Today, after spending the afternoon speaking to people in Cismigiu Park (and, incidentally, getting ourselves kicked out because we handed a gospel flier to a security guard), we hopped on the subway to go visit our Gypsy friends along Drumul Taberei. They live in what I can only describe as complete squalor. The adults survive by begging and washing car windows. They sleep on strangely-smelling and lumpy things that vaguely resemble centuries-old mattresses (one family per mattress) in small rooms with no electricity that somehow survived the destruction of the building that had once stood around them. Their drafty homes are heated by wood, and only Vasilica’s has running water. The kids, when they’re not in school, join their parents to wash car windows at the intersections and beg spare change off of passersby.
I don’t know that I can say there’s a huge hunger for God here, but Vasilica is certainly a saint in the midst of drug addicts and poverty, and it’s to encourage and strengthen her that we keep returning. (You can read more about Vasilica here and here.) And our hearts go out to the children who are growing up in such poverty and (in many cases) such a lack of God. If our weekly visits can give them some hope and some sense of the love that God has for them, who knows what pain they’ll be spared and what destinies will be awakened.
We’ve been visiting Vasilica and her neighbors for over a year now, and we’ve been with them through two deaths, two births (one delivered two months premature by Vasilica herself), physical abuse, drug addiction, constant hunger, abandonment, and more. We’ve prayed with them, eaten with them, worshiped with them, read the Bible with them, played with them. We’ve loved them, I hope, as God does and taught them his heart. We’ve been in their homes, sat on their floors and their beds, even enjoyed their food.
And never once were we asked for money. Never once have they stolen anything of ours, unless you count the candy one adult thought it would be funny to sneak from me. And, except for last week’s encounter with a man who came drunk, we were never once harassed or threatened.
And that’s why I was so bothered today when a young man approached us after our visit today. As we waited for our tram, we spoke with Vasilica and her grandson Andrei. A teenager wearing Aviator sunglasses and dressed in designer jeans came up to us, his “name-brand” girlfriend clinging to his arm.
“Make sure you wash yourselves,” he told us flatly.
“Wash ourselves? What do you mean?”
“I’m just saying, be careful.”
“These are our friends. What do you mean?”
“They are dangerous. I live here. I know.”
“We live here, too. We’ve known them for a year. We’ve eaten with them, been in their homes. How long have you known them?”
“I don’t know them, but I know their kind.”
“Gypsies, you mean? Look, our tram is here. We’re leaving.”
Funny that he said everything in English so Vasilica couldn’t understand him. Funny that he came up wearing clothing that cost more than Vasilica sees in a year.
You know, I’m really tired of the racism towards Gypsies that I see in Romania. No, not every Romanian is racist, but far too many are far too racist. The man’s comment about making sure to wash myself after having touched Gypsies is just one more comment in the pile I’ve heard. But even those who aren’t overtly racist are usually indifferent, and ignoring the issue is sometimes just as bad as taking part in it. Yes, the Gypsy stereotype is often deserved; many are poor, many drink far too much, many steal, many lie and cheat, the list goes on. But it’s a stereotype and so by nature often incorrect.
As we work to plant this church in Bucharest, one of our hopes is to raise up men and women who will walk in a different spirit, men and women who will bring the love, the glory, the reconciliation, the redemption of Jesus to those labeled “untouchable” by society.