Jesse Powers: A Heart for Romania

Nearly 77 years ago, God placed on the heart of Jesse Powers a love for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since that time, the evangelist has been faithfully proclaiming the Savior’s message around the country and in many parts of the world. At age 91, he is still obeying God’s call given to him so many years ago.

Jesse was saved at age 14 and sensed God’s call to preach “almost immediately after conversion.” He would eventually graduate from Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University). From there, he traveled to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, where he earned a master of divinity degree. During his studies, he served churches in both South Carolina and Texas.

While a college student, Powers made his first international mission trip — to Haiti. Afterward, he would lead his churches to travel on missions to Jamaica, Honduras and Puerto Rico, as well as return trips to Haiti.

Powers moved to Charleston in 1971 and entered full-time evangelism. For several decades, he has preached in revival meetings, associational events, state conventions and Bible conferences from “South Carolina to Texas to Maine to Hawaii.” While crisscrossing the country in hundreds of these meetings, he has shared his love for reaching the lost in foreign lands. Along the way, many pastors and lay people have joined with him in this vision.

Beginning with the fall of communism in eastern Europe, Powers sensed God leading him to take the gospel to one of the former Soviet Bloc nations. In 1991 he, along with a group of pastors and lay people from South Carolina, traveled to Romania on an initial fact-finding trip. While on this trip, they discovered a nation with slightly more than 23 million people, but with less than 10 percent of the population being Christian. Powers said that the number of evangelical believers was far less.

During that 1991 trip, a believer from Romania showed a map of his country to them and said: “There are 14,000 cities, towns and villages across our country with no evangelical church.” Upon hearing that, Powers and others on the team began to sense God was leading them to begin a work in the former communist country.

Since that initial mission trip in 1991, Powers has led nearly 60 trips to Romania with mission teams comprised of both pastors and laymen numbering in the hundreds. These teams preach, sing, share testimonies, hand out Bibles and tracts, and visit prisons and children’s homes around the region of Cluj, Romania.

“When we first began going to Romania,” said Powers, “there were few churches with a sanctuary to meet in for worship. Back then communists did not permit them to have such facilities except in rare instances. So, we began raising money to take with us to help them build places of worship.”

Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given by individuals and churches in the U.S. to build church facilities in Romania. Around 60 church buildings have been constructed in the Cluj region as a result of the efforts of Powers and his teams.

A few years after the Romania ministry began, Power’s wife, Wilma, asked him: “You’re constructing church buildings, and that’s good — but what are you doing to invest in people?”

Powers said that penetrating question led to a new phase in the work. His teams began taking medical supplies, which were greatly needed by the Romanians, as well as money to purchase food for the hungry. Additionally, money was raised to help Christian students in Romania to further their studies in Bible colleges and seminaries.

Even though Powers can no longer travel to Romania, he still works throughout the year to assist in sending teams to continue the work. One of those teams will go in April to work on building another house of worship for one of the Romanian congregations. Another mission trip is shaping up for November.

Powers hasn’t stopped preaching, either. Each Sunday and Wednesday, he can be heard preaching the gospel in the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Johns Island. He took the church as interim pastor eight years ago and later was asked to continue as its pastor.

Romania is more than 5,000 miles from Charleston, but it’s not so far away in the heart of Evangelist Jesse Powers. He has spent the last 30 years taking the gospel message to that country because of his heart for missions.

(On a personal note: My journey into international missions began with an invitation from Jesse Powers to join his team on a trip to Romania in 1997. I, along with others from our congregation, made this trip and were forever changed.)

— Tim Clark is pastor of Holly Springs Baptist Church in Inman.