Wow, it has been a really long time since we’ve made any posts here, but it’s about time we get back to it. Today’s post is mostly a collection of videos. Our church, Biserica Piatra Vie (Living Stone Church), supports a missionary to the city of Bucharest, who shares the gospel, passes out gospel tracts, and simply spreads the good news about Jesus and the gospel around town. His name is Daniel, and just a few months ago, he married Maria. They’ve been living in a tiny room in his mother’s home, but there is not hot water or a kitchen, and the bathroom is outside (it gets cold here in winter in Romania).
God put it on our hearts to help them, but we weren’t sure how. Not being able to find an affordable place for them to live, Jake got the idea to use one of the popular online fundraising websites to raise money for Daniel and Maria to build themselves a home. Daniel used to work in construction in Finland, so he had plans all ready and only needed money to buy materials and hire his brother to help him.
Well, after only a few weeks of the fundraiser going live, the money was raised, and immediately Daniel and his brother Marian got to work. Jake has helped a bit, and he’s gotten some great clips of the work being done so far. Check them out below. While you’re at it, pray for Daniel. Pray that God would continue to bless his evangelism in Bucharest. He’s gotten to talk to so many people about Jesus and been able to follow up with several who want to know more, and we want to see God multiply this fruit and see a big harvest reaped for His glory right here in Bucharest!
Here’s the link to the Crowdrise page about Daniel and Maria’s home: A Home for Daniel and Maria
Last week, I received a really unusual call. I had been frustrated about doing a lot of evangelism, developing relationships, meeting people, etc. but so little of it has led to noticeable, lasting fruit yet. People have been willing to talk with us about God and even meet up a couple times, but it’s been difficult to build strong, lasting relationships with people centered around the Gospel. Our prayer has been for disciples, followers of Jesus, fruit that remains, to the glory of the Father.
So last week, my phone started to ring. I looked down at the number, which came up as “Alex Unirii.” When I meet people, I try to put their name and number in my phone with something that I can remember them by, because in Romania there are so many similar names and I already have a hard time remembering everything. So I have an “Alex Street Preacher,” a “George Australia,” a “Kaze Elim Church,” an “Andreea British Accent,” and an “Alex Unirii,” among others.
“Alex Unirii…” I thought to myself. “It can’t be… That’d be crazy…”
So I answered assuming that it wasn’t Alex who I had met at Unirii, because I never expected him to call. “Hello?”
“Hello, this is Alex. We met at Piaţa Unirii last year. Do you remember me?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said, remembering the odd series of events that had led to our meeting.
“I owe you a cup of coffee, don’t I? I want to talk more about this stuff you were telling me about, about Jesus and churches.”
And so we decided to get together in a few days.
That’s nuts, I thought as I hung up the phone, wondering at the amazing God we serve. Last year, when we moved to Romania, our friend Susie, who we affectionately called “Grandma Susie,” came with us for our first month, to help watch the kids as we got situated, learned about the city, and figured out what we were doing.
On her last Sunday with us, we took a cab to visit Missio Dei church, which was meeting a short walk from Piaţa Unirii. For some reason, the roads around the piaţa were all blocked, and our taxi driver refused to find a way around, preferring instead to drop us off on the side of the busy plaza.
We knew the general direction the church was located in, so we started walking that way, planning to figure things out eventually. It was a really hot day, painfully hot. I think we all lost a few pounds of sweat as we walked, and Susie started to feel really weak. In the middle of the piaţa, we saw a tent with people giving out cups of cool water.
“I need some water,” Susie gasped, so we walked over.
Susie was funny because she unashamedly spoke English to everyone she met in Bucharest. “Thank you so much, young man. God bless you for this water,” she told the young guy who handed her a cup.
“You speak English.” he noted, and then, like most Romanians we meet, he asked the obvious question, “What are you doing in Bucharest?”
I don’t remember exactly how Susie responded, because I was preoccupied trying to figure out how to get us all to the church, but it was something like, “This young man and his wife moved here to tell people about Jesus, and I came to help watch their kids for a month. I’m leaving soon, but they’ll be here for a long time. You should meet up and hear more about Jesus.”
Alex, the young man, my “Alex Unirii,” explained he was interested and would love to know more, so we exchanged numbers and I promised to give him a call.
Well, over the next 3 months, I called him about 10 times, he answered a few of those times, but we never were able to get together, so then I just stopped calling, figuring he wasn’t interested.
And now here he was, almost a year later, calling me out of the blue like this.
God, this is crazy. Only You would do something like this, I thought to myself, excited to see what He would do.
Well, last night, I got together with him and his fiancée, I shared the Gospel, I told Him my testimony, we talked about life, food, plans for the future, the church, and, of course, the beautiful Romanian countryside. Alex shared how he really wanted to follow Jesus, and he really liked the idea of the church, but everything he saw in the church seemed so different than what it should be. People seemed so concerned about buildings, money, and stuff that didn’t matter, rather than just following Jesus. We agreed that things shouldn’t be that way.
“I want to help you,” he kept saying. “Right now, I need to find a job, but I want to help you any way I can. Money, translation, showing you around, anything. I want to help.”
After almost three hours that passed as quickly as 15 minutes, I felt like I had just met our Romanian counterparts, two people who I felt closer to than made natural sense. We come from different worlds, we barely know each other, they’re just beginning to search for God, but He began knitting our hearts together last night, and I’m excited to see where He takes things from here. To start with, Alex and I plan to get together once a week to go through the Gospel of John together and talk about what it looks like to follow Jesus, so pray that God leads him into a real relationship with Himself in the process.
Before we parted, I prayed that God would guide them, protect them, and continue to work in their lives. When I got done praying, Alex shook my hand and told me, “Thank you for showing us the path,” and I left, in awe of our all-powerful God who can draw people to Himself even through a cup of water on a hot day almost a year ago.
And that, my friends, is evangelism, Grandma Susie style.
Since moving to Romania, we’ve been praying nearly every day, “Lord, send us those who have a similar heart to us. Send us those willing to reach this city for You. Send us people not afraid to reach Gypsies, the homeless, street kids, college students, young families, or whoever God sends our way. Send us those who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty!” And God has been sending people to us.
A few months ago, we met Robert when we were visiting a big church in town. We instantly connected because Robert has a heart for the homeless and wants to do something to reach them for Jesus, and we have a heart for everyone, so we were a good match. 🙂
We’ve gone out a couple times delivering food to the homeless, but I think we’ve come up with a simple plan that’ll be really fun to keep doing consistently.
Near where Robert lives, there is a nondescript building that you would easily walk right past without thinking anything of it. Tucked in the midst of some ancient trees and an overgrown lot is an old building that serves as the base of an organization that exists to assist the homeless. On a rotating basis, the building is used as a clinic, a classroom, a counseling office, an art studio for the homeless, and, what drew our interest, a free bathroom and launderette.
Every Monday, the facility opens its doors for the homeless to come and wash their clothes, shave their 7-day-old five o’clock shadows, get a hot shower, and walk out feeling new.
“People are there all day long,” Robert told me, “so it would be a great place to give away some food.”
Homeless ministry is tough. People sometimes take advantage of you, they take your help for granted, they don’t want to change, etc. So I went in this past Monday morning with a thick hide on me.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Overall, we handed out about 10 liters of hot pasta and about 30 tracts to the homeless men and women who gathered, and everyone seemed genuinely excited and blessed to have a couple young guys surprise them with a free meal. No one scowled at us, and almost everyone’s face lit up as soon as we told them we had some homemade hot pasta. Romanians (especially in Bucharest) don’t smile for no reason like we do in America. If a Romanian smiles, you know they’re really happy. Whenever we handed out a plate of food and a tract, we told them, “Mâncare pentru stomac şi mâncare pentru suflet.” Food for your stomach and food for your soul.
