100-year-old Jack Ferlino has journeyed to Romania more than a dozen times since his retirement
April 25, 2022
Sometimes an invitation to visit a new place is life-changing. That’s certainly what happened to Jack Ferlino.
Nearly 30 years ago, he was invited to go to Romania, and what he witnessed then and in more than a dozen trips since inspired him to make a permanent gift through the World Communion of Reformed Churches, for the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania. The relationship was fostered through Lehigh Presbytery‘s Worldwide Ministries mission efforts.
Ferlino, now 100 years old, says there were many experiences there that inspired his gift. He summarizes it this way: “I finally came across a group of churches that really practice the Six Great Ends of the Church,” Ferlino said. “It was a wonderful relationship to have, so we entered into partnership.”
The Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley has worked with Ferlino to set up the fund. She is a Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation. “Jack’s love for both God and the church are deep,” Johns-Kelley said. “His relationships in partnering in ministry around the world will be enduring as well as invitational as others may make additions and thereby join in supporting the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania.”
Hungarians are an ethnic minority in Romania. A series of treaties, battles and political moves in Romania during World War I ceded Transylvania to Romania, taking it from its Hungarian origins.
Romania was under communist rule until 1989. During that time Christians were harassed, making Christian worship difficult. Christianity is strong in Romania today, and the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania has a special ministry to the Hungarians that no one else is fulfilling.
These churches are so much more than places of worship; they are centers of life and care for the people that they serve, Ferlino says. “The church there is the focal point of their life,” Ferlino said. “Everything is around the church, including social activities. Diaconia is the organization that attends to the shut-ins and the sick, and the orphanages as well.”
Ferlino recalls another moving story from a visit to Romania. He was asked to visit a farm owned by a mother and son. They enjoyed the visit, but around noon, they found the mother of the family crying in the kitchen. Ferlino asked if they had done something inadvertently to upset her. “They told me she is crying because you have come this far to visit us, and she can’t set the table the way she wants to,” Ferlino said. “I was in tears then, as I am now. I hope this gift will help her, and the others as well.”
Ferlino was particularly moved by meeting pastors. “We have one pastor who serves seven churches,” Ferlino said. That pastor visits one church each day of the week. “All of the churches are rural. They are all very old. Some of them go back 500 years.”
Ferlino is a lifelong Presbyterian whose roots go back to 1894, when his ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Italy and were instrumental in establishing the Italian Presbyterian Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. It eventually closed and merged with First Presbyterian Church in Hazleton. He’s now a member of Faith Presbyterian Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
His pastor, the Rev. Rebecca Mallozzi, says Ferlino is a man of incredible faith. “Jack has a heart and passion for all mission, and he definitely has a passion for the Hungarian Reformed Church of Romania,” Mallozzi said. “He genuinely cares for them. Jack embodies what we mean when we say, ‘The table shall be wide.’”
In an article published by Lehigh Presbytery in January 2021, the Rev. Tibor Kiss, counselor in the Department of International Relations of the Transylvanian District of the Reformed Church in Romania, praised Ferlino for his role as a bridge builder. He said Ferlino helped church members in the United States and Transylvania together meet the “challenges of human life in a secular, unjust, discriminatory social environment.”
Mallozzi says Ferlino has never tired of the work. “Jack’s heart and passion for mission always reminds me that as the body of Christ, we never retire from finding ways to love and serve God by loving and serving our neighbors,” she said.
Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing, Presbyterian Foundation
Today’s Focus: 100-year-old Jack Ferlino
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