Thank heaven that rule does not apply in the United States or Canada. But that one and many that are worse did apply to brothers Stefan and Simon Ivascu and their pal Vasile (Wesley) Pop growing up protestant in a communist/Orthodox Romania. Stefan, the oldest, learned first about the Romanian army’s “No-Christianity” policy during basic training when he was caught praying. After being detained and brutally beaten, Stefan risked his life to fl ee the country.
Now Simon and Wesley knew for certain that they would one day have to abandon family, friends and home if they ever wanted to taste freedom. Upon graduating from high school, but before reporting to the army, they fl ed across Romania, Hungary and Austria into Italy. That was the easy part of the duo’s quest: the next phase would almost kill them.
The two desperate young men—barely 20 years old— paid a human smuggler to lock them into a shipping container he said was going to North America. They carried backpacks fi lled with tools, food and water—hoping it was enough to last the length of the journey.
The container was full, almost to the top, of Italian ceramic tiles. The boys lived for weeks on top of the payload, where there was just enough room to sit up. Standing could be achieved only by clambering down the pallets at the back of the container into a narrow space where they could almost turn around. They had willingly entered a corrugated metal tomb, hoping its doors would open and usher them into a new life of freedom far beyond the reach of the Romanian army. The story of Simon and Wesley’s ocean crossing is at once a heartbreaking tale and a breathtaking miracle, retold in gripping detail in their book The Price of Freedom.
Interestingly, what helped keep the boys alive in the dark hold of that ship was “a song like no other,” which Simon and Wesley had learned and sung growing up in church. They called it a hymn, and it was their favorite on a cassette mix-tape carried on their voyage. In the darkness of that container, with no food or water, with their vital organs failing and their minds deteriorating...with death hovering over them, they recalled and sang to one another: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
Simon and Wesley’s ship fi nally docked in Montreal, and it wasn’t long before the pair had settled in the resort city of Kelowna, British Columbia. Finding work, ironically, as tile setters, the lads’ next task was to bring brother Stefan to North America from Italy—preferably not in a shipping container! Anyone who has ever dealt with immigration matters knows how maddening the process can be. But God made a way, and before long Stefan joined his two young compadres on the shores of beautiful Lake Okanagan.
And that’s when it happened: the threesome stumbled upon a TV show featuring the Gaithers and the Cathedrals. Says Simon: “It was a sound that we instantly fell in love with.” Having sung together since boyhood, the trio got busy in their church and a few others around Kelowna. It wasn’t long until their amazing testimony, their unusual accents and their extraordinary musical talents led to invitations from all over Western Canada. It was while performing at the Canadian Gospel Convention in Red Deer, Alberta, that Scott Fowler of Legacy Five witnessed something that prompted him to phone Bill Gaither on the spot: “Bill, I’ve never asked you for a favor of any kind— not even for my own group. But I am calling to say you must invite the Freedom Singers to your very next event.”
The rest is history: the Freedom Singers were so warmly received at the next Gaither FamilyFest event that tilesetting is becoming a forgotten art to Simon, Wesley and Stefan. The new Canadian citizens are in near-constant demand, inspiring Southern Gospel audiences all across North America. Visit them at FreedomSingers.com