Steliana Sandu: Dialogue with an Adventist researcher in Romania

Born in Ploiesti, Romania, Steliana Sandu graduated with a B.A. from the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies in 1968 and earned a Ph.D. degree in economics in 1986. Since then, she has been working in the Institute for Economic Research affiliated with the Romanian Academy of Sciences.

She has taught economics, statistics and history of economics in different Romanian universities. After 1990, she specialized in the economics of scientific research, technology transfer, and innovation and has become a recognized authority in this field both in her native land and abroad.

During 1993-1994, she was local coordinator of a World Bank project on higher education and scientific research reform in Romania. In 1994, she participated in the international seminar on “Science and Technology Policy” organized by the British Council. Between 1995-1996 she received a research grant to work in the University of Amsterdam on technology transfer and innovation with the collaboration of the Research and Technology Ministry in the area of politics of science. Dr. Sandu attended many scientific international conferences, was local coordinator for important international scientific projects, authored and co-authored many papers and books edited by prestigious Romanian and international publishing houses. She also teaches courses at the Adventist College near Bucharest.

Steliana, who joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church nine years ago, is enthusiastic about the church’s principles and eager to share them with her friends. Her involvement in scientific research does not prevent her from sharing her faith with colleagues and friends. She delights in being approachable, helpful to those who need advice and encouragement, or just being a friend to someone. Young people often find in her a sympathetic “mother,” and she finds her greatest joy to see them excel.

Dr. Sandu, did you grow up in a family with much educational opportunities?

No, I grew up in an extremely poor family. We had only skimpy clothes, little food, no toys, and not even beds. The four of us slept together in one bed. My mother was illiterate; she underwent compulsory alphabetization under communism. She had, however, an indomitable will.

How did you come to choose a career as a researcher?

When I finished high school, I wanted to work, but my mother implored me, literally on her knees, to go to college. After graduation, we had to choose our workplace from governmental distribution lists. I remember running down the list with my finger, pausing in surprise when I read “The Romanian Academy of Sciences.” The representative from the academy had other ideas: “We don’t accept women!” That was enough to make me determined to work there.

How did communism impact your study and work?

Well, in 1968, when I graduated, communism seemed to be a very convenient state of affairs; goods could be easily purchased, anyone could find employment. The devastation of the country’s economy had not yet begun. We only saw the bright side of things. Later, however, the contrast between the actual situation and the communist propaganda was so stark that it was difficult for me to continue teaching my university students lies contradicted by reality.

As I look back, however, on the work done during those years at the institute, I am not ashamed. I specialized in comparative economics, and so was able to say many things indirectly, just by describing the situation in our country against that in others.

The situation became more difficult when our institute came under direct control of the Communist Party’s Supreme Council of Social Economic Development. We would begin our reports by stating Comrade Nicolae Ceausescu’s position on the subject matter, but then the remainder of the class would have shocked the Comrade, had he listened to them.

Your mother, though a deeply religious person, was not an Adventist. How did you come to join the church?

Both my parents were devoutly religious—in fact, they met in the missionary activities of the evangelical wing of the Romanian Orthodox Church (though later my father became a Communist activist and an atheist). My mother remained very religious, and as a child I recall her prayers and faith bringing me back to health when doctors had given up on my case.

In my youth, I found the world so attractive that I left God behind. But at that time in my life when I was most successful professionally and financially, when it seemed the world had more to offer than ever before, and God nothing, my health failed. I was sure I was going to die, and the thought came to me: You will meet God. What have you done with your life? For the first time, I realized there was sin in my life. I asked to be forgiven.

First, God sent me the health message, which I direly needed; then I met a group of Adventist house painters who had the courage to invite me to visit their church. The first time I went, it was out of curiosity to see the tent-church they had told me about. [Adventist members in one Bucharest church met for 10 years in a large tent, until it was destroyed by the authorities in 1987.]

What was your colleagues’ reaction when you became an Adventist?

They were shocked. They were sure it was going to be a short-term excitement. But when they realized I was serious, they began to avoid me—they seemed scared. In my immature zeal, I had condemned everything they did as sin. After some time, I stopped playing the holy one and started visiting them, caring for them.

How do you share your faith with others?

I simply tell stories of God’s work in my life. I don’t give advice anymore. And my witness is strengthened by the fact that in these past nine years I have progressed in my career more than ever before, that I can handle an incredible amount of work.

How do you balance your research activities with your devotional life?

They enhance each other. I find many links between them—in fact, Nobel-prize economist Paul Samuelson names the Bible as one of the main sources of economic theory. The principles revealed in the Bible stand as true today as when God first proclaimed them.

Having joined the church late in life, I am very hungry to read as much as I possibly can of the excellent religious literature available. Sometimes I almost wish to run away from my job so I can devote all my time to study, but I know that is not God’s plan.

How do you assess the status of the Adventist Church in Romania now?

The Adventist Church in Romania is one of the largest in Europe, and I am very happy to see its initiatives as it boldly affirms its role in society. I am astonished at the way God has been able to enhance and bless the talents of those who have used them for His glory. I am especially pleased over the church’s presence on one of the best TV stations across the country. Four nights a week, many of the nation’s best-known public figures are the guests of a program called In the Center of Attention. I have been one of them, and it was a good opportunity to invite my colleagues to watch this broadcast. They asked me where the program’s host received his excellent education, and when I told them he is a minister, a graduate of our Adventist college, I saw their ideas about the quality of Adventist education change.

Given your busy schedule, how have you been able to be involved in the church’s institutions?

I now teach several classes in the Social Work program offered by the Adventist college near Bucharest—economics for first-year students and demographics for second-year. I am able to pray with students, discuss important issues with them, and encourage them to be more involved in the church’s mission.

You have also been a professor in a public institution. How were you able to share your faith with the students?

Once I told my students the story of the prodigal son. It’s a story they can relate to. They have the same desire for “the distant land.” When I told them how the father received his runaway son, many of them were crying. They crave for the love of their parents, but most of them only receive money and more money. I represented to them the love of Jesus. They throng to my house, seeking help and advice.

If an Adventist young person were to feel attracted to a research career such as yours, do you think his or her religion would hinder progress in any way?

In fact, it would be easier to accomplish such things if you are in the church and not in the world. I squandered in parties and dances the time a consecrated young person would devote to study. I would encourage young people to choose a career in research. It offers stability, involvement in many interesting projects, and many travel opportunities. It also requires long-term dedication. It takes 20 years’ hard work to become a specialized researcher!

Interview by Sara Bocaneanu. Sara Bocaneanu studies education and management in Bucharest and also works in the Youth Department of the Romanian Union. Her mailing address: Str. Erou Iancu Nicolae 38, O.P. 30, Bucharest 077190, Romania. Email address: