Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting and being a mother, what it means to raise children and what does that look like practically. I guess I’ve thought about it a lot since moving here to Bucharest, because, well, it keeps popping up in conversation nearly everywhere we go. Our family is not huge by any means; we have four children so far, but we’ve seen way bigger families in the States. Years ago, we would have just been an average-sized family there, or perhaps on the small side of average…back when people really believed when the Bible said that children are a blessing from the Lord.
But here in Romania, and Bucharest in specific, we are a big family, o familie mare. On the subway, on the tram, on the bus, walking down the street, shopping at the grocery store, ordering șase covrigi (six pretzels), taking a train ride to get out of the city for a day or two. We get stares. And everyone asking, “Are they all yours?” Sometimes my mind thinks about some of the clever responses I read in this article, but I always smile and say, “Da!” proudly. Because I am proud of my children. They are blessings from the Lord, precious gifts He’s given us to raise up as lights in the world to bring glory to Him! And most people usually respond with, “Să vă trăiască!” Something along the lines of, “May they live long!” However, I’ve gotten a few funny looks from people as they say, “Patru!?” (Four?!) And one or two older ladies would look solemn and talk about how difficult it must be.
Sometimes it gets old being stared at or always being asked if ALL the kids are mine, but it doesn’t really bother me. What I’ve been thinking about lately, though, is how much emphasis there is on external things. Are the kids’ ears covered so as to let no wind get in? No baby should be allowed to suck his thumb for any reason or it may get deformed. Girl babies should not be allowed to cry, and if they do, then the mother must not be a very good mother. Kids are bundled up in snow suits throughout fall and and winter (think of the little brother in “A Christmas Story”) with hats tied tightly under the chin. Etc.
I’m not picking on Romania either. Though the concerns about external things are different than in America, American mothers have their share of external worries: how organic or non-GMO is the food their kids are eating, how stylish are their kids clothes, are they involved in enough extra-curricular social activities? And so on. We want our kids to be physically healthy, for sure, but there’s more to life than physical health.
I feel like there is so much focus on external things when in comes to parenting. Dirty fingernails, messy hair, a McDonald’s meal on occasion is fine. The important things are the internal matters of the heart. Will your child obey the first time you tell him it’s time to go home from the park or will he sneak off and hide on the slide? Does your daughter whine every time you tell her no, so that you give in just to make her stop whining? The Bible says folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Kids are selfish, rebellious, stubborn, defiant, and whiny by nature. But we as parents are to train them up in the way they should go, so that, when they are older, they will not depart from the good way of love, submission, self-control, joy, peace, and life.
The tough thing is that you may not see the fruit of this labor of love for a while, or it may take others commenting on how loving, sharing, obedient, happy, and creative your kids are. My kids don’t always wear hats when it’s chilly outside. I let them dig in the dirt with their hands at the park, and I don’t always carry hand sanitizer with me to clean them off right away. Sometimes I forget to brush their hair. And I give them chocolate, white bread, and imported apples sometimes (Fresh Romanian apples really are superior, though). But when I’m sick, they pray for me. When one of them gets candy, they will share with another who did not get any. They love to read their Bibles and listen to worship music. They like visiting the gypsies with us to pray, worship, and share about Jesus–and then they pray for them and their family during their quiet times that they would know His love for them.
These things don’t just happen; it’s called work. Childbirth is easy compared to the lifetime of childtraining that follows. If you are a parent, you are responsible for a living soul made in the image of God. Man is interested in external things, but God looks at the heart. That’s what parenting is all about. My kids aren’t perfect (neither is their mother); they will argue, tattle, ask a zillion questions in the span of five minutes, interrupt, and whine sometimes. They’re kids. But they’re little gifts from heaven that we invest tons of time, energy, patience, and love into so that they can experience the abudant and eternal life set before them.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but full of death and darkness on the inside. I don’t want to be like that or have kids like that.
I have a lot more to say about motherhood, but I think it may just have to come in a series of posts.
A couple weeks ago, we were invited to preach at a church in the town of Barbulești. Barbulești is a small, cramped and dirty Gypsy village of about 5,000 people. Half the buildings stand unfinished with dirty cement exteriors like the church above. The other half are either little ramshackle huts or giant Gypsy mansions decorated with gold, silver, and gaudy regalia, like the one here near Cluj. Barbulești is a strange little town. It used to be one of the worst areas of Romania, home to Gypsy crime lords, gang leaders, and murderers, but about 15 years ago, everything started changing – some of the most notorious criminals were locked up, others died, and others repented and became good, God-fearing citizens. Now, the little town is known more for poverty than crime. A few years ago, it made news when France kicked a bunch of Gypsies out and sent them back here. You can read about that and some of the current predicaments of living in this town here.
Anyway, we were invited to preach at a Pentecostal church in town. The first thing I noticed when we came through the doors was that all the women were on one side, with head-coverings of course, and the men were on the other, like a lot of the older, more traditional churches in the country. Side note: when we were done with the service, we all thought it was funny that the women’s side was substantially dirtier than the men’s. Candy wrappers, clods of dirt, tissues, and plastic cups littered the women’s side, but the men’s was left virtually spotless.
We had three of us preaching that day, and I closed the service up, preaching a message about Jesus coming to destroy the works of the devil, which means we can be set free from bondage to sin, sickness, addiction, demonic torment, or any other bondage of the enemy. Jesus defeated all that stuff, so we could live in freedom!
After my message, we called people forward for prayer, if they needed anything from God, physical healing, release from demonic torment, victory over sin, whatever.
No one moved.
Dang, I started thinking, did I even make sense? Maybe they didn’t understand what I was saying…
Then suddenly one man boldly walked forward, then another, and then this whole swarm of people came forward for prayer. We were surrounded by maybe 75 or 100 people all wanting prayer. So we split into two teams and got to work, praying for God to move in this church, praying with all our hearts for people to be set free from the power of the enemy, praying until our throats hurt and we had no more strength left.
Honestly, I don’t know if we saw any miraculous healings or deliverances that day, and it broke my heart. We prayed for so many people, and I know God promises to answer and bring healing, but it sure seemed like nothing was happening. One person after another came forward asking for freedom from addictions, demonic torment, nightmares, insanity, ongoing headaches, stomach diseases, diabetes, deafness, blindness… on and on the list goes.
I want to see God move here. I want to see people delivered from sin and demons and sickness and torment, just like the Bible promises. A lot of people I’ve met in Romania’s churches (Pentecostal or otherwise) say they believe God can do it, but they don’t think He’ll do it here in Romania. Like people in America, they say things like, “That’s what God does in Africa or China or India, but He doesn’t do that here.”
That might be a nice excuse, but it’s just not Biblical thinking. Nowhere in the Bible does it say God can only heal in Third World nations or really poor places. God is the same everywhere, and I’m sure if Jesus were walking the streets of Barbulești, he wouldn’t tell all the sick and demon-oppressed, “Dang, guys, sorry. If you were Africans I might heal you, but since you’re Europeans, I just don’t know if I’ve got it in me.”
When Jesus went to a town, he routinely healed all who were sick and oppressed. Even in Nazareth, where people were full of unbelief, it says in Matthew 13:58 that Jesus, “did not do many mighty works there.” He did mighty works, just not many. Jesus heals the sick and releases those oppressed by sin and demonic torment, even in the face of unbelief. That’s just what He does.
Lord, help us! Move in Romania like you did in Judea! Heal the sick, deliver the tormented, free the captives, comfort the oppressed!
Jesus said that if we want to see the kingdom of God, we need to become born a second time. When he told this to Nicodemus in John 3, he was confused and asked facetiously, “How can someone crawl back into his mother’s womb?!” Translation: “What on earth are you talking about, Jesus? That doesn’t make any sense.”
A few weeks ago, a new person showed up at our meeting with the Gypsy communities along Mihai Bravu. 78-year-old George, from Transylvania, had just come to town and moved into one of the free rooms at the house where we meet. I think we all honestly assumed he was already a Christian. He seemed really nice and normal, and I guess I figured that by the age of 78, he surely had run out of reasons to resist God and given in. Or if not, surely no amount of preaching by us young guys would convince him otherwise.
I tried to get a picture with George that night, but people kept getting in front of him or pushing him out of the way. In the photo above, he’s just to the right of the man with the leather jacket.
Anyway, when Andrei, a high school student from Elim Church, shared his testimony of how God had changed his life, forgiven him, and freed him from drug and alcohol addiction, he began to ask if anyone wanted to turn from sin and trust in Jesus. My first thought, to my shame, wasn’t, “Awesome, I can’t wait to see people get right with God,” but something more like, “Well, everyone here is either already saved, so clouded by sin and religiosity that they think they’re saved, or too old to care anymore, so I hope Andrei doesn’t get disappointed when no one responds.” Ouch. Yeah, that bad.
Thankfully, God chose to go with what He wanted and not what I expected.
George came forward for prayer and explained, to my surprise and embarrassment, that he wanted to finally, once and for all, repent of his sin and trust in Jesus. He was tired of living for himself and was finally ready to become a new man, born all over again.
Well, OK, then. I like when God proves me wrong and does something amazing despite the fact that I’m expecting so little.
So we prayed with George, who refused to stand during prayer, despite his bad knees. He preferred to come to God on his knees in humility rather than standing in the presence of his King. As we prayed, we asked that God would fill him with power to live the Christian life and to be a witness to those around him. We prayed for healing and strengthening of his worn body.
When we were done praying, he got up, saying he had felt an intense amount of heat coming off our hands, and now all the pain was gone from his legs. Praise God! He restored George’s heart and his body.
Every week, we pray for George to get healed – he’s always got some new sort of pain or ailment that comes up, sometimes an old pain or ailment that’s returned. And every week, God heals him of whatever new pain has come on his body.
Be praying for George. He’s made a commitment to follow after Jesus, and we want to see him finish strong. He may only have a year or two left on this earth, or he may have a few decades – either way, our prayer is that he’s prepared on that final day to walk boldly into the throne room, knowing who it is he’s lived for these last years of his life.