Today was my oldest daughter’s birthday, so we spent a good part of the day at one of the parks here in Bucharest, eating lunch, getting ice cream pops, and playing. While at one of the playground areas, I was pushing one of my girls in a swing when a high school-aged boy sits in the swing next to hers with a couple of his buddies by him. He must have heard us speaking in English, so he asks, in fairly good English, where we are from. (Always every new person’s question to us.) When I tell him that we’re from America, expecting to hear the usual “Wow, America,” I am not disappointed. (After you get asked that question and receive that same response so many times, you come to anticipate it, not in pride, but just in a this-is-how-nearly-every-conversation-I-have-with-a-new-person-goes kind of way.)
Then all three boys started saying with this dreamy, far-off kind of voice, “America. It’s so beautiful there.” (I doubt they had actually ever been there. I mean, have you driven hours upon hours through cornfields of Indiana?)
Always amazed at how people put America on this pedestal of being the ultimate paradise while being totally ignorant to the multitude of problems there–there are problems everywhere, and America is not excluded–I reminded them of beautiful places in their own country, how America has several big, ugly cities just like Romania has Bucharest (I’ve grown to like Bucharest, but it does have a sort of depressing architectural theme to it.), and how America is not perfect and has its own problems, that Romania is not unique in that.
Dumbfounded, they asked, “Like what?” Clearly, they don’t watch CNN International and BBC News like I do to keep up with what’s happening back in the States. When I mentioned that where we used to live in Milwaukee, we could hear gun shots when our windows were open, that there were lots of problems with drugs and gangs in that city, they were shocked!
But then they went back to bewailing how terrible Romania is, especially Bucharest with all the “gypsies” here. Every time I hear someone rant or complain about the gypsies, it strikes a nerve in me and hurts. I think of our gypsy church near our house and of how generous and loving those women are to me and my children, how they give things to our kids when they themselves have so little, how they really want to live good lives. They’re like family to me; well, really, we are all in the family of God together, and those women are my sisters in faith. So, hearing someone throw out brash comments like that, generalizing and stereotyping a whole group of people based on racism and prejudices, is really bothersome.
Before I go further, I will note that the main speaker of the group of boys held a two liter plastic bottle of cheap beer in his hand and was obviously not sober. When I commented once on how good his English was, he said only when he’s drunk can he speak it well. I tried not to press the conversation too much, because of the awkwardness of the situation: a mother of four at the park with her kids, talking to an intoxicated high school guy is just a little weird, but I digress.
Later on, the boys asked about there being many black people in America, only they used the “n” word! (Ok, I must interject a side note here. These kids obviously didn’t use the “n” word in a derogatory sense, and it’s not the first time one of us has heard a Romanian refer to a black person with that word, and it’s never been used in a mean way. We always correct them and urge them never to use that term, for it is extremely derogatory in American culture.) They went on about how they have no problem with black people and wonder why others do, because, “They’re just people, like you and me.”
“Yeah, kind of like the gypsies. They’re just people, too,” I said. They tried to make excuses but failed, and I had to leave to go rescue my toddler boy from some high up place he’d climbed up to. But when they left later, the main guy admitted, among other things, that he is, in fact, half-gypsy. Sometimes, I really have no explanation.
But, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Naomi. “Why do some people not like the Gypsies? They’re just people with different color skin. That’s stupid to not like someone because of that.”
One year ago today, on our son Isaac’s first birthday, we flew out of Chicago and became Bucharest, Romania bound. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on all the things I’ve learned, all the trials we’ve faced, all the discouragements and joys, the friends gained and the friends and family left behind. This blog post is a list of such reflections and observations and interesting things learned, some very random, some deep. And these are my thoughts…Jake and the kids undoubtedly have their own unique takes on this past year. But, here I go.
- It’s been a year since I’ve driven a vehicle! And I’m perfectly content with that. I do miss the American phenomenon of road-tripping, but it’s an adventurous change that I don’t even really think about much anymore.
- Bucharest is not Romania. Sure, it’s in Romania. But the real Romania, the heart of the people, culture, beauty, food…it’s in the countryside and smaller towns and villages. To say Bucharest represents all of Romania, would be like saying Los Angeles represented America. If ever I am discouraged, a little train trip out of the city renews my love for this nation and its people.
- In America there seems to be this “fad” interest in home gardening, home food preservation, eating organic foods, living simply, line-drying clothes, eating local and in-season produce, etc. But, here in Romania, this is what people have done for years, out of necessity and wisdom. Which brings me to something I will do differently this next year: buy lots more summer and fall fruits and veggies when they are tasty and cheap, make tons of jams, pickles, fermented cabbages, and freeze as much as I can. Because prices shoot up in winter.
