Hollywood, like it or not, is America’s greatest evangelist around the world. What happens in Hollywood travels around the globe, the good, the bad, and the ugly. No one (speaking in hyperbole) cares about British cinema, Canadian cinema, Romanian cinema. No one outside India and a few niche markets cares about Bollywood. But when a movie comes out of Hollywood, the world notices. When Hollywood announces a new blockbuster thriller, people around the world wait to grab it up as soon as they can, at theaters, in video stores, online through bit torrent. Like it or not, Hollywood, with all it’s flashy immorality, is transforming the globe.
I love movies, I really love movies – big summer blockbusters, low-budget independent films, little-known foreign flicks, I love ’em all, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with people lately that honestly make me really mad at Hollywood and ashamed to be an American.
Hollywood has become America’s most powerful evangelist, but for a counterfeit Gospel of violence, sexual immorality, and selfish pleasure. Muslims in Arabic nations have referred to America as “The Great Satan” partially because of what they see being displayed in Hollywood. I don’t blame them. If all you know of America is Hollywood movies, then we are a breeding ground for every wicked thing ever invented.
Last week, I was telling a student here, George, how things in America are different than in Bucharest. The topic of immorality came up. “In America,” I told him, “you’ll have bad stuff in the cities, but it’s only a few places, and it’s hard to find, covered up. You have to go to Las Vegas or LA or really seedy areas of big cities if you want to get into some of the more gross sins. Here, it’s all right out in the open.” I was referring to the billboards showcasing scantily-clad women, the topless beaches and parks, the sexually graphic advertising in newspapers, the explicit pornography openly displayed in magazine stands, the sex shops every few blocks, the innumerable flyers, posters, and magazine ads for erotic massage parlors and escort services, the prostitutes walking the streets, the advertisements for web cam models… I even saw a brand of bottled water with naked women on the label in order to draw attention to it.
“No,” George told me, “that can’t be true. I’ve seen Hollywood movies. I know how bad America is. Drugs, killing, sex everywhere, prostitution. I know what America is like.”
I told him that Hollywood was a lie. I told him that America was better than that, that what he saw on Hollywood wasn’t reality, that most of America was still very conservative, very moral, not Christian per se, but holding to a level of Puritan morality. But he didn’t buy it. Hollywood had convinced him otherwise.
A few days later, I was talking with Gabi, who confessed, “I used to hate America for everything I saw in movies. I thought maybe the Muslims were right, maybe America was the Great Satan of the world.” Then he got saved, stumbled onto some American preachers, and was amazed that here, in the midst of such great evil (the crime, violence, drugs, rape, prostitution, lust, and pornography of Hollywood), there were actually men of God preaching the Bible. Then he found more and more preachers from America who were really good, and American Christian books and movies that changed his life, and he was confused how such great evil could come out of Hollywood, yet there could be so many good churches and preachers and books and worship music.
Another day, Paula, who will be vacationing with her husband in America next month, told me that she was terrified to go to America. “I will get shot,” she told me. “They will sell me drugs and turn me into a prostitute. I’ve seen it in movies.” She went on to tell me how her whole family is terrified for her and has told her to be careful in America because everyone has guns and sells drugs. Why do they think this? I’ll give you one guess. Hollywood.
Today, I was talking with Adi. He told me, “Many of us here would not have tried drinking and parties and sexual immorality except for Hollywood. It was movies like American Pie that made me think the whole party life was what was normal. I didn’t want to look like a geek and not do those things, so I started hosting big parties in my house in High Schoool.” He reasoned that it was Hollywood that opened many young people in Romania toward sin. He saw immorality and drunkenness presented in such a fun light in all the movies that he started to think that was what life was all about. Many of his friends, he said, modeled their lives after the sexual immorality they saw in Hollywood movies. They assumed all Americans were living in immorality, based on what they saw in the movies, and if Americans were doing it, and America was on top of the world, it must be good.
So Adi and many others were duped into a life of sin because Hollywood was a better evangelist than the Christians.
Is America the Great Satan? I hope not, but if you judge America according to what’s coming out of Hollywood and influencing the nations of the world, maybe the Muslims are closer to the truth than we like to admit.
Lord, bring revival to America. We need it.
I have a lot more “important” things to post about, people we’ve met, conversations about God we’ve been having, parts of the city we’ve been exploring, doors God has opened… but today I want to talk about elevators.
Romania has given me a new love for elevators. Real elevators. Not those Cadillac-sized monstrosities in America with mirrors all around, air conditioning, soothing music, and air fresheners. No, I’m talking about elevators just a little bigger than a casket, with fading lights and a dingy scent of cigarette smoke. With creaky doors that don’t close all the way. Elevators that make sounds like “ka-chunk” when they start moving. Now that’s an elevator.
There should be a sense of danger when you step into an elevator, a feeling that you are currently being hoisted up at high speed past jagged bricks, rusted wire, crumbling mortar, and graffiti-marked passages, on wires and pulleys clanging like Jacob Marley’s chains with the lonely tone of a ship’s bell.
