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.”