One year ago today, on our son Isaac’s first birthday, we flew out of Chicago and became Bucharest, Romania bound. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on all the things I’ve learned, all the trials we’ve faced, all the discouragements and joys, the friends gained and the friends and family left behind. This blog post is a list of such reflections and observations and interesting things learned, some very random, some deep. And these are my thoughts…Jake and the kids undoubtedly have their own unique takes on this past year. But, here I go.
- It’s been a year since I’ve driven a vehicle! And I’m perfectly content with that. I do miss the American phenomenon of road-tripping, but it’s an adventurous change that I don’t even really think about much anymore.
- Bucharest is not Romania. Sure, it’s in Romania. But the real Romania, the heart of the people, culture, beauty, food…it’s in the countryside and smaller towns and villages. To say Bucharest represents all of Romania, would be like saying Los Angeles represented America. If ever I am discouraged, a little train trip out of the city renews my love for this nation and its people.
- In America there seems to be this “fad” interest in home gardening, home food preservation, eating organic foods, living simply, line-drying clothes, eating local and in-season produce, etc. But, here in Romania, this is what people have done for years, out of necessity and wisdom. Which brings me to something I will do differently this next year: buy lots more summer and fall fruits and veggies when they are tasty and cheap, make tons of jams, pickles, fermented cabbages, and freeze as much as I can. Because prices shoot up in winter.
- I miss black people. Milwaukee was so diverse, and we lived in a neighborhood where whites were the minority.
- I think it is funny that we were so happy when spring arrived because our clothes dried on the balcony in one day instead of in one week during winter. During winter, our clothes would freeze on the line, so we brought them in and draped them all over the chairs, doors, radiators, and chairs to finish drying at night.
- I have decided that I am not a dog lover. Many Bucharestians would be apalled at what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it. The thousands of stray dogs, including the one who tried to chase my husband up a tree and the one who came after me with my kids, should be put out of their misery…and out of ours. They are mean, ugly, pitiful, a nuissance, and a terrible blemish to the city. I’ve seen them shivering in the cold, passed out half-alive in summer heat, limping with broken or missing limbs, itching themselves like crazy, missing chunks of fur, eating garbage. Their lives are miserable, and I think they should be rounded up and “put to sleep.” The end.
- The giant concrete bloc apartment building soak up the intense summer heat and radiate it like an oven on the streets. Everyone sweats, everyone smells, and everyone crams like sardines into the trams and buses with their armpits in your face because it’s too hot to walk. But, I love the longer summers here and how dry they are rather than muggy. And, I like how all the apartment blocs block a lot of the cold winter winds.
- Ok, speaking of summer…the mosquitoes here in summer are of the demonic nature. They start in April and will not die until late into November. They bite over and over and over, and they are sneaky about getting in. Couple that with the lack of screens on windows, and you learn how to tolerate stuffy, hot apartments quickly.
- I love Romanian food, from sarmale to ciorba, from cozonac to cremșnit, from șaorma to musaca, from the sausages to the tomatoes and strawberries that will blow your mind. The honey here is poetic and the kilograms and kilograms of apricots we eat in the summer are sweet and addictive. There are only a couple of things I haven’t liked and several more I haven’t tried, but I’ve found myself making mămăligă for my family and serving food with a bowl of smântână.
- On the topic of food. There are dessert shops on practically every block selling the tastiest treats, but I find myself hesitant to order the chocolate ones because, almost always, they have rum essence in them for flavoring. I must be too American, but I still have not acquired the taste for this, and neither has anyone else in my family.
- I really miss my mom and dad. And sometimes I get sad that it would cost our family around $6000 to get round trip plane tickets to visit them. I wish flying were cheaper.
- We have made some wonderful friends here, and I love having brothers and sisters in the family of God here praying for me and loving me!
- Romanian is hard. The grammar is hard. Speaking it is hard. And sometimes I get really discouraged and feel like I’ll never learn it or I get discouraged that I don’t know it already and feel bad that people whose natural language is Romanian have to use English with me. But our friends are very patient and encouraging with me.
- One of my favorite Romanian words is “Bada!” There is no direct translation into English for it, but you use it to contradict someone…not in a mean way, necessarily. Like if I try to say something in Romanian and then apologize for it sounding bad, someone might say, “Bada! It was perfect.” It’s just a cool word.
- If your kid is under two years old…he or she must have a hat on. In the summer, put on a sun hat. Any other time, the hat must cover their ears and be tied under the chin to keep out the curent. Otherwise, you risk old ladies coming up and rebuking you without reserve.
