Thursday nights, we invite English speakers to our home for worship, prayer, and Bible teaching. It’s one of the meetings I’m most excited about, but it’s also been the slowest to get going.
Why am I most excited about this meeting? Well, honestly, I’ve got a lot of selfish reasons – I get to speak in my native language, without a translator, and worship God in English, using songs that I like, with people who speak and understand the language really well. Plus, I get really ministered to during the meetings, no matter how many other people show up. The presence of God has been really strong at our little meetings, so I always leave encouraged and strengthened.
But beyond the selfish reasons, having a meeting in English should, by nature, draw young people who have a desire to change the world. From what we’ve learned about Romania, if you want to go to a good college, get a good job, or travel anywhere outside the country, you learn English. Understanding English is required to get into many universities, and most international businesses, the ones with the good jobs, won’t even consider you if you don’t have a minimum level of fluency. If someone wants to come to a church service almost entirely in English, it means they’re already hoping to do something with their life that makes an impact. At least, that’s the theory.
And I like the idea of God using our weakness to show His greatness. We’re trying really hard to learn Romanian – we’re studying on our own, we have a weekly tutoring session, we talk with people in Romanian whenever we can – but our brains, cluttered with subway maps, grocery lists, Bible verses, new friends’ names, diapers, and dreams, refuse to get with the program and learn.
It’s not my fault. Scientists have shown there’s a chemical in our brains that helps with language acquisition. It’s strongest when we’re young, and by the time we turn 30 or 35, it quickly starts to plunge to nothingness. So, by fact of nature, I have begun to enter that plunge downward.
Recently, a fellow missionary joked with me, “I tell people that those who speak three languages are trilingual, those who speak two are bilingual, and those who speak one are American.” There you have it. We’ve been cursed from birth.
Seriously, we’re committed to keep learning Romanian any method we can, but right now, it’s just a very slow process. Many American missionaries here don’t even try learning Romanian, and some say we shouldn’t even try, it’s not important, but almost every Romanian we talk to says the opposite. They all say they would be able to receive better from someone who takes the time to actually learn the language. I think I’ll go with the Romanians on this one.
So, the process is slow, but we’re learning. We tell people here, “Înţelegem mai mult decât vorbim.” We understand more than we speak. Often, we’ll find ourselves understanding a person fine, but we just can’t find the right Romanian words quick enough to communicate effectively.
So, back to Thursday nights. I love Thursday nights, but every week is a little different.
Week to week, we never know who all is going to show up. It’s in our home, so I know we’ll have at least 4 kids and 3 adults. 🙂 But beyond that, we never know. Some weeks, it’s a bunch of Americans, a Canadian, and an Australian. One week, no one came but a Baptist youth pastor. Other weeks, a handful of high school students showed up. Or sometimes we’ll get a few college students, missionaries, and business men together.
We’re praying that God speaks to some people, “Get involved and make this part of your routine,” but right now, a lot of people are cycling in and out on an irregular basis, which makes it hard to establish any sort of normal rhythm but keeps us trusting God.
One week, the clock reached 7 pm and no one was here but our family. We were expecting at least a few people, but none of them showed up. “Well,” we decided, “we need God, so let’s worship Him like He deserves anyway.” So we worshiped like there were thousands gathered with us, and by the time we finished our first song, our friend Jason from Canada had shown up. We were still small in number, but God showed up strong that night, ministering to each of us on a deep level, convicting our hearts of sin and covering us with His love. That little meeting with four people worshiping together was the most intense sense of God’s presence I’ve had in Romania yet. My heart aches for more people to know this God who speaks so deeply to our hearts.
Another week, a handful of us had gathered together, including a High School student who had never come before. After the “official” meeting was done, she asked if we could pray for her because she couldn’t sleep at night. So we prayed, and she came back a few days later with the report, “Now I’m sleeping great! Thank you for praying!” She also asked us to pray for her legs, which were constantly in pain. Doctors said she was just growing too fast and would have to put up with it. Well, Jesus had a different diagnosis. He came not just to heal our sins but to heal our sicknesses too, so we put our hands on her legs and commanded them to be healed, and Jesus healed them! As far as I’ve heard, she still hasn’t had any pain in her legs. That’s just what my God does.
