The missionary adventures of the Stimpson family

Posts tagged “Jesus

The Undeniable Influence of a Man

Last time I wrote on the blog, I talked about needing our eyes opened to the reality of who Jesus is. We take him for granted, we look at him like an interesting teacher, a good, moral person, a wise scholar… but we owe everything to him.

And not just us Christians. Whatever faith you are (or aren’t), I think the reality is that more of your worldview, more of your life, has been shaped by Jesus and his followers than you realize. No one, in all of history, has been as influential as Jesus.

I’m not a fan of plagiarism, so before going further, I want you to know that most of what I’m about to share comes from the books Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg and The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. I highly recommend those two books if you’re interested in learning about the influence Jesus has had through the ages.

Say what you will about Jesus, the life of this one Jew from a small town in Israel has impacted yours. Probably way more than you realize. Streets, cities, and even nations (El Salvador) are named after Jesus and his followers. One-third of the world’s population claims to worship him as their God. Children are named Paul, Peter, Mary, Elizabeth, even Jesus… because of the impact of this one man. Dates are set according to his birth. In most of the world, whether we choose to follow Jesus or not, we acknowledge his birth every time we write a check, add an event to our Google Calendar, date a government form, or refer to a historical event. Today is 22 November in the year 2013, 2013 years after Jesus’ supposed date of birth.

The life of this one man, who lived in a small town on the edge of the Roman Empire and died almost 2000 years ago, has impacted our lives more than seems appropriate.

The legacy of Pharoah Tutankhamun has vanished. Alexander the Great is barely a shadow. The great caesars of Rome, emperors of China, and tsars of Russia live on only in history books and Hollywood films. Yet the life of this one man, who never conquered a nation, never built an empire, never led an army, persists to this day.

Our whole idea of human dignity can be traced to Jesus. Before him, dignity came from position, strength, power. Greeks competed in the Olympics to highlight the strong and worthy, Pharoah and other kings were said to be the image of God. And then Jesus came along and said that we all bear the image of God, rich or poor, young or old, strong or weak. He said we must become like little children (weak, dependent) if we’re to see the Kingdom of God. If you see all people as being worthy, if you’ve seen value where there is no strength or power, you’ve been influenced by the thinking of Jesus.

Our idea of compassion on the weak comes from Jesus. Again, Jesus came into a world where it was recommended parents kill their own children if they were born malformed or disfigured or sickly. In philosophy and social thinking, only the strong and powerful were valued. The first orphanages and hospitals were started by Christians, followers of Jesus who saw in their Master a devotion to help the helpless, care for the weak, and heal the sick. If you’ve ever been to a hospital, you can thank Jesus for that one. Prisons have been reformed from hell-holes without hope to places where even the bad can become good. Why? Because one man, Jesus, told his followers to show compassion on prisoners. Slavery, once a completely normal institution in the time of Jesus, is almost universally condemned (though not wiped out), because one man’s followers took it seriously that it’s written, “There is neither slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

The concept of equality between the sexes isn’t something invented by progressive 1960s feminists but by Jesus himself. The world Jesus entered was grotesquely anti-female. Roman citizens would usually care for their male babies, but if a girl was conceived, more often than not, the baby was either aborted before birth or killed shortly after. Infant girls were “exposed,” a nice word that means the babies were left outside to die of starvation or be eaten by wild animals. Archaeologists investigating sewers in ancient Roman cities have found pipes clogged with the bodies of baby girls. If a girl made it into life, she was usually denied education, and her legal status was much closer to that of property than a human. In this world, Jesus came along and allowed women to follow him in ministry, to sit at his feet and learn among his disciples. He entrusted to women the details of his resurrection before he appeared to the men. And so the early church, in Jesus’ footsteps, valued and cherished women instead of treating them as inferior like the surrounding society. Equality between men and women? That was Jesus’ introduction to your thinking.

The value of education was something Jesus and his followers introduced to the world. Maybe you hate school, so you’d be happier without Jesus’ influence here, but for the rest of us, we have Jesus to thank for our educations. Jesus told his followers to “Love the Lord your God with all your mind,” and to that end, his disciples have gone all over the world establishing schools, developing written languages, creating alphabets (Cyrillic was invented by a monk), teaching people to read, and encouraging educational advancement. The first universities were all started by Christians, followers of Jesus. The early scientists were mostly Christians who were studying the world to know more of their orderly God – Johannes Kepler, William of Ockham, Francis Bacon, Galileo, Copernicus, Blaise Pascal, Joseph Priestley, Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton…

Our idea of humility comes from Jesus. If you’ve ever cringed at someone boasting in their own greatness, that’s Jesus’ influence in your worldview. Before Jesus, philosophers and social thinkers viewed humility as weakness. Men like Aristotle and Plutarch taught their disciples how to do great things and effectively boast in them. Roman literature is filled with the self-exalting writings of men who thought they deserved praise but could find no other voice to praise themselves but their own. Then Jesus came on the scene and said things like, “Blessed are the meek” and “If you want to be great, become like a servant.” His early followers went on to say similar things, Paul telling his churches, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” Why did Paul have to write that? Because it was so contrary to the normal thinking of his day. And ours, really.

The whole idea of forgiveness comes from Jesus. In the ancient world, forgiveness was weakness. To forgive an enemy would be a sign that he defeated you. Yet Jesus came along and said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Scholars have suggested that Jesus was really, truly, the first thinker / philosopher to put forgiveness in a positive light. Before him, it just wasn’t an idea in the world.

Our ideas of hypocrisy, our hatred for it, the sick feeling we get when we see someone acting hypocritical all come from Jesus. Before Jesus, a hypocrite was simply a Greek term for an actor. Then Jesus came around and talked more about hypocrisy than anyone else. He literally re-invented the term, creating in it the negative associations it carries today. He was the first person to condemn hypocrisy, acting one way for some people and another way for others – before him, it wasn’t a bad thing, just something you had to do to get by in life. Scholar Eva Kittay noted, “It is clear from the literary records that it was Jesus alone who brought this term hypocrisy and the corresponding character into the moral record of the Western world.” If you can’t stand when people are acting like hypocrites (even Jesus’ own followers!) that’s a mark of His influence in your thinking. Without his thinking on hypocrisy, you wouldn’t care about it. You’d call it wisdom, just like everyone else before Jesus called it.

Most of our ideas of sex and marriage come from Jesus. It’s funny to me that people call Christianity’s ideas of marriage without divorce and sexual purity “traditional” and “old-fashioned.” The reality is that these ideas were new things to the Western world when Jesus introduced them. In the ancient world, marriage was flexible. Men had multiple wives, concubines, and mistresses. It was considered normal for men to visit prostitutes and commit adultery, as long as it wasn’t with a married woman. Homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and sex with children wasn’t just accepted but in many ways held up as the ideal. The emperor Comodus had over 200 young boys and girls kept as sex slaves, doctors prescribed orgasms to children to help with certain sicknesses. Even the gods of ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome lived lives of sexual promiscuity and misconduct. If you’ve ever felt disgusted by pornography, if something inside you cringes at the thought of adults having sex with children, if it seems somehow wrong to engage in sex with animals, that’s Jesus’ influence in your life. If you want your marriage to last for life, if you’ve dreamed of that perfect man romantically sweeping you off your feet in devoted love, if you’ve watched Pride and Prejudice and found yourself wanting a romance like that of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy… you have Jesus to thank for showing you a better way of sex and marriage.

Say what you will about him, the fact remains that Jesus has shaped everything in our world today for the better, often in spite of the foolishness and stubbornness of those of us who call him our leader.

Jesus is the reason you think the way you do. He’s the reason our world looks the way it does. Say what you will about him, his influence is undeniable.


Who Is This Man?

I haven’t written here in a long time… Life has been crazy busy, and I plan on putting up some new testimonies and ministry / life updates soon, but in the meantime, I’ve begun writing for my friend Camil’s blog ARPS, which stands for “Art Religion Philosophy Science.” I’m supplying the religion part in the midst of a bunch of philosophers and scientists, though I’ve never been a fan of “religion,” per se. I love Jesus, but all the trappings of “religion” kinda’ just freak me out.

