Below is an article I wrote for Hand of Help, a ministry that reaches out to the poor and hurting in northern Romania, after visiting the orphanage in Botosani last week. If you want to support a ministry that is literally changing lives, head over here to make a donation:
Visiting the Hand of Help orphanage in Botosani is a very dangerous thing. You can’t visit and leave unchanged.
My wife and I packed up our four kids and moved to Bucharest, Romania, as missionaries almost four years ago. We didn’t have any real plan other than we felt God was calling us to plant a church in the city, so we went about meeting people, learning the language, getting to know the city, doing evangelism, anything we could think of.
One of the first people we met was Daniel Boldea, who overheard me speaking English at an electronics store and wandered over to introduce himself. He told us about the Hand of Help orphanage and suggested we pay a visit sometime.
“Wow,” I told him, “the orphanage sounds really great. Maybe we’ll visit next month.”
Well that was almost four years ago, and we finally made it up for a visit last week.
The focus of our ministry in Romania is planting a church in Bucharest, which means we spend most of our time serving in this crowded, dusty, fast-moving city, but once in a while, we just need to escape and breathe some fresh country air.
A couple weeks ago, we did just that. We booked a cabin in the mountains, hopped in the van, and drove all day to spend a week in the countryside. Afterward, we finally took Daniel up on his offer to visit the orphanage, since it was only a few hours from our destination in the mountains.
As we were driving toward Botosani, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Years ago, I had visited an orphanage in Haiti that made my heart sick. The children were thin, covered in dirt, and barely clothed. Many were obviously malnourished, others clearly suffering from sickness. There were not enough beds for all the children, so many bodies shared one mattress, and what beds they did have were filthy and covered in mold. A missionary friend explained that those running the orphanage kept most of the donations to care for themselves. She surmised the ministry was merely a convenient way for the administrators to make some money from donors whose heartstrings were pulled by the poverty they saw.
Seeing the children at the orphanage in Haiti broke my heart. The poverty, the starvation, the sickness… and the uncaring cruelty of administrators who would allow these children to live like animals. One young boy told me he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. I tried to encourage him that anything is possible with God, but in my heart I knew he would never be a doctor. With caretakers like he had, I didn’t even know if he would live to adulthood.
Would the Hand of Help orphanage be the same? Would we be brought to tears by the poverty and hopelessness?
Or maybe it would be like Annie, bedraggled children scrubbing floors and singing “The sun’ll come out… tomorrow…” under Miss Hannigan’s dreadful gaze. Would the children of Hand of Help have a similar hard-knock life?
The answer to both questions is the same. No. You will not find sad children suffering from disease, sleeping four to a mattress, not sure where their next meal will come from. You will not find broken, hardened children hoping to escape the harsh cruelties of orphanage life.
Hand of Help is a place of hope, a place where children in dire circumstances, rejected and abandoned by their families, can find a family that really cares for them. It’s a place where children who would grow up to be prostitutes, beggars, and thieves really can instead become doctors, teachers, pastors, or anything else they dream of.
If you visit the Hand of Help orphanage, the first thing you’ll notice are the smiles. The kids are smiling, the staff is smiling, the leaders are smiling… everyone is smiling. This is a place of joy.
As we pulled into the grounds, instantly we were surrounded by kids. They weren’t asking for candy or hoping for sweets. They just wanted to greet us, to talk to us, to meet the visitors. One young girl pulled out some snacks and shared them with our family, then another one gave us a whole bag for ourselves. When we tried to refuse it, she wouldn’t let us give it back to her.
We spent three nights at the orphanage, we got to know some of the kids, we heard stories from Mircea about God’s miraculous provision and lives that have been rescued, we met a pastor who grew up at Hand of Help, and we saw a place we can support with all our hearts.
I can’t recommend this ministry enough. Everything they’re doing is done really well. The building is clean and in good repair, the children are all clean, healthy, and clothed normally, everyone has a bed to sleep in, the rooms are not overcrowded, the food is healthy, fresh, and abundant, the older children all cheerfully help in the daily running of the orphanage, the workers are obviously caring and loving…
“When the children are in school, we want our children to look the same as every other child,” Mircea told us, before quickly correcting himself. “No, we want them to look the best.” And why not? These are children of the King. Why should they be neglected, these who’ve already been thrown into circumstances harder than any of us will ever face? Why should they suffer not just the loss of their families but also their dignity and respect?
It’s obvious everyone at the orphanage feels the same way. They want to give their kids the best they can so they can have a chance at a normal life.
Don’t misunderstand me. When I say the kids have “the best,” I don’t mean anyone is living in luxury. You won’t see designer jeans, smartphones, big screen TVs, or palaces built for kings here. But you will see lots of happy, healthy, smiling kids who have everything they need for a normal life.
When we left the orphanage, I promised Mircea we would recommend the ministry to everyone we knew, and that as God blessed us, we would gladly pass on the blessing and support the work financially.
“Prayer,” he told us, “that is what we need the most. Just pray for us, and God will provide everything.”
Well that’s a sneaky thing to say, because when you start praying for something, before too long God tells you to act.
This morning, we got on the Hand of Help website to begin sponsoring one of the orphans we met. His name is Nicolae. I didn’t know his background when we met him at the orphanage. All I knew was that he was the smiling teenager who busily served in the kitchen, set up our meals, visited our table to make sure all the food tasted good, and advised us to eat more slowly so we can better enjoy the food.
I wish we had enough money to support him for all his needs, and other children too, but we don’t, so we figured out how we could at least do something, because we can’t just sit here and do nothing anymore.
Like I said, visiting the Hand of Help orphanage is a very dangerous thing.
Did you know you can return sub-par hamburgers and french fries at the department store Carrefour? Yes, say you buy a hamburger in their cafe, you take a bite and it seems a little dry, so you take a few more just to make sure, and then, nearly done with the sandwich, you realize that, yes, your original estimation was indeed correct and this sandwich, contrary to what you had been led to believe, was not so delicious and juicy after all, you can, if you find yourself in said predicament, go to the customer service department and demand a refund. And, if it happens to you like it did to me, you might get offered double the money back, only to tell them that they made a math error and you really only need the original amount back, not twice as much, but you appreciate the gesture.
Today, I treated a bunch of friends to dinner at Carrefour. You can get hot dogs for 30 cents and a sandwich for 60 cents, so if you need to treat a bunch of friends to dinner, it’s a good place to go.
It’s also a good place to go when the pizza restaurant you originally plan to eat at tells you, “I’m sorry, but your pizzas won’t be ready for at least five hours. We have a lot to do tonight. What? You already paid for the pizzas? Oh, yay for us.”
So we found ourselves at Carrefour eating hamburgers and hot dogs instead, licking our wounds and glad that the disappearing pizzas had at least been really cheap. As far as disappearing pizzas go and all.
When my soda came, I took a drink and realized that their soda machine was running out of syrup (the soda tasted like water). I like water, so I contemplated just drinking it and walking away content, but then I realized that if I didn’t say something and let them know their machine needed more syrup, other customers would get the same nasty soda-water combo that I got. Everyone would get bad service, nothing would change, and the restaurant would never improve.
I went to the counter and explained that I had ordered a soda, but what they gave me was mineral water, without the flavoring. In hindsight, I would like to have said, “I think your machine needs the syrup refilled, because the soda came out watery,” but I don’t know how to say that in Romanian yet.
Thankfully, the workers connected the dots. Halfway. They told me, “It’s not our fault. We got the soda from the machine.”
“It’s your machine,” I told them. “And I’d like the soda I paid for, not water please.”
After pouring me two more test cups, calling me stubborn, complaining that I was trying to get free soda, and simply ignoring me, I asked if they’d give me a can of the soda that I had ordered, since their machine wasn’t working. They said no. I asked for my money back, because I didn’t want to pay for a soda that was more water than soda.
“You can go to reception and talk to someone,” the woman told me.
OK. So I did. Me and my friend Daniel walked to reception and told them, “I ordered this hamburger, french fries, and soda, but when they gave me the soda, it didn’t have any flavoring. I just want to have the soda like I ordered.”
“It doesn’t have flavoring? Why not?”
I wanted to throw up my arms and sarcastically yell out, “It’s the machine’s fault! No one can do anything about it!”
She asked me if I had the receipt.
“No, they never gave me one.”
“You need the receipt if you want to return this purchase.” Well, I didn’t want to return this purchase. I wanted to eat it. I just wanted someone to put syrup in the soda machine so me and other people could get the sodas they were paying for instead of mineral water. I hadn’t even tried my burger or fries. They looked good, so why would I return them? And who returns a meal bought at a cafe anyway? This whole thing is ridiculous.
