The other day, me, Ben, Jason, and George headed over to one of our favorite places to do evangelism in Bucharest – Cismigiu Park. It’s a beautiful, quiet park in the middle of the busiest part of the city, and it’s almost always full of people relaxing, talking, and thinking about life. We’ve had a lot of fruitful times doing evangelism in Cismigiu, so it’s a lot of fun to head there.
It was George’s first time doing street evangelism, so he was a bit nervous but mostly really excited. He’s a new Christian, but God has already used him to bring at least 2 friends into the Kingdom, and he just wants to talk to all his friends, classmates, and coworkers about the Gospel all the time.
Ben and Jason only had one conversation the whole time we were out, with a young couple. They were very receptive, so they didn’t even have time to go talk to anyone else. As they described the conversation, though the guy didn’t say much, he was listening intently the whole time. The girl opened up early on, describing herself as, “Agnostic, but every time I think about eternity, I know I’m going to Hell, and that really scares me.” She was really open and it sounds like she’ll probably end up coming to church with us.
Things started out really differently for me and George. We approached a young man and woman sitting on a bench and asked if we could talk with them about Jesus. “Sure, why not?” the man said, then he began to lecture us about Romanian history. I brought it back to talking about what Jesus did for me, but then he stopped and asked, “Do you know about the tour bus? There is a bus that goes all through the city, and you can see all the famous museums and buildings, for only 15 lei! That’s a good price!” It was at this point that I decided our best option would be escape. “Hey, let me give you this,” I said as I handed him one of my tracts. “It talks about what God did in my life, how I came to know Him. Read it and it’ll change your life.” Then I quickly thanked him for talking with us and we got out of there to find someone who would actually listen.
As we walked around, we saw two young men smoking cigarettes and sitting on a bench. Looked like good people to talk to, so George and I went over.
“Do you speak English?” I asked.
“Hi, I’m Jake,” I said as I extended my hand, “and this is George. We’re Christians, we love Jesus, and we’re going around talking with people about God. Do you want to talk with us for a minute?”
“Oh, we’re Muslim,” they told us.
“That’s OK, Jesus loves Muslims too.”
Then we sat down and had a great time talking with the two young men, from Turkey but on a road trip throughout Europe. We talked about some of the differences between Islam and Christianity, we talked about Jesus being the only path to God, we talked about being forgiven and having the guilt of sin removed, etc.
After we talked for a while, an old man stopped right near us and began staring. He stared for a long time, stared some more, and then finally interrupted the conversation and asked, “Do you speak German?”
“No,” I told him.
“Aaaah, you look German.” Then he introduced himself as one of Romania’s great scientists and began to recount his entire life story and explain to me how he came to learn the German language while in school, then the French language, and later, by accident, he learned Italian, and, because the Russians came in, he was forced to learn Russian and became fluent in that as well until, finally, he learned English as an old man. And now he was almost 85 and as he passed by he thought I looked German and was excited to try out his ancient German skills on me.
While he was talking, I kept thinking, first, “What is he talking about?” and, second, “How can I get back to talking with these two young men? I want to tell them more about Jesus.”
Well, God had different plans, and apparently they included me not saying anything else. I ended up walking away and talking with the old man, who turned out to be an aerospace engineering scientist who lectured all over Europe and the United States. At least he told me he was. Meanwhile, that allowed George to continue our conversation with the two young men.
Finally, after discussing language studies and scientific principles, the old scientist stopped talking, I realized we had to go, and George and I prayed for the young men and headed out of the park.
Please pray for Halil and Emre, that God would protect them and lead them toward Himself, and pray that George and I would continue to be good witnesses to them. We exchanged contact info and I hope we can continue our friendship. To be honest, I’m not looking for “converts.” I love Muslims and want to see them restored to God, and the only way anyone can be restored is through the blood of Jesus.
Today, we kicked boredom in the butt and just had some fun. We took some wise advice (thanks Michael) and just got into the city to have fun, see some sights, talk to some people, and see what makes Bucharest tick.
First, we let Susie take care of the kids while Jessie and I took a good long walk. We walked about 5 km from our apartment to Palatul Parlamentului (Palace of the Parliament), listed according to some as the second largest building in the world, right behind the Pentagon. Technically speaking, one of Boeing’s factories is bigger (makes sense, right?), as are a number of other similar buildings, but I guess they don’t count.
Either way, Palatul Paramentului is huge. We wanted to get close, but since yesterday they had 30,000 extra soccer fans in the area, it was all sanctioned off. We did snap this photo:
And right across the street is Parcul Izvor (Spring Park), which has a huge play area for kids, outdoor exercise equipment, tons of open space to lounge around in, and a bunch of nice, shady trees. We found a good-looking tree and sat down for a while, enjoying the quiet and serenity of the park in the midst of 3 million busy city-dwellers. The park was pretty packed with people hanging out, mostly in their teens and twenties, but it’s crazy how peaceful and remote it felt.