Anyway, since I’m writing about Jesus for the ARPS blog, until I get my act together and write other stuff here again, I figured I’ll at least post here what I’m posting there. Hope you enjoy some of my thoughts on Jesus…

I meet a lot of people every week, and usually concepts of religion and spirituality come up in one form or another. Most people in Romania (and America) know the name of Jesus, they’ve been to a church service, they can tell you the story of how Jesus was born in Bethlehem and died on a cross and rose again.  They’ll tell you stories of how he healed the sick, how he walked on water, how he understood the Father better than most.

Our heads are filled with lots of information about Jesus, but we don’t really know Him and we’re not really letting His life change ours.

I forgot where the quote originates from, but someone once said, “We’re way too familiar with a God we barely know.”

At the end of chapter four in the book of Mark, there’s a story of Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Of course, you already knew that, because we all know all sorts of facts about Jesus, right?

Anyway, Jesus is in the boat with his disciples when a big rainstorm appears. The rainstorm turns into a thunderstorm that’s so fierce that Jesus’ disciples, fishermen who make their living on the sea and aren’t scared by little rainstorms, start to freak out.

They look for Jesus, only to find him sleeping, completely unaware of the storm. You can’t blame him. Jesus just got done with a full day of ministry, it was late, and he was tired. So he took a nap while he trusted his disciples to get him where he needed to go.

So the disciples, scared and a little offended that Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned, wake him up and yell, “Don’t you care that we’re going to die!?” So he wakes up, takes a look at the fierce storm, and simply commands it to stop. And here’s the crazy thing – it actually stops.

After this, no doubt Jesus went back to sleep, but the disciples, the account records, are terrified even more than before. The story tells us they’re “filled with great fear” and begin to ask each other, “Who is this man?”

“What just happened? Did you see that? Who is this guy? What kind of power does this guy have? What kind of person is this? Who does this sort of thing? I thought we were just hanging out with a really godly carpenter who loved God and knew the Scriptures really well… but this is, this is something different…”

Earlier, when the wind and waves start rising up, the Bible records that the disciples are afraid. The word Mark uses is a word that’s only ever used negatively in the Bible. It’s a word that means the disciples were weak, wimpy, cowardly, frightened like little girls seeing a big spider (I have 3 little girls, so I can say this). It’s like Mark is telling us, “The storm was so bad that everyone was acting like wusses, scared out of their minds and whining like babies.”

But at the end of the story, after they see Jesus calm the storm, the word Mark uses for fear is an entirely different Greek word. It’s usually used in the positive sense, like having a fear of God. It’s a word that means the disciples were so filled with terror that they’d rather run away if they could. It means intense and fearful awe, terrifying reverence like we’d feel if God himself stepped into the room and we saw him in all his glory.

Suddenly, it’s like the disciples’ eyes were opened and they realized that something more powerful and more terrifying than a storm at sea was in the boat with them.

“Who is this man? I thought he was just a carpenter, a really good rabbi, probably a prophet… but this? Who is this man?”

I think we all need our eyes opened like the disciples. Instead of being terrified by the wind and waves around us, instead of treating Jesus like a character in a child’s bedtime story, instead of getting annoyed that he doesn’t seem to be helping you, I think we need to let him open our eyes, bringing us to the place where we look around and ask each other, “Who is this man? I thought he was just a religious figure, I thought he was just someone grandma talked about, but this… what is this? Who is this man?”

30 Reflections on April 30th of One Year in Bucharest


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. I miss black people. Milwaukee was so diverse, and we lived in a neighborhood where whites were the minority.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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!
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Romanian kids are really cute. And the way they roll their “r”s when speaking is great!
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. Meeting with God, alone, every day, undistracted is the most crucial and important part of ministry.
  25. Going grocery shopping without a car for a household of seven people gets heavy!
  26. Bucharest has really nice parks to get the kids outside releasing wiggles, and it is the place where I most easily meet new people.
  27. 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.
  28. 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.
  29. I like when people visit us. I like letters and care packages. 🙂
  30. Jesus is with me always. Even to the end of the earth.

The Gospel is the Power of God, Pt. 2 – Redeemed

Toshiba Exif JPEG

The Gospel changes lives.  The fact that Jesus came, died on a cross, and rose again is more than a fairy tale, more than a nice story to tell kids at bedtime, more than simply some well-written material for Easter plays.  The Gospel is everything.

The Gospel is God’s answer to every problem in our hearts and our world.  Every weakness, fear, disease, cruelty, depravity, confusion, and sickness finds its answer in the Gospel.  Paul called it “the power of God to salvation” in Romans 1:16.

Back here, I started a discussion of some of the ways the Bible describes what the Gospel does in our lives, beginning with the concept of adoption.  If you haven’t read it, go back and take a look.  It’s good stuff.  🙂

Now let’s go on to the next one.


Luke records Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, speaking of the ministry of Jesus in Luke 1:68.  He proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people!”

To understand this concept of redemption, you’ve got to go into Zechariah’s world as a 1st century Jew raised on the Law and the Prophets.

The concept of redemption shows up repeatedly in the Old Testament.  Over and over again, God is said to have redeemed people.  He redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt.  He redeemed her from exile in Babylon.  He redeemed people from death, from oppression, from violence.  And in the same way, Zechariah is saying, He is coming in Jesus to redeem us from sin.

Now dig a little deeper and things get even cooler.  In Leviticus 27:13, it says that if someone dedicates an item to God, consecrating it, and they later realize they want it back, they can have it, but they have to redeem it by paying what it’s worth and addding 1/5th to it, making the item theirs again, to do with as they please.  God redeemed us through the cross.  Though we gave ouselves up to the service of sin and darkness, God paid to redeem us through the blood of Jesus.  He bought us back so we could be His again.

Alright, that’s sweet, but let’s keep going further, where things start to get really cool.  In the Old Testament, each family was given land.  This land was their inheritance from God, passed down through the generations, a special gift to them alone that was meant to bless them and serve as a reminder of the covenant God had made with them.

Losing this special gift from God would be a huge disgrace, not to mention the fact that survival in an agrarian society would be next to impossible without your land.  So God provided a way so that, if someone was forced to sell their land due to financial hardship, when they got back on their feet, either they or a family member could come along and redeem it, buying it back and restoring it to its rightful owner.  We were that abandoned plot of land, and Jesus redeemed us through His blood.  He bought us back from the enemy and gave us to our rightful owner, God.  We were His to begin with, and though we had sold ourselves to another, He paid to make us His again.

So what if things went really badly, so bad that you had to sell yourself into slavery to pay off your debts?  Then a family member had the obligation to redeem you if they could, to pay the price for your freedom, so you wouldn’t have to be a slave any longer.  Though you had ruined your life, wasted all your money, and sold yourself into slavery just to survive, a loving family member could pay for your release, and you would be free, redeemed.  Jesus did this on the cross.  He paid for our release from slavery, though we had willfully sold ourselves into it by our own bad choices and hatred of God.

And then there’s the concept of the kinsman redeemer.  Read the book of Ruth to get a good visual of this.  If a woman found herself a widow, without a husband, a home, or sons to take care of her, then the nearest of kin had the obligation to redeem her, to take her as his wife, raise up children for her dead husband, provide for her, love her, and be the husband that she used to have.  It’s a weird idea to our modern minds, where women can date, find a husband on-line, get any job they want, get college degrees, and fly space shuttles, but in ancient Israel, a woman without a husband didn’t have a whole lot of options waiting for her.  She had no way of finding a new husband, and if she remained single, my guess is she’d have to either find some friends or relatives to mooch off of or resort to begging, slavery, or prostitution to survive.  The kinsman redeemer was there to spare her from that life and to make sure she could have as normal a life as possible.

Redemption.  It’s the idea of restoring something back to the way it should have been all along, before things went bad, whatever the costs may be.  Jesus redeemed us.  Though the cost was astronomical, He bought us out of slavery, He paid for us to be His again, He became our kinsman redeemer who gave us everything so we didn’t have to be at the mercy of fate and enemies much bigger and stronger than us.

This is the power of the Gospel, that when we were worthless and lost, without family, land, or even our own freedom, Jesus came and redeemed us with His blood.  We were like the Prodigal Son, we had wasted all our money, sold ourselves into slavery, and we deserved the hard life and judgment of sin we were under, yet God, through Jesus, redeemed us.  He paid to make us His again.  He redeemed us from our slavery and set us free.

Motherhood in Bucharest

The kiddos!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.

Sharing Jesus with the Play-doh Girl

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.

“Five Books” by Jessie

This is a follow-up to Jake’s post, Five Books That’ll Change Your Life. He recommended some really great books there, so I would check that post out after reading this one. I love to read, and there are several books that I’ve read that I often recommend to people, and the following five are some of them. Now, this doesn’t mean that these are my five favorite books, but just ones that I really like and want to tell the world about. So, in no particular order, here they are:

Buy on Amazon

1. The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones)

Yes, this is technically a “children’s” book, but my whole family loves it so much, that I wanted to start with this one. This is not a bible translation, but a bible storybook. It is so well-written and engaging that even adults will like reading it for themselves and the children in their lives. Some of the stories even brought tears to my eyes, as the author portrays the love, gentleness, and absolute passion of God for His people. Over and over you’ll read about “the never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love” of God, a love that is ultimately expressed in the gift of His Son Jesus. The artwork is also really well done, and Naomi and I often sit down with pens, markers, and pastels attempting to draw them ourselves.

Buy on Amazon

2. Andrew Murray on Prayer

Ok, this is sort of a cheater recommendation, because it’s really like six books in one. But with classics like “Abide in Christ,” “With Christ in the School of Prayer,” and “Waiting on God,” I couldn’t help but suggest this book. It’s one of my all-time favorites, one of the first books we wanted to have shipped over to us here in Romania (although it may have gotten lost among other things), and one that transformed my understanding of prayer, intercession, and what it means to abide in Jesus day by day and moment to moment.

Buy on Amazon

3. They Speak with Other Tongues (John Sherrill)

This is the “controversial” book in my list. Speaking in tongues is one of those dividing issues in the church today, possibly the weirdest of all the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible, and, I think, one of the most under-used gifts that God gave to His people. The author is a journalist (which means it’s extremely well-written) from an Anglican background who initially sets out to write about the gift of speaking in tongues objectively and as a skeptic. As you read amazing true-life stories that he presents, you will also see his mind change regarding this spiritual gift and eventually embrace it as God intended.

I love this book, and it’s one I want to read again. I recommend it to every Christian, whether they believe in the gifts of the Spirit for today or not, because you will see one of the most balanced investigations of it here. And if you already embrace speaking in tongues, this book will inspire you to do it more often for the glory of God.

Buy on Amazon

4. Dreams and Visions (Tom Doyle)

This book is on my list because I just read it recently, as I received it free from Thomas Nelson to preview. Even though I’m a busy mom and missionary wife, I finished this book in two or three days. I loved it because it didn’t get too preachy, but it just presented a lot of stories about Muslims coming to faith in Jesus in journeys that started with supernatural dreams or visions of Jesus. When you read this book, you will get a glimpse of God’s love for the Muslim people and of how He will stop at nothing to reach them. If you’re like me, you also will catch that love in your own heart and want to be a part of this great move of God in the Muslim world!

Buy on Amazon

5. Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis)

This “book” is really a collection of sermons C.S. Lewis delivered mostly during the time period in which WWII was occurring. “The Weight of Glory” is the first in this collection, and my favorite. In it, Lewis, addresses the fact that Christians often ask so little of God, when He offers so much more. One of my favorite parts: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” And the whole sermon just gets better. I love C.S. Lewis, so I couldn’t have a list of books without something by him on it.

That wraps up my first five in this series. Now you have ten total books to go read from what Jake and I have recommended!