How We Ended Up in Romania

Another of God's unexpected assignments

A street view in Bucharest, Romania.

When I was 17 years old the Lord called me to work with Russian-speaking young people. So, I did a bachelor’s degree in Russian language at Penn State University. When I graduated in 1980, the Iron Curtain was still up. I went on to seminary to prepare to be a missionary.

After Linda and I married, we joined Greater Europe Mission (GEM) in 1984. I had met the academic dean of the Eastern European Bible Institute (EEBI) while in seminary. EEBI was a theological pastoral training institute for students from the then communist Yugoslavia.

We went to Belgrade, then the capital of Yugoslavia, in the fall of 1986 and learned the Serbo-Croatian language, since we could not go to Russia to work there. Russian and Serbo-Croatian are related languages. Subsequently we worked with people from Yugoslavia from 1986 to 1994.

During this time, I also studied the Macedonian language. Macedonian is a language related to Serbian, Russian, and Bulgarian. While in Yugoslavia, I traveled several times to communist Bulgaria to help with Bible Education by Extension (BEE).

In 1991 the GEM field leader asked me to go to Bulgaria to encourage a GEM summer team in Russe, a town I had visited before. One of the team members was a young man named Dwight Poggemiller. Dwight was the son of a professor at Liberty University in Virginia. We became friends at that time.

As time marched on, family and other reasons moved us to Belgium in 1995 and then to the Netherlands in 2000 where Linda and I were on the faculty of Tyndale Theological Seminary near Amsterdam. We spent twenty-one years at Tyndale. 

In 2012, a graduate of Tyndale, who was the academic dean at Zaporizhzhya Bible Seminary (ZBS) in Ukraine, invited me to help him start a Master of Theology program at ZBS, which I did. He asked us several times to move to Zaporizhzhya to teach at the seminary.

Finally in the summer of 2020, Linda and I decided to spend one more year at Tyndale and then take a one-year U.S.- fund raising year. After that we would move to Zaporizhzhya to become a regular part of the faculty there.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Though we lived in Serbia during the Bosnian War, we felt we were not able to live in Ukraine at this time. Because we could not move to Ukraine, we started to look for a ministry to Ukrainian (ethnically Russian) refugees we could join. We first thought of going to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, a country bordering Ukraine. One reason we thought of Moldova was that many Moldovans speak Russian.

We contacted Dwight Poggemiller, who is now the leader of GEM’s Training and Development Team. We contacted Dwight, because he lives in Timișoara, Romania. The Moldovan language and the Romanian language are extremely close and Dwight has many friends there. Dwight suggested that there wasn’t much need in Moldova for more Russian speakers, but that surprisingly there was a need for Russian speakers in Romania. Many Ukrainians have entered Romania. Romania and Ukraine share a common border.

In many other countries Ukrainian (ethnically Russian) refugees have passed through and onwards to other western countries. However, many of the Ukrainian refugees in Romania are older and for other reasons are not leaving Romania. We considered one other ministry in a country bordering Ukraine, but God clearly led us to this ministry in Romania.

We are now part of the ministry of UBC22 (Ukrainian Bucharest Churches 22) in Romania. Holy Trinity Baptist Church in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, and other churches and evangelical organizations cooperate to help refugees. They have developed several places for short-term and long-term housing here in Bucharest, as well as a regular ministry of transporting food and necessities to sister churches in Ukraine.

We are very new here and are assessing what we can do. We have joined in some mundane tasks: cleaning bathrooms, washing clothes and linens, organizing the “store” where refugees can find clothing and shoes. There are chapel services on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Friday nights. I have been teaching the Bible to a small group of refugees on Friday nights as a part of these chapel services. Linda is helping with an English-asa-second-language class. I have also helped with other projects: cleaning out an apartment and loading the vans which are part of the convoy to Ukraine carrying food and necessities.

We feel really too new to assess anything at all. We are learning how things work and what needs to be done. We pitch in as we can and try to understand what is being done.

Sometimes understanding why something is being done is — as one of our Tyndale faculty members, who had been in the military, used to say — “That’s above my pay grade.” That is, it is something pretty far above our ability to judge.

In spite of this we are grateful for the help of many people at the Holy Trinity Baptist Church in Bucharest and its daughter churches. We have had help finding an apartment, getting Romanian cell phones, getting internet in our apartment set up, among other things. They have been very supportive and kind. It is a blessing to see their care for the refugees and their love for people still in Ukraine.

Phil Gottschalk serves with his wife, Linda, in Romania.