Here’s a shot of the playground – the kids are so excited to check it out:
After lounging around for a bit, we decided to check out nearby Cismigiu Park, one of Bucharest’s largest and most beautiful parks. The park, again, was packed with people – old guys playing chess and backgammon, young couples walking hand-in-hand, moms playing with their kids, college students studying for classes, businessmen conducting meetings… It’s like a whole little magical world inside a big city. It smells like a state park, there’s giant old trees everywhere, there’s a lake and a canal with boaters quietly uh… boating along. There’s even a really awesome, creatively-designed playground and an old-school carnival. Just adds to the magical feel of the place.
After the park, we started heading back, got lost for a while (nothing makes sense about this city), and ordered fast-food at a roadside kiosk. I got a soda, a big thing of fries, and a huge “hamburger” for $3, and Jessie got a giant chicken shaorma wrap and a lemonade for about $2.50. My “hamburger” is in quotations because it wasn’t really a hamburger. It tasted great, but it wasn’t a hamburger. It was a mushed-up meat and veggie patty that tasted like a bowl of chilli, with toppings of ketchup, corn, cucumbers, and two types of cabbage. It wasn’t a hamburger, but it was really good. And the bun was simply amazing.
Well, we finished our explorations by buying a couple of unlimited monthly subway passes (for under $15 each), taking the subway back toward our apartment, getting lost again, and finally coming home to a bunch of happy kids.
I was tired when we finally got home, but I wanted to do something special with the girls, so I took them out to buy groceries and more water (they really like the experience), and we stopped at a small shop to get ice cream (îngheţată) and played on a really ghetto playground near our house. It’s super small and, like many things in Bucharest, is covered in graffiti and has piles of trash scattered around. Kind of like Milwaukee was.
So today I learned Romanians don’t have the same concept of time as we do in America. In America, you don’t call people after 9pm unless you’re in college, and you definitely don’t come to their house that late. In Romania, it doesn’t matter. Our landlord, Marian, stopped by at 10:30 this evening to check up on us. He’s really an awesome guy, and every time he comes, we feel really happy. Tonight, he came with his wife Monica, his son Aleksander (spellings may be wrong), and their tiny little miniature schnauzer Maia. They speak very little English, and our Romanian is equally bad, so we have a fun time communicating with each other through mime, Google Translate, and broken phrases. He changed out some lightbulbs, brought us a brand-new mop and bucket, fixed the washing machine, and explained that he took care of our crabby neighbor for us. Basically, in as best we could understand, the neighbor is crazy, so Marian recommended not talking to him. Problem fixed. 🙂
While Marian was over, our Chinese neighbor Lai popped out and I found out he speaks fluent Romanian. He and Marian talked for a while and then Lai told me, “Marian is a good man. He is very good.” And then, “Remember, if you need anything, you just knock and I am here. This is a strange place.” Then he was gone.
I love these people!
Before Marian and his family left, Marian asked us, “You… from… England?” “Nu, nu, Statele Unite,” we told him. His eyes light up, “Oh, Americans! Yes! Good. Oraş?” He was asking what city we were from. “Milwaukee, linga Chicago… Milwaukee Brewers… baseball!” “Yes, good! I know.” He’s the second person we’ve met here who knows of the Brewers. One guy, Razvan from the electronics store, watches them religiously.
Well, today I learned a lot. We experienced some of the fun of Bucharest, we learned how to ask for ice cream really well, we found some of the places where people go to chill and relax, we tried out the subway, we discovered some great places for our kids, and, most importantly, I remembered how much I love this country and these people. We’re going to be doing a lot more exploring and wandering and praying. I need it – it opens my eyes to how God feels about this place, and it gets me out there where the people are working and resting and having fun.
OK, two funny stories before I close. I’d heard some statements from guidebooks that Romanians are inherently terrible at giving directions. This is probably partly because 1) their cities don’t make any sense, and 2) roads are rarely labeled with street signs. However, even given these handicaps, today I found out just how bad they are. No Romanians we talked to could help us find where we were going. Even when there was a giant map on a wall that we were all looking at, the Romanian guy sent us the wrong way. He was really, really nice and seemed very concerned that we were lost, but ultimately his directions sent us exactly opposite of where we were going. If our GPS was working, this wouldn’t be such an issue, but it’s having problems with all the tall apartment buildings around. Where is Tyler Marenes when you need him?
Second funny story. Outside the grocery store, there’s a lane of taxis, then a median in the road, then a lane of traffic coming one way, then another median, then some train tracks for the tramvai (trolley), then another median, then a final lane of traffic coming the other way. It’s pretty busy and chaotic and we’ve almost been run over by both cars and tramvaii a few times. Anyway, when the girls and I were waiting in the first median, right before the lane of traffic, this bent up old woman decided she’d had enough waiting, so she just walked out into traffic in front of a car, forcing it to stop. She stared down the driver, waved her cane at him, and then slowly edged out to stop another lane of traffic. She managed to stop all three lanes of traffic by pointing her cane, giving drivers the evil eye, and wandering back and forth between lanes erratically. It was quite an impressive feat, and not once was I worried for her. She clearly had it under control the whole time. Finally, after she stopped all the lanes of traffic, she crossed, just in time for the light to turn red anyway.
Only in Romania. 🙂