Living through Romania’s fearsome days of religious persecution, seminary student Gabriel Hada learned the meaning of ‘love thy enemy’
by Michael Richeson
As a young Christian boy growing up in the Transylvania region of Romania, it wasn’t Dracula that Gabriel Hada feared. It was the communists.
No fictional vampire could compare with the real-life threat posed by the political party ruling the country.
“I remember one night, they came and took my father,” Hada, a George Fox Evangelical Seminary student, says. “The man who took him told us: ‘Look at your father. This is the last time you will see him.’ Of course, we got really, really scared. My reaction was going to my room and yelling, crying, fighting with God.”
“The man who took him told us: ‘Look at your father. This is the last time you will see him.’”
The communists took Gligor Hada and beat him before taking him to the area’s ruling thug, who threatened to kill Gligor if he didn’t deny Christ right then and there.
“Of course, my father didn’t,” Hada says. “He started praying to God to be with his family. When the head guy picked up his phone to call the executioner, he started screaming from bad pain in his head. The man told my father to run away from his office.”
Hada, 28, can’t control the joy that spreads over his face when remembering the story nearly 20 years later.
“For me, my father is a hero,” he says. “At the same time, I believe my mother and father are people of faith. They always believed that God would do something and take care of us. We saw God’s hand.”
The persecution of Christians was common under communist rule from 1949 to 1989; believers were punching bags for those in power, and parishioners too often found their churches burned to the ground.
The Hadas received extra attention because Gligor was a local pastor who smuggled Bibles through the area with help from an East German friend.
“It was really, really dangerous to do that,” Hada says. “If the communists catch you, you will stay in prison for the rest of your life.”
The Hadas hid Bibles under floorboards and then took them to people late at night.
“We would speak in code to ask for Bibles,” Hada says. “They would say, ‘Pastor Gligor, I am sick. Can you come see me?’ Then they would get a Bible.”
Persecution seemed to follow the Hadas everywhere. Gligor had weekly run-ins with communists who were always one step behind. To supplement his income, Gligor worked as a laborer in a steel factory. When it was payday, the communists took more than half his money.
“You are Christian,” Hada recalls them saying. “You don’t deserve 100. You deserve 40.”
Out of the persecution came Hada’s absolute belief that God is in control. His parents were rock-solid examples of how to hold on to God’s promises.
“My father was never angry about [the beatings],” Hada says. “He taught us to forgive and pray for our tormentors. He would say: ‘We have to love them. We have to forgive them and pray for them.’ I believe only God can give you the power to do and say these things.”
Persecution wasn’t an experience reserved for adults. Hada was taunted and abused countless times.
In Romania, on the first day of school, parents went to class with their children for the first hour. Hada’s introduction to the harsh realties of persecution for his faith began as soon as his parents left the room.
“Our teacher – I don’t want to say her name – asked us ‘Who is Christian? Come here near me.’” Hada says. The teacher used a derogatory slang term for “Christian.”
“Of course, I went up to the front of the room.”
If Hada took a test and scored an A, the teacher would change his grade to a C. At the slightest mistake, she berated him in front of his classmates.
“For everything, everything, she beat me with a rubber hose,” Hada says.
In the second grade, Hada told a classmate about Jesus, and his teacher overheard him.
The offense landed him in the principal’s office. The principal told him to hold out his hand and press his fingertips together, took a rubber hose, and struck his young pupil’s hands.
Twenty times the hose whipped through the air and struck the tips of Hada’s fingers.
Then the principal made him hold out his other hand. Another 20 swings.
“My hands were bleeding,” Hada says. “I couldn’t write or do anything with my hands for a week. Nobody cared when my parents complained. The communists protected each other.”
Every day, taunts from the other children. Every day, harsh words from his teachers.
“In my child’s mind, I prayed for God to give me friends,” Hada says. “I would ask ‘God, where are you?’”
Once again, his parents’ unwavering faith bolstered his.
“They made me understand that God is the only God, and we have to serve him,” Hada says. “We knew in our heart that one day everything would end – the persecution.”
The “one day” was Dec. 17, 1989.
By the late ’80s, Romania had plunged into poverty and uncertainty. Hada’s older brothers stood in line for hours, and sometimes days, just to buy bread. The only item the stores had on their shelves was laundry detergent.
Romanian citizens were slowly rising up against their ruler, Nicolae Ceausescu, whose grandiose spending sprees had bankrupted the country. By 1989, each person could legally purchase 10 eggs per month, one loaf of bread per day and a small amount of meat.
“The people got really, really angry,” Hada says.
Ceausescu’s government became more and more restrictive, extending censorship, bugging phones and hiring nearly 30 percent of the population as informants.
