The technical definition of the word ‘contrast’ is: “…the state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association.” The meaning of the term could have originated in the Transylvania region of Romania, the most famous region of the country – a land of spooky dark forests, mystical snowy peaks, amazing views, the last of virgin forests in Europe, and haunted medieval castles and towns, many noted for their scary history.
As interesting as Dracula’s (Bran) castle may be, equally inspiring and in stark contrast is the modern look in the cities of Transylvania with their youthful focus, huge shopping centers, and massive infrastructure projects. In the city of Arad, the heart of the contrast includes Westfield Development, as representing this modern contrast. As a home development company, they can be proud to be the only project in Arad awarded 2 consecutive years at national level … the title of “The best new concept in Romania.”
The story goes back to Emanuel, who at age nineteen, started his own construction business in Dallas, Texas. Three years later, he married Bianca and they decided to go to Romania for a year. During their time there, they volunteered at a Bible school. It was their way of giving God their first years as a young family. In addition, they noticed that most of the money for ministries in Romania was coming from the west, not from Romania. They began to wonder, “Why is God poor just in Romania? Why is He not poor in the United States or in western Europe?” This was a defining moment for the young couple, who started a real estate business, which initially bought and sold land for development.
Romania has been attempting to recover from the communist years, which left the country with unattractive homes and large drab grey buildings. This image creates a sense of imprisonment and isolation. Even newer developments are densely built with narrow streets with few amenities. Most developers seem motivated by maximizing profits while neglecting comfort and a sense of community. The Bistrians envisioned something different.
In 2010, Westfield Development was founded by Emanuel and Bianca Bistrian. As a couple with a heart for God, they responded to the need which was around them, and decided to use their passion and calling for business for the glory of God. Today, their developments have multiple zones of up to one hundred houses plus amenities near the center, with wide roads and spacious front yards. Homes and developments are created to provide a hopeful lifestyle and strong community in contrast to a dark and solemn past.
From the start, the needs around them were the focus of their plan. “We started a real estate fund as Romania was going through a boom; we were buying and selling property,” Emanuel explains. “Now we’ve moved into developing entire communities—a community feel where everything is within walking distance.” When the Bistrians’ firm sells a house, the first part goes to God; they give away four percent of each home sale. “We need to change the culture in Romania from receiving to giving. God gave first, so we should give first.”
Bianca agrees: “We want God to give us direction. We pray for areas to give to. We’re not just trying to do it using our human knowledge.” Emanuel says, “That led us to decide to give to three main areas.” Those are:
- Promoting Christianity (church planting, evangelism)
- Humanitarian relief (Christian ministries eradicating poverty or supporting the elderly)
- Education (training leaders, improving ministries inspiring other Romanian givers)
Bianca affirms that there have been countless miracles, and when funds were nearly nil, God always supplied and pushed them forward to new frontiers. Near the beginning when the zoning was approved for a project and they were ready to start work, they only had 1.000 Euros to their name. They did have land however, and as they bartered land for services, they slowly began. Their story reminds me of Hudson Taylor in China in the 19th century who said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”
Westfield represents several of the components of a successful Business As Mission (BAM), a quality product representing a God of excellence. Westfield is one of the highest rated development companies in Romania and was awarded “best new concept for 2017” and the “highest positive impact within the community for 2018.” BAM includes a 4-part definition: a) profitable and sustainable, b) job creation, c) spiritual growth; making of disciples of Jesus, and d) stewardship of God’s creation. Today, they are profitable, and they create jobs for Westfield employees and for their subcontractors with a clear Great Commission focus.
The company and community involvements have provided some incredible stories of God at work in the lives of Romanians. Part II will highlight some of those stories which are due to the grace of God, and to the success of a humble couple willing to use their entrepreneurial and skilled giftedness for the glory of God.
Watch for Part II – The integration of the spiritual with the practical business.
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures