The missionary adventures of the Stimpson family


A Repsonse to a Friend

A friend messaged me asking when it’s appropriate for us as believers to disobey the government. After writing way too much for just a Facebook message, I decided to put my thoughts here instead. Maybe it will be helpful for some of you as well. But before you read, let me give a disclaimer. Know that these are just my personal thoughts, mostly off the top of my head written down this morning without any real editing, but based on a lot of soul-searching, Bible study, and deep thinking recently. This is not the only way to think of things, but these are the conclusions I’ve come to, at least at this point in time, unless someone shows where I’m wrong in the Bible.

Without further ado…

While Romans 13 does clearly teach submission to governing authorities, even godless ones, it doesn’t teach obedience. The word used for submission is hupotasso, which means, literally, “to arrange yourself under.” From what I can tell, everywhere that this word is used in the New Testament, it means submission and never obedience. It’s essentially a heart attitude that says, “You’re the boss, not me.” This word is used to describe how all things were placed under Jesus’ feet (yet not all things obey Him just yet). It’s used to describe how when Jesus sent out the 70, they returned rejoicing that the demons were “subject” to them (yet one would have a hard time arguing that the demons unequivocally obeyed them, as they actually didn’t in Mark 9:29). Romans 8 and 10 use the word to describe a relationship between roles, one higher than the other. In 1 Corinthians 14:32, Paul says that the spirit of a prophet is “subject” to the prophet. Does this mean his spirit “obeys” him? No, it means his spirit is submitted to himself, so he can choose what to do with the prophetic things he hears – obey them or not. Verse 34 of the same chapter says that women should be “in submission” at church. Does this mean that when women come to church, they must obey whatever the leaders say? No, that would be an abuse of power. Over and over again, the word hupotasso is shown to mean an attitude of submission, an ordering of authority, but not necessarily obedience.

Contrasting that, the NT does have a word that is usually translated obey – hupokouo. This word literally means “to hear under” and carries a sense of really listening to the one speaking and then carrying out their orders. It’s used in the NT to talk about how children should obey their parents and slaves their masters, how the wind and waves obeyed Jesus in the storm at sea, how demons obeyed Jesus’ commands, etc. Jesus told the disciples that if they had faith like a mustard seed, they could tell the tree to be uprooted and it would obey, ie. that it would hear what they said and not just respectfully submit to their desires but actually do it, actually be cast into the sea. Acts 6, in talking about priests repenting and turning to Jesus in faith, it says they were “becoming obedient to the faith,” ie. they were hearing the Gospel and doing what it says. Romans 6:12 tells us not to let sin reign in us, that we would obey its passions. In the NT, this word always is used to imply hearing the command and completing it as desired.

The way I think of the two is that submission (hupotasso) is a heart attitude that says, “I respect you, I understand that you are in charge, I honor you and place you above me,” but obedience (hupokouo) goes further and says, “Not only do I recognize your place of priority over my life, but I will hear intently to what you say and do it.” The Bible never tells us to obey (hupokouo) governing authorities, but is very clear we must submit (hupotasso) to them. This means that there are times when we must respectfully, submissively disobey.

Church leaders taking Romans 13 and using it to mean we unquestionably obey the authorities is a cop-out and a misunderstanding of the teaching of the Bible. In addition to the way the Greek words are used, very clearly the NT church didn’t always obey the authorities. In Acts 4, the Council commands that Peter and John no longer preach. They say they will obey God rather than man. This happens again in Acts 5. They never stopped preaching. Then when their preaching caused problems with the Roman authorities, they didn’t stop there either. In history, we know that persecution got even more intense and churches were banned. But rather than surrendering, they obeyed God, met together in forests, caves, and catacombs. In later history, the church served as a voice of truth and opposition to the government, condemning abortion and infanticide even though it was a Roman law that deformed babies be killed, speaking against the gladiator fights, illegally working to free escaped slaves and end slavery (in the ancient world right up to modern times), working against the Nazis in Germany, speaking against authoritarian rule through the ages (in Medieval Europe, Communist Eastern Europe, European colonies, etc.), creating Constitutional restraints and limited government. So clearly there are times when the church, whether because of our obedience to God or our role to stand up for justice and righteousness, must submissively oppose the government.

Titus 3:1 says “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.” This is another verse people bring up to support the idea that we should always obey government. There are a number of problems with this conclusion. First, it’s not clear from context that these “rulers and authorities” specifically refer to government. I think it’s likely they are referring to any authorities, in a general sense, which would of course include government but not be a specific statement about government itself. This is important, because the Bible elsewhere tells us to outright obey some authorities (slaves obey your masters, children obey your parents…) but to just submit to others (submit to governing authorities, wives submit to husbands…). Second, the word submissive is hupotasso, which (as stated earlier) doesn’t mean to obey but to respectfully submit. Then the word obedient is different. It’s the Greek word peitharcheo, which is used only 3 other times in the Bible. The word means “to be persuaded by what comes first, by a higher authority.” It’s the same word that the apostles use when they say they must obey God, not man in Acts 5. A few verses later, the word is used to say that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (and by implication, not those who simply obey men). The last time it is used (besides here in Titus) is when Paul is on the prison ship to Rome. They encounter some funky weather, so Paul tells them they should wait it out at Crete. Instead, they continue on, and the weather gets worse, they run out of food, and Paul says, “You should have listened (peitharcheo) to me.” ie. “You should have been persuaded by me, one who had information from a Higher Authority.” Given how this same word is used to specifically show how Peter and John chose not to obey the authorities, it can’t mean complete and unequivocal obedience to authorities.

So… It seems to be the teaching of the Bible that we should always submit to our government authorities, but we must not always obey them. When do we choose not to obey them? When we are persuaded that there is a higher authority that conflicts with what they tell us to do, ie. when it goes against our conscience and our conviction based on the Word of God. We don’t get to disobey out of selfish reasons, or simply because the law is inconvenient or we don’t like it, but we do have an obligation to disobey government so that we can obey God or so we can stand against an injustice or protect the innocent. To be clear, this does not mean we should ever resort to violence, intimidation, or other such tactics, but that we can and should peacefully resist at times.

Right now, honestly, I see most churches just quietly obeying what the government says, but I think this is very dangerous. There is the injustice of what is happening – closing down businesses, ruining livelihoods, unilaterally expanding the powers of governors, disrespecting the right of private property, invading privacy, stirring up panic and fear, abusing personal freedoms. These are real issues of injustice that the church should not agree to without strong arguments that they are necessary as well as clear conditions and limits placed on these actions. People are being hurt by our government’s heavy-handed actions, and the church is largely supportive. This concerns me. What will happen when this virus is gone and another one comes? What will happen when there is a different crisis that emerges? What is to stop the government from continuing these injustices indefinitely? If they can abuse our God-given rights now, what will stop them from abusing them even further? What will stop a selfish, misguided government from using these powers in an even more abusive way in the future?

Besides the issues of injustice and abuse of power, there is the real question of whether we should obey the Word of God or what our government says. The Word of God is clear that we must not forsake the assembling of the saints (Heb 10:25). Streaming services can transfer information and provide a level of fellowship, but it is not the same as the saints coming together. If anyone had a reason to stop meeting together, it was the early church – government persecution, Jewish persecution, they were illegal, they were unpatriotic (because they didn’t worship Caesar), they were a nuisance despised by their neighbors, and there were a number of disastrous plagues in the first centuries AD that would be spread in their gatherings – but they didn’t stop meeting, only sending letters to each other. They found alternative ways to meet – in homes, the woods, caves, the catacombs, etc. If the early church still kept meeting, why wouldn’t we? The word used in Hebrews 10:25 about meeting together is used only one other place in the Bible, for when we will be gathered together with Jesus at the end of the age. We’re not gonna gather together with Jesus over Zoom. We will really be with Him physically. The saints just can’t gather together as the Bible expects unless they actually physically gather together.

In addition, the Bible calls us to lay hands on the sick, to lay hands on new leaders, to greet one another with a holy kiss, to take communion, to share meals, to baptize new believers in water, etc. I don’t expect that we have to follow all of these literally (I don’t want anyone kissing me at church!), but none of this can be done over Zoom or live-streaming our services. How can we weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, and bear one another’s burdens if we aren’t in close enough contact with one another to do that? There is a personal, intimate side of Christianity that we can’t just get rid of because of an epidemic. I know most churches in America have transformed the whole idea of the church to be an event where we watch some people play music, watch a speaker share his thoughts, and then move on, but that isn’t what the Bible says. If the church was nothing more than just watching some music and teaching, then, yeah, fine, go ahead and do live-streaming and call it good. But the Bible’s vision of the church is very different, and I personally just can’t surrender on that point.

So at our church, we’ve been pursuing a route that allows us to respectfully submit to the spirit of the governor’s orders while remaining obedient to the Word of God. We still are physically meeting together, though in smaller groups. We’re washing our hands, we’re limiting our contacts and movements, we’re keeping an eye on our health, we’re requesting sick people stay home and call for the elders to pray for them as James said, and we’re being clear that anyone who feels concerned should be free to stay home… but we’re not going to keel over and stop meeting as the Bible expects just because that’s what the government wants. And I’m not going to stop speaking out against the growing injustice and tyranny I see around us. Nor will I be quiet about all the lies, manipulation of facts, fear-mongering, and panic that has gripped our society. And, yes, I plan to attend at least one of the upcoming protests.

You might find some of my recent sermons helpful:

“A Bigger Vision of the Church” series

“Faith Over Fear, Peace Over Panic – My Response to the Coronavirus”

Just Keep Going Forward

We’ve been having a difficult time lately in Romania. We finally got to go visit family and friends back home in America after 4 years away. It was wonderful, refreshing, and all you would expect from a 4-year reunion with those you love.

And then we got back to Romania and it felt like all hell broke loose on us. We all got stomach flu, the car died, we got bed bugs and our daughter broke out with blisters all over her body, our one church (Biserica Sion) was kicked out of its building, our other church (Biserica Piatra Vie) was losing its meeting place because the landlord was lying, stealing, and threatening us, eventually physically assaulting me… and then today.

What happened today? Well, we just started to see some victories in all the aforementioned areas. Our stomachs recovered, we found a mechanic to fix the car, we started a chemical war against the bed bugs, we found a new location for Biserica Sion, and we found a new, much better location for Biserica Piatra Vie.

It looked like we had started to overcome again, like we were gonna win the battle.

But then today happened. We had invested a lot of time, energy, money, and hard work into repairing Piatra Vie’s new location the past few days… and then today we found out that the building the rental unit is in… is condemned due to seismic risks! It’s illegal for us to use it, and it’s illegal for the landlord to rent it to us. If any police catch us, we’ll get in big trouble and either us or the landlord will have to pay a $13,000 fine. And the police station is right next door. Not to mention the fact that if there is an earthquake the building could collapse and we might all die.

So we’re back to square one, looking for a new meeting location. With our small budget, the immensity of the city, and the problems of operating in a culture and language that are still foreign to us, this is a lot harder than it sounds.

After losing our amazing meeting location, again, for the second time, all I felt like doing today was getting away with God. So I grabbed my Bible, my camera, and the car keys, and I decided to take a drive to sort some things through.

I had heard about a certain quiet place along the Danube River, just south of the small town of Prundu, that there were some beautiful and remote beaches there. I was interested in bringing my family there sometime, so I thought, “Hey, I want to go for a drive, so I’ll check out the route to one of those remote beaches and see if it’s worth bringing the whole family sometime.”

And off I went.

As I drove, I prayed and thought and prayed some more. What are we doing? This is ridiculous. How could we not have known the building was condemned? Why didn’t we look before committing to rent it? How could we be so foolish? Why didn’t the landlord tell us? Why did God seem to confirm we should rent it when He knew it was unsafe and we’d leave in a couple days? Why did he let us work so hard, waste so much money, only to walk away from it?

And then I was in the town of Prundu.

And then the road diverged, so I took the one less traveled by.

This road left the small town behind and went off into the woods and fields far into the distance. It was constructed of a lot of dirt, a little bit of gravel, but mostly holes as far as I could tell. Looks good, I thought, and ventured forth in my faithful Opel Zafira.

The road was really rough, the roughest road I’ve ever driven on. There were deep muddy tire ruts gutted by tractors, giant rocks that threatened to crack important metal things on my car that I’m sure have names but I’ll be darned if I know what they are. The wheels spun a few times in the dirt and mud, but I kept chugging forward.

Then I saw clouds coming.

It’s going to rain, I thought, and when it rains, this road will be a real mess.

Turn around or keep going? I kept going. I needed to see where this road went. Worst case scenario, I calculated in my mind, I get stuck somewhere in the mud, can’t find help, and have to spend a night or two sleeping in the van and waiting for the mud to dry. I can survive that.

Eventually, it started to rain. Just little drops, but by the look of the sky, I could tell they were heralds of something much more menacing.

The smart thing to do at this point would have been to turn around. Admit defeat. Play it safe. Walk away. Come back and try again some other time.

But I could see the end of the road up ahead… so close. And I had come so far already. How could I give up now?

So I kept going, despite the steadily increasing rain.

Once I reached the end of the road, I had a great time reading my Bible and just talking to Jesus.

Unfortunately, the clouds also had a great time sending down more and more rain, and so eventually I realized it was time to go. And thus I began the long, sloppy trek back. The car slid, bounced, crashed, and rammed its way through the ever-muddier path. Finally I understood the appeal of ATVs and dune buggies.

But I was not in an ATV or dune buggie. I was in a minivan. And pretty soon, about halfway through the minefield of mud and rocks, that minivan got stuck. Real stuck. Hopelessly, unmistakably stuck.

So after I had exhausted all my methods to unstick stuck cars, I got out in the pouring rain, walked through the mud and muck, searching for any signs of life. Up ahead I saw a farm, and as I neared, I approached some men on break. When I asked for some help, they directed me to talk to Calin, the boss.

With my dirty jeans and shoes weighing heavy from the caked-on mud, I must have looked helpless enough so that Calin drafted one of his men to hop in the tractor and pull me out. And that he did. He fearlessly pulled me for about 15 minutes through the quicksand-like mud. A couple miles from the end of the road, two farm workers approached and after he explained what he was doing, they asked if I could drop them off at their homes.

“Sure,” I said. “I’m going that way anyway.”

“Do you want me to drive?” asked the older one, whose name was Dumitru. “I grew up on these muddy roads. I know how to drive this stuff as well as asphalt roads.”

So I surrendered the keys and we drove together, the three of us, to their homes in the neighboring villages. When we arrived at Dumitru’s home, he told me to follow him as he grabbed a bucket of water, soap, and a brush. As I washed my hands, he knelt down and scrubbed my shoes clean, telling me it wouldn’t be good to drive all the way to Bucharest looking like I went swimming in a swamp.

As we went back to the car, he said he noticed there was something wrong with the radiator and wanted to take a look at it. So he popped the hood, looked around, banged a few things, cleaned off some mud, and got everything working to his satisfaction again.

“Here’s my phone number. If the engine doesn’t get any cooler as you drive to Bucharest, give me a call and I’ll come see what’s wrong.”

I shook his hand, thanked him profusely, asked if I could get his photo, and then drove off, one more adventure under my belt.

As I drove away, God began speaking to me. “Just keep going forward. If the road is dirty and full of holes, I’ll get you through it. If it starts to rain, don’t turn back – I’ll take care of you. If the road turns to mud, just keep going. If you get stuck in mud a couple times, I’ll pull you out. Just keep going forward.”

I like what the famous missionary William Carey said regarding to what he owed his success in India – “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

I think most of success revolves around the simple idea of just not giving up. Just keep going forward. Sure, you can play it safe and stay where you’re at, but if you wanna win, you gotta keep going, through all the mud, rocks, and puddles life throws at you.

Here’s some pictures from the day:

The Sun’ll Come out Tomorrow

Below is an article I wrote for Hand of Help, a ministry that reaches out to the poor and hurting in northern Romania, after visiting the orphanage in Botosani last week. If you want to support a ministry that is literally changing lives, head over here to make a donation:

Visiting the Hand of Help orphanage in Botosani is a very dangerous thing. You can’t visit and leave unchanged.

My wife and I packed up our four kids and moved to Bucharest, Romania, as missionaries almost four years ago. We didn’t have any real plan other than we felt God was calling us to plant a church in the city, so we went about meeting people, learning the language, getting to know the city, doing evangelism, anything we could think of.

One of the first people we met was Daniel Boldea, who overheard me speaking English at an electronics store and wandered over to introduce himself. He told us about the Hand of Help orphanage and suggested we pay a visit sometime.

“Wow,” I told him, “the orphanage sounds really great. Maybe we’ll visit next month.”

Well that was almost four years ago, and we finally made it up for a visit last week.

The focus of our ministry in Romania is planting a church in Bucharest, which means we spend most of our time serving in this crowded, dusty, fast-moving city, but once in a while, we just need to escape and breathe some fresh country air.

A couple weeks ago, we did just that. We booked a cabin in the mountains, hopped in the van, and drove all day to spend a week in the countryside. Afterward, we finally took Daniel up on his offer to visit the orphanage, since it was only a few hours from our destination in the mountains.

As we were driving toward Botosani, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Years ago, I had visited an orphanage in Haiti that made my heart sick. The children were thin, covered in dirt, and barely clothed. Many were obviously malnourished, others clearly suffering from sickness. There were not enough beds for all the children, so many bodies shared one mattress, and what beds they did have were filthy and covered in mold. A missionary friend explained that those running the orphanage kept most of the donations to care for themselves. She surmised the ministry was merely a convenient way for the administrators to make some money from donors whose heartstrings were pulled by the poverty they saw.

Seeing the children at the orphanage in Haiti broke my heart. The poverty, the starvation, the sickness… and the uncaring cruelty of administrators who would allow these children to live like animals. One young boy told me he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. I tried to encourage him that anything is possible with God, but in my heart I knew he would never be a doctor. With caretakers like he had, I didn’t even know if he would live to adulthood.

Would the Hand of Help orphanage be the same? Would we be brought to tears by the poverty and hopelessness?

Or maybe it would be like Annie, bedraggled children scrubbing floors and singing “The sun’ll come out… tomorrow…” under Miss Hannigan’s dreadful gaze. Would the children of Hand of Help have a similar hard-knock life?

The answer to both questions is the same. No. You will not find sad children suffering from disease, sleeping four to a mattress, not sure where their next meal will come from. You will not find broken, hardened children hoping to escape the harsh cruelties of orphanage life.

Hand of Help is a place of hope, a place where children in dire circumstances, rejected and abandoned by their families, can find a family that really cares for them. It’s a place where children who would grow up to be prostitutes, beggars, and thieves really can instead become doctors, teachers, pastors, or anything else they dream of.

If you visit the Hand of Help orphanage, the first thing you’ll notice are the smiles. The kids are smiling, the staff is smiling, the leaders are smiling… everyone is smiling. This is a place of joy.

As we pulled into the grounds, instantly we were surrounded by kids. They weren’t asking for candy or hoping for sweets. They just wanted to greet us, to talk to us, to meet the visitors. One young girl pulled out some snacks and shared them with our family, then another one gave us a whole bag for ourselves. When we tried to refuse it, she wouldn’t let us give it back to her.

We spent three nights at the orphanage, we got to know some of the kids, we heard stories from Mircea about God’s miraculous provision and lives that have been rescued, we met a pastor who grew up at Hand of Help, and we saw a place we can support with all our hearts.

I can’t recommend this ministry enough. Everything they’re doing is done really well. The building is clean and in good repair, the children are all clean, healthy, and clothed normally, everyone has a bed to sleep in, the rooms are not overcrowded, the food is healthy, fresh, and abundant, the older children all cheerfully help in the daily running of the orphanage, the workers are obviously caring and loving…

“When the children are in school, we want our children to look the same as every other child,” Mircea told us, before quickly correcting himself. “No, we want them to look the best.” And why not? These are children of the King. Why should they be neglected, these who’ve already been thrown into circumstances harder than any of us will ever face? Why should they suffer not just the loss of their families but also their dignity and respect?

It’s obvious everyone at the orphanage feels the same way. They want to give their kids the best they can so they can have a chance at a normal life.

Don’t misunderstand me. When I say the kids have “the best,” I don’t mean anyone is living in luxury. You won’t see designer jeans, smartphones, big screen TVs, or palaces built for kings here. But you will see lots of happy, healthy, smiling kids who have everything they need for a normal life.

When we left the orphanage, I promised Mircea we would recommend the ministry to everyone we knew, and that as God blessed us, we would gladly pass on the blessing and support the work financially.

“Prayer,” he told us, “that is what we need the most. Just pray for us, and God will provide everything.”

Well that’s a sneaky thing to say, because when you start praying for something, before too long God tells you to act.

This morning, we got on the Hand of Help website to begin sponsoring one of the orphans we met. His name is Nicolae. I didn’t know his background when we met him at the orphanage. All I knew was that he was the smiling teenager who busily served in the kitchen, set up our meals, visited our table to make sure all the food tasted good, and advised us to eat more slowly so we can better enjoy the food.

I wish we had enough money to support him for all his needs, and other  children too, but we don’t, so we figured out how we could at least do something, because we can’t just sit here and do nothing anymore.

Like I said, visiting the Hand of Help orphanage is a very dangerous thing.

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3 Years and Counting…

April 30th is a significant day in our family. Most importantly, it is the day our Isaac was born, the first son after three daughters. When his arrival into the world came, we already knew we would be heading to Romania in the near future for an indefinite length of time. One year exactly after Isaac’s birth, we boarded a plane in Chicago with our sights set on Bucharest, Romania.

I really cannot believe it has been three years since we said goodbye to family, friends, and familiarity. Goodbye to good burgers, cheddar cheese, and road trips without potholes! In some ways, these have been the most difficult years of our lives, but in so many ways these years have stretched my faith, taught me what “dying to yourself” means, and forced me to be more adaptable. On the difficult side, I’ve cried more, gotten angry more, felt more burnt out and lonely, and been ready so many times to say “heck with ministry life, let’s go live on a farm far away from cities.” But, on the good side, I rejoice at being in God’s will, seeing our family be used by God to bring light into a very dark city, being a part of God’s transforming work in others’ lives, learning what self-sacrificing love really is (being a mother and wife has taught me much in that area, too), knowing more what deep-rooted, unwavering, unshakable faith, hope, and joy truly is, and being a part of discipleship like Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 2:2.

During our short time here–to those who are missing us it may seem not so short, but it has sped by for us–we have gone through so many ups and downs, excitements and disappointments. We started a small meeting with a gypsy community that lived near us, and it grew to where many families joined in. A few surrendered their lives to Jesus, and one man in particular was ready to be baptized and learn to live for God. But, a couple of families had some domestic problems relating to alcohol and domestic abuse. We helped the best we could, but some just wanted sin more than God. After this, the other families we focused on trying to leave the city and find work, and a year after we began, that little church meeting ended.

We had meetings in our home for a while and tried to start up a church that way. Many pledged to help us to the end. This lasted a few months, grew for a while, then shrunk to just our family and one friend.

Finally, we decided to get more official, rent a room for weekly church meetings, and kickoff our official church: Biserica Piatra Vie, Living Stone Church. It started bigger than we’d hoped, but after a month, our meetings shrunk to just our family and a friend or two. We lost friends, gained friends, and we toiled on. One year after our official start, we had a decent church start: three people joined as official members, besides us American missionaries, and other families and visitors came around regularly. Now we have monthly healing and deliverance meetings that bring in extra visitors, opportunities to pray for the sick and oppressed, and see God move! We’ve seen people surrender their lives to Jesus, baptized one of them, prayed for many to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and seen God heal many of physical ailments.

But, there are still ups and downs. We don’t know how long God will have us here, but we’re ready for whatever He says. We feel honored to be used by God, whether we’re just part of sowing something that others will reap or whether we get to reap what others or we have sown. Sometimes we wonder why God chose us, when there are others with more time and fewer responsibilities (We have five children now, are homeschooling, and have one very active 15 month old–yes, we even had a baby while here!), but God knows what this city needs more than we do.

Planting a church is tough (bravo to Cornerstone Pastors Michael and Annie Fisher and Derek and Deb Miller for doing it before!)! Planting a church with a big family is tougher. Planting a church with a big homeschooled family in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language so well in a culture that is quite different than what you’re used to and not getting to see your family and friends in three years is toughest. But God is our strength and our portion! He is our Rock! He is the One who builds His church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail! He is good, loving, comforting, joyful, merciful, just, giving! He provides for us, heals us, empowers us, and guides us! All our hope, life, love, joy, peace, and faith is in Him alone! We are happy to serve and follow Him!

Daniel and Maria’s Home

Wow, it has been a really long time since we’ve made any posts here, but it’s about time we get back to it. Today’s post is mostly a collection of videos. Our church, Biserica Piatra Vie (Living Stone Church), supports a missionary to the city of Bucharest, who shares the gospel, passes out gospel tracts, and simply spreads the good news about Jesus and the gospel around town. His name is Daniel, and just a few months ago, he married Maria. They’ve been living in a tiny room in his mother’s home, but there is not hot water or a kitchen, and the bathroom is outside (it gets cold here in winter in Romania).

God put it on our hearts to help them, but we weren’t sure how. Not being able to find an affordable place for them to live, Jake got the idea to use one of the popular online fundraising websites to raise money for Daniel and Maria to build themselves a home. Daniel used to work in construction in Finland, so he had plans all ready and only needed money to buy materials and hire his brother to help him.

Well, after only a few weeks of the fundraiser going live, the money was raised, and immediately Daniel and his brother Marian got to work. Jake has helped a bit, and he’s gotten some great clips of the work being done so far. Check them out below. While you’re at it, pray for Daniel. Pray that God would continue to bless his evangelism in Bucharest. He’s gotten to talk to so many people about Jesus and been able to follow up with several who want to know more, and we want to see God multiply this fruit and see a big harvest reaped for His glory right here in Bucharest!

Here’s the link to the Crowdrise page about Daniel and Maria’s home: A Home for Daniel and Maria

Random Things I’ve Learned on the (Urban) Mission Field

I think a lot of Christians have a “glamorized” view of missionary life, because missionaries share the grand trials, great victories, and emotional stories of their work on the mission field. But, in reality, a lot of missionary work is very mundane, sometimes to the point of being inane. At least, it feels that way in the midst of whatever is occurring at the time. However, when you look back after 6 months, a year, two years, you can see God’s hand in so much of what has happened, even if you were left wondering where that hand was in the midst of the seemingly monotonous activity.

All that aside, here are some things I’ve learned in our 27 months on the mission field of Bucharest, Romania. More precisely, what I’ve learned despite the “inanity” and feelings of “monotony.”

1. You must never let down your guard against cockroaches. Yeah, you may clean out your entire kitchen and spray it top to bottom with poisonous insecticides, and you may go a couple of months without seeing a single one afterwards. But be forewarned, they will return. And when you kill that one you see, you will open a cabinet door and find 5-10 more scurrying for the darkness. Always maintain vigilance.

2. Your marriage and your children must still remain a high priority. You don’t want to gain a million converts at the cost of your marriage or your children. They are gifts from God, no matter where you live

3. Even more important is your relationship to Jesus. It must always be first place. Jesus said, “For you have the poor with you always” in the context of disciples complaining that Mary of Bethany “wasted” an expensive perfume on Jesus when it could have been sold and the money used for the poor. But He didn’t agree–He honored Mary because she honored and worshiped Him extravagantly, above all else. There are people everywhere with a multitude of needs, poor, sick, disfigured, trapped in sin, lost in darkness, spiritually immature, etc. And we could work ourselves to burnout and death if we forsake our relationship with God to constantly work for Him.

4. Learning a language is one of the most humbling tasks I’ve ever done. When you’re in public with a decent, but very limited knowledge of the language of the place you’re in, you will look stupid, appear aloof or ignorant, and be annoying to natives who are in a hurry; you will not necessarily know how to ask for what you need; you will struggle through conversations with your neighbors with your horrid grammar and painfully slow speech; you will need help from friends to master the post office, doctor’s office, hair salon, pharmacy, anything related to the police or government, apartment hunting, etc. You might have old ladies yell at you (several within a 24 hour period) about how your kid will get sick if his ears aren’t completely covered or that one gets wet feet from splashing about in rain puddles, and you won’t know how to answer them. You might just have to stand there and take it…at least until you learn how to say, “Leave us in peace! He/she is fine. I have five kids and know what I’m doing.” 😉

5. No matter how much “just like America” a country may seem on the surface during a short visit, every culture is different, but you won’t see that until you’re completely immersed in it. Even over two years in, I find myself every so often thinking, “What the heck is that all about?!” And usually, I never find out.

6. I am so American. Yes, of course I should be since I was born and lived there nearly 33 years, but there are some things ingrained in me because of my Americanness that are just really hard to change. For example, in America, it’s considered rude to tell everybody what you think all the time and give frequent, unsolicited advice. While I like constructive criticism and advice to help me, I still have not succumbed to the constant flow of advice that comes my way, especially related to child-rearing. I don’t get offended too easily, and can usually just ignore it (unless it’s good advice), but sometimes I long for an ever-so-small touch of American politeness and un-nosiness. I’m still very American in that respect.

7. If I can be a missionary, anybody can! I like a schedule and I like plans to be made and stuck to; if things go too random or sporadic, I start to get a little freaked out. On the mission field, even in a big European city one, nothing is set. Pretty much ever. I’ve learned to adapt and trust God and keep a good attitude even when I feel like Milton from Office Space, haha! God’s in control and I just grab on for the wild ride! Right before we moved here, one of our pastors prophesied over me that I might feel like I don’t quite cut it, but that God said His grace is sufficient. I think I grab onto those words every single day, as those are the prophetic words that spoke loudest to me…and still do.

8. A home is more than just a place to eat and sleep. My whole family loves having people here, whether for Bible studies, movie nights, parties, game nights, discipleship, fellowship, etc. I pray almost every day that our home be used for God’s glory and that His peace and life and presence would fill it so much that others coming here would sense it. And many have told us they do.

9. Communism is just a bad idea. Even 25 years after it ended here, there’s still repercussions of it on daily life and the mentality of the nation. I pray that it will fall in countries like North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. I pray for the nations of the world heading further and further into socialism. The government is no substitute for God and God-given families.

10. Lastly (this is not an exhaustive list by any means…I’m continually learning), if or when God calls us back to the U.S. or to another country, we will leave so many dear, dear friends behind. But I look forward to visiting with many hugs and much joy as we have made some lifelong friendships here. I am so thankful to God for these people.

Getting Sick and Getting Well in Bucharest

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted anything on here, so I’m a little out of practice, but here ya go…

Easter is the biggest holiday season here in Orthodox Romania. Seriously, it’s a bigger deal than Christmas, with offices and businesses shutting down from Good Friday through at least the Monday after Easter. Offices including doctors’ offices. Which means, it’s not a good time to get sick and need to see a doctor.

The Wednesday before Easter, I came down with a bad bacterial infection, not something terribly uncommon, but a worse case than I’ve ever had before. I fought through it with sleep, water, and Tylenol that whole day, started feeling better the next day enough to take Paul in for his doctor visit. When there I asked about getting antibiotics, but she said I’d have to see a different doctor. However, all the offices were going to be closed after that day for four days and only one appointment was left. When I tried to make the appointment, the computerized scheduling system wasn’t working, so I went back home (a one hour trek via public transport) with only a slight fever and no meds. I thought, “Hey, our prayers are working; I’m getting better, so I won’t try to snatch that last appointment and just sleep it off.”

An hour later, I arrived home and within fifteen minutes my fever jumped to its highest yet, I started shivering uncontrollably, and felt disoriented from the sickness. Now too late to make that last appointment, I weighed my options: try to see if I could get the antibiotics without a prescription, find an emergency room and fumble through with my poor Romanian and fever delirium, or wait it out. Feeling worse by the minute, I nixed the last option and started messaging friends.

I sent a Facebook message to a good friend of mine who I knew frequently checked her messages asking for advice. And I prayed. Within five minutes she called me back saying she would go with me to an emergency room, translate for me, and do whatever she could for me. She wanted to ask her mother the best place to go, and she happened to be right in front of her apartment when she got my message. She called me back saying she could get me an evening appointment for an hour from then at her hospital, that she would come with me and translate, and everything. Praise God! I fed Paul quickly, grabbed a taxi, and started the long trek through Bucharest rush hour traffic, sweating profusely in the back seat and eyes burning with fever. I prayed we’d make it in time.

As we got near to where I thought the hospital was, the driver turned the opposite direction I thought we should be going, so I called him on it. He argued with me, and I argued back, and he made motions with his hands telling me I was disoriented and sick and didn’t know what I was talking about. Sure enough, he was right and dropped me off exactly at 5:00 for my appointment in front of the correct place. Thankfully, he didn’t listed to the sick, American girl.

After having our baby Paul here in Bucharest, I had an idea of what the private hospitals and doctors were like. But the doctor I saw was so nice, very helpful, and genuinely concerned that I get better. She gave me very clear instructions through my friend and translator, gave me all the prescriptions I needed with very good instructions, and instructed me to return in six days for a free follow up appointment. Then, my very dear friend, purchased all the drugs for me, walked me to the metro stop (I wasn’t risking a delirious taxi ride in rush hour again), and agreed to meet me the following week at the hospital.

Fast forward to today, the doctor checked me again, offered some extra services even though it was a free visit, and had her colleague perform some ultrasound therapy on me. I was amazed at how pleasant and nice everyone was and how I wasn’t even charged for the visit. And she wants to see me again, also for free, to make sure that I am completely better!

Maybe it’s not such a cool story for everyone, but for me it was a blessing! I love how generous and helpful my friend was to take her evening on such short notice to help me find a doctor on a busy holiday break when I wasn’t sure what to do. I love the concern the doctor showed when often doctors (not just here but also in America) generally just try to get you in and out, especially if you aren’t paying. I love that God answers prayers. And I learned, never argue with a taxi driver in a foreign language when you’re deliriously feverish and don’t know where you’re going. Driver knows best.

The International Women of Romania

Every March 8 is International Women’s Day, and in Romania that means… grannies get helped off the trams.

One of my favorite things about Romania is when you get to see some young guy stop and give an old lady his seat, help her down from the tram, carry her groceries, cross the street, etc.

Almost every day, I’ll see young guys flexing their chivalry muscles for the older women in the city. It’s one of those really cool, old-fashioned kind of things that I wish would happen more often in America and more “prosperous” nations.

So it’s not unusual to see young guys go out of their way to give deference to older women, but International Women’s Day was a real treat. In the space of 45 minutes, I got to see 3 women helped off the trams, one carried in the arms of two young knights in shining armor, one woman helped across a puddle, five women who had doors held open for them obscenely long amounts of time, and countless others who were given free flowers from McDonald’s as well as some other business courting new customers.

Sometimes, Bucharest is a mystery to me. In the same city where random drunk men will grab at women’s bodies and whistle cat calls, where you can watch the guys undress the girls with their eyes, where women are encouraged to pursue “jobs” in massage parlors, prostitution, and web cam modeling, where sex trafficking is a very real issue… you’ll find guys holding doors for women, helping them across puddles, and giving up their seats on the bus.

People are complicated.

That Agape Kind of Love


Last week, I had a meeting with a good friend of mine, Camil. He’s one of my favorite people in Romania, because he looks at life differently and has a unique way of thinking about God. I guess we all have our own unique way of thinking about God, but I like Camil regardless.

While we were thinking and talking and discussing, Camil brought up three words for “love” in Greek thinking – eros, philios, and agape. “Eros is the base, sexual, physical kind of love… Philios is the comforting, friendship kind of love… But agape is the epitome of love, the most advanced form of love, the love that Christianity brought to the world, God’s kind of love.”

Agape, this is the love you’re trying to bring,” he said, looking at me. “This is the love you’re talking about, the self-sacrificing love like Jesus showed.”

That is the goal, yes, and sometimes I achieve it.

On my way home after our meeting, I got a call from my friend Daniel: “Jake, we will build your shelves tomorrow.”

Weeks ago, I had told Daniel I wanted to buy some shelves for our kids’ clothes, to replace the suitcases we’ve been using. “No, don’t buy shelves,” he had told me. “I know how to build furniture. Let me build them for you.”

“OK,” I had told him, “when we have some extra money, I’ll let you know and you can help me build the shelves.”

Flash forward a couple weeks. I had some extra money, so Daniel came over early in the morning, drew up the plans for the shelves, and then we both walked to the hardware store to buy everything. Well, the hardware storeS. We visited five different places to get everything we needed. By the time we were done, we had walked through freezing rain and wind carrying piles of wood, tape, screws, and tools. And we were beat. I joked with Daniel that he owed me money for letting him help, considering all the free exercise coaching I was providing him.

He left and I told him, “Let’s leave the wood here for now, and maybe in a few days we can build the shelves. When you have the time.”

So he called me a couple days later, because his Saturday was suddenly free, informing me, “Tomorrow we will build your shelves.”

We planned to meet at 3pm. Daniel got there at 2:40pm. I got there at 3:30pm. By the time I got home, he was already well on his way toward finishing, and together we built four brand-new shelves.

Now that’s agape love.

How to Return a Hamburger at Carrefour

Did you know you can return sub-par hamburgers and french fries at the department store Carrefour? Yes, say you buy a hamburger in their cafe, you take a bite and it seems a little dry, so you take a few more just to make sure, and then, nearly done with the sandwich, you realize that, yes, your original estimation was indeed correct and this sandwich, contrary to what you had been led to believe, was not so delicious and juicy after all, you can, if you find yourself in said predicament, go to the customer service department and demand a refund. And, if it happens to you like it did to me, you might get offered double the money back, only to tell them that they made a math error and you really only need the original amount back, not twice as much, but you appreciate the gesture.

Today, I treated a bunch of friends to dinner at Carrefour. You can get hot dogs for 30 cents and a sandwich for 60 cents, so if you need to treat a bunch of friends to dinner, it’s a good place to go.

It’s also a good place to go when the pizza restaurant you originally plan to eat at tells you, “I’m sorry, but your pizzas won’t be ready for at least five hours. We have a lot to do tonight. What? You already paid for the pizzas? Oh, yay for us.”

So we found ourselves at Carrefour eating hamburgers and hot dogs instead, licking our wounds and glad that the disappearing pizzas had at least been really cheap. As far as disappearing pizzas go and all.

When my soda came, I took a drink and realized that their soda machine was running out of syrup (the soda tasted like water). I like water, so I contemplated just drinking it and walking away content, but then I realized that if I didn’t say something and let them know their machine needed more syrup, other customers would get the same nasty soda-water combo that I got. Everyone would get bad service, nothing would change, and the restaurant would never improve.

I went to the counter and explained that I had ordered a soda, but what they gave me was mineral water, without the flavoring. In hindsight, I would like to have said, “I think your machine needs the syrup refilled, because the soda came out watery,” but I don’t know how to say that in Romanian yet.

Thankfully, the workers connected the dots. Halfway. They told me, “It’s not our fault. We got the soda from the machine.”

“It’s your machine,” I told them. “And I’d like the soda I paid for, not water please.”

After pouring me two more test cups, calling me stubborn, complaining that I was trying to get free soda, and simply ignoring me, I asked if they’d give me a can of the soda that I had ordered, since their machine wasn’t working. They said no. I asked for my money back, because I didn’t want to pay for a soda that was more water than soda.

“You can go to reception and talk to someone,” the woman told me.

OK. So I did. Me and my friend Daniel walked to reception and told them, “I ordered this hamburger, french fries, and soda, but when they gave me the soda, it didn’t have any flavoring. I just want to have the soda like I ordered.”

“It doesn’t have flavoring? Why not?”

I wanted to throw up my arms and sarcastically yell out, “It’s the machine’s fault! No one can do anything about it!”

She asked me if I had the receipt.

“No, they never gave me one.”

“You need the receipt if you want to return this purchase.” Well, I didn’t want to return this purchase. I wanted to eat it. I just wanted someone to put syrup in the soda machine so me and other people could get the sodas they were paying for instead of mineral water. I hadn’t even tried my burger or fries. They looked good, so why would I return them? And who returns a meal bought at a cafe anyway? This whole thing is ridiculous.

So I walked back to the cafe, told her politely that I needed a receipt so I could return the burger and fries and soda. She pulled out the garbage can and dug around until she found it.

“Thank you,” I smiled.

“With much pleasure,” she smiled back, as if our whole Soda War had never happened.

So I gave the customer service woman the receipt, she took the burger and fries and soda and set them by all the returned shoes, pants, and books, and returned my money. She counted wrong and accidentally handed me 14 lei instead of 7. Since I’m not into cheating stores out of their money (I just do freaky things like returning meals at department stores) I pointed out the mistake and gave back the extra 7 lei. With the returned money, I bought a couple slices of pizza somewhere else instead.

I didn’t get soda this time. I was too scared to risk it.

Lesson of the story: if your soda comes out watery at Carrefour, it’s no one’s fault. Just return your meal at reception and buy a pizza.

Epilogue… (Can you do that in a blog post?)

As I’m writing this down, I realize that the whole scenario still really bothers me. Not because I didn’t get my orange soda. I don’t care about soda. I can drink watered down soda. But I love Romania. And it’s the all-too-frequent stories like this that make people not love it here. Romanians, you’re some of the most amazingly awesome people I’ve ever met. You’ve got hearts bigger than the world even deserves. Stop giving in to mediocrity and complacency. Stop blaming everyone else and dodging responsibility and looking for the easy way out. There’s greatness in you.