AUDIO BOOK: I should be dead. Buried under an unmarked grave in Romania. Obviously, I am not. God had other plans.
JENNY ROUGH, COHOST: Virginia Prodan works as an international human rights lawyer. What you just heard is the opening quote from her audiobook, narrated by Matilda Novak.
MARY REICHARD, COHOST: The book is called Saving My Assassin. And the title gives it away. So no spoilers here. The book is her true story about being a lawyer who lived and worked in Romania in the 1980s. Under the communist government of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
JR: She was involved in dangerous work. In Romania, the government persecuted people because of their religion. Prodan defended people of faith. She brought lawsuits against the government … and in response, the government sent an assassin to kill her.
MR: She fought back, but in an unexpected way: She spoke the truth in love. And what happened next … well, let’s just say, her book is a page turner!
I Clarence Thomas...I Sonya Sotomayor...I Steven Breyer, I Amy Coney Barrett…do solemnly swear, I Brett M. Kavanaugh do solemnly swear, do solemnly swear, do solemnly swear, that I will administer justice, without respect to persons, that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I’m about to enter, so help me God…[APPLAUSE]
MR: Welcome to Legal Docket, I’m Mary Reichard.
JR: And I’m Jenny Rough. This podcast is from the creative team at WORLD Radio.
MARSHALL: The honorable Chief Justice and the associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!
MR: Today, a special episode. An interview with international human rights attorney Virginia Prodan.
MARSHALL: God save the United States and this honorable court.
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MR: Legal Docket devotes most episodes to covering recent Supreme Court cases and opinions. Today, we’re taking a step back to tell the story of Virginia Prodan. For years, she practiced law in Romania under communist leadership. She now lives in the United States. So she’s witnessed two very different forms of government rule. And she’s written a compelling story of what she’s lived through.
AUDIO BOOK: Bucharest, Romania. 1984. Miruna, my legal assistant, peeked into my office doorway. “A big man in the waiting room says he wants to discuss a case.” I still had a mountain of work to do on a case to defend young Christians arrested for transporting Bibles. Noticing how late it was, I told her, “Go home. I’ll see how I can help him.”
JR: That day in 1984, Virginia led the man to her office. Her assistant left the building.
AUDIO BOOK: He closed the door behind him. I met his eyes. They radiated an unsettling mix of pain, suffering, and cruelty… “Sit down!” The man pointed to one of the two chairs in front of my desk. I swallowed a scream. My blood chilled and rapid-fire thumping pounded in my ears. The man reached into a shoulder holster, withdrawing a gun. “I’m here to kill you.”
MR: A few weeks ago, Jenny and I talked with Virginia about that day, and the days and years leading up to the meeting with her assassin.
VIRGINIA PRODAN: My name is Virginia Prodan. I am an international human rights attorney, speaker, an international keynote speaker, and author of the memoir, Saving My Assassin that was published by Tyndale House Publisher.
JR: Virginia began by telling us what it was like growing up as a girl under communist rule in Romania.
PRODAN: I remember I was a little kid, 6 years old. I remember watching my parents being politically correct, outside of the home and doing whatever the government required them to do to give away their rights. And also watch them inside of home, whispering how horrible the government is, and how the government is going to ask them tomorrow to give up other rights. So I watched them being fearful, like many Americans now are fearful of the government, and they lost freedom.
MR: She also described her uncle in her book. How he owned a business. And after a time of travel, he came back to the country. By the time he returned, things had changed.
PRODAN: And when he returned to Romania, the communist government was even more powerful. And when he decided to speak up to protect his business, they put him in a psychiatric hospital to train him on socialist ideology. So again, I don't want anyone to go through what my uncle went through.
JR: I asked Virginia what she thought when she learned the government sent her uncle to a psychiatric hospital—to re-educate him? And watching her parents whisper behind closed doors like that.
PRODAN: I felt very insecure on one side. But at the same time I felt like inside of me was a fire starting to burn, to find out why. Why the adults in my life were so fearful. And how to find the truth and speak up for the truth.
MR: Her fire, that strong desire to find the truth, that’s what led her to law school.
PRODAN: In my mind, as a young person, I thought, I'm going to go to law school, I'm going to find the truth in the law books. And I'm going to speak up for the truth.
JR: So she put her hope in the law.
PRODAN: The book explains how you are accepted to school in the socialists and communists. You don't make the decision. The government is the one making the decision. The fact that the government decides for you where you will practice. It’s not like in America, on the right side or the left side of the street, wherever you want to open a law firm, or you choose, you apply to different law schools.
JR: She graduated from law school in Bucharest in 1977. And she says she found joy and enthusiasm when she began her law practice—at first. But it didn’t last.
PRODAN: One day I came very disappointed. I am not a quitter. But that day, I was so disappointed. I came to my law office and I put my briefcase on my secretary's desk. And I said to her, “I don't want to be a lawyer anymore, I can't find the truth.” And she looked up at me like, What are you dreaming? Where have you been?
MR: By this time, Virginia had been practicing law for a couple of years. Her secretary gave her a handful of files. And reminded Virginia that she had appointments with three clients that afternoon. One client was already in her office.
PRODAN: I have been working with this client for maybe a year or something. And he always puzzled me because he was full of joy in a joyless land, and full of peace, lack of peace land. And many times I thought he must be crazy. I need to fix this man. But that day as I was thinking in my mind, what is truth, where I can find the truth? I'm faced with a joyful face and a person full of peace. And I'm looking at him and I said, “I wish I had in my life what you have in your life.” When he looked up at me and he said, “Do you go to church?” And I stared at him thinking I knew you're crazy. I don't know why I asked you this question. But he wrote something on a piece of paper and gave it to me. And He said, “This is the address of our church. Would you come to our church Sunday?” And I hear myself saying yes. The craziest thing that a lawyer in socialist Romania could say, because a month before or more, the dictator declared himself God and required all of us to worship Him alone.
MR: What happened that Sunday changed Virginia’s life forever.
PRODAN: The pastor came and opened the Bible and read. Jesus Christ said, “I am the truth, the way, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through Me.” And churchwide, everybody listening, imagine that you hear someone: “What?” That was me. Finally, somebody said, Virginia, I am the truth. And Christ came to me so real, and that day I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior.
JR: She became a Christian. As her faith blossomed, her law practice changed. She didn’t even need to find clients—they sought her out as word of her faith spread. Specifically, Christians who were persecuted wanted her help.
PRODAN: Young people that will take Bibles from one church to another, to share the Bibles for vacation Bible schools, and the government will arrest them. Or doctors that will give prescription to a patient, and will write on prescription or on a piece of paper, a Bible verse, that person will be put in prison and will be threatened to their license to be canceled. Or churches that will ask the government to allow them to maintain the church. And the government will say, the church it’s in danger. We demolish the church and we take the land.
MR: Because the laws from the previous capitalist era were still on the books, she relied on those to argue her cases. She took the government to court and fought for human and religious rights. But the government viewed her work as committing treason. It came after her. A modern-day David and Goliath situation.
PRODAN: If you see me, you will, you have to notice that I'm under five feet tall. At that time, I was 82 pounds, I was under 30 years old. I’m a little bit much older now. And I took the government to court.
JR: Virginia credits God for His providence and protection.
PRODAN: And let me share one thing that God did. Unknown to me, when I was under the walls, you are surrounded by the walls of the socialist and communist government, the Berlin Wall, if you remember that. Unknown to me, many of my cases became part of United Nations report on human rights violations and part of United States Department of State reports on human rights violations. And that was the way God exposed the dictator and also protected me against his power to kill me.
MR: That brings us to that day in 1984, when the Romanian dictator sent an assassin to kill her.
PRODAN: Because my office and my home had microphones, he knew about my whereabouts. So this new client that he sent was a secret police in normal clothes. He came very, very close to the end of the day, and my assistant had only the time to introduce him to my office, say this is a new client. I need to go home, I need to pick up my kids. So she left. And the minute that he heard that she locked the door to the office, he pulled his jacket, he took his gun and pointed in my face screaming and saying, “I'm here to kill you. I am not your client. You refuse to listen to us. We have done everything. I'm here to kill you.”
JR: He told Virginia that because he accepted this assassination assignment, he believed he would be promoted. He would become the dictator’s chief headquarters officer.
PRODAN: So you can imagine I felt alone, I felt that I will die. My heart was in my ears. My knee was shaking.
MR: But then Virginia remembered something: She and the assassin weren’t alone in the room together. God is present everywhere.
PRODAN: I heard the whisper of God: Share the gospel with him.
JR: She told him the story of the love of God.
PRODAN: And as I shared the gospel with him, he put the gun down on the table. His shoulders relaxed. He nodded several times. And at the end, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.
JR: He didn’t kill her. The only death in that encounter? The assassin’s! The death of his old self and his hard heart.
MR: In 1988, four years after meeting her assassin, Virginia was granted political asylum in the United States.
PRODAN: And also, it shows you what freedom we still have in America. Because that explains to you how I came to the United States of America, not knowing one word in English. I knew five languages, but not one word in English. I had no money. I had no friends. I had two girls under 10 years old, and I was pregnant with my son. And by the grace of God, I learned English, not as fast as my girls learn English. I went to law school at SMU, and I graduated and I opened my law firm.
MR: So she went to law school…twice! Once in Bucharest. Once in Dallas, Texas. And it turns out, she also came face-to-face twice with her assassin. First in 1984. Later, in 2010.
PRODAN: As I graduated, and I opened my law firm, one day, a new client came to my office. He had a case, explained it. And after he explained it, he looked at me kind of frustrated and said, “Virginia, don't you recognize me?” And I thought, Who is this man? And he showed me his Securitate I.D. And seeing his face, it was like reliving that moment back in Romania. And then he explained to me what God is doing in his life. And I shared with him the same thing. And when I told him that I'm writing my book, he asked me to let him write a chapter in my book.
JR: He did. Here’s a short excerpt from that chapter, describing the day back in 1984 when he planned to kill her.
AUDIO BOOK: My intention was to kill Virginia, but God’s intention was to breathe life in me through her. As I followed Virginia into her office, I thought first about strangling her. But then I decided it would be more enjoyable to frighten her by showing her my gun. She was scared. I could read it on her face. But then as Virginia calmly shared the gospel with me, I was the one who was frightened. Frightened of the peace and the power that came from such a petite person. … I don’t know how she did it, but she made me want her God to be my God. Then she prayed for me. Nobody had ever done that for me before.
MR: After her assassin left Virginia’s office that day in 1984, he was crying so hard he got into a car accident. He woke up in the hospital. Dictator Nicolae Ceausecu thought that that accident prevented the assassin from doing his job and killing Virginia. So his life was spared that day, as well.
JR: Virginia says the assassin’s perspective is one of the most important parts of the entire book.
PRODAN: I would love for people to read it and pay attention, because he is very truthful. And he explains how, as a young person, he believed the lies of socialists, of free stuff, and all other things. And gradually, they transformed him into a monster, because in order to climb the ladder, and to have a better position, or a better house, or a better free things, he had to start planting documents in people's homes, to make people disappear, to kill them. They make him a monster. But he also explained how Christ changed his life and what he is doing today.
MR: Soon after Virginia’s encounter with her assassin, Romanian military leaders overthrew Ceausescu. He was tried and convicted of genocide. And in 1989, he was executed.
PRODAN: So I hope that will encourage you too, not to be fearful, and not to look at the government having power. Because I want to encourage you and to say that even one has a temporary power. Everyone who fights against God, and fights against us, will not win as a temporary power. Just think about Ceausescu. He had army, he had money, he had even the Western civilization on his side until I exposed him. And he is dead. He died. He was killed by his own guards.
JR: Virginia told us she wrote the book, in part, to show what a totalitarian regime looks like to those who don’t know.
PRODAN: I had in mind that this book will be in the hands of people that maybe never walk into a socialist or communist country, to actually live, reside there. Not to go on visit or mission trip, because during those times, people who were Americans will not treat it like residents. But like, people there will be there for a short period of time. So this book shows you, takes you by hand, and shows you the reality and the cruelty of the socialist and communist system.
JR: Today, Romania’s form of government is a Parliamentary Republic. Virginia no longer lives under the level of threat as she once did in Romania. But she knows there’s still a lot to do to protect religious freedom.
PRODAN: I go in America and around the world, and tell people not to be afraid. And what God can do and change your life, and change your business, your family, your community. So I hope this will encourage you. Again, I am a tool in God's hands, and you can be a tool in God's hands too.
MR: Virginia reminded us: All we have comes from God. We can trust Him, if we seek Him.
PRODAN: People are so fearful of the government. The resources are coming, our resources are coming from from God, not from the government. If you lose your job, God will provide for you. He said that He is our provider, and He will provide for you. I understand fear. And I understand that you need to provide for your family. But to be fearful of government and not God. That's not right.
JR: She encourages everyone to use their gifts, talents, and skills for good, not evil.
PRODAN: People have an opportunity to speak, and they refuse to speak because they think, Oh, I'm just one. My voice is not important. But that's not true. We all have skills, talents, a position, a sphere of influence where God placed us and we all need to do our part and our job where he placed us. Say, “Lord, what do you want me to do? How do you want to use me to encourage and to strengthen my faith and encourage others too?” And you will be amazed what God has for you because He has a plan for your life. And it's an amazing plan. And I want to say the best dream that you have for your life? It's nothing, nothing compared with the dream that God has for your life. Give God everything that you have and you will be amazed what he can do with your life and how you can encourage others to do the same.
MR: And one other thing. We asked her about the subject of Legal Docket Podcast…the Supreme Court. Virginia believes Americans should preserve and protect the U.S. Constitution. The founding documents are some of the most important benefits to living in America. Including the way the Constitution established the Supreme Court.
JR: Education about our American form of government is critical, she says. Especially when it comes to training lawyers.
PRODAN: I believe we have to start with law schools where students will be trained in the Constitution and the constitutional principles that the Supreme Court is the one that applies the law that does not create the law.
JR: People need advocates. Lawyers who will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
PRODAN: Ask yourself, go in your closet, go by yourself with God and say, “Lord, why? Why am I here at law school? How do you want to use me for your glory?” Read the Bible. And in order to make sure that you know who you are, a sinner, and how much you need God, and who your God is, how huge your God is, how wonderful your God is, and how ready He is to guide you in law school to make you a light for him.
JR: One path might be working as a law clerk for a judge.
PRODAN: So if you have an opportunity to work with a federal judge, and you are Christian, make sure that you have a godly influence. You have the work ethic that Christ is talking about: Going the extra mile. If the judge is not Christian, pray for them. Pray for them.
MR: That’s something Virginia does regularly.
PRODAN: I have a prayer group at 6:30 in the morning. And we always pray by name for the Supreme Court judges. Every single day. Because we believe that it's our job to pray for them. We pray for federal judges. When they do make a good decision, if you have the time, write them a note. Thank them for applying the law, for keeping the Constitution and the freedom in America.
MR: Virginia does have concerns about the political atmosphere in America these days.
PRODAN: This is the best country in the world. And it's time for us not to destroy it. Not to be fearful, not to be fearful of the government, but respect the government and when the government crosses the line, stand up in love and truth and defend. Speak up the truth and defend freedom.
JR: Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan. Lovely to speak with her about her book.
MR: Legal Docket is produced by the creative team at WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
JR: And I’m Jenny Rough. We hope you enjoyed that conversation—and the book if you decide to read it. In fact, we’d love to hear from you about some of your favorite books on the law. We’re always looking for the next great read. Write to us at email@example.com.
MR: Next week, we’ll be back to covering cases from the most recent Supreme Court term. In the meantime, let us know what you think. Please leave us a review on whatever platform you use and tell your friends. Thank you.
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