So I walked back to the cafe, told her politely that I needed a receipt so I could return the burger and fries and soda. She pulled out the garbage can and dug around until she found it.
“Thank you,” I smiled.
“With much pleasure,” she smiled back, as if our whole Soda War had never happened.
So I gave the customer service woman the receipt, she took the burger and fries and soda and set them by all the returned shoes, pants, and books, and returned my money. She counted wrong and accidentally handed me 14 lei instead of 7. Since I’m not into cheating stores out of their money (I just do freaky things like returning meals at department stores) I pointed out the mistake and gave back the extra 7 lei. With the returned money, I bought a couple slices of pizza somewhere else instead.
I didn’t get soda this time. I was too scared to risk it.
Lesson of the story: if your soda comes out watery at Carrefour, it’s no one’s fault. Just return your meal at reception and buy a pizza.
Epilogue… (Can you do that in a blog post?)
As I’m writing this down, I realize that the whole scenario still really bothers me. Not because I didn’t get my orange soda. I don’t care about soda. I can drink watered down soda. But I love Romania. And it’s the all-too-frequent stories like this that make people not love it here. Romanians, you’re some of the most amazingly awesome people I’ve ever met. You’ve got hearts bigger than the world even deserves. Stop giving in to mediocrity and complacency. Stop blaming everyone else and dodging responsibility and looking for the easy way out. There’s greatness in you.
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.”
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 – “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
When we arrived in Bucharest exactly one year ago, we didn’t know anyone in this city. Well, we had e-mailed and skyped with Filip a bit, but we didn’t really know him. Now, a year later, we’ve got a million people to thank for helping us make it this far. I will never forget how we’ve been shown so much love and hospitality by people who barely knew us.
Some of you read our blog posts, and some of you don’t, but I’m not writing this for you. This is for me and Jesus, because I never want to forget you and how God used you in our lives.
Because we have so many people to thank, I’m limiting myself to thanking only those people we’ve met since moving here, and I’m only allowing myself to mention the one thing that meant the most to me, or this post will never end…
Filip, thank you for everything, from our first email exchange to meeting us at the airport to challenging us in our Romanian.
Adiel, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to pick us six strangers up from the airport at midnight on a national holiday.
Peter, thank you for dropping everything to help us get our visas.
Sorin, thank you for talking to us in Romanian and putting up with our bad grammar.
Adi, thank you for refusing to leave Bucharest to see your family, preferring to “do what Jesus would do,” as you said it, and move all our luggage into our new apartment for us first.
Simona, thank you for showing us how to buy food at the market, instead of wasting all our money at Mega Image.
George, thank you for driving us to the big market and back, loaded with potatoes, onions, garlic, and squash for the winter.
Laura, thank you for introducing Jessie to her favorite bookstore / coffee shop.
Adela, thank you for helping us get our electricity back on when we popped a breaker.
Irina, thank you for your constant encouragement, prayers, and friendship. And for the “bumpy cars.”
Adi, thank you for joining us for evangelism time and again.
Alex, thank you for calling and getting together for coffee after being out of the country for a year.
Cornel, thank you for leading your church into revival and for catering to the presence of God.
Costel, thank you for the best mashed potatoes and chicken ever.
Alina, thank you for meeting us at Immigration, grilling the workers there, and getting us the final final list of everything we still needed to get our residency permits.
George, thank you for allowing Jesus to use you to shine with His love in the midst of Bucharest’s homeless men and women.
Tiberiu, thank you for sharing food and songs with us in your home and for introducing me to iaurt de baut.
Cristiana, thank you for coming with our family for the Tour of Bucharest by bus last summer.
Sorin, thank you for giving up your life for 2 weeks last summer to serve alongside us in evangelism and ministry.
Dan, thank you for helping me get my photos from the Cora at Sun Plaza.
Paula, thank you for teaching us how to evade the police while picking Ben up at the airport.
George, thank you for giving our kids cookies when you popped into our house to pick up that form for Peter.
Peter from Immigration, thank you for giving me your self-made final, detailed, easy-to-follow instruction manual on what papers we needed to get our kids’ visas.
Andrei, thank you for spending time together playing bass and talking about the Bible.
Andreea, thank you for organizing Naomi’s birthday party after we’d been in Romania for less than a week.
