I Learned Bible Truth in Romania
AS TOLD BY GOLDIE ROMOCEAN
In 1970, I visited family members in Romania for the first time in nearly 50 years. People lived under an oppressive Communist regime, and I was continually cautioned to be careful of what I said. Then, as I stood in the government office in our home village, the official urged me to leave the country immediately. Before I explain why, let me tell how I learned Bible truth in Romania.
I WAS born on March 3, 1903, in the village of Ortelec in northwestern Romania near the town of Zalău. We lived in beautiful surroundings. The water and air were clean. We raised our own food and lacked nothing materially. In my early years, the country was at peace.
People were very religious. In fact, our family belonged to three different religions. One of my grandmothers was Orthodox Catholic, the other Adventist, and my parents were Baptist. Because I did not agree with any of their religions, my family said I would become an atheist. ‘If there is one God,’ I thought, ‘there should be just one religion—not three in one family.’
Things I saw in religion disturbed me. For example, the priest visited homes to collect church dues. When people did not have money to give, he took their best wool blankets instead. In the Catholic church, I watched grandmother kneel to pray before a picture of Mary. ‘Why pray to a picture?’ I thought.
Father went to the United States in 1912 to earn money to pay off a debt. Not long afterward war broke out, and the men of our village left to fight—only women, children, and old men remained. Our village came under Hungarian rule for a while, but then Romanian soldiers returned and took the village back. They ordered us to leave immediately. However, in the haste and confusion of packing belongings and little ones into an oxcart, I was left behind. You see, I was the oldest of five children.
I ran to a neighbor, an old man who had stayed behind, and he said: “Go home. Lock your doors, and don’t let anyone in.” I quickly obeyed. After I had eaten some chicken soup and stuffed cabbage that had been left in the haste of the departure, I knelt by my bed and prayed. Soon I fell fast asleep.
When I opened my eyes, it was daylight, and I said: “Oh, thank you, God! I’m alive!” The walls were full of bullet holes, as there had been shooting all night. When Mother realized that I was not with them in the next village, she sent young George Romocean, who found me and took me back. It was not long before we could return to our home village and resume living there.
My Desire for Bible Truth
My mother wanted me to be baptized as a Baptist, but I did not want to do that because I could not believe that a loving God would burn people forever in hell. Trying to explain, Mother said: “Well, if they’re bad.” But I replied: “If they’re bad, kill them off, but don’t torture them. I wouldn’t even torture a dog or a cat.”
I remember that on a beautiful spring day, when I was 14 years old, Mother had me take the cows out to pasture. As I lay on the grass beside a river, with a forest in the background, I looked into the sky and said: “God, I know you’re there; but I don’t like any of these religions. You must have one good one.”
I really believe that God heard my prayer because that very summer of 1917, two Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called) came to our village. They were colporteurs, or full-time ministers, and they came to the Baptist church while a service was being held.
Bible Truth Spreads in Romania
A few years before, in 1911, Carol Szabo and Josif Kiss, who had become Bible Students in the United States, returned to Romania to introduce Bible truth there. They settled in Tîrgu-Mureş, less than a hundred miles [160 km] southeast of our village. Within a few years, literally hundreds of people responded to the Kingdom message and took up the Christian ministry.—Matthew 24:14.
Well, when the two young Bible Students came to the Baptist church in our village of Ortelec, George Romocean, though only 18 years old, was conducting the service and was attempting to explain the meaning of Romans 12:1. Finally, one of the young colporteurs stood up and said: “Brothers, friends, what is the apostle Paul trying to tell us here?”
When I heard that, I was so excited! I thought, ‘These men must know how to explain the Bible.’ But most of those present shouted: “False prophets! We know who you are!” An uproar followed. But then George’s father stood up and said: “Shut up all of you! What kind of spirit is this—the kind that comes from a bottle? If these men have something to tell us and you don’t want to listen, I’m inviting them to my home. Anyone who wants to come is welcome.”
Excitedly, I ran home and told Mother what had happened. I was one of those who accepted the invitation to the Romocean home. How thrilled I was that evening to learn from the Bible that there is no burning hell and to see in my own Romanian Bible God’s name, Jehovah! The colporteurs arranged for a Bible Student to visit Romocean’s home every Sunday to teach us. The following summer, at the age of 15, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah.
In time, practically the entire Prodan family and the Romocean family accepted Bible truth and dedicated their lives to Jehovah. Many others from our village also did so, including the young couple whose home had formerly served as the Baptist church. Afterward they converted it into a place for the Bible Students to meet for study. Scriptural truth spread rapidly in nearby villages, and by 1920 there were about 1,800 Kingdom publishers in Romania!
To the United States
We were eager to share what we had learned with my father, Peter Prodan. But, amazingly, before we could write, we received a letter from him telling us that he had become a baptized servant of Jehovah. He had studied with the Bible Students in Akron, Ohio, and he wanted all of us to join him in the United States. Mother, however, refused to leave Romania. So, in 1921, using the money Father had sent me, I joined him in Akron. George Romocean and his brother had already migrated to the States the year before.
When I arrived by ship at Ellis Island, New York, the immigration official didn’t know how to translate my name, Aurelia, into English, so he said: “You’re Goldie.” That has been my name ever since. Shortly thereafter, on May 1, 1921, George Romocean and I were married. A year or so later, Father returned to Romania and in 1925 brought back to Akron my younger sister, Mary. Then Father returned to Romania to be with Mother and the rest of the family.
Our Early Ministry in the States
George was a very loyal, devoted servant of Jehovah. Between 1922 and 1932, we were blessed with four lovely daughters—Esther, Anne, Goldie Elizabeth, and Irene. A Romanian congregation was started in Akron, and in the beginning the meetings were held in our home. Eventually, every six months a representative from the world headquarters of the Bible Students in Brooklyn, New York, visited our congregation and stayed with us.
Many Sundays we devoted the whole day to the preaching work. We packed our book bags and a lunch, put the girls in our Model T Ford, and spent the day preaching in rural territory. Then in the evening, we attended the Watchtower Study. Our girls came to love the preaching work. In 1931, I was present in Columbus, Ohio, when the Bible Students adopted their distinctive name Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Correction That I Needed
A few years later, I became angry with Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. A new Witness felt that Brother Rutherford had dealt unjustly with him, not hearing him out. I felt that Brother Rutherford was wrong. Well, one Sunday my sister Mary and her husband, Dan Pestrui, came to visit us. After dinner Dan said: “Let’s get ready to go to the meeting.”
“We don’t go to the meetings anymore,” I said. “We’re mad at Brother Rutherford.”
Dan clasped his hands behind his back and paced back and forth, and then he said: “Did you know Brother Rutherford when you got baptized?”
“Of course not,” I replied. “You know I was baptized in Romania.”
“Why did you get baptized?” he asked.
“Because I learned that Jehovah is the true God, and I wanted to dedicate my life to serve him,” I answered.
“Never forget that!” he replied. “What if Brother Rutherford left the truth, would you leave it?”
“Never, never!” I said. That brought me to my senses, and I said: “Everybody get ready for the meeting.” And we haven’t stopped since. How grateful I was to Jehovah for my brother-in-law’s loving correction!
Managing During the Depression
During the Depression in the 1930’s, times were hard. One day George arrived home from work very dejected, informing me that he had been laid off his job at the rubber factory. “Don’t worry,” I said, “we have a rich Father in heaven, and he won’t leave us.”
That same day George met a friend who had a large basket of mushrooms. When George learned where his friend had picked them, he came home with a bushel of mushrooms. Then he spent our last three dollars on small baskets. “How could you do that,” I asked, “when we have little girls who need milk?”
“Never mind,” he replied, “just do as I say.” For the next few weeks, we had a little factory in our house, cleaning and packaging mushrooms. We sold them to the nicer restaurants and brought home 30 to 40 dollars a day, a fortune to us then. The farmer who gave us permission to pick the mushrooms from his pasture said that he had lived there for 25 years and had never seen so many mushrooms. Before long the rubber factory called George back to work.
Maintaining Our Faith
In 1943 we moved to Los Angeles, California, and four years later we settled in Elsinore. We opened a grocery store there, and our whole family took turns working in it. At the time, Elsinore was just a small town of about 2,000, and we had to travel 20 miles [30 km] to another town for our Christian meetings. How happy I was to see a small congregation formed in Elsinore in 1950! Now there are 13 congregations in the same area.
In 1950 our daughter Goldie Elizabeth (whom most now know as Beth) graduated from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in South Lansing, New York, and was assigned to Venezuela as a missionary. In 1955 our youngest daughter, Irene, was happy that her husband was invited to serve as a traveling minister in the circuit work. Then in 1961, after attending the Kingdom Ministry School in South Lansing, New York, they were sent to Thailand. Sometimes I missed my daughters so much that I cried, but then I thought, ‘That’s what I wanted them to do.’ So I grabbed my book bag and went out in the preaching work. I always returned home happy.
In 1966 my dear husband, George, had a stroke. Beth, who had returned from Venezuela because of health problems, helped care for him. George died the following year, and I was comforted by the fact that he had remained faithful to Jehovah and had received his heavenly reward. Afterward Beth went to Spain to serve where the need for Kingdom preachers was greater. My oldest daughter, Esther, became sick with cancer and died in 1977, and in 1984, Anne died of leukemia. Each had been a faithful servant of Jehovah all her life.
By the time of Anne’s death, Beth and Irene had returned from their foreign preaching assignments. They had helped care for their sisters, and we all grieved deeply. After a time I told my girls: “OK, that’s enough! We have comforted others with precious Bible promises. Now we must allow ourselves to be comforted. Satan wants to rob us of our joy in serving Jehovah, but we can’t let him.”
Our Faithful Family in Romania
My sister Mary and I made that memorable trip to visit our family in Romania in 1970. One of our sisters had died, but we were able to visit our brother John and our sister Lodovica, who still lived in the village of Ortelec. By the time of our visit, Father and Mother had died, having remained faithful to Jehovah. Many told us that Father had been a pillar in the congregation. Even some of his great-grandchildren in Romania are now Witnesses. We also visited many relatives on my husband’s side of the family who had remained steadfast in Bible truth.
In 1970, Romania was under the cruel Communist regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were being viciously persecuted. My brother John’s son, Flore, as well as other relatives of mine, spent many years in concentration camps because of their Christian faith, and so did my husband’s first cousin, Gábor Romocean. No wonder that when we were entrusted with delivering correspondence to the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, our Romanian brothers said that they would not rest until they heard that we were safely out of the country!
When we realized that our visas had expired, we went to the government office in Ortelec. It was a Friday afternoon, and there was only one official on duty. Learning who we had been visiting and that our nephew had been in a concentration camp, he said: “Ladies, get out of here!”
“But there’s no train leaving today,” my sister replied.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said urgently. “Take a bus. Take a train. Take a taxi. Walk. Just get out of here as quickly as you can!”
As we started to leave, we were called back and informed that an unscheduled military train was coming through at 6:00 p.m. How providential that proved to be! On a regular train, our papers would be checked repeatedly, but since this train carried military personnel and we were the only two civilians aboard, no one asked to see our passports. They may have assumed that we were the grandmothers of some of the officers.
We arrived at Timisoara the following morning, and with the help of a friend of a relative, we were able to get our visas. The next day we were out of the country. We brought back home with us many fond and unforgettable memories of our loyal Christian brothers and sisters in Romania.
In the years following our visit to Romania, we heard few details about the preaching activity from behind the Iron Curtain. Yet, we were confident that our Christian brothers and sisters would remain loyal to our God—come what may. And surely they have! What a joy it was to learn that Jehovah’s Witnesses were legally recognized as a religious organization in Romania in April 1990! The following summer we were delighted with the reports about the conventions held in Romania. Why, over 34,000 attended in eight cities, and 2,260 were baptized! Now there are more than 35,000 sharing in the preaching work in Romania, and last year 86,034 attended the Memorial of Christ’s death.
The Truth Still Precious to Me
For a few years, I stopped partaking of the emblems at the Memorial. I observed very qualified brothers who did not partake, and I reasoned: ‘Why would Jehovah grant me the privilege of being a joint heir with his Son in heaven when others are such fluent speakers?’ But when I did not partake, I felt very disturbed. It was as if I were rejecting something. After much study and prayerful supplication, I began partaking again. My peace and joy returned, and they have never left me.
Although I can no longer see to read, I listen every day to tapes of the Bible and of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. I also still share in the preaching work. Usually I place between 60 and 100 magazines each month, but when we had the special campaign with the Awake! magazine last April, I placed 323. With help from my daughters, I am also able to deliver parts in the Theocratic Ministry School. I am happy that I can continue to encourage others. Almost everyone in the Kingdom Hall calls me Grandma.
Looking back over nearly 79 years of dedicated service to Jehovah, I thank him every day that he has permitted me to know his precious truth and to use my life in his service. I am so grateful that I have lived to see the fulfillment of the marvelous Bible prophecies that foretold the ingathering of God’s sheeplike ones in these last days.—Isaiah 60:22; Zechariah 8:23.
[Picture on page 23]
My sister Mary and Father standing, and me, George, and our daughters Esther and Anne
[Picture on page 24]
With my daughters Beth and Irene and Irene’s husband and their two boys, who are all faithfully serving Jehovah