So we were at a church-planting conference in Cluj last month, like I’ve mentioned previously. Like all conferences, we didn’t agree with everything taught, but we learned some cool insights about planting churches that’ll work really well here in Romania.
After the conference, Ben and I were hanging out in the city center, processing everything discussed, when an old man on a red tricycle rode up to us.
“Do you know Jesus?” he asked in Romanian.
“Yes, yes, we’re Christians,” we told Tudor, and then in mixed Romanian and English, the three of us talked about the goodness of God and why it was necessary to become born-again. Then he started belting out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” really loudly in Romanian, so Ben and I felt obliged to join in. I’m not gonna lie – as weird as it was, it kinda’ ministered to me.
Before he left, Tricycle Tudor introduced us to his friend Mr. Police Officer and then rode off to sit on a bench. I felt like I was in some strange children’s TV show.
After he was gone, Ben and I talked about the weirdness of an old man on a tricycle sharing the Gospel with us in a language we only partially understand. Yet, as odd as his approach was, at least he approached us. Too many times, people are afraid to do evangelism because they don’t want to look weird or say the wrong thing or offend the person, but we just gotta get out there, open our mouths, and trust that Jesus will give us words to speak. Yeah, you might look weird, but probably not any weirder than Tricycle Tudor.
That evening, we had a long overnight ride on the train, so I was praying for divine appointments onboard. God answered us. We ended up sharing a booth with a newly-married Orthodox couple. Over the course of the evening, we talked about every topic possible – our families, growing up, going to college, jobs, politics, and religion. At one point, Ben and I got to share our testimonies with them, how Jesus changed our lives, and I talked about how a lot of people go to church and understand religion, morality, and an idea of God, but not very many people in Romania actually have a real relationship with Jesus.
I told them many people know Jesus like they each knew each other when they first met. They knew each other’s names and what they looked like, and maybe they knew some facts about each other, but they didn’t really have a relationship with each other. Now, after three weeks of being married, they know each other deeply and have a real life together. That’s what Jesus is after, that we have a real relationship with Him, not just that we know some facts about Him.
I purposely decided not to talk about the church as an institution or bring up anything about Orthodox Christianity. I just talked about Jesus, because when people see Jesus for who He really is, He’ll clear up wrong religious ideas.
After a night of talking and sort-of-sleeping, we had all exchanged phone numbers and emails, and we’re excited to stay in contact with this young couple who promised to show us around their hometown of Braşov one day. A few days later, I got an email from them saying how much they, “loved meeting some people who loved Jesus so much.”
Whether by tricycle or train car, in awkwardness or simplicity, the Gospel must be preached, and Jesus will draw people to Himself, because that’s what He loves doing. 🙂
The weather suddenly dropped the past couple days, which meant we had to pull our normal outdoor meeting with the Gypsy families along Mihai Bravu indoors last night. We started meeting every Monday night with a small group of Gypsies near our house, they’ve been telling their friends, a few people have given their hearts to Jesus, people are growing closer to God, and the meetings have grown to about 10 families and 35 people, including us Americans.
We don’t speak Romanian, we don’t really know what we’re doing, and sometimes the Gypsy culture really, really confuses me, but God is building something here and we’ve been put in the middle of it.
When we came to Romania, we had no plan other than to follow where God led us. Well, one of the places he’s brought us is here, to these Gypsies who live along Mihai Bravu. We didn’t know what would come of the meetings, and they kinda’ just came together out of nowhere when Jason, a fellow-missionary and now a friend, met a Christian family and mentioned we would be interested in doing some prayer and teaching at their place. They said that’d be OK with them, but they didn’t seem really excited or anything.
So we met with the Gypsy family but still weren’t pushing to “start something” there. Well a couple weeks later, Irina, a young Romanian woman who goes to Missio Dei Church told us, “I want to work with Gypsies, and I see that you’re working with Gypsies. Can we talk about all you’re doing? I need to get involved.”
At that point “getting involved” meant nothing because we were still just meeting people and following God’s leading day to day, so there really wasn’t anything solid to “get involved” with. So we invited Irina to get together with Jason and us and brainstorm a plan.
A couple weeks later, we had regular weekly meetings going with the Gypsy family along Mihai Bravu, and now that group is pretty solid and growing in both numbers and maturity. There is still so much work to be done, but God is building something here and I’m humbled to be a part of it.
So normally we’d been meeting outdoors, but with the drop in temperature last week, we were welcomed into Lali and Mandra’s house for the rest of the fall and winter. It was warm and cozy, heated by a glowing hot spring attached to bare wires coming out of the wall, coiled inside a brick. Less people than normal came because it was cold and rainy, but we worshiped and prayed together, we shared some food, and Ben taught on baptism in the Holy Spirit. When we asked who wanted to receive more of the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives and be prayed for to be filled with the Holy Spirit, every person came forward.
So we prayed for everyone, and honestly I was hoping for a replay of Acts 2, tongues of fire, people speaking in unknown languages, people falling on the floor or starting to run around crazy, filled with the joy and life of the Holy Spirit, but it was a pretty mellow affair and I’m not really sure what all happened. Pretty normal for cross-cultural ministry. 🙂
I left a little frustrated because nothing much seemed to happen on the outside, but then God reminded me today that every person in that house came forward for prayer to receive more of the Holy Spirit, and that there were maybe 20 people gathered that night despite the rain and cold, and God had built a team of 3 Americans, 1 Canadian, and 1 Romanian all devoted to reaching the Gypsies of Bucharest, and it all started by random chance encounters and following His lead to take a step when He showed one to us.
Please pray for the Gypsies along Mihai Bravu, that God would build something solid and lasting among this group. Gypies are transitory, they come and go as they please, but pray that God would anchor them down and build a community here that can change Bucharest for His glory.
Also pray for another meeting we’ve started with Valentina and her family, in another part of Bucharest. She’s the only Christian in a really dark area, but she’s got a huge heart to reach the drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves living around her, so she’s been inviting them to her house to worship, pray, and hear from the Bible with us. Who knows where God might take this meeting? He’s a big God, and He’s got big plans.
I’m just really humbled to be wrapped up in what He’s doing, and I can’t wait to see what He does next.
God has been moving here, a few Gypsies have given their hearts to Jesus, and we’ve had a number of opportunities to pour into people’s lives lately, young and old, but one of the constant issues we roll over in our minds is how to present more of Jesus and less of the American in us.
God has been showing me that I think about it too much honestly, and sometimes it’s caused me to miss opportunities that He’s put in front of me. I didn’t even notice I was doing this, stressing about presenting Jesus “correctly,” until a few days ago after I had a really funny dream.
First, close your eyes and picture everyone’s favorite 1980s teen idol, Kirk Cameron. He was everyone’s favorite 1980s teen idol, right?
So I had this dream that Kirk Cameron was standing outside on a sidewalk and I heard a cheesy infomercial-like voice loudly say, “Kirk, what’s the best way to share the Gospel?”
Kirk said, “Sometimes, I like to pass out tracts.” Then Kirk demonstrated and started passing out tracts.
“Oh,” said the voice, “but if you pass out tracts, you make litter and some people won’t even look at the tract and it costs money and…” and on and on like this. “What’s a better way, Kirk?”
Kirk told the voice, “Oh, well, sometimes I do street preaching.” Then he demonstrated and began preaching on the street.
“Oh,” said the pessimistic voice again, “but if you street preach, some people will get angry, and people won’t understand perfectly what you’re saying, and it’s noisy on the streets and hard to hear one person’s voice…” and on and on. “What’s a better way, Kirk?”
So then Kirk responded, “Aaah, I also like to develop relationships with people and share Jesus naturally through friendships.” Then he demonstrated that approach.
Again the voice gave a pessimistic, negative response to Kirk’s approach. This happened with every approach that Kirk suggested until finally the voice said, “Kirk, the best way to share the Gospel is to listen to the Holy Spirit and do what He says.”
Then I woke up.
We all stress way too much about how we’re sharing the Gospel. God is telling us to get up off our butts and go, but we’re sitting around wondering, “Is this the right way? Do I know all I need to know? Am I faithfully representing Jesus? What if I say something wrong?” etc, etc. So we do nothing. We sit there quietly in fear, worried to make a mistake.
Just get out there and tell someone about Jesus! Listen to the Holy Spirit, and do what He says. It’s not that hard. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll offend some people, you’ll say something stupid. That’s just life. Get over it. 🙂
I had a dream last week. I was on a mountain playing guitar and singing a song about building a wall and standing in the gap in intercession for Bucharest (Ezekiel 22:29-30). As I sang, I lifted up my eyes and the mountain became filled with women praying for the city, commanding the darkness to leave and light to come. More and more women filled the mountain, and God was moved to answer our prayers. At one point in the song, I cried out, “Who will make a wall? Who will make a wall for this city?” and then I sang and called specifically for the sex industry to collapse.
One of my daily prayers has been that God would dismantle the sex industry in this city. This city has a reputation for hedonism and sexual immorality. I know I harp on it a lot, but it’s true, and I want to see the industry completely overturned by revival. People travel here from all over the world to “try out” the women. Sex shops litter the streets. Prostitutes walk the main drags and frequent the ritzy hotels. There’s more erotic massage parlors than McDonald’s restaurants, and they advertise more militantly. Nightclubs and discos, always a quick walk away, are always packed and always full of half-naked women and free-flowing alcohol. (Sometimes you can even see a good band there.) The webcam industry is entrenched, targeting students and young women with offers of good paychecks.
I’ve been militantly asking God to close down the clubs, the sex shops, the massage parlors, the prostitution rings, the pornography distributors, the webcam enterprises, and the escort services. I’m not gonna be happy until they’re all gone and the glory of God floods the streets of this city.
I don’t wanna see women duped into immorality, whether through sex trafficking, false ideas of what love is, personal vanity, the need to survive and feed their kids, or some dumb guy who tells them he loves them but doesn’t mean it a bit. I’m tired of it.
I don’t wanna see guys seduced by women, abusing women, hooting and hollering at them on the streets, treating them like sex objects, frequenting the massage parlors, tricked into immorality by women who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t get it that they’re destroying a nation of men by their carelessness.
I didn’t mean to go this direction for this post, but my heart is aching for this city, and one of the biggest, darkest blots over here is the sex industry. Dismantle it, Jesus. Take it apart and flood this city with your freedom.
Last night, on our way back from a church service, Ben and I were approached by two prostitutes asking us to, uhh, do what you do with prostitutes. It wasn’t in an ultra-seedy area of the city. It wasn’t by all the major entertainment venues. It was just along a main road near a grocery store, in full view of everyone. It wasn’t even that late at night or a weekend. It was about 9:30 pm on a Thursday.
My heart ached for these women. The one looked really bad, like she hadn’t eaten in a while. She was a Gypsy girl, really dirty, and was out here probably because she didn’t know how to read or write, didn’t have a state ID, had never gone to school, couldn’t get a job, and had some dead-beat husband off in jail for stealing a car or something, so she was left alone to care for 5 kids. We’ve met enough Gypsy women in that situation, so while I couldn’t get this particular girl’s story, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was about the same.
The other one looked more professional, more glamorous, like the prostitutes you see in the movies, but my heart broke for her too. Maybe she was a victim of human trafficking, maybe she got into it to make some quick money, maybe a boyfriend tricked her into it. I don’t know. Either way, past the makeup and high-heels was a broken girl who didn’t know what it meant to be made in the image of God and loved by Jesus with a love incorruptible and immeasurable.
They needed the Gospel. They needed to know Jesus. But I’d forgotten my tracts, my Romanian language skills petered out, and all we could say was, “No, we don’t want it. Christians. God.” We wanted to tell them that Jesus loved them, that He had created them for more than this, that they were far more valuable in God’s sight than the few dollars guys were willing to pay them.
But we couldn’t get anything out. The closest I could come up with was, “You’re more expensive than this,” which didn’t seem like a good option. So we turned and walked away.
Almost as soon as we left, a car drove up with a young guy driving. He rolled the window down and talked to the women. Maybe I couldn’t say anything to the prostitutes, but I could use my presence for some good. Ben and I stopped, turned around, and just watched. I looked in the guy’s eyes, trying to let him know, “I know what you’re doing, and this is not cool. This is a woman made in the image of God, and you are coming here to use her for your own selfish purposes. This is my city, and what you’re doing is not acceptable here.” I contemplated staying there like that, John Wayne-ing him, just staring at him, making him feel uncomfortable enough to drive away, but after a very, very long 30 seconds, we walked away, leaving the guy there with the women, and just prayed that Jesus would intervene, bringing the fear of God.
A little down the road, I turned back and while both women were still out there, the guy was gone. Maybe they were too expensive for him, maybe they didn’t quite measure up to his tastes, or just maybe God turned his heart and drove him away.
I praise God for averting that guy last night, but he’s one guy out of so many, and those are two women out of so many. I’m not gonna be content until I see the whole industry dismantled and overturned by the glory of God.
We often catch the 123 or 124 bus at the bus stop across the street from our apartment bloc. Last week, we caught it almost every morning at 7am because our whole family went to Universitate to pray in the morning for the university students that were returning to classes this week. One afternoon following one of those mornings, my oldest daughter Naomi pulled me aside and said, “Mama, I saw this yucky picture at the bus stop this morning. A woman had almost no clothes on.” My heart sank. I’d noticed all sorts of those posters and flyers all over the place, anytime I went out, anywhere I walked, but I was hoping they would escape the eyes of my three young daughters who never saw much of that kind of stuff back in Milwaukee, or at all in Oconomowoc before that.
My response was a question, “Have you seen lots of those kinds of pictures around?” She had. I told her to make sure she looks away from them, because they are not good and shouldn’t be up, especially all over the place where kids can even see them. The rest of the day, I had this kind of angst rise up in me against all the strip clubs, night clubs, erotic massage parlors, and bars that post these kinds of signs up all over the place, in plain sight of everyone. I remembered a day recently where we were on a bus stopped at a light, and right out the window I saw a wall, about a hundred feet long and seven feet high, completely covered with posters of a woman, suggestively posed with very little clothing on. It was an ad for some club, I’m sure. I didn’t look long, because I began praying that my family wouldn’t turn their heads and see it.
Now, I know most of the “western” world sees America as prudish and puritanical (in stark contrast to the Muslim world which sometimes teaches that we are the great satan–see Jake’s post here), but I think there is something valuable in that. I was thinking how, if one such poster showed up in Anytown, America, the moms of that town would band together, form a coalition, sign a petition, protest whoever put it up, and crowd town meetings until it came down. But in Bucharest (the only city in which I’ve seen such signs here in Romania), it’s ubiquitous and everyone has learned to just deal with it.
I think of the age-old debate of whether or not pornography should be censored and how pro-pornography folks just say, “Well, don’t look at it if you don’t like it;” but kids don’t really get a fair chance with that kind of reasoning. They shouldn’t have to avert their eyes all the time. Once, my youngest daughter Illiana, who’s three, was walking to the store with Jake and kept looking down in an odd way, saying, “I don’t want to look at that sign; it’s bad.” She saw a big sign at the bus stop of a woman in a bikini posed seductively. Curious about what she was thinking, Jake asked her, “Why is that bad?” She didn’t know why; she just knew. Kids are innocent and their consciences are hard at work until they just get desensitized to stuff like that. No one had to tell Illiana that sign was immodest; she just knew.
Girls are learning at a young age from these posters that men only want women who look like those on the signs, whether or not it’s the truth. And when we pass the multitude of magazine stands, many of them display their porn magazines, uncovered, at about kid level. and when the kids grow up and go to university here in Bucharest, the area where much of the student housing lies is inundated with the kinds of places that post up all these posters and flyers. And one woman’s magazine encouraged young women students to take up part time work in the sex industry in order to pay the bills. What kind of message does this send to women about what they are worth? That they are mere eye candy, easily disposable and replaceable, valued only for their sex appeal and appearance? What about the women who are trying to live godly, feminine lifestyles or the guys who are trying to stay pure and holy?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love Bucharest and the people here, because God loves them and created each of them in His own image for His glory…even the women on those posters, even those who put those posters up, and even those who visit those places. The day before yesterday, I wrote about something I love about Bucharest and Romania. Today’s post is about something that breaks my heart for this city. However, the Bible says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2). In the greatest darkness, God’s light shines brightest. And I can’t wait to see it shine here ever brighter and God be glorified more and more.
In the meantime, Jake and I have joked about creating stickers that say, “bubonic” and sticking them over top of “erotic” on all the erotic massage flyers. Somehow, I think bubonic massages seem a little less enticing. 🙂
There is virtually no celebration of Halloween here! No witchy costumes. No creepy spider webs hanging all over the trees. No giant, demonic-looking cats with glowing red eyes in the yard of the man across the street that gave my daughters nightmares last fall. Sure, there is the random bar or club putting on a Halloween party as an excuse for all night drunken-fest, like in the States, but it is early October and I have seen zero signs of this impending creep-fest “holiday.” And for this, I am very thankful.
I never really liked Halloween. Sure, I loved mass quantities of candy as a kid, but I have never been a costume kind of person. It always stressed me out to try to figure something out to wear. We never celebrated Halloween with our kids. We gave away candy when we lived in trick-or-treated neighborhoods, because it’s just fun and you never want to be the crabby, stingy neighbors that never smile or have fun. But we just didn’t subject our kids to all the witch costumes and pitchfork-carrying devils prowling the streets in the dark. “It’s just something fun to do,” you might say, but, I don’t know, there’s just something creepy about it all.
So, you might think Romania would be the Halloween capital of the world, housing the real, live Transylvania in it’s backyard, but the Dracula of Bram Stoker is not glorified here at all–at least that I’ve seen–and you’d probably get some eyes rolled at you if you came over here gushing over vampires and werewolves and stuff. The real Dracula, Vlad Tepeș, is viewed as somewhat of a hero here, delivering the nation from the invading Ottoman Turks…even if he chose impalement as his favorite means of torture and murder. Wikipedia states, “Estimates of the number of his victims range from 40,000 to 100,000, comparable to the cumulative number of executions over four centuries of European witch hunts.” Creepy. But it’s not celebrated or glorified here, really. It is interesting, though, that with all the movies made about Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there haven’t been any major ones about the real one.
Anyway, I’m posting this because I had completely forgotten about Halloween (thankfully) until I saw some posts about it on Facebook from friends back in the States. And that gave me one more reason to love Romania.