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!
The weather suddenly dropped the past couple days, which meant we had to pull our normal outdoor meeting with the Gypsy families along Mihai Bravu indoors last night. We started meeting every Monday night with a small group of Gypsies near our house, they’ve been telling their friends, a few people have given their hearts to Jesus, people are growing closer to God, and the meetings have grown to about 10 families and 35 people, including us Americans.
We don’t speak Romanian, we don’t really know what we’re doing, and sometimes the Gypsy culture really, really confuses me, but God is building something here and we’ve been put in the middle of it.
When we came to Romania, we had no plan other than to follow where God led us. Well, one of the places he’s brought us is here, to these Gypsies who live along Mihai Bravu. We didn’t know what would come of the meetings, and they kinda’ just came together out of nowhere when Jason, a fellow-missionary and now a friend, met a Christian family and mentioned we would be interested in doing some prayer and teaching at their place. They said that’d be OK with them, but they didn’t seem really excited or anything.
So we met with the Gypsy family but still weren’t pushing to “start something” there. Well a couple weeks later, Irina, a young Romanian woman who goes to Missio Dei Church told us, “I want to work with Gypsies, and I see that you’re working with Gypsies. Can we talk about all you’re doing? I need to get involved.”
At that point “getting involved” meant nothing because we were still just meeting people and following God’s leading day to day, so there really wasn’t anything solid to “get involved” with. So we invited Irina to get together with Jason and us and brainstorm a plan.
A couple weeks later, we had regular weekly meetings going with the Gypsy family along Mihai Bravu, and now that group is pretty solid and growing in both numbers and maturity. There is still so much work to be done, but God is building something here and I’m humbled to be a part of it.
So normally we’d been meeting outdoors, but with the drop in temperature last week, we were welcomed into Lali and Mandra’s house for the rest of the fall and winter. It was warm and cozy, heated by a glowing hot spring attached to bare wires coming out of the wall, coiled inside a brick. Less people than normal came because it was cold and rainy, but we worshiped and prayed together, we shared some food, and Ben taught on baptism in the Holy Spirit. When we asked who wanted to receive more of the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives and be prayed for to be filled with the Holy Spirit, every person came forward.
So we prayed for everyone, and honestly I was hoping for a replay of Acts 2, tongues of fire, people speaking in unknown languages, people falling on the floor or starting to run around crazy, filled with the joy and life of the Holy Spirit, but it was a pretty mellow affair and I’m not really sure what all happened. Pretty normal for cross-cultural ministry. 🙂
I left a little frustrated because nothing much seemed to happen on the outside, but then God reminded me today that every person in that house came forward for prayer to receive more of the Holy Spirit, and that there were maybe 20 people gathered that night despite the rain and cold, and God had built a team of 3 Americans, 1 Canadian, and 1 Romanian all devoted to reaching the Gypsies of Bucharest, and it all started by random chance encounters and following His lead to take a step when He showed one to us.
Please pray for the Gypsies along Mihai Bravu, that God would build something solid and lasting among this group. Gypies are transitory, they come and go as they please, but pray that God would anchor them down and build a community here that can change Bucharest for His glory.
Also pray for another meeting we’ve started with Valentina and her family, in another part of Bucharest. She’s the only Christian in a really dark area, but she’s got a huge heart to reach the drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves living around her, so she’s been inviting them to her house to worship, pray, and hear from the Bible with us. Who knows where God might take this meeting? He’s a big God, and He’s got big plans.
I’m just really humbled to be wrapped up in what He’s doing, and I can’t wait to see what He does next.