HAMPSTEAD — What a difference a year makes.
In 1989, a ministry group from a Hampstead church was denied access when it tried to enter Romania.
Last November, the group -- called Project Barnabas II -- not only entered the country, but distributed scripture and visited an orphanage. The group also ministered in the Soviet Union.
The Rev. Chris Brammer, 36, pastor of Hampstead Baptist Church, undertook a trip to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with a team of 12 pastors, 18 students and 18 lay people.
"(Romania and the Soviet Union) have beenneglected so many years of spiritual food and Bibles," the reverend said. "I wanted to be on the cutting edge of a mission project."
The trip was organized by Vernon Brewer, leader of Light Ministries and director of student ministries at Liberty College in Lynchburg, Va., and Rick Amato, a Lincoln Park, Mich., evangelist with Rick Amato Ministries.
Members of the Project Barnabas II team handed out 50,000 New Testaments in Romania and 60,000 in Russia, in addition to otherChristian literature.
Still, it was "a drop in the bucket," said Brammer, since the population of the Soviet capital of Moscow alone exceeds 9 million.
Church groups donated money for the Bibles, which were distributed on the street, in schools and in churches. Shipmentsalso went to pastors in Siberia.
After departing from Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., and stopping over in Frankfurt and Munich, Hungarian pastor Andrew Lovas greeted the group in Budapest, with McDonald's hamburgers, no less.
Four hours later the group arrived at the Hungarian-Romanian border, where the line of people waiting toemigrate from Romania was 2 miles long, Brammer said.
He described Romania as "depressing, but with a lot of hope."
"The church iseager to do things. It was exciting to see the spiritual hunger of the people and their eagerness to hear."
In Oradea, the team handed out 2,500 copies of "Good News for Romania" in 25 minutes. Amato gave a three-night ministry at the Oradea Sports Center. Attendance averaged 5,000.
Oradea, which has a population of 250,000, is home to fourBaptist churches. Baptist Church No. 2, whose pastor the group met, conducts two services for its 3,500 members and is one of the leadingchurches in Romania.
Brammer said one minister may serve 12 churches, and that Bibles and Christian training books are in short supply.
"The people have a heart of gold," said Brammer.
Most Romanians are very poor, he said, and the country looks much like the United States did back in 1945. Little progress has been made, and the standard of living is low. For example, it took 11 hours to get a phone call through to home.
Group members also visited an Oradea orphanage, which was home for 400 children and touted to be one of the country'sbest. But the sanitary conditions were deplorable, Brammer said.
Returning to Budapest, they found better conditions, growing prosperity, and a comfortable hotel. The government works with the pastors and people can buy Bibles. Kispest Baptist Church, pastored by Lovas, organized a youth ministry.
In Bucharest "the people were running after us for scripture," Brammer said.
Upon arriving in Moscow, the group found a gloomy scene, Brammer said. At the 25-story Hotel Cosmos, "the lobby was nice, but the rooms were dirty," he said. The hotel ismainly for tourists and Soviet citizens are not allowed in unless they know a guest.
Elsewhere in the city, the group members saw longlines and empty shelves at stores. Brammer and a friend gave out 200Bibles on the street in two hours. People offered them money, cigarettes and ice cream in return.
"We took the ice cream," he said.
AtRed Square, they viewed the body of Lenin encased in his glass tomb,and St. Basil's Cathedral.
"We had a Thanksgiving praise service," he said, adding that a curious crowd soon gathered to see what was happening.
People packed the only regular Baptist church in Moscow for a night service at which 16 people were baptized.
In addition, some 2,000 church groups, part of an underground movement, meet secretly in believers' homes. The Hampstead travelers worshiped with two of those groups. Members from one group said their pastor is in jail, and that others have been imprisoned for up to 11 years because of their religious beliefs.
Yet the significant social and political reforms that have occurred during the past year all over Eastern Europemade it possible for the Hampstead group to give out scripture, sing, and speak to teachers and students at public schools.
Family, friends and church members helped Brammer pay the $2,900 cost of the trip. He made a video to share with the 192-member congregation to which he has ministered for three years.
"My church is excited," he said. "It's a challenge to our youth."
Among his vivid impressions while abroad was witnessing the growing freedom to worship and freedom to possess a Bible.
"I'd like to have 80 lives to be a missionary to different countries," he said. "I got a new vision for missions."