Life and Death of a Beggar in Bucharest
I’ve been listening to veteran old-guy missionary Otto Koning’s series The Pineapple Stories lately. Really good stuff, and I highly recommend it. Koning and his wife and children were missionaries in New Guinea, where they saw God bring hope and life to scores of head-hunting cannibals who had known nothing but a life of paganism, idolatry, and fear. The series is half cool testimonies of what God did and half humorously painful stories of God dealing with Otto on his own stinginess, frustration, and selfishness while on the mission field. He’s a great speaker, really funny, honest and fun to listen to.
Anyway, in one of the sermons, Otto mentions the very real power of God that was present in their services, despite the fact that he wasn’t seeking dramatic supernatural manifestations or even aware that stuff like that could happen. Last week, I just finished listening to him tell stories of how God began killing people who defiantly mocked the Gospel. Witch doctors who cast spells on the Christians, natives who came to the services only to disrupt and mock, preachers he raised up who took the name of Jesus only to abuse and mistreat their churches… God was killing so many people that Otto joked all he had to do to quiet a mocker in any village was to tell them, “Remember what happened to Ojombwai? Don’t mock God.” Instantly, the remembrance of God’s dramatic power to take away life would silence the opposition.
Now, it’s possible to have an unhealthy fear of God, where you’re convinced He’s out to get you and is just waiting for the chance to sneak up and send you into Hell, but I think most of us don’t have enough fear of God. The Biblical reality is that God has the power to give life and take it away, and we see Him even in the New Testament killing people who treat Him too lightly (Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5, Herod in Acts 12). It’s only through the blood of Jesus that we have any hope in God’s presence. Without Jesus’ blood covering us, we’ve got no right to expect anything but death when God shows up.
Regardless of your theology on all that, the evidence in the Bible and history is clear – God kills people.
We go every week to visit Vasilica, a Gypsy woman Jason knows. Vasilica loves Jesus, and every week we meet with her she invites along different people she’s been ministering to. A couple weeks ago it was Dumitru, a homeless guy with no legs who sleeps at the tram stop nearby. It’s freezing this time of year, so Vasilica has invited Dumitru into her home, giving him the couch to sleep on, cooking him food, and telling him about Jesus. We shared the Gospel with him and prayed with him that Jesus would deliver him from drunkenness, because he loved his alcohol and didn’t want to give it up. We encouraged him to follow after Jesus and come next week because we would talk more.
Well, there was no “next week” for Dumitru. I was sick with a cold, so Ben and Jason went to meet with Vasilica on their own. When they got there, they asked about Dumitru and she tearfully told what happened. A few days previous, Dumitru, drunk and ranting at God, wheeled his wheelchair out into the alley with a bottle of liquor in hand. Vasilica followed and told him to leave the alcohol and let Jesus set him free. He shouted back at her, mocked her faith, laughed at Jesus, leaned back, tipped over, cracked his head on the cement, and died. All in about 30 seconds’ time.
Did God kill Dumitru or did he die of the natural consequences of his sin and unwillingness to repent? I don’t know, but it didn’t really matter when I heard the news. It broke my heart. Not the fact that God could allow this to happen. He’s good and never makes a bad decision, even if it looks like that from our side of things. What hurt was that Jesus was so close, so easy to grab ahold of, yet Dumitru didn’t care, persisted in his mocking, and died within arms reach of the one who was ready to rescue him.
So where do we go from here? Well, for starters, I’m not gonna mock God. He’s good, too good to allow us to mock Him and defiantly rebel against Him. He’s so patient, so good, so merciful, but He will not endlessly endure our mocking (Galatians 6:7). God is not safe. He’s an unquenchable fire. We can’t control him, manipulate him, use him, or fool him.
My prayer has been that God would use Dumitru’s death for His glory, which I know He’s eager to do – that He would deepen a Biblical fear of God in my life, that He’d open up Vasilica’s neighbors and family with the reality of His presence and the urgency to grab ahold of Jesus, and that He would burn in my heart a zeal to declare the Gospel in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2), to all He brings my way. Dumitru didn’t need handouts, a couple of lei, or a roof over his head as much as he needed Jesus, and if we don’t reach guys like him, who do you think is gonna do it?