Another week, all the “regular” attendees (if you can call them that) were either late or just didn’t come, but 5 new people came who had never come before, and God’s presence was so strong that we could have spent hours just worshiping Him together. When we finished the time of prayer and worship, I shifted gears to teach on the fear of God, and I was so overcome by the weight of it that I don’t know if I made much sense at all. If any of you who came are reading this, I apologize for being so tongue-tied.
Pray for God to grow the Thursday night group at our home, and pray He continues to bring His presence to encourage, strengthen, and free His people. We love opening our home up and having people worship and pray and look at the Scriptures together with us, but I want so many more people to know this God who ministers to us deeply in ways that only He can do. So many of us only know a God of religion, a God who did the impossible during Bible times but now just speaks about nice, understandable truths through His Word and preaching. But God is bigger than that. God is a God of mystery and depth, a God who wants to reveal His glories to His people.
And I think it’s this impossible-to-understand God that we all, deep down inside, really yearn for. We don’t want a God who’s easy to explain, a God we can hold onto and put in a box. We want a God who’s big enough to fix our problems, strong enough to reach into our darkness and pull out His light, bold enough to do and say what no one else can.
A couple weeks ago, we were invited to preach at a church in the town of Barbulești. Barbulești is a small, cramped and dirty Gypsy village of about 5,000 people. Half the buildings stand unfinished with dirty cement exteriors like the church above. The other half are either little ramshackle huts or giant Gypsy mansions decorated with gold, silver, and gaudy regalia, like the one here near Cluj. Barbulești is a strange little town. It used to be one of the worst areas of Romania, home to Gypsy crime lords, gang leaders, and murderers, but about 15 years ago, everything started changing – some of the most notorious criminals were locked up, others died, and others repented and became good, God-fearing citizens. Now, the little town is known more for poverty than crime. A few years ago, it made news when France kicked a bunch of Gypsies out and sent them back here. You can read about that and some of the current predicaments of living in this town here.
Anyway, we were invited to preach at a Pentecostal church in town. The first thing I noticed when we came through the doors was that all the women were on one side, with head-coverings of course, and the men were on the other, like a lot of the older, more traditional churches in the country. Side note: when we were done with the service, we all thought it was funny that the women’s side was substantially dirtier than the men’s. Candy wrappers, clods of dirt, tissues, and plastic cups littered the women’s side, but the men’s was left virtually spotless.
We had three of us preaching that day, and I closed the service up, preaching a message about Jesus coming to destroy the works of the devil, which means we can be set free from bondage to sin, sickness, addiction, demonic torment, or any other bondage of the enemy. Jesus defeated all that stuff, so we could live in freedom!
After my message, we called people forward for prayer, if they needed anything from God, physical healing, release from demonic torment, victory over sin, whatever.
No one moved.
Dang, I started thinking, did I even make sense? Maybe they didn’t understand what I was saying…
Then suddenly one man boldly walked forward, then another, and then this whole swarm of people came forward for prayer. We were surrounded by maybe 75 or 100 people all wanting prayer. So we split into two teams and got to work, praying for God to move in this church, praying with all our hearts for people to be set free from the power of the enemy, praying until our throats hurt and we had no more strength left.
Honestly, I don’t know if we saw any miraculous healings or deliverances that day, and it broke my heart. We prayed for so many people, and I know God promises to answer and bring healing, but it sure seemed like nothing was happening. One person after another came forward asking for freedom from addictions, demonic torment, nightmares, insanity, ongoing headaches, stomach diseases, diabetes, deafness, blindness… on and on the list goes.
I want to see God move here. I want to see people delivered from sin and demons and sickness and torment, just like the Bible promises. A lot of people I’ve met in Romania’s churches (Pentecostal or otherwise) say they believe God can do it, but they don’t think He’ll do it here in Romania. Like people in America, they say things like, “That’s what God does in Africa or China or India, but He doesn’t do that here.”
That might be a nice excuse, but it’s just not Biblical thinking. Nowhere in the Bible does it say God can only heal in Third World nations or really poor places. God is the same everywhere, and I’m sure if Jesus were walking the streets of Barbulești, he wouldn’t tell all the sick and demon-oppressed, “Dang, guys, sorry. If you were Africans I might heal you, but since you’re Europeans, I just don’t know if I’ve got it in me.”
When Jesus went to a town, he routinely healed all who were sick and oppressed. Even in Nazareth, where people were full of unbelief, it says in Matthew 13:58 that Jesus, “did not do many mighty works there.” He did mighty works, just not many. Jesus heals the sick and releases those oppressed by sin and demonic torment, even in the face of unbelief. That’s just what He does.
Lord, help us! Move in Romania like you did in Judea! Heal the sick, deliver the tormented, free the captives, comfort the oppressed!
Jesus said that if we want to see the kingdom of God, we need to become born a second time. When he told this to Nicodemus in John 3, he was confused and asked facetiously, “How can someone crawl back into his mother’s womb?!” Translation: “What on earth are you talking about, Jesus? That doesn’t make any sense.”
A few weeks ago, a new person showed up at our meeting with the Gypsy communities along Mihai Bravu. 78-year-old George, from Transylvania, had just come to town and moved into one of the free rooms at the house where we meet. I think we all honestly assumed he was already a Christian. He seemed really nice and normal, and I guess I figured that by the age of 78, he surely had run out of reasons to resist God and given in. Or if not, surely no amount of preaching by us young guys would convince him otherwise.
I tried to get a picture with George that night, but people kept getting in front of him or pushing him out of the way. In the photo above, he’s just to the right of the man with the leather jacket.
Anyway, when Andrei, a high school student from Elim Church, shared his testimony of how God had changed his life, forgiven him, and freed him from drug and alcohol addiction, he began to ask if anyone wanted to turn from sin and trust in Jesus. My first thought, to my shame, wasn’t, “Awesome, I can’t wait to see people get right with God,” but something more like, “Well, everyone here is either already saved, so clouded by sin and religiosity that they think they’re saved, or too old to care anymore, so I hope Andrei doesn’t get disappointed when no one responds.” Ouch. Yeah, that bad.
Thankfully, God chose to go with what He wanted and not what I expected.
George came forward for prayer and explained, to my surprise and embarrassment, that he wanted to finally, once and for all, repent of his sin and trust in Jesus. He was tired of living for himself and was finally ready to become a new man, born all over again.
Well, OK, then. I like when God proves me wrong and does something amazing despite the fact that I’m expecting so little.
So we prayed with George, who refused to stand during prayer, despite his bad knees. He preferred to come to God on his knees in humility rather than standing in the presence of his King. As we prayed, we asked that God would fill him with power to live the Christian life and to be a witness to those around him. We prayed for healing and strengthening of his worn body.
When we were done praying, he got up, saying he had felt an intense amount of heat coming off our hands, and now all the pain was gone from his legs. Praise God! He restored George’s heart and his body.
Every week, we pray for George to get healed – he’s always got some new sort of pain or ailment that comes up, sometimes an old pain or ailment that’s returned. And every week, God heals him of whatever new pain has come on his body.
Be praying for George. He’s made a commitment to follow after Jesus, and we want to see him finish strong. He may only have a year or two left on this earth, or he may have a few decades – either way, our prayer is that he’s prepared on that final day to walk boldly into the throne room, knowing who it is he’s lived for these last years of his life.
Well, it’s been an emotional couple of days.
