God is changing lives here in Romania. I’d like say it’s all because of us, but very little of it is. We’re doing good work, I think, but the reality is that we’re a very small part of things that God has been doing for a long time and will continue doing with or without us. There is a growing hunger among the younger generation for something that is deeper and more real than they’ve experienced in the past. While many are still satisfied with dead religion, going through the motions, the party lifestyle, or pursuing material gains and educational achievements, there are many who are opening their eyes to the true life Jesus offers.
We’ve met a number of young people in their teens and twenties who have given their lives to Jesus, some very recently, and are shining brightly as lights for Him. I asked a few of them to share their stories on the blog over the next few weeks, because God is changing lives here, and I know you’ll all be excited to read some of what He’s been doing.
So this is Cristiana. She’s a member of Missio Dei Church, has become a really great friend of ours and the kids, became a Christian about 6 years ago, and loves Jesus with all she has. And here is her story.
>> Can you briefly describe the process God used to bring you to Himself? Specifically, what were you like before you knew God, what did He do to lead you toward Him, and how has life changed now?
My story actually started at the beginning of high school when I think I was about 15 years old when I met Gabriela. It makes me laugh now, but then there was a strange feeling we both felt that we knew each other and for the following 2 months we tried to figure out why we felt this. It’s been a mystery until now, but it proved to be the ‘triggering’ factor of a heavenly friendship that changed my life forever.
I was raised in a family with a strong orthodox background; I used to be a church-goer since I was a kid, learning by heart a lot of prayers and trying to do as many good deeds as possible, hoping God would find me good enough at the Judgment Day and accept me in Heaven. There were nights when I would just speak freely to God about my feelings and concerns without truly knowing the God who loved me so much and wanted me to know His tender heart and what He did for me. It’s like I was sensing there must be something more to Christianity than just what I was taught.
I started to talk to Gabriela about Christianity and soon she realized I really wanted to know more. She told me about Jesus, the Cross, my sins, forgiveness etc. I crumbled on my knees in April (about just 6-7 months later) telling God I had no idea what He wanted from me, but that He could have His way with me. We started to read the Bible and I recall becoming more and more in love with Jesus, and maybe the most obvious fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life was the abundance of JOY that I was experiencing!!!
Before knowing Jesus I was just an ordinary kid, believing in an impersonal God that would strike me someday for not being good enough, believing a guy or a successful career would make her ‘whole.’ I was a girl who was very ambitious, with a strong character and extremely determined to become ‘someone’ someday.
Praise God I was given a new identity, a new life, a new reason to live and breathe and wake up in the morning! I received newness of life from Jesus! I’m not pursuing the things I used to pursue anymore as I am head over heels in love with my Jesus and I know He is the only One that can fill me.
>> Of everything God used in the process of bringing you to Himself, what do you think was the most important factor?
The most important ‘factor’ was Gabriela. She really loved me and accepted me just the way I was. Her love and tenderness changed my heart and made me question what was different about her. She simply lived out the Gospel when she was with me. She shared life with me, she would give up things for me, and she would be by my side even if everyone was against me. Gabriela showed me how Jesus was like by the way she related to me. Jesus is tender and full of love and never leaves our side, even if all are against us, even if we want to give up ourselves, He never give up on us. This is LOVE- the Love of my life
>> What part of you would you say God has changed the most since you’ve become born-again?
The part that God changed the most since I’ve become born-again is my personality. I used to be very impulsive (and stubborn) especially if something unjust was happening around me or to someone I deeply cared for. To give you a funny example, Gabriela took a not so excellent mark in a subject, and she was crying because the professor was very subjective when putting marks and he also had a reputation for being really harsh — everyone was kind of scared of him. But when I saw my friend crying, I rushed to his desk with her paper in my hands demanding in a strong voice that he change Gabriela’s mark because I believed he was mistaken, arguing with him for 20 minutes. I was very brave but in a wrong way.
I’ve seen a lot of progress here, but I still have to grow and resemble Jesus even more accurately.
>> What was your perception of Jesus before you became born-again? In what ways has this changed?
