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.
Day 20 and I’m tired of this daily blogging thing. I’ve got stuff to write about, but I just don’t wanna try to organize my thoughts anymore.
So maybe I’ll just let it all out however it comes out…
I’m tired of trying to learn Romanian. I go through daily mood swings with it, and right now I’m near the bottom of the arc. Sometimes, the challenge is really fun and exciting, and I enjoy making new sounds and trying out new words, especially when they all connect. Other times, I’ll spend tons of time learning some new phrases, but then when it comes time to use them, nothing comes out, I just draw a blank and the best I can come up with is – “I don’t speak Romanian very well. Do you understand English?” Other times, I just get really tired of it all and end up grunting, pointing, and miming because it seems more effective.
Today, I overloaded with Romanian immersion I think. Missio Dei was doing a men’s lunch, where all us bărbaţi cooked chicken on the grill, talked about soccer (fotbal), and discussed manly things – manly things from the Bible like purity, working hard, treating women with respect, knowing God, etc. A lot of the guys there speak English very well, so I was able to talk with pretty much everyone, but, to help me learn Romanian better and to improve the meeting flow, no one translated the main discussion. Although this was good for me, because it did force me to work really hard to understand anything, I think my brain fried a little because of the vast amount of words I don’t know.
Ben, who just got back from Chicago, did teach me that American football is referred to as “ou mână” here, which means literally “egg hand.” He also taught me how to roll my R’s. I was doing it semi-OK for a little while, but I think I’ve lost it now.
Anyway, I was feeling good after the meeting but a little brain-fried, and then this evening Jessie and I visited a Charismatic church not too far from our apartment – about a 20-minute walk away. We were really nervous heading over there because we had heard reports that they were a little bit crazy, out of order, and Charismaniacs, but that was enough to get me interested in checking it out. We almost turned around because you have to walk past a worse-looking part of town with packs of dogs patrolling garbage piles, but we pressed on nonetheless.
I’m not going to give a whole play-by-play, but I will say that, despite what we’d heard, it wasn’t chaos in there. There were some frustrating parts of the service, mostly the videos of southern Holy Ghost preachers from America they streamed in for the sermon. I don’t know if they do that every week, but it was really odd to be sitting in a church in Bucharest surrounded by Romanians and listening to Pentecostal preachers from southern Illinois. Everyone laughed when one preacher kept shouting weird Pentecostalisms.
Besides the goofy stuff, we really liked the church, talked to a few people, met another American missionary, and experienced some of the best worship we’ve been a part of while here in Romania. It wasn’t Cornerstone’s worship team (We miss you all a ton!) but it was as close as we’ve seen around here so far. The band smiled a ton, one of the leaders was seriously anointed, they were musically talented, and people were really singing and clapping. We needed that worship time really bad.
I get really annoyed at goofy Charismatic stuff, but I love the real stuff. I love worshiping God with all my heart like David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6), I love seeing the sick get healed in miraculous ways (John 14:12), I love speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5), I love casting out demons (Mark 16:17), I love hearing the voice of God (John 10:27), I love dreams and visions (Joel 2:28-29)… but I love studying the word of God, reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it, teaching it, knowing it inside and out (Joshua 1:8, Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 119:9-11, Psalm 119:103), I love walking in holiness and purity of character (Romans 5:4), I love making sense (Colossians 3:16)…
Romanian churches, like American churches, seem to swing one way or the other, rarely finding the balance between the stability of a dedication to the Word of God and the life and joy and freedom that comes by yielding to the Spirit of God. Focusing on only one will never satisfy – you need both. Any serious and open-minded study of the Bible should lead you to this conclusion.
If you take the Bible at face value and dig into its message, I think the only viable conclusion you can make is that the Christian life is impossible without the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit, and any serious study of the Bible will lead you to pursue the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in your midst, because it’s all over the Bible. Likewise, any honest encounter with the presence of God in a supernatural way should lead you to desire the Bible more, know its depths, understand its story, not drive you away from the Bible. The one should feed the other.