My favorite moment was when an old man with crippled hands approached us gingerly and asked for food. As he ate, he told us about his previous experiences in church. After his first plate, he still looked hungry, so we asked if he wanted more. “Da,” he said shyly, so we piled on another portion. This time, as he ate, he told us, “You can pray for me when I’m done eating.” We felt honored, and we prayed with all our hearts for this man who Jesus loved so much.
I also loved the guy who came bouncing over to us, shyly asking if he could have another helping, throwing in, “This is really good. I like it a lot.” That’s Kaufland’s cheap macaroni noodles and spaghetti sauce for you.
My least favorite moment was when we ran out of food. I had carried all the pasta I could possibly bring on the subway, filling our biggest stock pot with a ludicrous amount of spaghetti, but it wasn’t enough. We scooped out platefuls of spaghetti for just over an hour, providing one warm meal to 26 hungry men and women, but it barely made a dent. Streams of people would keep coming by all day, long after we were gone, and that itself was just a small portion of the over 5,000 homeless living on the streets and in the parks and sewers of Bucharest.
Just as we finished scooping out the last of the pasta, an old man walked over. “Do you have any more?” he asked. “No,” we apologized, “we just ran out. I’m sorry.” He walked away disappointed but understanding.
Afterward, we met with the director of the nonprofit, learning more about homelessness in the city. She’s been working with the homeless for 16 years, so she knows a little about their situation here. Though the situation is varied, most of the homeless here are a result of economic problems, most tracing their woes back to the fall of Communism.
Communism was bad for Romania, but it did provide a job and a home for all. When the revolution happened, factories closed, people lost their jobs, bills went unpaid, and families fell apart through divorce and separation. Countless men and women ended up on the streets with nowhere else to turn.
With the recent economic crises worldwide, homelessness has been increasing in the city.
While we were discussing things, the director mentioned, “We’ve got to understand this problem is our responsibility. No one else is going to fix it. That is what is so hard to get people to understand.” When she first started helping the homeless in Bucharest, very few people wanted to help. Now, slowly, people are beginning to take responsibility for changing things, seeing the need to do something to help.
Unfortunately, the situation is pretty much the same in most churches, Orthodox, evangelical, or otherwise. Many homeless complain of getting kicked out of churches, even if they’re going honestly and not to beg. I’ve experienced both sides of it. I’ve been at churches where homeless street kids have snuck in and gone from one person to the next during an altar call, trying to scrounge up a few lei. But we’ve also had some good friends, who aren’t homeless but look it, kicked out of a church because they didn’t dress nicely enough. Both situations make you feel sick inside.
After our conversation, Robert and I were interviewed by a Bucharest newspaper about what we were doing there. The interview lasted about an hour, and at one point, I was asked, “Why are you doing this?”
I thought for a minute and answered, “Honestly, the reason I’m out here is because Jesus said to be out here. He told us to love the poor, to give generously, and to treat others as we’d want to be treated.” I recounted the story Jesus tells in Matthew 25:31-46, about those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, and clothed the naked. He tells them, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Ultimately, God’s heart is not Communism, a forced equality where some are more equal than others, to borrow from Animal Farm, but He does expect us to take responsibility for the hurting, the poor, the hungry, and the naked in our lives, bringing healing, help, food, and clothing.
And, most importantly, bringing the message of Jesus.
Robert and I plan to keep going every Monday morning to bring plates of food, but ultimately, our prayer is to get a Bible study going for these guys. If they’re not comfortable (or welcomed) at churches, then we’ll just bring church to them.
Pray for God to use us, not just to alleviate a little hunger, but to bring the Bread of Life that satisfies every craving, the Water that never runs dry. And pray for the other 4,974 homeless in Bucharest who we didn’t get to meet this past Monday.
1 Corinthians 1:21 states, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.” (Good ol’ KJV)
In context, I think Paul is referring here to the content of our preaching being seen as foolishness in the eyes of the world, not the mere fact that we’re preaching it, but street preachers the world over have used this verse to explain why they preach open-air, even though it seems offensive, foolish, annoying, or old-fashioned… and in that vein, I will use it too. 🙂
I get it that not everyone reading this will preach open-air, and probably a lot of you are even offended by the mere thought of it. I used to be just like you, so don’t worry, I’m not gonna get offended if you don’t wanna jump up on a street corner and start shouting about Jesus. But regardless of your persuasion, I enjoy it, and street preaching has never been classy or high-brow in the eyes of the world. It has, however, been one of the main ways the Gospel has spread, throughout history and the Bible. If you read the Bible without judging it through your modern perspective, I think you’ll have a hard time finding a method of spreading the Gospel that is more prevalent than open-air preaching.
- Proverbs 1:20 – “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice…”
- Judges 9:7 – “When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them…”
- Jeremiah 11:6 – “And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem…”
- Isaiah 29:21 – “…lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate…”
- Matthew 3:1 – “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea…”
- Luke 16:7 – “And [Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people…”
- Acts 2:14 – “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem…”
- Acts 17:17 – “So [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”
- Acts 17:22 – “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said…”
Charles Spurgeon once said, “It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors, or in unusual places.”
George Whitefield said, “I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields.” and “I now preach to ten times more people than I should, if had been confined to the Churches.”
John Wesley wrote in his journal once, “I preached on the green at Bedminster. I am apt to think many of the hearers scarcely ever heard a Methodist before, or perhaps any other preacher. What but field-preaching could reach these poor sinners? And are not their souls also precious in the sight of God?”
Anyway, our friend Alex Grigorescu invited us to join him in some street preaching near Piata Obor last week. I was excited to go, hearing horror stories from other ministers here of the dangers of street preaching. I overheard one seasoned missionary saying, like a salty old sailor talking about the whale that got the best of him, “If you wanna prove your stuff, just get out on the streets and do some preaching. You’ll find out what you’re made of real quick.” Others told me stories of having angry dogs let loose on them, boxes of knives thrown at them, and the usual rude comments and angry gestures. Needless to say, I was excited.
Well, to skip to the end of the story, it was a lot more mild of an experience than I expected. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I honestly was hoping for more anger, demonic manifestations, and fits. A riot would have been really nice. 🙂 Half joking. Though I have always liked Acts 17:6 – “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…”
We did get a few people shouting, “Go back home!” “We’re all Christians here!” “I was born Orthodox and I’ll die Orthodox!” and some Romanian phrases I haven’t learned yet, probably because they’re a little more vulgar. Most people just ignored us, a lot looked quietly mad, a few shouted at us, and a handful were really open to the message.
Overall, it was an OK experience. I’ve had times of street preaching that were a lot better and times that were a lot worse. I honestly felt like I didn’t make a whole lot of sense at times, but some people were genuinely interested in hearing us preaching.
My favorite moment was when I passed a tract to a young man from Sweden who quickly asked in English, “What’s this?”
Let me preface what follows by saying I normally answer more intelligently than I did on this occasion, but for some reason everything got jumbled in my head and came out kinda’ mixed up.
Hear me out as I offer some lame excuses. I wasn’t expecting someone to talk to me in English, so all I had in my head were Romanian phrases I had been reciting silently to myself. Besides, I didn’t know how much English this guy spoke, so I was trying to think through what words he would be familiar with. On top of that, I figured he was Romanian, and Orthodox, so I was trying to answer in a way that was sensitive to his cultural background and wouldn’t just instantly make him closed to the Gospel. It was really noisy and people were everywhere, shouting, talking, running, and it made it hard to think straight. I was cold and my brain wasn’t working so well. All these factors combined to clog my thoughts and trip up what I was trying to say. At least, that’s the story I’m sticking with. 🙂
Regardless, I include this here first for your amusement, second for your instruction on what not to say, and third for your encouragement. If God can use this, He can probably use you.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Uh, well, it’s the message of the Gospel,” I answered, feeling a little like Ned Flanders.
“What’s that mean?” he asked.