We’d been busy working on preparing a Christmas party for our Monday night Gypsy meeting. We spent a few days cooking 10 liters of soup and making up gift bags for all the kids. We bought bread, snacks, drinks, fruit, disposable plates and silverware. We prepared some Christmas songs and a short Christmas message. Then we got everything loaded up in bags, bundled up the kids, and walked / slid through slippery, slushy, cold, potholed sidewalks to get to Lalli and Mandra’s house to hand out gifts, share the love of Jesus, eat some food, and spend Christmas together.
A couple blocks from the house, we met up with Jason, who informed us, “Hey, guys, I’ve got some bad news. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but it looks like Matei’s in prison and Geta’s in the hospital. They said he got drunk and pulled a knife on her. They’re saying he cut her up so bad they’re not sure she’ll live.”
“What?” we all kind of gasped. Of all the people we’ve met in Romania, Matei was one of the smartest, nicest, and calmest. He prayed to turn from sin and trust Jesus a couple months ago, and he was reading his Bible, praying, and growing every day. When we met Monday nights, he’d come with questions and always ask us to pray for him. He was always smiling and cheerful. When we taught him something from the Bible, he just did it. He didn’t do drugs, never yelled at his wife or kids around us, and was one of the last people I’d expect to be in prison for cutting his wife with a knife.
We had been teaching on baptism the past few weeks, and Matei was one of the most excited about it. We learned later that he had even gone out and bought a new suit specifically to put on for his baptism.
None of this about him attacking his wife made any sense.
So we went to the meeting with mournful, confused hearts, hoping there was a communication problem, hoping it was a different Matei, hoping to find everyone gathered and ready for Christmas celebrations as planned.
When we got there, we were greeted by a mournful sight. Women were in tears, wailing in Țiganeasca, the Romii language. Men walked around looking sullen and dejected. Teresa, the spiritual “mother” of the group, explained what happened. No one could tell us why, which was the question on all of our hearts, but at least we learned some of the details.
Matei, our Matei, Matei who was growing in Jesus and excited to be baptized, who had purchased a new suit to be baptized in, had gotten drunk Sunday and at about 6:30 pm, he and his wife Geta got into a fight outside the Mega Image grocery store near their house. Matei, who apparently has made it a habit to walk around carrying a 6-inch knife, pulled the knife out and violently slashed at his wife. Like a madman, he cut her arm, her back, her shoulder, and then slashed deep into her stomach and chest.
Teresa explained that Matei was quickly arrested and Geta brought to the hospital. By Monday night, news of Geta was bad. She had lost half her blood, her liver and internal organs were severely damaged, she was in serious pain, and she was completely unresponsive and unable to eat. She was in intensive care and doctors were keeping a close watch on her.
Teresa and Rita, who were filling in all the details for us, were pretty sure she wasn’t going to make it.
We all sat there, crammed into the kitchen, covered in sweat, mud, and snow from the walk, in complete shock. No one felt like eating the food we’d prepared. We didn’t even want to hand out the gift bags to the kids. We just sat there dumbfounded and confused, wondering how something so terrible could happen. And how could Matei be the one who did it? None of it made any sense.
All the kids were gathered, so we handed out gifts to them, and though they were really excited about the gift bags, it seemed so fake in the face of what had happened between Matei and Geta.
The rest of the night, we talked about what happened, we encouraged everyone with the Word of God as best we could, we prayed for Matei and Geta and their kids, and we prayed for each other, trusting that God would bring comfort and turn this dark situation into something light.
Things like this can drive you to question how God could possibly be alive and real, or they can bring you to the reality that, in this dark, dark world where people do stupid stuff that doesn’t make any sense, God Himself came to bring a light that would one day extinguish that darkness forever.
Isaiah 9:2 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
If bad things like this happen while a good, loving God watches over us, can you imagine how evil our world would be without Him?