So, anyway, after that church service, surrounded by Romanians speaking Romanian (yeah, they do that here, believe it or not), my brain is fried on Romanian for the night. I’m excited to learn more tomorrow, but tonight, I will think in English and dream in English.
Before I close (I guess I’ve proven I’m not all that tired of blogging…) let me give you a quick recap of last night. Last night was Night of Museums here in Bucharest, where all the museums are open for free. Since there was a huge fotbal match and it was rainy, we figured there shouldn’t be too many people out on the streets to check out the museums. Wrong. In a city of 3 million people, at least 2 million were lined up outside Bucharest’s major museums last night.
So we bailed on seeing the museums and did some people-watching instead. At one point, some police came to set up barricades because the lines were so big and mob-like. One guy got angry and started shouting at the police. Others started shouting too, and shaking their fists, so the police grabbed the barricades and pushed the unruly guys further back. This prompted a woman to somehow squeeze her way in-between two bars on the barricade to get to the other side. It was a really intense (and fun to watch) two minutes.
After watching the crowds, we got a pizza, got rained on, hid under a balcony, got lost, walked in a circle (not on purpose), wound up in the same spot we started in, realized it was a new spot that just looked like the same spot, tried to take the subway, found out they had just closed, and then gave in and decided to take a cab home. It was late (midnight) and we were tired, so walking was not looking like a good option, and we had heard cabs were cheap, so we figured we’d give it a shot.
We found a cab, popped in, and within a couple minutes wound up sharing the Gospel with our driver. He spoke fluent English, and we were so itching to talk to people about Jesus (remember, that’s why we came here?), that it all kinda’ just spilled out. When we got in the car, he asked where we were from, so I told him we just moved here from the US. I told him we loved it here in Bucharest. He responded, “I don’t believe you. No one loves it here.” So then I told him, “Well, we do,” and then, very awkwardly, “We came to tell people about Jesus.”
“No one needs that,” he responded, or something similar. “We have so many churches here already. We don’t need more.”
“Yes, you have many churches, but not many Christians. Very few in this city love Jesus and are living for Him.”
“Yes,” he said, “everyone is living for money. Everyone wants money. That’s why there are not many Christians here. We love money.” Then he launched into a rant, raving for a minute about how we should pray that God gives him money.
“We will,” I promised, “but that’s not the real issue. Jesus wants to give you money and to bless you, but more than that, He wants your heart. Does he have your heart? Are you His?”
It got really quiet and then our cab driver told us how he had lived in Spain for four years stealing, and making way better money than he was making now that he had an honest job. He realized he could get thrown in jail for stealing, and he was trying to improve his life, so he quit, moved back to Romania, and started working.
“God’s already trying to get ahold of you,” I told him. “That was Him drawing you to give up stealing. But trying to improve your life isn’t enough. Trying to be a good person isn’t what it takes. He wants you to stop trying to do better and to instead trust in what He’s done on the cross for you, and let Him change you from the inside out so you’re a whole new person.”
Before he dropped us off, we prayed with our cab driver (I never got his name) and asked Jesus to bless him and his family and take care of all their needs. I didn’t have time to share as much of the Gospel as I would have liked, and he didn’t give his heart to Jesus that night, but some seeds were planted, it got him thinking, and we had a good time finally being able to share the Gospel with someone who could understand us.
I’ve heard some people say that, statistically speaking, it takes hearing the Gospel an average of 18 times before someone is ready to make a decision, give up their selfishness, and follow Jesus for real. Whether that’s true or not, it’s not our job to get people saved. It’s our job to be Jesus to the world around us, share the Good News that there is a Savior, and leave the results up to God. I think that, every time we do evangelism, we should believe the person we’re talking to is at #18, but maybe they’re not even at #1 yet. Just keep preaching, keep talking about Jesus, keep letting His light shine, and those seeds are gonna sprout up soon enough…
This is why I’m tired of blogging – I can’t write short posts.