We’ve been having a difficult time lately in Romania. We finally got to go visit family and friends back home in America after 4 years away. It was wonderful, refreshing, and all you would expect from a 4-year reunion with those you love.
And then we got back to Romania and it felt like all hell broke loose on us. We all got stomach flu, the car died, we got bed bugs and our daughter broke out with blisters all over her body, our one church (Biserica Sion) was kicked out of its building, our other church (Biserica Piatra Vie) was losing its meeting place because the landlord was lying, stealing, and threatening us, eventually physically assaulting me… and then today.
What happened today? Well, we just started to see some victories in all the aforementioned areas. Our stomachs recovered, we found a mechanic to fix the car, we started a chemical war against the bed bugs, we found a new location for Biserica Sion, and we found a new, much better location for Biserica Piatra Vie.
It looked like we had started to overcome again, like we were gonna win the battle.
But then today happened. We had invested a lot of time, energy, money, and hard work into repairing Piatra Vie’s new location the past few days… and then today we found out that the building the rental unit is in… is condemned due to seismic risks! It’s illegal for us to use it, and it’s illegal for the landlord to rent it to us. If any police catch us, we’ll get in big trouble and either us or the landlord will have to pay a $13,000 fine. And the police station is right next door. Not to mention the fact that if there is an earthquake the building could collapse and we might all die.
So we’re back to square one, looking for a new meeting location. With our small budget, the immensity of the city, and the problems of operating in a culture and language that are still foreign to us, this is a lot harder than it sounds.
After losing our amazing meeting location, again, for the second time, all I felt like doing today was getting away with God. So I grabbed my Bible, my camera, and the car keys, and I decided to take a drive to sort some things through.
I had heard about a certain quiet place along the Danube River, just south of the small town of Prundu, that there were some beautiful and remote beaches there. I was interested in bringing my family there sometime, so I thought, “Hey, I want to go for a drive, so I’ll check out the route to one of those remote beaches and see if it’s worth bringing the whole family sometime.”
And off I went.
As I drove, I prayed and thought and prayed some more. What are we doing? This is ridiculous. How could we not have known the building was condemned? Why didn’t we look before committing to rent it? How could we be so foolish? Why didn’t the landlord tell us? Why did God seem to confirm we should rent it when He knew it was unsafe and we’d leave in a couple days? Why did he let us work so hard, waste so much money, only to walk away from it?
And then I was in the town of Prundu.
And then the road diverged, so I took the one less traveled by.
This road left the small town behind and went off into the woods and fields far into the distance. It was constructed of a lot of dirt, a little bit of gravel, but mostly holes as far as I could tell. Looks good, I thought, and ventured forth in my faithful Opel Zafira.
The road was really rough, the roughest road I’ve ever driven on. There were deep muddy tire ruts gutted by tractors, giant rocks that threatened to crack important metal things on my car that I’m sure have names but I’ll be darned if I know what they are. The wheels spun a few times in the dirt and mud, but I kept chugging forward.
Then I saw clouds coming.
It’s going to rain, I thought, and when it rains, this road will be a real mess.
Turn around or keep going? I kept going. I needed to see where this road went. Worst case scenario, I calculated in my mind, I get stuck somewhere in the mud, can’t find help, and have to spend a night or two sleeping in the van and waiting for the mud to dry. I can survive that.
Eventually, it started to rain. Just little drops, but by the look of the sky, I could tell they were heralds of something much more menacing.
The smart thing to do at this point would have been to turn around. Admit defeat. Play it safe. Walk away. Come back and try again some other time.
But I could see the end of the road up ahead… so close. And I had come so far already. How could I give up now?
So I kept going, despite the steadily increasing rain.
Once I reached the end of the road, I had a great time reading my Bible and just talking to Jesus.
Unfortunately, the clouds also had a great time sending down more and more rain, and so eventually I realized it was time to go. And thus I began the long, sloppy trek back. The car slid, bounced, crashed, and rammed its way through the ever-muddier path. Finally I understood the appeal of ATVs and dune buggies.
But I was not in an ATV or dune buggie. I was in a minivan. And pretty soon, about halfway through the minefield of mud and rocks, that minivan got stuck. Real stuck. Hopelessly, unmistakably stuck.
So after I had exhausted all my methods to unstick stuck cars, I got out in the pouring rain, walked through the mud and muck, searching for any signs of life. Up ahead I saw a farm, and as I neared, I approached some men on break. When I asked for some help, they directed me to talk to Calin, the boss.
