In the Romanian language, there’s at least three words that refer to dogs. There’s the cute, little puppy that wouldn’t hurt anyone (câțeluș), then there’s the medium-sized dog that’s a little more impressive (câțel), and then there’s the caine, the big, ugly dog that could tear you to pieces.
Bucharest has all three types on its streets, lounging under parked cars, hiding behind garbage bins, sleeping in front of store entryways, chasing bicyclists down the street…
I used to like dogs alright, I even cried at All Dogs Go To Heaven when I was little, but then I moved here and got to weave through packs of them roaming the streets. That ended any sort of desire to ever buy an “I love my lhasa apso” bumper sticker.
Over summer, I was talking with a student, explaining that we don’t have packs of stray dogs on the streets in America. “What?” he asked, barely believing his ears, “then what do you do with strays?”
“Well, we catch them, lock them away, and usually kill them,” I answered matter-of-factly.
“And what about stray cats? With no dogs, surely the cats must be terrible!”
“Nope. No stray cats either. One or two here and there, but not like Bucharest.” The cats are bad here too, but they’re not as scary or as numerous as the dogs, so they don’t really bother me.
“Well what do you do with the cats that get on the streets?” he asked.
“We catch them, lock them away, and usually kill them too.”
“Wow,” he shook his head incredulously. “I don’t know about that.”
In all fairness, Bucharest seems to have way more dogs per square meter than any other city I’ve visited in Romania, and the dogs usually leave you alone, as long as you mind your own business. And, really, there’s only a few deaths every year from strays. It’s not like you’re walking through fields of landmines in Mozambique or something. In fact, up until recently, we’d been barked at but nothing more.
Well, a week ago, the dogs seemed to have noticed that they’d let us off easy, so they started getting more aggressive toward us.
One week, after passing out tracts near a mall, I noticed a dog that lay between me and the subway entrance. I started walking forward cautiously and suddenly, without warning, the dog barked viciously, jumped up, and ran at me, showing its sharp teeth.
I stood my ground for a second, hoping he was bluffing, but he kept running at me looking hungry for American food, so I turned and ran. I saw an overhanging tree branch on the nearest tree, so I jumped, planning on climbing up to safety. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a fast, so my grip was really weak. I fell back down to the ground, turned around, and saw the dog about 3 feet away and nearing fast.
Then just as quickly as he’d started chasing me, he stopped barking and ran as far away as he could go. Thank you, Jesus.
Apparently a memo went out that I had embarrassed him, because then a warrant went out on the rest of my family. A couple days later, Jessie and the kids were walking when a big dog, out of nowhere again, started chasing after them. Having no trees to climb, Jessie responded quickly. She pulled the kids behind her, stood her ground, pointed at the dog, and fiercely told it, “No. No.”
Apparently the dog understood English, because he then backed away and decided not to mess with Mama.
Well, today was rainy again, but I’ve been antsy to get out and see the city more, meet some people, etc. so I went on a long prayer walk (route pictured above). I did a fundraising event before leaving America, promising to prayer walk 1 km of Bucharest for every person who would support me at $10/month or more. Since 20 people signed up, I have to do a whopping 20 km of prayer walking.
We’ve probably done ten times that much walking, but we weren’t “officially” praying as we did it, so I didn’t count it toward our 20 km of prayer walks we have to do. We were, however, officially walking…
Anyway, today I did almost half my total promised – 9 km. I think we’ll end up doing way more than 20 km of prayer walking, because it went so quickly and it was a lot of fun to get out, try to get lost, and then try to find my way again.
While doing a lot of walking, praying, meeting people, exploring, learning the city’s transportation system, etc, God is giving us a real heart for this city. It’s confusing and difficult to think of how we’ll be able to communicate Jesus to these people who’ve heard it all and been through a lot more than we have, and sometimes it’s frustrating and intimidating when few people want to talk to us or even smile in our direction, or when someone yells something at us and we don’t know what they’re saying, but we’re growing to love this city and these people, and whether people receive us or reject us, hug us or hate us, they can’t take away this love that Jesus has put in our hearts.
It’s strange and disconcerting feeling like we don’t belong anywhere. This is Memorial Day in America, and while holidays have never meant much to me, now that we’re away and nobody here cares about remembering America’s great military-industrial complex, it’s become glaringly obvious that we don’t quite belong. We’re not Romanians, we can’t communicate very well, people keep switching to English so we can do simple things like even buying milk… and we’re not quite Americans either anymore. We’re at the end of the American candy we brought with us (now you know why we had 11 large suitcases!), I got rid of all our American money when we landed, and I’m almost done with our Puffs Plus tissues I brought along.
It’s a really weird feeling, being stuck between two worlds. I wonder if Jesus felt like this, when He gave up heaven and came to earth. America isn’t quite heaven, but I wonder if Jesus felt a sort of odd, constant alienation from the people around him. He could communicate well enough, but they would never really listen to what he said. And while they would get all hung up on politics or religious holidays or impressive buildings, Jesus knew his kingdom wasn’t off this world. Jesus hung out with sinners, invited Pharisees to dinner, invited himself to dinner, and definitely became a part of Jerusalem culture and society, but I wonder if, in the midst of that, he felt like he was still a stranger.
Thankfully, we’ve got some really great friends we’ve met here, people who really care about us (Filip and Missio Dei, the Boldeas, Jason the Canadian, George the Australian), and Susie is an ever-present ally in our home, and that helps us feel like we belong a lot more, but it’s not quite home yet.
I didn’t mean to go on that tangent. We’re really doing very good, but homesickness is hitting a little – I’d like some cheddar cheese, a real, juicy, burger, a Spotted Cow, no wild dogs following me, the rain to stop… Shoot, if just the rain stopped I’d be content. 🙂
Anyway, here’s a quick run-down of some of the more interesting events I encountered while prayer walking:
– I was followed by one wild dog for about a kilometer. At first it freaked me out, but then when I noticed he chased off other dogs who came close, I decided I’d let him stick around.
– I had a group of 5-6 dogs surround me at one point, but I told them that it was bad luck to eat an American and so they left me alone, probably went in search of a Canadian. Seriously, usually the dogs seem to ignore you if you just stay calm and keep walking without paying any attention to them.
– I came across a half-eaten dog carcass on the sidewalk. Needless to say, it was pretty gross. I didn’t take pictures. The only thing I can imagine would have eaten it would have been another dog. Sick cannibals. They’re barely human.
– One road was littered with hundreds of flyers for yet another “masaj erotic.” These guys are aggressive in their advertising – posters, flyers, newspaper and magazine ads… you can’t escape it.
– On a similar note, Gina Pistol is literally everywhere. Don’t Google her or you’ll regret it. When Playboy came to Romania, she was their first cover-girl. Now, she’s advertising underwear on the billboards of the city. Kind of like a pre-Christian Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43).
– So we’ve covered wild dogs and sexually-explicit advertising. Next up would be crazy driving. I can tell I’m getting used to the driving in this city (which, parenthetically speaking, doesn’t mean I’m ready to drive here, but just that I’m getting used to seeing it). Anyway, I thought it was funny today while on my prayer walk because a student driver came down a busy two-lane road in the middle of the lanes. My first thought was, “Whoa, he’s in the middle of the road,” followed quickly by, “just like everyone else does here.”
– To close on a positive note, it surprised me just how many people were out in the rain. No one was really hanging out, but tons of people were out walking around. In Milwaukee, no one goes out in the rain, except maybe students. Here, you’ve got no choice, so you grab an umbrella and a rain coat and you get out there and get wet. I kinda’ like that.
Well, it was a really good time praying for the city and letting God stir my heart to see this nation changed. I got soaked, especially after my umbrella was shredded by a gust of wind, but it was good to get out and pray.
Here’s some rainy photos for ya’ll:
It’s 10 pm and we’re sitting here in our living room, in 23-degree weather (Celsius, that’s about 73 in Fahrenheit), eating carrots from Belgium (which taste unexplainably good) and Pufeleţi, almost the only snack the Communists made in Romania for years. Pufeleţi are amazing. They look like those fat cheese puffs you can buy everywhere in America, but there’s no cheese on them, just a little bit of salt, and they’re airier and not at all greasy. When you pop one in your mouth, it just melts and dissolves. They’re really cheap (a huge bag is about $0.40), which is good, because they’re also really addictive.
I took Illiana to the grocery store today to pick up some water. Having to go out every day to get water is a little annoying, but that’s what everyone does in this city. Well, unless they install a water filter, or if they just don’t care. Since everyone we’ve met here buys bottled water, we figured we’d do the same too. The tap water is technically safe, but the levels of Chlorine and metal deposits from decaying pipes are at high enough levels that the government officially recommends only using it for washing. We’re not quite that radical about it – we use it for everything but drinking. Anyway, I got tired of walking to the store to buy water every day, so I decided to stock up today and get as much as I could carry back to our place. They were out of our favorite brand, Bucovina, which tastes amazing – almost sweet, really crisp and clear – so we had to pay a little extra ($1.25 for 5 liters) and get a different brand. It doesn’t taste as good, but I tell myself it must be better because we paid so much for it.
Oh, did I mention our washing machine now works? It wasn’t really broken – you just gotta know how to work it. You gotta squeeze something just so, spin it just like that, push these buttons in this order, and wait a bit, and then it works. So we did a ton of laundry today, all our stuff from the past 12 days I guess. Washing takes a while with these machines (they’re smaller and a lot slower, but gentler on clothes), and people don’t have dryers. The climate is pretty dry here, so everyone just hangs stuff on drying racks, clothes lines, balcony walls, and window sills. It works way better than I expected it to.
This stuff sounds really boring, and it is, but it’s kind of fun to figure it all out because it’s all different and requires us to think like Romanians a little bit more, which is all part of understanding the culture so we can see it transformed into the image of Jesus. We don’t want to come in as the high-and-mighty Americans here to tell the Romanians how to live and do things “right,” because obviously America hasn’t figured that one out yet. We want to come as brothers, understanding the culture, buying bottled water with everyone else, drying clothes like everyone else, riding the subway, living in an apartment Bloc, walking instead of driving, etc. You may think it’s a waste of time, but we’re planning on being here a while, not just blowing in and out like a short-term trip or an evangelistic ministry. We want to be a part of this city, know how it operates, understand the people, love them like Jesus, and bring the light of the Gospel. We’re not here to be an evangelistic ministry – we came to make disciples and plant a church. That takes time.
I hadn’t planned on going here, but I am anyway. One of the things I’ve been mulling over in my mind is the problem of raising a godly family in this city. The more I look at the cost of living here and the average salaries people make, I don’t know how it can be done. Biblically speaking, I think the best thing to do for a family is to have a husband who works (but not so much that he never sees his kids) and a wife who stays home to raise the kids, run the house, and do homeschooling. Here in Bucharest, most people work way too much for way too little. Things are expensive in this city, so most households are dual-income. The only way people have been able to survive is if both parents work and work a lot. Usually they leave early in the morning and don’t get home until 6 or 7 at night. How would it even be possible for a family to survive here the way we’ve been living in the States? There’s obviously an answer, but I don’t know it yet.
My point in bringing all this up is that we want to build something here that will change a nation, not just win a few people to the Lord. We’re not going to find answers to problems like the above if we never understand how a family lives in this city. And that’s just one issue going through my mind. I haven’t even brought up the challenges students and young people face, the abortion epidemic, street kids, prostitution, human trafficking, immorality, racism toward Gypsies, hatred of gays… I know the easy answer is to preach the Gospel and see people saved, because then God changes everything, and I believe that 100%, but Jesus didn’t just say to preach the Gospel to all creation but to disciple the nations. That takes time, building deep, getting to know the nation, and working out how the Kingdom of God looks in actuality, not just in theory.
OK, I don’t know if any of that made sense, but I needed to say it. I’ve got a lot going through my head right now. If you don’t understand what I’m trying to say, comment and I’ll clarify.
Just a few more notes before I wrap up tonight’s blog post. We took the girls to a playground today and got a chance to talk to a few people. Not all of them knew English, and our Romanian is still very poor, but it felt good to attempt to communicate anyway. One woman I was talking to noticed I was having trouble getting Isaac into a baby swing (all the playground equipment is different here), so she came over and helped me. Then when I wanted him out, I was having problems again, so without a word she just leaned over, scooped him up, and handed him to me. In America, people seem really nervous to help other people out. So far, in Romania, it seems opposite. People just offer help whether you asked for it or not. I love it. We’ve had a lot of random people just grab our kids, tell us which button to push to open the subway door, or force us to take the elevator instead of the stairs because we had so many kids.
Speaking of having so man kids, statistically speaking, most people in this city have only 1 kid. We’ve seen a few families with 2 kids, met one family with 3, but no one with more than that. So when we walk around as a family, we get a lot of attention. In case the curly blonde hair, the smiles, and the lighter skin don’t tip people off that we’re not from around here, the fact that we have 4 kids orbiting around us at all times helps. I don’t know where I was going with that… something really deep and insightful no doubt.
We ate dinner at the same roadside kiosk. We fed our entire family for about $11. And the food, again, was amazing. The same guys were working there again, so we got to talk to them a little bit more. We’re planning on going back as often as we can, to get to know the workers a little and then share the Gospel. The food is cheap and we really like it, so I think we can make that happen.
While walking around, I couldn’t help but notice that there are college-aged people everywhere. They’re hanging out by the metro, sitting in the grass, eating ice cream, walking through the park, shopping, drinking, eating, riding paddle boats… There’s tons of people in this city, but there really are packs of teens and twenty-somethings all over the place. We wanna see a move of God in this city among the college students and twenty-somethings. We wanna see a mass movement of students running to God and then rising up to bring the Gospel to the dark areas of this city and out into the rest of this nation and the world. Amen. It’s coming.
For those who decide to visit Bucharest, you’ll notice a lot of wild dogs all over the place. They’re mostly pretty lazy, but they’re everywhere, and they’re covered in fleas and diseases, so it’s not like you wanna run up to them and cuddle, you know? Each year, according to Filip, who sounds convincing, whether or not he’s right, 460,000 wild dogs are born and 390,000 die in Bucharest. That’s a lot of wild dogs making a whole lot more wild dogs. So there’s dogs everywhere, and usually they just leave you alone, but sometimes they get a little annoying – sometimes they kill people, but we haven’t experienced that yet, so I’m not going there.
We had two dog incidents today. Dog incident number one: while we were eating our dinner, a big stray dog started wandering closer and closer and then plopped itself right next to Jessie, Mae, and Isaac. It wouldn’t leave. I shooed it away but it just looked at me. I tried leading it away by offering food, but it wouldn’t have anything of it. So we gave in, let him have our spot, and got on the subway. Not too dangerous really, but Mae, who hates all dogs but the kind you stick on a bun with ketchup, was pretty freaked out.
Dog incident number two: while we were walking home, across the road, a pack of about 15 dogs formed up, all barking and biting each other, sounding real vicious. They were following a woman, who was looking really nervous, but then they switched tactics and ganged up on a guy, who picked up stones and threw them at the pack. Unfortunately for the woman, the dogs went back to their first tactic then and followed her. Apparently she didn’t have any stones to throw.
Well, I didn’t want to write so much today, but it’s hard for me to stop once I start…
P.S. I finally got our GPS fixed today, which means no more getting lost! Today was one of the first days in a while that we didn’t wander around lost and confused. Yeah! Victory! This will make prayer walking and evangelism much easier, so we can wander without worrying about never finding our way home again. I know we’d be able to ask directions well enough, but I’m just not so sure anyone would be able to tell us how to find our apartment. 🙂