Elvis Is Alive – Life and Death in Ferentari
One of Bucharest’s worst neighborhoods, depending on how you measure it, is Ferentari. Ferentari is Bucharest’s largest gypsy community, and you can read about some of the issues here – prostitution, crime, poverty, racism, joblessness, homelessness. While much of Ferentari has improved a lot in recent years, walking through other parts remind me of the slums of Haiti or Africa – people living in homes full of mold and cockroaches, no heat, no electricity, no windows or doors. People in Bucharest are pretty leery of Ferentari – a lot of taxi drivers won’t even drive there – but realistically plenty of American cities are even more dangerous.
Ben and I have been walking through Ferentari at least once a week, praying for the neighborhood, talking to people we meet, passing out tracts, but today, we were joined by Jason Smith, a missionary from Canada who works with gypsies in other parts of the city, and Jacob Powell, a young man from London who is working with children from Ferentari for a few weeks.
Me, Ben, and Jason took Tram 23 into Ferentari and found Jacob waiting for us at a grocery store. Right away, we started praying and walking through the neighborhood. Potholed streets with trash piled on the sidewalks, the smell of garbage, houses in disrepair, packs of dogs roaming around. We didn’t make it into the real ghetto of Ferentari this time, but it was still obvious the places we walked were far from the wealthy center of the city near where we live.
As we walked and prayed, Jacob told us one of the most disturbing stories about Ferentari I’d heard yet. Last year, residents accidentally discovered a pile of dead children’s bodies shoved behind a building. Upon investigation, it was found they had all been kidnapped a week previously. Kidnapped gypsy kids are little concern to most police in Romania, so no one did anything at the time. When doctors performed autopsies on the children’s bodies, they found the cause of death – their lungs had all been removed and sold on the black market. Somewhere out there, there’s a cigarette-smoking man with a new set of lungs, mercilessly torn from a gypsy kid’s body. It makes me sick.
On average, every night in Ferentari, three women are forcibly taken from their homes, shoved into cars, kidnapped, sold into prostitution, and shipped to places like Italy, Spain, and the UK, where they’re raped dozens of times every night and beat by their pimps if they don’t bring home enough money or if they show any signs of trying to escape.
Ferentari needs to see Jesus.
Today, we heard about death in Ferentari, and it was with this weight that we walked and prayed along the streets and asked God how to minister his life through us.
As we walked, we asked God to guide us and show us who to talk to, what to say, and how to best show Jesus’ love. We talked to a well-dressed man with a wallet packed with hundreds of 100-lei notes. He wasn’t interested in the Gospel, but he made enough references to the mafia to make us nervous. When he found out Jacob was single, he offered to give him his daughter in marriage. She seemed to really like the idea, but Jacob wasn’t having it. As we walked away, she told him, “When you remember you want a wife, I will be here waiting for you.”
We met an older woman walking with a cane, so we asked if we could pray for her. As we knelt and prayed for her legs to be healed, she lifted her hands and got tears in her eyes. We shared the Gospel with her (well, Jason did), and she had a look of delight on her eyes as she told us she understood what we were talking about.
My favorite story from today was Elvis. We had been walking around a while and hadn’t seen God do a whole ton of stuff, when we came across a whole family who was really open. We asked if we could pray for them for anything, and they told us they just needed the blessing of God in general. As we prayed, I felt like God was telling me something to tell their twenty-something son, whose name was Elvis. I had Jason translate a prophetic word about what God was calling him to do in his life. He received it and felt like it was from God, so we all prayed that he would indeed follow His call. Then we invited him to church and gave him directions.
Afterward, we talked to a few more people who weren’t very interested, and then we walked about a block away to see what else God was gonna do. We were a little frustrated because that family had seemed so open to God but we hadn’t really preached the Gospel very clearly, just prayed a blessing over them and invited them to church. It was alright, but we really felt like we should have done more. Suddenly we heard the sound of running feet on pavement behind us, and as we turned around, it was Elvis, chasing after us with a giant smile on his face.
He wanted clearer directions to the church, and he wanted to know more about God. Thank you, Lord! Jason went through the whole Gospel with him, and he said he wanted to pray to receive forgiveness for his sins. He prayed, we all hugged, his face beaming with the joy of God, and then he wanted more prayer, so we asked God to cover him, protect him, and fill him with his goodness. As we prayed, Elvis began shaking, rocking back and forth, breathing heavily, and smiling a lot. I don’t know what all happened, but the Holy Spirit came and Elvis was different afterward.
Then we went back to Elvis’s family, where we shared with everyone about Elvis praying to receive new life in Jesus. They were all even more interested now and said they’d come to church with us on Sunday. We all exchanged numbers so we can stay in contact with Elvis and his family. Pray God continues to change him and that Elvis grows more and more in Jesus every day.
Where the enemy is raging, where death and darkness are triumphing, there is always light, and that light is bright indeed.