Today was my oldest daughter’s birthday, so we spent a good part of the day at one of the parks here in Bucharest, eating lunch, getting ice cream pops, and playing. While at one of the playground areas, I was pushing one of my girls in a swing when a high school-aged boy sits in the swing next to hers with a couple of his buddies by him. He must have heard us speaking in English, so he asks, in fairly good English, where we are from. (Always every new person’s question to us.) When I tell him that we’re from America, expecting to hear the usual “Wow, America,” I am not disappointed. (After you get asked that question and receive that same response so many times, you come to anticipate it, not in pride, but just in a this-is-how-nearly-every-conversation-I-have-with-a-new-person-goes kind of way.)
Then all three boys started saying with this dreamy, far-off kind of voice, “America. It’s so beautiful there.” (I doubt they had actually ever been there. I mean, have you driven hours upon hours through cornfields of Indiana?)
Always amazed at how people put America on this pedestal of being the ultimate paradise while being totally ignorant to the multitude of problems there–there are problems everywhere, and America is not excluded–I reminded them of beautiful places in their own country, how America has several big, ugly cities just like Romania has Bucharest (I’ve grown to like Bucharest, but it does have a sort of depressing architectural theme to it.), and how America is not perfect and has its own problems, that Romania is not unique in that.
Dumbfounded, they asked, “Like what?” Clearly, they don’t watch CNN International and BBC News like I do to keep up with what’s happening back in the States. When I mentioned that where we used to live in Milwaukee, we could hear gun shots when our windows were open, that there were lots of problems with drugs and gangs in that city, they were shocked!
But then they went back to bewailing how terrible Romania is, especially Bucharest with all the “gypsies” here. Every time I hear someone rant or complain about the gypsies, it strikes a nerve in me and hurts. I think of our gypsy church near our house and of how generous and loving those women are to me and my children, how they give things to our kids when they themselves have so little, how they really want to live good lives. They’re like family to me; well, really, we are all in the family of God together, and those women are my sisters in faith. So, hearing someone throw out brash comments like that, generalizing and stereotyping a whole group of people based on racism and prejudices, is really bothersome.
Before I go further, I will note that the main speaker of the group of boys held a two liter plastic bottle of cheap beer in his hand and was obviously not sober. When I commented once on how good his English was, he said only when he’s drunk can he speak it well. I tried not to press the conversation too much, because of the awkwardness of the situation: a mother of four at the park with her kids, talking to an intoxicated high school guy is just a little weird, but I digress.
Later on, the boys asked about there being many black people in America, only they used the “n” word! (Ok, I must interject a side note here. These kids obviously didn’t use the “n” word in a derogatory sense, and it’s not the first time one of us has heard a Romanian refer to a black person with that word, and it’s never been used in a mean way. We always correct them and urge them never to use that term, for it is extremely derogatory in American culture.) They went on about how they have no problem with black people and wonder why others do, because, “They’re just people, like you and me.”
“Yeah, kind of like the gypsies. They’re just people, too,” I said. They tried to make excuses but failed, and I had to leave to go rescue my toddler boy from some high up place he’d climbed up to. But when they left later, the main guy admitted, among other things, that he is, in fact, half-gypsy. Sometimes, I really have no explanation.
But, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Naomi. “Why do some people not like the Gypsies? They’re just people with different color skin. That’s stupid to not like someone because of that.”
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 – “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
When we arrived in Bucharest exactly one year ago, we didn’t know anyone in this city. Well, we had e-mailed and skyped with Filip a bit, but we didn’t really know him. Now, a year later, we’ve got a million people to thank for helping us make it this far. I will never forget how we’ve been shown so much love and hospitality by people who barely knew us.
Some of you read our blog posts, and some of you don’t, but I’m not writing this for you. This is for me and Jesus, because I never want to forget you and how God used you in our lives.
Because we have so many people to thank, I’m limiting myself to thanking only those people we’ve met since moving here, and I’m only allowing myself to mention the one thing that meant the most to me, or this post will never end…
Filip, thank you for everything, from our first email exchange to meeting us at the airport to challenging us in our Romanian.
Adiel, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to pick us six strangers up from the airport at midnight on a national holiday.
Peter, thank you for dropping everything to help us get our visas.
Sorin, thank you for talking to us in Romanian and putting up with our bad grammar.
Adi, thank you for refusing to leave Bucharest to see your family, preferring to “do what Jesus would do,” as you said it, and move all our luggage into our new apartment for us first.
Simona, thank you for showing us how to buy food at the market, instead of wasting all our money at Mega Image.
George, thank you for driving us to the big market and back, loaded with potatoes, onions, garlic, and squash for the winter.
Laura, thank you for introducing Jessie to her favorite bookstore / coffee shop.
Adela, thank you for helping us get our electricity back on when we popped a breaker.
Irina, thank you for your constant encouragement, prayers, and friendship. And for the “bumpy cars.”
Adi, thank you for joining us for evangelism time and again.
Alex, thank you for calling and getting together for coffee after being out of the country for a year.
Cornel, thank you for leading your church into revival and for catering to the presence of God.
Costel, thank you for the best mashed potatoes and chicken ever.
Alina, thank you for meeting us at Immigration, grilling the workers there, and getting us the final final list of everything we still needed to get our residency permits.
George, thank you for allowing Jesus to use you to shine with His love in the midst of Bucharest’s homeless men and women.
Tiberiu, thank you for sharing food and songs with us in your home and for introducing me to iaurt de baut.
Cristiana, thank you for coming with our family for the Tour of Bucharest by bus last summer.
Sorin, thank you for giving up your life for 2 weeks last summer to serve alongside us in evangelism and ministry.
Dan, thank you for helping me get my photos from the Cora at Sun Plaza.
Paula, thank you for teaching us how to evade the police while picking Ben up at the airport.
George, thank you for giving our kids cookies when you popped into our house to pick up that form for Peter.
Peter from Immigration, thank you for giving me your self-made final, detailed, easy-to-follow instruction manual on what papers we needed to get our kids’ visas.
Andrei, thank you for spending time together playing bass and talking about the Bible.
Andreea, thank you for organizing Naomi’s birthday party after we’d been in Romania for less than a week.
Robert, thank you for Monday mornings with the homeless at Politehnica.
Sarisa, thank you for a day with the Zarnescus, eating Romanian food and playing Dutch Blitz.
Cosmin, thank you for joining me for a day of evangelism in Cismigiu last year.
Alex, thank you for getting us out on the street preaching.
Cristina, thank you for asking me all about home-schooling that day in Buşteni.
Laura, thank you for the home-made jam.
David, thank you for showing me your pictures of Brasov while we road the train together, convincing me that, yes, I need to live there. 🙂
Rick, thank you for joining us to pray and worship while you were here in Bucharest.
Estera, thank you for coming up to us our first time at Missio Dei, when we felt awkward and out of place, and introducing yourself, making us feel welcomed.
Emi, thank you for being our guide and translator when Grandma Susie wanted to take us bowling.
Gabi, thank you for that day in the mountains of Busteni, hiking and talking about Jesus.
Gianni and family, thank you for the amazing day climbing trees and swinging on zip lines at the adventure park.
Crabby man downstairs, thank you for cheering up after we gave you Christmas cookies.
Teresa and the kids, thank you for sending our kids home with stuffed animals.
Jason, thank you for working with us every week to reach the Gypsies.
Vasilica, thank you for not giving up on your family or all the drug addicts who gather in your home, constantly sharing the Gospel with them and never losing hope for their salvation.
Simon, thank you for smiling in the midst of suffering, separated from your family and your home, in a country whose language you don’t understand.
Rita, thank you for singing us the same song every Monday night, always full of passion, always with a beautiful voice.
Kaze, thank you for coming up and introducing yourself at 3DS.
Ştefan, thank you for standing strong in the word of God in the midst of a culture that doesn’t care.
Ioana, thank you for translating for Jessie her first time at Elim Church.
Sorin, thank you for taking off my glasses and wiping the dirt off with your shirt the first day we talked at Missio Dei.
Sebastian, thank you for introducing us to Genni Shoarma.
Emanuel, thank you for putting up with my terrible Romanian at Starbucks.
Mihai, thank you for taking hundreds of amazing photos at Râşnov last year.
Raluca, thank you for loving our kids so much and playing with them every time we visit Spiritual Revival Church.
Mikey, thank you for giving me all the inside information on hiking in Romania.
Rob and Camelia, thank you for crashing our place one evening to play with our kids.
Luis, thank you for inviting us to play volleyball at Crangaşi.
Peter Pan boy downstairs, thank you for yelling out, “I can fly!” every time you see us. Life in Bucharest would not be as fun without you.
Pardelion, thank you for your heart to give my family money to help us in this new city, while you had so little.
Gheorghiţa, thank you for joining us for worship and prophesying over us as the Holy Spirit led you to speak.
Ryan and Andrea, thank you for sharing with us your heart to end human trafficking in Romania.
Serena, thank you for being the smiliest, happiest, most joyful High School student in Romania, despite the bad things that have happened in your life.
Cristi, thank you for introducing us to the work of Campus Crusade in Bucharest.
Jacob, thank you for always walking in faith that God is ready to do miracles through you.
Oana, thank you for inviting us to the coolest, trippiest, artsiest movie either of us had seen in a while.
Daniel, thank you for bringing us to IKEA to get beds for our kids, and for introducing us to the best desserts in Bucharest (Paul and Zoomserie).
Bogdan, thank you for explaining to me your love for Orthodoxy.
Eugen, thank you for letting me practice my Romanian on you.
Gabi, thank you for allowing us to use your home for Gypsy church.
Kelda, thank you for laughing so loudly it scared my wife.
Mândra and the kids, thank you for giving our kids pillows.
Isabella, thank you for yelling at me at the park, thus beginning your friendship with my wife.
Marian, thank you for inviting us to your house for your son’s crazy birthday party.
Catalin, thank you for sharing your testimony with our group at Mihai Bravu.
Mirela, thank you for such a warm and welcoming reception in Sibiu.
Sorina, thank you for patiently and clearly correcting our Romanian, not just trying to understand us but helping us learn to speak better.
If I’ve forgotten anyone, forgive me! We’ve been so blessed this past year, completely amazed at how many new people we’ve met and loved, how many people have opened their lives and hearts to us, people we never would have known if we’d stayed in America.
Sometimes, it’s frustrating because we’re so far from where we want to be, our work is so small compared to what needs to happen, but God is good, and He’s the one building this house, in His time, in His way, and He’s a really good builder.