On the Train to Cluj
There was a conference in Cluj at the end of August that a lot of the next wave of ministry leaders and church-planters in Romania were attending, so Ben and I were excited to come along and check it out.
The conference was great, and I’ll probably blog about that later, but first, let me share some of the highlights from the train ride.
We went from one side of Romania to the other, so the ride took about 10 hours by train, passing along some of the most beautiful mountains, hills, and North Dakota style farmland I’ve ever seen.
We rode past dozens of tiny little villages and towns carpeted with the same classic houses with their rust red tile roofs in need of repair. The villages look idyllic and beautiful, but life here is harder than in the big city of Bucharest – jobs can be almost impossible to find and the distractions of big city living are usually nonexistent. I think it’d be fun to try living in one of the smaller villages sometime, but the young and the leaders tend to gravitate toward the bigger cities like Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, or Constanta.
Besides the usual red-roofed homes, the landscape was dotted liberally with church buildings of one type or another – mostly Orthodox, but also Baptist and Pentecostal to be sure. There are definitely plenty of church buildings in this country, but we’ve met very few Christians, especially in Bucharest. Most people we meet call themselves Orthodox, but they don’t read the Bible, don’t pray, don’t attend church services, don’t know anything about the Gospel, and aren’t born-again. They consider their baptism as an infant as good enough to, hopefully, get them into heaven one day, but they live with the fear that perhaps they haven’t done enough. Of all the people in Bucharest we’ve met and talked to outside a church service, I think we’ve encountered maybe 2 that were born-again, between me, Jessie, and Ben. Religiously-minded Romanians will sometimes tell you that there’s no need for missions work in Romania, because Romania is “a Christian nation,” but people who love Jesus here see things a lot differently.
Besides scenery, we met some interesting people. When we first got on the train, a man who was sharing the compartment with us lit up cigarettes freely, despite the clear, and abundant, “No Smoking” signs posted all around him.
After that man left, we shared the rest of the trip with a couple in their 60s who spoke Romanian, Hungarian, French, and German, but no English. We understood about half of what they were talking about and had some fun conversations about Obama and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They drank a handful of beers on the trip, smoked cigarettes near the “No Smoking” signs, and kept spilling crumbs on everyone. Another old guy we sat near told me something, pointed at them, and made a “they’re crazy” sign.
At one point, while I was typing up blog posts, the beer-drinking guy in his 60s leaned across the aisle, popped his head in front of my screen, and looked at what I was doing. His wife smacked him and looked apologetic at me as she explained, “E curios.”
A young woman who shared our compartment was the draw of a lot of curiosity. She looked Romanian, but she never spoke the whole time and didn’t understand Romanian or English. Whenever she left to walk around the train or go to the bathroom, all the Romanians would start talking excitedly about the mysterious woman.
Another older man, probably in his 70s, came on board carrying a cardboard box marked “ice cream,” with a homemade handle fashioned out of wire. The top was covered with a bag. When he entered our compartment, he took the bag off and revealed a small puppy. For the duration, the puppy attracted more interest than the mysterious silent woman.
And then we got to Cluj.