Robert, thank you for Monday mornings with the homeless at Politehnica.
Sarisa, thank you for a day with the Zarnescus, eating Romanian food and playing Dutch Blitz.
Cosmin, thank you for joining me for a day of evangelism in Cismigiu last year.
Alex, thank you for getting us out on the street preaching.
Cristina, thank you for asking me all about home-schooling that day in Buşteni.
Laura, thank you for the home-made jam.
David, thank you for showing me your pictures of Brasov while we road the train together, convincing me that, yes, I need to live there. 🙂
Rick, thank you for joining us to pray and worship while you were here in Bucharest.
Estera, thank you for coming up to us our first time at Missio Dei, when we felt awkward and out of place, and introducing yourself, making us feel welcomed.
Emi, thank you for being our guide and translator when Grandma Susie wanted to take us bowling.
Gabi, thank you for that day in the mountains of Busteni, hiking and talking about Jesus.
Gianni and family, thank you for the amazing day climbing trees and swinging on zip lines at the adventure park.
Crabby man downstairs, thank you for cheering up after we gave you Christmas cookies.
Teresa and the kids, thank you for sending our kids home with stuffed animals.
Jason, thank you for working with us every week to reach the Gypsies.
Vasilica, thank you for not giving up on your family or all the drug addicts who gather in your home, constantly sharing the Gospel with them and never losing hope for their salvation.
Simon, thank you for smiling in the midst of suffering, separated from your family and your home, in a country whose language you don’t understand.
Rita, thank you for singing us the same song every Monday night, always full of passion, always with a beautiful voice.
Kaze, thank you for coming up and introducing yourself at 3DS.
Ştefan, thank you for standing strong in the word of God in the midst of a culture that doesn’t care.
Ioana, thank you for translating for Jessie her first time at Elim Church.
Sorin, thank you for taking off my glasses and wiping the dirt off with your shirt the first day we talked at Missio Dei.
Sebastian, thank you for introducing us to Genni Shoarma.
Emanuel, thank you for putting up with my terrible Romanian at Starbucks.
Mihai, thank you for taking hundreds of amazing photos at Râşnov last year.
Raluca, thank you for loving our kids so much and playing with them every time we visit Spiritual Revival Church.
Mikey, thank you for giving me all the inside information on hiking in Romania.
Rob and Camelia, thank you for crashing our place one evening to play with our kids.
Luis, thank you for inviting us to play volleyball at Crangaşi.
Peter Pan boy downstairs, thank you for yelling out, “I can fly!” every time you see us. Life in Bucharest would not be as fun without you.
Pardelion, thank you for your heart to give my family money to help us in this new city, while you had so little.
Gheorghiţa, thank you for joining us for worship and prophesying over us as the Holy Spirit led you to speak.
Ryan and Andrea, thank you for sharing with us your heart to end human trafficking in Romania.
Serena, thank you for being the smiliest, happiest, most joyful High School student in Romania, despite the bad things that have happened in your life.
Cristi, thank you for introducing us to the work of Campus Crusade in Bucharest.
Jacob, thank you for always walking in faith that God is ready to do miracles through you.
Oana, thank you for inviting us to the coolest, trippiest, artsiest movie either of us had seen in a while.
Daniel, thank you for bringing us to IKEA to get beds for our kids, and for introducing us to the best desserts in Bucharest (Paul and Zoomserie).
Bogdan, thank you for explaining to me your love for Orthodoxy.
Eugen, thank you for letting me practice my Romanian on you.
Gabi, thank you for allowing us to use your home for Gypsy church.
Kelda, thank you for laughing so loudly it scared my wife.
Mândra and the kids, thank you for giving our kids pillows.
Isabella, thank you for yelling at me at the park, thus beginning your friendship with my wife.
Marian, thank you for inviting us to your house for your son’s crazy birthday party.
Catalin, thank you for sharing your testimony with our group at Mihai Bravu.
Mirela, thank you for such a warm and welcoming reception in Sibiu.
Sorina, thank you for patiently and clearly correcting our Romanian, not just trying to understand us but helping us learn to speak better.
If I’ve forgotten anyone, forgive me! We’ve been so blessed this past year, completely amazed at how many new people we’ve met and loved, how many people have opened their lives and hearts to us, people we never would have known if we’d stayed in America.
