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Romanian church prospers for 20 years


On a Sunday morning in Portland, Ore., amid evergreen trees as thick as bear’s 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 "Pow’r in the Blood," are recognizable.

I am visiting on the congregation’s 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 says.

Pop is building another church in Atlanta to serve the Romanian population there.

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 God’s blessing for the next 20 years, you must remain a praying church."

— Joel Kilpatrick


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