Hollywood, like it or not, is America’s greatest evangelist around the world. What happens in Hollywood travels around the globe, the good, the bad, and the ugly. No one (speaking in hyperbole) cares about British cinema, Canadian cinema, Romanian cinema. No one outside India and a few niche markets cares about Bollywood. But when a movie comes out of Hollywood, the world notices. When Hollywood announces a new blockbuster thriller, people around the world wait to grab it up as soon as they can, at theaters, in video stores, online through bit torrent. Like it or not, Hollywood, with all it’s flashy immorality, is transforming the globe.
I love movies, I really love movies – big summer blockbusters, low-budget independent films, little-known foreign flicks, I love ’em all, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with people lately that honestly make me really mad at Hollywood and ashamed to be an American.
Hollywood has become America’s most powerful evangelist, but for a counterfeit Gospel of violence, sexual immorality, and selfish pleasure. Muslims in Arabic nations have referred to America as “The Great Satan” partially because of what they see being displayed in Hollywood. I don’t blame them. If all you know of America is Hollywood movies, then we are a breeding ground for every wicked thing ever invented.
Last week, I was telling a student here, George, how things in America are different than in Bucharest. The topic of immorality came up. “In America,” I told him, “you’ll have bad stuff in the cities, but it’s only a few places, and it’s hard to find, covered up. You have to go to Las Vegas or LA or really seedy areas of big cities if you want to get into some of the more gross sins. Here, it’s all right out in the open.” I was referring to the billboards showcasing scantily-clad women, the topless beaches and parks, the sexually graphic advertising in newspapers, the explicit pornography openly displayed in magazine stands, the sex shops every few blocks, the innumerable flyers, posters, and magazine ads for erotic massage parlors and escort services, the prostitutes walking the streets, the advertisements for web cam models… I even saw a brand of bottled water with naked women on the label in order to draw attention to it.
“No,” George told me, “that can’t be true. I’ve seen Hollywood movies. I know how bad America is. Drugs, killing, sex everywhere, prostitution. I know what America is like.”
I told him that Hollywood was a lie. I told him that America was better than that, that what he saw on Hollywood wasn’t reality, that most of America was still very conservative, very moral, not Christian per se, but holding to a level of Puritan morality. But he didn’t buy it. Hollywood had convinced him otherwise.
A few days later, I was talking with Gabi, who confessed, “I used to hate America for everything I saw in movies. I thought maybe the Muslims were right, maybe America was the Great Satan of the world.” Then he got saved, stumbled onto some American preachers, and was amazed that here, in the midst of such great evil (the crime, violence, drugs, rape, prostitution, lust, and pornography of Hollywood), there were actually men of God preaching the Bible. Then he found more and more preachers from America who were really good, and American Christian books and movies that changed his life, and he was confused how such great evil could come out of Hollywood, yet there could be so many good churches and preachers and books and worship music.
Another day, Paula, who will be vacationing with her husband in America next month, told me that she was terrified to go to America. “I will get shot,” she told me. “They will sell me drugs and turn me into a prostitute. I’ve seen it in movies.” She went on to tell me how her whole family is terrified for her and has told her to be careful in America because everyone has guns and sells drugs. Why do they think this? I’ll give you one guess. Hollywood.
Today, I was talking with Adi. He told me, “Many of us here would not have tried drinking and parties and sexual immorality except for Hollywood. It was movies like American Pie that made me think the whole party life was what was normal. I didn’t want to look like a geek and not do those things, so I started hosting big parties in my house in High Schoool.” He reasoned that it was Hollywood that opened many young people in Romania toward sin. He saw immorality and drunkenness presented in such a fun light in all the movies that he started to think that was what life was all about. Many of his friends, he said, modeled their lives after the sexual immorality they saw in Hollywood movies. They assumed all Americans were living in immorality, based on what they saw in the movies, and if Americans were doing it, and America was on top of the world, it must be good.
So Adi and many others were duped into a life of sin because Hollywood was a better evangelist than the Christians.
Is America the Great Satan? I hope not, but if you judge America according to what’s coming out of Hollywood and influencing the nations of the world, maybe the Muslims are closer to the truth than we like to admit.
Lord, bring revival to America. We need it.
No, we’re not into witchcraft now. And no, this is not some creepy potion. Instead, it’s an herbal tea concoction that a friend of our recommended for kidney and bladder problems. Apparently, his wife gets 3-4 UTIs per year, and this, combined with a natural medicine called Urinal (haha, yep)–a concentrated tablet of the enzymes present in cranberries–work together to knock out kidney and bladder infections and dissolve kidney stones.
Since moving here, I’ve gotten severe pain in my kidneys a few times, and this tea and Urinal pill eliminate most of the pain within a day! I never had any of those kinds of problems before, so I’m not sure if it’s something I’m eating or the water I’m drinking here that’s causing kidney and bladder pain, but I’m amazed at this natural, and cheap, remedy (the three teas together cost around $1 or 2) and how it works. I mean, who ever sat around and thought, “I’m going to pour hot water over cherry stems and corn silk (stuff that’s usually tossed out) and drink it to see if it works for my bladder infection?” However odd it seems, it’s working, and I’m recommending it to others with similar problems. Because those kinds of issues seem to be pretty common here.
That title should increase my daily views.
Right now, the overwhelming majority of people who come here via Google find us by searching for information on prostitutes in Bucharest. If you enter “prostitutes in Bucharest” into Google, I should be on the first page, unless it changed recently. This wasn’t intentional, but somehow a post I did on student prostitution way back here became really popular on Google and is attracting most of the hits. It’s slightly annoying, but I’ve been praying God uses it to reach people for Him.
Well, I started writing a post about our friend Sorin’s one-man stand against prostitution at a hotel in Bucharest, but then I realized my brother had already posted about it, and he did a darn fine job, so I decided just to re-post everything he said. Here it is, first appearing in Footsteps in the Deep:
My friend Sorin started work at a hotel about a month ago. He’s a dedicated Christian and a man of God, and he shares the gospel with zeal. We ‘hired’ him as our translator when Jake Martin came to Bucureşti for two weeks of evangelism. Anyhow, he got a job working at a hotel now as a bus boy. He loves the work. The pay is more than enough for him ($2/hour) and it includes one free meal every day and a couple tips here and there.
The biggest tippers are the foreign visitors seeking prostitutes, and they are certainly plentiful. Sorin told me that every night he sees many prostitutes come into the hotel, and it’s normal for a guest to ask him to find him one. They offer him 150 RON. 150 RON is only $45 US, but to put it in perspective, that’s almost a week’s pay for a public school teacher or two 12-hour shifts for Sorin or 10 trips to the theater or half a month’s rent for a college student (cockroaches included free of charge, of course). So you don’t want to say “no” to a guy offering you 150 RON for 5 minutes of work and a phone call.
Of course, although the laws are not always enforced, prostitution is very much illegal in Romania. (And, just like in the U.S., if a man is caught paying a woman for sex, she pays the fine. No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?)
And my friend Sorin is a Christian and has always turned down the offers, stating bluntly, “I am a child of God. Why do you think I would do this thing? No, I will not find you a prostitute. And do not ask me to find someone else who will, because I will not help you in this.” Amen! I pray Sorin stays bold and the Lord blesses him so much that the other workers get jealous because of it.
But… something isn’t sitting well with me.
Of the 2 million people in Bucureşti, Sorin is one of at most 10,000 who are born-again believers. And of those 10,000, how many work at hotels? And of those, how many are willing to stand up for what’s right? And of those, how many refuse to give their co-workers the job?
And Sorin works in a small hotel. Imagine how many women are trafficked through the large ones. And add all those up throughout all of Bucureşti…
Yeah, you’re starting to feel what I’m feeling, aren’t you? A little sick to your stomach?
Pray for Bucureşti. There are many here in this city who are held in bondage to lust, and prostitution is just one of its many tentacles.
Pray for a release of godly, joy-filled holiness. Pray for men and women to become so captivated by Jesus that the idea of selling or buying sex would not even enter their minds. Pray for men and women who are whole and satisfied in Jesus, free. Pray for conviction to enter the hearts of the men who come here to abuse the law and human beings. Pray for conviction to enter the hearts of the women who use their bodies to manipulate and control men.
Pray for Bucureşti. We need it.
We finally got all our forms turned into Immigration for Jessie and I to get our Visas! It was a long process, but we’re done for now. Next step is to get the kids theirs, since they all seem fond of staying here with us and all.
So yesterday, bright and early in the morning, we went to turn in some final forms, just as the office was opening up, hoping to catch them before it got packed.
We approached the only open window and I asked the woman, in Romanian, “Do you speak English?”
The usual response when you ask this of anyone under 40 in Bucharest, especially at Immigration, is, “Yes, of course,” accompanied by a look of gentle disdain, as if they were insulted that you would even imply they may not understand how to speak English.
Yesterday’s answer was funnier.
“No, I don’t speak English. I live in Romania. I speak Romanian,” she told me curtly. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to be funny or if she was crabby or if she was just telling me facts.
“OK,” I told her in Romanian, “It’s not a problem. I speak a little Romanian, but not very well.”
“I speak it very well,” she interrupted. “You’re in Romania now. We speak Romanian here. What do you need?”
From there, I somehow got myself understood, turned in the final forms, and left satisfied that the first and hardest portion of our Visas was now complete.
I decided to make this blog post public, perhaps against my better judgment, and perhaps to the ruin of my reputation in Romania…
Last week, most of us started having stomach issues. I don’t think it’s anything serious. I think maybe we just didn’t wash some vegetables well enough, or it could just be a normal stomach virus or something.
Anyway, through the process, I’ve learned that Bucharest, put crudely, is not a good place to have diarrhea. Not that any place is a good place for diarrhea, but if I had to pick a country to have diarrhea in, it would not be here. In picking a diarrhea-friendly locale, I would most likely go one of two directions.
1) The United States. Ideally, if you’ve got diarrhea, you want quick, easy, and free access to clean toilets and soft toilet paper. The US has this in spades. Let’s say you’re on the road and you realize you really gotta go. No problem, just find the nearest McDonald’s, pop in, and be treated to a kingly experience at the Great White Throne. Or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous and really gotta go RIGHT NOW, just stop in at any gas station. While the experience won’t be as regal as a McDonald’s, it’s free and accessible, so you really can’t complain.
2) Any war-torn third-world country. Not quite as nice as pooping in the States, but having diarrhea in a third-world country does have its benefits. Put simply, though there are few nice toilets, there are also few toilets at all, so, as my friends in Latin America used to say, “El mundo es mi bano,” or “The world is my bathroom.” So just go where you can and don’t worry about it. Besides, if you pick the right (or wrong) third-world nation, you might find yourself with diarrhea so often that it’ll start to feel ‘normal.’
Bucharest, unfortunately, seems to be somewhere in the gritty mess between the two of these. The other day, while riding around the city with Peter (the Sudanese pastor of Spiritual Revival Church) to get the last few forms we need for our Visas, I was hit by the stomach issues that the rest of my family already got.
Unfortunately, Bucharest failed to meet my urgent needs. There are plenty of good bathrooms here, but finding free ones is more of a challenge. I went from one to the next in hopes of finding something suitable to work with, but my search was in vain. The toilet in the doctor’s office had no toilet seat and no toilet paper. The bathroom at the mall looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in forever, and, besides, all the stalls were locked and there was a long line of people waiting to get in. The Immigration Office had the same problem as the doctor’s office – no seat, no toilet paper.
Well, I’ve probably completely disgusted you already, so I won’t tell you how the story ended. Let’s just say it wasn’t very comfortable but it got the job done. And I was really glad I had an extra notebook in my backpack.
The other day, me, Ben, Jason, and George headed over to one of our favorite places to do evangelism in Bucharest – Cismigiu Park. It’s a beautiful, quiet park in the middle of the busiest part of the city, and it’s almost always full of people relaxing, talking, and thinking about life. We’ve had a lot of fruitful times doing evangelism in Cismigiu, so it’s a lot of fun to head there.
It was George’s first time doing street evangelism, so he was a bit nervous but mostly really excited. He’s a new Christian, but God has already used him to bring at least 2 friends into the Kingdom, and he just wants to talk to all his friends, classmates, and coworkers about the Gospel all the time.
Ben and Jason only had one conversation the whole time we were out, with a young couple. They were very receptive, so they didn’t even have time to go talk to anyone else. As they described the conversation, though the guy didn’t say much, he was listening intently the whole time. The girl opened up early on, describing herself as, “Agnostic, but every time I think about eternity, I know I’m going to Hell, and that really scares me.” She was really open and it sounds like she’ll probably end up coming to church with us.
Things started out really differently for me and George. We approached a young man and woman sitting on a bench and asked if we could talk with them about Jesus. “Sure, why not?” the man said, then he began to lecture us about Romanian history. I brought it back to talking about what Jesus did for me, but then he stopped and asked, “Do you know about the tour bus? There is a bus that goes all through the city, and you can see all the famous museums and buildings, for only 15 lei! That’s a good price!” It was at this point that I decided our best option would be escape. “Hey, let me give you this,” I said as I handed him one of my tracts. “It talks about what God did in my life, how I came to know Him. Read it and it’ll change your life.” Then I quickly thanked him for talking with us and we got out of there to find someone who would actually listen.
As we walked around, we saw two young men smoking cigarettes and sitting on a bench. Looked like good people to talk to, so George and I went over.
“Do you speak English?” I asked.
“Hi, I’m Jake,” I said as I extended my hand, “and this is George. We’re Christians, we love Jesus, and we’re going around talking with people about God. Do you want to talk with us for a minute?”
“Oh, we’re Muslim,” they told us.
“That’s OK, Jesus loves Muslims too.”
Then we sat down and had a great time talking with the two young men, from Turkey but on a road trip throughout Europe. We talked about some of the differences between Islam and Christianity, we talked about Jesus being the only path to God, we talked about being forgiven and having the guilt of sin removed, etc.
After we talked for a while, an old man stopped right near us and began staring. He stared for a long time, stared some more, and then finally interrupted the conversation and asked, “Do you speak German?”
“No,” I told him.
“Aaaah, you look German.” Then he introduced himself as one of Romania’s great scientists and began to recount his entire life story and explain to me how he came to learn the German language while in school, then the French language, and later, by accident, he learned Italian, and, because the Russians came in, he was forced to learn Russian and became fluent in that as well until, finally, he learned English as an old man. And now he was almost 85 and as he passed by he thought I looked German and was excited to try out his ancient German skills on me.
While he was talking, I kept thinking, first, “What is he talking about?” and, second, “How can I get back to talking with these two young men? I want to tell them more about Jesus.”
Well, God had different plans, and apparently they included me not saying anything else. I ended up walking away and talking with the old man, who turned out to be an aerospace engineering scientist who lectured all over Europe and the United States. At least he told me he was. Meanwhile, that allowed George to continue our conversation with the two young men.
Finally, after discussing language studies and scientific principles, the old scientist stopped talking, I realized we had to go, and George and I prayed for the young men and headed out of the park.
Please pray for Halil and Emre, that God would protect them and lead them toward Himself, and pray that George and I would continue to be good witnesses to them. We exchanged contact info and I hope we can continue our friendship. To be honest, I’m not looking for “converts.” I love Muslims and want to see them restored to God, and the only way anyone can be restored is through the blood of Jesus.
We headed back to the Immigration Office again yesterday. We thought we had everything in order to get our Visas, but it turns out we need a few more things. In addition, previously we had been told the kids wouldn’t need to apply for Visas, that they’d just come in under Jessie and I, but now they want us to file paperwork and pay taxes for each of the kids. This is getting more and more expensive every day…
I have some awesome news, though:
First, even though we didn’t have all the paperwork together for Jessie and I (no one tells you exactly what you need and even the official documentation they give you is very vague and doesn’t have everything included in it), the woman at the counter sent in the order for our Visas as long as we promised to come back soon with the few remaining items we need – our original housing contract, some stamps (of course), and a new medical certificate. That would never happen in America. Sometimes, the flexibility of the Romanian legal system is really beneficial.
Second, we had been threatened with late fees between $100 – $700 per person for being almost 2 months late on getting everything together, but they processed all the paperwork without ever bringing up our lateness. Praise God!
But the real reason I wanted to post tonight (or today, depending on where you are reading this), is to stir up some prayer for Romania. While in the Immigration Office yesterday, it was overwhelmingly clear that the Christian missionaries were completely outnumbered. The score, as I figured based on shirts and headgear, was Mormons: 14, Muslims: 10, and Christians: 6, just my family. Wow, pray that God would send more missionaries to Romania.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have been very active here for a few years, always on the streets and in the apartment blocks seeking converts. I’ve run into more of them here than I ever did in the States. In our four months here, we’ve been approached by either cult at least 3 times.
Muslims are increasing in numbers by specifically targeting refugees, internationals, the homeless, and Gypsies, using oil money and marriage to coerce people into the religion.
The parks are frequented by random cults, especially this time of year when the students are back in town. Our friend Jason was approached today by some members of an odd Korean cult regarding the Heavenly Mother.
Anyway, pray for more Christians to get serious about spreading the Gospel in Romania, especially in Bucharest, where people are the most open to new ideas. And pray for us as we witness to people and shine Jesus’ light. I figure, if all the cultists are coming here, there must be a harvest in the making and the enemy is just trying to get in on the action. Well, thankfully we serve a really big God who already knows how Bucharest is going to be won to Him. All we gotta do is be faithful to follow Him each step of the way and watch Him change this city for His glory.