In our last newsletter Derek said that we were praying that God would re-open the door with Alexa, our Roma friend who cleaned for us. The truth? Derek may have been praying for that, but meanwhile I had been quite content that no Roma people had been ringing our doorbell recently. In fact not even many of our neighbors have been ringing our bell much since we returned home. I can submit to God if He brings people again, I suppose. But I can’t really bring myself to PRAY for them to return. I idolize my comfort and control of my schedule far too much to pray for those things to be challenged.
God seems to work in our marriage by using us to balance one another out, because just as I was struggling with these inner thoughts, Derek writes about how he'd been praying for God to open more doors to the Roma community. Ugh. And God answered Derek's prayers more than mine, because Derek came home on Friday and asked me to prepare a Sunday meal to bring to the church since two Roma people would be joining us at church for lunch.
We had seen these two people a lot over the past year of living here - Fran and Jean Claud (just in case you don't immediately recognize that those definitely AREN'T Romanian names, let me assure you that we've changed their names for privacy). In fact, Fran was the first Roma lady who ever spoke to us when we moved here. We had bought her some groceries. At one time soon thereafter, when Derek told them "no" once, they followed him for ten minutes and yelled at him and mocked him on the streets. One time I bought sandwiches for their two children when we saw them at the park and my own kids were indulging in ice cream. We've offered to help them find work, since Jean Claud is most definitely an able-bodied young man. It seems exceedingly clear that these two people fit the Roma stereotype all too well - perfectly capable of working, and yet finding that they don't want to and may not need to since they can just beg instead. It's rightly infuriating. So when Derek told me that I was going to be making lunch for them, my heart was not ready to do that.
And what's more is that they were going to come to church for lunch. And my sinful heart started reeling at the thought of all of our church friends seeing us helping Roma people again. Oh, how we must just look like the ignorant, naive foreigners who have bleeding hearts and keep getting taken advantage of! And I didn't want to expose our friends to Roma beggars who would probably now just take advantage of them, too, when they see each other on the streets. I was definitely fearing the disapproval from our church community. (And to be clear, Ițm quite sure these were just my own inner insecurity-based fears - not that any of our church people would actually be upset with us at all!)
And yet I was ashamed to be thinking of the Roma as them versus us or as the riff raff we're bringing into the church. So I tried to find ways to justify my warring spirit. I was desperately searching through my mind for stories of when Jesus turned people away. I was seeking an example based on wisdom for why we shouldn't help them since they had been rude to Derek before and perpetually take advantage of the system. There are plenty of jobs for unskilled workers in our area. They're just being lazy. Do they count as the type of people whom we should shake the dust off our feet and move on? Maybe Jesus only helped the people who really sought Him out and were changed because of Him. So maybe we don't have to keep working with them.
Ugh.My heart was ugly. And everytime I tried to explain to Derek why I didn't want to do this, he gently corrected my attempts at anti-Biblical justifications.
I baked a chicken and rice before church on Sunday. And my fervor to find a way around this situation intensified that morning. Maybe I could just not even go to church! Maybe we could just give them the food and move on! Maybe.... I could hear the Spirit of the Lord gently whispering to my heart that I was in the wrong. I could feel him wooing me to follow Him without fear of results or disapproval from others. I've been studying Ephesians for the last several months, and He brought to mind passages from this study to ease my fears and remind me of how a Christian should live.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2
Miraculously the kids were ready early that morning and they wanted to walk since the weather was so beautiful. Derek offered to walk the kids to church and I could have some peace and quiet to finish getting ready and drive the big pot of food to the church later. I finished my makeup slowly and prayed. Well, really, I just fought God - which was disguised as prayer. I had enough time that I sat down at the table with my cup of coffee. I knew that - if nothing else - I wanted to honor my husband and stand with him in our partnership to support him as he worked out what God was leading him to do. If absolutely nothing else, I knew I wanted to be a united front when we faced our church family, just in case we got any negative feedback. I knew I needed to get my ugly heart onboard.