Sometimes, it’s frustrating because we’re so far from where we want to be, our work is so small compared to what needs to happen, but God is good, and He’s the one building this house, in His time, in His way, and He’s a really good builder.
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.
In Romans 1:16, Paul called the Gospel “the power of God,” but how often have we turned it into a tame thing more fit for nursery rhymes and children’s plays? The Gospel is God’s power to save men! Only the Gospel could turn a terrorist into an apostle, an atheist into a Believer, an addict into a lover of God, or a gang member into an evangelist. Only the Gospel could “persuade a strict dictator to retire, fire the army, teach the poor origami,” as the Newsboys put it so eloquently.
Once a week for a while now, I’ve been discussing a new metaphor the Bible uses to explain the power of the Gospel. If you missed the earlier posts, check them out here. Today, let’s look at how, through the Gospel, God reconciled us to Himself.
Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21-22, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
I love this section. There’s so much going on here, so bear with me as I unpack it a little.
In two verses, Paul shows us the power of the Gospel in a nutshell – who we were, what God did for us, and who we’re becoming.
Here’s the picture of who we used to be: we were alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds. These aren’t pretty words. These aren’t nice words.
When Paul says we were alienated, he means we were shut out from fellowship and intimacy with God, cut off from Him and all His blessings. The Greek word he uses implies a former state that we’ve departed from as our relationship deteriorated. The word was used to describe the breaking apart of the marriage covenant through unfaithfulness and to the division of property. So Paul is not so much saying that God closed us out because He didn’t like us but that, through our unfaithfulness and stubbornness, we let our relationship fall apart and therefore separated ourselves from Him.
He says we were hostile in mind. I don’t think the English word hostile carries the weight of what Paul is getting at here. The word he uses is usually translated “enemy” in the New Testament and sometimes refers specifically to the devil himself. When Jesus says to love our enemies, He’s using this word. When He says the enemy sows tares in the midst of the wheat, it’s this word. When Paul says Jesus will put all His enemies under His feet, and when he says that many have become enemies of the cross, you guessed it, he uses this word. This is not describing someone who was just a little ticked at God, a little hostile. It’s describing an enemy of God, “someone openly hostile, animated by deep-seated hatred,” implying “irreconcilable hostility, proceeding out of a ‘personal’ hatred bent on inflicting harm,” as the Helps Word-studies on BibleSuite.com put it.
Paul goes on to describe us as doers of evil deeds. The Strong’s concordance defines these deeds as “bad, of a bad nature or condition,” “diseased or blind” and “wicked or corrupt.” No matter how good you think you may have been, without Jesus, even your good deeds were based in selfishness, fear of man, trying to prove something or earn something. Paul says we did evil, corrupt, diseased, wicked works. BibleSuite.com goes on to describe these evil deeds as “pain-ridden, emphasizing the inevitable agonies (misery) that always go with evil.”
The word Paul uses here that we translate as evil, poneros, is not the only Greek word for evil, but it is the one that specifically emphasizes the corrupting, disease-spreading, pain-ridden fruit that results. According to Richard C. Trench in his Synonyms of the New Testament, three Greek words are often translated “evil” in the English Bible – kakos, phaulos, and poneros. Kakos has to do mainly with the idea of lacking something that would make it worthy, like the wicked servant at the end of Matthew 24 who lacked good character and honesty. Phaulos deals with the idea that something is good for nothing, worthless, and devoid of any possibility of good coming from it. Poneros, on the other hand, Trench calls, “the active worker out of evil.” He goes on to write, “The kakos may be content to perish in his own corruption, but the poneros is not content unless he is corrupting others as well, and drawing them into the same destruction with himself.” That, Paul says, is the kind of works we were doing before we knew God.
We had separated ourselves from God, we had made Him our hated enemy, we lived to spread evil, agony, and pain in the world, and God chose to reconcile us. That’s nuts.
Before looking at what the word “reconcile” means, let’s jump to the end of the section first, so we can see the results of His reconciling efforts. Where are we headed? What is God creating in us, these former enemies of His? He wants to make us “holy, blameless, and above reproach.”
He’s making us holy, turning us into saints, no longer separated from God but separated unto God. Holy like the Temple in Jerusalem. Holy like the ground Moses was standing on. Holy like God Himself. Different, separate, set apart from the world. The majority of times this word is used in the New Testament it refers either to the Holy Spirit or to the saints, the church. That’s what He’s after in us.
