A traumatic childhood experience has given Cristian Copaceanu a better understanding of God's ultimate promise.
I was only four at the time, but the mind has an uncanny ability to remember things from a very young age. Dad packed all the clothes my sister and I possessed into a small suitcase and together we silently made the long drive to Grandma's place. I was miserable. But not because of the vicious blizzard outside, rather more for the reason we were going to Grandma's. Dad tried explaining it as best as he could. Mum just cried. We arrived at Grandma's house, a small cottage in a dilapidated country town. Not much to look at on the outside, nor on the inside for that matter, but it was kept comfortably warm from a constantly burning fireplace. Before he said goodbye, I asked once more why we couldn't go with them.
“Well,” he said, “you know the government borrowed our house. Now Mummy and I are going very far away to build a new house. And, when it's ready, we'll come and take you there.” “And will it be just us in the house?” I asked hopefully.
“Promise. Just us.” As he kissed us goodbye, I tried to figure out why he was crying. Dad never cried. Why cry over building a new house? I had many questions, but no answers.
It was 1987. We lived in the “workers paradise.” Romania was under the communist rule of Nicolae Ceausescu and there was no hint of improvement. Citizens had food rations enough to feed half their family. That's when there was food in the shops.
Young and old would start lining up at 4 am just on gossip that the local supermarket was bringing in butter, jam or sugar. The lines would stretch for kilometres up the road and more often than not, those who started lining up at 6 am missed out. We, however, were in a better position.
Dad had served a two-year jail sentence in a hard labour prison camp for being a Christian and thus his criminal record prevented him from living or working in the city. He was forced to move to the country where he worked in agriculture, which was a blessing as we could grow our own food.
We lived in a tiny and cramped twobedroom house with dad's brother and his family but, by any standard, we were well into the echelons of the upper class because we had a car.
Dad had tried for several years to build another house so we didn't have to share such a small house with relatives. Time after time, the government had denied his applications.
After numerous attempts however, they approved, and construction began.
When the walls were up, the government inspector arrived and ordered construction to cease immediately. Apparently the plans were not in tune with government regulations. No explanation was given.
The following day, another inspector ordered the building demolished without reason. The third day, still another official confiscated the land. To this day no one knows why.
Dad reached boiling point. This was the last straw, of thousands so far. It was a regime that either brainwashed you into a mindless zombie, or drove you insane. Such instances, together with hundreds of other abuses, led Dad to breaking point. He was going to escape.
He discreetly left us with Grandma and, together with Mum, after a perilous six-day hike, crossed the border into Serbia where they handed themselves in as refugees. Several months later they were granted refugee status by Australia.
Meanwhile, two young children missed their parents immensely. It was more than one-and-a-half years before we were reunited but we never lost hope. We knew Romania was not our home and that Mum and Dad had gone to prepare a better place for us. One day they would take us to that better home. Though the winters were cold, food scarce and the living conditions well below the poverty line, we had hope that could not wipe the smiles off our faces.
People would ask us, “Where's your dad?” “He's gone to make us a house.” “But when is he coming back?” “Any day now, any day.” “Sure?” “Definitely, he promised.” The smiles never disappeared. We were going to a better place.
Another story comes to mind.
A small group of men are invited to join a new movement.
The young leader is full of energy, and dispenses warmth and charisma like no other. He speaks with power, clarity and conviction.
Everywhere He goes, people follow. His popularity explodes on the national scene when He begins to heal all kinds of diseases and even brings the dead to life.
His associates had been peasants, fishermen and tax agents but with the rise of their Master, they too had been thrust into the spotlight.
They had greatly enjoyed the wave of popularity from being associated with the young Teacher. But almost overnight His popularity dwindled and the crowds dispersed to other entertainment. Making matters worse, the authorities were now after them, trying under any pretext to arrest them as criminals.
That wasn't the end of it. This very night, over dinner, their Master announced He was leaving. They could not come with Him. Here today, gone tomorrow.
What would they do? They had left profitable careers behind. Who would employ them now? What would their family and friends say? There would be ridicule, scorn and mocking. Yet this they could endure.
The heart-wrenching pain came from their disappointment over their Teacher's departure. He had instilled hope and a purpose for living in their hearts. If He left, who would teach them, love them, guide them? This was too much to bear.
Pete, a rough and violent type, speaks first. He is a “men don't cry” kind of guy. His brain always functions slower than the rest of his body. Punch now, ask questions later. With tears forming in his eyes, he asks the question on everyone's mind.
“Why can't I follow you now?” In between the lines you can read Pete's thoughts: I would rather die than live a day apart from you. I would rather die than go back home alone. Take me with you.
Have you ever tenderly held the hand of a loved one as they try, despite their best efforts, to smile above the despair clearly written on their face? The doctors excuse themselves with a catastrophic “I'm sorry, there's nothing more we can do.” You look into that face you love and see the cancer, the tumour, the disease eating not only the body but also the soul. You see hope slowly fade away.
With each passing blink the eyelids grow heavier. You tighten your grip. Maybe if you hold on tight enough they won't go.
You'd swap places instantly if possible.
You'd walk a thousand kilometres, on your knees, if it would only add another day. You squeeze the hand a little tighter.
But this time no-one squeezes back. The eyes are closed. The warmth departs. You wish you, too, could close your eyes for eternity.
How can you go on alone? Why live another day? What hope is there in the face of suffering, pain and stress? Back to that evening dinner. Pete just asked, “Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37).
Jesus answers: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms [dwelling places]; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).
A glimmer of hope lights in the disciples' hearts. Jesus is not leaving forever.
He is going to prepare something much better. Then He's coming back for them.
In fact, this “better” place is so good that Peter was ready to be crucified upside down for it. James was cut in two.
John died in exile on a lonely island.
Stephen was stoned to death by his own countrymen and hundreds of millions since then have lost their lives while holding on to this grand hope of something better. What is this hope that leads men to give up life and love? “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
There is an end in sight. There is life after life. Jesus is coming back to take us home.
Just think on this description for a few moments: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'” (Revelation 21:1-4).
There will be no more goodbyes, no more tears, anxiety or depression. If that isn't enough to inspire hope, then nothing else ever can or will. It is almost too good to be true but the Bible is full of numerous predictions that have come true to the very hour.
The books of Daniel and Revelation have predicted world history with stunning accuracy. The birth of Jesus, the Saviour, was foretold to the very year.
So was His sacrificial death on the cross, which can clean us from sin and selfishness.
His death brings us life.
The only major biblical prophecy not yet fulfilled is the liberation from sin and Satan at the return of Jesus and His heavenly army. Because every other prophecy and promise has come true there is no reason to doubt the promise of Jesus' soon return, where He will take us home, to a better place.
It won't be long; any day now, any day.