By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
MADISONVILLE –Romanian Andrei Parvu and American Ethan Todd have grown in their individual faith in God and in their friendship with each other as they have faced hardships from the red tape encountered in attempting to obtain governmental approval for Parvu to serve as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Madisonville.
“It’s been hard, especially at the beginning,” said Parvu, who has briefly transitioned from pastor to volunteer until he officially obtains a green card that will allow him to return to his former role. “The fact that God initiated this process gave me the confidence and assurance I needed to know that He who begins a good work for us here at First Madisonville, He will be the one to bring it to completion.
“I knew the Lord would provide for us,” said Parvu. “I have people who ask ‘How do you make it without receiving compensation.’ It’s been a journey of faith, but the Lord never forsook us.”
Parvu became pastor of FBC Madisonville in January 2017, soon after he graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allow international students, classified as F-1, to work for one year on a student visa towards getting on-the-job experience in their field of study. In a year, the church grew from 25 people in Sunday morning worship service to 55.
Then this past January, he was forced to resign because his permission to participate in Optional Practical Training had expired. Consequently, he was no longer able to legally serve as pastor or receive any form of compensation for his work.
Todd, who had served as a volunteer and later as a staff member with the congregation since he started classes at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2014, assumed the role of associate pastor when Parvu resigned.
While the thought of leaving the church for another congregation was tempting, Todd told the Baptist Message he knew God wanted him to remain at First Madisonville so he could help Parvu obtain official permission as a foreign national to live and work permanently in the United States. It is commonly called a green card.
The lengthy governmental process began in February 2017, when the USCIS required the church to complete an equal opportunity audit to prove the church was earnestly trying to hire an immigrant.
Meanwhile, Parvu and his wife, Helga, moved out of the church parsonage, and he stopped receiving a salary in order to comply with the law.
At the same time, Todd was dealing with an urge to move onto another church and undertake another revitalization effort like the one he was a part of at First Madisonville. But, he felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit to remain and help it navigate through the tedious immigration process so Parvu could officially return as pastor.
“I had been talking to people about doing ministry and one day I started praying,” Todd said. “You have those prayers where God is slapping you on the hand and getting you to think reasonably with common sense. He made me realize with the church’s situation Andrei won’t be able to be paid. God was saying you abandon this church now and it won’t make it through this.
“I argued with God I only had a master’s degree and He needed someone with a Ph.D. in church administration,” he continued. “God said, ‘You are not qualified for it, but are the best option they have.’ Andrei and I just sat down and you could see the deep concern on Andrei’s face because he knew this was not a good situation.”
Committed to help his friend obtain a green card, Todd worked more than 40 hours a week and sought the help of financial advisors, lawyers and Certified Public Accountants. To his surprise, many of those he called offered to work at a low cost, and some even donated money to the church to assist in their cause.
“I would talk to different law offices and we got different responses,” Todd said. “Some said, ‘You are insane,’ and would hang up on me, others were like, ‘I respect your bravery so much I am charging you half of what we charge,’ or they said, ‘I so respect your faith in this I won’t profit in this.’”
“It’s like everyone was on our side,” he continued. “They would sit and talk with us and say I will help you through this. It was so amazing the encouragement we got. It was so amazing with me being so underqualified, but everyone was picking me up on their shoulders.”
While Todd and Parvu were engulfed in legal work, the church continued to grow and reach the surrounding community. Through door-to-door evangelism and events at the church such as a yearly community appreciation lunch and trunk or treat, the men saw God multiply the flock.
In 2017, the church added four new members through baptism. Since January 2018, they have seen another two baptized and anticipate more taking that step of faith before the year concludes.
“The thing I love about our story is the miracle God has performed,” Parvu said. “When things like this happen, I love it because the only thing I can do is move out of the way and give Him all the glory. When we are faithful in serving Him, He can do things far beyond our understanding or far beyond what we can think or imagine. We have seen this here in an amazing way. It’s God’s grace and we are so grateful for it.”
Andrei and Helga Parvu currently live on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus and continue to take graduate courses to expand their education, patiently awaiting the USCIS office to process the remaining documents, while anxious to receive the documents that will allow them to move back to serve their church family in Madisonville.