Stefan and Doina Varo, rural Brodhead, fled Romania in 1982 and came to the United States with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and an extra change of clothes. Today, they are reaching out to the people of Romania and all of Europe through a nonprofit Christian broadcasting ministry. Through hard work and God’s grace, they have achieved what many call the American dream.
The Varos left Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania, when they were 25 and 24 years respectively, because they felt they had no future there because of the communist leadership.
“If you are a Christian, you aren’t a Communist, and if you aren’t a Communist, you cannot do anything,” Stefan explained.
Stefan was a tool and dye maker in Romania. Doina worked in a factory. The couple had an 18-month-old daughter, Lois. They planned their escape over a few months, and when the night came to leave, they told no one except Doina’s mother, who would be caring for Lois. It was very dangerous for anyone to know about the escape as they could be punished so the fewer people who knew, the better.
They slipped into the night on September 1 and joined other refugees. There were 11 in all. For three days, they walked through forests and up and down mountains. Because the forests were so thick, they could only travel during the day. It was an exhausting trek with hot days and cold nights, filled with fear and apprehension. Anyone could turn them in for reward money, and if they were caught, they faced cruel treatment and imprisonment.
After three days, the hungry, thirsty group came to the Danube River, the second longest river in Europe, and one of the principal transportation arteries on the continent (Microsoft Encarta, 2006).
A Romanian border patrol came very close to the group. The patrol could see them clearly.
“If they heard, they didn’t get involved. Usually, if they see you, they shoot you. It was a miracle,” Stefan said.
The thankful group swam across the Danube, which is so deep, ships anchor in it. Because Doina doesn’t know how to swim, Stefan pulled her across in an inner tube from his car tire. All eleven made it safely to the shores of Yugoslavia.
There were times of discouragement when they wondered if they should just surrender, but Stefan pressed on. He told the group that God had spoken to him, and he knew that they would get through. He doesn’t know what happened to everyone as they were all captured by the Yugoslavian police and sent to a prison for one month. It felt like a lot longer, however, because Doina went to the women’s section, and he went to the men’s section. It is hard to describe this difficult time when they were not allowed to talk. They were imprisoned for trespassing, illegal entry without a passport. Yugoslavia sends many people back to Romania. The Varos didn’t know what the criteria were, but they were interviewed and sent to a United Nations refugee camp.
There they stayed for six months, just waiting and wondering about their fate. They made an appointment with the United States counselor at the Embassy in Yugoslavia, and were granted an interview after one month. Their interview was quite short—only 15 minutes. Some are very long so they do not know why theirs was so short. The Embassy counselor asked them where they wanted to go, what their nationality was, what their religion was, if they used alcohol, drugs, or were members of the communist party. At the end of the day, they learned that they were coming to the United States—either Chicago or Los Angeles.
The refugee camp was like a 120-room hotel. They were given shelter and food, for which they were thankful. Since they only had one change of clothes, and they had no money, when winter came, they were very cold.
Free at Last
A week before their departure, they were given tickets. Two churches had offered to sponsor the couple, one from each city. The Varos, knowing no English, arrived in March in Chicago where they had friends. The Catholic church paid their tickets with the condition that they eventually pay them back so that the church could help others. The Varos gladly accepted these terms.
Their Chicago friends took them in for about three weeks. During this time, they found a place to stay with others from the refugee camp. There were three families in one apartment.
The Catholic church was eager to help the refugee couple; however, Stefan had already found a job in maintenance for a real estate company and declined their assistance. This was the first time this had ever happened to the sponsoring church and they were amazed. Doina soon found employment cleaning offices as well.
The couple worked hard and saved. Stefan actually worked two full-time jobs because he had to drive Doina, who did not know how to drive, so he cleaned offices too.
After a year, Stefan returned to school to study structural engineering. He was promoted to assistant engineer and later engineer at the real estate company. This company was contracted to manage high rise HUD buildings. The couple said that it took them about a year to speak English.
When Lois was three, she rejoined her parents. The Varos applied through the Red Cross to have their daughter sent to them. This was the only way that they could get her because she was a minor, and they had escaped.
In 1989, the Varos purchased an abandoned farm in rural Brodhead after an extensive three year search, driving the countryside. Stefan had loved visiting his grandparents in the country and yearned for a country home. They returned on weekends to remodel the house. Eventually, they sold that house and had it moved, and built their current home on the property.
Through hard work at their jobs and through investments, the couple began to prosper. Stefan started his own real estate investment company, which he moved to Madison.
The Varos have five children: two married daughters, Lois, Madison, and Judy, Chicago, and three at home, Ray, 16, Nicole, 14, and Rueben, 10. They have one granddaughter.
The Romanian Ministry
In December 1989, the communist government fell and a noncommunist form of government was installed. Three years ago, the Varos started planning for the nonprofit Christian ministry in Romania. Last year in September, they started broadcasting Christian television. The programming includes talk shows, cartoons, movies, documentaries, etc. The station reaches all over Europe, the northern part of Africa, and the Middle East. People with a dish may view the programming for free. There is no subscription. Over the internet, the entire world may view their station. They recently celebrated their first anniversary. Future goals include bringing the signal to the United States.
Currently, the programming is 80 percent English and 20 percent Romanian because the American Christian television broadcasters have donated programming, which they are currently translating. They have also purchased some programming, but they believe that they have received $10-20 million worth of material.
“It has been a lot of work,” Stefan said. “That’s how God works. If we had known, we probably wouldn’t want to do it, but it has been worth it.”
Those wishing to learn about this ministry may log on to www.credotelevision.org. At this site, you may view the programming, as well as learn about charitable giving opportunities. An updated website will be coming in September.
Stefan is the vice president of Credo Television, which employs 20 people. Stefan travels over a few times each year to meet with them.
“It’s a miracle. God did it,” the Varos are quick to point out. “It is hard to see how we have stayed open this far.”
They know people who struggle to get two hours of Christian programming aired per week, and they are airing their programs 24 hours, seven days per week. Stefan said that it is very hard to get Christian television in Europe because they have become a very secular continent. Romania is still open for such broadcasts. In fact, people from Belgium and Holland come to broadcast from Romania because Christian radio and television businesses have been shut down in their own countries.
Some said that they would survive only two or three months. It has been a year, and they are expanding. “God is great,” Stefan says humbly. “God called us to do this. We did what He said and He has blessed the ministry.”
The Romanian Church
The Varos are members of the 850-member Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Chicago. To see what Romanian church is like, people may visit www.elimro.com. Pastor Rob Gibson of Living Word Tabernacle in Brodhead will be preaching at this church in October, and people may view the service at this site. There is a link to Credo Television there also.
From the nightmarish trek across Romania to the free world, the Varos have seen the hand of God on their lives. They hope to be able to share their faith and set others free spiritually through their ministry efforts. God has blessed them and now they bless others. If you would like to offer your support to their efforts, please check out the websites mentioned above.
By Michelle R. Welsh
Originally published in the Brodhead Independent-Register, September 5, 2007.