With my dirty jeans and shoes weighing heavy from the caked-on mud, I must have looked helpless enough so that Calin drafted one of his men to hop in the tractor and pull me out. And that he did. He fearlessly pulled me for about 15 minutes through the quicksand-like mud. A couple miles from the end of the road, two farm workers approached and after he explained what he was doing, they asked if I could drop them off at their homes.
“Sure,” I said. “I’m going that way anyway.”
“Do you want me to drive?” asked the older one, whose name was Dumitru. “I grew up on these muddy roads. I know how to drive this stuff as well as asphalt roads.”
So I surrendered the keys and we drove together, the three of us, to their homes in the neighboring villages. When we arrived at Dumitru’s home, he told me to follow him as he grabbed a bucket of water, soap, and a brush. As I washed my hands, he knelt down and scrubbed my shoes clean, telling me it wouldn’t be good to drive all the way to Bucharest looking like I went swimming in a swamp.
As we went back to the car, he said he noticed there was something wrong with the radiator and wanted to take a look at it. So he popped the hood, looked around, banged a few things, cleaned off some mud, and got everything working to his satisfaction again.
“Here’s my phone number. If the engine doesn’t get any cooler as you drive to Bucharest, give me a call and I’ll come see what’s wrong.”
I shook his hand, thanked him profusely, asked if I could get his photo, and then drove off, one more adventure under my belt.
As I drove away, God began speaking to me. “Just keep going forward. If the road is dirty and full of holes, I’ll get you through it. If it starts to rain, don’t turn back – I’ll take care of you. If the road turns to mud, just keep going. If you get stuck in mud a couple times, I’ll pull you out. Just keep going forward.”
I like what the famous missionary William Carey said regarding to what he owed his success in India – “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
I think most of success revolves around the simple idea of just not giving up. Just keep going forward. Sure, you can play it safe and stay where you’re at, but if you wanna win, you gotta keep going, through all the mud, rocks, and puddles life throws at you.
Here’s some pictures from the day:
April 30th is a significant day in our family. Most importantly, it is the day our Isaac was born, the first son after three daughters. When his arrival into the world came, we already knew we would be heading to Romania in the near future for an indefinite length of time. One year exactly after Isaac’s birth, we boarded a plane in Chicago with our sights set on Bucharest, Romania.
I really cannot believe it has been three years since we said goodbye to family, friends, and familiarity. Goodbye to good burgers, cheddar cheese, and road trips without potholes! In some ways, these have been the most difficult years of our lives, but in so many ways these years have stretched my faith, taught me what “dying to yourself” means, and forced me to be more adaptable. On the difficult side, I’ve cried more, gotten angry more, felt more burnt out and lonely, and been ready so many times to say “heck with ministry life, let’s go live on a farm far away from cities.” But, on the good side, I rejoice at being in God’s will, seeing our family be used by God to bring light into a very dark city, being a part of God’s transforming work in others’ lives, learning what self-sacrificing love really is (being a mother and wife has taught me much in that area, too), knowing more what deep-rooted, unwavering, unshakable faith, hope, and joy truly is, and being a part of discipleship like Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 2:2.
During our short time here–to those who are missing us it may seem not so short, but it has sped by for us–we have gone through so many ups and downs, excitements and disappointments. We started a small meeting with a gypsy community that lived near us, and it grew to where many families joined in. A few surrendered their lives to Jesus, and one man in particular was ready to be baptized and learn to live for God. But, a couple of families had some domestic problems relating to alcohol and domestic abuse. We helped the best we could, but some just wanted sin more than God. After this, the other families we focused on trying to leave the city and find work, and a year after we began, that little church meeting ended.
We had meetings in our home for a while and tried to start up a church that way. Many pledged to help us to the end. This lasted a few months, grew for a while, then shrunk to just our family and one friend.
Finally, we decided to get more official, rent a room for weekly church meetings, and kickoff our official church: Biserica Piatra Vie, Living Stone Church. It started bigger than we’d hoped, but after a month, our meetings shrunk to just our family and a friend or two. We lost friends, gained friends, and we toiled on. One year after our official start, we had a decent church start: three people joined as official members, besides us American missionaries, and other families and visitors came around regularly. Now we have monthly healing and deliverance meetings that bring in extra visitors, opportunities to pray for the sick and oppressed, and see God move! We’ve seen people surrender their lives to Jesus, baptized one of them, prayed for many to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and seen God heal many of physical ailments.
