the church and its mission the strangeness is not allowed to stand within the koinonia and peace of God,  but is feared as dangerous, or boring and not worth the effort.   Just as those who have not lived inside a miracle find Ligia’s story strange but need not be put off by it, so from the other side, those who live inside a miracle will find some other ways of being Christian impenetrably strange, but need not wall themselves against it. 


The argument I am developing here is related to Narnia as C S Lewis presents it specially in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and to  K Barth  ‘The Strange New World within the Bible’ in The Word of God and the Word of Man (and in many subsequent works)

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