Men fall in love for many reasons, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that! And women too, of course!!
Something I really struggle with is when I talk to some people about certain countries, and the traumas, problems, tragedies and so on, many of which breed corruption, that those countries have – and still do – experience, that they seem to know more about the country, having never been there, than someone who’s been there many times. I’ve recently experienced a terrible tragedy in a country that was so tragic when I first went there, so corrupt, it was unreal that Romania was actually in EUROPE – not a poverty-stricken continent the other side of the world. And this isn’t ‘Scrooge’ era: it’s less than 30 years ago, in the adult lifetime of many of us. The tragedy I’ve experienced recently is STILL all to do with poverty – poverty caused by corruption. I won’t mention any names, but I got to know a family many years back in the north of Romania (the area is a country/state – Moldova) – their daughter, 25 years old, I knew all her life, and tragically, due to poverty (I was unable to help, which I had done as and I when I could) she was evicted in from her flat in November. Her only alternative was to sleep rough (both parents had died) – shop doorways in late December/early January in Romania are freezing places (-15C in January, as low as -25C at times in February). From 1993, when she was born, she was like a ‘surrogate’ daughter, who, without help because of her medical conditions, couldn’t work, let alone complete her University studies. Like so many countries I’ve been to/go to, you can only get medical help if you pay ‘up front’. If you can’t pay, you suffer – or die. I last heard from her in January – in hospital suffering from frostbite: and then what I dreaded to hear – silence. About 3 weeks ago, I heard from two sources she had died with hypothermia. Like with the (different sort of) loss of my own children, I am heartbroken. She’ll have had no funeral: doubtless picked up by the police or garbage men and thrown onto a waste tip. Why? Because corruption and life sentenced her to it. She gave her life to Jesus over weeks – months – of What’sApp conversations with me: I’m praying that, if she’s dead (and I actually have no way of knowing definitely, or finding out – she was a ‘street’ person- she died still knowing him and believing him, and trusting in him, despite the desperate, freezing straits she found herself in.
She wasn’t an unusual case: street sleeping is endemic in Romania, of course a country a full member of the EU since 2011 (and part member since 2007) receiving massive grants from the EU, much of it going straight into businessmen’s and politicians pockets. People told me it couldn’t happen – it DIDN’T happen in Romania, it was ok now it was in the EU. People who I asked, ‘How many times have you been there in the past few years?’ – none: ‘how many times did you go after the revolution?’ – none: ‘how many times before the revolution?’ – none. Yet they know all about Romania, this isn’t a boast, just a fact, but I’ve been there 129 times, know it pretty well. Today, I had a delivery driver from Amazon call. I recognised his accent – but rather than just ‘assuming’ he was Romanian, asked him where he was from. ‘Romania’, he replied, ‘about 90% of Amazon’s drivers are from Romania’ he told me. No money there. Poverty. Corruption. He came from Cluj, too – one of the loveliest cities in the country: I’ve been there many times – University city, and a massive student population. I told him I loved his country, but quite understood why he had to leave, and was he delighted we had a ‘connection’ – Cluj, and his son’s name is Paul.
It was over Christmas – in fact from 16th December into the new year – 1989/90, that Romania suffered its terrible revolution. Thousands perished – but small fry compared to the number who’ve died from poverty despite being in the wonderful EU – it seems to me to have no ‘follow up’ on where their grants go :(. I spent Christmas in tears in 1989, and wept when cameras went in for the first time from ‘outside’ and into the orphanages. Romania before the revolution had ‘scared’ me, I’ll be honest – the Securitate, the most brutal and vicious of all the Eastern European police forces, followed you everywhere with their long black coats, their black hats, and cameras with long zoom lenses. But as I watched on TV Christmas 1989,I knew I had to go back: God got a hold of my spirit and my emotions as I wept, and within about 4 weeks, was there with a 38 ton, 17 ton, 13 ton, and 3 7.5 ton trucks (you could – maybe still can – drive one of those on a car licence, and I had to drive and take whatever we could collect. The trucks were rammed with goods – about 90 tons in the 6 trucks.
Within a day or two, I knew I had to go to an orphanage, yet everything in me screamed not to, as I dreaded what I was going to see. Room after room, cots end to end, side to side, filling every centimetre of the rooms, ‘normal’ size cots but with 4 children in each, sitting in excrement and urine. Concrete ‘pens’ where the most disabled were kept, 24/7, naked, covered in excrement and urine, naked, in – that day – temperatures of -30C, and they were hosed down once every now and again with ice cold water.
I fell in love. I think I did in front of the TV if I’m honest, but seeing these children – and there are still instituions like them there today – and thousands of kids living in the under-street heating and sewage ducts. What made me fall in love with this country? Well, I’ve realised in the past 40 years that some people hate countries, others love them: but even when you love them, you can hate them, too, for what they do to people, especially children. I fell in love because the first boy I saw was this one –
no legs, no hands, immovable arms, a missing eye, and blind in the other eye. I asked through a translator, of one the ‘workers’, what his name was, how old – no name, no idea how old: I asked what had happened to him to make him the way he was. ‘His mother tried to abort him with a knitting needle, severed his legs, wrecked his arms and hands, and removed an eye….. ‘how often do you pick them up and hug them?’ I asked. ‘What? Why? Never,’ came the reply. So I did, hugged him – and he laughed. I exploded with tears I didn’t know I could produce – and I fell in love with a country that to many is so corrupt they won’t go there, to others – who’ve never been but ‘know it well’ and a country still despised by many. I was covered in s**t and urine but I didn’t care – he needed loving. As do many in that sad, sad country. I took my whole family there many times over those early years – and my kids – who I adore even though I haven’t seen them in a very long time – loved playing with the Romanian kids. It really blessed me to see it. 128 visits later, and I still love the country, but hate it because it can kill a lovely 25 year old girl, amongst thousands over the years.
Don’t believe the cots were end to end, side to side?
Why do men fall in love? How? With the girl of your dreams, it’s easy. With a nation – and images like these – it’s not love you can generate, but love that, I believe, only God can give if we’re willing to receive it. 29 years on, I’m sitting here in tears, at 2 am, crying my eyes out over a country I love dearly, and over a young woman who I loved like a daughter who it seems is now dead. Can we do anything? Yes, we can. We can ask God for his love, compassion, freedom from the fear of ‘catching diseases’ (many people won’t go to some countries I’ve asked them to go to with me in case they catch something). ‘If any man wants to save his life, he’ll lose it: but whoever is willing to lose his life for my sake, he will find it’. Jesus said it – 5 times in 4 gospels.
Do we just ignore these things as though they never happened Worse still, that they still ARE happening? For God’s sake, for Jesus’s sake – NO! For the sake of the Kingdom? NO! This isn’t some far-flung country (though it does seem to have similar despotic leaders – though the President, which is really a ‘name-only’ title, is, I undertand a Lutheran Christian (Klaus Iohannis). It’s the Prime Minister who really runs the country, and the previous incumbents have been not the most honest (choosing words carefully!).
There are some great churches in Romania – even better perhaps under the persecution of the evil President Ceaucescu, as churches thrive under persecution (maybe we do as Christians, too) – and need our help, they need encouragement, love, grace, finance, and so much more. I remember saying to a group of five pastors in Guanzhou, China – what will it take for the church in the west to see happen what God is doing in revival power here in China? Their answer was unanimous, having just answered another of my questions with ‘We never have a prayer not answered’ – ‘they said, ‘We pray every day for the precious gift of persecution for the western churches’….
Is God asking you to go and love Romania? Or somewhere else humanly unlovely to us with a western mindset?
I do want to add that this has nothing at all to do with me falling in love other than with the poor, desperate, people unable to help themselves, in nations that make even the poorest here look rich – if only because of the National Health Service….