So we were at a church-planting conference in Cluj last month, like I’ve mentioned previously. Like all conferences, we didn’t agree with everything taught, but we learned some cool insights about planting churches that’ll work really well here in Romania.
After the conference, Ben and I were hanging out in the city center, processing everything discussed, when an old man on a red tricycle rode up to us.
“Do you know Jesus?” he asked in Romanian.
“Yes, yes, we’re Christians,” we told Tudor, and then in mixed Romanian and English, the three of us talked about the goodness of God and why it was necessary to become born-again. Then he started belting out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” really loudly in Romanian, so Ben and I felt obliged to join in. I’m not gonna lie – as weird as it was, it kinda’ ministered to me.
Before he left, Tricycle Tudor introduced us to his friend Mr. Police Officer and then rode off to sit on a bench. I felt like I was in some strange children’s TV show.
After he was gone, Ben and I talked about the weirdness of an old man on a tricycle sharing the Gospel with us in a language we only partially understand. Yet, as odd as his approach was, at least he approached us. Too many times, people are afraid to do evangelism because they don’t want to look weird or say the wrong thing or offend the person, but we just gotta get out there, open our mouths, and trust that Jesus will give us words to speak. Yeah, you might look weird, but probably not any weirder than Tricycle Tudor.
That evening, we had a long overnight ride on the train, so I was praying for divine appointments onboard. God answered us. We ended up sharing a booth with a newly-married Orthodox couple. Over the course of the evening, we talked about every topic possible – our families, growing up, going to college, jobs, politics, and religion. At one point, Ben and I got to share our testimonies with them, how Jesus changed our lives, and I talked about how a lot of people go to church and understand religion, morality, and an idea of God, but not very many people in Romania actually have a real relationship with Jesus.
I told them many people know Jesus like they each knew each other when they first met. They knew each other’s names and what they looked like, and maybe they knew some facts about each other, but they didn’t really have a relationship with each other. Now, after three weeks of being married, they know each other deeply and have a real life together. That’s what Jesus is after, that we have a real relationship with Him, not just that we know some facts about Him.
I purposely decided not to talk about the church as an institution or bring up anything about Orthodox Christianity. I just talked about Jesus, because when people see Jesus for who He really is, He’ll clear up wrong religious ideas.
After a night of talking and sort-of-sleeping, we had all exchanged phone numbers and emails, and we’re excited to stay in contact with this young couple who promised to show us around their hometown of Braşov one day. A few days later, I got an email from them saying how much they, “loved meeting some people who loved Jesus so much.”
Whether by tricycle or train car, in awkwardness or simplicity, the Gospel must be preached, and Jesus will draw people to Himself, because that’s what He loves doing. 🙂
There was a conference in Cluj at the end of August that a lot of the next wave of ministry leaders and church-planters in Romania were attending, so Ben and I were excited to come along and check it out.
The conference was great, and I’ll probably blog about that later, but first, let me share some of the highlights from the train ride.
We went from one side of Romania to the other, so the ride took about 10 hours by train, passing along some of the most beautiful mountains, hills, and North Dakota style farmland I’ve ever seen.
We rode past dozens of tiny little villages and towns carpeted with the same classic houses with their rust red tile roofs in need of repair. The villages look idyllic and beautiful, but life here is harder than in the big city of Bucharest – jobs can be almost impossible to find and the distractions of big city living are usually nonexistent. I think it’d be fun to try living in one of the smaller villages sometime, but the young and the leaders tend to gravitate toward the bigger cities like Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, or Constanta.
Besides the usual red-roofed homes, the landscape was dotted liberally with church buildings of one type or another – mostly Orthodox, but also Baptist and Pentecostal to be sure. There are definitely plenty of church buildings in this country, but we’ve met very few Christians, especially in Bucharest. Most people we meet call themselves Orthodox, but they don’t read the Bible, don’t pray, don’t attend church services, don’t know anything about the Gospel, and aren’t born-again. They consider their baptism as an infant as good enough to, hopefully, get them into heaven one day, but they live with the fear that perhaps they haven’t done enough. Of all the people in Bucharest we’ve met and talked to outside a church service, I think we’ve encountered maybe 2 that were born-again, between me, Jessie, and Ben. Religiously-minded Romanians will sometimes tell you that there’s no need for missions work in Romania, because Romania is “a Christian nation,” but people who love Jesus here see things a lot differently.
