Food for the Stomach and Food for the Soul
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.