- Big cities can suck the life out of you. It’s busy, people are always rushing somewhere, and getting around takes a long time. You can feel like your day is absobed with a hundred menial things that shouldn’t take long, but they do, and it’s easy to get drained and discouraged. I always have to remember that the Bible says to do everything as unto the Lord. Heidi Baker says that even sweeping the floor can be holy, holy, holy and a form of worship if done in the right attitude.
- I’ve gained an appreciation for passionate worship like we experienced in the church we came from. At the charismatic and pentecostal churches we’ve visited here, the worship has often been good, powerful, with a sense of God’s presence, but no one really expresses the joy and freedom of Jesus. I miss dancing, clapping, rejoicing, spinning in worship with “all my strength.” Maybe that’s part of my American background as well.
- Romanian kids are really cute. And the way they roll their “r”s when speaking is great!
- A lot of sources and people say that Romania is one of the most “evangelized” nations in the world. After the fall of Communism, missionaries poured in. But to see the society now: the abundant sexual immorality, the party attitude of most young people, the high rate of abortion, the rate of domestic violence, the racism, the materialism, the legalism in the churches–you would not know it. A lot of people here say, “We are Orthodox, leave us alone.” But most Orthodox have no idea if they are “good enough” to go to heaven; they do not believe that their faith in Jesus alone is what saves them and reconciles them to God. They abhor “pocaiți,” literally “repenters,” and mock them because they think it’s ridiculous that a person should repent of their sins. A lot of people like hearing about Jesus, because they’ve never met Him personally and have never heard the simple gospel of truth.
- Communism is bad. This could be a whole blog post in itself. But, communism is one of the worst things in the world, I’m convinced. Unchecked capitalism is pretty bad too.
- When I feel lonely or discouraged, this verse is a comfort to me: “So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30
- One of the most encouraging things someone can say to me is, “I’m praying for you.” They don’t have to say anything else, because I know if they are praying, God hears and will answer. When people say, “You’re awesome or you guys rock or God is going to do amazing things through you” or anything like that, it doesn’t mean as much as knowing that the fervent prayer of a righteous person does much.
- I’d never been out of the country before moving here. Heck, I’d never even been on a short-term mission trip. Not because I didn’t want to, but I got married shortly after I started following Jesus and then I started making babies right away! I had no idea what to expect. One thing, though, missions work, well at least long-term missions work, is not glamorous. For me, I do similar things as I did in America: change diapers, discipline kids, teach home school, help with ministry, clean, cook, and try to build relationships.
- Meeting with God, alone, every day, undistracted is the most crucial and important part of ministry.
- Going grocery shopping without a car for a household of seven people gets heavy!
- Bucharest has really nice parks to get the kids outside releasing wiggles, and it is the place where I most easily meet new people.
- I am thankful for those who helped us when we had no idea what we were doing. Our friend Filip picked us up from the airport, got us a place to stay while we searched for apartments, got us a real estate agent to help us find a place to live, took us shopping, made us feel welcome, and helped us get settled. Our friends Irina and AndreEa and others planned a birthday party for Naomi during our first week here, to help the kids feel loved and welcomed in a new place. Our pastor friend Peter and his wife Geta helped us with all the crazy paperwork and running around to get our visas. And so many others. What a blessing! I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
- I often think about some of Oswald Chambers’ teachings from My Utmost for His Highest, and how he talks about the drudgery of everyday life and letting God build character in you through boredom, loneliness, discouragement, frustration, etc. Wisdom from wise, older fathers and mothers in the faith like that means so much more to me now than the zeal-without-wisdom untested faith. Discouraging and frustrating things happen, but they are temporary and the word and love of God reigns true and supreme forever.
- I like when people visit us. I like letters and care packages. 🙂
- Jesus is with me always. Even to the end of the earth.
In Romans 1:16, Paul called the Gospel “the power of God,” but how often have we turned it into a tame thing more fit for nursery rhymes and children’s plays? The Gospel is God’s power to save men! Only the Gospel could turn a terrorist into an apostle, an atheist into a Believer, an addict into a lover of God, or a gang member into an evangelist. Only the Gospel could “persuade a strict dictator to retire, fire the army, teach the poor origami,” as the Newsboys put it so eloquently.
Once a week for a while now, I’ve been discussing a new metaphor the Bible uses to explain the power of the Gospel. If you missed the earlier posts, check them out here. Today, let’s look at how, through the Gospel, God reconciled us to Himself.
Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21-22, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
I love this section. There’s so much going on here, so bear with me as I unpack it a little.
In two verses, Paul shows us the power of the Gospel in a nutshell – who we were, what God did for us, and who we’re becoming.
Here’s the picture of who we used to be: we were alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds. These aren’t pretty words. These aren’t nice words.
