On a Sunday morning in Portland, Ore., amid
evergreen trees as thick as bears fur, hundreds of Romanian-born
men and women are packed into Philadelphia Romanian Pentecostal
Church, a congregation of more than 2,000 that has thrived
here for 20 years.
From the pulpit a man exhorts the congregation during the prayer
meeting before the morning service. From 9-10 a.m. the people pray
fervently, shouting, weeping into folded white handkerchiefs, their
petitions flowing into hymns they sing together as if giving relief
to the intense intercession.
All men even the boys wear suits and ties and sit
left of the center aisle; the women, young and old, wear head scarves
and sit on the right. As the worship service begins, the people
continue to sing, led by a large choir and orchestra with flutes,
violins, a mandolin and two dozen horns. Not a word is spoken or
sung in English, though some songs, like "Powr in the
Blood," are recognizable.
I am visiting on the congregations 20th anniversary. The
church started as a group of four newly immigrated Romanians meeting
in a home; today they are one of the largest Romanian Pentecostal
churches in the United States. Pastor Nicky Pop, who was once a
high government official in communist Romania, founded the church
in 1979 after he was deported for spreading the gospel. While he
was working as a custodian in Chicago, his wife and children still
being held in Romania, a friend had a vision that he should plant
a church in "Oregon Portland." Pop, initially unaware
that Oregon even existed, moved to Portland and started the work.
"We started to pray and fast," he says. "Then we
started to sponsor refugees from Eastern Europe."
The Romanians in Portland began to prosper in their businesses,
particularly in the foster-care industry. By the time the communist
system fell in Eastern Europe, the church had sponsored thousands
of refugees from various countries. Many of those were saved and
joined the church, Pop says.
"The prophecy God gave to me was 100-percent true," he
Pop is building another church in Atlanta to serve the Romanian
As the Sunday morning service continues, the children flood through
the foyer doors to go downstairs for Sunday school. There are 300
children in the Sunday school program, the director says. They are
taught in Romanian, though most of them speak English as a first
language. When asked what their favorite part of Sunday school is,
one of them pipes up, "Veggie Tales."
Upstairs in the sanctuary, after a full hour of music, General
Superintendent Thomas E. Trask, the visiting speaker, begins preaching
with an interpreter.
The service concludes with a powerful time of prayer, with many
people kneeling at their pews and the altar. Though they have been
here for more than three hours, a sincere hunger for God is still
evident. The words of the sermon seem to ring in their ears.
"The reason God has blessed this church is because you are
a praying church," Trask tells them. "If you are to see
Gods blessing for the next 20 years, you must remain a praying