Riots broke out in western Romania on Dec. 17, 1989, and soldiers killed more than 100 protestors. In spite of the violence, the uprising caught fire and spread throughout the country. Ceausescu tried to flee, but the Romanians captured him and executed him on Dec. 25.
Hada, then 9 years old, watched his country burst with jubilation.
“Everybody in our country was so happy,” he says. “They were all laughing and smiling. We were so happy because we knew it was the end, especially the persecution for our family.”
Life changed overnight. The Hadas and other Romanian Christians were no longer enemies of the state. Large churches and flourishing ministries sprung up around the country as believers came out of hiding and into the streets.
Families were still poor, and the grocery store shelves were still often bare, but the people were free.
God again moved in a powerful way for the Hadas. For years they had prayed for God to change the hearts of their tormentors, and the fruits of their faith were about to be revealed.
Shortly after the fall of communism, someone knocked on their door. Outside was one of the large political strongmen who had frequently beat Gligor in the past.
“He was one of the big guys for the communists, and came into our house and told us how he had prepared everything for my father to be beaten,” Hada says. “He told us about the room and the torture devices. He was really, really sorry. He became a Christian.”
Twenty times the hose whipped through the air and struck the tips of Hada’s fingers.
The Hadas jumped at the chance to pursue their dreams of ministry. Without the interference from the government, the family opened an orphanage in a building that had been communist headquarters in their city.
They also opened a homeless shelter and a ministry that feeds 50 of the town’s poorest children every day.
Hada not only can tell you the day communism fell in Romania, he can also rattle off the exact dates of each new ministry’s beginning.
August 1993: the orphanage opens. September 2000: the community kitchen opens. December 2004: homeless ministry begins.
“The winter in 2004 was especially cold,” Hada says. “One morning, we found three people dead near the garbage container. My father was just in shock, and we decided to open. We went to the mayor and said, ‘We need to do this right now.’
“The city approved the paperwork in one day.”
The family manages all of these projects with small donations and without government funding.
“We pay,” Hada says.
Hada and his brothers now live in the United States, and they work constantly to provide money for their ministries in Romania.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but at the same time we have peace inside,” Hada says. “We are busy, but we love it. We say: ‘Today is another day. We are doing good stuff!’”
Hard work and strong faith is pervasive in the Hadas’ ministries. Time and time again, when situations looked bleak, God pulled through for the family. Hada remembers many nights when he awoke at night and found his parents on their knees, praying in the kitchen.
“My father would come to us and tell us, ‘Tomorrow is the day we have to pay the workers at the orphanage,’” Hada says. “We wouldn’t have any money in the bank. Of course, we have to pay them money because they have families, too.”
The family would pray and fast together.
“The bank would call and say, ‘Someone sent you $1,000,’” Hada says. “Every time it was the exact amount needed.”
Hada’s ability to pack all of his responsibilities into each 24-hour day is a miracle in itself. He is a husband, a father, a seminary student, a carpenter, a worker at his church and the vice president of his family’s ministry operations in Romania.
Hada’s journey to George Fox Evangelical Seminary also began when communism collapsed in Romania. In the ’90s, he attended the first Christian high school to open in his country. He then moved to Bucharest and studied for four years at a pastoral seminary.
After graduating from college, Hada moved back to his hometown, which is where he met Monica. She was a Romanian, but her family had moved to the United States in 1986. Hada quickly fell for Monica, and the couple married in 2005 and moved to Portland to be near her family. Hada also had plans to get a master’s degree at a seminary in Nashville, Tenn.
But then Hada received news that his mother-in-law was dying from lung cancer, and she didn’t have long to live. Hada and his wife decided to stay in Portland to be close to her mother.
Then the Hadas found out that Monica was pregnant. Hada called the dean of the Nashville seminary and asked if he could recommend a good school in Portland.
The dean recommended George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and Hada began the M. Div. program in January 2007.
“I really love going to this school,” Hada says. “This school is a blessing in my life. In Romania, the teacher and students don’t have relationships that are close. Here, everyone was asking me how I was and if they could help me. For me, this was ‘Oh my gosh. This is great.’”
His experiences at George Fox will become the model for the new Christian school he plans to open after he graduates in 2010. Yes, the Hadas are going to add yet another ministry to their plate. And now that the persecution has been over for more than 20 years, he believes nothing stands in the way.
There is less to fear in Romania these days. Fictional vampires are finally scarier than real-life religious persecution, but Hada seems conflicted with the results of so many open doors in his home country.
Christians don’t have to sneak Bibles around in the dark, but the sense of community and dependence on believers has lessened. The fire and the urgency have faded in the country but not in Hada’s heart.
He has a story to tell.
“Seeing these things in my life, that’s why I can’t stop, and I will tell everybody about Jesus and God. I believe – 100 percent – that God is still doing miracles today,” Hada says. “That is why I want to go back home and continue. This is my life. I’m happy because I can help other people.”