Besides scenery, we met some interesting people. When we first got on the train, a man who was sharing the compartment with us lit up cigarettes freely, despite the clear, and abundant, “No Smoking” signs posted all around him.
After that man left, we shared the rest of the trip with a couple in their 60s who spoke Romanian, Hungarian, French, and German, but no English. We understood about half of what they were talking about and had some fun conversations about Obama and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They drank a handful of beers on the trip, smoked cigarettes near the “No Smoking” signs, and kept spilling crumbs on everyone. Another old guy we sat near told me something, pointed at them, and made a “they’re crazy” sign.
At one point, while I was typing up blog posts, the beer-drinking guy in his 60s leaned across the aisle, popped his head in front of my screen, and looked at what I was doing. His wife smacked him and looked apologetic at me as she explained, “E curios.”
A young woman who shared our compartment was the draw of a lot of curiosity. She looked Romanian, but she never spoke the whole time and didn’t understand Romanian or English. Whenever she left to walk around the train or go to the bathroom, all the Romanians would start talking excitedly about the mysterious woman.
Another older man, probably in his 70s, came on board carrying a cardboard box marked “ice cream,” with a homemade handle fashioned out of wire. The top was covered with a bag. When he entered our compartment, he took the bag off and revealed a small puppy. For the duration, the puppy attracted more interest than the mysterious silent woman.
And then we got to Cluj.
So we’ve completed 1 month in Romania today. It’s strange knowing we’ve been here a month already. When I think of all we don’t know and can’t do and haven’t figured out and haven’t finished yet, I feel like we just got here, but when I think about living in Milwaukee, it feels like that was eons ago.
Sort of in commemoration of our month in Romania, and sort of because we just needed to see something other than concrete buildings every day, today Jessie and I (with Isaac in tow) hopped on the train to get some iarba verde. Literally translated “green grass,” Romanians talk about iarba verde like Wisconsinites talk about going “up north” or Virginians talk about going to the beach.
One guidebook on Romania I read said something along the lines of, “To understand the Romanian culture, you have to understand that, at heart, Romanians are all country people. They may live in the city or work in the city or go to school in the city, but they’re rural people at heart with strong connections to the land.”
So today, we headed north to see some of that land. We took a train an hour and a half north to Sinaia, home to Peleș Castle, Sinaia Monastery, and some beautiful mountain scenery. And not, we found out, home to as many dogs as Bucharest, which is a major selling point in my opinion. We fell in love with this beautiful little town in the foothills of the Bucegi Mountains. The air smells like pine trees, lilacs, and cold mountain breezes, it’s quiet enough so you can hear the sound of your own footsteps and chirping birds in the distance, and it’s not completely packed in with people every square inch. We love Bucharest, and it’s definitely where we feel called to reach out, but I think I need to get up to Sinaia at least once a week now. 😉
I don’t want to bore you with a whole play-by-play of our time in Sinaia, but here’s some of the more interesting things that happened today:
– We were running late to catch our train because the girls all had a melt-down cry-fest at the elevator as they were saying goodbye, so we prayed the whole subway ride that we’d make it on time. I carried a backpack filled with everything we needed for the day and Jessie had Isaac in the baby carrier, and as soon as the subway reached Gara de Nord train station, we booked it high-speed, running through crowds of people, finding our train, and hopping on board maybe 30 seconds before the train left. I wish I had the whole thing on video – since Jessie was carrying Isaac in the baby carrier, she couldn’t take very big steps. At one point in our running, I looked over at her and she was taking these tiny little steps really, really quickly. I’m sure the whole thing was pretty funny looking.
– One of the guidebooks we read said that trains in Romania don’t normally come with toilet paper in the bathrooms, so they recommended bringing your own, for obvious reasons. We brought a giant roll with us, but it turned out that the first train had amazing, fully-stocked bathrooms, so we never used it. On our return train, we assumed the bathroom situation would be equally good, so we didn’t bother bringing toilet paper into the restroom with us. Bad idea. This bathroom was nasty dirty, had no toilet paper, and (I kinda’ liked this part) the toilet had a hole in the bottom that went right through the floor of the train. All the toilets on Romanian trains just empty directly onto the tracts (which is a good reason to never play on train tracks, kids!), but this train in particular, you could see it as it happened. Another strong selling point in my opinion.
