Southern Baptists celebrate 100 years of partnership in Romania

This year, the Baptist Theological Institute (ITB), in Bucharest, Romania, celebrated 100 years of existence and partnership with Southern Baptists. From vision-casting to sending personnel, Southern Baptists have walked alongside Romanian Baptists. The plot of land the institute sits on and the buildings that house it were purchased with Southern Baptist money, some of which was raised by members of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) who sold eggs collected on Sunday mornings.

That small fundraiser resulted in hundreds of men and women trained and hundreds of churches planted around the world through alumni of ITB.

“From the beginning, Southern Baptists came alongside our Romanian Baptist leaders to make training our pastors and church leaders a priority. We thank you and are grateful,” said Daniel Maris, ITB president.

A short history

In 1920 Baptist leaders from Europe and the U.S. met in London to formulate a plan to support Baptist work across the continent. The Foreign Mission Board (FMB, now the International Mission Board, IMB) agreed to partner with Romanian Baptists. During this meeting E. Y. Mullins, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, met leaders from Romania. He encouraged them to set up a training school for preachers and church workers.

Romanian leaders began a small seminary outside Bucharest the following year. Providentially, Ioan Socaciu, a Romanian who had studied at SBTS, returned home just in time to become the first president. Everett Gill, the FMB’s representative for Europe, came to assess the seminary and realized the need for a permanent location for the school. He bought the current seminary property with Southern Baptist funds, including money raised by the WMU. The seminary asked for a full-time worker to come alongside them. In 1923 the first FMB missionaries arrived in Romania.

IMB missionaries Cameron and Jessica Armstrong have both taught classes at ITB. They have been in Romania since 2015. They are pictured with their children, Sara and Noah.

FMB had to pull missionaries out of Romania during WWII and the years of Soviet rule, but they continued to visit until they could move back in 1989 when communism fell. During the Soviet era, property all around the school was confiscated, leveled and repurposed for the regime, but because the seminary was owned by Americans, the communists couldn’t claim it. God’s providence kept the seminary and its handful of students safe. After the revolution, the student body quickly increased to over 100 in residential and distance programs.

Professors with PhDs were sent by IMB to walk alongside Romanian leaders, helping them develop their faculty and theology. They also helped the seminary get full accreditation, both as a seminary and as a Baptist college within the University of Bucharest. This latter accomplishment illustrates the positive changes in the reputation of Baptists in post-communist Romania.

The Baptist college offers three degrees as a double major alongside Baptist theology: social work, foreign languages and Romanian literature.

“The idea was to train young people to spread all over Romania and work as social workers and teachers, going where the evangelical presence is lacking,” Maris said. “In the past 30 years, that vision has been accomplished.”

Since its inception, 1,000 people have graduated from the university’s Baptist college and have started careers in social work and teaching. As they’ve moved throughout the country, they’ve helped their communities and planted churches.

Maris credited IMB’s church-planting focus, initiated in the 1990s, in helping Romanian leaders catch a vision for taking the gospel into unchurched areas, like south Romania and in Roma communities. Some graduates went even further, moving east to the post-Soviet world and opening another seminary. This school has started three additional training schools throughout the former satellite states.

Daniel Maris (left) met with IMB missionary and former ITB professor Preston Pearce at the seminary’s centennial celebration in October 2021. Pearce taught at ITB from 1995–2001.

Another graduate continues to influence Romania as a member of Romanian Parliament and has held Bible studies in the Palace of Parliament.

When Romania entered the European Union in 2008, its influence spread all over Europe.

“Our diaspora is one of the largest in world. Young families moved to countries like France, Italy, Germany and Great Britain, bringing the gospel and establishing churches,” Maris said.

Joining the partnership

WMU is still raising money for Southern Baptist mission work, but the effort has grown from the egg-selling days. The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is raised at Christmastime, and 100 percent of the money given goes to support the life and work of IMB’s 3,600 overseas personnel — 723 of whom are in Europe. The money used to help Romanian Baptists 100 years ago is still bearing fruit today.

You can contribute to work that fuels Southern Baptist missions in Romania and around Europe. Give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, where 100% of donations goes to support IMB missionaries. Or you can give to IMB’s Gospel Training fund to support Baptist seminaries and training initiatives across Europe.