What are these poor excuses for vertical transportation they’re making nowadays in more “civilized” nations? These contraptions that numb society into unconscious complacency by their elegance and ease?
But I digress…
We’ve had a number of fun experiences on the elevator in our apartment bloc (lights shutting off, can’t gain access to certain floors, doors opening in-between floors, elevator stopping while we’re in it, cramming 8 people into one tiny elevator, etc.). But my favorite experience on our elevator happened this evening.
Tonight, I was heading to the mall to meet with a member of Spiritual Revival Church, a small church in Bucharest headed by a pastor from Sudan and with members from Romania, Australia, the Congo, Canada, America, and Myanmar… and maybe others, but I don’t know everyone yet. We’ve participated in a few events the church has done, spoke at their ministry to refugees, and have been invited to preach this Sunday and at their church retreat in a couple weeks. We like the church a lot and are having a great time getting to know people there, learning about the situation here in Romania, and ministering.
Anyway, I had a meeting at the mall, so I jumped in the elevator and began cruising down to the ground floor. As the elevator “landed,” but before the doors opened, I could hear the high-pitched sound of tweener boys outside the doors. They were talking in Romanian very quickly, laughing, and apparently having a great time.
When the elevator stopped, I went to open the doors, but they beat me to it. Everything went so quickly, but it seemed like time slowed down as one of the young men opened the door without looking, turned around, saw me, and screamed at the top of his lungs, followed quickly by the other two letting out high-pitched squeals of terror.
Then, just as abruptly as their terror overtook them, it switched gears into hilarious, almost psychotic, middle school laughter. Well, mostly middle-school laughter. I thought it was pretty funny too. As we all laughed, one of the boys looked at me and said, “Hello. Hello. Hello,” which only made his friends even more delirious.
Aaaaaah, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as scaring little Romanian children after riding a bonafide Bucharest elevator…
Note to readers: Don’t get the wrong idea about the elevators here. They’re really not so bad. They usually feel mostly safe, and they work most of the time, but they’re definitely more exciting than elevators in America. If elevators were sci-fi movies, Romanian elevators would be Star Wars (Episodes IV, V, and VI of course) and American elevators would be 2001 A Space Odyssey. Lame.
With a title as grandiose as that, you’re probably expecting more than I’m going to say, but, hey, it got you reading didn’t it?
I’ve been doing a lot of research on the cost of living in Romania. When I first talked it over with a missionary friend of mine in Arad, he said a salary of about $1,000 a month would probably be fine to support our entire family, but $1,500 would be safer. A seasoned missionary to Russia I talked with told me $1,500 would probably be fine but $2,000 would be safer. As I looked at websites online, it appeared that $2,000 might be about right, but $3,000 would be safer. A long-time missionary to China I met with said he figured about $4,000 a month would be right. And last week I met with a man who served in Romania for almost 20 years. His estimate? $6,500 a month. And then a friend of mine told me he has some friends going to Czech Republic who are raising $7,800 a month, for a couple!
What the heck?! This begs a number of questions…
1) Which number is accurate? Should I raise $1,000 a month or $7,800? I feel like about $2,000 should be fine, but I really don’t know.
2) If $2,000 should be fine, what’s with all the huge salary requirements? Let’s look at $7,800 a month. I’ll assume half that is for administrative fees and costs from the sending organization. So we’re at $3,900. Then maybe you add on really nice health insurance, life insurance, rent for a big American style home, regular flights back home for the whole family, and a few modern conveniences of American life transported to Eastern Europe. Yeah, OK, the cost could go up pretty quickly.
3) What are we doing if we make it so expensive for someone to become a missionary? Shouldn’t it simply be a matter of hearing from God and then going wherever He told you to go? Why should only those who have large houses to sell or huge retirement accounts or lots of contacts who can support them financially be able to do missions? Have we created a professional missionary, who spends his time pillaging the pockets of Americans so he can live like an American overseas?
OK, that last one was more than one question…
Seriously, though, whatever happened to missionaries like John G. Lake, who showed up in Africa with his wife and kids and not even enough money to make it into the country? Or Bruce Olsen, who had just a one-way ticket and a vision of God impacting a community? Or like this missionary to South America I met recently. His dad left to South America (I forget which nation) with only $40 a month in committed support. Missions boards turned him down, friends and family thought he was nuts, but he took his wife and four kids and drove to South America to reach the native tribes. This was back in the early 1900s, before the Pan-American Highway or anything.
Since when did being a missionary mean you get to live in the biggest house in the community, make more money than the locals, and have all your medical, dental, and life insurance needs provided for by businesses back in the US?
We’ve turned the missionary calling into a yuppy world-hopping adventure of ease and excitement.
I still don’t know how much exactly we should try to raise in support, because you’ve got to balance faith with hard work and common sense, but I do know this – if God called us to Romania, He’s gonnna get us there and He’s gonna keep us there. We’re going to Romania and we’re gonna live like the Romanians, not like Americans. We’re gonna trust Jesus for our finances, not our team of supporters back home. And we’re getting one-way tickets, expecting to possibly never return.
I’m not interested in being a professional missionary. I just want to follow the call of God.