– We toured Peleș Castle with a group of Americans, and it was a little embarrassing. One woman made a really dumb joke that just made Americans look xenophobic and stupid. In reality, we are kinda’ xenophobic and stupid, but I still don’t want people to know that. But now you all do because I’ve just put it up in my blog. Beyond that, Jessie was the first to notice just how frumpy all the Americans looked. Americans just don’t dress nicely unless they have to. And even then, we’re pretty practical about it. In Romania, women would probably wear high heels while hunting for bear. It’s a little annoying sometimes just how much emphasis everyone places on looks, but it’s just how it is here and I guess we’d grown almost used to it. During the tour, we weren’t wearing anything fancy ourselves, but after spending so much time around Romanians, we’d gotten used to seeing people dressing really nicely all the time. It was really weird seeing women in sweatsuits and hoodies again.
– Most people I’ve met in Romania sound Italian when they speak English. Most. Filip sounds like he’s from Chicago, AndreEa sounds British, and our tour guide, who was really funny and a great guide, spoke with a thick Dracula accent. In case you were wondering, it’s only moderately creepy when you’re walking around an old palace following a female Dracula impersonator.
– After seeing the castle, we stopped and listened to a street performer playing classical guitar for a while. He was really good, so we bought a CD from him. After paying, he asked the obligatory questions, “Where are you from?” and “What are you doing in Romania?” When we told him we were missionaries who came to tell people about Jesus, he said, “Yes, that is why you are shining. You are like Moses, full of God.” Then he told us about his father, who was a Pentecostal evangelist in Romania.
– Leaving the castle grounds, we passed 2 Asian women who took one look at Isaac in the baby carrier and just started cracking up. They were laughing uncontrollably, tearing up even. That got Jessie and I laughing too, but I don’t really know what it was all about.
– Later, we picked up some cheap souvenirs for the girls – little purses with girls wearing dresses sewed on them. When we went to buy them, the store owner refused to let us get them. In Romanian, he told us, “No, these are for girls. You have a boy,” referring to Isaac. “How about a hat?” I love how Romanians will help you do the right thing, even if you didn’t ask their advice or they don’t really know what they’re talking about, as in this case. I explained to him that we had three girls at home who the purses were for. Then he understood, sold us the purses, and moved on to ask us the same two questions everyone asks us in Romania. When he asked, “What are you doing here?” his wife answered for us, “They’re missionaries! They have four children!” Yes, of course, what else could we be? Isn’t that just a law of nature, that everyone with four kids becomes a missionary? We spent some time talking about missions for a while, in mixed Romanian and English, some of it making sense, and found out both the owner and his wife are good Baptists.
– We stopped for dinner at a restaurant called either “Steak” or “Rocky Mountain.” The sign said one thing but the menu said another, not that it really matters. The tagline for the place was “Casual American Dining” or something like that. It wasn’t exactly American dining, but it was very good nonetheless. One of the fun things here was that the waitress never brought our bill, asked if we were ready to pay, or even hassled us to buy dessert. She brought our food and then left us alone. When we were finally ready to leave, we had to find her to get the bill from her so we could pay and go get our train. We only sat in the restaurant for an hour and a half or so, but I’m sure we could have stayed all day and never been pushed out. So different from the McDonald’s style of rushing in and out and getting as many people fed as you can every night.
– When we took the train back to Bucharest, we accidentally wound up in the first class cabins. We didn’t really know where we were or what we were doing, so we just sat down somewhere. Later, the ticket-check guy came buy and chewed us out. Thankfully, someone near us spoke up on our behalf and so we were allowed to stay. It wasn’t amazing in first class, but the four course meal and free back massages were pretty nice. Seriously, I think the only benefit was having a room you could close off if you wanted to, but you never would because it was crazy stuffy already in there, and having seats with a little more leg room.
– On the train, Jessie got into a conversation with a Catholic woman from Spain. The woman was pretty distracted, but Jessie got to at least tell her about why we moved to Bucharest, to tell people about Jesus.
-When we got back to Bucharest, we were welcomed home by being attacked by two wild dogs. Well, we were verbally assaulted by one and physically threatened by the other. We were just walking along the sidewalk minding our own business, when all of a sudden a street dog decided we were a threat and barked viciously at us. That scared this other giant dog right next to us, who lunged for Jessie and growled. I pulled her away and we just kept walking. Aaah, Bucharest, home sweet home.
Here’s some pics from the day: