A Day in Brașov
Life without a car really shrinks your world, especially in a crowded big city. The other day, Ben was talking about some people who attended his church in the States. “They lived really close,” he said, “so I don’t know why they didn’t come every week. They were only ten miles away.”
I did a quick calculation in my head. Ten miles, that’s like 17 kilometers! “What! Well no wonder they didn’t come,” I exclaimed, not shifting my mind properly back to life with a car in small-town America, “that’d take forever! That’s like trying to get to the airport from here!”
In America, we were traveling all the time. We drove between Milwaukee and Oconomowoc a few times a week, we popped into all the small towns around Milwaukee all the time for all sorts of stuff, we visited family in Green Bay every few months, we drove all over Wisconsin for support-raising meetings, we made a big trek out West or down to Jessie’s parents in Virginia every few years. Nothing glamorous or anything, but just a constant exploration beyond our front door, outside the city limits. The world seems big, exciting, and adventurous when you get out a little.
It’d been months since we’d been outside Bucharest, and life seemed really small and boring. We were busy, stuck with our nose to the grindstone, down in the trenches of routine weekly meetings, learning the language, and surviving in a new city. I hadn’t left the city in three months. For Jessie, it’d been five. That’s the longest stretch of time we’ve ever spent in one city our whole adult lives.
We needed to escape, if for no other reason than to keep our sanity and remind ourselves that there’s a big wide world out there beyond the apartment blocs of the city.
So this past Saturday we took the train to Brașov, a city called by one guidebook, “The city all others in Romania secretly wish they could be.” According to friends of ours who live there, the city slogan is “Probably the nicest place on earth.” I like it.
Not to turn this blog post into a travel guide, but we loved Brașov and we’re really glad we popped in for a visit. It’s a beautiful medium-sized city (260,000 people) tucked in the mountains, full of friendly people who speak Romanian slow and clear and keep complementing you on your pronunciation. It’s got the cutest, cleanest old city center I’ve ever seen, and, always a plus for me, I didn’t see a single stray dog the whole time. I’ve heard they exist even in Brașov, but they must keep them hidden from tourists like us.
When we got off the train, Jessie and I were looking forward to a day away just to enjoy each other and not worry about ministry, planting a church, evangelism, or anything else. We just wanted to disappear and be tourists. In Bucharest, we had to uphold the illusion that we were missionaries, but here in Brașov, no one would tell on us if we just sank into the background and disappeared as tourists. We wouldn’t even have to speak Romanian, and I didn’t want to and wasn’t planning to. No one would think anything of it if we just acted like dumb American tourists.
Well that was our plan, but God had something better in store. Even while escaping for the day, God opened up opportunities to share the Gospel and be a light to that city. Nothing amazingly dramatic happened, but a few minutes out of the train station, we were approached by an old man in rough shape asking for money. God, I’m off-duty, I thought to myself. I’m a tourist today. I’ll minister to the poor when we get back to Bucharest.
So I tried to take the easy way out. “Sorry,” I told him, in Romanian too. Gosh, this “dumb American tourist” thing wasn’t working in my favor. “I don’t want to give money, but I can buy food.” He’ll say he doesn’t want food, just money, I thought, and then I’m off the hook, because I don’t know who he is and I’m not supplying his liquor fund.
“No, just give me the money and I’ll buy food at the store,” he returned, refusing to back down.
Aaah, so it’s hardball, eh? “No, come with us to the store. We’ll go together. It’s over there, to the left” Surely he’ll decide we’re not worth his trouble now and leave me to my day off.
“OK,” he said, and we were drafted. So we bought him groceries, prayed with him, shared the Gospel as best we could, and gave him a tract with my personal testimony.
After having our plans to just blend in ruined, we decided to surrender and let God direct our day as He saw fit. The woman working at the grocery store told me I was very kind and generous to buy groceries for that man ($5 worth of bread and oranges – I’m so generous), which opened a door for me to share about God with her. A young couple who sat near us at a Chinese restaurant struck up a conversation with us. In the course of things, they told us we seemed full of joy, life, and a “Bohemian spirit,” whatever that meant. Again, we directed it back toward Jesus and how we’ve prayed for His life to be evident in us, that the joy on us was from Him. We exchanged phone numbers and plan on getting together again with Alex and Dalina, who live in Bucharest not far from us.
Lesson of the day? Be ready in season and out of season (2 Timonty 4:2), let all your speech be seasoned with salt, pointing men toward salvation at all times (Colossians 4:6). Whether you’re a full-time cross-cultural missionary overseas, a pastor in Germany, a student at Politehnica, or a housewife in Atlanta, your job is the same, to shine as a light for Jesus and let people see it (Matthew 5:16).
And get out of the trenches once in a while! You can get so busy working, gutting it out, slogging away, that you miss the big picture of what God is doing. Get out of the fight, see a new city, explore something different, have some fun, and be ready for God to use you all the same. Sometimes I think we actually become more useful for the Kingdom of God when we’re trying to be “off-duty” and not stressing about all the stuff we “have” to get done.