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Journey To Freedom

March 23, 2023 - 4 minute read

Getting Access To Books Was A Big Deal, And When I Got A Book, I Lost Myself In It. Even Then I Knew Something Was Wrong With The World. My Mom Was Sick And My Parents Struggled With Daily Life, So I Lost Myself In Books.

English Professor Camelia Raghinaru found scholastic and spiritual freedom at Concordia after being born and raised in Communist Romania.

“I had a happy childhood, but looking back I realize how hard it was for my parents,” says the Romanian-born academic. “There were blackouts, days and nights with no electricity, no hot water — basic necessities like that.”

Her parents left their rural villages to work in factories in the city. Austere, communist-style buildings offered no hot water, and food was lacking at times.

“For us as children, we didn’t know any better. We were just happy to live the city life during the school year and village life during the summer,” says Raghinaru. “It’s a lost time in history, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see that because it gives me a perspective on life. The biggest thing for me, and I’ve thought about it often, is I realized that material goods and possessions are nice and comforting, but they’re not important. There’s so much more to life. You can live with so little. If you have more it’s nice, but it’s not necessary.”

In sometimes-harsh living conditions, books breathed life into Raghinaru’s imagination.

“Getting access to books was a big deal, and when I got a book, I lost myself in it,” she says. “Even then I knew something was wrong with the world. My mom was sick and my parents struggled with daily life, so I lost myself in books.”

Her mother — a peasant who became a nurse — developed breast cancer and died before seeing the end of communism. She had raised her children in the underground church, where the church leaders suffered persecution from the authorities, the pastor passing away in prison from illness. Raghinaru heard the gospel at a young age, but because church leaders were separated from training and mentorship, their brand of Christianity was sometimes rigid and legalistic.

“That’s how they understood it, very black and white, do’s and don’ts,” she says. “I had to work through that part of my theology emotionally and spiritually.”

In 1989, when Raghinaru was 13, dramatic events of history unfolded, including the summary trial and execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife.

“The thing I remember most vividly was being in bed at night and hearing gunshots outside,” she says. “Nobody knew what was happening. The revolutionaries had stormed the TV stations and took over and reported what was happening in the streets, but it wasn’t clear who was shooting whom.”

Armed forces splintered into factions, but one thing was certain: communism was over and the wall to the West had come down. Gone were the days of having to hide a radio in the closet to listen to the Voice of America program. Gone were days of missionaries smuggling Bibles and hymnals into the country. Now western popular culture rushed in so fast that it disoriented many.

“I remember MTV which was so confusing for us,” says Raghinaru. “Western entertainment came in like a wave — movies, TV, things we weren’t used to. From nothing to everything. As a teenager I had to sort through that.” 

By God’s grace, she says, missionaries arrived to provide deeper teaching, medical teams, and teams of American college students to put on campus in the former Eastern bloc. Raghinaru spent summers interpreting for American missionaries, and the church she attended grew.

“That’s where my formative years begin, with this sense of admiration for America,” she says. “They were pouring into us. We were young. It extended to me a sense of freedom; there was more to Christianity than I grew up with.”

She soon earned her BA in English language and literature at University of Transylvania, in the beautiful, mountainous region that provided the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (Raghinaru still takes her children there every summer so they can experience how she grew up.)

She then came to Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, as an international student and earned a master’s degree in English education. She later earned a second master’s degree at the University of Central Arkansas.

“The South is a great way to come to the U.S. because the people are so warm and friendly,” she says. “It’s a different culture. Everything slows down a bit.”

Next she moved to Florida — whose warm climate felt like “heaven” — to get a PhD at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Her first son was born while she was writing her dissertation on British and American modernism, focusing on authors like Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Joseph Conrad.

This Idea Of Vocation Really Spoke To Me...I Can Be A Mother And A Professor And Do My Research And It's All Part Of My Vocation.

Seven years later, she accepted a job at Concordia University Irvine.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in California,” she says. “I was really impressed with Concordia because it had such an intimate feel. This idea of vocation really spoke to me, that what we’re doing is not a job, it’s a vocation. It has allowed me to pour myself into it with a different mindset. I can be a mother and a professor and do my research and it’s all part of my vocation. It’s not just a job.”

At a deeper level, she found greater spiritual freedom through the Lutheran conception of the gospel presented in the Vision, Ministry, Vocation programs Concordia holds for new faculty.


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