A Romanian criminal, once labelled the country's fourth most dangerous, is electing to forgo parole after becoming a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. He says that he would rather stay in jail to share his new-found faith and help his fellow prioners.
Valeriu Curin, aged 33, was a household name in the southeastern European country 11 years ago for his involvement in organized crime.
Curin was one of eight life-term inmates to step into a portable baptismal tank July 21 in a prison in the city of Craiova and declare commitment to a Christian life, reports the Romanian Adventist News service.
George Uba, who oversees personal ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Romania, said Curin, an avid reader, finally picked up a Bible in his cell after years of neglecting it. Curin gradually immersed himself in the power of the biblical message, Uba said. And it changed his life.
His life sentence in prison allows him to request parole after 20 years, but good behaviour has given him the option to apply after 11 years. Instead, Curin is choosing to waive his right, remain in prison and testify to his faith, Uba explained.
Romanian Adventists organized a prison outreach programme immediately after the fall of communism in 1989, said Teodor Hutanu, president of this protestant church in Romania. He said it gradually became evident that as a Christian minority denomination, Adventists faced increasing difficulties with their witness.
After Romania joined the European Union, however, the situation changed. The Romanian Orthodox Church still dominates prison chaplaincies, but Adventists are also allowed to work, Hutanu said. Among Romania's Protestant denominations, Adventists were among the first to begin prison ministries, he commented.
The General Directorate of Penitentiaries authorizes Romania's churches to work in the country's prisons on a yearly basis. A church is required to sign a collaboration protocol listing moral and spiritual programs it will offer prison inmates.
Uba said most Bible studies in prisons are conducted by local church volunteers. Currently, 32 inmates are being prepared for baptism. There are no official Adventist prison chaplains in Romania, but Hutanu says the church is working with prison leadership to establish such a ministry.
Adventist evangelists have now established programmes in 42 of the country's 46 prisons, Uba said. As of 2006, more than 70,000 Adventists worship weekly in nearly 1,100 congregations across Romania.
[Rajmund Dabrowski from Adventist News Network (ANN) and staff writer of Adventist Review contributed to this article]