“Umh…” and this is where things got really stupid as I tried to explain the Gospel in a way that Orthodox Believers could grab ahold of without just ignoring it as “not Orthodoxy.” So I sputtered out something like, “It’s about Jesus, that He died for us… There’s Hell, and it’s real, and we all deserve it.” I don’t think I succeeded in explaining the Gospel in a way anybody could grab ahold of.
“I don’t want to go to Hell,” he said somberly.
“No, that’s good. I mean bad, Hell is bad, but it’s good you don’t want to go.”
“What do I have to do?” he asked.
“Just tell Jesus you want to live for Him, that you’re sorry for the sin in your life. And live for Him,” I explained poorly, resorting to Christianese and bumper-sticker slogans.
“It’s that easy?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
After asking if we were Mormons (boy do I get tired of this question!), he had to run, but he gave me his phone number and said he wanted to get together and talk more about following Jesus.
Please pray for this Swedish college student, that God would continue to speak to him and lead him into a relationship with Himself through Jesus. And pray for me to make a little more sense next time! 🙂
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.
Every week we visit the drug addicts at Vasilica’s, we never know who’s gonna be there or what they’re gonna say. A few weeks ago, we walked in and were surprised to see a young, well-dressed, bright-eyed man in his 20s. He stood out from the normal wild-eyed street junkies that we normally find there.
And then he spoke in fluent English, something that threw us for even more of a surprise.
Stefan (not his real name) introduced himself and explained his history with heroin addiction. He had been on heroin since he was a teenager, and though he had tried to quit a number of times, he kept returning to it and just couldn’t break free. He then launched into a tirade about how things are hard in Romania, that life is better everywhere else, that if it weren’t for the government or his parents or his friends or his bosses, his life would be good. “God is unjust and doesn’t care,” he concluded. “God has made these problems for us.”
“Well,” I stopped him, “the problem is not God’s fault, it’s ours, it’s the sin we give ourselves to. Until you take responsibility for your own rebellion against God, nothing is going to change. God didn’t create the world with evil, but we continue to allow evil to win, first in our own hearts and then in our families, our cities, and our world. You’re so busy pointing at everyone who’s wronged you, but meanwhile you’ve taken the life God gave you, and you’ve given it to drugs and selfishness. You’re the one to blame for the problems in our world, not God.”
“Me?” he gasped. “What have I done? I’ve done nothing!”
“Yes, you,” I continued. “God created you to bring peace and love and healing to this world, but you’ve abandoned Him and instead given yourself to selfishness and rebellion.”
“Oh, because I’m a junkie, huh?” he asked.
“No, I’m not just talking about the drugs, but everything. For you, it’s drugs. For me, it was hatred and lust in my heart.” Then I shared my testimony with him, about how God convicted me of sin, forgave me, and set me free from anger, lust, and addiction to pornography. “We’ve all rebelled against God. Though He intended for us to bring good to the world, we bring evil. So if you see evil, it’s your fault for not repenting and turning away from it.”
Then he asked me more about what God was like, and I explained to him that, unlike the picture we often have of a stern father ready to pounce on us, God is loving and kind, merciful and compassionate, waiting for us to repent and run to Him to be forgiven.
“Is your father alive?” I asked him.
“Yeah, and he’s a great father. He doesn’t like what I do, but he understands. He lets me do the drugs and doesn’t say much.”
“Well, God is the best father ever,” I explained. “He’s a father who understands us perfectly and constantly gives us everything we need. He’s got the best in store for us. Yet we’ve taken a look at what He has for us and told Him, ‘I don’t want that. I want to do my own thing.’ Time and again, we disrespect our father, even though He’s so good, way better than any earthly father.”
“You would never dishonor your own father, right?”
“No,” he answered, listening intently.
“But you’ve dishonored God. You’d never tell your own father, ‘Get lost, Dad. I don’t care what you want,’ yet that’s exactly what you do to God. He died for you, but you don’t even care.”
In all, we talked for about 45 minutes, most of the time focusing on how God is a good father we’d never want to dishonor. Then we prayed together, that God would reveal Himself to Stefan as the good, loving Father He really is.
After he left, Vasilica, who didn’t understand anything Stefan and I were talking about, told us some of his background. She knows all the junkies in her “parish” very well, and prays for them constantly.
Listening to Vasilica, it became clear that God had set up this encounter on purpose. “His parents are politicians,” she explained, “high up in the government.” She told us what offices they held, but I won’t put it here out of respect for confidentiality. “He comes here often, but they’re embarrassed by him. There’s a clinic where he can go to break the heroin addiction, and he really wants to go because he’s tired of the drugs, but they won’t let him register because they’re too ashamed. They don’t want anyone to know they’re son is a heroin junky. He could get help, he could get medication to make withdrawals easier, but they’re just too concerned with their own reputations.” Essentially, his parents were willing to sacrifice their son to maintain their images.
“But he loves them so much,” Vasilica went on. “He would never dishonor his father, so he respects their desires and stays away from the clinics.” Like a good son who wouldn’t dream of bringing hurt or dishonor to his earthly father, Stefan stayed away from those who could help him kick the heroin, so he wouldn’t shame his family.
The reality is that Stefan doesn’t really want to be free yet. I don’t doubt that his parents are resisting his attempts to get help, but if he really wanted to be free, he would be. He’s not at Vasilica’s every time we visit, but when he is, he doesn’t looked good. Pray that God stirs a holy hunger for freedom inside him, a fire that won’t let up until he’s completely freed from the addiction, a fire that’ll burn even without access to clinics, medications, or programs. And pray his parents wake up and get their son some help.
I realized tonight that it has been a month and a half since I last wrote anything for the blog and all my ideas for posts are quickly becoming outdated. Since Jake recently shared about some ministry we did over the holidays, I thought I would throw in one more experience.
While Christmas shopping with our family at Cora, which is comparable to Target in the States, Mae, Isaac, and I happened to be looking at a Play-doh display in the store when a young woman walks up and starts speaking to us quickly in Romanian about the things in the display. When I stop her and explain that I don’t speak Romanian well, she switches to English and explains that she’s there as a representative of Hasbro to answer people’s questions about all the new Play-doh products this year.
But, since I had no life-shattering questions about this expensive moldable plastic, she was full of questions about America, where we came from, what it was like there, why was I in Romania, what do I think about Romania and Romanians, etc. (Side note: almost every Romanian I meet asks me what I think of Romania, with a sense of earnestly desiring to know my opinion.)
I answered her questions, and she kept asking me more because she said she loved my accent (who knew American English could sound interesting to anyone?), and she would ask Mae lots of questions, because she loved hearing her cute little girl voice. Finally, she got to asking about what our family was doing in Romania. After explaining that we were Christians and that we wanted to tell people about Jesus, she asked me something like, “So, Christianity…is that like Orthodox or what is it?” I was a little taken aback, because most people here know quite a bit about Romanian Orthodoxy, but she didn’t really even know what that was about beyond the name, and she asked as if she’d never heard of Christianity before.
I felt this love of God for her in my heart, because she didn’t know about the love of Jesus and all that He came to do for her, so I briefly explained about Jesus and how He’s not just a religion but someone you could know. She seemed interested, but then other customers kept coming over asking her questions and interrupting, so she needed to get back to work. I offered to get together with her again, answer any more questions, let her practice English, whatever. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from her again, but I was encouraged that God can take whatever seeds we sow, and He can water them and grow them in people. I pray for her still; her name is Mihaela, and I am excited that God can draw people to us wherever we are, even shopping at a department store.
God is changing lives here in Romania. I’d like say it’s all because of us, but very little of it is. We’re doing good work, I think, but the reality is that we’re a very small part of things that God has been doing for a long time and will continue doing with or without us. There is a growing hunger among the younger generation for something that is deeper and more real than they’ve experienced in the past. While many are still satisfied with dead religion, going through the motions, the party lifestyle, or pursuing material gains and educational achievements, there are many who are opening their eyes to the true life Jesus offers.
We’ve met a number of young people in their teens and twenties who have given their lives to Jesus, some very recently, and are shining brightly as lights for Him. I asked a few of them to share their stories on the blog over the next few weeks, because God is changing lives here, and I know you’ll all be excited to read some of what He’s been doing.
So this is Cristiana. She’s a member of Missio Dei Church, has become a really great friend of ours and the kids, became a Christian about 6 years ago, and loves Jesus with all she has. And here is her story.
>> Can you briefly describe the process God used to bring you to Himself? Specifically, what were you like before you knew God, what did He do to lead you toward Him, and how has life changed now?
My story actually started at the beginning of high school when I think I was about 15 years old when I met Gabriela. It makes me laugh now, but then there was a strange feeling we both felt that we knew each other and for the following 2 months we tried to figure out why we felt this. It’s been a mystery until now, but it proved to be the ‘triggering’ factor of a heavenly friendship that changed my life forever.
I was raised in a family with a strong orthodox background; I used to be a church-goer since I was a kid, learning by heart a lot of prayers and trying to do as many good deeds as possible, hoping God would find me good enough at the Judgment Day and accept me in Heaven. There were nights when I would just speak freely to God about my feelings and concerns without truly knowing the God who loved me so much and wanted me to know His tender heart and what He did for me. It’s like I was sensing there must be something more to Christianity than just what I was taught.
I started to talk to Gabriela about Christianity and soon she realized I really wanted to know more. She told me about Jesus, the Cross, my sins, forgiveness etc. I crumbled on my knees in April (about just 6-7 months later) telling God I had no idea what He wanted from me, but that He could have His way with me. We started to read the Bible and I recall becoming more and more in love with Jesus, and maybe the most obvious fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life was the abundance of JOY that I was experiencing!!!
Before knowing Jesus I was just an ordinary kid, believing in an impersonal God that would strike me someday for not being good enough, believing a guy or a successful career would make her ‘whole.’ I was a girl who was very ambitious, with a strong character and extremely determined to become ‘someone’ someday.
Praise God I was given a new identity, a new life, a new reason to live and breathe and wake up in the morning! I received newness of life from Jesus! I’m not pursuing the things I used to pursue anymore as I am head over heels in love with my Jesus and I know He is the only One that can fill me.
>> Of everything God used in the process of bringing you to Himself, what do you think was the most important factor?
The most important ‘factor’ was Gabriela. She really loved me and accepted me just the way I was. Her love and tenderness changed my heart and made me question what was different about her. She simply lived out the Gospel when she was with me. She shared life with me, she would give up things for me, and she would be by my side even if everyone was against me. Gabriela showed me how Jesus was like by the way she related to me. Jesus is tender and full of love and never leaves our side, even if all are against us, even if we want to give up ourselves, He never give up on us. This is LOVE- the Love of my life
>> What part of you would you say God has changed the most since you’ve become born-again?
The part that God changed the most since I’ve become born-again is my personality. I used to be very impulsive (and stubborn) especially if something unjust was happening around me or to someone I deeply cared for. To give you a funny example, Gabriela took a not so excellent mark in a subject, and she was crying because the professor was very subjective when putting marks and he also had a reputation for being really harsh — everyone was kind of scared of him. But when I saw my friend crying, I rushed to his desk with her paper in my hands demanding in a strong voice that he change Gabriela’s mark because I believed he was mistaken, arguing with him for 20 minutes. I was very brave but in a wrong way.
I’ve seen a lot of progress here, but I still have to grow and resemble Jesus even more accurately.
>> What was your perception of Jesus before you became born-again? In what ways has this changed?
I didn’t know too much about Him except that He was the Son of God, both the way He was born and died. Eventually, my perception changed and I understood His nature, His heart, and His motives for coming to a sick and dark world, the fact that He wanted a relationship with me and He would rather die than live without me. Jesus revealed Himself to me as:
- My Defender – the One Who stands for me and protects me
- My Helper – If I need a hand, I need look no further than His own, that I can put my burdens on His shoulders as He is strong for me
- My Friend (loyal no matter what) – If hard times come, He will be by my side, if accusations come against me He knows the truth about me, if I lose my health or my physical beauty, His devotion to me will be unchanged. He is with me always and forever
- My Counselor – If am struggling to see the truth/the way He will be the One who will guide me
- My Encourager – No matter what, He has words of life for me. Only He can speak to the depths of my heart, only He can tell me who I am and nobody else
- My Thoughtful – I am always on His mind, engraved on the palms of His hands. Jesus thinks always of how I can be strengthened, encouraged, blessed and built stronger. He always thinks of special ways to express His love and faithfulness to me
- My Lover – the One who is trustworthy with my inmost feelings, thoughts, and concerns. The One who handles my heart with the most care and handles my inmost person with delicacy and softness
- My Sharer of Sufferings – If I encounter any difficulty He is willing to carry it for me. He feels my pain because my pain is His pain, my tears are His tears, my heartache is His heartache, my sufferings are His sufferings
>> What was your perception of the church before you became born-again? In what ways has this changed?
Before, the church was just the building itself for me. Now, the Church is the Body of Christ, we are His members, His Temple, and I am an important part of this Body as I was given gifts to serve this body, build it strong and edify it. There is never such a thing as an unimportant member. We are the Church.
>> What do your family and friends think of the changes in you? Is anyone else in your family a born-again Christian?
Tough subject. I met with a lot of disapproval from my family and friends, but I was given the grace and strength to get over all the obstacles even though I was basically just a teenager. It’s incredible how He carried me through it all. It never even crossed my mind to give up, though. I was built strong because He called me to be the one who stands in the gap for my family. The one who stands in the gap gets all the blows, and the difficult circumstances allowed in my life made me strong – strong in faith, strong and brave to stand up for what I believe in. But most of all…the trials worked in me Christ’s character and helped me cultivate a deep and beautiful relationship with Him. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
I take comfort in the fact that this is God’s will for me and His will for us is just goodness, lovingkindness, and joy unspeakable. When you understand that nothing touches you and happens without His permission, you thankfully take everything from His loving hands, even if it means you are called to walk alone and misunderstood for a period.
>> What’s your goal in life now?
My deepest desire is to know Him more and grow in the knowledge of His love. I want to live brave, I want to see lives changed for Jesus, I want to be Light in the Darkness, I want to let Jesus love this depraved world through me. I want to leave a legacy of faith.
When my reign ends on this Earth, I want people to say: ‘She was all about Jesus. She was a fearless woman. She was Jesus’ hands and feet. She was beautiful, but with no beauty of her own. Rivers of Love and Joy poured out through her. She was His.’
Every Monday night, we head on over to Lalli and Mândra’s house to bring church to a group of Gypsies who wouldn’t get it any other way. Usually, things start out kinda’ chaotic, but God brings it all around in the end and does something cool, and we all leave really encouraged.
One week, when we showed up, no one was there but one older woman hanging up laundry on a clothes line. But soon we gathered others and before long we had a good-sized group assembled, a mixture of a few regulars and a few new people. By the end, we’d had a great time teaching the Bible, praying, and worshiping together.
This past week, in the middle of my teaching, the lights started going out. Well, light. All we had was a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. For about thirty minutes, the pattern went like this: the lights would flicker off and on then go out completely, everyone would start shouting, a few people would run out of the room, and the younger ones would reach for cell phones, then suddenly the lights would come back on again for a few minutes. It turns out they share electricity with their neighbors, and between the two of them, they were just drawing too much power through the line. It was chaotic and a little crazed, but by the end of it, I challenged everyone who knew Jesus to get out there and do something for Him. God really convicted four people listening, and they asked us to pray that they would be filled with the boldness of God to be His witnesses on the streets of Bucharest this week. Awesome!
A few weeks ago, we walked into Lalli and Mândra’s home only to be blasted by a cloud of cigarette smoke. The air was thick and hazy with fumes. We looked around and there was Lalli, and there was his son Mihai, but we didn’t recognize anyone else. None of the regulars were there, and as we talked with the newcomers, we started to get the impression they were probably not Christians yet. It’s hard to tell sometimes, between relying on translators and the Gypsy culture that’s steeped in religious ideas about Jesus, but we figured we should probably start the night off by going through what the Gospel really is.