Pray for Geta – her situation has improved by now (Tuesday night), but she is still in serious trouble physically and emotionally. Pray for Matei – we don’t know why he did what he did, but we want to see him repent and we want to see Jesus glorified in his life all the same. He’s looking at at least a few years in prison for what he did. Pray God protects him from hardening his heart and instead uses the time in prison to give him a soft heart toward Jesus. Pray for their kids, Matei, Maca, and Ștefan, caught in the middle of everything, facing an uncertain future. And pray for the families of Gypsies at Mihai Bravu, that God would use this to draw them closer to Jesus and soften their hearts to His love.
Way back here, I wrote about an experience we had with the singing of Romanian churches. It’s very funny, so if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
In America, we Christians have forgotten how to sing. We go to church, we listen to a rock-n-roll concert put on by professional musicians who are way better at singing than us so there’s obviously no point in even trying to sing. Besides, even if we did try, we’ve got the music cranked so loud that we’d never be able to hear ourselves anyway, so we’d never quite know if we were singing in key or not. Not that there’s any real reason to sing in key. Were Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Louis Armstrong, or Chuck Berry concerned about singing in key? I think not.
I’m joking of course, but I think, as a culture, we as Americans have mostly given up our ability to sing. We’re so used to being sung to and entertained that, on the whole, we don’t know how to sing well and we generally don’t care to try. Sure, there are groups where singing is a huge part of the community, but that seems more the exception than the rule.
Tonight, Jessie and I attended a Christmas production at Biserica Sfânta Treime (Holy Trinity Church). Our friend Daniel was singing in the choir and invited us to come for the show. And, yes, once again, we were reminded that Romanian churches know how to sing.
So for the next hour we sat, crammed into a pew next to a cheerful old Baptist woman with bad breath, mesmerized by the interwoven harmonies coming from this choir of some of the best singers in the world.
I really like rock-n-roll. I’ve always admired guys like Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes or Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou for writing and performing some incredible music despite their voices that wouldn’t make it on American Idol. I like the raw energy that sometimes comes with a growly, scratchy, straining voice. I like the passion and “realness” that can come from a less-than-perfect vocalist.
But as we sat mesmerized by the singing tonight, I couldn’t help but fall in love again with these people who really know how to use their voices. I know bad singers exist in Romania – I’ve heard some on the radio 😉 – but I’m pretty convinced that they’re not allowed into the churches. 🙂
Every year, Willow Creek Church from South Barrington, IL, hosts Global Leadership Summits all over the world for church and business leaders to learn practical Biblical and leadership training. I’m not sure how long they’ve been coming to Bucharest, but this year, I got to go for free as a volunteer.
I use the term “volunteer” very loosely because what my job entailed was the rather simple task of walking around and picking up any leftover garbage that didn’t make it into the garbage cans. Since most people threw their trash into its appropriate receptacles, I spent the majority of my time sitting in on the sessions, meeting people, talking to friends, and trying to look important.
I did happen to learn some Romanian slang. A Teen Challenge staff member informed me
prostitutes pimps are referred to as fish, or peşte in Romanian. Brings a whole new angle to the term “fishers of men.” Later, when I tried to say the plural for “pizza” (guessing it would be something akin to “pizzi”), I was met with a lot of laughs and learned that “pizza” doesn’t follow standard grammar rules. What I said is apparently a pretty harsh way to talk about an immoral, immodest woman. Important to know if you’re ever considering ordering more than one pizza at Domino’s.
Most of the speakers at the summit were really good, but of everyone we heard, I walked away wanting more of whatever Bill Hybels has been infected with. When he talks, you just want to love Jesus and tell others about Him. His favorite line was, “The local church is the hope of the world,” and when he says it, it’s more than a cool slogan – he means it. He gets tears in his eyes when he talks about the mandate of the church to bring hope and restoration to the world. He’s unabashedly evangelical. He’s a pastor, and he’s proud of it, because he knows, deep down inside of him, that the only real hope this world has is through the church. Governments, non-profits, businesses, schools, and hospitals can never be what the local church is meant to be in this world. The local church is the one vehicle God has chosen to bring hope and redemption to the world through His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
For all the fish and pizzas out there, there is hope. His name is Jesus, and He works through the local church.