Nearly every day, we have been praying for the collapse of the booming sex industry here in Bucharest. We’ve written of it before, but there are a plethora of night clubs with half-naked women, erotic massage parlors, who knows how many prostitutes, a growing webcam industry that recruits female students in women’s magazines, and human trafficking. We don’t know the extent of the industry, but it’s a big city, so I’m sure it’s relatively vast.
Anyway, I try to keep up a little with the news about Romania as much as I can, and I read on Tuesday that two of Bucharest’s most exclusive and posh night clubs were closed down this past weekend for financial fraud. Bamboo and Barletto are clubs in the northern part of the city, and I’ve heard they are difficult to get into, but they are notorious for bringing in lots of exotic dancers and catering to the elite and expat community of Bucharest.
Now, the clubs are closed down for only three months and many expect them to open sooner due to appeals in court by the owners, but I take it as encouragement to keep on praying for the crumbling of this offensive industry that markets women as objects to lust over and use for profit rather than as people created in the image of God for His glory, and that lures men into the addiction of pornography for the sake of making money.
Keep praying and keep exalting righteousness! God is big and He is good.
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.
As I’ve been here in Romania for about 2 1/2 months now, there are some things that I’ve learned about the situation of the people in this nation that disturb me greatly. And my post today is not to tear apart Romania, but to show the desperate need for prayer for the nation and people of Romania. Today, especially, this is weighing heavily on my heart as I pondered this morning during my prayer time just how big some of the problems are here. Of course, every nation and people has its own problems, but Romania is where I am, and it is the country that God has burdened our hearts for, so that is why it is heavy on my heart.
I’ve heard a lot about how corrupt the politicians are. They live in the nicest, most exclusive parts of town, with lots of cars and the best homes, pocketing money from the outrageous taxes levied on the citizens here, but not doing anything they promise. Every time we buy anything, there is a 24% sales tax rate. That’s almost a 1/4 of the price added on! Not to mention the money taken out of people’s incomes. But the roads here are terrible, the state hospitals are a nightmare (and we’ve been strongly recommended by many people not to use them), the buildings are crumbling, there is trash and graffiti everywhere, and many of the Gypsy community are living in squalor. Even the refugees from Myanmar we’ve met with here in Bucharest were promised money to help them get settled here, but that money never made it to them because the politicians pocketed it and left them to fend for themselves.
We’ve also heard about the corruption in both the medical field and within the police. Like I mentioned, most people have strongly cautioned us against using the state hospitals, because doctors will not treat you without a bribe, and even if you bribe them, they won’t be nice to you, and you won’t receive quality treatment. The state doctors make so little money that they only way they can survive is through accepting bribes, and they all look out for each other. Plus the court system is so agonizingly slow that you may never get your case heard if you try to take it to court. I’ve heard from several other friends that the police can easily be bribed out of giving you a ticket.
This system of bribery and corruption is completely unjust. Deuteronomy 16:19 says, “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.” God hates bribery and injustice, especially because it causes further oppression to the poor, keeping them in bondage, hungry, sick, and not taken care of. Another friend told us that the highest paying job available to students at the university (who cannot work full time because of school) is prostitution via webcams. They can earn up to 1000 Euros a month this way, whereas they may not find work elsewhere. Many of them are turning to this and other forms of prostitution in order to survive. And without a degree they are unlikely to find work, as one person told us, even many McDonald’s employees are required to have a college degree to even work there!
This corruption and injustice and bribery is feeding the sex industry, because it’s the only way many people can find work and survive! If not by choice, many Romanian women have been trafficked out of the country with promises of better lives only to find themselves enslaved as prostitutes across Europe. Two friends of ours working against human trafficking here in Bucharest went to a conference on Italy where they walked the streets talking to some of these women and found out that 9 out of 10 of those they spoke to were from Romania. In Bucharest, there are explicit posters, sex shops, indecent advertising, and way under-dressed women everywhere. And no one thinks anything of it. We took our family to the park the other day, and right by the playgrounds were tons of women out sunbathing topless in full sight of everyone. The sex industry and culture of oppression has made women feel that they are nothing here if they do not dress sexy and flaunt it. Even the mayor of the port city Constanța said that to increase tourism and profits, they should market their women in all their advertising. One tourism advertisement claimed that people should vacation in Romania, because unlike other places, they don’t have laws against nude sunbathing on the beaches. All the advertising, clothing styles, sex shops, and rampant sexual immorality breaks my heart for these women. I’ve cried many prayers because I don’t even know how to begin to act or even pray for this situation.
And this gross immorality has led Romania to have one of the highest abortion rates in the world. I won’t elaborate on it now, as that is enough for a whole post in and of itself, but this too brings aching in my heart to see God move powerfully in this nation.
Most statistics claim that over 90% of the nation is Christian, but most of these (about 87%) are Romanian Orthodox in name, meaning they are baptized as infants and get married in a church later in life. Most people rarely go to church, know a only little about Jesus because they are taught Orthodoxy in school, and have never had a real encounter with the living, powerful God of the Universe. Many taxi drivers and people we’ve spoken with while out and about claim that the priests are only in it for the money. Others who grew up Orthodox said they can’t even understand the services because the priests sing the entire service in a hard to understand voice while people walk around talking to each other and gossiping because there are often no seats and no way of understanding the priests anyway. How are they to hear the gospel?! How are they to know Jesus?! If they kiss a statue or cross themselves over and over again many times a day, will that make them right with God? It seems absurd, but this is what is taught here, and it has nothing to do with what Jesus or the Bible teaches us.
Add to these the ubiquitous racism, drunkenness, domestic violence, and a church that does not preach the gospel or holiness, and you have a people plagued with sin, depression, guilt, and hopelessness. Only God can shake this nation. Only God can bring healing and revival. Only God can make right all the injustice and corruption. Only God can, and my prayer is that He will bring a great revival here. The verses that keep coming to my mind as I ponder all this come from the end of Ezekiel 22:
23 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 24 “Son of man, say to her: ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.’ 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26 Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain. 28 Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the LordGod,’ when the Lord had not spoken. 29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God.
This word was given to Ezekiel by God for Israel, but I believe the spirit of it still applies today. God is so merciful; He wants all to repent and return to Him and be transformed, but if they continue in pride, oppressing people, spreading wickedness and lies and exalting sinful lifestyles and injustice, then, as a just God, He must act. I want to be one who doesn’t get hopeless and discouraged when I look at all the problems here; I want to be one who, in faith, makes a wall in prayer, standing in the gap before God on behalf of Romania. I love the people here with the love of God, and I want more of that love. I also want to see God come and right all the wrongs here.
This is a long post, and mostly just me pouring out my heart for this nation. Like I said, my purpose in writing it is to inspire me and everyone else to pray, stand in the gap before the Lord on behalf of Romania. God can do it! He can bring revival and healing and restoration to this nation!
If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest checking out Benjamin Skinner’s book A Crime So Monstrous – Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery. It’s an amazing work of journalism, brutal and intense in the reality of its subject. You can buy the book from Amazon or read a really good article about it here.
At one point in the book, Skinner describes underground brothels in Bucharest, where women are raped dozens of times every day. One pimp even offers to sell him one of his prostitutes, a girl with Down Syndrome, for the price of a used car. It’s sick and disturbing, but, honestly, when I read the book, what Skinner saw in Romania paled in comparison to the kind of slavery he saw in India, Africa, Haiti, and elsewhere, so it didn’t shock me like it should have.
One of the things that first got us interested in coming to Bucharest was to work against human trafficking. I saw myself as almost a Machine Gun Preacher type who’d come in and rescue all the trafficked women, lock up the pimps, and save Romania and the world from the evils of modern-day slavery. Now, as we’ve spent a year praying and asking God why He wants us here, I think I have a clearer picture that, ultimately, the thing that will end human trafficking is not one more awareness campaign or one more interdenominational nonprofit organization but the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When women get born-again, they won’t be duped into prostitution and sex slavery. When men get born-again, they won’t run underground brothels and massage parlors, and they won’t seek out their services. Educating people about human trafficking is a real necessity, but it will never end until the Gospel changes lives, it will only change shape and become some new form of evil.
The past few days, we’ve come face-to-face with some mild forms of modern-day slavery going on in Bucharest. If you can call any form of slavery mild. Slavery is slavery, however it’s packaged.
Pimps in Bucharest will keep men, women, and children as slaves, forcing them to hit the streets begging, washing car windows, or selling their bodies for sex. When the day is over, the slaves return to their pimps and give them what they earned that day. Pimps use violence, fear, manipulation, and threats to keep people under their control. The government has recommended nobody give anything to beggars or window-washers, because it all just goes into the hands of the pimps, not to the poor and orphaned that you think you’re helping. It’s a screwed up, messed up, perverted system, and it makes me sick to think people can be so cruel to other human beings.
The other day, we heard about an older woman who was raised in an orphanage here. There were so many girls and so little order that the whole place devolved into a Lord of the Flies kind of scenario – violence was common-place, alliances were made for protection, and gangs sprouted up in a bizarre ad hoc system of martial law. In the absence of Jesus, darkness is very dark.
Every time we’re in a car, people try to wash our windows, and we’re reminded again of the darkness of the human heart without God and the need for the transforming power of the Gospel.
Why am I sharing all this? Not to scare you or make you stay away from Romania, because Bucharest (and this entire nation) are really very safe and very beautiful. Bucharest has been called “The Little Paris” and “Europe’s Best-Kept Secret”. We love it here. The people are passionate and loving, the weather is amazing (so far), the food is fantastic, and it’s a little crazy at times but really fun.
Before coming here, we expected to find some evidence of human trafficking, but a lot of what we’d been reading and hearing from people was that the EU had helped Romania take care of things, so it was no longer an issue. I’m sure things are better than they were, but the reality is that there is still stuff going on that would make your stomach turn. Some friends we’ve met here, Ryan and Andrea Crozier, just came back from an anti-human-trafficking convention in Italy, where they met with a handful of street prostitutes, the overwhelming majority of whom came from Romania. You can read about it here. Were they trafficked illegally, or did they just choose a lifestyle of prostitution? I don’t know, but if 9 out of 10 prostitutes in Italy are Romanian, that’s a problem. Not that it wouldn’t be a problem if they were all Italian.
We’ve met some cool people here who are trying to end human trafficking. Some of them are raising awareness and gathering data, others are housing former trafficked women and helping them get back into regular life, others are speaking at schools and trying to bring all the different anti-human-trafficking organizations in Romania together… Andreea Gavrila, who gave us a ride to church at Missio Dei today, just got done speaking at a Christian school, where some of the girls came up to her afterwards sharing how they had friends who had been trafficked into prostitution. One of the plans she’s working on is to get a group of young Christian women to befriend the prostitutes, show them the love of Jesus, and help them escape that lifestyle.
Please pray for Andreea, Ryan and Andrea Crozier, and everyone else in Romania who is working to end human trafficking, prostitution, and all forms of slavery in this nation. Pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would go forth and do what it does best, bring transformation and change.