A lot of folks think that Romanians are Gypsies. Maybe because the proper name for the ethnic group many call Gypsies is Roma. But, really, Roma are maybe 2 or so million of Romania’s 22 million inhabitants, and, unfortunately, they have a poor reputation among Romanians. Well, among Europeans in general. Nobody wants them and everybody hates them. Reminds me of that old Cher song…”they called us gypsies, tramps, and thieves.” There, now it’s in your head, too.
I started reading up on the Roma people, because I have been reading through The Rough Guide to Romania, and there is a section in there where the author recommends a day trip to a small commune called Clejani about 20 miles SW of Bucharest. Now, before you think hippies and free love, commune is the term used for the smallest governmental administrative unit in Romania. It is usually a collection of villages (which have no official government themselves) with a mayor in charge.
Clejani is known as the home of some of the best Gypsy musicians. A very well known band to have arisen from this town is called Taraf de Haidouks, which literally means “band of thieves.” Thieves in the Robin Hood sense. Jake and I saw this band perform in the movie, “Gypsy Caravan,” and they were amazing. YouTube Taraf de Haidouks. You’ll see what I mean. You might just start snapping your fingers and kicking up your feet along to the music.
But this great musical artform with a joyful sound has risen out of a town that looks straight out of a Third World nation. 20 miles from bustling, chaotic, modern Bucharest is this village of tiny, one room homes, run down and dirty. Now, I’m not saying this with an attitude of, “Let us Americans go help those poor Gypsies,” but just with a sadness that one group of people could be so hated and thought of as nothing more that second-class humans who happen to make good music by everyone else around them. The Romanian Roma have in recent years tried migrating to France and Spain, but, if you keep up with international news at all, you’ll remember that in 2010, France departed hundreds of them back to Romania. Nobody wants them.
They have no place to call home. But they’re people. They left India way back in somewhere between 800-1000 A.D., and ever since, they have been enslaved, reviled, mistreated, and neglected. But everyone loves their music. Yeah, they get hired to play for weddings and other events, but it stops there.
I want to visit Clejani while we’re in Romania. And I don’t want to just hear great music, leave a great tip, and leave, but I’d love to get to know the people. I’m sure there are some great stories to hear. One of my biggest prayers for Romania is to really, truly know the love of God. That love that breaks through barriers of ethnicity, economic status, and even long-held prejudices. I guess, really, that’s my prayer for every nation. Maybe I’m an idealist and have a romantic view of missions, or maybe I just believe in the power and love of God and the wonders of revival.
Romania is largely a “post-Christian” nation. Most people call themselves Romanian Orthodox in terms of religious affiliation, but that usually means little more than they were baptized in a church building as an infant, they attend weddings in a church building, and their funeral will be conducted by a Romanian Orthodox priest one day.
Under Communist oppression, the church prospered, with men of God like Richard Wurmbrand refusing to surrender to a Godless regime.
Now, in the freedom of democracy and a free market economy, God isn’t outlawed but ignored – not crushed beneath the feet of an iron dictatorship but trampled by the suede shoes of a generation of self-interested Black Friday pleasure-seekers.
That’s about as poetic as I’ll get here, so relish that line for a moment everyone. Aaaah, OK, now let’s move on.
When God is pushed out of society, morality follows suite. In Bucharest, a city of 35 colleges and universities, there is a growing trend toward student prostitution, whether it be in the form of massage parlours, escort services, or web cam girls. Many of these students (men and women) make good money. Some work out of their homes, others gather in collectives, and still others work as employees of video studios or modern-day pimps.
I’ve been reading some articles and interviews with the guys and girls involved with the business, and while there are some who cry “human trafficking” and “sex slavery,” and it may be true that there are elements of both of those, what has alarmed me the most is that the majority of participants (mostly women), view their business as a decent way to make an income. Prostitution and web cam work in Romania can net anywhere between $400 to $4,000 a month depending on how often you want to work and what you’re willing to do. Prostitution, according to some studies, is by far the best paying job available to women in Romania.
Due to the flexible schedule and decent pay, students are flocking to it. If there is no God beyond money, and your body is just a bunch of tissue and bone and blood, and sex is just something that feels good like cracking your back or letting out a good sneeze, then why not make a decent salary selling yourself?
I know stuff like this goes on all over the world, and the situation is actually (from what I’ve been reading) much better in Romania than some other places, but it breaks my heart that people can degrade themselves so much that they’re willing to sell their bodies for the pleasure of some random guy who really only cares about himself.
We bear the image of God. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We were created for His pleasure, not for our own selfish pursuit of money or for some random guy who’s willing to pay for sex.
Sunday, our car broke down. It didn’t become completely undriveable, like a dead battery or bad alternator, it’s just that it would overheat every 2 miles, and it had no power steering, and the battery was slowly losing its charge, and the engine belt had fallen off, and smoke was billowing out the back. The end result was that I found myself stuck at a McDonald’s in Pewaukee, still about 20 miles from my home, on my way from one church service to another, wondering what God was gonna do to get me out of this one.
My pastor was shortly behind me, so I wasn’t worried about a ride, and rightly so because he picked me up a few minutes later. What was on my mind was that we’d put a lot of money into the van already just to keep it running, we couldn’t afford any more repairs, and I had to somehow figure out how to get my family around without a vehicle.
And we’re leaving for Romania in 3 months!
Thanks to my pastor, I got back home safe and sound, and thanks to a good friend, I limped my car into a garage the next day to let the mechanics have a look. Their grand total on the repairs needed? $2497.90.
Well, we’d survived a day without a car, so we could handle some more. We planned on scrapping it and just using the bus and praying for God to provide a loaner vehicle for a few months before leaving.
God had better plans. 🙂
After we got home, Jessie and I put out a quick Facebook notice about needing prayers for our van situation and sent an email to the 200+ people on our email list.
A few hours later, I was on the phone with a man I’ve never met, explaining our situation.
“If you can get your van towed here, I’ll fix it for you for free,” he told me.
“Well, you might have to pay $100-$150 in parts, but I’ll see what I can cover.”
Meet Dan. He fixes cars. And when people can’t pay, he does it for free. Dan is a professional mechanic, so he fixes cars for a living. In his spare time (pun intended), he tends to do one of two things – he either fixes more cars, or he helps his wife raise the 14 children they’ve adopted. Yeah, 14. Let it sink in a bit.
Well, Dan’s bid of “free” seemed a lot better than the garage’s $2497.90, so I got the van towed and let him do the rest. A day later, I picked up the van, completely fixed and running great, still never having met Dan in person. And, to top it all off, Dan paid for all the parts too, so all I had to pay was the towing fee.
Thank you, Jesus! I am continually in awe of how good He is, and how awesome His church can be. When all was said and done, we had 2 people offer to loan us cars for 3 months, one of which I’ve never met in person, we had 2 others loan us cars to use for the day, and we had over $600 of donations come in for repairs which we’ll now be able to use to get passports. God is good, and, man, I love His people too!
As we’re gearing up for Romania, God keeps reminding me over and over again that we can trust Him, that He’s got everything under control, and that, if everything falls apart on us, He can come in with a mechanic to fix it all up for free.