Blameless, meaning without spot or blemish. Morally perfect, with no defects and no cause for blame. 1 Peter 2 refers to false prophets and teachers that Peter calls “blemishes” full of lust and deceit, unsubmissive, blasphemers, like irrational animals, born to be caught and destroyed. God’s making us into the opposite, into those with no stains or spots or wrinkles. The old person we used to be, who spread evil and pain and disease without even trying, He’s turning into someone who is blameless before Him.
Above reproach. This is a legal phrase that essentially means if someone were to take us to court, the case would be thrown out because there’s no evidence to support the spurious claim. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon describes it as, “that which cannot be called into account, unreproveable, unaccused, blameless.” BibleSuite.com adds, “not convictable when a person is properly scrutinized (i.e. tried with correct logic).” This is where we’re headed, according to Paul – that if someone were to take us to court for how we’re living, every allegation would be thrown out for lack of evidence.
So whatever God did through the cross, He plans to take these people who hated him so vehemently and turn them into people set apart for Him, without any stain, with no evidence of any guilt or wrongdoing in their lives.
What He did was reconcile us.
The roots of this word go back to the idea of exchanging money, like going from US dollars to Romanian lei. The idea is that the situation has completely changed. Where you once had dollars, now you don’t have anything remotely like dollars. You’ve got an entirely different monetary unit, made of different materials, with different artwork, usable in a different country. From this root, the word evolved to mean a ruined relationship becoming completely changed into a restored one. In the New Testament, it’s used to describe a wife being reconciled to her husband after leaving him, in 1 Corinthians 7:11. When God reconciles us, he takes a relationship that’s been destroyed beyond fixing, and He fixes it completely.
This is the simple power of the Gospel! What you were no longer applies. You’re new now. You’ve been reconciled to God, you’re old relationship of enmity thrown out and replaced by a new one of friendship, headed toward purity and holiness in all things.
Through Jesus, God reconciled us to Himself, restoring our relationship we had broken.
Way back here, I started a series on the different ways the Bible describes the work of the Gospel in our lives. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, the Gospel is the “power of God” for our salvation. It’s the power of God, something meant to turn whole nations upside-down!
The Gospel is God’s plan to restore and repair everything ruined by sin and the cruelty of man. He has no Plan B, no alternative worked out in case the Gospel fails. This is it. This is His route to glorify His name, rescue His people, and rebuild His creation.
Here’s the next illustration I want to take a look at:
Jesus came to ransom us. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What’s that mean? To answer that, we gotta go back to the world Mark was writing in, a world shaped by the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, the concept of ransoming something entails an exchange, paying a price for another’s release, much like the modern-day concept of paying a ransom to a kidnapper.
In the beginning of Israel’s history, God had laid claim to every firstborn male. Like a 2-year-old around toys, God pointed at the firstborn men and said, “Mine.” Every firstborn male, He said, belonged to Him and had to be sacrificed.
Since God isn’t a fan of lobster and doesn’t like human sacrifice, however, He allowed for certain firstborn males to be ransomed, exchanged, so they wouldn’t have to die as an offering. Every firstborn human male was required to be ransomed. In exchange for their lives, God took the Levites and 5 shekels (about $60) a head. Firstborn men in Israel could go on living because God took the Levites’ service as exchange for their lives.
Similarly, firstborn male unclean animals (like lobster) were required to be ransomed, since offering something deemed unclean in sacrifice would be unthinkable. Everyone who owned a firstborn male of an unclean animal was required to pay 5 shekels to ransom each one, so God wouldn’t have to accept your unclean sacrifice and you could go on running your lobster farm I guess.
Curiously, donkeys were also allowed to be ransomed, at the owner’s discretion. A firstborn male donkey headed for sacrifice could be exchanged for a lamb if the owner wanted to make the substitution. My guess is God gave this as a mercy to poor farmers who only had one family donkey that they really needed to survive.
Jesus ransomed us. On the cross, He exchanged His life for ours. We deserve the wrath of God, we deserve punishment, we deserve judgment in Hell for eternity, but Jesus took our place, receiving God’s wrath poured out on sin in our place, paying His own life as our ransom. We were like a donkey headed for the temple to be sacrificed, when Jesus, our lamb, gave Himself in exchange, so we could go on living.