Fleeing the repressive regime of then-Communist Romania, thousands of refugees re-settled in Portland, Oregon, during the late 1970s and 1980s. They lost much in choosing freedom — but not their faith, strong work ethic, and deeply ingrained commitment to family and community.
That wealth of spirit and character proved a strong foundation for southeast Portland’s Philadelphia Romanian Pentecostal Church, launched by pastor Nicky Pop and a small group of immigrant families in 1979. The church, which now has 1,500 adult attendees and over 600 children, is the largest Assemblies of God Romanian church in the U.S.
“Romanians are very strong in preserving their culture, and that first generation is the backbone of our church,” says senior pastor Vasile Cinpean, who succeeded founder Pop in 2011. “We continue to hold a lot to our heritage, but at the same time, we are successful in keeping our young people, the next generation, involved with opportunities for ministry.”
While continuing Romanian language services throughout a busy weeklong schedule, translation is offered through headsets, and increasingly English is introduced in church programs. The 60-year-old Cinpean, who with his wife, Rodica, raised five children, looks to their seven grandchildren to help take their faith into the decades ahead.
The energy and commitment of the church’s slowly diversifying youth has driven the fellowship’s growth in recent years. Immigration has slowed to a trickle, according to Cinpean, a mechanical engineer by training who came to the United States in 1987, serving as an assistant pastor under Pop for eight years prior to succeeding him.
Outreach and spiritual development of the church’s next generation has been entrusted to Gabriel Hada, who along with his wife, Monica, joined the pastoral staff in 2010. Theirs is a multifaceted challenge: training up future preachers, missionaries, worship leaders, and strong families of faith, Hada says,
“To reveal Christ to all nations in word, worship, and community, the goal is to see these young generations have more passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ,” says the 39-year-old father of four. He notes that the Wednesday evening service attended by over 300 youth is fully in English.
The move toward more English in services, especially for the youth, also is proving a catalyst for attracting non-Romanian teens and young adults. Hada says that increasingly, the midweek meeting is attracting “more of our American-born neighbors.”
Part of that outreach includes year-round, street-level contact with homeless youth and adults, as well as the poor and hungry of downtown Portland.
“We are trying to show love and to look for every opportunity to get involved in the community,” Cinpean explains. “The youth sing on the streets, distribute packages of food and hygienic supplies, and just talk one-on-one with people about God, or just pray with them.”
Indeed, the AG congregation turned to Scripture (Matthew 16:18) to declare its 40th anniversary year theme, “I will build My Church,” notes attendee Scott Temple, director of the Assemblies of God’s Office of Ethnic Relations.
Temple says four decades of strong leadership and vision have fueled the dynamic and growing Philadelphia Romanian Pentecostal Church, “providing a healthy balance of ministry that honors their Romanian past while at the same time welcoming a future that is ‘made in America.’”
The Portland congregation could serve as a role model for the nearly two-dozen ethnic/language fellowships that today account for 43 percent of the U.S. Assemblies of God’s 3.2 million adherents.
“All over the country, great churches are being built by immigrants and minorities,” Temple says. “Jesus is building a multiethnic, multilingual Church.”