- I miss black people. Milwaukee was so diverse, and we lived in a neighborhood where whites were the minority.
- I think it is funny that we were so happy when spring arrived because our clothes dried on the balcony in one day instead of in one week during winter. During winter, our clothes would freeze on the line, so we brought them in and draped them all over the chairs, doors, radiators, and chairs to finish drying at night.
- I have decided that I am not a dog lover. Many Bucharestians would be apalled at what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it. The thousands of stray dogs, including the one who tried to chase my husband up a tree and the one who came after me with my kids, should be put out of their misery…and out of ours. They are mean, ugly, pitiful, a nuissance, and a terrible blemish to the city. I’ve seen them shivering in the cold, passed out half-alive in summer heat, limping with broken or missing limbs, itching themselves like crazy, missing chunks of fur, eating garbage. Their lives are miserable, and I think they should be rounded up and “put to sleep.” The end.
- The giant concrete bloc apartment building soak up the intense summer heat and radiate it like an oven on the streets. Everyone sweats, everyone smells, and everyone crams like sardines into the trams and buses with their armpits in your face because it’s too hot to walk. But, I love the longer summers here and how dry they are rather than muggy. And, I like how all the apartment blocs block a lot of the cold winter winds.
- Ok, speaking of summer…the mosquitoes here in summer are of the demonic nature. They start in April and will not die until late into November. They bite over and over and over, and they are sneaky about getting in. Couple that with the lack of screens on windows, and you learn how to tolerate stuffy, hot apartments quickly.
- I love Romanian food, from sarmale to ciorba, from cozonac to cremșnit, from șaorma to musaca, from the sausages to the tomatoes and strawberries that will blow your mind. The honey here is poetic and the kilograms and kilograms of apricots we eat in the summer are sweet and addictive. There are only a couple of things I haven’t liked and several more I haven’t tried, but I’ve found myself making mămăligă for my family and serving food with a bowl of smântână.
- On the topic of food. There are dessert shops on practically every block selling the tastiest treats, but I find myself hesitant to order the chocolate ones because, almost always, they have rum essence in them for flavoring. I must be too American, but I still have not acquired the taste for this, and neither has anyone else in my family.
- I really miss my mom and dad. And sometimes I get sad that it would cost our family around $6000 to get round trip plane tickets to visit them. I wish flying were cheaper.
- We have made some wonderful friends here, and I love having brothers and sisters in the family of God here praying for me and loving me!
- Romanian is hard. The grammar is hard. Speaking it is hard. And sometimes I get really discouraged and feel like I’ll never learn it or I get discouraged that I don’t know it already and feel bad that people whose natural language is Romanian have to use English with me. But our friends are very patient and encouraging with me.
- One of my favorite Romanian words is “Bada!” There is no direct translation into English for it, but you use it to contradict someone…not in a mean way, necessarily. Like if I try to say something in Romanian and then apologize for it sounding bad, someone might say, “Bada! It was perfect.” It’s just a cool word.
- If your kid is under two years old…he or she must have a hat on. In the summer, put on a sun hat. Any other time, the hat must cover their ears and be tied under the chin to keep out the curent. Otherwise, you risk old ladies coming up and rebuking you without reserve.
- Big cities can suck the life out of you. It’s busy, people are always rushing somewhere, and getting around takes a long time. You can feel like your day is absobed with a hundred menial things that shouldn’t take long, but they do, and it’s easy to get drained and discouraged. I always have to remember that the Bible says to do everything as unto the Lord. Heidi Baker says that even sweeping the floor can be holy, holy, holy and a form of worship if done in the right attitude.
- I’ve gained an appreciation for passionate worship like we experienced in the church we came from. At the charismatic and pentecostal churches we’ve visited here, the worship has often been good, powerful, with a sense of God’s presence, but no one really expresses the joy and freedom of Jesus. I miss dancing, clapping, rejoicing, spinning in worship with “all my strength.” Maybe that’s part of my American background as well.
- Romanian kids are really cute. And the way they roll their “r”s when speaking is great!
- A lot of sources and people say that Romania is one of the most “evangelized” nations in the world. After the fall of Communism, missionaries poured in. But to see the society now: the abundant sexual immorality, the party attitude of most young people, the high rate of abortion, the rate of domestic violence, the racism, the materialism, the legalism in the churches–you would not know it. A lot of people here say, “We are Orthodox, leave us alone.” But most Orthodox have no idea if they are “good enough” to go to heaven; they do not believe that their faith in Jesus alone is what saves them and reconciles them to God. They abhor “pocaiți,” literally “repenters,” and mock them because they think it’s ridiculous that a person should repent of their sins. A lot of people like hearing about Jesus, because they’ve never met Him personally and have never heard the simple gospel of truth.
