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.