“Chuck, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was a legalistic pastor.”
Ben Mogos looked Chuck Swindoll in the eye. Twilight had fallen. The soft glow of candles on the table and spotlights shining up the Library of Celsus illuminated the young pastor’s face and the older pastor’s understanding eyes. “I was a believer, already in ministry, but I didn’t understand grace,” Ben confessed. “I worked under a man who told me to beat people with the Scriptures. I would deliver messages like that and receive praise. But later, I felt so guilty.”
“The Holy Spirit was moving you toward grace...” Chuck prompted.
“Long before I even knew what grace was!” Ben’s voice filled with gratitude. “The change started when I took a seminary course with the BEST required reading—your book The Grace Awakening. Chuck, it was the first time I felt built up, healed, by the Scriptures—not beaten down!”
* * * *
Ben and Anda, whose story we began sharing in the article From Regime to Restoration, grew up in communist Romania—Ben in a home with parents who proclaimed the Gospel in secret...Anda in an atheistic home of a man committed to the communist army. After the revolution, Anda’s father became a believer. Then, Ben and Anda—who had not yet met—also placed their faith in Christ. After meeting at a summer camp, they ended up at the same Bible college, fell in love, married, and began in ministry.
The young Mogoses were dedicated to serving the Lord. But guilt tugged on Ben’s heart as he preached legalistic messages; he couldn’t escape the feeling that he was missing something. Then, Anda’s father—who had been discharged from the communist army with Leukemia and returned as Romania’s first chaplain—died. Anda was devastated. She had believed wholeheartedly that the Lord would heal her father. Her heartbreak grew into disillusionment.
Meanwhile, Ben began looking for new training opportunities. Through some missionary friends, he and Anda learned about Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). It quickly became their “impossible dream.” There was no way they could afford it, but they began to pray.
Ultimately, scholarships paved their way to Dallas. They had less than $250 dollars; they knew no one in Texas, had never even visited! They came with faith in their hearts...and Anda with an ultimatum.
“I was in a dark place,” she recalls. “I had gone through a series of disappointments, and as we left for DTS, I told the Lord, ‘God, this is Your last chance with me.’ Thankfully, He complied! Getting to know Him as the God of grace was like being parched and being given a bottle of water. It was so healing for me to meet God the way He really is, and not the way I thought He was.”
That introduction happened for Anda the same way it did for Ben—through The Grace Awakening. “I was in one room of our home reading The Grace Awakening,” Ben shares. “I got to a part that overwhelmed me so much that I had to share it with Anda. I found her in our bedroom, reading the exact same part with tears streaming down her face!”
As their lives began to be transformed by grace, Ben told Anda that he wanted to translate The Grace Awakening into Romanian. Not long after, they heard an announcement at DTS about an Insight for Living Ministries’ “brown bag.” Looking to expand into Europe, the ministry had invited interested students to bring sack lunches to an informative meeting. When Ben and Anda heard “Romania” in the announcement, they started packing their brown bags! At that meeting, Ben handed a staff member The Grace Awakening, asking “What can we do to get this into Romanian?”
“Never could I have dreamed what would happen next!” he laughs.
What happened next was, over four years, Ben and Anda became the prototype for Vision 195. While both were enrolled at DTS—Ben in pursuit of a ThM and Anda of an MA in Biblical Counseling—Ben became an intern at Stonebriar Community Church, where Chuck serves as senior pastor-teacher.
As Chuck puts it, “Ben was an intern on steroids!” He not only met with Chuck and the other pastors regularly to get the behind-the-scenes of church ministry, he and Anda both interned at Insight for Living Ministries. They rotated through every department, learning Insight’s beliefs, processes, and commitment to excellence.
In 2010, the couple graduated from DTS and Chuck ordained Ben. With a healthy church, wonderful friendships, steady incomes, and a comfortable home, returning to Romania didn’t make sense. Yet, the Lord was calling them home. Ben looks back:
Our days in Dallas were the best time of our lives. Why would we go back? Everybody else that we knew in Romania was trying to GET to the United States for a better life! But the Lord called us back. So we prayed: How would it happen? What would we live on? Whom would we work with? Where would we stay? Then one day, it dawned on me: If God was able to bring us from Romania to the US with just a couple hundred dollars in our pockets, could He not do it the other way around?
