I’ve written before about Vasilica, her faith, her life, and the difficult situation she is in. As we visited her last night, I was reminded once again of the power of God to turn normal, insignificant people into men and women of destiny, into saints.
For saints are not merely extraordinary Christians dead and gone, people to admire. Rather, every follower of Jesus is called to be a saint, a holy man or woman of God, full of his power and love. Saints are simply nobodies who said “yes” to the One and so became somebody.
1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
Ephesians 5:3, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”
(Note: Before reading, please understand that I am not attacking the Orthodox Church. In general, they have an amazing understanding of the majesty of God, a deep appreciation for artwork and beauty in worship, a respect for tradition, a love of history, and many more admirable qualities. However, many who call themselves “Orthodox” are desperately in the dark.)
I was speaking with someone about Jesus when he bluntly ended our conversation with, “Romania is an Orthodox country.” It’s true many have heard about Jesus and even believe in God, but there is much work yet to do here. So, why do we still need to preach the Gospel in Romania?
Reason #4 – Saved by
Orthodox theology says men are saved by grace from God, but people are taught grace is given only after work is done. The church, for example, teaches that after a man dies, he will not enter heaven until a relative gives an offering. (What if he has no relatives?) Also, if a man realizes he is in sin, he is told to give a donation to a priest in order to release forgiveness. (Didn’t Jesus require simply repenting?) Romanians, even faithful Orthodox believers, need to know that forgiveness is not given based on religious observance but the kindness of Jesus. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
A Belgian college student who needed help with English introduced me to Vacareşti about six months ago. Having lived eight years in a small town in the country, I was in desperate need of some solitude and fresh air, so just the mention of a taste of “wilderness” nearby was enough to get me excited. (Note, for a more full look at the tangled history of this place, check out my post here
On one of my more recent trips into the area, I came across about 4 or 5 houses, built of discarded materials, pieces of wood, plastic, and metal. It was actually quite an idyllic scene when I arrived; the sun slowly setting was lengthening the shadows of the grass blades and highlighting the smoke rising from the homes while a man’s steady hammering cut through the blanket of soft talking that filled the area. A handful of stray dogs walked among the homes, and I for once almost smiled at them. Almost.
The one thought that stuck in my heart, though, as I walked through the homes was that I had to figure out a way for bringing the gospel to these people. How cool would it be to see a handful of people gathering here to pray and seek God together.
I first learned about this hidden bit of wilderness right within the capitol of Romania over summer. At that time, I was freshly-arrived from a rural town of 1,400 people to this city of 2 million, so I was more than interested in exploring something like the countryside.
Vacareşti, I soon learned, has a very interesting history, and one that still has a lot of mystery for me.
Shows the total abortions to date as a percentage of each country’s current population.
Last night, when we met with Vasilica to encourage her in her walk with God, she told us she had seen a couple visions this last week while praying for us. First, she had seen a picture of Jason and a woman leading a flock of sheep. Next, she had seen a picture of Jake and Jessie, and Jessie was pregnant.
When she shared about Jessie being pregnant, she turned very serious and said in Romanian, “Please, please, don’t abort the baby.”
“Da, sigur,” Jake responded. “Yes, of course.”
Then Vasilica turned to Jason and repeated in faster and more emphatic Romanian: “Tell them not to have an abortion. Tell him.”
And that’s when we realized that our plans for having a big Christmas celebration with the gypsy families along Mihai Bravu would probably not go as we had been expecting.
Jason went on to explain what he had heard: Matei had gotten drunk and stabbed Geta, his wife; now, she was in the hospital and he was in jail.
Matei (the “young man” that I mention here) became a Christian just about two months ago. He had heard the gospel one Monday night, knew he needed it but didn’t want to surrender, and then spent a week feeling guiltier than ever. The next week, he was desperate to make things right. Since then, he’d been faithfully attending the meetings, asking questions, and growing in his faith. Just last week, he was looking forward to getting baptized. Of all the men who come on Monday nights, Matei was growing the most in his walk with God.
So to hear that he’d gotten drunk and stabbed his wife was, well, difficult to take in… And still is.
I didn’t take the above video, but if you add a couple inches of snow you’ll have exactly the scene that surprised us yesterday morning.
My first thought was honestly that somehow the UW Marching Band had decided Bucharest didn’t have enough of the good ol’ Bucky Badger spirit here and so made a special trip to spread the cheer.
My second thought was that I had been transported into the movie “Ee Taow” during the whole “spirit dance” thing. Other than the snow and the slight change in costumes, it was remarkably similar.
Well, it turns out neither of my first impressions was quite on the mark. The dance is a tradition that goes back more than 2000 years, to long before Christianity was in Romania. I’m sure that now in Bucharest, the dance is continued simply for the cultural value, but when people were first doing this, it was believed to be a way to rid the village of evil spirits and so ensure a fresh and clean start for the new year. At that time, it was even considered good luck if a real bear ever entered a person’s house. (Well, I guess if you’re alive to tell the tale, that’s some pretty darn good luck, indeed!)
Anyhow, this is just one more example of how, when I start to get used to things here, something comes to remind me that I’m “not in Kansas anymore.” 🙂
Today at 8:20 pm is the six-month mark for when I arrived in Romania. I don’t know that I have anything super insightful to say about it all, but it seemed an appropriate time to reflect on things.
On the one hand, I’m very happy with how things are going. We have a stable and growing meeting with a handful of Rromi families along Mihai Bravu. Our relationships with Christians in other ministries are growing stronger. We’re able to get around with our limited Romanian, and we’ve learned so much since moving here. We have shared the gospel with thousands through street evangelism and relationships. On a personal level, my own heart is happy to know Jesus, and he’s giving me strength to listen to and obey him. All of us have permission to stay here for five years.
Living here in Romania, I often feel disconnected from what’s happening back in the US. Even the presidential election didn’t mean nearly so much to me this year. Shoot, never even watched more than 2 minutes of a Packer game. But when I heard about the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I felt like I was right back home in the US. (Read the story here and video coverage can be seen here.)
Oh, my heart grieves for the families in Newtown.
I’m not usually prone to the “doom and gloom” prophet thing, but I can’t help but think about the fate of a nation that walks in unrighteousness. There is a point where God takes away his protection and allows people to be, well, stupid.
Pray for America. Pray for the families of those killed. Pray for the kids and teachers to find healing and hope in their hearts. I can’t imagine how many tormenting demons Satan wants to throw at those kids….
Oh, Lord, help us before we destroy ourselves. (Read this article on the history of American school shootings if you’re not convinced we need help.)
As the end of the calendar year approaches, I’ve been finding myself missing one thing (ha ha, no pun intended) more than any other: the OneThing conference put on by the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.
Although I did not attend this conference every year, it had certainly become a regular part of my life. Not everything is perfect, but I’ve been fed, challenged, encouraged, and strengthened through their ministry, and I’ll definitely be missing it this year.