I’ve always written truthfully here, sharing my heart in ways I hope encourage you. But there are stories I haven’t told you, partly because they’re too raw and painful and partly because I’m convinced the story’s not over yet.
I haven’t written much about my parents, but you need to know their story. Our story. Or at least the part that runs up to the present moment. Because in many ways, I think it’s your story too. A story of miracles, brokenness, forgiveness, and hope.
And even though there may be painful episodes in our stories, they need to be told. Because your story and my story? They matter. They’re pages in a Book that contains a narrative far greater than our own, and our little pieces all come together to tell the Bigger Story–the One about the God who is faithful to His people, even when they’re not, because He loves them just that much.
So we tell stories. Heartbreaking, embarrassing, let-me-hide-under-the-rug stories. Because the stories of our weaknesses point our hearts and others’ to His strength.
Pull up a chair, and let me tell you my family’s story.
Life Threats and Dangerous Escapes
My dad and mom grew up in communist Romania, completely opposite personalities brought together by their desire to serve God. My father pastored 5 churches and witnessed dynamic growth as God brought many to faith in Him. But not everyone rejoiced. Intimidated by the spread of uncensored Christian Faith, the Romanian secret police urged my dad to provide names of recent converts, active members, and Bible smugglers. After several months of grueling interrogations for my father and worry-filled days for my mother, the death threats began. Soon it became clear that their only hope of survival was to flee the country.
My mom was 21 and six months pregnant when she left behind her husband and 2-year-old son to escape first. After unsuccessfully seeking political asylum in Israel she turned to the nearest country that did: Greece. She had little money and no contacts, and she didn’t speak Greek, but as she sat 72 hours on a hard wooden bench in a small airline office, God softened hearts and opened doors. And Mom miraculously received food, shelter, and care for my birth.
Six months later, my father gingerly placed my brother on his shoulders, grabbed one little suitcase, and trekked through the muddy border into Hungary. There were stories of people being shot on the spot or torn to pieces by the patrolmen’s watch dogs, but God miraculously guided them to safety.
Mom and Dad were reunited in Greece and eventually arrived in Ohio, where they ministered to a Romanian church in Akron. It was a cozy life that made their impetuous promise seem like a distant memory: as they planned their escape, they had promised God that if they arrived in the US safely and if communism ever ended, they would return to Romania. It was a hasty promise that seemed so far-fetched they never expected to make good on it. But they had hardly settled into life in America when Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were murdered and the communism regime collapsed; my parents’ dreams of a comfy future crumbled with the Iron Curtain.
Willing Servants in the Field of Evangelism
It took them five years of excuses and delays to finally honor their promise, but at long last, in 1995, my family of five returned to Romania as missionaries to the Gypsies, a migrant group of people despised by all our relatives and church acquaintances but dearly loved by God. The field was ripe for the harvest, and hundreds of Gypsies received the Good News with great joy: Jesus had come to save not just the white Romanians but the neglected and downtrodden Gypsies as well.
My childhood was filled with dramatic stories of drunkards turned preachers, daily bread miraculously provided, tons of clothing and food delivered, illiterate children graduating high school, and shocking racial reconciliation. What God did in Romania during the pioneer years of Gypsy ministry in the late 1990s has profoundly impacted me and thousands of others. And God continues to raise leaders from among the Gypsies to deliver the message of the Gospel to their own people. His Kingdom is advancing rapidly where there was once only despair and darkness.
When Your Story Doesn’t Have a Fairy Tale Ending
That’s a story that needs to be written in a memoir and published for the world to read. Some day. Not yet. Like I said, the story isn’t finished yet.
Because rather than a fairytale ending, my family’s story turns dark for a season. A season we’re still trying to wade out of. And for the longest time, my family’s story has been uncomfortable because while my childhood sounds pleasant, there were undercurrents all along that shifted the foundation we were standing on, and eventually it all came crashing down in the most embarrassing and heartbreaking way.
To make a long history short and spare intimate details, I’ll simply say that my parents are now divorced and I haven’t seen my father in three years. We have gone from a family united in ministering the word of Truth to a family shattered, trying to pick up the pieces and reassemble them in a way that makes sense of what is left. There are deep, deep wounds all around that keep this riff painfully wide.
For the past three years I’ve avoided sharing the miraculous stories from the mission field because, inevitably, when the story of my childhood would morph into my husband’s and my love story as I left for college, the listener would circle back and ask, “So are your parents still in Romania?” and I would have to share the crushing disappointment that, no, they’re not. Gentle reader, missionaries are sinners, too, and as much as others would like to put us on a pedestal, our family had issues much like your family probably did.
But to silence this story is to steal God’s glory. What happened during my parents’ escape from and later return to Romania is nothing short of miraculous, and tens of thousands of people have heard that story and have praised God because of it. And though some of those former admirers may now be disappointed in the Oana family, the Author of those golden years still holds the pen in His hands, and He’s not finished with us yet.
Next week I’ll share with you my journey toward forgiving my father and mother. Until then, I’d love to hear from you: