The missionary adventures of the Stimpson family

Archive for May, 2012

Day 31 – In Need of Iarba Verde

So we’ve completed 1 month in Romania today.  It’s strange knowing we’ve been here a month already.  When I think of all we don’t know and can’t do and haven’t figured out and haven’t finished yet, I feel like we just got here, but when I think about living in Milwaukee, it feels like that was eons ago.

Sort of in commemoration of our month in Romania, and sort of because we just needed to see something other than concrete buildings every day, today Jessie and I (with Isaac in tow) hopped on the train to get some iarba verde.  Literally translated “green grass,” Romanians talk about iarba verde like Wisconsinites talk about going “up north” or Virginians talk about going to the beach.

One guidebook on Romania I read said something along the lines of, “To understand the Romanian culture, you have to understand that, at heart, Romanians are all country people.  They may live in the city or work in the city or go to school in the city, but they’re rural people at heart with strong connections to the land.”

So today, we headed north to see some of that land.  We took a train an hour and a half north to Sinaia, home to Peleș Castle, Sinaia Monastery, and some beautiful mountain scenery.  And not, we found out, home to as many dogs as Bucharest, which is a major selling point in my opinion.  We fell in love with this beautiful little town in the foothills of the Bucegi Mountains.  The air smells like pine trees, lilacs, and cold mountain breezes, it’s quiet enough so you can hear the sound of your own footsteps and chirping birds in the distance, and it’s not completely packed in with people every square inch.  We love Bucharest, and it’s definitely where we feel called to reach out, but I think I need to get up to Sinaia at least once a week now.  😉

I don’t want to bore you with a whole play-by-play of our time in Sinaia, but here’s some of the more interesting things that happened today:

– We were running late to catch our train because the girls all had a melt-down cry-fest at the elevator as they were saying goodbye, so we prayed the whole subway ride that we’d make it on time.  I carried a backpack filled with everything we needed for the day and Jessie had Isaac in the baby carrier, and as soon as the subway reached Gara de Nord train station, we booked it high-speed, running through crowds of people, finding our train, and hopping on board maybe 30 seconds before the train left.  I wish I had the whole thing on video – since Jessie was carrying Isaac in the baby carrier, she couldn’t take very big steps.  At one point in our running, I looked over at her and she was taking these tiny little steps really, really quickly.  I’m sure the whole thing was pretty funny looking.

– One of the guidebooks we read said that trains in Romania don’t normally come with toilet paper in the bathrooms, so they recommended bringing your own, for obvious reasons.  We brought a giant roll with us, but it turned out that the first train had amazing, fully-stocked bathrooms, so we never used it.  On our return train, we assumed the bathroom situation would be equally good, so we didn’t bother bringing toilet paper into the restroom with us.  Bad idea.  This bathroom was nasty dirty, had no toilet paper, and (I kinda’ liked this part) the toilet had a hole in the bottom that went right through the floor of the train.  All the toilets on Romanian trains just empty directly onto the tracts (which is a good reason to never play on train tracks, kids!), but this train in particular, you could see it as it happened.  Another strong selling point in my opinion.

– We toured Peleș Castle with a group of Americans, and it was a little embarrassing.  One woman made a really dumb joke that just made Americans look xenophobic and stupid.  In reality, we are kinda’ xenophobic and stupid, but I still don’t want people to know that.  But now you all do because I’ve just put it up in my blog.  Beyond that, Jessie was the first to notice just how frumpy all the Americans looked.  Americans just don’t dress nicely unless they have to.  And even then, we’re pretty practical about it.  In Romania, women would probably wear high heels while hunting for bear.  It’s a little annoying sometimes just how much emphasis everyone places on looks, but it’s just how it is here and I guess we’d grown almost used to it.  During the tour, we weren’t wearing anything fancy ourselves, but after spending so much time around Romanians, we’d gotten used to seeing people dressing really nicely all the time.  It was really weird seeing women in sweatsuits and hoodies again.

– Most people I’ve met in Romania sound Italian when they speak English.  Most.  Filip sounds like he’s from Chicago, AndreEa sounds British, and our tour guide, who was really funny and a great guide, spoke with a thick Dracula accent.  In case you were wondering, it’s only moderately creepy when you’re walking around an old palace following a female Dracula impersonator.

– After seeing the castle, we stopped and listened to a street performer playing classical guitar for a while.  He was really good, so we bought a CD from him.  After paying, he asked the obligatory questions, “Where are you from?” and “What are you doing in Romania?”  When we told him we were missionaries who came to tell people about Jesus, he said, “Yes, that is why you are shining.  You are like Moses, full of God.”  Then he told us about his father, who was a Pentecostal evangelist in Romania.

– Leaving the castle grounds, we passed 2 Asian women who took one look at Isaac in the baby carrier and just started cracking up.  They were laughing uncontrollably, tearing up even.  That got Jessie and I laughing too, but I don’t really know what it was all about.

– Later, we picked up some cheap souvenirs for the girls – little purses with girls wearing dresses sewed on them.  When we went to buy them, the store owner refused to let us get them.  In Romanian, he told us, “No, these are for girls.  You have a boy,” referring to Isaac.  “How about a hat?”  I love how Romanians will help you do the right thing, even if you didn’t ask their advice or they don’t really know what they’re talking about, as in this case.  I explained to him that we had three girls at home who the purses were for.  Then he understood, sold us the purses, and moved on to ask us the same two questions everyone asks us in Romania.  When he asked, “What are you doing here?” his wife answered for us, “They’re missionaries!  They have four children!”  Yes, of course, what else could we be?  Isn’t that just a law of nature, that everyone with four kids becomes a missionary?  We spent some time talking about missions for a while, in mixed Romanian and English, some of it making sense, and found out both the owner and his wife are good Baptists.

– We stopped for dinner at a restaurant called either “Steak” or “Rocky Mountain.”  The sign said one thing but the menu said another, not that it really matters.  The tagline for the place was “Casual American Dining” or something like that.  It wasn’t exactly American dining, but it was very good nonetheless.  One of the fun things here was that the waitress never brought our bill, asked if we were ready to pay, or even hassled us to buy dessert.  She brought our food and then left us alone.  When we were finally ready to leave, we had to find her to get the bill from her so we could pay and go get our train.  We only sat in the restaurant for an hour and a half or so, but I’m sure we could have stayed all day and never been pushed out.  So different from the McDonald’s style of rushing in and out and getting as many people fed as you can every night.

– When we took the train back to Bucharest, we accidentally wound up in the first class cabins.  We didn’t really know where we were or what we were doing, so we just sat down somewhere.  Later, the ticket-check guy came buy and chewed us out.  Thankfully, someone near us spoke up on our behalf and so we were allowed to stay.  It wasn’t amazing in first class, but the four course meal and free back massages were pretty nice.  Seriously, I think the only benefit was having a room you could close off if you wanted to, but you never would because it was crazy stuffy already in there, and having seats with a little more leg room.

– On the train, Jessie got into a conversation with a Catholic woman from Spain.  The woman was pretty distracted, but Jessie got to at least tell her about why we moved to Bucharest, to tell people about Jesus.

-When we got back to Bucharest, we were welcomed home by being attacked by two wild dogs.  Well, we were verbally assaulted by one and physically threatened by the other.  We were just walking along the sidewalk minding our own business, when all of a sudden a street dog decided we were a threat and barked viciously at us.  That scared this other giant dog right next to us, who lunged for Jessie and growled.  I pulled her away and we just kept walking.  Aaah, Bucharest, home sweet home.

Here’s some pics from the day:


Day 30 – Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

Today was a pretty mellow day. I (Jessie) got caught up on some home schooling in the morning with Naomi and Mae, made a giant stack of clătite (Romanian panckakes, similar to crepes) for lunch so we could use up some căpșune (strawberries) we got at the market last week, and headed out to the market with Naomi in the afternoon.

I love going to the market here. It is one of my weekly highlights, because I really like using the tramvei (tram), I love wandering through the aisles of fruits, veggies, flowers, honey, cheese, and meat, and it is my best opportunity to practice hearing and speaking Romanian. So that I can start to get to know some people, practice my Romanian with them, and eventually progress in conversation beyond, “I’d like two kilograms of potatoes,” and “Thank you,” I have been trying to go to the same vendors each week (if their prices are good). Because of my blonde hair or my slow, pitiful Romanian–or more likely because of the cute blonde-haired children I bring along–I easily stand out and am remembered.

Today, I was asked by three different people which country I was from, even though I didn’t speak in English, haha! But, I was excited, because I actually knew what they were asking me, even though they asked in Romanian. Even better, I could answer back in Romanian! As usual, I got, “Wow” and “Whoa!” But the most encouraging part was when the women who sold me the strawberries asked if there were strawberries in America also. I answered, “Da, dar aici–foarte bun!” They laughed! That means, “Yes, but here, very good!” I tend to forget verbs, but at least I’m making some sense.

Having Naomi along was fun, as it was a good time to get mama-daughter time in with her, and now that she’s getting a little older, I think that’s really important for her to hang out with mom, ask questions, chat, and learn how to do grown-up things. She loved it, but she was thrilled when an older lady came up behind us, saying, “Domnișoară, Domnișoară! Doamnă!” which means, “Miss, miss! Ma’am!” As we turned to her, she handed Naomi a generous bag of strawberries, and started speaking to us with a big smile and fast Romanian. I explained that my Romanian was not very good and that I couldn’t understand her (in Romanian), but she just kept smiling and talking about Naomi. I asked, “Pentru?” and pointed at Naomi, meaning “for Naomi?” She nodded and smiled and walked away. Naomi was so pleased and carried it all the way home herself.

I realized later that Friday is Children’s Day here in Romania, and one of our friends here, Cristiana, had explained to us that strawberries are a popular treat for children on that day, so I’m thinking that was her Children’s Day gift to Naomi. I emphatically told the woman, “Mulțumesc, foarte mult!” I feel like we will soon be more a part of this beautiful culture, and I cannot wait until I can speak even more Romanian!

To market, to market to buy a fat pig.

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

Day 29 – Getting Disemboweled

Today was a full day.  Here’s a quick, not-so-organized run-down of the day’s events:

– Jessie and I studied some more Romanian this morning.  We learned about “poftim” and “poftiti,” two of the most powerful and versatile words in the Romanian language.  They can mean everything from “What did you say?” to “Please, you first” or “Excuse me?” or “Here you go.”  I got to use them a few times today, which is helpful in getting it to stick in our minds.

– Train tickets are pretty cheap here, so Thursday Jessie and I are gonna head out of town for the day to explore Sinaia, a little mountain getaway an hour or so to the north, in the Carpathian Mountains.  Thanks for the advice, Irina!  We’re excited to check it out.  So today we made our way to a ticket office to buy our tickets.  Technically, you can buy your tickets right at the train station just before you go, in most cases, but we had heard it was a lot easier to get them from an Agentia de Voiaj instead, so we headed out for the nearest one.  Due to a combination of Google’s inaccurate directions, me reading an address wrong, and us heading in the wrong direction a few times, we couldn’t find the ticket office and just decided to go to the train station to buy tickets, since it was pretty close.  I had written down some Romanian phrases to use, and I was looking forward to getting some practice, but they had electronic kiosks set up that were really easy and quick, so we never even spoke to a person.

– While heading to the train station to buy our tickets, we had 2 different people ask us how to get to such-and-such a metro station.  For the first time while in Bucharest, we were able to help both people out.  We not only understood what they were asking, but we actually knew the information to give them, and we were able to communicate it all in Romanian!  Big steps forward!  One of the times was really funny because it happened just after Jessie and I realized we were at the wrong metro station didn’t know how to get to the right one.

– I met with Cosmin today, a student who goes to Missio Dei church.  I wanted some practice with Romanian, and I just want to keep meeting more people, learn the situation here, etc.  Cosmin is awesome.  He’s got such a heart to see Jesus glorified in Bucharest.  He loves people, he’s got a real sensitive heart toward Jesus, and he actually has done street evangelism and is hopeful of seeing people born-again through it.  Anyway, we talked about tons of stuff, mostly in English.  He did help me with a few Romanian words, but mostly I learned a lot about the situation in the city.  Cosmin confirmed what I’d been hearing and reading about prostitution being one of the biggest ways students make money in the city.  The biggest thing right now is webcams, and companies are now hiring both guys and girls at an alarming rate.  They promise salaries of 1000 euro a month, which is huge.  Cosmin estimated that well over 50% of part-time jobs (which are the only ones open to students) were in the sex industry, specifically webcams.

– After talking for a bit, Cosmin offered to take me to visit a Romanian Orthodox church service at Mitropoliei, Romania’s biggest Orthodox church.  Despite the fact that many Orthodox Believers may be genuinely saved or at least seeking God as best they know how, the Orthodox church as a whole is given to idolatry, corruption, and legalistic ritualism.  When we got to the church, I was surprised at how few people were in the service, and my heart broke because those who were there seemed genuinely hoping to experience God, but all they’d find was emptiness.  People were kissing icons, laying on the floor weeping, and praying quietly, all while the priest sang Scriptures in highly formal Old Romanian that most people can’t understand.

– This evening, Susie treated us all to Pizza Hut and bowling.  The Romanians pronounce it “boweling,” so there were a lot of jokes about getting disemboweled tonight.  Emi, a member of Missio Dei church, joined us and helped translate for us.  He also confirmed the many uses of the word “poftim” and helped us with some of our pronunciation.  And I only mention this because it has never happened to me before, but I won the game of bowling tonight.  Miracles are happening already.

– Today was a good day to practice speaking.  Some words I learned and used a lot today:

  • Poftim / Poftiți, which mean almost anything
  • Gata, which you can use when the kids are being rowdy and you’ve had enough, or if you say it like a question it can mean “Ready?”
  • Deasemenea, which is a really hard to spell way to say “also”
  • Bilet, which means “ticket”
  • Dus-intors, which means “round trip”
  • Mișto and Madfă, which, according to Cosmin, both mean “cool” or “awesome” in Bucharest guy slang
  • Vehicolul meu pe pernă de aer e plin cu țipari, which means “My hovercraft is full of eels.”  OK, realistically I didn’t use that one very much.

Well, I’m tired and I’m gonna go to bed.  Love you all!

Day 28 – Prayer Walking

Well, today was rainy again, but I’ve been antsy to get out and see the city more, meet some people, etc. so I went on a long prayer walk (route pictured above).  I did a fundraising event before leaving America, promising to prayer walk 1 km of Bucharest for every person who would support me at $10/month or more.  Since 20 people signed up, I have to do a whopping 20 km of prayer walking.

We’ve probably done ten times that much walking, but we weren’t “officially” praying as we did it, so I didn’t count it toward our 20 km of prayer walks we have to do.  We were, however, officially walking…

Anyway, today I did almost half my total promised – 9 km.  I think we’ll end up doing way more than 20 km of prayer walking, because it went so quickly and it was a lot of fun to get out, try to get lost, and then try to find my way again.

While doing a lot of walking, praying, meeting people, exploring, learning the city’s transportation system, etc, God is giving us a real heart for this city.  It’s confusing and difficult to think of how we’ll be able to communicate Jesus to these people who’ve heard it all and been through a lot more than we have, and sometimes it’s frustrating and intimidating when few people want to talk to us or even smile in our direction, or when someone yells something at us and we don’t know what they’re saying, but we’re growing to love this city and these people, and whether people receive us or reject us, hug us or hate us, they can’t take away this love that Jesus has put in our hearts.

It’s strange and disconcerting feeling like we don’t belong anywhere.  This is Memorial Day in America, and while holidays have never meant much to me, now that we’re away and nobody here cares about remembering America’s great military-industrial complex, it’s become glaringly obvious that we don’t quite belong.  We’re not Romanians, we can’t communicate very well, people keep switching to English so we can do simple things like even buying milk… and we’re not quite Americans either anymore.  We’re at the end of the American candy we brought with us (now you know why we had 11 large suitcases!), I got rid of all our American money when we landed, and I’m almost done with our Puffs Plus tissues I brought along.

It’s a really weird feeling, being stuck between two worlds.  I wonder if Jesus felt like this, when He gave up heaven and came to earth.  America isn’t quite heaven, but I wonder if Jesus felt a sort of odd, constant alienation from the people around him.  He could communicate well enough, but they would never really listen to what he said.  And while they would get all hung up on politics or religious holidays or impressive buildings, Jesus knew his kingdom wasn’t off this world.  Jesus hung out with sinners, invited Pharisees to dinner, invited himself to dinner, and definitely became a part of Jerusalem culture and society, but I wonder if, in the midst of that, he felt like he was still a stranger.

Thankfully, we’ve got some really great friends we’ve met here, people who really care about us (Filip and Missio Dei, the Boldeas, Jason the Canadian, George the Australian), and Susie is an ever-present ally in our home, and that helps us feel like we belong a lot more, but it’s not quite home yet.

I didn’t mean to go on that tangent.  We’re really doing very good, but homesickness is hitting a little – I’d like some cheddar cheese, a real, juicy, burger, a Spotted Cow, no wild dogs following me, the rain to stop…  Shoot, if just the rain stopped I’d be content.  🙂

Anyway, here’s a quick run-down of some of the more interesting events I encountered while prayer walking:

– I was followed by one wild dog for about a kilometer.  At first it freaked me out, but then when I noticed he chased off other dogs who came close, I decided I’d let him stick around.

– I had a group of 5-6 dogs surround me at one point, but I told them that it was bad luck to eat an American and so they left me alone, probably went in search of a Canadian.  Seriously, usually the dogs seem to ignore you if you just stay calm and keep walking without paying any attention to them.

– I came across a half-eaten dog carcass on the sidewalk.  Needless to say, it was pretty gross.  I didn’t take pictures.  The only thing I can imagine would have eaten it would have been another dog.  Sick cannibals.  They’re barely human.

– One road was littered with hundreds of flyers for yet another “masaj erotic.”  These guys are aggressive in their advertising – posters, flyers, newspaper and magazine ads… you can’t escape it.

– On a similar note, Gina Pistol is literally everywhere.  Don’t Google her or you’ll regret it.  When Playboy came to Romania, she was their first cover-girl.  Now, she’s advertising underwear on the billboards of the city.  Kind of like a pre-Christian Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43).

– So we’ve covered wild dogs and sexually-explicit advertising.  Next up would be crazy driving.  I can tell I’m getting used to the driving in this city (which, parenthetically speaking, doesn’t mean I’m ready to drive here, but just that I’m getting used to seeing it).  Anyway, I thought it was funny today while on my prayer walk because a student driver came down a busy two-lane road in the middle of the lanes.  My first thought was, “Whoa, he’s in the middle of the road,” followed quickly by, “just like everyone else does here.”

– To close on a positive note, it surprised me just how many people were out in the rain.  No one was really hanging out, but tons of people were out walking around.  In Milwaukee, no one goes out in the rain, except maybe students.  Here, you’ve got no choice, so you grab an umbrella and a rain coat and you get out there and get wet.  I kinda’ like that.

Well, it was a really good time praying for the city and letting God stir my heart to see this nation changed.  I got soaked, especially after my umbrella was shredded by a gust of wind, but it was good to get out and pray.

Here’s some rainy photos for ya’ll:

Day 27 — An American Mother’s View of Bucharest

I (Jessie) haven’t posted much on here lately, but Jake asked if I wanted to write the blog post tonight, so I decided to reflect on my observations as a mother from the United States here in a big city, in a different country, on a whole new continent. The truth is, after a little while of thinking back on our (almost) four weeks here, I realized a lot of things are not so drastically different from those back in the States.

Well, the first thing that would cause many overprotective mamas to cringe are the wild dogs. The situation is not as bad as it used to be, but for sure, if you visit here, the random, mangy looking dogs walking around all over the place will grab your attention. Our middle daughter Mae is pretty scared of dogs, so being here is forcing her to deal with that fear on a daily basis as we go out and walk to the grocery store, metro stop, bread shop across the street, and parks. She’s handling it better than I expected, but when a big ol’ scroungy looking animal comes up to you in the park while you’re eating, it’s a little frightening to a little kid. Kids should be able to have fun at a park, especially in a  giant city like this, and not have to worry about stray dogs biting or chasing them. And there’s really nothing you can do. I guess a few years ago, the Romanian government proposed a euthanasia solution to the problem, but animal activists from elsewhere in Europe put up a big stink and the “solution” was only in effect for about a day. Ya know, I don’t like animal cruelty, but the 60,000 wild dogs that sometimes form packs and kill people here and bite dozens of people a day seem like good enough reasons to put a permanent “solution” in effect. The kind of lives these dogs lead are pretty pitiful anyway.

Ok, just one more thing on the dog rant. Jake shared this link that has a map of Bucharest with indicators of where all the wild dog packs hang out in the city. Apparently, one of the guys running for mayor created this and put it up online, so it’s probably not totally accurate, but funny, because every time there is an election, there are tons of promises from candidate about cleaning up the dog problem. But no one ever does.

Besides the dogs, our kids have gotten used to cramming onto buses and subway trains, crossing crazy busy streets where cars stop only inches from your legs (at least it feels like), playing on random little playgrounds scattered throughout the city streets (these are usually covered in graffiti but we’re used to that from Milwaukee), and playing outside late into the evening on hot nights. Sometimes we even cram our whole family into the backseat of someone’s car when we need a ride to IKEA or church. I guess, technically, we are supposed to have car seats for at least Isaac, but the rules aren’t too enforced here. They are adapting so well, with just a little timidity. We try to do special things with each kid occasionally, like take one with us to the grocery store, take another one to the bakery, go on a prayer walk with a couple of them one night, or take all of them for ice cream bars down the street. I can only imagine what’s going through their minds being so far from everything familiar.

Some differences I’ve noticed. In the States, we homeschooled. And we are continuing that here, even though it’s practically unheard of. There are a few families here in Bucharest, mostly from a Baptist background, who homeschool, and we hope to connect with them some time. In America, a city this size would have tons of homeschooling families, as it is becoming increasingly popular there. But here, with help from HSLDA, some families are finding ways to do it legally. You can read more about the situation through the HSLDA website. (I would link to it, but I cannot access the site right now for some reason.)

Along with that, not many mothers in general stay home with their children. The government offers new mothers the option to stay home with their child for up to two years and receive a percentage of their salary while they are at home. But after two years, most return to work, because it is very difficult to afford to live here on a single income. This is a hard thing for me to see, because I love being a mother and staying home with my children. It is an honor and a delight for me, and I’m thankful to God every day for this opportunity to pour into my children’s lives, to get to know them, to share the love of Jesus with them all day long as we go about our days, to instruct them in their schoolwork and tailor it to their specific learning styles and interests, and to just be with them. Though children are loved here in this culture, most families have only one child. That’s not even enough to replace the mother and father someday, and statistics are showing that the population of Romania–and Europe in general–is declining and aging. But that’s all for another post someday.

Some wonderful things I’ve seen as a mother here: the food is much healthier overall. The produce and bread we get is fresh and inexpensive and not covered in chemicals while being genetically modified in a factory somewhere. We can take the kids along to the market–where the older women gush over them saying “frumoase, frumoase” over and over while smiling and blowing them oodles of kisses–and they can help pick out the food grown here in Romania that we will eat later that day! Our girls, even though we live in a big city, get to walk a lot. We don’t have a car, so we walk to the bus stop or the metro stop, to the grocery store, around the mall across the street when in rains and we need to get out. There are puddles EVERYWHERE when it rains, so they can be kids and splash in them when we go out with umbrellas. There are several huge parks located near metro stops, so we can feel like we’re escaping the city and the kids can run around freely.  And there are great museums where we can learn about the culture and life of Romania!

Overall, I’m enjoying my time here as a mother and wife and missionary and homeschool teacher. I’m excited for my children, my MK’s to grow up in a new place, learning a new language and culture, and have this experience with us. I can’t wait to find out even more!

Day 26 – My Testimony

I’m working on getting my personal testimony made into a tract in Romanian, so I can hand it out to people who ask us why we came.  I’ve already written a few in English for use in Milwaukee and Oconomowoc, but the language I used won’t translate quite the same, and I want to gear my message specifically for the Romanian people.

Anyway, today, I worked on it for much of the day, because I’m itching to be able to get it produced and handed out to people.  Rather than do a regular blog post, because all we did today was practice Romanian, meet with God, get groceries, clean the apartment, and work on my tract, I want to put up what I’ve got so far, so you can all give me your feedback.

I’ve got to make it quite a bit shorter, but here it is, my testimony of how I came to find Jesus…

Hi.  I’m Jake Stimpson.  You’ve probably never heard of me before and don’t know anything about me (other than my name, of course), but that’s OK because hopefully you’ll read this pamphlet and by the end of it you’ll know at least a little bit more about me.

I moved here to Bucharest, Romania, recently, with my wife and children, but I’m originally from the United States.  I was raised in a different world than you, speaking a different language, eating different food, but chances are, we’re pretty similar on the inside, and our stories are probably more alike than different.

I was born in a medium-sized town in Wisconsin, Green Bay, where football is king, dads work hard in factories, and everyone goes to church on Sunday.  Some are Catholics, some Lutherans, some Baptists, but whatever type of family you were born into, that’s the church you go to.  You don’t ask questions about it or really try to deviate too much from the norm – you just go.  Because that’s what “good” Americans do.

And that’s what we did.

Whenever anyone asked me what religion I belonged to or what I thought about God, I would think, “Well, duh, I’m a Christian.  I live in America.  We’re all Christians here.”

The reality, though, was that, like most people in America, I wore the Christian mask on the outside, but inside, my life was messed up, and honestly, I knew more about church than real Christianity.  I attended church almost every week most of my life, but I didn’t really believe there was a God.  Every week, I’d hear sermons about how God was real, but evolution and science made more sense to me.

If God was real, it didn’t seem to me like He had any real power to do anything or help anyone.  My life was a mess (more on that later), and everyone I knew who said they loved God was at least as messed up.  I remember sitting in church and looking out across the chairs, seeing one person after another stuck in sin.  That guy was addicted to drugs, that one got drunk at parties every weekend, that girl was having sex with her boyfriend, that one was gossiping and spreading lies around the school…  People who went to church and claimed to believe in God weren’t any more holy or happy or loving than those who didn’t.

And my life?  On the outside, it looked really good.  I was a straight-A student, at the top of my class, had good friends and a good job, and I went to church a couple times a month.  Inside, I was trapped in sin.

I had a lot of hatred and anger in my heart.  I was picked on as a kid, so I secretly hated my classmates.  I used to get into a lot of fights, but then I got too scared I’d get into serious trouble and just plotted revenge in my head instead.  My parents went through a divorce when I was 13, and so I hated them for tearing our family apart.  My bosses seemed to ignore me at work and pass me by for promotions and pay raises, so I hated them too.  On the outside, I could joke, smile, and laugh, but inside, I was mad at a lot of people most of the time.  I never murdered anyone, but the Bible says hatred is just about the same thing (Matthew 5:22), so I wasn’t in a good place with God.

Besides the anger in my heart, I was completely addicted to pornography and lust.  Most guys are nowadays, all over the world, though few will admit it.  I was pretty smug and self-righteous about the fact that I had never done drugs or had sex before marriage, but my mind was filled with anger and criticism, and my heart was consumed with lust.  I got into online pornography when I was about 12, and it began to control my life.  The Bible says anger is the same as murder, and it also says that lust is the same as adultery (Matthew 5:28), and since I couldn’t go a day without looking at porn, in God’s eyes, I had committed adultery with a lot of women.

I tried to ignore the guilt I felt for living so selfishly, but deep down inside, I knew the hatred and the lust were wrong, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I tried going to church, I tried memorizing Scripture, I tried punishing myself and giving up movies or video games every time I looked at porn, I tried listing all my sins before God and telling Him I was sorry, but nothing seemed to help.

But I had it all backwards.  It’s not about trying to do all the right things or say all the right words, so you feel better and look good to others.  Christianity is about recognizing what Jesus already did for you, and then living for Him out of the power He provides.

When I got to college, I wandered into a church that met in a former bar.  It didn’t look like any church I’d ever seen before, and it was filled with people unlike any Christians I had known before.  These people really loved God, they talked about Him like He really existed, they were living holy lives, and they were honest and real with each other, even open about their failings.

It was enough to pique my curiosity and honestly come to God again, complete with all my faults.

Within a period of months, I had turned from my sin and decided to trust Jesus for my salvation, not trying to earn His favor or work my way into Heaven anymore, but trusting in what He had already done for me years ago on the cross.  And I started to change.  The bitterness and anger left.  I could forgive my parents, old bosses, classmates, anyone who had hurt me, and I really loved people now.  And God was setting me free from my addiction to pornography.  I didn’t instantly become perfect, but I didn’t NEED it like I used to.  I was free, really free.  And I knew I was forgiven.

What I couldn’t earn or work my way toward, Jesus gave me.  The Bible says, “Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could be right with God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  It’s not by your works that you can be forgiven and made clean but only through the power of Jesus, who died on the cross and rose again, being glorified high above every power and authority.

If you’ve never trusted in Jesus for your salvation, you can have that peace of mind right now.  You don’t have to be tormented by guilt any longer.  Just agree with God that you’ve been living selfishly and in rebellion toward him, turn away from everything He calls sin, trust in His death on the cross for your forgiveness, and then receive Him into your life by praying and asking Him to come.

Day 25 – “Right now, I don’t want God. I want to live my life.”

We took the kids to Bucharest’s Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History for a few hours today, to get them out of the house and do something during the rainy, cloudy weather.  They’ve been getting really stir-crazy lately with all the rain we’ve been having.

On the way back, we had to get a cab, and we found out the driver spoke English really well.  I told him we had just moved to Bucharest and he asked how we liked it.  When I told him we loved it and the people were great, he said, “I do not think so.  I do not know how people are in America, but the problem with Romania is the Romanians.”

“What do you mean?”

“I wouldn’t call the Romanian people very good.  That’s what I mean,” he answered.

“Well, that’s really why we’re here.  We love Jesus, and so we came to Romania to tell people about Him, because He’s the only one who can make a person good,” I told him.  “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” he said, “I am Orthodox.  But when you’re Orthodox, you only have to go to church twice a year.”

“Christmas and Easter?”

“Yes, you understand.  It is different in our country than yours.  Here, you can be Orthodox, but you never have to do anything.”

So I started sharing the Gospel more, but he interjected, “I’m a realist.  I believe in evolution and science and thought, not God.  Evolution is the idea that makes the most sense.”

When I challenged his view on evolution, he told me, “I know, it has problems.  I don’t think it is the whole truth, but it is better than any other.”  Then he continued, “And right now, I don’t want God.  I want to live my life.  I want to work.  I want to party.  I want to have fun.”

I wish I could give you a happy ending to the story, that our cab driver got saved and gave his heat to Jesus, and now he just wants to love others and live for God, but he didn’t.  I continued speaking the truth and we kept discussing the Gospel until he dropped us off, but nothing all that miraculous happened because, like he said, he didn’t want God but just wanted to live his life.

That seems to be the general prevailing attitude among the younger generation in Bucharest – church is for old people, it’s irrelevant, why would I waste my time there, I’m just gonna live my life and have fun.

This city needs people sharing the Gospel, and the really crazy thing is that we’ve been here over 3 weeks so far and we haven’t seen anyone anywhere preaching the Gospel, except for in churches.  There are churches here, and ministries, and we’ve heard of stuff happening especially in the Gypsy areas, and I know of people who are witnessing to family and friends, but we haven’t seen anyone passing out tracts, street-preaching, holding out signs, singing worship music, or anything else, out in public and on the streets.  We’ve had people hand us coupons, free magazines, political leaflets, etc. but nothing about Jesus.

In Milwaukee or Chicago or any other American city, you’d see guys out all the time doing some sort of ministry, but we’ve encountered nothing here, in this city of 3 million people.  Nothing.  When we went out last Saturday for Night of Museums, there were a few hundred thousand people milling around, and in all the wandering and people-watching we did, we didn’t see a single person witnessing.  In Milwaukee, if you had an event that big, there’d be people out doing all sorts of stuff.

People here have told me, “Street evangelism just doesn’t work here anymore.”  Well, yeah, when you don’t do it, it’s not gonna work.  We gotta get out there, church.  We gotta bring the Gospel to the streets, where the people are.

Pray for us, that we’d learn the language well, get our tracts translated, and then just get out there and meet some people who need to hear the Gospel.  There’s plenty of them out there.

Day 24 – Dinosaur Revival and Multicultural Madness

This day really sucked.  It didn’t start out that way.  Not until Jessie bought a Samsung SC 4330 from Media Galaxy (pronounced May-dia Gah-lock-see).  Then it sucked big time.  Because the Samsung SC 4330 is a vacuum, and it’s like no other vacuum I’ve ever used.

We finally caved and bought a vacuum today.  The rugs were just too dirty and too hard to keep clean by shaking them out over the balcony every day.  So Jessie went to Media Galaxy to scope out their selection and find something reasonable.  She came back with a high-tech device NASA’s been using to pull satellites back from their orbits around the earth.

This vacuum is intense.  We have a rug in our living room that’s supposedly been cleaned, and we’ve been sweeping it and shaking it out over the balcony a lot, but one time over it with the vacuum left half the bag filled dust and hair and other gunk.  When I turn the vacuum on, the suction is so intense it’s hard to move across the floor.  If Tim the Toolman Taylor were to design a vacuum, it would work a little something like this thing.  If you wanna buy one, check it out here.

Tonight, Jessie and I were invited to a small church service / home group / Bible study on the western side of the city.  This was a service specifically for some of the refugees from Myanmar that have come to Bucharest.  I talked about their situation a little yesterday, but they’ve basically had a tough time in this city, what with the intrinsic anti-foreigner mentality here, the difficulties of the Romanian language, and the fact that the government has been stealing their aid money from the EU to line the pockets of rich politicians.  Or so the story goes anyway.

They asked me to share a little at the service, so I gave a short message of encouragement that God had chosen them to be here in this city, for this time, to shine as lights, despite the difficulties they were facing.  Jesus said, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, that you might go and bear much fruit.”  They didn’t wind up in Bucharest by mistake but by design of their Maker and Sustainer.

The service was a lot of fun, filled with people from Myanmar, Canada, Australia, America, Sudan, and even a token Romanian, believe it or not.  When the Myanmar Believers worshiped God, it felt like He just walked in the room.  They sang with such force, such intensity, that you knew they knew He was there.  I tried recording some of the worship on my phone, but it didn’t quite work out.

To be completely honest (because so much of this post has been a lie?), Jessie and I almost bailed on the service tonight.  Jessie was really tired, and I started thinking about the fact that we didn’t really know this church, they might be a cult, they might be really wacky, the whole church might be a cover for a human trafficking ring, it might be run by the mafia, etc.  We didn’t know where the service was being held (Jason wouldn’t give us an address).  Jason’s friend George, who we’ve never met, was going to pick us up at a subway station we’ve never been to, in a black SUV (suspicious, isn’t it?).  Jason was the only person we knew going to it and, honestly, he half-way kinda’ freaked me out with some odd beliefs he has.  And, no, I’m not gossiping; I told him that he freaked me out already and he’s OK with that.

So, we almost just bailed on the whole thing, but I’m glad we didn’t because we got to minister and encourage this group of really beat-down and worn-out people.  And we met some awesome Believers, including Pastor Peter from Sudan, one of the most humble and joy-filled men I’ve ever met.

My philosophy has been that if God has opened a door, we gotta go through it.  We’ve gotta believe that He’s guiding us and that He’ll bring people into our lives He wants us to minister to.  If you wait around to hear a magical voice from God before you ever do anything, you’ll sit at home all day and never get anything done for Jesus.  You’ve gotta take the opportunities He brings your way and believe that He’s going to do something miraculous in it.

I suppose we could have been duped into coming to a creepy cult meeting tonight, or we could have been trafficked or robbed or beat up and left for dead… but so what?  Yeah, it would really suck, but what does it matter compared to obeying what you think God is telling you to do?

His situation was way more radical than ours, but this whole thing reminds me of James Calvert.  When he arrived on the shores of Fiji to minister to a tribe of cannibals, the ship’s captain warned him, “Turn back!  You’ll  lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages!”  Calvert replied, “Sir, we died long before we came here.”  The beginning of the Christian life involves your death.  If you’re still serving yourself, pursuing your own desires and wants, scheduling your day to suite your interests, you haven’t died yet and God can’t fully use you.  As soon as you die to yourself, God can begin to really use you.

Speaking of which, last night, revival broke out in the dinosaur community of Bucharest.  Five dinosaurs got born-again and two whole gangs are now at peace with each other.  Here’s the video footage:

First, Triceratops shares the Gospel with Brontosaurus, then the two of them street preach to a gang of dinosaurs fighting in a bad neighborhood. Revival breaks out…

The gang of dinosaurs still has some questions about the Gospel, so Triceratops and Brontosaurus invite them out to eat a giant chunk of chicken and talk about God together. They talk about heaven, hell, and where dinosaurs go when they die…

Triceratops and Brontosaurus answer the most important question of all: how to be right with God and know you’ll go to heaven when you die. At the end of the discussion, a spirit of conviction falls and dinosaurs get right with God…

Like any dinosaur should do when they receive Jesus’ forgiveness for their sins, the gang of unruly dinosaurs wants to get baptized, so they attend Triceratops’s church. Dynamic praise and worship, preaching, testimonies, and baptisms galore…

Naomi made this whole thing up on her own, with Mae and Illiana helping a little, and though it’s not entirely theologically correct, I like the simplicity of it.  Every time you obey God and step outside your comfort zone, you should see results like Triceratops saw – people just receive the Gospel and get radically changed.

Day 23 – Autobuz at Rush Hour

After spending a while practicing Romanian today, I got a call from a fellow missionary we met Sunday night at River of Life Church.  He wanted to get together and connect with us a little bit, so we hopped on a bus (autobuz in Romanian) and headed to the only place that made sense – McDonald’s.  We hadn’t been to a McDonald’s yet, so it seemed OK to us.

On our way out the door, Susie gave us some money with an urgent appeal to “bring back a Big Mac and a Coke.”

Riding the bus went amazingly smooth.  We’d heard a lot of people don’t like to take the bus because it can get really packed, but it wasn’t bad.  It definitely was cramped during rush hour on our way back.  The bus stops, it looks like there’s no possible way to get in, but you step inside anyway and somehow find a way to sneak between two old Romanian women.  Any other time and place, you would feel very uncomfortable, but this is Bucharest and these are the buses and it is rush hour after all, so all sense of dignity vanishes in the way more pressing need to get in before the doors close around your leg.

It was crazy packed in there, but no one complains, no one jostles or pushes you, no one breathes awkwardly on your neck, and there were no weird smells.  At least not from the Romanians surrounding us.  Our bag of McDonald’s didn’t smell quite right compared to all the healthy food we’ve been eating…  Maybe this was just a good day, but things were way more quiet and dignified than I’ve experienced on buses in America.

And most people don’t seem to pay.  We went through a lot of hassle to get our RATB cards charged with 13 lei, but most people on the bus never put their cards through the reader and just got a free ride.  Unless I’m missing something.  In all our trips yesterday and today on the tram and bus, as far as I could tell, I saw maybe 3 people besides us pay.

So at McDonald’s, we met with fellow missionary Jason Smith.  He’s from Canada eh, and he’s been here 5 years working with Gypsies and refugees.  He does a lot of street preaching in Gypsy areas.  Recently, he was ministering to a woman who had undergone ten abortions.  Her daughter had been through five.  They were so hardened and calloused to it that they shared about it proudly, almost joking about it.  Romania holds the number 1 position for abortions worldwide – according to some statistics, almost 3/4 of pregnancies end in the murder of the baby.  That’s like deleting Mae, Illiana, and Isaac from our family.  If you take Romania’s statistics on abortion and apply it to the US, we’d have 20 million murdered babies every year, instead of just over 1 million.

One of these days, I’ll join Jason for some ministry in the Gypsy areas, but tomorrow, we’ll head with him to the Burmese refugees of Romania.  They’ve had a rough situation here in Bucharest.  The nation isn’t used to foreigners to begin with, Romanian is a difficult language to learn, Bucharest isn’t the nicest place to live, and the politicians have been stealing EU funds meant to help the refugees and using it for their own personal enjoyment.  At least that’s the story Jason told, and it rings true of everything else we’ve been reading and hearing about corruption in the government here.  So they’ve been dealt a rough blow and are barely surviving here, but I hope to share some encouragement tomorrow night and help them to see that God has a plan for them being here all the same.  Pray I’d speak the words God would have me speak, and that they would be encouraged to be lights to this city.

After our meeting, we bought some burgers and fries and McNuggets and headed on home, propped up between our fellow Bucurestians in the city bus, ready to try our first Romanian-style McDonald’s.  It was amazing, by the way.  It tasted like McDonald’s from America but without all the nastiness.

After dinner, the girls had me videotape them discussing various things like what it means to be a missionary, what preaching the Gospel is all about, how they came to know Jesus, etc.  It was entirely their idea.

The funniest segment of the videoing tonight was when they grabbed a bunch of Isaac’s toy dinosaurs.  One of them shared the Gospel with another, who ended up getting born-again.  Then the two of them went and shared the Gospel with four more dinosaurs who were all fighting and acting dangerous.  Those four got born-again two.  Then they brought them to church, where they did worship with a dinosaur band, heard some mediocre dinosaur preaching, listened to testimonies, and had some really explosive baptisms.  Entirely Naomi’s idea.

I’ll put the Dinosaur Revival videos up tomorrow or something, but here are two others from this evening:


Naomi and Mae explaining what it means to be a missionary:


Noami, Mae, and Illiana giving their testimonies of how they came to know Jesus:

Day 22 – Lady and the Tram

The power just went out for a second.  Car alarms started going off like crazy, dogs started barking, and some guy belted out an Arabic-sounding tune at the top of his lungs.  Why?  Who knows, it’s Bucharest.

I love this city.  It’s frustrating at times, but I love it.  People don’t smile enough here, but when they do, you know it’s real.  The driving is crazed, but it actually feels like people are more attentive and better drivers than in America, where it’s easy to zone out and not pay attention.  Things that should take 5 minutes take 5 hours here, which is frustrating, but it teaches you patience.  At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself, that something good should result from all this waiting and running around we end up doing most days.

Part of all waiting comes from the fact that we don’t understand Romanian perfectly yet, partly it’s a result of traffic congestion, partly it’s just figuring out a new city and culture, and partly it’s just that things in Bucharest operate at a different speed than in the US.  Anyway, you do learn to wait on God, not get stressed about it, and trust that things will get done in His time.  And that’s a good thing.

Today was filled with errands, lots of errands.  The guys from IKEA (pronounced ee-KAY-uh in Romanian) were supposed to come by at 8 to build the kids’ bunk-beds, so we got everybody out of bed early and cleared out their room so the guys could come and do their work without Barbie dolls, dressers, and mattresses being in the way.  By the time 8 rolled around, we were ready to go.

But we were the only ones who were ready.  We got to do that whole waiting thing for another hour before the guys came to build the beds.  I was just about to surrender and just build the beds myself when we heard a buzz on the interfon.  One hour late isn’t too bad, especially when you consider Time Warner Cable tells you they’ll be by “sometime between noon and 5 pm” to install your internet.  At least IKEA had a target in mind.

Last night, when IKEA called to let me know they’d be coming today, I tried to tell the guy on the phone “Good evening,” but my tongue slipped and I accidentally told him, “Good stairs” instead.  For some reason, he didn’t say it back to me.  People here are so unfriendly. 😉

So today the bunk-beds got built, which is awesome, because now the girls can sleep in beds and not just on mattresses on the floor.  That’ll help with all the “Daddy, Illiana’s sticking her butt on my mattress” scenarios we’ve been having.

I’ve mentioned that one of the frustrating things with learning Romanian here is that so many people speak English way better than we speak Romanian.  As a result, when people notice we’re pretty rough with Romanian, they tend to just talk to us in English so we can actually communicate.  This makes it hard to practice our Romanian because few people will let us actually speak it.  For instance, today, Susie wanted to buy us a pitcher with a water filter so we don’t have to keep going to the store for water every couple days.  We’ll miss our Bucovina water, but we’ll probably end up saving close to $50 every month if we use the filter instead of bottled water.  Anyway, I went to the mall to buy one, and I started off pretty well talking to the saleswoman in Romanian, but I got hung up on a few words that I didn’t know, so she just switched to perfect English.  I still tried to use as much Romanian as I could, but she only spoke in  English from that point on.  Frustrating.

The open-air markets are different, though.  Very few people there speak any English to us, and they’re all really willing to help us speak Romanian better.  If we goof up a verb form or the gender of a noun, they’ll smile and then lovingly (and slowly) speak the correct form for us and then keep saying it until we’ve got it down.  I love it.  And if we don’t know what they’re saying, they don’t switch to English!

We had to get some fruits and vegetables, so we went back to the market again today.  A lot of venders recognized us, and some even asked where the kids were (Susie was watching them).  I can’t wait to get our Gospel tract translated into Romanian so we can hand it out to everyone we’re meeting, especially those we’ll see on a continual basis like these venders at the market.

After the market, we needed some bread so we swung by the bakery on the way home again.  The same woman was working there as every other time we’ve gone, and she gave us a big smile when we told her what we wanted.  I think her smile was because she recognized us and not because I told her “Good stairs.”

Sometimes, it feels like we’re not really making any impact being here in Romania, foreigners unfamiliar with the language and culture, but people have been telling us that our presence itself is a huge witness, even though we can’t say much yet.  No one here thinks an American would ever choose to leave behind the American Dream and come live in Bucharest.  Everyone who hears we’ve moved here from America is completely amazed and dumbfounded.  Us being here makes a clear statement of taking up your cross and following Jesus, especially because so many Romanians think so highly of America and so poorly of their own nation.  We think it’s awesome here, but let ’em think we’re making a huge sacrifice.

Today, we finally officially entered the realm of RATB (Regia Autonomă de Transport Bucureşti, Bucharest’s system of autobuz, tramvai, and troleibuz).  Metrorex runs the underground subway network, and RATB runs the busses, trams, and trolleys.  After talking with a few different Romanians and browsing RATB’s website for a few hours one day, we finally worked up the nerve to plunge into its depths and take a couple of tramvai to the open-air market because it was pretty far to walk.  Getting the passes was relatively easy, if a bit comedic from our end.  I tried to purchase three cards and put 10 lei’s worth of rides on each one, but for some reason the RATB employee would only let me put 13 lei on each.  Why?  I don’t know, but she took a long time to explain the reason in rapid Romanian.  All I understood was when she asked if I understood.  I didn’t, but I didn’t want to hear it again, so I did what every foreigner does when in the same situation – I lied and simply said “yes.”

The cost was 51 lei, but she only asked for 50.  One of the cool things about Romania is that people aren’t as exact with money.  A lot of places we’ve been round up or down a little if it brings everything to an easier amount to deal with.  Almost every time we go to the grocery store, we save a few bani because they round the price down.  It’s amounted to maybe saving $2 total since we’ve been here, but it’s kinda’ cool that people aren’t as stressed about it.  Clerks in America would get fired for not having their drawers exactly right.  People don’t seem to do it every time, and not every place is so loose about it, but it’s happened enough to seem normal now.

So we conquered the tram today.  We forgot to look at a map before we left, got off at the wrong stop once, wandered around confused a little bit, accidentally rode without paying twice… but now we can say that we have ridden the tram, and it was good.  This will help a ton with accessing parts of the city that the Subway doesn’t reach, since there’s a tram stop right outside our building.

Well, I don’t have anything majorly “spiritual” for you today, but here’s a handful of funny things with the kids I thought you all might appreciate:

– There’s a home improvement store near our house called “Mr. Bricolage.”  It looks really awesome and I want to check it out sometime (especially since my tools from IKEA are proving incredibly ineffective), but we haven’t popped in there yet.  Anyway, today, because it seemed appropriate, we nicknamed Isaac “Mr. Bricolage.”

– We bought some strawberries from the market today, and they tasted incredible – better than any I can remember from America.  Naomi ate so many of them it made her stomach hurt.  The whole time she was eating them, she made oohing and aahing noises and groans and giggles.  At one point, she burst out, “These strawberries taste so good I feel like I’m having a baby!”  So for all you women who’ve complained about childbirth, the truth is out.  Now I know what it really feels like, eating a bowl of delicious strawberries.  From this time forth, you will receive no more sympathy from me.  Go have those babies, and enjoy every minute of it.

– A couple days ago, Illiana told me, “Mama’s smart.”  Then she paused and looked like she was thinking hard.  “Wait, no, I mean she’s smart like a girl.  She’s like girl smart.”  I don’t claim to understand that one either.

Day 21 – Touring the City with Romanian Friends

Bucharest’s public transport is amazing.  The city subsidizes almost half the cost, which means that a bus ride costs about $0.30.  We do pay for it in taxes though.  Every time we buy something at a store, we pay 24% sales tax.  Ouch.  So I try not to think about that and instead revel in the cheap public transport.

Bucharest’s public transport authority (RATB) also runs a city tour bus.  Because of the government subsidies, the tour is very reasonable.  We got to see all the main touristy areas for about $15 for our whole family.  Not bad, especially when other companies charge $150 or more.  The tour doesn’t do the best at giving you all the cool little facts and tidbits you may want, but it’s pretty good.  If you wanna spend the money on something better, go for it, but I’d prefer to save the cash and find the info on Wikipedia.

For all the facts and tidbits, we had Irina and Cristiana with us, two students from Missio Dei church who have been a real blessing to our family.  They both love Jesus with all their hearts, pretty much never stop smiling, and speak fluent English, which doesn’t help us learn the language but definitely helps get stuff done faster.  They helped us practice our Romanian, told us about the town, and shared what God’s done in their lives.

Romania is a very strongly Orthodox country, and proud of it.  When Islam was threatening to invade Europe in the Middle Ages, it was the Orthodox believers of Romania who rose up as Christianity’s last defense time and again, laying their lives down to protect Christendom from the infidels.  To be clear, I want everyone to know I don’t believe that mowing down Muslims is an appropriate or legitimate way to advance the Kingdom of God.  But such was the mentality of the Middle Ages.

So Romanians are Orthodox Believers, and though they may never go to church except for funerals and weddings, they take pride in their Orthodox heritage.  Any deviation from Eastern Orthodoxy is taken almost as an insult to Romania itself and your sweet old great grandmother who would roll over in her grave if you even thought about something other than traditional Orthodox faith.

Both Cristiana and Irina are the first in their families to become Christians – first, but not the last!  They were raised going to Orthodox churches with their grandparents.  Most parents are either too bored or too busy to go  themselves, but they figure it’s important for their kids I guess.

It’s hard to walk away from the Eastern Orthodox faith in Romania.  There’s a lot of pressure from family, friends, and society to just do things the way everybody’s done it – go to church once in a while, live for yourself most of the time.  When you walk away to pursue Jesus instead of dead religion, people think you’re turning your back on them, Romania, your family, and all that is right and good.  The reality is that you’re just pursuing a real relationship with Jesus instead of religiosity, but people don’t get it.  Cristiana and Irina have met with some flack for following Jesus, but they’re not gonna stop, and one day all those who have misunderstood, criticized, or lashed out will get it – their eyes will open and they’ll finally see Jesus for who He really is.

We were so encouraged talking to these two young women and hearing their stories about how they met Jesus.  If God can reach into one corner of Bucharest and grab two young women out of Eastern Orthodoxy and show them the reality of a relationship with Jesus, He can do it for anyone else

On the outside, Romanians don’t seem to be looking for an answer in Jesus yet – they’ve got their Christmas and Easter services, they’ve got their nice cars and fancy watches, their cell phones and high-speed internet – but underneath all that, I think people are hungry.  Money doesn’t satisfy.  Relationships don’t satisfy.  Jobs don’t satisfy.  Degrees, titles, cars, cell phones, vacation destinations…  There’s nothing wrong with any of those, but they’ll never bring lasting peace.  Underneath the facade here in Romania, there are thousands of other people just like Irina and Cristiana, people who may seem fine on the outside, but they’re desperate inside, crying out for the Savior to come and set them free.

I’m gonna stop with that.  The girls’ bunk beds are getting assembled (for free by IKEA!) early tomorrow morning, so I gotta get to bed.  If you want more reading, check out this funny (and short) blog post about my least favorite monument in Bucharest.  Some people call it “Potato On A Stick,” but I have something more colorful I’ve been calling it.  Here’s the article: “The Potato Of The Revolution.”


Day 20 – I’m Tired of Blogging

Day 20 and I’m tired of this daily blogging thing.  I’ve got stuff to write about, but I just don’t wanna try to organize my thoughts anymore.

So maybe I’ll just let it all out however it comes out…

I’m tired of trying to learn Romanian.  I go through daily mood swings with it, and right now I’m near the bottom of the arc.  Sometimes, the challenge is really fun and exciting, and I enjoy making new sounds and trying out new words, especially when they all connect.  Other times, I’ll spend tons of time learning some new phrases, but then when it comes time to use them, nothing comes out, I just draw a blank and the best I can come up with is – “I don’t speak Romanian very well.  Do you understand English?”  Other times, I just get really tired of it all and end up grunting, pointing, and miming because it seems more effective.

Today, I overloaded with Romanian immersion I think.  Missio Dei was doing a men’s lunch, where all us bărbaţi cooked chicken on the grill, talked about soccer (fotbal), and discussed manly things – manly things from the Bible like purity, working hard, treating women with respect, knowing God, etc.  A lot of the guys there speak English very well, so I was able to talk with pretty much everyone, but, to help me learn Romanian better and to improve the meeting flow, no one translated the main discussion.  Although this was good for me, because it did force me to work really hard to understand anything, I think my brain fried a little because of the vast amount of words I don’t know.

Ben, who just got back from Chicago, did teach me that American football is referred to as “ou mână” here, which means literally “egg hand.”  He also taught me how to roll my R’s.  I was doing it semi-OK for a little while, but I think I’ve lost it now.

Anyway, I was feeling good after the meeting but a little brain-fried, and then this evening Jessie and I visited a Charismatic church not too far from our apartment – about a 20-minute walk away.  We were really nervous heading over there because we had heard reports that they were a little bit crazy, out of order, and Charismaniacs, but that was enough to get me interested in checking it out.  We almost turned around because you have to walk past a worse-looking part of town with packs of dogs patrolling garbage piles, but we pressed on nonetheless.

I’m not going to give a whole play-by-play, but I will say that, despite what we’d heard, it wasn’t chaos in there.  There were some frustrating parts of the service, mostly the videos of southern Holy Ghost preachers from America they streamed in for the sermon.  I don’t know if they do that every week, but it was really odd to be sitting in a church in Bucharest surrounded by Romanians and listening to Pentecostal preachers from southern Illinois.  Everyone laughed when one preacher kept shouting weird Pentecostalisms.

Besides the goofy stuff, we really liked the church, talked to a few people, met another American missionary, and experienced some of the best worship we’ve been a part of while here in Romania.  It wasn’t Cornerstone’s worship team (We miss you all a ton!) but it was as close as we’ve seen around here so far.  The band smiled a ton, one of the leaders was seriously anointed, they were musically talented, and people were really singing and clapping.  We needed that worship time really bad.

I get really annoyed at goofy Charismatic stuff, but I love the real stuff.  I love worshiping God with all my heart like David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6), I love seeing the sick get healed in miraculous ways (John 14:12), I love speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5), I love casting out demons (Mark 16:17), I love hearing the voice of God (John 10:27), I love dreams and visions (Joel 2:28-29)… but I love studying the word of God, reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it, teaching it, knowing it inside and out (Joshua 1:8, Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 119:9-11, Psalm 119:103), I love walking in holiness and purity of character (Romans 5:4), I love making sense (Colossians 3:16)…

Romanian churches, like American churches, seem to swing one way or the other, rarely finding the balance between the stability of a dedication to the Word of God and the life and joy and freedom that comes by yielding to the Spirit of God.  Focusing on only one will never satisfy – you need both.  Any serious and open-minded study of the Bible should lead you to this conclusion.

If you take the Bible at face value and dig into its message, I think the only viable conclusion you can make is that the Christian life is impossible without the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit, and any serious study of the Bible will lead you to pursue the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in your midst, because it’s all over the Bible.  Likewise, any honest encounter with the presence of God in a supernatural way should lead you to desire the Bible more, know its depths, understand its story, not drive you away from the Bible.  The one should feed the other.

So, anyway, after that church service, surrounded by Romanians speaking Romanian (yeah, they do that here, believe it or not), my brain is fried on Romanian for the night.  I’m excited to learn more tomorrow, but tonight, I will think in English and dream in English.

Before I close (I guess I’ve proven I’m not all that tired of blogging…) let me give you a quick recap of last night.  Last night was Night of Museums here in Bucharest, where all the museums are open for free.  Since there was a huge fotbal match and it was rainy, we figured there shouldn’t be too many people out on the streets to check out the museums.  Wrong.  In a city of 3 million people, at least 2 million were lined up outside Bucharest’s major museums last night.

So we bailed on seeing the museums and did some people-watching instead.  At one point, some police came to set up barricades because the lines were so big and mob-like.  One guy got angry and started shouting at the police.  Others started shouting too, and shaking their fists, so the police grabbed the barricades and pushed the unruly guys further back.  This prompted a woman to somehow squeeze her way in-between two bars on the barricade to get to the other side.  It was a really intense (and fun to watch) two minutes.

After watching the crowds, we got a pizza, got rained on, hid under a balcony, got lost, walked in a circle (not on purpose), wound up in the same spot we started in, realized it was a new spot that just looked like the same spot, tried to take the subway, found out they had just closed, and then gave in and decided to take a cab home.  It was late (midnight) and we were tired, so walking was not looking like a good option, and we had heard cabs were cheap, so we figured we’d give it a shot.

We found a cab, popped in, and within a couple minutes wound up sharing the Gospel with our driver.  He spoke fluent English, and we were so itching to talk to people about Jesus (remember, that’s why we came here?), that it all kinda’ just spilled out.  When we got in the car, he asked where we were from, so I told him we just moved here from the US.  I told him we loved it here in Bucharest.  He responded, “I don’t believe you.  No one loves it here.”  So then I told him, “Well, we do,” and then, very awkwardly, “We came to tell people about Jesus.”

“No one needs that,” he responded, or something similar.  “We have so many churches here already.  We don’t need more.”

“Yes, you have many churches, but not many Christians.  Very few in this city love Jesus and are living for Him.”

“Yes,” he said, “everyone is living for money.  Everyone wants money.  That’s why there are not many Christians here.  We love money.”  Then he launched into a rant, raving for a minute about how we should pray that God gives him money.

“We will,” I promised, “but that’s not the real issue.  Jesus wants to give you money and to bless you, but more than that, He wants your heart.  Does he have your heart?  Are you His?”

It got really quiet and then our cab driver told us how he had lived in Spain for four years stealing, and making way better money than he was making now that he had an honest job.  He realized he could get thrown in jail for stealing, and he was trying to improve his life, so he quit, moved back to Romania, and started working.

“God’s already trying to get ahold of you,” I told him.  “That was Him drawing you to give up stealing.  But trying to improve your life isn’t enough.  Trying to be a good person isn’t what it takes.  He wants you to stop trying to do better and to instead trust in what He’s done on the cross for you, and let Him change you from the inside out so you’re a whole new person.”

Before he dropped us off, we prayed with our cab driver (I never got his name) and asked Jesus to bless him and his family and take care of all their needs.  I didn’t have time to share as much of the Gospel as I would have liked, and he didn’t give his heart to Jesus that night, but some seeds were planted, it got him thinking, and we had a good time finally being able to share the Gospel with someone who could understand us.

I’ve heard some people say that, statistically speaking, it takes hearing the Gospel an average of 18 times before someone is ready to make a decision, give up their selfishness, and follow Jesus for real.  Whether that’s true or not, it’s not our job to get people saved.  It’s our job to be Jesus to the world around us, share the Good News that there is a Savior, and leave the results up to God.  I think that, every time we do evangelism, we should believe the person we’re talking to is at #18, but maybe they’re not even at #1 yet.  Just keep preaching, keep talking about Jesus, keep letting His light shine, and those seeds are gonna sprout up soon enough…

This is why I’m tired of blogging – I can’t write short posts.

Day 19 – Bucharest in the Rain

It’s been pretty rainy here the past few days, with some hours of sunshine thrown in the middle once in a while, so today I thought I’d give you a photo essay I like to call “Bucharest in the Rain – The Eternal Dynamic Symposium on the Enduring Human Legacy of Tripartisanship in Modern-day Hyper-potential Exaggerated External-Growth Communities.”

Seriously, Bucharest is a beautiful city, even in the rain.  Enjoy the shots!

Day 18 – Jesus Hates Suffering

“Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much, he came and experienced it to defeat it and, someday, to wipe the world clean of it. Knowing all this, Christians cannot be passive about hunger, sickness, and injustice.” – Timothy Keller

I read that this morning in Timothy Keller’s bookThe ProdigalGod.  Adiel, the pastor of Missio Dei, loaned it to me with the recommendation that it was one of the books that influenced him the most.  I’ve really enjoyed the book, but that line in particular strikes a cord with me.  Or does it strike a “chord”?  I don’t know…

I did a lot of walking around the city today, using the opportunity to practice Romanian with people, check out some sites, and do a lot of praying.  I’m gonna flash forward to the end of the walk first and then work backwards.  I took Naomi and Mae with me today, and after hours of walking and walking, it was past their bedtime, they were worn out, they hadn’t eaten dinner, and they just wanted to get home.  And I, being a good father and also tired, wanted to get them home.  A block from our house, an old Gypsy woman who looked very sick grabbed me and began speaking to me in Romanian.  I could pick out just a few words, mostly that she was hungry and wanted some money for food.

I was tired.  My girls were tired.  I didn’t want to be bothered.  But Jesus came to earth to experience suffering so that he could one day eliminate it completely.  How could I walk away from this woman who was just asking for some food?  So I gave her my arm and we walked her to a bread store down the street, where I bought her some bread, learned her name was Doina, and explained the Gospel as best I could (which was not very well unfortunately).  I know this woman needs more than just some bread from strangers.  She needs some permanent help so she doesn’t need to sit on the side of the road asking for money every day.  But, in that moment, I realized that it was my responsibility to do what I can.

I’m not telling you all this so you think I’m amazing because, frankly, I would like to have done more.  I could barely communicate with her, all I got for her to eat was some carbs (no meat, no vegetables, not even a drink).  I should have stuck around longer and shared more about the love of God, or at least prayed with her…

There’s always more you can do, and the task is always bigger than you alone, but your job is to do what you can for the ones God puts in your path.  You may not have much, but give what you’ve got.  You may be a terrible speaker, or you may not have a lot of money, or you might not have all that much time, but give what you’ve got and don’t turn a blind eye toward suffering.  It’s our responsibility to end it.

Suffering doesn’t always look like a hungry old Gypsy woman either.  Sometimes suffering looks like wealth and prosperity.

At one point today, in our wandering, I accidentally got us on the subway during rush hour.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be – actually much better than I’ve experienced in Chicago – but nonetheless we were surrounded by a sea of people, each in need of a relationship with the Savior.  Sure, the women all carried expensive purses and the guys had ritzy suits and smart phones, but underneath the facade, they all need the Savior as much as the homeless guy under the bridge.  They’re carrying the weight of guilt and shame, they’re fighting to look the best or do the best or make the most of themselves, they’re running from the past or pursuing an elusive future dream that will never satisfy.  They may have it all on the outside, but they’re suffering, and Jesus came to end their suffering too.

Besides getting a lot of attention, I like bringing the girls with me on the subway because then people feel obligated to move so we can have their seats.  There’s a lot of old-fashioned politeness in Romania that we don’t have in America, and it can be really nice at times.  So while we were on the subway, one Romanian after another kept getting up and offering us their seats.  Even in the middle of rush-hour traffic, we only had to stand for a small portion of one trip.  But being good isn’t enough.  Even people who are good, courteous, and polite need the Savior to be freed from the bondage of never being good enough.

There are so many people in this city.  There are cars everywhere (even on the sidewalks, which seems normal to me now), apartment complexes all over the place, grocery stores and markets every few blocks.  This city is a sea of people.  And most of them know nothing about Jesus but man-made religion and interesting stories.  This is a country of Orthodox believers, which means most people call themselves Christians but never go to church, read their Bibles, or really have any relationship with Jesus.  Whether they’re destitute Gypsies, members of the new elite wealthy class, or traditional-minded “good” Romanians, they’re all suffering and they all need to know the Savior who came to end all suffering.

I like walking around this city, taking the subway, and going to where the people are gathering.  Every time I get out there, I’m reminded that Jesus loves these people and gave His life for every one of them.

OK, a few funny Naomi stories before I close…

First, we got goat cheese from the market the other day (brânza).  Today, when we finally sat down for dinner and I asked Naomi if she wanted some of it she gave me this look of disgust and told me, “Ewww, no.  I don’t wanna eat goat cheese.  That’s sick.  It came from a goat.”  I told her, “Well, you eat cheese that came from a cow.”  She proudly reminded me that, unlike goat cheese, eating cow cheese was normal.

Final story: While walking around today, we passed a lumber yard.  Outside the shop, they had a cutout of Yogi Bear carrying wood.  Mae wondered what it was all about, so I told her, “Oh, they probably just think it’s fun to have Yogi Bear carrying wood.  It’s kind of like they’re saying he likes it, so you might like their wood too.”  Naomi got all thoughtful and then told me, “I think when stores do that, it’s all just to get people to come inside and buy their stuff.  Probably the wood isn’t very good.  Probably when you see Yogi Bear likes it, you think, ‘Oh, I’ll probably like it too,’ so you go inside and they get all your money, but really it’s probably awful wood.  Like you’ll go inside and see it’s terrible.  But you buy it anyway because Yogi Bear likes it, and so they get all your money.  I think stores do that just to get our money.”  Watch out, Romania.  Naomi is onto you.

Day 17 – Expiration Dates Don’t Mean Anything

It’s been rainy the past few days, so we’ve been getting more done inside.  Today, we spent a lot of time studying Romanian.  Since we don’t have a ton of money for tutors or classes, our strategy is going to be using the materials we already have (books, Pimsleur audio MP3s, Byki, and Google Translate) supplemented with heavy doses of real-world usage, conversational partners, and an occasional tutor to make sure we’re learning things correctly.  The key ingredient will be the self-discipline to actually sit down and learn.  To help with that, today I started creating a comprehensive “lesson plan” to force us to stick to a schedule and track how well we’re learning the language.  Rather than just randomly trying to learn as much as we can, never sure if we’re actually getting anywhere, we’re going to have a systematic strategy.

Speaking of that, I had my first full conversation entirely in Romanian with a real, genuine Romanian person, and I understood everything we talked about.  It went something like this:

My phone rings.

Me: “Alo?” (Aloe? Salute? Sit down, you high Duke. She tear, oh. You be the man who mashed the feta cheese…  If you don’t understand, click here.)

Marian (our landlord): “Alo, Jake.  Ce mai faci?”

Me: “Bine, mulţumesc.  Și dumneavoastra?”

Marian: “Bine. Eh, eu vin acum.  Eşti acasă?”

Me: “Da, acasă.”

Marian: “Bine. Voi veni în zece minute.”

Me: “Da, bine.”

Marian: “OK.  Pa.”

Me: “Pa.”

It was just a simple conversation, I know, but it was the first time I understood everything and didn’t have to guess based on context.  It felt so good.

Other milestones today include finally getting our rental contract (necessary for residency permits), bandaging Mae’s chin (she cut it open pretty good on the tile floor), and finding a better way to say “We came to tell people about Jesus” (Am venit sa le spunem oamenilor despre Iisus.)  The sentence I learned before actually translated to, “We came to speak for Jesus,” which is good I guess but not exactly what we were going for.

I got some feedback from Filip today on some Romanian tracts we brought with us.  His honest opinion, which is what I want, was that they weren’t very good except for some that I made for street ministry in Milwaukee that told my story of coming to God.  The others he said were fine but Romanians, especially in Bucharest, have heard it all already and would probably just dismiss it like they have all the others.  Sharing my story would get around all the arguments and draw people in to want to know more.  So my goal is to redesign it to share my testimony, talk about what brought us to Romania, and give a quick Gospel presentation, all in Romanian.  When I get that done, I’ll feel ready to share the Gospel.  Because then even if I can’t say the right words or they don’t know the English words, at least I can give them a pamphlet that has it in there.  Plus, I’ll have my contact info all in there so I can stay in touch with those I share with and keep pursuing the relationship.

Anyway, those are my evangelism goals for now – learn the language as much as I can and redesign my tract so I can hand it out to all the people who ask us what we’re doing here.

On the home front, the kids seem to be having a hard time now.  They did really great on the airplane, in our temporary housing, and as we’ve gotten settled into our apartment, but now I think it’s sinking in that we’re not just on vacation.  They’ve commented how they’re bored with the food already.  Bread and jam, cheese, and sausage used to be really exciting and new for them, but now they just want Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms.  They’re tired of not being able to pour their own water, since the faucet water isn’t healthy and they can’t lift the big water jugs.  They miss having beds (they got delivered today and will be set up in a week!).  The small elevator used to be fun, but now they’re really annoyed with it.  They started talking about all the weird smells.  They don’t like cars being everywhere whenever we go outside.  When we go for prayer-walks, they huddle right next to us now, nervous about new people, dogs, and cars all over the place.  Overall, they’re doing really good adjusting, but I think they’ve reached a point where they’re starting to miss the way things used to be.  Just gotta press through and then they’ll be happy again.

In some funny news, we’ve discovered that expiration dates don’t mean here what they do in the States.  You know how you can buy some eggs that say they expire May 31 in the states, and they’ll probably be good until June 6?  Not so here.  Due mostly to the fact that there are fewer preservatives used in food here, if something says it expires May 31, it probably will go bad by May 25.  We bought some fresh chicken in a grocery store 3 days ago, and when we took it out today to cook for our lunch guest, it was green, sticky, and smelled like rotted meat.  You’d think the fact that it smelled like rotted meat would have tipped us off that it had gone bad, but we poked it, prodded it, stuck our noses in it, looked it up on Google, started cooking it, then finally had second thoughts and decided to go buy some new chicken just in case it really was bad.  When we got the new chicken, a thorough analysis showed that the original definitely had something wrong with it.  The new stuff didn’t smell like rotted meat.  Good clue that it was better.

That was during lunch.  During dinner, Jessie poured the girls some milk that I just bought yesterday and wasn’t set to expire for a few days, and after they drank some of it, Naomi told me, “Daddy, this milk smells like poop and tastes a little like poop too.”  “Really?” I said, picking up a glass and sniffing it.  I wouldn’t describe the scent as poop, but it definitely wasn’t Chanel Number 5 either.  So then, like any good father, I took a nice big gulp.  And turned to the sink to spit it out right away.  It had spoiled and tasted terrible.  I rinsed my mouth in pear juice and then gave the girls each big glasses of juice in penance for making them drink spoiled milk.  They told me they each had drank about half a glass before I got there.  I was both disgusted and impressed by their abilities.

Now, when I bought the milk yesterday, I had Naomi with me.  As I stared at all the different kinds of milk, I found the cheapest one and grabbed two liters of it.  “Daddy,” Naomi had said, “don’t you think that since it’s the cheapest it might be the worst?  What if it tastes really bad?”  “No,” I told her, “cheaper things taste the same.  Sometimes even better.  You’ll see.”  And she did.

Day 16 – IKEA

Bucharest got a giant IKEA store a couple years back, which totally transformed the city, so today, Daniel Boldea took us to visit it.  That was the bulk of what we had time for today.  In a city the size of Bucharest, it just takes a long time to get anywhere, especially if it’s on the other side of town, and IKEA is.  Besides the distance, traffic was going at a crawl because it rained.  It wasn’t raining much, but enough apparently to freak everyone out.

So it takes a long time to get there, and once you’re there, the IKEA stores have this ingenious floor design that forces you to walk the entire length of the store, see every department, visit every aisle, and walk through all the items until you forget what you came there for, buy a bunch of extra stuff, and have to come back again in a week because you remembered what you came for.  Only to have the process repeat itself again.  Now that’s capitalism!

Below is a picture of the floor plan in Houston that I found online. It’s about the same as the one here.  As you can see, you’re like a rat in a maze, but there’s no cheese at the end, so you get sucked into this state of nothingness for hours of wandering and hoping to find an exit.

Before I go further, I need to apologize to Filip.  I’m sorry for making you take us to Carrefour to buy stuff that looked like it was built on a boat, only to find better stuff for cheaper at IKEA.  You were right, I was wrong – trust the locals.  One of the kitchen knives we bought at Carrefour snapped in half today.  And the silverware we bought is machined so roughly that you might cut yourself and get Tetanus every time you take a bite of ice cream.  The IKEA store had some crazy expensive stuff (like a single soup spoon for $15), but we found some amazing deals too.

The main things we needed at IKEA were kitchen knives (since ours broke) and a pack-n-play for Isaac, but we were also on the lookout for cheap bunk-beds for the girls.  Mae and Illiana have been sharing a bed, Naomi’s been sleeping on the floor, and Isaac has been stuffed in the corner in what the girls refer to as his “nest.”  It’s been working fine, but we thought it’d be nice to get something a little more “normal” if we could find a good deal on it.

After what seemed like days in the IKEA maze, we found our proverbial cheese at the end and came out with bunk beds for everyone, mattresses, a crib (no pack-n-play), some really cheap toy bins, kitchen knives, a frying pan, mattress pads, and some sheets.  Everything we came for and not too many bonus items.  Grand total?  Only about $650 for everything, which seems like a pretty good deal to finish getting the whole house set up.  And, to top it off, IKEA will have it all delivered and assembled for us for free.

After hiking around IKEA for months, we were now in rush-hour traffic, so Daniel took the time to show us around the city and pick up some giant, fresh-baked pretzels at a covrigarie, pretzel shop.  They’re scattered all over the city, and you can get everything from plain hot pretzels to pretzels stuffed with a hot dog, pretzels with honey and walnuts, pretzels filled with apple pie filling, etc.  As usual, they were amazing.  Prices ranged from $0.30 to $1 each.  Take that, Auntie Anne’s.

Other notes on the day:

– I didn’t see a single dog.  Maybe the rain scared them away?  Or maybe they just don’t go shopping at IKEA?
– Bucharest has some amazing architecture.  Sure, the Communists ruined much of the nation’s buildings from the past, but there are some amazing buildings left standing in this city.
– There are a ton of sex shops in this city, almost as many as McDonald’s stores.  I don’t know what’s normal for a big city, but there seems to be sex shops all over the place here.  Or maybe it’s just that in Wisconsin they’re always boarded up, located off the main drag (no pun intended), and don’t really draw too much attention to themselves.  Here, they’ve got bright, flashy signs and big posters.  It seemed like there was a shop every few blocks or so on our drive to IKEA.
– Speaking of IKEA, it has the biggest elevator I’ve seen in Romania so far.  So if you visit and you need an elevator like they make in ‘Merica, you know where to go.
– On that topic, we spotted our first pickup truck yesterday.  We are most definitely not in Wisconsin.
– However… we also found Harley Davidson Bucharest today.  Not so far from home after all…

Well, good night, everyone.  Or good morning.  Whatever it is where you’re at.

Day 15 – Piaţă Sărat

Today, we spent a lot of time inside learning the language and researching the bus, tram, and trolley system of Bucharest, because it was cold and rainy most of the day.  But before it got too cold and rainy, we visited a nearby market, Piaţă Sărat, with Simona, Adiel’s wife.  Adiel is the senior pastor at Missio Dei church, in case you don’t remember.  At Piaţă Sărat, which translates to “Salty Market,” we discovered how we’re going to be able to survive in Bucharest on a limited income.  Food in the grocery stores is similar to the US, but quite a few things are way more expensive.  At the market, we can buy fresh fruits and vegetables for really cheap prices.  We walked away with bags filled with fresh produce, and all we spent was about $8.  And as with all Romanian food we’ve had so far, the produce is phenomenal.  No preservatives or chemical sprays or pesticides or hormones really make food taste better.

Jessie did most of the talking at the market.  Since she’ll be the one heading over there most of the time, and since I’ve been doing most of the speaking practice everywhere we go, I refused to speak this time and told Jessie it was all up to her.  She did awesome, perfecting such phrases as “Doi kilo, vă rog” and “Mulţumesc” – “Two kilograms please” and “Thank you.”  Jessie was a little nervous at first.  This is her first time ever outside America, and she hasn’t been in very many situations where she’s had to rely on grunting and miming to communicate.  Being a guy, I’ve relied on grunting and miming to communicate most of my life.

At the market with our four blonde-haired kids, we got a lot of stares.  We get stares wherever we go, especially when we’re out as a whole family.  At first it was unnerving, but now I’m so used to it I don’t even really notice.  We don’t know a lot of Romanian, but since Romanians tend to talk real loud and boisterously, we can pick up some comments they make about us – “I think they’re Americans,” “Did you see the big German family?,” “Those British people have 4 kids!”

We had so many people coming up to us at the market kissing our kids, saying we were a beautiful family, telling us the girls looked like angels, etc.  Usually they speak so quick we can barely understand, their arms flailing about wildly, but once in a while they’d slow down when we made it clear we didn’t speak much Romanian.  One woman asked if we liked Romania so I told her honestly, “Ne place foarte mult,” which means “We like it very much.”  Her mouth dropped open and her face looked shocked and disgusted at the same time.  Suddenly I got nervous that I had said something wrong.  I asked Simona quickly, “Did I say that right?  Is she mad?”  She laughed, “No, no, you said it very well.  She’s just surprised you like it.”

Many Romanians have a very negative view of themselves and their country.  This is a really beautiful place that’s filled with beautiful people, but Romanians don’t tend to feel that way from what I’ve gathered.  There are problems, to be sure, but we have fallen in love with this country and I think everyone else should too.  I think years of oppression by Romans, Hungarians, Turks, Germans, Austrians, Russians, Communists, Ottomans – am I forgetting anyone? – has left a deep scar on Romania.  Besides the harsh history of oppression, I think most Romanians are aware of the mostly negative image the world has of their nation from the outside – vampires, Dracula, Communism, orphanages, Gypsies, wild dogs, human trafficking, political scandals and corruption, computer hacking…  At least they’ve got gymnastics, right?

The other day, I was talking to a guy in his twenties who spoke English pretty well.  When I told him we loved it in Romania, he only told me, “You are still on honeymoon.  Wait until honeymoon is over, then you will see how it really is here.”

Many Romanians have this rose-colored view of the world beyond Romania.  They act like life must be perfect in the US.  They think every other country has washing machines that never develop weird quirks, politicians who always fulfill their promises, clothing at dirt-cheap prices, and food that’s healthier, tastier, and easier to cook.  A lot of Romanians think things are so bad here, and they’re ashamed of it.  The reality is that some things are better, some things are worse, but a lot of things are really just the same.

After getting so many stares and so many people coming up to talk to us today, we were really frustrated that we couldn’t tell people what we’re doing here, so with Simona’s help we learned how to say, “Am venit să spunem pentru Iisus,” which means “We came to talk about Jesus.”

We didn’t come for the good food, the mountains, the friendly people, or the lovely packs of wild dogs – we came to talk about Jesus.  Even though we haven’t had a lot of opportunities for that yet, we’ve had a few, and we’re laying a foundation now that we can build on once we know the language better and are more able to communicate with people clearly.

We came to talk about Jesus.  Romanians may not think so highly of themselves, they may think life is better in the US or Italy or anywhere but Romania, but Jesus thinks really highly of Romanians, and I just want this country to know it.

Day 14 – Meet Our Butler

Today, we had coffee and desert with Daniel Boldea and his wife Alexandra (Alex for us Americani).  Alex is getting her law degree and is currently interning as a lawyer in the city of Bucharest.  Listening to them describe a typical day in court makes it sound like a fun event to attend, as long as you’re not expecting anything important to get accomplished.  Just the other day, the judge had to have police escort a woman out of the courtroom because she kept yelling and interrupting while her husband was giving testimony.  Insults fly, words are harsh and loud, facial expressions are explosive, and gestures are demonstrative with arms swinging dangerously through the air like trapeze artists in a circus.  Romanians have a very Latin temperament.  They’re passionate people.  They may not smile a lot, but they are far from stoic.

It’s sometimes scary to hear Romanians passionately yelling at each other.  Their voices are loud, their arms fly all over the place, and you’d swear they were defending the honor of their dear old mum or something, but really they’re just upset that you slammed the door of the elevator.

OK, to follow that rabbit trail with another… elevators.  I think there is a law in Romania that elevators are not allowed to be bigger than 4 square feet.  That’s not entirely true.  Otopeni airport has an elevator that’s much larger – at least 9 square feet.  When our whole family gets on our elevator, it goes something like this.  Jessie props the door open while I give directions to the kids: “Naomi, open the inside door.  Mae scoot in that corner.  Watch your foot, Illiana.  Don’t get it stuck in that crack.  OK, everybody squeeze in.  Hey, Naomi, duck under me here, would you?  OK, no one breathe on anyone or touch anyone.  Now squeeze closer so I can close the inside doors.  OK, good job, got ’em closed.  Someone push floor five.  I know you can’t reach it.  Neither can I.  Use your elbow or your chin or something.”  Someone reaches the button, there’s a “wump” noise, the elevator starts up, you make sure your hands are inside so they don’t get torn off as you pass by old wiring and jagged bricks (the doors don’t close all the way), and then it stops halfway between floor 4 and floor 5.  So we push the button for floor 4, it goes back down, then we push floor 5, and it makes it all the way up to floor 5.  Then everyone squeezes together, we open the inside doors, and someone manages to squeeze out and open the outside door so we can all spill out into the hallway and get to our apartment.  It’s rather quite fun and is a good way to overcome a fear of small places.  I’ve grown used to it now so it doesn’t seem weird, and when we went to the airport to drop Susie off the other day, it actually felt like the elevators there were obnoxiously spacious.

Our elevator accelerates and decelerates really quickly, which causes Illiana to grab anything nearby with a death-grip.  One day, I thought I’d take advantage of the quick deceleration, so me and the girls all jumped really high right as the elevator was stopping at the bottom of the building – you know, so you feel a really intense impact.  It’s kinda’ fun in normal American elevators, so I thought it’d be even better in the cool Romanian ones.  Not so.  The elevator was about to stop, we jumped really high, we landed just as it was decelerating, and then “BAM” it stopped with a loud noise and the lights went out and the doors wouldn’t open.  Thankfully we got it going again, so we didn’t have to cannibalize anyone, but I felt pretty embarrassed when we finally made it to the ground floor (floor P in Romania) and there was a group of older Romanians waiting for the elevator.  I hung my head in shame and quickly walked past them, not making eye contact.  That was the end of our elevator-jumping adventures.

Anyway, back to the story at hand…

Daniel and Alex brought some amazing desserts by, from a Greek restaurant that just opened up near where they live.  The desserts were phenomenal.  I’ve run out of adjectives to describe the food here.  Everything we’ve eaten has been amazing (well, the slanina was a little too salty), and I don’t even know how to describe it all anymore.

So we ate desserts, talked about Romania, and learned about Daniel’s ministry in a small city in the north of Romania.  Daniel helps run Hand of Help Ministries, with their world headquarters in Watertown.  Yeah, Watertown, can you believe it?  So we’d met on Facebook a while back through an odd set of circumstances, then last week when I was in the mall buying a fan, Daniel came in, saw me, and asked, “You’re not Jake Stimpson, are you?”  Do I look that much like an American?  I was Jake Stimpson, so I told him that, and then next thing you know, he and his wife are in our living room watching us eat amazing desserts (they were on a diet unfortunately).

Hand of Help Ministries started when Daniel’s grandfather, Dumitru Duduman, saw the awful state of Romanian orphanages after the fall of Communism.  Dumitru, a Romanian pastor, had spent years working with both Richard Wurmbrand and Brother Andrew during Romania’s Communist years, smuggling hundreds of thousands of Bibles into the Soviet Union, having death threats put out on him, getting beat up, getting thrown in prison, getting kicked out of the country, stuff like that, so after the revolution, Dumitru came back to Romania, saw the need for an orphanage that didn’t just leave the kids to fend for themselves, and got to work.

Today, Hand of Help Ministries houses almost 100 kids in their orphanage in northern Romania, they distribute blankets, food, and clothing to those who need it, they fund the building of churches, they help with emergency rescue and relief, they preach the Gospel, and they help orphans find housing and jobs once they’re on their own.  It’s a really awesome ministry, and we’re excited to head up there one of these days soon to check out all they’re doing.

Besides the ministry that Hand of Help is doing, we were completely blessed by Daniel and his wife.  They were so fun to talk to and we really enjoyed getting to know them a little.  They gave us a ton of good advice about Romania, Daniel’s going to informally help us learn the Romanian language (he speaks fluent English and Romanian), and Daniel became our butler for the day.

Filip has been driving us places and helping us with everything, but he’s a busy guy who drives a lot of people places and helps a lot of people with everything, so it was nice to have another person to depend on today.

Daniel took us to his favorite park in Bucharest.  I forgot its real name, but Google Maps calls it Titan Park.  There’s a couple zip lines for kids, playgrounds everywhere, walking paths, a lake, an island, and a zillion places to just sit and enjoy God.  Going to the park, it didn’t even feel like we were in a big city.  It was beautiful!

Then he took us grocery shopping at one of Bucharest’s hypermarkets – Cora, in the giant Sun Plaza mall, built just two years ago.  Cora is basically like a giant Super-Walmart, but there’s not as much variety, everything’s a little dirtier, things are laid out a little odd, and most things are more expensive than Walmart but cheaper than anywhere else in the city.  It’s really nice and amazing, and it was quite a change from the peaceful park we had just been in.

While driving around with Daniel, he taught us some more Romanian phrases (like “Cum ești?” – “How are you?”) and we got to pick his brain on everything Romania – the culture, the state of the church, the food, where to shop, how to get around, etc.  We learned a lot, and we were extremely blessed to spend some time with someone who obviously loves this country a lot and wants to see Jesus glorified in his life.

Day 13 – Human Trafficking

If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest checking out Benjamin Skinner’s book A Crime So Monstrous – Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery.  It’s an amazing work of journalism, brutal and intense in the reality of its subject.  You can buy the book from Amazon or read a really good article about it here.

At one point in the book, Skinner describes underground brothels in Bucharest, where women are raped dozens of times every day.  One pimp even offers to sell him one of his prostitutes, a girl with Down Syndrome, for the price of a used car.  It’s sick and disturbing, but, honestly, when I read the book, what Skinner saw in Romania paled in comparison to the kind of slavery he saw in India, Africa, Haiti, and elsewhere, so it didn’t shock me like it should have.

One of the things that first got us interested in coming to Bucharest was to work against human trafficking.  I saw myself as almost a Machine Gun Preacher type who’d come in and rescue all the trafficked women, lock up the pimps, and save Romania and the world from the evils of modern-day slavery.  Now, as we’ve spent a year praying and asking God why He wants us here, I think I have a clearer picture that, ultimately, the thing that will end human trafficking is not one more awareness campaign or one more interdenominational nonprofit organization but the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When women get born-again, they won’t be duped into prostitution and sex slavery.  When men get born-again, they won’t run underground brothels and massage parlors, and they won’t seek out their services.  Educating people about human trafficking is a real necessity, but it will never end until the Gospel changes lives, it will only change shape and become some new form of evil.

The past few days, we’ve come face-to-face with some mild forms of modern-day slavery going on in Bucharest.  If you can call any form of slavery mild.  Slavery is slavery, however it’s packaged.

Pimps in Bucharest will keep men, women, and children as slaves, forcing them to hit the streets begging, washing car windows, or selling their bodies for sex.  When the day is over, the slaves return to their pimps and give them what they earned that day.  Pimps use violence, fear, manipulation, and threats to keep people under their control.  The government has recommended nobody give anything to beggars or window-washers, because it all just goes into the hands of the pimps, not to the poor and orphaned that you think you’re helping.  It’s a screwed up, messed up, perverted system, and it makes me sick to think people can be so cruel to other human beings.

The other day, we heard about an older woman who was raised in an orphanage here.  There were so many girls and so little order that the whole place devolved into a Lord of the Flies kind of scenario – violence was common-place, alliances were made for protection, and gangs sprouted up in a bizarre ad hoc system of martial law.  In the absence of Jesus, darkness is very dark.

Every time we’re in a car, people try to wash our windows, and we’re reminded again of the darkness of the human heart without God and the need for the transforming power of the Gospel.

Why am I sharing all this?  Not to scare you or make you stay away from Romania, because Bucharest (and this entire nation) are really very safe and very beautiful.  Bucharest has been called “The Little Paris” and “Europe’s Best-Kept Secret”.  We love it here.  The people are passionate and loving, the weather is amazing (so far), the food is fantastic, and it’s a little crazy at times but really fun.

Before coming here, we expected to find some evidence of human trafficking, but a lot of what we’d been reading and hearing from people was that the EU had helped Romania take care of things, so it was no longer an issue.  I’m sure things are better than they were, but the reality is that there is still stuff going on that would make your stomach turn.  Some friends we’ve met here, Ryan and Andrea Crozier, just came back from an anti-human-trafficking convention in Italy, where they met with a handful of street prostitutes, the overwhelming majority of whom came from Romania.  You can read about it here.  Were they trafficked illegally, or did they just choose a lifestyle of prostitution?  I don’t know, but if 9 out of 10 prostitutes in Italy are Romanian, that’s a problem.  Not that it wouldn’t be a problem if they were all Italian.

We’ve met some cool people here who are trying to end human trafficking.  Some of them are raising awareness and gathering data, others are housing former trafficked women and helping them get back into regular life, others are speaking at schools and trying to bring all the different anti-human-trafficking organizations in Romania together…  Andreea Gavrila, who gave us a ride to church at Missio Dei today, just got done speaking at a Christian school, where some of the girls came up to her afterwards sharing how they had friends who had been trafficked into prostitution.  One of the plans she’s working on is to get a group of young Christian women to befriend the prostitutes, show them the love of Jesus, and help them escape that lifestyle.

Please pray for Andreea, Ryan and Andrea Crozier, and everyone else in Romania who is working to end human trafficking, prostitution, and all forms of slavery in this nation.  Pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would go forth and do what it does best, bring transformation and change.

Day 12 – Belgian Carrots and Communist Snacks

It’s 10 pm and we’re sitting here in our living room, in 23-degree weather (Celsius, that’s about 73 in Fahrenheit), eating carrots from Belgium (which taste unexplainably good) and Pufeleţi, almost the only snack the Communists made in Romania for years.  Pufeleţi are amazing.  They look like those fat cheese puffs you can buy everywhere in America, but there’s no cheese on them, just a little bit of salt, and they’re airier and not at all greasy.  When you pop one in your mouth, it just melts and dissolves.  They’re really cheap (a huge bag is about $0.40), which is good, because they’re also really addictive.

I took Illiana to the grocery store today to pick up some water.  Having to go out every day to get water is a little annoying, but that’s what everyone does in this city.  Well, unless they install a water filter, or if they just don’t care.  Since everyone we’ve met here buys bottled water, we figured we’d do the same too.  The tap water is technically safe, but the levels of Chlorine and metal deposits from decaying pipes are at high enough levels that the government officially recommends only using it for washing.  We’re not quite that radical about it – we use it for everything but drinking.  Anyway, I got tired of walking to the store to buy water every day, so I decided to stock up today and get as much as I could carry back to our place.  They were out of our favorite brand, Bucovina, which tastes amazing – almost sweet, really crisp and clear – so we had to pay a little extra ($1.25 for 5 liters) and get a different brand.  It doesn’t taste as good, but I tell myself it must be better because we paid so much for it.

Oh, did I mention our washing machine now works?  It wasn’t really broken – you just gotta know how to work it.  You gotta squeeze something just so, spin it just like that, push these buttons in this order, and wait a bit, and then it works.  So we did a ton of laundry today, all our stuff from the past 12 days I guess.  Washing takes a while with these machines (they’re smaller and a lot slower, but gentler on clothes), and people don’t have dryers.  The climate is pretty dry here, so everyone just hangs stuff on drying racks, clothes lines, balcony walls, and window sills.  It works way better than I expected it to.

This stuff sounds really boring, and it is, but it’s kind of fun to figure it all out because it’s all different and requires us to think like Romanians a little bit more, which is all part of understanding the culture so we can see it transformed into the image of Jesus.  We don’t want to come in as the high-and-mighty Americans here to tell the Romanians how to live and do things “right,” because obviously America hasn’t figured that one out yet.  We want to come as brothers, understanding the culture, buying bottled water with everyone else, drying clothes like everyone else, riding the subway, living in an apartment Bloc, walking instead of driving, etc.  You may think it’s a waste of time, but we’re planning on being here a while, not just blowing in and out like a short-term trip or an evangelistic ministry.  We want to be a part of this city, know how it operates, understand the people, love them like Jesus, and bring the light of the Gospel.  We’re not here to be an evangelistic ministry – we came to make disciples and plant a church.  That takes time.

I hadn’t planned on going here, but I am anyway.  One of the things I’ve been mulling over in my mind is the problem of raising a godly family in this city.  The more I look at the cost of living here and the average salaries people make, I don’t know how it can be done.  Biblically speaking, I think the best thing to do for a family is to have a husband who works (but not so much that he never sees his kids) and a wife who stays home to raise the kids, run the house, and do homeschooling.  Here in Bucharest, most people work way too much for way too little.  Things are expensive in this city, so most households are dual-income.  The only way people have been able to survive is if both parents work and work a lot.  Usually they leave early in the morning and don’t get home until 6 or 7 at night.  How would it even be possible for a family to survive here the way we’ve been living in the States?  There’s obviously an answer, but I don’t know it yet.

My point in bringing all this up is that we want to build something here that will change a nation, not just win a few people to the Lord.  We’re not going to find answers to problems like the above if we never understand how a family lives in this city.  And that’s just one issue going through my mind.  I haven’t even brought up the challenges students and young people face, the abortion epidemic, street kids, prostitution, human trafficking, immorality, racism toward Gypsies, hatred of gays…  I know the easy answer is to preach the Gospel and see people saved, because then God changes everything, and I believe that 100%, but Jesus didn’t just say to preach the Gospel to all creation but to disciple the nations.  That takes time, building deep, getting to know the nation, and working out how the Kingdom of God looks in actuality, not just in theory.

OK, I don’t know if any of that made sense, but I needed to say it.  I’ve got a lot going through my head right now.  If you don’t understand what I’m trying to say, comment and I’ll clarify.

Just a few more notes before I wrap up tonight’s blog post.  We took the girls to a playground today and got a chance to talk to a few people.  Not all of them knew English, and our Romanian is still very poor, but it felt good to attempt to communicate anyway.  One woman I was talking to noticed I was having trouble getting Isaac into a baby swing (all the playground equipment is different here), so she came over and helped me.  Then when I wanted him out, I was having problems again, so without a word she just leaned over, scooped him up, and handed him to me.  In America, people seem really nervous to help other people out.  So far, in Romania, it seems opposite.  People just offer help whether you asked for it or not.  I love it.  We’ve had a lot of random people just grab our kids, tell us which button to push to open the subway door, or force us to take the elevator instead of the stairs because we had so many kids.

Speaking of having so man kids, statistically speaking, most people in this city have only 1 kid.  We’ve seen a few families with 2 kids, met one family with 3, but no one with more than that.  So when we walk around as a family, we get a lot of attention.  In case the curly blonde hair, the smiles, and the lighter skin don’t tip people off that we’re not from around here, the fact that we have 4 kids orbiting around us at all times helps.  I don’t know where I was going with that…  something really deep and insightful no doubt.

We ate dinner at the same  roadside kiosk.  We fed our entire family for about $11.  And the food, again, was amazing.  The same guys were working there again, so we got to talk to them a little bit more.  We’re planning on going back as often as we can, to get to know the workers a little and then share the Gospel.  The food is cheap and we really like it, so I think we can make that happen.

While walking around, I couldn’t help but notice that there are college-aged people everywhere.  They’re hanging out by the metro, sitting in the grass, eating ice cream, walking through the park, shopping, drinking, eating, riding paddle boats…  There’s tons of people in this city, but there really are packs of teens and twenty-somethings all over the place.  We wanna see a move of God in this city among the college students and twenty-somethings.  We wanna see a mass movement of students running to God and then rising up to bring the Gospel to the dark areas of this city and out into the rest of this nation and the world.  Amen.  It’s coming.

For those who decide to visit Bucharest, you’ll notice a lot of wild dogs all over the place.  They’re mostly pretty lazy, but they’re everywhere, and they’re covered in fleas and diseases, so it’s not like you wanna run up to them and cuddle, you know?  Each year, according to Filip, who sounds convincing, whether or not he’s right, 460,000 wild dogs are born and 390,000 die in Bucharest.  That’s a lot of wild dogs making a whole lot more wild dogs.  So there’s dogs everywhere, and usually they just leave you alone, but sometimes they get a little annoying – sometimes they kill people, but we haven’t experienced that yet, so I’m not going there.

We had two dog incidents today.  Dog incident number one:  while we were eating our dinner, a big stray dog started wandering closer and closer and then plopped itself right next to Jessie, Mae, and Isaac.  It wouldn’t leave.  I shooed it away but it just looked at me.  I tried leading it away by offering food, but it wouldn’t have anything of it.  So we gave in, let him have our spot, and got on the subway.  Not too dangerous really, but Mae, who hates all dogs but the kind you stick on a bun with ketchup, was pretty freaked out.

Dog incident number two: while we were walking home, across the road, a pack of about 15 dogs formed up, all barking and biting each other, sounding real vicious.  They were following a woman, who was looking really nervous, but then they switched tactics and ganged up on a guy, who picked up stones and threw them at the pack.  Unfortunately for the woman, the dogs went back to their first tactic then and followed her.  Apparently she didn’t have any stones to throw.

Well, I didn’t want to write so much today, but it’s hard for me to stop once I start…

P.S. I finally got our GPS fixed today, which means no more getting lost!  Today was one of the first days in a while that we didn’t wander around lost and confused.  Yeah!  Victory!  This will make prayer walking and evangelism much easier, so we can wander without worrying about never finding our way home again.  I know we’d be able to ask directions well enough, but I’m just not so sure anyone would be able to tell us how to find our apartment.  🙂

Day 11 – A Short Post

I’m tired tonight, so I promise that today’s post will indeed be short.

Short recap of the day: Filip and I dropped Susie off at the airport so she can visit our friends in Arad for a week, then we spent way too long trying to email forms to our insurance agent so we can get insurance here (it’s required before Romania will grant us residency).  While driving around with Filip, we ran across a handful of people who were most likely modern-day slaves.  It makes me sick that people can be so cruel.  Pimps will force others to go out on the street begging, washing car windows, or prostituting themselves, then they’ll pocket the money for themselves and send their slaves out again tomorrow.  Only the power of the Gospel can ever change the hardened heart of a pimp or heal the brokenness of a slave.  I read this article today about a Romanian sex slave who recently found her freedom.  People need the Gospel so bad…

To shift gears a little (OK, a lot), Jessie and I did some Romanian language practice for a couple hours, which was really good and much-needed.  I wish we could just download the language into our brains and know it instantly…

We found out about a good tutor today, but she charges way too much – $15 / hour / person if you do at least 2 sessions a week.  So that’s at least $60 / week, $240 /  month, for only 2 hours every week with her, if we were to go with her.  We’re looking and praying for better, cheaper options.  We’ll go with her if we have to, but it just seems like a convenient way to take advantage of “rich” Americans coming to the city and in need of language training.  I’m sure she’s a great person and a really good teacher, but at that rate, if she worked full-time with just my family, she’d make over $60,000 a year.  Sorry, but that just seems ridiculous to me.  Especially when a typical senior software engineer only makes $20,000 a year in this city (see here).

Enough grumbling.  Just pray we’d find a good, affordable way to learn the language quickly here.

Tonight, Adiel and Simona Bunescu, the pastor of Missio Dei and his wife, had us over for dinner.  They’re really awesome and have paid a heavy price to plant the church, in terms of criticism and controversy and lost friendships.  We talked about revival in Romania, problems in the churches, Romanian history, how Communism affected the church, what was going on during the revolution of 1989, how to say Romanian words, theology, the Holy Spirit, evangelism, and way more stuff than I can bring up tonight.  We ate castraveţi cu marar (cucumbers and dill), şniţel (schnitzel, fried chicken), porumb (corn), pilaf (a rice and vegetable dish), and clătite with gem (crepes with homemade jam).  So good.  Simona is an amazing cook, and we all enjoyed the time together very much.  The meal was minunat (wonderful)!

I would like to say more, but I’m really tired and should get to bed.  Adiel and Simona are amazing people and we’re really blessed to know them.  They’re pioneering something new in Romania, paving the way for a future generation of Christians to live authentic lives before Jesus, without religiosity or empty tradition.  Adiel has taken all his beliefs and laid them down before the Bible, only picking back up those that line up with the Scriptures.  He’ll admit there’s still stuff he’s learning, but he’s ready to change if the Bible shows he’s wrong.  I think that’s good.  🙂

Casa Noastră

We have mostly settled in to our new home, a cozy three bedroom apartment across from a giant mall with a wonderful and friendly owner who speaks almost no English. Here are some photos from inside!


This is our kitchen. The small gas oven/stove must be lit with a lighter each time we use it, and all the markings are rubbed off so we have to guess at the temperature!


 Illiana sitting at our table. We hooked Isaac’s high chair on to the “microwave cart.”


Our living room. It came with satellite TV. We didn’t even get any kind of TV back in the States!


One of our bathrooms. This one has a tub. I’ve noticed that Romanian bathrooms all have these handheld showers and no shower curtains. Our other bathroom doesn’t have a tub like this.


Jake’s and my bedroom with standard balcony beyond the curtain.


View through our balcony window. Here you can see what the apartments mostly all look like on the outside.

Day 10 – Nothing But Fun

Today, we kicked boredom in the butt and just had some fun.  We took some wise advice (thanks Michael) and just got into the city to have fun, see some sights, talk to some people, and see what makes Bucharest tick.

First, we let Susie take care of the kids while Jessie and I took a good long walk.  We walked about 5 km from our apartment to Palatul Parlamentului (Palace of the Parliament), listed according to some as the second largest building in the world, right behind the Pentagon.  Technically speaking, one of Boeing’s factories is bigger (makes sense, right?), as are a number of other similar buildings, but I guess they don’t count.

Either way, Palatul Paramentului is huge.  We wanted to get close, but since yesterday they had 30,000 extra soccer fans in the area, it was all sanctioned off.  We did snap this photo:

And right across the street is Parcul Izvor (Spring Park), which has a huge play area for kids, outdoor exercise equipment, tons of open space to lounge around in, and a bunch of nice, shady trees.  We found a good-looking tree and sat down for a while, enjoying the quiet and serenity of the park in the midst of 3 million busy city-dwellers.  The park was pretty packed with people hanging out, mostly in their teens and twenties, but it’s crazy how peaceful and remote it felt.

Here’s a shot of the playground – the kids are so excited to check it out:

After lounging around for a bit, we decided to check out nearby Cismigiu Park, one of Bucharest’s largest and most beautiful parks.  The park, again, was packed with people – old guys playing chess and backgammon, young couples walking hand-in-hand, moms playing with their kids, college students studying for classes, businessmen conducting meetings…  It’s like a whole little magical world inside a big city.  It smells like a state park, there’s giant old trees everywhere, there’s a lake and a canal with boaters quietly uh… boating along.  There’s even a really awesome, creatively-designed playground and an old-school carnival.  Just adds to the magical feel of the place.

After the park, we started heading back, got lost for a while (nothing makes sense about this city), and ordered fast-food at a roadside kiosk.  I got a soda, a big thing of fries, and a huge “hamburger” for $3, and Jessie got a giant chicken shaorma wrap and a lemonade for about $2.50.  My “hamburger” is in quotations because it wasn’t really a hamburger.  It tasted great, but it wasn’t a hamburger.  It was a mushed-up meat and veggie patty that tasted like a bowl of chilli, with toppings of ketchup, corn, cucumbers, and two types of cabbage.  It wasn’t a hamburger, but it was really good.  And the bun was simply amazing.

Well, we finished our explorations by buying a couple of unlimited monthly subway passes (for under $15 each), taking the subway back toward our apartment, getting lost again, and finally coming home to a bunch of happy kids.

I was tired when we finally got home, but I wanted to do something special with the girls, so I took them out to buy groceries and more water (they really like the experience), and we stopped at a small shop to get ice cream (îngheţată) and played on a really ghetto playground near our house.  It’s super small and, like many things in Bucharest, is covered in graffiti and has piles of trash scattered around.  Kind of like Milwaukee was.

So today I learned Romanians don’t have the same concept of time as we do in America.  In America, you don’t call people after 9pm unless you’re in college, and you definitely don’t come to their house that late.  In Romania, it doesn’t matter.  Our landlord, Marian, stopped by at 10:30 this evening to check up on us.  He’s really an awesome guy, and every time he comes, we feel really happy.  Tonight, he came with his wife Monica, his son Aleksander (spellings may be wrong), and their tiny little miniature schnauzer Maia.  They speak very little English, and our Romanian is equally bad, so we have a fun time communicating with each other through mime, Google Translate, and broken phrases.  He changed out some lightbulbs, brought us a brand-new mop and bucket, fixed the washing machine, and explained that he took care of our crabby neighbor for us.  Basically, in as best we could understand, the neighbor is crazy, so Marian recommended not talking to him.  Problem fixed.  🙂

While Marian was over, our Chinese neighbor Lai popped out and I found out he speaks fluent Romanian.  He and Marian talked for a while and then Lai told me, “Marian is a good man.  He is very good.”  And then, “Remember, if you need anything, you just knock and I am here.  This is a strange place.”  Then he was gone.

I love these people!

Before Marian and his family left, Marian asked us, “You… from… England?”  “Nu, nu, Statele Unite,” we told him.  His eyes light up, “Oh, Americans!  Yes!  Good.  Oraş?”  He was asking what city we were from.  “Milwaukee, linga Chicago…  Milwaukee Brewers… baseball!”  “Yes, good!  I know.”  He’s the second person we’ve met here who knows of the Brewers.  One guy, Razvan from the electronics store, watches them religiously.

Well, today I learned a lot.  We experienced some of the fun of Bucharest, we learned how to ask for ice cream really well, we found some of the places where people go to chill and relax, we tried out the subway, we discovered some great places for our kids, and, most importantly, I remembered how much I love this country and these people.  We’re going to be doing a lot more exploring and wandering and praying.  I need it – it opens my eyes to how God feels about this place, and it gets me out there where the people are working and resting and having fun.

OK, two funny stories before I close.  I’d heard some statements from guidebooks that Romanians are inherently terrible at giving directions.  This is probably partly because 1) their cities don’t make any sense, and 2) roads are rarely labeled with street signs.  However, even given these handicaps, today I found out just how bad they are.  No Romanians we talked to could help us find where we were going.  Even when there was a giant map on a wall that we were all looking at, the Romanian guy sent us the wrong way.  He was really, really nice and seemed very concerned that we were lost, but ultimately his directions sent us exactly opposite of where we were going.  If our GPS was working, this wouldn’t be such an issue, but it’s having problems with all the tall apartment buildings around.  Where is Tyler Marenes when you need him?

Second funny story.  Outside the grocery store, there’s a lane of taxis, then a median in the road, then a lane of traffic coming one way, then another median, then some train tracks for the tramvai (trolley), then another median, then a final lane of traffic coming the other way.  It’s pretty busy and chaotic and we’ve almost been run over by both cars and tramvaii a few times.  Anyway, when the girls and I were waiting in the first median, right before the lane of traffic, this bent up old woman decided she’d had enough waiting, so she just walked out into traffic in front of a car, forcing it to stop.  She stared down the driver, waved her cane at him, and then slowly edged out to stop another lane of traffic.  She managed to stop all three lanes of traffic by pointing her cane, giving drivers the evil eye, and wandering back and forth between lanes erratically.  It was quite an impressive feat, and not once was I worried for her.  She clearly had it under control the whole time.  Finally, after she stopped all the lanes of traffic, she crossed, just in time for the light to turn red anyway.

Only in Romania.  🙂

Day 9 – Plictiseală… Boredom

We’ve only been here a week, but I’m already really bored.  I have a hard time sitting still.  I start to twitch if I’m not producing something every couple minutes.

Before moving here, so many things had to be taken care of and finished up that we were putting in 12-18 hours of almost nonstop work most days.  I just got used to waking up and going like crazy every day, without much of a break.  Support-raising, language learning, packing stuff, selling stuff, throwing stuff out, cleaning, organizing, planning, making phone calls, sending emails, designing stuff, printing stuff, praying, studying the Bible, preparing for discipleship groups, youth groups, and church meetings…  It was nonstop.  And now basically we’re learning how to survive.

At the height of our busy schedules in Milwaukee, I remember plopping down on the couch as the girls watched “Little House on the Prairie.”  I watched a few minutes of this pioneering family battle the elements, hostile natives, and the difficulties of frontier life.  I remember wishfully telling Jessie, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live like that?  No schedules, no appointments, no full calendars, no long-term goals, no responsibilities beyond survival…”  Now we’re in the same boat and I understand why Mr. Ingalls went right to work building a cabin and planting a crop – you get bored if you’re just surviving.

We’re not being lazy by any means, but we’re doing different things that are harder to measure.  We’re building relationships, learning the language, learning the culture, finding the grocery store, figuring out the city, setting up our house, buying fans and getting yelled at by our neighbors (see previous post), ministering to people who God sends to us.  I had grown so used to meetings and appointments and a packed calendar that all this flexibility and free-time is driving me nuts.

Every missionary we talked to before moving here said one of the hardest things they had to learn was to wait and observe.  My friend Eli told me, “You leave and you think, ‘I am superman, coming to rescue these people,’ but then you have to wait and you have to watch and you have to learn the language.  And everything you do, you have to depend on other people to help.  This is very hard, but you learn to listen to God and wait for Him to move, and this is good.”

On the bright side of things, our landlord Marian is amazing.  He’s going to talk to the crabby neighbor for us, he’s trying to fix our washing machine (still haven’t been able to do laundry), he fixed a bunch of broken dresser drawers, he’s going to paint our bedroom walls, he mopped the floor for us, he fixed the girls’ wardrobe, and he said not to worry about the shelf Naomi destroyed.  He doesn’t speak much English, but he’s trying, and he loves our kids.  He came over tonight to do some work on the place, and it really cheered us up, especially since we had another, even more intense, run-in with our crabby neighbor.

Well, tonight the city is abuzz with soccer.  30,000 Spanish soccer fans arrived for the Europa League final match between Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid, which should begin in about 5 minutes.  There’ll be fireworks, a big-screen projector downtown, and lots of crazed soccer fans.  We might go check it out…