I looked at my bookshelf and saw the title Everybody, Always by Bob Goff, the book that one of my sweet former students blessed me with when I returned to Romania in October. I hadn't gotten a chance to open it yet. I took it off the shelf and flipped through the table of contents and landed on a chapter entitled "What Grace Costs." I read it slowly, letting his words sink in and swirl with what God had already been showing me in Ephesians.
I'm guessing my friend from jail went on to do terrific things with his life, but even if he didn't, I did, and it was because of what I learned from him. He gave me one more thing to talk to Jesus about. Jesus doesn't need our help with the hungry or thirsty or sick or strange or naked or people in jails. I know this, because I asked Him. He wants our hearts. He lets us participate, if we're willing, so we'll learn more about how He feels about us and how He feels about the people we may have been avoiding. (pg 155-156)
When we get to heaven, I would have thought Jesus would want to talk about our terrific organizations or what nice people we were or the positions we held. Maybe these things will come up, but I doubt it. Instead, He said He will want to know how we treated the ones who had failed the worst. (pg 156-157)
Find a way to love difficult people more, and you'll be living the life Jesus talked about. Go find someone you've been avoiding and give away extravagant love to them. You'll learn more about God, your neighbor, your enemies, and your faith. Find someone you think is wrong, someone you disagree with, someone who isn't like you at all, and decide to love that person that way you want Jesus to love you. We need to love everybody, always. Jesus never said doing these things would be easy. He just said it would work. (pg 8-9)
Thank you, Bob Goff. I finished my coffee, got my dutch oven, and headed to church. When church was over and everyone was standing around and talking, we found out that Fran and Jean Claud were sitting outside. They wouldn't come in until everyone else had left. How terribly, terribly sad that anyone would know that they are the outsider while sitting outside of a church. How terribly, terribly sad that just a few hours before, I was mentally searching the Bible for a reason to keep them on the outside.
Lunch was awkward. The Romanian language is still difficult for us. The Roma version of Romanian is exceptionally hard. Elin asked me if they were poor and if that's why we were helping them. I was thankful they didn't understand English. But I was grateful that she got to see us feeding the poor. One day her heart will learn the ugliness of my own, but I'm grateful that it didn't happen that day. We offered to take Jean Claud to find a factory job on Tuesday, and we waded through the difficulty of telling him we weren't just going to hand over money to fix their dilapidated rental house. We recognize full well that they are probably telling lies, that they are probably taking advantage of the system, that they are probably finding ways to take advantage of us. We can be wise in the way that we reach out to them, but I'm so glad that the Lord helped me to reach out to them.
We noticed that Fran had made the sign of the cross on her chest when she entered the church room - a typical Romanian tradition when you enter any religious building. We asked her if she knew about Jesus. Both she and Jean Claud stared at us blankly. These are the second and third persons I've met in my lifetime who literally haven't heard the name of Jesus. And that's when I remembered Richard Wurmbrand.
I know that it's perfectly good and legitimate to hold all people accountable for their wrongdoings. It is okay for me to see their sins as such. They are made in the image of God and have right and wrong written on their heart. And yet, they are dead in their sins because they don't know the transformative love of Jesus. They are natural sinners simply doing what sinners do naturally. And as I was attempting to justify my ugly heart with the Word of God itself, these people have been fed lies and justifications their entire lives by a broken and impoverished system of sinners - without knowing the Word of God at all. They perfectly fit the Roma stereotype because they've been taught to live like the Roma stereotype. They are the real Walking Dead because they don't even know that Someone came to awaken them to true life and save their souls.
We don't know how God wants to use us in Fran and Jean Claud's lives. Maybe he won't show up to our appointment on Tuesday to help him find a job. Maybe they'll harass us again in the future. They'll probably continue telling lies and taking advantage of whatever system they have at their disposal. That's what human sinners naturally do. I know I don't honestly love them yet. But I also know I came away from that lunch feeling convicted. Feeling emboldened in Christ. Feeling excited to meet with them again and tell them more about Jesus. Feeling free to not worry about the results or others' approval or disapproval. So if nothing else, I know that God used Fran and Jean Claud in MY life to soften the ugliness in my heart that morning, and that may have been the only result my kind and patient Heavenly Father had in mind.