When Paul says we were alienated, he means we were shut out from fellowship and intimacy with God, cut off from Him and all His blessings. The Greek word he uses implies a former state that we’ve departed from as our relationship deteriorated. The word was used to describe the breaking apart of the marriage covenant through unfaithfulness and to the division of property. So Paul is not so much saying that God closed us out because He didn’t like us but that, through our unfaithfulness and stubbornness, we let our relationship fall apart and therefore separated ourselves from Him.
He says we were hostile in mind. I don’t think the English word hostile carries the weight of what Paul is getting at here. The word he uses is usually translated “enemy” in the New Testament and sometimes refers specifically to the devil himself. When Jesus says to love our enemies, He’s using this word. When He says the enemy sows tares in the midst of the wheat, it’s this word. When Paul says Jesus will put all His enemies under His feet, and when he says that many have become enemies of the cross, you guessed it, he uses this word. This is not describing someone who was just a little ticked at God, a little hostile. It’s describing an enemy of God, “someone openly hostile, animated by deep-seated hatred,” implying “irreconcilable hostility, proceeding out of a ‘personal’ hatred bent on inflicting harm,” as the Helps Word-studies on BibleSuite.com put it.
Paul goes on to describe us as doers of evil deeds. The Strong’s concordance defines these deeds as “bad, of a bad nature or condition,” “diseased or blind” and “wicked or corrupt.” No matter how good you think you may have been, without Jesus, even your good deeds were based in selfishness, fear of man, trying to prove something or earn something. Paul says we did evil, corrupt, diseased, wicked works. BibleSuite.com goes on to describe these evil deeds as “pain-ridden, emphasizing the inevitable agonies (misery) that always go with evil.”
The word Paul uses here that we translate as evil, poneros, is not the only Greek word for evil, but it is the one that specifically emphasizes the corrupting, disease-spreading, pain-ridden fruit that results. According to Richard C. Trench in his Synonyms of the New Testament, three Greek words are often translated “evil” in the English Bible – kakos, phaulos, and poneros. Kakos has to do mainly with the idea of lacking something that would make it worthy, like the wicked servant at the end of Matthew 24 who lacked good character and honesty. Phaulos deals with the idea that something is good for nothing, worthless, and devoid of any possibility of good coming from it. Poneros, on the other hand, Trench calls, “the active worker out of evil.” He goes on to write, “The kakos may be content to perish in his own corruption, but the poneros is not content unless he is corrupting others as well, and drawing them into the same destruction with himself.” That, Paul says, is the kind of works we were doing before we knew God.
We had separated ourselves from God, we had made Him our hated enemy, we lived to spread evil, agony, and pain in the world, and God chose to reconcile us. That’s nuts.
Before looking at what the word “reconcile” means, let’s jump to the end of the section first, so we can see the results of His reconciling efforts. Where are we headed? What is God creating in us, these former enemies of His? He wants to make us “holy, blameless, and above reproach.”
He’s making us holy, turning us into saints, no longer separated from God but separated unto God. Holy like the Temple in Jerusalem. Holy like the ground Moses was standing on. Holy like God Himself. Different, separate, set apart from the world. The majority of times this word is used in the New Testament it refers either to the Holy Spirit or to the saints, the church. That’s what He’s after in us.
Blameless, meaning without spot or blemish. Morally perfect, with no defects and no cause for blame. 1 Peter 2 refers to false prophets and teachers that Peter calls “blemishes” full of lust and deceit, unsubmissive, blasphemers, like irrational animals, born to be caught and destroyed. God’s making us into the opposite, into those with no stains or spots or wrinkles. The old person we used to be, who spread evil and pain and disease without even trying, He’s turning into someone who is blameless before Him.
Above reproach. This is a legal phrase that essentially means if someone were to take us to court, the case would be thrown out because there’s no evidence to support the spurious claim. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon describes it as, “that which cannot be called into account, unreproveable, unaccused, blameless.” BibleSuite.com adds, “not convictable when a person is properly scrutinized (i.e. tried with correct logic).” This is where we’re headed, according to Paul – that if someone were to take us to court for how we’re living, every allegation would be thrown out for lack of evidence.
So whatever God did through the cross, He plans to take these people who hated him so vehemently and turn them into people set apart for Him, without any stain, with no evidence of any guilt or wrongdoing in their lives.
What He did was reconcile us.
The roots of this word go back to the idea of exchanging money, like going from US dollars to Romanian lei. The idea is that the situation has completely changed. Where you once had dollars, now you don’t have anything remotely like dollars. You’ve got an entirely different monetary unit, made of different materials, with different artwork, usable in a different country. From this root, the word evolved to mean a ruined relationship becoming completely changed into a restored one. In the New Testament, it’s used to describe a wife being reconciled to her husband after leaving him, in 1 Corinthians 7:11. When God reconciles us, he takes a relationship that’s been destroyed beyond fixing, and He fixes it completely.