- Communism is bad. This could be a whole blog post in itself. But, communism is one of the worst things in the world, I’m convinced. Unchecked capitalism is pretty bad too.
- When I feel lonely or discouraged, this verse is a comfort to me: “So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30
- One of the most encouraging things someone can say to me is, “I’m praying for you.” They don’t have to say anything else, because I know if they are praying, God hears and will answer. When people say, “You’re awesome or you guys rock or God is going to do amazing things through you” or anything like that, it doesn’t mean as much as knowing that the fervent prayer of a righteous person does much.
- I’d never been out of the country before moving here. Heck, I’d never even been on a short-term mission trip. Not because I didn’t want to, but I got married shortly after I started following Jesus and then I started making babies right away! I had no idea what to expect. One thing, though, missions work, well at least long-term missions work, is not glamorous. For me, I do similar things as I did in America: change diapers, discipline kids, teach home school, help with ministry, clean, cook, and try to build relationships.
- Meeting with God, alone, every day, undistracted is the most crucial and important part of ministry.
- Going grocery shopping without a car for a household of seven people gets heavy!
- Bucharest has really nice parks to get the kids outside releasing wiggles, and it is the place where I most easily meet new people.
- I am thankful for those who helped us when we had no idea what we were doing. Our friend Filip picked us up from the airport, got us a place to stay while we searched for apartments, got us a real estate agent to help us find a place to live, took us shopping, made us feel welcome, and helped us get settled. Our friends Irina and AndreEa and others planned a birthday party for Naomi during our first week here, to help the kids feel loved and welcomed in a new place. Our pastor friend Peter and his wife Geta helped us with all the crazy paperwork and running around to get our visas. And so many others. What a blessing! I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
- I often think about some of Oswald Chambers’ teachings from My Utmost for His Highest, and how he talks about the drudgery of everyday life and letting God build character in you through boredom, loneliness, discouragement, frustration, etc. Wisdom from wise, older fathers and mothers in the faith like that means so much more to me now than the zeal-without-wisdom untested faith. Discouraging and frustrating things happen, but they are temporary and the word and love of God reigns true and supreme forever.
- I like when people visit us. I like letters and care packages. 🙂
- Jesus is with me always. Even to the end of the earth.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting and being a mother, what it means to raise children and what does that look like practically. I guess I’ve thought about it a lot since moving here to Bucharest, because, well, it keeps popping up in conversation nearly everywhere we go. Our family is not huge by any means; we have four children so far, but we’ve seen way bigger families in the States. Years ago, we would have just been an average-sized family there, or perhaps on the small side of average…back when people really believed when the Bible said that children are a blessing from the Lord.
But here in Romania, and Bucharest in specific, we are a big family, o familie mare. On the subway, on the tram, on the bus, walking down the street, shopping at the grocery store, ordering șase covrigi (six pretzels), taking a train ride to get out of the city for a day or two. We get stares. And everyone asking, “Are they all yours?” Sometimes my mind thinks about some of the clever responses I read in this article, but I always smile and say, “Da!” proudly. Because I am proud of my children. They are blessings from the Lord, precious gifts He’s given us to raise up as lights in the world to bring glory to Him! And most people usually respond with, “Să vă trăiască!” Something along the lines of, “May they live long!” However, I’ve gotten a few funny looks from people as they say, “Patru!?” (Four?!) And one or two older ladies would look solemn and talk about how difficult it must be.
Sometimes it gets old being stared at or always being asked if ALL the kids are mine, but it doesn’t really bother me. What I’ve been thinking about lately, though, is how much emphasis there is on external things. Are the kids’ ears covered so as to let no wind get in? No baby should be allowed to suck his thumb for any reason or it may get deformed. Girl babies should not be allowed to cry, and if they do, then the mother must not be a very good mother. Kids are bundled up in snow suits throughout fall and and winter (think of the little brother in “A Christmas Story”) with hats tied tightly under the chin. Etc.
I’m not picking on Romania either. Though the concerns about external things are different than in America, American mothers have their share of external worries: how organic or non-GMO is the food their kids are eating, how stylish are their kids clothes, are they involved in enough extra-curricular social activities? And so on. We want our kids to be physically healthy, for sure, but there’s more to life than physical health.