I didn’t know too much about Him except that He was the Son of God, both the way He was born and died. Eventually, my perception changed and I understood His nature, His heart, and His motives for coming to a sick and dark world, the fact that He wanted a relationship with me and He would rather die than live without me. Jesus revealed Himself to me as:
- My Defender – the One Who stands for me and protects me
- My Helper – If I need a hand, I need look no further than His own, that I can put my burdens on His shoulders as He is strong for me
- My Friend (loyal no matter what) – If hard times come, He will be by my side, if accusations come against me He knows the truth about me, if I lose my health or my physical beauty, His devotion to me will be unchanged. He is with me always and forever
- My Counselor – If am struggling to see the truth/the way He will be the One who will guide me
- My Encourager – No matter what, He has words of life for me. Only He can speak to the depths of my heart, only He can tell me who I am and nobody else
- My Thoughtful – I am always on His mind, engraved on the palms of His hands. Jesus thinks always of how I can be strengthened, encouraged, blessed and built stronger. He always thinks of special ways to express His love and faithfulness to me
- My Lover – the One who is trustworthy with my inmost feelings, thoughts, and concerns. The One who handles my heart with the most care and handles my inmost person with delicacy and softness
- My Sharer of Sufferings – If I encounter any difficulty He is willing to carry it for me. He feels my pain because my pain is His pain, my tears are His tears, my heartache is His heartache, my sufferings are His sufferings
>> What was your perception of the church before you became born-again? In what ways has this changed?
Before, the church was just the building itself for me. Now, the Church is the Body of Christ, we are His members, His Temple, and I am an important part of this Body as I was given gifts to serve this body, build it strong and edify it. There is never such a thing as an unimportant member. We are the Church.
>> What do your family and friends think of the changes in you? Is anyone else in your family a born-again Christian?
Tough subject. I met with a lot of disapproval from my family and friends, but I was given the grace and strength to get over all the obstacles even though I was basically just a teenager. It’s incredible how He carried me through it all. It never even crossed my mind to give up, though. I was built strong because He called me to be the one who stands in the gap for my family. The one who stands in the gap gets all the blows, and the difficult circumstances allowed in my life made me strong – strong in faith, strong and brave to stand up for what I believe in. But most of all…the trials worked in me Christ’s character and helped me cultivate a deep and beautiful relationship with Him. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
I take comfort in the fact that this is God’s will for me and His will for us is just goodness, lovingkindness, and joy unspeakable. When you understand that nothing touches you and happens without His permission, you thankfully take everything from His loving hands, even if it means you are called to walk alone and misunderstood for a period.
>> What’s your goal in life now?
My deepest desire is to know Him more and grow in the knowledge of His love. I want to live brave, I want to see lives changed for Jesus, I want to be Light in the Darkness, I want to let Jesus love this depraved world through me. I want to leave a legacy of faith.
When my reign ends on this Earth, I want people to say: ‘She was all about Jesus. She was a fearless woman. She was Jesus’ hands and feet. She was beautiful, but with no beauty of her own. Rivers of Love and Joy poured out through her. She was His.’
I was reminded today of a funny scenario that happened about 4 or 5 months ago. We had just applied for our international health insurance, and the company was mailing us the documents via “Fan Courier,” a private delivery service that’s a little more dependable than the national mail service.
Because we spoke very little Romanian at the time (now we speak “little” but back then it was “very little”), there was a lot of confusion in the whole process. I won’t go through all the details, but after accidentally rejecting the package a few times, finally I got a text message from a mysterious number that said something like, “sunt fan courier.”
At the time, I understood enough Romanian to know that “sunt” meant “i am,” but I didn’t know of anything called “fan courier,” so the whole message remained a mystery. Thankfully, however, I had Google Translate. So I typed it in, pressed “enter,” and waited for the result, which was….
“I am secret admirer.”
“Oh, crap,” I thought, “someone must have gotten my phone number off one of our tracts while we did evangelism, and now they’re spamming me with secret love messages.”
Using my gift of “duh-scernment,” I chose not to respond, and the next day while leaving the apartment I ran into the delivery guy, who worked for Fan Courier, I got the package, and then I realized, when I saw the logo on his van, that apparently not only did I not know what “fan courier” was, but neither did Google.
Yes, it’s true. There is one thing Google doesn’t know.
Well, didn’t know. Now that I’ve published this post, their webcrawlers have already indexed it, read it, and updated Google Translate accordingly.
The other day I was thinking about books that really changed my life, ones that I’d be quick to recommend to others. I started jotting down a quick list, thinking I could come up with the top four or five or six. Well, I got twenty so far, and it’s growing.