This is the simple power of the Gospel! What you were no longer applies. You’re new now. You’ve been reconciled to God, you’re old relationship of enmity thrown out and replaced by a new one of friendship, headed toward purity and holiness in all things.
Through Jesus, God reconciled us to Himself, restoring our relationship we had broken.
Way back here, I started a series on the different ways the Bible describes the work of the Gospel in our lives. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, the Gospel is the “power of God” for our salvation. It’s the power of God, something meant to turn whole nations upside-down!
The Gospel is God’s plan to restore and repair everything ruined by sin and the cruelty of man. He has no Plan B, no alternative worked out in case the Gospel fails. This is it. This is His route to glorify His name, rescue His people, and rebuild His creation.
Here’s the next illustration I want to take a look at:
Jesus came to ransom us. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What’s that mean? To answer that, we gotta go back to the world Mark was writing in, a world shaped by the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, the concept of ransoming something entails an exchange, paying a price for another’s release, much like the modern-day concept of paying a ransom to a kidnapper.
In the beginning of Israel’s history, God had laid claim to every firstborn male. Like a 2-year-old around toys, God pointed at the firstborn men and said, “Mine.” Every firstborn male, He said, belonged to Him and had to be sacrificed.
Since God isn’t a fan of lobster and doesn’t like human sacrifice, however, He allowed for certain firstborn males to be ransomed, exchanged, so they wouldn’t have to die as an offering. Every firstborn human male was required to be ransomed. In exchange for their lives, God took the Levites and 5 shekels (about $60) a head. Firstborn men in Israel could go on living because God took the Levites’ service as exchange for their lives.
Similarly, firstborn male unclean animals (like lobster) were required to be ransomed, since offering something deemed unclean in sacrifice would be unthinkable. Everyone who owned a firstborn male of an unclean animal was required to pay 5 shekels to ransom each one, so God wouldn’t have to accept your unclean sacrifice and you could go on running your lobster farm I guess.
Curiously, donkeys were also allowed to be ransomed, at the owner’s discretion. A firstborn male donkey headed for sacrifice could be exchanged for a lamb if the owner wanted to make the substitution. My guess is God gave this as a mercy to poor farmers who only had one family donkey that they really needed to survive.
Jesus ransomed us. On the cross, He exchanged His life for ours. We deserve the wrath of God, we deserve punishment, we deserve judgment in Hell for eternity, but Jesus took our place, receiving God’s wrath poured out on sin in our place, paying His own life as our ransom. We were like a donkey headed for the temple to be sacrificed, when Jesus, our lamb, gave Himself in exchange, so we could go on living.
A few weeks ago, our family participated in Marșul Pentrul Viață here in Bucharest. It was the third annual march for life in this city, and it was an honor to be a part of it, joining with about 500 others to declare, “România pentru viața!, or “Romania for life!” For a slide show of pictures from the event, go here; you’ll even see some shots of us in the mix! If you’re wondering what some of the signs say, here are a few translations:
–I regret the abortion I had.
–We are the generation for life.
–Real doctors don’t kill babies.
–Adoption, not abortion
–Mother and child: love them both
–50 years = 22 million abortions
–A person is a person no matter how small
There were women carrying baskets filled with replicas of tiny babies that said 500 babies a day are aborted in Romania. Five hundred a day! There are about 22 million people in Romania, so if America, which has a population of about 314 million, had the same abortion rate, that would be 7136 babies a day murdered! The current number of abortions per day in the U.S. is somewhere around 3,200. Romania’s abortion rate is more than twice that of the U.S., and the equivalent of the current population of Romania has been killed off by abortion in just 50 years. Romania is a lovely country with beautiful people, but it is a nation that has killed half it’s people through abortion in 50 years, according to these statistics.
Here are some more statistics about abortion in Romania:
–According to this website, Romania has the highest abortion rate in Europe, more than twice the EU average, with 480 abortion performed for every 1000 live births. That’s almost a third of all pregnancies ending in abortion. However, not all abortion facilities report, so the rate could be even higher.
–According to this site, Romania has the second highest rate of abortion in the world, second only to Vietnam (which, if you do some research on this problem in that nation, it will disturb you and move you to intercession like nobody’s business), with a rate of 78 abortions per 1000 women ages 15-44.
The abortion situation in Romania has changed a lot over the past 60 years in Romania. In 1957, abortion procedures became legal. When that happened, about 80% of pregnancies ended in abortion. Romania was a very poor nation, there was little to no availability of contraceptives, and people thought they couldn’t afford to have children, so they they flocked to abortion centers. Because of this, the birthrate started to fall drastically, which would eventually lead to poor demographic growth.
In reaction to this, in 1966 communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu declared abortion and contraceptives illegal, and practically overnight, everything changed. This law was called Decree 770, and it stated that abortion was illegal for any woman under 45 or who had less than four children to have an abortion. This was and is definitely out of the norm for communist nations. However, Ceaușescu did not make these laws because he regarded human life as sacred and unborn children worthy of life; he simply wanted to make more workers and see his country become more powerful. He promised government childcare centers, adequate medical care, and jobs, but he failed to deliver, and many children were abandoned, left on the streets or in horrendous conditions in state orphanages.
The birthrate shot up quickly for about a year or so, and then started to go back down as many women sought illegal abortions. Some sources say that as many as 9000 women died from complications from illegal abortions. Now, a lot of people use Romania to show what would happen if abortion was outlawed, arguing that abortion should be widely accessible, safe, and legal. It’s a difficult subject to tackle, a very emotional one. But just because women will seek out abortions whether they are legal or not, even at the risk of their own lives and health, does not make it right.
Anyway, after Ceaușescu was violently overthrown and executed at the end of 1989, virtually overnight, abortions again became legal, and, according to this site, the rates shot up and nearly 1 million babies were killed in 1990, compared to only about 315,000 live births. People began the killing without even questioning whether or not it was right. Now, granted, the dictator was harsh and communism destroyed much of the hope and joy of the people. It crushed religion and indoctrinated people with the humanistic atheism that communism is generally notorious for. Without hope of a rescuer and seeing the evil that can come out of people who have no fear of God and having no value for human life other than cogs in an industrial machine, what else could be expected? Who would want to bring children into such a life?
The rate of abortion has been gradually falling in Romania, but it is still very high. There is no easy answer to this, but one thing is for sure: Paul exhorts the church in Philippians 2:14-16 to, “Do all things without grumbling and faultfinding and complaining [against God] and questioning and doubting [among yourselves], that you may show yourselves to be blameless and guileless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish (faultless, unrebukable) in the midst of a crooked and wicked generation [spiritually perverted and perverse], among whom you are seen as bright lights (stars or beacons shining out clearly) in the [dark] world, holding out [to it] and offering [to all men] the Word of Life (AMP).”
The church is to be set apart and separate from the world and the world’s way of doing things. We are to be blameless and uncontaminated from the things of the world, including all of it’s lies and propoganda. The world is crooked, wicked, and perverse, and all of its trappings lead women into thinking that they must abort the babies inside of them. But the church is to hold out the word of hope–real hope is something that the world cannot offer–as it shines like bright stars in this dark, dark world.
Sure, we must speak the truth in love, that abortion is wrong. But we must provide hope! We cannot just point fingers and condemn the women. Are we willing to open our homes to an unmarried, pregnant woman who has no place to go? Are we willing to adopt the children that would otherwise be aborted? Are we willing to sacrifice some of our comfort to give so that other families can eat and feed the children that they do have? Are we willing to provide for their babies’ needs? To befriend those women who have no other hope? Are we willing to demonstrate that children are a blessing, to raise our children to be godly, to show that we really are “pro-life,” pro-children, pro-family? And then those children will grow up to be blessings and change things in our society, to continue to rescue those in the dark by being bright lights who hold out the word of hope themselves. And we must pray, pray, pray. God has put such a strong burden on my heart for this issue, for the women and families who are considering abortion or who have had one (or many), and for the children.
I loved the theme of this year’s Marșul Pentru Viață, Mother and Child: Love Them Both. Assume, Help, Adopt. It implies that we cannot just change the law; we have to see hearts, lives, societies changed. This can only happen through the power and hope of the gospel.
On the cool, hopeful side, check out what these folks are doing here in Romania! We’ve met some of the fruit of their ministry and it’s so great to see what God has been doing through them. They’re even from our neck of the woods in Wisconsin! Here’s a pro-life video from their website.
Last week, I received a really unusual call. I had been frustrated about doing a lot of evangelism, developing relationships, meeting people, etc. but so little of it has led to noticeable, lasting fruit yet. People have been willing to talk with us about God and even meet up a couple times, but it’s been difficult to build strong, lasting relationships with people centered around the Gospel. Our prayer has been for disciples, followers of Jesus, fruit that remains, to the glory of the Father.
So last week, my phone started to ring. I looked down at the number, which came up as “Alex Unirii.” When I meet people, I try to put their name and number in my phone with something that I can remember them by, because in Romania there are so many similar names and I already have a hard time remembering everything. So I have an “Alex Street Preacher,” a “George Australia,” a “Kaze Elim Church,” an “Andreea British Accent,” and an “Alex Unirii,” among others.
“Alex Unirii…” I thought to myself. “It can’t be… That’d be crazy…”
So I answered assuming that it wasn’t Alex who I had met at Unirii, because I never expected him to call. “Hello?”
“Hello, this is Alex. We met at Piaţa Unirii last year. Do you remember me?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said, remembering the odd series of events that had led to our meeting.
“I owe you a cup of coffee, don’t I? I want to talk more about this stuff you were telling me about, about Jesus and churches.”
And so we decided to get together in a few days.
That’s nuts, I thought as I hung up the phone, wondering at the amazing God we serve. Last year, when we moved to Romania, our friend Susie, who we affectionately called “Grandma Susie,” came with us for our first month, to help watch the kids as we got situated, learned about the city, and figured out what we were doing.
On her last Sunday with us, we took a cab to visit Missio Dei church, which was meeting a short walk from Piaţa Unirii. For some reason, the roads around the piaţa were all blocked, and our taxi driver refused to find a way around, preferring instead to drop us off on the side of the busy plaza.
We knew the general direction the church was located in, so we started walking that way, planning to figure things out eventually. It was a really hot day, painfully hot. I think we all lost a few pounds of sweat as we walked, and Susie started to feel really weak. In the middle of the piaţa, we saw a tent with people giving out cups of cool water.
“I need some water,” Susie gasped, so we walked over.
Susie was funny because she unashamedly spoke English to everyone she met in Bucharest. “Thank you so much, young man. God bless you for this water,” she told the young guy who handed her a cup.
“You speak English.” he noted, and then, like most Romanians we meet, he asked the obvious question, “What are you doing in Bucharest?”
I don’t remember exactly how Susie responded, because I was preoccupied trying to figure out how to get us all to the church, but it was something like, “This young man and his wife moved here to tell people about Jesus, and I came to help watch their kids for a month. I’m leaving soon, but they’ll be here for a long time. You should meet up and hear more about Jesus.”
Alex, the young man, my “Alex Unirii,” explained he was interested and would love to know more, so we exchanged numbers and I promised to give him a call.
Well, over the next 3 months, I called him about 10 times, he answered a few of those times, but we never were able to get together, so then I just stopped calling, figuring he wasn’t interested.
And now here he was, almost a year later, calling me out of the blue like this.
God, this is crazy. Only You would do something like this, I thought to myself, excited to see what He would do.
Well, last night, I got together with him and his fiancée, I shared the Gospel, I told Him my testimony, we talked about life, food, plans for the future, the church, and, of course, the beautiful Romanian countryside. Alex shared how he really wanted to follow Jesus, and he really liked the idea of the church, but everything he saw in the church seemed so different than what it should be. People seemed so concerned about buildings, money, and stuff that didn’t matter, rather than just following Jesus. We agreed that things shouldn’t be that way.
“I want to help you,” he kept saying. “Right now, I need to find a job, but I want to help you any way I can. Money, translation, showing you around, anything. I want to help.”
After almost three hours that passed as quickly as 15 minutes, I felt like I had just met our Romanian counterparts, two people who I felt closer to than made natural sense. We come from different worlds, we barely know each other, they’re just beginning to search for God, but He began knitting our hearts together last night, and I’m excited to see where He takes things from here. To start with, Alex and I plan to get together once a week to go through the Gospel of John together and talk about what it looks like to follow Jesus, so pray that God leads him into a real relationship with Himself in the process.
Before we parted, I prayed that God would guide them, protect them, and continue to work in their lives. When I got done praying, Alex shook my hand and told me, “Thank you for showing us the path,” and I left, in awe of our all-powerful God who can draw people to Himself even through a cup of water on a hot day almost a year ago.
And that, my friends, is evangelism, Grandma Susie style.
The Gospel changes lives. The fact that Jesus came, died on a cross, and rose again is more than a fairy tale, more than a nice story to tell kids at bedtime, more than simply some well-written material for Easter plays. The Gospel is everything.
The Gospel is God’s answer to every problem in our hearts and our world. Every weakness, fear, disease, cruelty, depravity, confusion, and sickness finds its answer in the Gospel. Paul called it “the power of God to salvation” in Romans 1:16.
Back here, I started a discussion of some of the ways the Bible describes what the Gospel does in our lives, beginning with the concept of adoption. If you haven’t read it, go back and take a look. It’s good stuff. 🙂
Now let’s go on to the next one.
Luke records Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, speaking of the ministry of Jesus in Luke 1:68. He proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people!”
To understand this concept of redemption, you’ve got to go into Zechariah’s world as a 1st century Jew raised on the Law and the Prophets.
The concept of redemption shows up repeatedly in the Old Testament. Over and over again, God is said to have redeemed people. He redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt. He redeemed her from exile in Babylon. He redeemed people from death, from oppression, from violence. And in the same way, Zechariah is saying, He is coming in Jesus to redeem us from sin.
Now dig a little deeper and things get even cooler. In Leviticus 27:13, it says that if someone dedicates an item to God, consecrating it, and they later realize they want it back, they can have it, but they have to redeem it by paying what it’s worth and addding 1/5th to it, making the item theirs again, to do with as they please. God redeemed us through the cross. Though we gave ouselves up to the service of sin and darkness, God paid to redeem us through the blood of Jesus. He bought us back so we could be His again.
Alright, that’s sweet, but let’s keep going further, where things start to get really cool. In the Old Testament, each family was given land. This land was their inheritance from God, passed down through the generations, a special gift to them alone that was meant to bless them and serve as a reminder of the covenant God had made with them.
Losing this special gift from God would be a huge disgrace, not to mention the fact that survival in an agrarian society would be next to impossible without your land. So God provided a way so that, if someone was forced to sell their land due to financial hardship, when they got back on their feet, either they or a family member could come along and redeem it, buying it back and restoring it to its rightful owner. We were that abandoned plot of land, and Jesus redeemed us through His blood. He bought us back from the enemy and gave us to our rightful owner, God. We were His to begin with, and though we had sold ourselves to another, He paid to make us His again.
So what if things went really badly, so bad that you had to sell yourself into slavery to pay off your debts? Then a family member had the obligation to redeem you if they could, to pay the price for your freedom, so you wouldn’t have to be a slave any longer. Though you had ruined your life, wasted all your money, and sold yourself into slavery just to survive, a loving family member could pay for your release, and you would be free, redeemed. Jesus did this on the cross. He paid for our release from slavery, though we had willfully sold ourselves into it by our own bad choices and hatred of God.
And then there’s the concept of the kinsman redeemer. Read the book of Ruth to get a good visual of this. If a woman found herself a widow, without a husband, a home, or sons to take care of her, then the nearest of kin had the obligation to redeem her, to take her as his wife, raise up children for her dead husband, provide for her, love her, and be the husband that she used to have. It’s a weird idea to our modern minds, where women can date, find a husband on-line, get any job they want, get college degrees, and fly space shuttles, but in ancient Israel, a woman without a husband didn’t have a whole lot of options waiting for her. She had no way of finding a new husband, and if she remained single, my guess is she’d have to either find some friends or relatives to mooch off of or resort to begging, slavery, or prostitution to survive. The kinsman redeemer was there to spare her from that life and to make sure she could have as normal a life as possible.
Redemption. It’s the idea of restoring something back to the way it should have been all along, before things went bad, whatever the costs may be. Jesus redeemed us. Though the cost was astronomical, He bought us out of slavery, He paid for us to be His again, He became our kinsman redeemer who gave us everything so we didn’t have to be at the mercy of fate and enemies much bigger and stronger than us.
This is the power of the Gospel, that when we were worthless and lost, without family, land, or even our own freedom, Jesus came and redeemed us with His blood. We were like the Prodigal Son, we had wasted all our money, sold ourselves into slavery, and we deserved the hard life and judgment of sin we were under, yet God, through Jesus, redeemed us. He paid to make us His again. He redeemed us from our slavery and set us free.
Since moving to Romania, we’ve been praying nearly every day, “Lord, send us those who have a similar heart to us. Send us those willing to reach this city for You. Send us people not afraid to reach Gypsies, the homeless, street kids, college students, young families, or whoever God sends our way. Send us those who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty!” And God has been sending people to us.
A few months ago, we met Robert when we were visiting a big church in town. We instantly connected because Robert has a heart for the homeless and wants to do something to reach them for Jesus, and we have a heart for everyone, so we were a good match. 🙂
We’ve gone out a couple times delivering food to the homeless, but I think we’ve come up with a simple plan that’ll be really fun to keep doing consistently.
Near where Robert lives, there is a nondescript building that you would easily walk right past without thinking anything of it. Tucked in the midst of some ancient trees and an overgrown lot is an old building that serves as the base of an organization that exists to assist the homeless. On a rotating basis, the building is used as a clinic, a classroom, a counseling office, an art studio for the homeless, and, what drew our interest, a free bathroom and launderette.
Every Monday, the facility opens its doors for the homeless to come and wash their clothes, shave their 7-day-old five o’clock shadows, get a hot shower, and walk out feeling new.
“People are there all day long,” Robert told me, “so it would be a great place to give away some food.”
Homeless ministry is tough. People sometimes take advantage of you, they take your help for granted, they don’t want to change, etc. So I went in this past Monday morning with a thick hide on me.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Overall, we handed out about 10 liters of hot pasta and about 30 tracts to the homeless men and women who gathered, and everyone seemed genuinely excited and blessed to have a couple young guys surprise them with a free meal. No one scowled at us, and almost everyone’s face lit up as soon as we told them we had some homemade hot pasta. Romanians (especially in Bucharest) don’t smile for no reason like we do in America. If a Romanian smiles, you know they’re really happy. Whenever we handed out a plate of food and a tract, we told them, “Mâncare pentru stomac şi mâncare pentru suflet.” Food for your stomach and food for your soul.
My favorite moment was when an old man with crippled hands approached us gingerly and asked for food. As he ate, he told us about his previous experiences in church. After his first plate, he still looked hungry, so we asked if he wanted more. “Da,” he said shyly, so we piled on another portion. This time, as he ate, he told us, “You can pray for me when I’m done eating.” We felt honored, and we prayed with all our hearts for this man who Jesus loved so much.
I also loved the guy who came bouncing over to us, shyly asking if he could have another helping, throwing in, “This is really good. I like it a lot.” That’s Kaufland’s cheap macaroni noodles and spaghetti sauce for you.
My least favorite moment was when we ran out of food. I had carried all the pasta I could possibly bring on the subway, filling our biggest stock pot with a ludicrous amount of spaghetti, but it wasn’t enough. We scooped out platefuls of spaghetti for just over an hour, providing one warm meal to 26 hungry men and women, but it barely made a dent. Streams of people would keep coming by all day, long after we were gone, and that itself was just a small portion of the over 5,000 homeless living on the streets and in the parks and sewers of Bucharest.
Just as we finished scooping out the last of the pasta, an old man walked over. “Do you have any more?” he asked. “No,” we apologized, “we just ran out. I’m sorry.” He walked away disappointed but understanding.
Afterward, we met with the director of the nonprofit, learning more about homelessness in the city. She’s been working with the homeless for 16 years, so she knows a little about their situation here. Though the situation is varied, most of the homeless here are a result of economic problems, most tracing their woes back to the fall of Communism.
Communism was bad for Romania, but it did provide a job and a home for all. When the revolution happened, factories closed, people lost their jobs, bills went unpaid, and families fell apart through divorce and separation. Countless men and women ended up on the streets with nowhere else to turn.
With the recent economic crises worldwide, homelessness has been increasing in the city.
While we were discussing things, the director mentioned, “We’ve got to understand this problem is our responsibility. No one else is going to fix it. That is what is so hard to get people to understand.” When she first started helping the homeless in Bucharest, very few people wanted to help. Now, slowly, people are beginning to take responsibility for changing things, seeing the need to do something to help.
Unfortunately, the situation is pretty much the same in most churches, Orthodox, evangelical, or otherwise. Many homeless complain of getting kicked out of churches, even if they’re going honestly and not to beg. I’ve experienced both sides of it. I’ve been at churches where homeless street kids have snuck in and gone from one person to the next during an altar call, trying to scrounge up a few lei. But we’ve also had some good friends, who aren’t homeless but look it, kicked out of a church because they didn’t dress nicely enough. Both situations make you feel sick inside.
After our conversation, Robert and I were interviewed by a Bucharest newspaper about what we were doing there. The interview lasted about an hour, and at one point, I was asked, “Why are you doing this?”
I thought for a minute and answered, “Honestly, the reason I’m out here is because Jesus said to be out here. He told us to love the poor, to give generously, and to treat others as we’d want to be treated.” I recounted the story Jesus tells in Matthew 25:31-46, about those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, and clothed the naked. He tells them, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Ultimately, God’s heart is not Communism, a forced equality where some are more equal than others, to borrow from Animal Farm, but He does expect us to take responsibility for the hurting, the poor, the hungry, and the naked in our lives, bringing healing, help, food, and clothing.
And, most importantly, bringing the message of Jesus.
Robert and I plan to keep going every Monday morning to bring plates of food, but ultimately, our prayer is to get a Bible study going for these guys. If they’re not comfortable (or welcomed) at churches, then we’ll just bring church to them.
Pray for God to use us, not just to alleviate a little hunger, but to bring the Bread of Life that satisfies every craving, the Water that never runs dry. And pray for the other 4,974 homeless in Bucharest who we didn’t get to meet this past Monday.