But, there are still ups and downs. We don’t know how long God will have us here, but we’re ready for whatever He says. We feel honored to be used by God, whether we’re just part of sowing something that others will reap or whether we get to reap what others or we have sown. Sometimes we wonder why God chose us, when there are others with more time and fewer responsibilities (We have five children now, are homeschooling, and have one very active 15 month old–yes, we even had a baby while here!), but God knows what this city needs more than we do.
Planting a church is tough (bravo to Cornerstone Pastors Michael and Annie Fisher and Derek and Deb Miller for doing it before!)! Planting a church with a big family is tougher. Planting a church with a big homeschooled family in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language so well in a culture that is quite different than what you’re used to and not getting to see your family and friends in three years is toughest. But God is our strength and our portion! He is our Rock! He is the One who builds His church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail! He is good, loving, comforting, joyful, merciful, just, giving! He provides for us, heals us, empowers us, and guides us! All our hope, life, love, joy, peace, and faith is in Him alone! We are happy to serve and follow Him!
Wow, it has been a really long time since we’ve made any posts here, but it’s about time we get back to it. Today’s post is mostly a collection of videos. Our church, Biserica Piatra Vie (Living Stone Church), supports a missionary to the city of Bucharest, who shares the gospel, passes out gospel tracts, and simply spreads the good news about Jesus and the gospel around town. His name is Daniel, and just a few months ago, he married Maria. They’ve been living in a tiny room in his mother’s home, but there is not hot water or a kitchen, and the bathroom is outside (it gets cold here in winter in Romania).
God put it on our hearts to help them, but we weren’t sure how. Not being able to find an affordable place for them to live, Jake got the idea to use one of the popular online fundraising websites to raise money for Daniel and Maria to build themselves a home. Daniel used to work in construction in Finland, so he had plans all ready and only needed money to buy materials and hire his brother to help him.
Well, after only a few weeks of the fundraiser going live, the money was raised, and immediately Daniel and his brother Marian got to work. Jake has helped a bit, and he’s gotten some great clips of the work being done so far. Check them out below. While you’re at it, pray for Daniel. Pray that God would continue to bless his evangelism in Bucharest. He’s gotten to talk to so many people about Jesus and been able to follow up with several who want to know more, and we want to see God multiply this fruit and see a big harvest reaped for His glory right here in Bucharest!
Here’s the link to the Crowdrise page about Daniel and Maria’s home: A Home for Daniel and Maria
I think a lot of Christians have a “glamorized” view of missionary life, because missionaries share the grand trials, great victories, and emotional stories of their work on the mission field. But, in reality, a lot of missionary work is very mundane, sometimes to the point of being inane. At least, it feels that way in the midst of whatever is occurring at the time. However, when you look back after 6 months, a year, two years, you can see God’s hand in so much of what has happened, even if you were left wondering where that hand was in the midst of the seemingly monotonous activity.
All that aside, here are some things I’ve learned in our 27 months on the mission field of Bucharest, Romania. More precisely, what I’ve learned despite the “inanity” and feelings of “monotony.”
1. You must never let down your guard against cockroaches. Yeah, you may clean out your entire kitchen and spray it top to bottom with poisonous insecticides, and you may go a couple of months without seeing a single one afterwards. But be forewarned, they will return. And when you kill that one you see, you will open a cabinet door and find 5-10 more scurrying for the darkness. Always maintain vigilance.
2. Your marriage and your children must still remain a high priority. You don’t want to gain a million converts at the cost of your marriage or your children. They are gifts from God, no matter where you live
3. Even more important is your relationship to Jesus. It must always be first place. Jesus said, “For you have the poor with you always” in the context of disciples complaining that Mary of Bethany “wasted” an expensive perfume on Jesus when it could have been sold and the money used for the poor. But He didn’t agree–He honored Mary because she honored and worshiped Him extravagantly, above all else. There are people everywhere with a multitude of needs, poor, sick, disfigured, trapped in sin, lost in darkness, spiritually immature, etc. And we could work ourselves to burnout and death if we forsake our relationship with God to constantly work for Him.
4. Learning a language is one of the most humbling tasks I’ve ever done. When you’re in public with a decent, but very limited knowledge of the language of the place you’re in, you will look stupid, appear aloof or ignorant, and be annoying to natives who are in a hurry; you will not necessarily know how to ask for what you need; you will struggle through conversations with your neighbors with your horrid grammar and painfully slow speech; you will need help from friends to master the post office, doctor’s office, hair salon, pharmacy, anything related to the police or government, apartment hunting, etc. You might have old ladies yell at you (several within a 24 hour period) about how your kid will get sick if his ears aren’t completely covered or that one gets wet feet from splashing about in rain puddles, and you won’t know how to answer them. You might just have to stand there and take it…at least until you learn how to say, “Leave us in peace! He/she is fine. I have five kids and know what I’m doing.” 😉
5. No matter how much “just like America” a country may seem on the surface during a short visit, every culture is different, but you won’t see that until you’re completely immersed in it. Even over two years in, I find myself every so often thinking, “What the heck is that all about?!” And usually, I never find out.
6. I am so American. Yes, of course I should be since I was born and lived there nearly 33 years, but there are some things ingrained in me because of my Americanness that are just really hard to change. For example, in America, it’s considered rude to tell everybody what you think all the time and give frequent, unsolicited advice. While I like constructive criticism and advice to help me, I still have not succumbed to the constant flow of advice that comes my way, especially related to child-rearing. I don’t get offended too easily, and can usually just ignore it (unless it’s good advice), but sometimes I long for an ever-so-small touch of American politeness and un-nosiness. I’m still very American in that respect.
7. If I can be a missionary, anybody can! I like a schedule and I like plans to be made and stuck to; if things go too random or sporadic, I start to get a little freaked out. On the mission field, even in a big European city one, nothing is set. Pretty much ever. I’ve learned to adapt and trust God and keep a good attitude even when I feel like Milton from Office Space, haha! God’s in control and I just grab on for the wild ride! Right before we moved here, one of our pastors prophesied over me that I might feel like I don’t quite cut it, but that God said His grace is sufficient. I think I grab onto those words every single day, as those are the prophetic words that spoke loudest to me…and still do.
8. A home is more than just a place to eat and sleep. My whole family loves having people here, whether for Bible studies, movie nights, parties, game nights, discipleship, fellowship, etc. I pray almost every day that our home be used for God’s glory and that His peace and life and presence would fill it so much that others coming here would sense it. And many have told us they do.
9. Communism is just a bad idea. Even 25 years after it ended here, there’s still repercussions of it on daily life and the mentality of the nation. I pray that it will fall in countries like North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. I pray for the nations of the world heading further and further into socialism. The government is no substitute for God and God-given families.
10. Lastly (this is not an exhaustive list by any means…I’m continually learning), if or when God calls us back to the U.S. or to another country, we will leave so many dear, dear friends behind. But I look forward to visiting with many hugs and much joy as we have made some lifelong friendships here. I am so thankful to God for these people.
It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted anything on here, so I’m a little out of practice, but here ya go…
Easter is the biggest holiday season here in Orthodox Romania. Seriously, it’s a bigger deal than Christmas, with offices and businesses shutting down from Good Friday through at least the Monday after Easter. Offices including doctors’ offices. Which means, it’s not a good time to get sick and need to see a doctor.
The Wednesday before Easter, I came down with a bad bacterial infection, not something terribly uncommon, but a worse case than I’ve ever had before. I fought through it with sleep, water, and Tylenol that whole day, started feeling better the next day enough to take Paul in for his doctor visit. When there I asked about getting antibiotics, but she said I’d have to see a different doctor. However, all the offices were going to be closed after that day for four days and only one appointment was left. When I tried to make the appointment, the computerized scheduling system wasn’t working, so I went back home (a one hour trek via public transport) with only a slight fever and no meds. I thought, “Hey, our prayers are working; I’m getting better, so I won’t try to snatch that last appointment and just sleep it off.”
An hour later, I arrived home and within fifteen minutes my fever jumped to its highest yet, I started shivering uncontrollably, and felt disoriented from the sickness. Now too late to make that last appointment, I weighed my options: try to see if I could get the antibiotics without a prescription, find an emergency room and fumble through with my poor Romanian and fever delirium, or wait it out. Feeling worse by the minute, I nixed the last option and started messaging friends.
I sent a Facebook message to a good friend of mine who I knew frequently checked her messages asking for advice. And I prayed. Within five minutes she called me back saying she would go with me to an emergency room, translate for me, and do whatever she could for me. She wanted to ask her mother the best place to go, and she happened to be right in front of her apartment when she got my message. She called me back saying she could get me an evening appointment for an hour from then at her hospital, that she would come with me and translate, and everything. Praise God! I fed Paul quickly, grabbed a taxi, and started the long trek through Bucharest rush hour traffic, sweating profusely in the back seat and eyes burning with fever. I prayed we’d make it in time.
As we got near to where I thought the hospital was, the driver turned the opposite direction I thought we should be going, so I called him on it. He argued with me, and I argued back, and he made motions with his hands telling me I was disoriented and sick and didn’t know what I was talking about. Sure enough, he was right and dropped me off exactly at 5:00 for my appointment in front of the correct place. Thankfully, he didn’t listed to the sick, American girl.
After having our baby Paul here in Bucharest, I had an idea of what the private hospitals and doctors were like. But the doctor I saw was so nice, very helpful, and genuinely concerned that I get better. She gave me very clear instructions through my friend and translator, gave me all the prescriptions I needed with very good instructions, and instructed me to return in six days for a free follow up appointment. Then, my very dear friend, purchased all the drugs for me, walked me to the metro stop (I wasn’t risking a delirious taxi ride in rush hour again), and agreed to meet me the following week at the hospital.
Fast forward to today, the doctor checked me again, offered some extra services even though it was a free visit, and had her colleague perform some ultrasound therapy on me. I was amazed at how pleasant and nice everyone was and how I wasn’t even charged for the visit. And she wants to see me again, also for free, to make sure that I am completely better!
Maybe it’s not such a cool story for everyone, but for me it was a blessing! I love how generous and helpful my friend was to take her evening on such short notice to help me find a doctor on a busy holiday break when I wasn’t sure what to do. I love the concern the doctor showed when often doctors (not just here but also in America) generally just try to get you in and out, especially if you aren’t paying. I love that God answers prayers. And I learned, never argue with a taxi driver in a foreign language when you’re deliriously feverish and don’t know where you’re going. Driver knows best.
Every March 8 is International Women’s Day, and in Romania that means… grannies get helped off the trams.
One of my favorite things about Romania is when you get to see some young guy stop and give an old lady his seat, help her down from the tram, carry her groceries, cross the street, etc.
Almost every day, I’ll see young guys flexing their chivalry muscles for the older women in the city. It’s one of those really cool, old-fashioned kind of things that I wish would happen more often in America and more “prosperous” nations.
So it’s not unusual to see young guys go out of their way to give deference to older women, but International Women’s Day was a real treat. In the space of 45 minutes, I got to see 3 women helped off the trams, one carried in the arms of two young knights in shining armor, one woman helped across a puddle, five women who had doors held open for them obscenely long amounts of time, and countless others who were given free flowers from McDonald’s as well as some other business courting new customers.
Sometimes, Bucharest is a mystery to me. In the same city where random drunk men will grab at women’s bodies and whistle cat calls, where you can watch the guys undress the girls with their eyes, where women are encouraged to pursue “jobs” in massage parlors, prostitution, and web cam modeling, where sex trafficking is a very real issue… you’ll find guys holding doors for women, helping them across puddles, and giving up their seats on the bus.
People are complicated.
Last week, I had a meeting with a good friend of mine, Camil. He’s one of my favorite people in Romania, because he looks at life differently and has a unique way of thinking about God. I guess we all have our own unique way of thinking about God, but I like Camil regardless.
While we were thinking and talking and discussing, Camil brought up three words for “love” in Greek thinking – eros, philios, and agape. “Eros is the base, sexual, physical kind of love… Philios is the comforting, friendship kind of love… But agape is the epitome of love, the most advanced form of love, the love that Christianity brought to the world, God’s kind of love.”
“Agape, this is the love you’re trying to bring,” he said, looking at me. “This is the love you’re talking about, the self-sacrificing love like Jesus showed.”
That is the goal, yes, and sometimes I achieve it.
On my way home after our meeting, I got a call from my friend Daniel: “Jake, we will build your shelves tomorrow.”
Weeks ago, I had told Daniel I wanted to buy some shelves for our kids’ clothes, to replace the suitcases we’ve been using. “No, don’t buy shelves,” he had told me. “I know how to build furniture. Let me build them for you.”
“OK,” I had told him, “when we have some extra money, I’ll let you know and you can help me build the shelves.”
Flash forward a couple weeks. I had some extra money, so Daniel came over early in the morning, drew up the plans for the shelves, and then we both walked to the hardware store to buy everything. Well, the hardware storeS. We visited five different places to get everything we needed. By the time we were done, we had walked through freezing rain and wind carrying piles of wood, tape, screws, and tools. And we were beat. I joked with Daniel that he owed me money for letting him help, considering all the free exercise coaching I was providing him.
He left and I told him, “Let’s leave the wood here for now, and maybe in a few days we can build the shelves. When you have the time.”
So he called me a couple days later, because his Saturday was suddenly free, informing me, “Tomorrow we will build your shelves.”
We planned to meet at 3pm. Daniel got there at 2:40pm. I got there at 3:30pm. By the time I got home, he was already well on his way toward finishing, and together we built four brand-new shelves.
Now that’s agape love.