So Jason from Canada went through the Gospel very clearly and simply, and an old roofer who was visiting from Târgu Mureş asked us to pray for him. He said he needed more faith, more work, more food, a better house, more peace, and a stronger family. So we prayed.
Afterward, still nobody else had shown up, and by this time Lalli had left, so there were no regulars. Awkward indeed. So we just talked with people and waited for others to show up. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the roofer told us he felt the Holy Spirit’s presence strongly when we prayed with him asked us if we knew about baptism in the Holy Spirit and could pray with him. This time, as we prayed, nothing amazing seemed to happen, but the room just “felt” full of God, and it just “felt” like this old roofer was soaking up all of God’s Spirit he could get. Ben’s hand got unnaturally hot, which was pretty cool. Sometimes that can be a good sign the Holy Spirit is doing something, and sometimes it just means you should take your hand off the stove. Since there were no stoves nearby, we assumed it was the Holy Spirit.
God spoke to my heart Acts 1:8 – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” I shared this verse with the old roofer and encouraged him that he had the power of God and should be a witness for Jesus. He smiled ear-to-ear and kept asking us, “What did you feel when you were praying? Could you tell something changed? Why was your hand so hot?”
Later that same evening, Koko, a young guy who was also a newcomer that night, prayed to turn away from sin and trust in Jesus for forgiveness. Shortly thereafter, the “regulars” showed up and we just kept having a good time.
Welcome to the chaotic world of cross-cultural ministry. 🙂 Check the left side of your brain at the door and continue down the hall.
So we were at a church-planting conference in Cluj last month, like I’ve mentioned previously. Like all conferences, we didn’t agree with everything taught, but we learned some cool insights about planting churches that’ll work really well here in Romania.
After the conference, Ben and I were hanging out in the city center, processing everything discussed, when an old man on a red tricycle rode up to us.
“Do you know Jesus?” he asked in Romanian.
“Yes, yes, we’re Christians,” we told Tudor, and then in mixed Romanian and English, the three of us talked about the goodness of God and why it was necessary to become born-again. Then he started belting out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” really loudly in Romanian, so Ben and I felt obliged to join in. I’m not gonna lie – as weird as it was, it kinda’ ministered to me.
Before he left, Tricycle Tudor introduced us to his friend Mr. Police Officer and then rode off to sit on a bench. I felt like I was in some strange children’s TV show.
After he was gone, Ben and I talked about the weirdness of an old man on a tricycle sharing the Gospel with us in a language we only partially understand. Yet, as odd as his approach was, at least he approached us. Too many times, people are afraid to do evangelism because they don’t want to look weird or say the wrong thing or offend the person, but we just gotta get out there, open our mouths, and trust that Jesus will give us words to speak. Yeah, you might look weird, but probably not any weirder than Tricycle Tudor.
That evening, we had a long overnight ride on the train, so I was praying for divine appointments onboard. God answered us. We ended up sharing a booth with a newly-married Orthodox couple. Over the course of the evening, we talked about every topic possible – our families, growing up, going to college, jobs, politics, and religion. At one point, Ben and I got to share our testimonies with them, how Jesus changed our lives, and I talked about how a lot of people go to church and understand religion, morality, and an idea of God, but not very many people in Romania actually have a real relationship with Jesus.
I told them many people know Jesus like they each knew each other when they first met. They knew each other’s names and what they looked like, and maybe they knew some facts about each other, but they didn’t really have a relationship with each other. Now, after three weeks of being married, they know each other deeply and have a real life together. That’s what Jesus is after, that we have a real relationship with Him, not just that we know some facts about Him.
I purposely decided not to talk about the church as an institution or bring up anything about Orthodox Christianity. I just talked about Jesus, because when people see Jesus for who He really is, He’ll clear up wrong religious ideas.
After a night of talking and sort-of-sleeping, we had all exchanged phone numbers and emails, and we’re excited to stay in contact with this young couple who promised to show us around their hometown of Braşov one day. A few days later, I got an email from them saying how much they, “loved meeting some people who loved Jesus so much.”
Whether by tricycle or train car, in awkwardness or simplicity, the Gospel must be preached, and Jesus will draw people to Himself, because that’s what He loves doing. 🙂
God has been moving here, a few Gypsies have given their hearts to Jesus, and we’ve had a number of opportunities to pour into people’s lives lately, young and old, but one of the constant issues we roll over in our minds is how to present more of Jesus and less of the American in us.
God has been showing me that I think about it too much honestly, and sometimes it’s caused me to miss opportunities that He’s put in front of me. I didn’t even notice I was doing this, stressing about presenting Jesus “correctly,” until a few days ago after I had a really funny dream.
First, close your eyes and picture everyone’s favorite 1980s teen idol, Kirk Cameron. He was everyone’s favorite 1980s teen idol, right?
So I had this dream that Kirk Cameron was standing outside on a sidewalk and I heard a cheesy infomercial-like voice loudly say, “Kirk, what’s the best way to share the Gospel?”
Kirk said, “Sometimes, I like to pass out tracts.” Then Kirk demonstrated and started passing out tracts.
“Oh,” said the voice, “but if you pass out tracts, you make litter and some people won’t even look at the tract and it costs money and…” and on and on like this. “What’s a better way, Kirk?”
Kirk told the voice, “Oh, well, sometimes I do street preaching.” Then he demonstrated and began preaching on the street.
“Oh,” said the pessimistic voice again, “but if you street preach, some people will get angry, and people won’t understand perfectly what you’re saying, and it’s noisy on the streets and hard to hear one person’s voice…” and on and on. “What’s a better way, Kirk?”
So then Kirk responded, “Aaah, I also like to develop relationships with people and share Jesus naturally through friendships.” Then he demonstrated that approach.
Again the voice gave a pessimistic, negative response to Kirk’s approach. This happened with every approach that Kirk suggested until finally the voice said, “Kirk, the best way to share the Gospel is to listen to the Holy Spirit and do what He says.”
Then I woke up.
We all stress way too much about how we’re sharing the Gospel. God is telling us to get up off our butts and go, but we’re sitting around wondering, “Is this the right way? Do I know all I need to know? Am I faithfully representing Jesus? What if I say something wrong?” etc, etc. So we do nothing. We sit there quietly in fear, worried to make a mistake.
Just get out there and tell someone about Jesus! Listen to the Holy Spirit, and do what He says. It’s not that hard. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll offend some people, you’ll say something stupid. That’s just life. Get over it. 🙂
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.
If you’re ever in Bucharest and bored, something interesting you might want to try is popping into an Orthodox Church and scaring some devoted Orthodox women by telling them you’re a “pocait.” I don’t entirely recommend this specific activity, but it will give you interesting stories to tell your friends. Pocait literally means “repentant,” and while Christians in Romania use it to describe each other, because they’ve humbly acknowledged their guilt before God and repented of their sins, it’s used as something of a cuss word to mock and criticize Believers, much like how “saved” and “born-again” are used in America.
One young woman I heard from recently said that after she became a Christian, she asked her Orthodox priest for some advice on a new church she had found. He told her, “Just make sure you don’t go to one of those pocait churches. They think they’re guilty before God and have to turn from their sins. Can you believe it?”
The other day, we went out on the streets to do some evangelism, and at one point, we walked past an Orthodox church. Since Ben (and our friend Jake Martin, who was visiting us for a couple weeks), had never visited an Orthodox church before, we decided to step inside. As in most Orthodox church buildings, the artwork was beautiful, the architecture flawless, and the gold decorations abundant.
We walked around, admired the paintings, decided not to kiss the icons or light any candles for our sins, and then went back outside. The whole time we were looking around, my heart was going out to the only other person inside, an old woman intently staring at a picture of Jesus, bobbing back and forth. I assume she had some sort of caretaker role in the church, because she seemed to fit seamlessly into her surroundings and carried herself in a way that showed she probably spent a lot of time in the building.
Anyway, after leaving, we sat down on a bench outside, waiting to meet with a young man we were going to help in finding a job and a place to live. As we sat, I kept thinking about that woman inside, how she had a semblance of religion but no relationship with God, and short of someone sharing the truth with her, she would remain lost in her religious delusion.
So I convinced our friend Sorin, a Gypsy pocait who has been coming with us to do evangelism, to come inside with me and ask the woman if we could put my personal testimony tract on a table with other literature about church events and the like. My tract is the story of how God took me from addiction to pornography, anger, depression, rejection, and bitterness and forgave me, cleaned me, gave me a new heart, and called me to spread the good news to others. It’s good stuff. I am a bit biased, though. 🙂
Sorin explained that I was a friend from America, and he said that God had changed my life dramatically, so I wanted to put my story of what happened on the table of literature. He asked if it would be OK.
The woman’s face looked horrified. “He is not Orthodox. Whatever he has to say, we do not need it.”
Sorin: “God changed his life. People need to hear this story.”
Woman: “He is not Orthodox. He is American.”
I was ready to leave at this point, being the nice, PC American that I am, but Sorin was getting bolder and bolder, so he asked her: “Do you think when you die and stand before God, is He going to care whether you were Orthodox or not? Or American or Romanian? Or will He care about how you lived your life?”
The woman looked at him with her mouth agape and frantically began making the sign of the cross over and over again. I looked over my shoulder expecting there to be a vampire behind us or something.
Sorin kept telling her about Jesus dying for her sins, and she did the sign of the cross faster and faster, hoping to drive him away with her Bruce Lee meets Orthodoxy hand movements. Finally, I think once Sorin was satisfied he had terrified her enough, he thanked her, said he meant no offense but loved her and respected her devotion, and then we both turned around and left.
I think I might make a version of my tract that has a nice Orthodox church building on the front and try to hand it out in front of some Orthodox churches in town. Biblical Christianity, the faith of us pocaits, is after all more orthodox than Orthodoxy. It annoys me that this whole church stream that has very little to do with Jesus can just call itself “Right Belief” (ortho + doxy) and announce that all others are wrong.
The reality is that I’m right and everyone else is wrong. 😉 Sarcasm warning.
One of Bucharest’s worst neighborhoods, depending on how you measure it, is Ferentari. Ferentari is Bucharest’s largest gypsy community, and you can read about some of the issues here – prostitution, crime, poverty, racism, joblessness, homelessness. While much of Ferentari has improved a lot in recent years, walking through other parts remind me of the slums of Haiti or Africa – people living in homes full of mold and cockroaches, no heat, no electricity, no windows or doors. People in Bucharest are pretty leery of Ferentari – a lot of taxi drivers won’t even drive there – but realistically plenty of American cities are even more dangerous.
Ben and I have been walking through Ferentari at least once a week, praying for the neighborhood, talking to people we meet, passing out tracts, but today, we were joined by Jason Smith, a missionary from Canada who works with gypsies in other parts of the city, and Jacob Powell, a young man from London who is working with children from Ferentari for a few weeks.
Me, Ben, and Jason took Tram 23 into Ferentari and found Jacob waiting for us at a grocery store. Right away, we started praying and walking through the neighborhood. Potholed streets with trash piled on the sidewalks, the smell of garbage, houses in disrepair, packs of dogs roaming around. We didn’t make it into the real ghetto of Ferentari this time, but it was still obvious the places we walked were far from the wealthy center of the city near where we live.
As we walked and prayed, Jacob told us one of the most disturbing stories about Ferentari I’d heard yet. Last year, residents accidentally discovered a pile of dead children’s bodies shoved behind a building. Upon investigation, it was found they had all been kidnapped a week previously. Kidnapped gypsy kids are little concern to most police in Romania, so no one did anything at the time. When doctors performed autopsies on the children’s bodies, they found the cause of death – their lungs had all been removed and sold on the black market. Somewhere out there, there’s a cigarette-smoking man with a new set of lungs, mercilessly torn from a gypsy kid’s body. It makes me sick.
On average, every night in Ferentari, three women are forcibly taken from their homes, shoved into cars, kidnapped, sold into prostitution, and shipped to places like Italy, Spain, and the UK, where they’re raped dozens of times every night and beat by their pimps if they don’t bring home enough money or if they show any signs of trying to escape.
Ferentari needs to see Jesus.
Today, we heard about death in Ferentari, and it was with this weight that we walked and prayed along the streets and asked God how to minister his life through us.
As we walked, we asked God to guide us and show us who to talk to, what to say, and how to best show Jesus’ love. We talked to a well-dressed man with a wallet packed with hundreds of 100-lei notes. He wasn’t interested in the Gospel, but he made enough references to the mafia to make us nervous. When he found out Jacob was single, he offered to give him his daughter in marriage. She seemed to really like the idea, but Jacob wasn’t having it. As we walked away, she told him, “When you remember you want a wife, I will be here waiting for you.”
We met an older woman walking with a cane, so we asked if we could pray for her. As we knelt and prayed for her legs to be healed, she lifted her hands and got tears in her eyes. We shared the Gospel with her (well, Jason did), and she had a look of delight on her eyes as she told us she understood what we were talking about.
My favorite story from today was Elvis. We had been walking around a while and hadn’t seen God do a whole ton of stuff, when we came across a whole family who was really open. We asked if we could pray for them for anything, and they told us they just needed the blessing of God in general. As we prayed, I felt like God was telling me something to tell their twenty-something son, whose name was Elvis. I had Jason translate a prophetic word about what God was calling him to do in his life. He received it and felt like it was from God, so we all prayed that he would indeed follow His call. Then we invited him to church and gave him directions.
Afterward, we talked to a few more people who weren’t very interested, and then we walked about a block away to see what else God was gonna do. We were a little frustrated because that family had seemed so open to God but we hadn’t really preached the Gospel very clearly, just prayed a blessing over them and invited them to church. It was alright, but we really felt like we should have done more. Suddenly we heard the sound of running feet on pavement behind us, and as we turned around, it was Elvis, chasing after us with a giant smile on his face.
He wanted clearer directions to the church, and he wanted to know more about God. Thank you, Lord! Jason went through the whole Gospel with him, and he said he wanted to pray to receive forgiveness for his sins. He prayed, we all hugged, his face beaming with the joy of God, and then he wanted more prayer, so we asked God to cover him, protect him, and fill him with his goodness. As we prayed, Elvis began shaking, rocking back and forth, breathing heavily, and smiling a lot. I don’t know what all happened, but the Holy Spirit came and Elvis was different afterward.
Then we went back to Elvis’s family, where we shared with everyone about Elvis praying to receive new life in Jesus. They were all even more interested now and said they’d come to church with us on Sunday. We all exchanged numbers so we can stay in contact with Elvis and his family. Pray God continues to change him and that Elvis grows more and more in Jesus every day.
Where the enemy is raging, where death and darkness are triumphing, there is always light, and that light is bright indeed.
I’m working on getting my personal testimony made into a tract in Romanian, so I can hand it out to people who ask us why we came. I’ve already written a few in English for use in Milwaukee and Oconomowoc, but the language I used won’t translate quite the same, and I want to gear my message specifically for the Romanian people.
Anyway, today, I worked on it for much of the day, because I’m itching to be able to get it produced and handed out to people. Rather than do a regular blog post, because all we did today was practice Romanian, meet with God, get groceries, clean the apartment, and work on my tract, I want to put up what I’ve got so far, so you can all give me your feedback.
I’ve got to make it quite a bit shorter, but here it is, my testimony of how I came to find Jesus…
Hi. I’m Jake Stimpson. You’ve probably never heard of me before and don’t know anything about me (other than my name, of course), but that’s OK because hopefully you’ll read this pamphlet and by the end of it you’ll know at least a little bit more about me.