So I’m going to start a semi-regular post here where I list a new group of “Five Books That’ll Change Your Life” every few weeks or so. As I post, please comment with your thoughts and your own top recommended books.
1. The Pursuit of God (AW Tozer)
Written in 1948, this is one of those classics that will never get old. If you want more passion for God, you can’t go wrong with Tozer. It’s a small book, but read it slow, letting each line sink in.
Go get the book. It’ll change your life. But in case you’re still not convinced, here’s some quotes to whet your appetite:
– “The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.”
– “We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.”
-“Always, everywhere God is present, and always He seeks to discover Himself to each one”
2. The Rise of Christianity (Rodney Stark)
Adiel, pastor of Missio Dei Church, loaned this book to me, and I loved it so much I had to include it in the first of these lists. The book’s subtitle is “How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries,” and that pretty much sums it up. This is a very readable but scholarly secular sociological look at how Christianity came to dominate the Roman Empire while similar movements died out in a few years. Stark includes lots of historical writings and first-hand accounts to back up the theory, and his descriptions of life in the 1st century are phenomenal. This book is interesting from a historical perspective, but it’s also really encouraging in the fact that if Christianity could “beat the odds” back then, it ought to be able to do the same today.
3. The Cross and the Switchblade (David Wilkerson)
I love biographies, but sometimes you can get overwhelmed by the larger-than-life characters and events they portray, to the point where you walk away thinking, “I’m not that amazing. I could never do that for God.” This book is different. You’ll leave feeling like if God could use David Wilkerson to reach gangs in New York City and found Teen Challenge, He could use you to do anything. This book is the story of how God took a simple country pastor into the most dangerous area of 1950s New York City and then began changing hearts and healing lives, one after another, all through simple acts of love and obedience to Jesus. It’s co-written by journalists John and Elizabeth Sherrill, so in addition to being a really good story it’s very well-written and you’ll have a hard time putting it down once you pick it up.
4. No Compromise (Melody Green)
Not everyone reading this has heard of Keith Green, but this biography written by his wife is well worth reading whether you know about “flaming manna souffle” or not. Keith Green was one of the most influential Christian musicians of all time, but this book is really very little about that. If you read this book, you’ll be challenged to live your life radically for God, following Him with everything you have. From opening his home to hippie dropouts and single moms, to standing up at a concert and scolding everyone for worshiping him more than Jesus, to helping launch a missions movement, Keith’s story will inspire you to use what God’s given you to change the world. And like the above book, it’s extremely well-written, so get ready for lots of late nights in bed reading until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore.
5. When Heaven Invades Earth (Bill Johnson)
This is the Charismatic, Holy Spirit power, change the world, Kingdom of God book in the list. The subtitle is “A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles,” and while there are other books about the topic out there, Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, does a great job of demystifying everything and making it all really practical and down-to-earth. Well, at least for you right-brainers out there. It can feel a little scattered at points. The concept is that miracles should be the norm for Christians, because we serve a miraculous God, and the book is filled with testimonies of what God has been doing in their ministry through regular people like you and me. This book challenged my thinking and built up my faith to expect miracles every day, because we serve a God who makes it his business to defy our puny brains.
Alright, boys and girls, that’s it for this first installment of books that’ll change your life. More to come soon.
Now get reading! 🙂
Every Friday night, we head over to the Drumul Taberei (literally “the road of the army encampment”) neighborhood and spend some time with Vasilica and the Gypsy community around her. Vasilica is probably in her fifties and is the only Christian in the community. Her mother’s dying prayer was, “Lord, let Vasilica become a Christian.” When Vasilica heard it, she resisted God with all she could, but eventually, a year or so ago, she surrendered, received Jesus’ forgiveness, and now she shines as a bright light in the midst of drug addicts, prostitutes, thieves, and a lot of mocking.
Vasilica has six kids, all of them addicted to heroine from what she’s told us. None of them have jobs but survive by stealing, prostitution, and selling drugs. The neighbors in the area all follow suit. Because of their lifestyles, Vasilica takes care of most of the grandkids and some neighbor kids as well.
Vasilica witnesses constantly to her family and neighbors, even in the midst of a lot of ridiculing. One time, someone came back with a bunch of food they had stolen. They offered it to Vasilica, who hadn’t eaten in days, but she refused, telling them, “I will not eat stolen food. The Lord will provide my food.” Hearing this, the rest laughed and mocked her and her husband Mircea took her Bible away, but Vasilica prayed and as it turned out, the next day we ended up coming by with an armload of food.
Vasilica’s quiet witness is having an effect on people. Mircea, her husband, was addicted to heroine for 13 years but just dropped it cold turkey recently. Shortly afterward, he prayed with Ben and Jason to receive forgiveness and begin following Jesus. The lifestyle of drugs and immorality had a hard pull on him, though, and a couple weeks later, he got angry with his wife and ran off for about a month. But now he’s back, praise God, and showing signs of repentance.
So every Friday night, we head over to Vasilica’s house for a time of prayer and worship and teaching from the Bible. Sometimes, she’s the only one there. Others, we’ve had as many as 10 people gathered with us.
My favorite night, a good-sized group of about 10 had gathered, and I was planning on preaching a basic Gospel message. There was a little extra chaos than normal: a woman answered her phone during my message, another just walked out, angry dogs were barking outside the windows, one dog even tried to jump through the window and bite Jason, a young boy kept screaming and running around hitting people. Yeah, it was crazed.
By the end of the night, though, we had been able to share the Gospel with everyone, we prayed for a paralyzed man who was really touched by God, and the presence of God came as we worshiped and prayed together. Closing with some worship, I prayed for this young boy of about 10, Viruel, who God began ministering to. During the prayers, Viruel started smiling, lifting his hands, and staring up to the sky, as if he were expecting something from God. As I continued praying, he slowly started bending forward as if some heavy object were being placed on his back, and his legs started shaking and wobbling uncontrollably. Suddenly, he lost his balance and would have fallen over except I grabbed him and held him there. When I was done praying, he looked up at me with a huge smile, hugged me, and didn’t want to leave my side the rest of the night.
There was a holy peace as we left Vasilica’s that night, and I think we could all tell that, amidst the darkness and the chaos, God showed up, and He will continue to do so because He loves people enough to come and live among us.
We had a really weird night with the Gypsies a Mihai Bravu last night. Rather than go through all the details for you, you can read my brother Ben’s post instead.
Since I know you want to hear them, here are the rejected titles for this post: Lost in Translation, Testify Sistah!, a Mormonic Conversation, and a New Wife for Jason. Yeah, it was an eventful night, mostly encouraging but also difficult.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the discouraging aspects of the night, but I think it’s good to let you know that ministry here in Bucuresti is not all a bunch of successes. So, before I get to the awesome stuff, here’s the list of what discourages me: we lost our translator somehow, we arrived an hour late, most of our regular families were gone tonight, worship seemed heartless and dull, the praying was similarly just as lifeless, a couple of the kids at the meeting were going crazy, Lali stumbled into the meeting drunk, I couldn’t seem to say a word in Romanian…
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Before we left the States for Romania, we met with hundreds of people to share the vision, raise prayer support, and gather the funds we needed to make the move. As we were leaving one of those meetings, the husband shook my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said, “I’m really impressed by what you’re doing. It must be hard to walk away from everything you’ve been doing here in Wisconsin, all you’ve been building. If God called me to go, I don’t know if I could do that.”
I didn’t really know what to respond. The question took me so off guard, and I was pretty preoccupied with getting kids in their seats, so I just smiled and muttered out something lame as we got into the van.
The other day, I randomly remembered that husband’s comment – “It must be hard to walk away from everything you’ve been doing.” Honestly, no, it wasn’t. It was hard to leave friends and family, not knowing when I’d see them again. But we knew we’d eventually have a mailing address, Skype, Facebook, email, and even Google Voice, and some of them had already made plans to come visit. It was hard watching our daughters cry about selling or throwing away some of their toys. But even that was offset by the joy they showed in picking out the nicer ones to give to their friends and cousins. It was hard to put ourselves into God’s hands and venture into a part of the world we’d never been to before. But again, if everything went to pot, worst case scenario, God would either figure something out or we’d die and be in Heaven, so no real loss there.
Was it hard to leave behind work that we’d been doing for years in Milwaukee and Oconomowoc? No, not really. Honestly, it never crossed my mind. My whole philosophy has always been to build as if I might be called out in 60 years or 6 months. Plant my feet, make it my home, get ready to give myself to this new assignment from God for life if He wants, but build and train and work in such a way that if I leave in 6 months, the work continues.
Besides, ultimately, I didn’t do any of the work for me or my glory or benefit. It was all for God, so if God was the one saying, “OK, time’s up, get outta’ here,” then He was happy with what I’d done and it was time for me to go. If the work crumbled, well it was for God anyway, not for me or to impress the world. If the work continued, awesome, then I really did my job well.
In whatever I’m doing for God, I don’t want to just do a good job right now, but I want to think long-term, raising up people who can do the work when (or if) I’m gone. This is what Jesus did with the disciples. He spent three years with them, pouring into them, investing himself into them, so that when He was gone, the Church launched into its most explosive phase yet. The Church didn’t end when Jesus ascended, and neither should ministry we’re doing finish if we’re taken out of the picture.
Paul told the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). To live is Christ. In everything we’re doing, we do it for Him. We do it for His glory. We do it for His honor. We do it for His joy. Living, ministering, serving God… none of that is about me. It’s all for Him, about Him, from Him, and an offering to Him. The work we did for Jesus in Wisconsin, it wasn’t for us, it was for Him. The work we’re doing now, it’s not for us either. To live is Christ. And to die is gain. Leaving when God calls, walking away from the work, placing it in God’s hands, is gain.
So, no, it wasn’t hard to leave behind all the work we’d been doing. We already left it behind long ago and gave it to Jesus.
Every Monday night, we head on over to Lalli and Mândra’s house to bring church to a group of Gypsies who wouldn’t get it any other way. Usually, things start out kinda’ chaotic, but God brings it all around in the end and does something cool, and we all leave really encouraged.
One week, when we showed up, no one was there but one older woman hanging up laundry on a clothes line. But soon we gathered others and before long we had a good-sized group assembled, a mixture of a few regulars and a few new people. By the end, we’d had a great time teaching the Bible, praying, and worshiping together.
This past week, in the middle of my teaching, the lights started going out. Well, light. All we had was a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. For about thirty minutes, the pattern went like this: the lights would flicker off and on then go out completely, everyone would start shouting, a few people would run out of the room, and the younger ones would reach for cell phones, then suddenly the lights would come back on again for a few minutes. It turns out they share electricity with their neighbors, and between the two of them, they were just drawing too much power through the line. It was chaotic and a little crazed, but by the end of it, I challenged everyone who knew Jesus to get out there and do something for Him. God really convicted four people listening, and they asked us to pray that they would be filled with the boldness of God to be His witnesses on the streets of Bucharest this week. Awesome!
A few weeks ago, we walked into Lalli and Mândra’s home only to be blasted by a cloud of cigarette smoke. The air was thick and hazy with fumes. We looked around and there was Lalli, and there was his son Mihai, but we didn’t recognize anyone else. None of the regulars were there, and as we talked with the newcomers, we started to get the impression they were probably not Christians yet. It’s hard to tell sometimes, between relying on translators and the Gypsy culture that’s steeped in religious ideas about Jesus, but we figured we should probably start the night off by going through what the Gospel really is.
So Jason from Canada went through the Gospel very clearly and simply, and an old roofer who was visiting from Târgu Mureş asked us to pray for him. He said he needed more faith, more work, more food, a better house, more peace, and a stronger family. So we prayed.
Afterward, still nobody else had shown up, and by this time Lalli had left, so there were no regulars. Awkward indeed. So we just talked with people and waited for others to show up. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the roofer told us he felt the Holy Spirit’s presence strongly when we prayed with him asked us if we knew about baptism in the Holy Spirit and could pray with him. This time, as we prayed, nothing amazing seemed to happen, but the room just “felt” full of God, and it just “felt” like this old roofer was soaking up all of God’s Spirit he could get. Ben’s hand got unnaturally hot, which was pretty cool. Sometimes that can be a good sign the Holy Spirit is doing something, and sometimes it just means you should take your hand off the stove. Since there were no stoves nearby, we assumed it was the Holy Spirit.
God spoke to my heart Acts 1:8 – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” I shared this verse with the old roofer and encouraged him that he had the power of God and should be a witness for Jesus. He smiled ear-to-ear and kept asking us, “What did you feel when you were praying? Could you tell something changed? Why was your hand so hot?”
Later that same evening, Koko, a young guy who was also a newcomer that night, prayed to turn away from sin and trust in Jesus for forgiveness. Shortly thereafter, the “regulars” showed up and we just kept having a good time.
Welcome to the chaotic world of cross-cultural ministry. 🙂 Check the left side of your brain at the door and continue down the hall.