I feel like there is so much focus on external things when in comes to parenting. Dirty fingernails, messy hair, a McDonald’s meal on occasion is fine. The important things are the internal matters of the heart. Will your child obey the first time you tell him it’s time to go home from the park or will he sneak off and hide on the slide? Does your daughter whine every time you tell her no, so that you give in just to make her stop whining? The Bible says folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Kids are selfish, rebellious, stubborn, defiant, and whiny by nature. But we as parents are to train them up in the way they should go, so that, when they are older, they will not depart from the good way of love, submission, self-control, joy, peace, and life.
The tough thing is that you may not see the fruit of this labor of love for a while, or it may take others commenting on how loving, sharing, obedient, happy, and creative your kids are. My kids don’t always wear hats when it’s chilly outside. I let them dig in the dirt with their hands at the park, and I don’t always carry hand sanitizer with me to clean them off right away. Sometimes I forget to brush their hair. And I give them chocolate, white bread, and imported apples sometimes (Fresh Romanian apples really are superior, though). But when I’m sick, they pray for me. When one of them gets candy, they will share with another who did not get any. They love to read their Bibles and listen to worship music. They like visiting the gypsies with us to pray, worship, and share about Jesus–and then they pray for them and their family during their quiet times that they would know His love for them.
These things don’t just happen; it’s called work. Childbirth is easy compared to the lifetime of childtraining that follows. If you are a parent, you are responsible for a living soul made in the image of God. Man is interested in external things, but God looks at the heart. That’s what parenting is all about. My kids aren’t perfect (neither is their mother); they will argue, tattle, ask a zillion questions in the span of five minutes, interrupt, and whine sometimes. They’re kids. But they’re little gifts from heaven that we invest tons of time, energy, patience, and love into so that they can experience the abudant and eternal life set before them.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but full of death and darkness on the inside. I don’t want to be like that or have kids like that.
I have a lot more to say about motherhood, but I think it may just have to come in a series of posts.
The delight of a missionary is to see the kingdom of heaven growing and abounding on earth, to see those in darkness come into the light, and to see Jesus glorified in the land and people where he or she is serving. I’m excited about these things, and I pray for the kingdom of heaven to invade Romania all the time. But, what would it profit us to gain all of Romania and lose the souls of our children? The Bible says that children are a reward from the Lord, that if we train them up in the way they should go while they are young and in our care that they will not depart from that way when they are grown, that we are to declare the praises and goodness of the Lord to our children so and make known His ways to them.
We include our kids in a lot of our ministry: they come every Monday with us to the Mihai Bravu gypsy community as we bring church there; they are part of our home church; they go with us to get food and clothes for those in need; they play with the kids of those that we are witnessing and ministering to. And, they are a light just being here with us.
Here are a couple of stories from our kids’ lives that make me smile and know that we’re doing okay raising them on the mission field. The first one is about Illiana Sunshine, our three year old. She is a burst of joy and sunshine, and busy big-city life hasn’t squelched that. A couple of Sundays ago, on our way to church across town, Illiana sat next to me on the subway and started making funny faces at Jake and her uncle Ben sitting on the other side. She has this crazy way of crossing her eyes and then moving each eyeball individually in different directions. It’s weird. But also really funny seeing this three year old with Shirley Temple-like blonde curls bouncing in every direction doing it with a straight face. People in Bucharest are generally very serious, like in any big city, and don’t tend to smile a whole ton, but Illiana got a young guy across from her trying to hide a laugh, a couple of middle aged men giggling, and even the super-serious security guard on the subway to start smiling. Our kids with their blonde hair, big smiles, and loads of energy are conversation openers for us all the time. If only our Romanian skills were better…
The next story comes from an interaction between two of our kids in the home. Each of the girls got a piece of candy from Ben and were eating it for a snack one day. When I asked if Isaac had one, they said he didn’t. Now Isaac loves food, and he could probably hear us open a candy wrapper from the moon, so he started going crazy when the girls got their candy out. Mae comes over and hands him hers and tells him that he can have it instead of her. I almost started crying over the sweetness of that gift. We hardly ever buy candy, so for Mae to give it up for her little brother was very generous. A couple of days later I found a notebook of hers filled with words about how much she loves God and how good He is and how she is good because of Him. Proverbs 23:24 says, “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise child will delight in him.” I was surely rejoicing and delighting!
I love being a missionary family, and I love getting to go minister with Jake, and I love teaching the Bible and preaching and discipleship and seeing people decide to start following Jesus. I also really love discipling the kids and seeing them walk out their faith in Jesus and having our whole family be a light to the world. And I’m incredibly thankful to those families from our churches back in the States who were such a great example to us of godly parenting!
I (Jessie) haven’t posted much on here lately, but Jake asked if I wanted to write the blog post tonight, so I decided to reflect on my observations as a mother from the United States here in a big city, in a different country, on a whole new continent. The truth is, after a little while of thinking back on our (almost) four weeks here, I realized a lot of things are not so drastically different from those back in the States.
Well, the first thing that would cause many overprotective mamas to cringe are the wild dogs. The situation is not as bad as it used to be, but for sure, if you visit here, the random, mangy looking dogs walking around all over the place will grab your attention. Our middle daughter Mae is pretty scared of dogs, so being here is forcing her to deal with that fear on a daily basis as we go out and walk to the grocery store, metro stop, bread shop across the street, and parks. She’s handling it better than I expected, but when a big ol’ scroungy looking animal comes up to you in the park while you’re eating, it’s a little frightening to a little kid. Kids should be able to have fun at a park, especially in a giant city like this, and not have to worry about stray dogs biting or chasing them. And there’s really nothing you can do. I guess a few years ago, the Romanian government proposed a euthanasia solution to the problem, but animal activists from elsewhere in Europe put up a big stink and the “solution” was only in effect for about a day. Ya know, I don’t like animal cruelty, but the 60,000 wild dogs that sometimes form packs and kill people here and bite dozens of people a day seem like good enough reasons to put a permanent “solution” in effect. The kind of lives these dogs lead are pretty pitiful anyway.
Ok, just one more thing on the dog rant. Jake shared this link that has a map of Bucharest with indicators of where all the wild dog packs hang out in the city. Apparently, one of the guys running for mayor created this and put it up online, so it’s probably not totally accurate, but funny, because every time there is an election, there are tons of promises from candidate about cleaning up the dog problem. But no one ever does.
Besides the dogs, our kids have gotten used to cramming onto buses and subway trains, crossing crazy busy streets where cars stop only inches from your legs (at least it feels like), playing on random little playgrounds scattered throughout the city streets (these are usually covered in graffiti but we’re used to that from Milwaukee), and playing outside late into the evening on hot nights. Sometimes we even cram our whole family into the backseat of someone’s car when we need a ride to IKEA or church. I guess, technically, we are supposed to have car seats for at least Isaac, but the rules aren’t too enforced here. They are adapting so well, with just a little timidity. We try to do special things with each kid occasionally, like take one with us to the grocery store, take another one to the bakery, go on a prayer walk with a couple of them one night, or take all of them for ice cream bars down the street. I can only imagine what’s going through their minds being so far from everything familiar.
Some differences I’ve noticed. In the States, we homeschooled. And we are continuing that here, even though it’s practically unheard of. There are a few families here in Bucharest, mostly from a Baptist background, who homeschool, and we hope to connect with them some time. In America, a city this size would have tons of homeschooling families, as it is becoming increasingly popular there. But here, with help from HSLDA, some families are finding ways to do it legally. You can read more about the situation through the HSLDA website. (I would link to it, but I cannot access the site right now for some reason.)
Along with that, not many mothers in general stay home with their children. The government offers new mothers the option to stay home with their child for up to two years and receive a percentage of their salary while they are at home. But after two years, most return to work, because it is very difficult to afford to live here on a single income. This is a hard thing for me to see, because I love being a mother and staying home with my children. It is an honor and a delight for me, and I’m thankful to God every day for this opportunity to pour into my children’s lives, to get to know them, to share the love of Jesus with them all day long as we go about our days, to instruct them in their schoolwork and tailor it to their specific learning styles and interests, and to just be with them. Though children are loved here in this culture, most families have only one child. That’s not even enough to replace the mother and father someday, and statistics are showing that the population of Romania–and Europe in general–is declining and aging. But that’s all for another post someday.
Some wonderful things I’ve seen as a mother here: the food is much healthier overall. The produce and bread we get is fresh and inexpensive and not covered in chemicals while being genetically modified in a factory somewhere. We can take the kids along to the market–where the older women gush over them saying “frumoase, frumoase” over and over while smiling and blowing them oodles of kisses–and they can help pick out the food grown here in Romania that we will eat later that day! Our girls, even though we live in a big city, get to walk a lot. We don’t have a car, so we walk to the bus stop or the metro stop, to the grocery store, around the mall across the street when in rains and we need to get out. There are puddles EVERYWHERE when it rains, so they can be kids and splash in them when we go out with umbrellas. There are several huge parks located near metro stops, so we can feel like we’re escaping the city and the kids can run around freely. And there are great museums where we can learn about the culture and life of Romania!
Overall, I’m enjoying my time here as a mother and wife and missionary and homeschool teacher. I’m excited for my children, my MK’s to grow up in a new place, learning a new language and culture, and have this experience with us. I can’t wait to find out even more!