I moved here to Bucharest, Romania, recently, with my wife and children, but I’m originally from the United States. I was raised in a different world than you, speaking a different language, eating different food, but chances are, we’re pretty similar on the inside, and our stories are probably more alike than different.
I was born in a medium-sized town in Wisconsin, Green Bay, where football is king, dads work hard in factories, and everyone goes to church on Sunday. Some are Catholics, some Lutherans, some Baptists, but whatever type of family you were born into, that’s the church you go to. You don’t ask questions about it or really try to deviate too much from the norm – you just go. Because that’s what “good” Americans do.
And that’s what we did.
Whenever anyone asked me what religion I belonged to or what I thought about God, I would think, “Well, duh, I’m a Christian. I live in America. We’re all Christians here.”
The reality, though, was that, like most people in America, I wore the Christian mask on the outside, but inside, my life was messed up, and honestly, I knew more about church than real Christianity. I attended church almost every week most of my life, but I didn’t really believe there was a God. Every week, I’d hear sermons about how God was real, but evolution and science made more sense to me.
If God was real, it didn’t seem to me like He had any real power to do anything or help anyone. My life was a mess (more on that later), and everyone I knew who said they loved God was at least as messed up. I remember sitting in church and looking out across the chairs, seeing one person after another stuck in sin. That guy was addicted to drugs, that one got drunk at parties every weekend, that girl was having sex with her boyfriend, that one was gossiping and spreading lies around the school… People who went to church and claimed to believe in God weren’t any more holy or happy or loving than those who didn’t.
And my life? On the outside, it looked really good. I was a straight-A student, at the top of my class, had good friends and a good job, and I went to church a couple times a month. Inside, I was trapped in sin.
I had a lot of hatred and anger in my heart. I was picked on as a kid, so I secretly hated my classmates. I used to get into a lot of fights, but then I got too scared I’d get into serious trouble and just plotted revenge in my head instead. My parents went through a divorce when I was 13, and so I hated them for tearing our family apart. My bosses seemed to ignore me at work and pass me by for promotions and pay raises, so I hated them too. On the outside, I could joke, smile, and laugh, but inside, I was mad at a lot of people most of the time. I never murdered anyone, but the Bible says hatred is just about the same thing (Matthew 5:22), so I wasn’t in a good place with God.
Besides the anger in my heart, I was completely addicted to pornography and lust. Most guys are nowadays, all over the world, though few will admit it. I was pretty smug and self-righteous about the fact that I had never done drugs or had sex before marriage, but my mind was filled with anger and criticism, and my heart was consumed with lust. I got into online pornography when I was about 12, and it began to control my life. The Bible says anger is the same as murder, and it also says that lust is the same as adultery (Matthew 5:28), and since I couldn’t go a day without looking at porn, in God’s eyes, I had committed adultery with a lot of women.
I tried to ignore the guilt I felt for living so selfishly, but deep down inside, I knew the hatred and the lust were wrong, and there was nothing I could do about it. I tried going to church, I tried memorizing Scripture, I tried punishing myself and giving up movies or video games every time I looked at porn, I tried listing all my sins before God and telling Him I was sorry, but nothing seemed to help.
But I had it all backwards. It’s not about trying to do all the right things or say all the right words, so you feel better and look good to others. Christianity is about recognizing what Jesus already did for you, and then living for Him out of the power He provides.
When I got to college, I wandered into a church that met in a former bar. It didn’t look like any church I’d ever seen before, and it was filled with people unlike any Christians I had known before. These people really loved God, they talked about Him like He really existed, they were living holy lives, and they were honest and real with each other, even open about their failings.
It was enough to pique my curiosity and honestly come to God again, complete with all my faults.
Within a period of months, I had turned from my sin and decided to trust Jesus for my salvation, not trying to earn His favor or work my way into Heaven anymore, but trusting in what He had already done for me years ago on the cross. And I started to change. The bitterness and anger left. I could forgive my parents, old bosses, classmates, anyone who had hurt me, and I really loved people now. And God was setting me free from my addiction to pornography. I didn’t instantly become perfect, but I didn’t NEED it like I used to. I was free, really free. And I knew I was forgiven.
What I couldn’t earn or work my way toward, Jesus gave me. The Bible says, “Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could be right with God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s not by your works that you can be forgiven and made clean but only through the power of Jesus, who died on the cross and rose again, being glorified high above every power and authority.
If you’ve never trusted in Jesus for your salvation, you can have that peace of mind right now. You don’t have to be tormented by guilt any longer. Just agree with God that you’ve been living selfishly and in rebellion toward him, turn away from everything He calls sin, trust in His death on the cross for your forgiveness, and then receive Him into your life by praying and asking Him to come.
We took the kids to Bucharest’s Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History for a few hours today, to get them out of the house and do something during the rainy, cloudy weather. They’ve been getting really stir-crazy lately with all the rain we’ve been having.
On the way back, we had to get a cab, and we found out the driver spoke English really well. I told him we had just moved to Bucharest and he asked how we liked it. When I told him we loved it and the people were great, he said, “I do not think so. I do not know how people are in America, but the problem with Romania is the Romanians.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wouldn’t call the Romanian people very good. That’s what I mean,” he answered.
“Well, that’s really why we’re here. We love Jesus, and so we came to Romania to tell people about Him, because He’s the only one who can make a person good,” I told him. “Are you a Christian?”
“Yes,” he said, “I am Orthodox. But when you’re Orthodox, you only have to go to church twice a year.”
“Christmas and Easter?”
“Yes, you understand. It is different in our country than yours. Here, you can be Orthodox, but you never have to do anything.”
So I started sharing the Gospel more, but he interjected, “I’m a realist. I believe in evolution and science and thought, not God. Evolution is the idea that makes the most sense.”
When I challenged his view on evolution, he told me, “I know, it has problems. I don’t think it is the whole truth, but it is better than any other.” Then he continued, “And right now, I don’t want God. I want to live my life. I want to work. I want to party. I want to have fun.”
I wish I could give you a happy ending to the story, that our cab driver got saved and gave his heat to Jesus, and now he just wants to love others and live for God, but he didn’t. I continued speaking the truth and we kept discussing the Gospel until he dropped us off, but nothing all that miraculous happened because, like he said, he didn’t want God but just wanted to live his life.
That seems to be the general prevailing attitude among the younger generation in Bucharest – church is for old people, it’s irrelevant, why would I waste my time there, I’m just gonna live my life and have fun.
This city needs people sharing the Gospel, and the really crazy thing is that we’ve been here over 3 weeks so far and we haven’t seen anyone anywhere preaching the Gospel, except for in churches. There are churches here, and ministries, and we’ve heard of stuff happening especially in the Gypsy areas, and I know of people who are witnessing to family and friends, but we haven’t seen anyone passing out tracts, street-preaching, holding out signs, singing worship music, or anything else, out in public and on the streets. We’ve had people hand us coupons, free magazines, political leaflets, etc. but nothing about Jesus.
In Milwaukee or Chicago or any other American city, you’d see guys out all the time doing some sort of ministry, but we’ve encountered nothing here, in this city of 3 million people. Nothing. When we went out last Saturday for Night of Museums, there were a few hundred thousand people milling around, and in all the wandering and people-watching we did, we didn’t see a single person witnessing. In Milwaukee, if you had an event that big, there’d be people out doing all sorts of stuff.
People here have told me, “Street evangelism just doesn’t work here anymore.” Well, yeah, when you don’t do it, it’s not gonna work. We gotta get out there, church. We gotta bring the Gospel to the streets, where the people are.
Pray for us, that we’d learn the language well, get our tracts translated, and then just get out there and meet some people who need to hear the Gospel. There’s plenty of them out there.
This day really sucked. It didn’t start out that way. Not until Jessie bought a Samsung SC 4330 from Media Galaxy (pronounced May-dia Gah-lock-see). Then it sucked big time. Because the Samsung SC 4330 is a vacuum, and it’s like no other vacuum I’ve ever used.
We finally caved and bought a vacuum today. The rugs were just too dirty and too hard to keep clean by shaking them out over the balcony every day. So Jessie went to Media Galaxy to scope out their selection and find something reasonable. She came back with a high-tech device NASA’s been using to pull satellites back from their orbits around the earth.
This vacuum is intense. We have a rug in our living room that’s supposedly been cleaned, and we’ve been sweeping it and shaking it out over the balcony a lot, but one time over it with the vacuum left half the bag filled dust and hair and other gunk. When I turn the vacuum on, the suction is so intense it’s hard to move across the floor. If Tim the Toolman Taylor were to design a vacuum, it would work a little something like this thing. If you wanna buy one, check it out here.
Tonight, Jessie and I were invited to a small church service / home group / Bible study on the western side of the city. This was a service specifically for some of the refugees from Myanmar that have come to Bucharest. I talked about their situation a little yesterday, but they’ve basically had a tough time in this city, what with the intrinsic anti-foreigner mentality here, the difficulties of the Romanian language, and the fact that the government has been stealing their aid money from the EU to line the pockets of rich politicians. Or so the story goes anyway.
They asked me to share a little at the service, so I gave a short message of encouragement that God had chosen them to be here in this city, for this time, to shine as lights, despite the difficulties they were facing. Jesus said, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, that you might go and bear much fruit.” They didn’t wind up in Bucharest by mistake but by design of their Maker and Sustainer.
The service was a lot of fun, filled with people from Myanmar, Canada, Australia, America, Sudan, and even a token Romanian, believe it or not. When the Myanmar Believers worshiped God, it felt like He just walked in the room. They sang with such force, such intensity, that you knew they knew He was there. I tried recording some of the worship on my phone, but it didn’t quite work out.
To be completely honest (because so much of this post has been a lie?), Jessie and I almost bailed on the service tonight. Jessie was really tired, and I started thinking about the fact that we didn’t really know this church, they might be a cult, they might be really wacky, the whole church might be a cover for a human trafficking ring, it might be run by the mafia, etc. We didn’t know where the service was being held (Jason wouldn’t give us an address). Jason’s friend George, who we’ve never met, was going to pick us up at a subway station we’ve never been to, in a black SUV (suspicious, isn’t it?). Jason was the only person we knew going to it and, honestly, he half-way kinda’ freaked me out with some odd beliefs he has. And, no, I’m not gossiping; I told him that he freaked me out already and he’s OK with that.
So, we almost just bailed on the whole thing, but I’m glad we didn’t because we got to minister and encourage this group of really beat-down and worn-out people. And we met some awesome Believers, including Pastor Peter from Sudan, one of the most humble and joy-filled men I’ve ever met.
My philosophy has been that if God has opened a door, we gotta go through it. We’ve gotta believe that He’s guiding us and that He’ll bring people into our lives He wants us to minister to. If you wait around to hear a magical voice from God before you ever do anything, you’ll sit at home all day and never get anything done for Jesus. You’ve gotta take the opportunities He brings your way and believe that He’s going to do something miraculous in it.
I suppose we could have been duped into coming to a creepy cult meeting tonight, or we could have been trafficked or robbed or beat up and left for dead… but so what? Yeah, it would really suck, but what does it matter compared to obeying what you think God is telling you to do?
His situation was way more radical than ours, but this whole thing reminds me of James Calvert. When he arrived on the shores of Fiji to minister to a tribe of cannibals, the ship’s captain warned him, “Turn back! You’ll lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages!” Calvert replied, “Sir, we died long before we came here.” The beginning of the Christian life involves your death. If you’re still serving yourself, pursuing your own desires and wants, scheduling your day to suite your interests, you haven’t died yet and God can’t fully use you. As soon as you die to yourself, God can begin to really use you.
Speaking of which, last night, revival broke out in the dinosaur community of Bucharest. Five dinosaurs got born-again and two whole gangs are now at peace with each other. Here’s the video footage:
First, Triceratops shares the Gospel with Brontosaurus, then the two of them street preach to a gang of dinosaurs fighting in a bad neighborhood. Revival breaks out…
The gang of dinosaurs still has some questions about the Gospel, so Triceratops and Brontosaurus invite them out to eat a giant chunk of chicken and talk about God together. They talk about heaven, hell, and where dinosaurs go when they die…
Triceratops and Brontosaurus answer the most important question of all: how to be right with God and know you’ll go to heaven when you die. At the end of the discussion, a spirit of conviction falls and dinosaurs get right with God…
Like any dinosaur should do when they receive Jesus’ forgiveness for their sins, the gang of unruly dinosaurs wants to get baptized, so they attend Triceratops’s church. Dynamic praise and worship, preaching, testimonies, and baptisms galore…
Naomi made this whole thing up on her own, with Mae and Illiana helping a little, and though it’s not entirely theologically correct, I like the simplicity of it. Every time you obey God and step outside your comfort zone, you should see results like Triceratops saw – people just receive the Gospel and get radically changed.
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.
A lot of people have been asking us, “Why are you moving to Romania?” They usually follow that up with “Is it because you’re nuts?”
So here is our (well, my) top 10 reasons we’re moving to Romania:
10. A totally selfish reason, but the scenery is beautiful, as you can see above. Not every place looks amazing, and there’s plenty of ugly scenery in the cities, but mountains and seaside beaches exist, and for that, I am happy.
9. Another selfish reason – we’ve always wanted to do long-term missions, and we’re not getting any younger. If we don’t leave now, we may never go.
8. We were growing somewhat comfortable in inner-city Milwaukee, and I want to be in a position where I’m not comfortable, where if God doesn’t move it’s all gonna fall apart. I want to depend on Him and Him alone, and I want to see Him move. Getting up and moving half-way across the planet, to a nation where we don’t speak the language, don’t know the culture, and don’t know very many people, seemed like an effective way to do that.
7. I love mercy ministry. Though things are improving in a lot of areas of Romania, there are still 6000-plus kids living on the streets, there are still some 30,000 orphans, and there are still 1-1.5 million Gypsies living in poverty and squalor. The world may not think much of Gypsies and orphans, but Jesus does.
6. Sex sells in Romania – human trafficking is a problem, prostitution, though technically illegal, is on the rise, especially among college students, sexual immorality and provocative dress are the norm. Unless they find real freedom in Jesus, the younger generation will no doubt continue down a road of increasing addiction and bondage.
5. Though the economic situation is not as bad as it was, especially in Bucharest, the spiritual situation is worsening. Like the rest of Europe, Romania is turning toward materialism, secularism, and post-Christian philosophies to guide their lifestyles instead of looking to God. Missions experts and theologians are calling Europe, “the new dark continent” because of the quickly increasing secularism. While other places are poorer or maybe less Christian in name, the church in Europe is very weak.
4. There are many places of Romania without an evangelical church and many who have not heard the Gospel. Many of the younger generation are practicing agnostics. Though they were probably baptized in an Orthodox church, will do their wedding there, and may even attend services for Christmas and Easter, they don’t read their Bibles, don’t have a relationship with Jesus, and are not born-again. They may have an amount of religiosity, but it’s not a saving faith in Jesus.
3. The city of Bucharest has a population of 3 million people, and only 2100 (0.07%) are estimated to be born-again. The current US average is 100 times that amount. So there are plenty of people in Bucharest who don’t know God yet.
2. The Bible says to take the Gospel to all of creation. Last I checked, Romania is a part of that. So, to be faithful to the Great Commission, we’ve got an opportunity to go, so we’re going. Related to this, and to keep my points at 10, Romania’s geographical location is ideal for sending missionaries out throughout the Eastern Hemisphere. We’re excited to eventually raise up missionaries and church-planters who will go into Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, and beyond.
1. God made it very clear He wants us to go, so we’re just gonna obey. A lot of times, it’s hard thinking of leaving, and there are tons of needs right here in America, but God told us to go, so we’re going, alright?