Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Romania: Adventist national ad campaign declares Bible reading a must


Beatrice Lospa never imagined a nationwide initiative to make reading the Bible attractive and accessible to every Romanian would be so popular.

A coordinator of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's Bible reading clubs, Sola Scriptura (Latin for "Scripture only"), Lospa eagerly tells how a national advertising campaign backed by an anonymous donation is blending high-profile marketing with the church's basic mission outreach. Now, hundreds are coming to Bible reading clubs across Romania.

"We never thought we would find ourselves at this crossroads," Lospa says while standing at a street intersection in the heart of Bucharest. For her and her team the crossroads are literal.

"Look, our billboard will come up next," she says, beaming with excitement at seeing the Sola Scriptura ad roll up on an electronic billboard -- a picture of a thoughtful-looking man at the National Library with the words, "Knowing how to read does you no good if you have never read the Bible. solascriptura.ro. A program for reading the Bible."

The slogan seemed a bit risky to some church members, Lospa says, but with access to 148 billboards in Bucharest, Constanta, Timisoara, Brasov and other cities around the country, church leaders decided to be bold.

Romanians had little access to Bibles under communism's 50-year rule, Lospa explains. "Today, everyone seems to be talking about religion, but many people have little or no knowledge of the role the Holy Scriptures play in Christianity."

"Romanians have a Christian Orthodox tradition where priests passed on knowledge about Christianity, the Bible and its message, to the people," Lospa says.

"Romanians have yet to read the Holy Scriptures by themselves."

In 2000, Adventist Church leaders tried to stir interest among Romanians by inviting people to simply read the Bible. Sola Scriptura reading clubs were given meeting space by the church's 20 nationwide Christian bookstores, which share the same name.

But the clubs were sparsely attended and lacked financial backing for promotion. That changed when a donation of 60,000 euros (about US$88,000) arrived in the Sola Scriptura bank account.

"I cannot express in words the emotion, the joy and the intensity of the feelings I had, because the money came in response to our prayers," Lospa says.

Then the anonymous donor set up a meeting with her. "I believe I can do more," he said confidently while sitting across from her in her office, she recalls.

"What can be more than 60,000 euros?" Lospa asked him.

He explained that as president of the largest billboard advertising company in Romania, 60 percent of the country's outdoor ad business was under his control.

Impressed, Lospa congratulated her guest. "Oh, I didn't tell you this in order for you to congratulate me," he quipped, "but for you to think of what you should write on the billboards I intend to place at main road junctions and in the bus and tram stops."

Years earlier the donor attended the Sola Scriptura two-year Bible course after a young man in Constanta offered him a flier. "I bought books from the Sola Scriptura bookstore, I learned how to pray and I applied everything I had learned to the business I run," he told Lospa. "Things are different than before, and this is only because I began to apply God's principles. I think it's high time I did something to thank Him. It's nothing compared to what He has done for me."

After the messages were posted on billboards in July, Web traffic on the Sola Scriptura site doubled to 5,383 visitors. Nearly 300 registered online to join a local club. Each meeting at various sites draws about 30 to 50 attendees. Most sites host several meetings that gather biweekly.

"This is a club, not a seminar," says Liviu Stanescu, a pastor in his 30s, who runs a local club in Bucharest.

Starting with the book of Genesis, the Bible reading clubs are designed to encourage conversation. Participants are urged to ask questions based on both the Bible and their experiences, Stanescu explains.

After a Bible reading class, many participants ask "Where do we go from here?" Another course addresses prophecy because the first club reading doesn't include prophetic books such as Isaiah, Daniel or Revelation. Other course topics include improving health, family life and discussions about the parables of Jesus.

Participants come from all walks of life. "We have ordinary people and university professors, scientists and even one senator," Stanescu says.

"The Orthodox Church invites people to the church," he says, "but we are inviting people to experience a personal relationship with God by pointing them to the Bible. You can rejoice in God everyday, not only on holy days, we say. People react to what they find in Sola Scriptura as if this was something new to discover in their Christian life."

In August, Lospa and her team were in the middle of their four-month long public billboard campaign. The Sola Scriptura team, busy with the Internet, radio and television promotion, was reporting a doubling of participation in Bible reading clubs despite the Summer holidays.

"The Bible offers a challenge and an invitation that one's preparation for life is not complete without being confronted with the message of the Bible," Lospa says. "The Bible helps to overcome that void."

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