Ministry to Romanians is SBTS student’s passion

Communications Staff — January 8, 2008

At age 23 Petru Matasaru, living in his native Romania, received his first Bible as a gift from a friend of his father.

The Word of God was a rare commodity under Romania’s restrictive communist regime, and one copy was worth three hundred lei. Yet despite the opportunity to learn the saving message of Christ, Matasaru sold the Bible to help fund a sinful lifestyle.

Today, more than thirty years later, Matasaru takes a much different view of Scripture. After jumping from country to country across Europe in a search of happiness, he found salvation in Christ, moved to the United States and eventually enrolled as a master of divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“By God’s grace, I will graduate from Southern in May 2008 with a master of divinity from the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth,” Matasaru said.

Matasaru’s journey to faith began in Romania shortly after World War II. The son of a pastor, Matasaru rebelled against his father and rejected Christianity. Family members tried to tell him about Jesus, but he refused to listen.

“Drinking, playing cards and wasting away all my money, I continued to reject God,” he said of his young adult years. “During this period of my life I thought that Christianity was only for older people, as the communist regime taught us in school.”

In 1980, Matasaru began a search for a better life that took him to several European countries. First he escaped across the Romanian border to Yugoslavia, where he served two months in prison for entering the country illegally. A Slavic immigration officer then sent Matasaru to Austria, but he crossed a border illegally once again, escaping to Munich, Germany.

In Munich he started an electronics and computer store with his brother. When business turned bad, Matasaru sunk even more deeply into sin. His brother eventually pushed him out of the business, and Matasaru developed plans for revenge.

“Because of pressure, I began to drink and smoke even more so than before, and I tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol,” he said. “As a result of all these things, my life became a deception and I did not know how to solve my problems. My life was a complete disaster.”

But a missionary from what was then known as the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign Mission Board brought a ray of hope to Matasaru’s life. Paul Box, who worked as a chaplain on an American military base in Munich, met Matasaru’s sister and learned about his situation. Box attempted to visit him both at home and work.

“Many times Pastor Box came into our store and to our home,” Matasaru said. “But we—my brother, Paul, and I—kicked him out. Once my brother even told him not to come to our door anymore. But Pastor Box came again and invited us to church, telling us about the love of Jesus.”

Matasaru finally accepted a dinner invitation by Box. Box brought a German businessman to the dinner to translate Box’s English into German and shared the Gospel with Matasaru. He did not believe Box’s message yet, but Matasaru did begin attending church. He continued his sinful lifestyle and often attended church drunk, but one Sunday the Holy Spirit moved in his heart and Matasaru was converted to faith in Christ.

“My life over time changed,” he said. “Those things that were a part of my sinful past lost their hold on me, and I ceased to do them.”

After being baptized and beginning a program of discipleship, Box recommended that Matasaru come to America. He accepted the recommendation, moving to Chicago, where he joined a Romanian church, participated in ministry to the homeless, served as a chaplain at the Cook County Jail and even began a preaching ministry.

In Chicago Matasaru also earned a bachelor’s degree from the Moody Bible Institute and married his wife, Heather, who attended Moody as well.

The Matasaru family moved to New York City in 2001, where Matasaru did mission work among Romanians and met a pastor who encouraged him to attend seminary. While working with two church plants, he enrolled at Southern’s New York extension center.

Upon advice from a professor, Matasaru and his family moved to Louisville in 2003 to continue his education at the seminary’s main campus. Upon graduation Matasaru plans to draw from his training at Southern to return to Europe and reach fellow Romanians for Christ.

His passion in life is now helping his countrymen find the freedom he has experienced as a follower of Jesus.

“I plan to continue preaching in Romanian churches and do evangelism among the Romanian people wherever I can,” he said. “Ultimately my goal is to reach Romanians in Romania and in the Republic of Moldova with the Lord’s help.”

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