Pioneers in Brasov: How One Small Family Is Growing the Church in Romania

Contributed By Laurie Williams Sowby, Church News contributor

  • 11 January 2019

Brasov’s old town square remains a gathering place for families like the Mescos, converts who are committed to building the Church in their area. Photo by Laurie Williams Sowby.

BRASOV, ROMANIA

Cristina and Ivan Mesco watch their two children with delight as Amina, 5, and Filip, 3, dash around the ancient water fountain in Brasov’s old town square giggling and squealing and poking their fingers into the water bubbling from the spigot.

The centuries-old city in central Romania, part of the scenic Transylvania region and surrounded by the Southern Carpathian mountains, is where the Mescos have chosen to sink their roots as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

They live in an apartment building outside the historic center and attend church at the small meetinghouse of the Brasov Branch, where Ivan serves as branch president and Cristina oversees a small group of children ages 3–7 in the Primary.

The branch lies within the Bucharest District of the Church’s recently-realigned boundaries of the Hungary-Romania Mission, whose headquarters are in Budapest, Hungary. There are approximately 3,000 members in Romania in 15 congregations.

The Mescos joined the Church eight years ago, each of them leaving the Romanian Orthodox religion that more than 80 percent of Romanians claim.

The two met before that, when neither were members. Ivan had been a truck driver, traveling all over Europe.

“I was having the time of my life as a single man,” he said, “but something was missing.”

He decided on a whim to pray and ask God to help him meet someone he could spend his life with. Two weeks later, when a coworker knocked on his door and offered to introduce him to a relative, he was ready.

Cristina and Ivan immediately hit it off—despite their nine-year age difference—but the fact that she was a university student in the capital city, Bucharest, and his work was based in Brasov, 105 miles (170 kilometers) north, meant they could see each other only on weekends. Taking the train one direction or the other became a weekly occurrence.

Cristina and Ivan Mesco and their children, Filip, 3, and Amina, 5, attend and serve in the Brasov Branch, where Ivan is branch president. Photo by Laurie Williams Sowby.

Catherine’s Gate, built in 1559, is the only gate of the medieval city still standing in Brasov, Romania. Photo by Laurie Williams Sowby.

It was on one of those trips that Cristina met the missionaries. She had been praying nightly, and “God had prepared me to have an open heart,” she said. “I felt peace when I met them.”

She began meeting with them and found her questions answered as she prayed before and after reading passages in the Book of Mormon.

“Some words seemed written for me,” she said.

She set a baptismal date, then another, then another.

Meanwhile, Ivan had run across an intriguing title at a book fair about ancient prophets and wondered why there weren’t any prophets nowadays.

“I felt there was more,” he recalled, speaking in English, which he honed over the years. He again prayed to find answers to his questions. “I need more light,” he remembers telling God.

Four days later, when he was in Bucharest to see Cristina, he attended the Bucharest Branch with her and met the missionaries. The fast and testimony meeting was filled with the Spirit, but as the congregation began to sing together, Ivan felt ashamed and uncomfortable with something that felt completely new to him. Looking back, he contrasts that uncomfortable first encounter with the powerful experience that singing the hymns with others has become for him.

The missionaries gave him a Book of Mormon, and Ivan returned to Brasov and his old life, not realizing there was a branch of the Church meeting together there.

“As I was reading, I felt it was true, like lost memories coming to life,” he said. About halfway through the book, “I realized my life needed to be aligned with what I was reading and with the will of God.”

When the Brasov missionaries called, Ivan was eager to meet them. They couldn’t believe it when he told them he’d been able to stop smoking, literally overnight.

Without either Ivan or Cristina planning it, their baptisms were scheduled for the same day, July 3, 2010. Ivan was baptized in the morning and was able to travel to Cristina’s baptism in Bucharest in the afternoon.

As they were living far apart, Ivan and Cristina began growing apart. But as Ivan looked for ways to rebuild their relationship, he received a personal revelation: “Remember how you met her.”

Recalling how his coworker had knocked on his door after he’d prayed to meet someone he could spend his life with, Ivan felt their next step was marriage. Cristina agreed, and they were legally wed in January 2011, six months after their baptisms.

The Mescos were sealed in the Freiberg Germany Temple in 2012 and continue to enjoy semiannual trips to the temple with three families in their small van, talking and singing during the 19-hour journey.

Ivan now works in vehicle accident insurance, and Cristina works from home for a telemarketing company. She said the gospel has helped her be more patient with the children and has taught her how to teach them to pray and share.

Cristina said she hopes her children will grow up to be missionaries like the ones who brought her and Ivan into the Church. “I want them to be a light to people around them,” she said.

The Mescos are determined to remain in Brasov and help build the Church there. Noting that many Romanians left the country after communism fell in December 1989, Ivan said he is happy for his family to have “the opportunity to be spiritual anchors” in the land of their birth.

“We are pioneers in Romania,” he said, smiling.

The Mesco family enjoys a fountain in the historic main square of Brasov. The Southern Carpathian mountains surround the town. Photo by Laurie Williams Sowby.

The main square in Brasov, originally built nine centuries ago, was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the walled city in 1689. Photo by Laurie Williams Sowby.

Materials in the Romanian language greet visitors in the foyer of the Brasov Branch meetinghouse. Photo by Laurie Williams Sowby.

The Brasov Branch has one of few actual meetinghouses in Romania and has around 40 members in attendance for weekly Sunday services. Many branches meet in rented spaces or homes. Photo by Laurie Williams Sowby.