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His sister warned him, but he laughed her off. How can they ask me to preach? Cosmin Ciui, a Romanian native, didn't believe a church he'd never attended would have just anyone stand and speak. He didn't feel qualified.
But the leadership of the church made it a point to call on different attendees each week -- and Cosmin was first. Swiftly, he recalled a passage in John -- a familiar excerpt because Cru staff members and student leaders had used it with him to explain their faith.
As a student at University of the West in Romania, in March of 1999, Cosmin followed signs for free pizza to hear American staff members talk about Jesus. He was curious, but wary. He had heard rumors about "crazy" and "dangerous" Americans.
Still, Cosmin was intent on understanding Christianity and joined a Bible study with 2 Cru staff members.
The other men invested hours with him each week, and he was amazed at what the Bible said.
"I didn't know about the Resurrection or about Jesus," says Cosmin.
When he indicated a decision for Christ, one of the staff members called him a "brother." He became nervous. In Romania, the term "brother" is associated with religious sects. What did I just do? he remembers thinking, scared.
Cosmin grew less nervous as he continued involvement with the campus ministry. In September, he saw the JESUS film and fully understood the gospel for the first time. Everything he had learned in the last 6 months finally made sense.
Two years later, he was baptized -- a bold step of faith in a country where many go to church but few have actually heard of Jesus Christ.
"It is almost taboo," explains Cosmin, "it shows crazy devotion." It was that year that he found himself called to speak in his sister's church.
"I started to preach, and it was a powerful way to grow up," explains Cosmin. Determined not be caught unprepared again, he studied the Bible consistently, and has since packed his library with theology books.
Besides studying Russian and French, he learned fluent English by watching Dallas, one of the longest running American prime-time soap operas, supplemented by conversations with English-speaking friends from Cru.
Now, Cosmin is a family doctor and missionary to a small town in the valleys of southeastern Romania. After finishing years of medical residency, he was determined to tell the gospel where it is least heard. Cosmin and his wife, Cristina, became the ninth and tenth evangelical Christians in Rîmnicu-Sărat, a town with a population of 42,000.
"It's difficult to be a Christian in a place where everyone is not," says Cosmin. Witchcraft beliefs have a great presence in Romanian villages. Divorce rates are rising.
In the midst of this, Cosmin, Cristina and their growing church of now 30 members are a spiritual light to Rîmnicu-Sărat. Cosmin's job as a doctor and Cristina's as a teacher have given them respected positions to explain Christ to others. They've brought a model of discipleship, which Cosmin learned from Cru staff members, to the town.
In addition to various outreaches, each church member has chosen several people to pray and fast for over an entire year. Like finishing medical residency, learning English and studying the Bible, Cosmin brings a high level of commitment to his church and community.
And just as it was with him, spiritual growth in the whole town of Rîmnicu-Sărat will take dedication from the entire community.
"You have to persevere," Cosmin says to his church. "You have to invest time."
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