Stepping into the unknown back to Romania marks one of the Mogoses’ biggest leaps of faith. Their return brought them to Romania’s capital, Bucharest. In this city of two million, only one half of one percent are evangelical Christians...even fewer are Christians who understand God’s grace. Ben describes their calling:
The Lord called us back here with a vision to plant a church that would be Christ-honoring, Gospel-centered, and grace-oriented. That’s why we named the church Agape Church. That’s our mission statement: transformed by the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.
Agape Church started with five people meeting in Ben and Anda’s apartment living room. Ben “just did” what he had learned at DTS and from Chuck—he taught the Scriptures, leading the little congregation in verse by verse exposition. As these five nearly strangers began to study the Word, share meals, and host events, their numbers grew.
Romanians’ hungry souls were drawn to the spiritual meals Ben prepared every week from the Scriptures using the methods Chuck has laid out in Searching the Scriptures—the same methods Insight for Living Ministries is now using to train pastors for Vision 195. As Ben says, “Nothing compares to sharing God’s Word, making it applicable, and then watching the Holy Spirit transform lives!”
As Agape Church outgrew one location after another, Ben and Anda welcomed their son, David, and the Lord worked behind the scenes growing another dream—one they had been praying about since 2006. “In 2011, when Insight asked, ‘Would you translate Chuck’s messages into Romanian?’ I knew the ‘right’ answer was, ‘I’ll pray about that.’” Ben says laughing. “But I couldn’t hold back. My answer was, ‘YES!! Like, yesterday, YES!!”
Then, in 2012, the Lord took Agape Church to a location Ben and Anda could never have dreamed: the small theater of a former communist community center in downtown Bucharest...just a few yards from the National Theatre. Ben says, “Everybody in Bucharest knows about this building, and if you ask me how we got it, all I can say is, it was God’s doing! In Romania, still years after the revolution, it matters who you know. And we didn’t know anybody except the Lord.”
As the Mogoses continued Agape Church and Anda launched her counselling ministry, they also began working to establish Insight for Living Romania. The office officially opened in 2015 and now runs under Ben’s leadership as pastor and Anda’s as executive director, through the donations of God’s people.
And that’s the story—the one only God could write of how the fearful young boy who once kept watch while his parents illegally transcribed Christian resources...and the hungry young girl who once waited with her communist father in the line for food rations came to proclaim His grace in their homeland among a people starving for spiritual nourishment.
Today, Agape Church meets in another location near the National Theatre and is the only evangelical church in downtown Bucharest. Along with Insight for Living Romania, it’s also one of Romania’s only voices of grace. Which takes us back to that night at the Library of Celsus...
“Do evangelicals in Romania accept you, or are you a heretic for teaching grace?” Chuck asked. The starry sky, the sounds of a string trio, the breathtaking remnants of history thousands of years old—none of it could overshadow the significance of this conversation in this place.
The Library of Celsus stands prominently in the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus...just a few yards away from the Ephesus Theater, the amphitheater where the silversmith Demetrius started the riot that drove the Apostle Paul out of the city (Acts 19). Paul had been preaching a gospel unlike any the people had heard. Demetrius made his living crafting shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. Outraged that Paul had convinced many that gods made by men are no gods at all, Demetrius organized the tradespeople to rid Ephesus of the apostle.
Legalism isn’t all that different from idolatry. Both rely on humanmade constructs. Ben, preaching near Romania’s National Theatre, could have been driven out of Bucharest just as the people in the Ephesus Theater drove out Paul. Ben and Anda, through their church and Insight for Living Romania, have proclaimed the same message he did—and it’s just as radical as it was then:
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
“For a long time, the other evangelical leaders didn’t trust me,” Ben answered his mentor. “But they’ve watched our ministry, and I am excited to tell you that the Baptist college there, even though they don’t believe all the things I preach, has just invited me to teach!”
A broad smile spread across Chuck’s face. No matter how many years go by, the power of grace never fails to amaze him: “Now, isn’t that something!”