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The Real Deal

As I sit at my desk tonight to write this blog post, there are sounds of carols coming from outside our apartment building here in Bucharest, Romania. Christmas is coming! The carolers are starting their journey earlier and earlier each year, with hopes of finding good cheer and kind generosity from people who sometimes throw money or candy from their windows. 

I am listening closely tonight. It is beautiful. So perfect and harmonious! But then I notice something: it is a recording; they are not singing live. Like yesterday’s carolers, and like the ones before them, they have a large boombox that plays the songs, while the carolers only walk and smile. I have to confess that I am a little disappointed. I remember the days when, together with our youth group, we used to go from house to house and proclaim the Good News of Jesus through songs and Bible verses. I remember the pain in my throat at the end of the night (we stayed up until almost sunrise) and my aching feet, but this did not matter at all. The cost was little compared to the gain of having shared about Jesus with so many people in my home city, on the other side of the country from where I live now.

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Together with my husband, I live and serve in the capital city of Romania, whose population contains over 375,000 young people aged 14 to 22. Less than 1% of these are followers of Jesus, and many of them still do not have a colleague at school or a friend that can share Jesus with them. The need is real. The need is overwhelming. It is easy to get tired or discouraged here. My husband and I are often asked by Romanians living in other parts of our beautiful country why we are still here. In all honesty, my reply is that I sometimes ask God to change our calling away from this big, energy-draining, needy city that takes six years off of its inhabitants’ lives, as some statistics show. But he keeps saying, “Stay. I want you here.” He is gentle with me. He is kind, even in this response. When I struggle, it just so “happens” that I get a message from one of my girls from our youth group who shares a picture of her collection of fun bags, or I am tagged in a fun photo from an outing with our teens. It is then that I understand why God wants us here. The reality is that I also want to be here because I have ended up loving those young people that God entrusted to us with my whole heart, and I can’t imagine leaving them. 

What is God calling you to in this season? How is your heart responding? Be honest.

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At the beginning of 2022, I was very discouraged with our youth group. Our youth ministry was so successful before the pandemic then lots of changes and circumstances made things difficult. We found ourselves needing to start almost from scratch. We barely had any teenagers in our church of mostly young adults. These few teens were busy, and Bucharest constantly offered too many interesting things that we could not compete with. On top of that, this disheartening war started just across the border, and three million refugees—mostly women and children—came in or traveled through our country to find shelter and safety. All our energy and resources were directed there, understandably. Our little initiatives towards the youth felt like the boombox-caroling that I am hearing these days. They were lacking in power and real joy.  

And then, in June, God stirred our hearts and gave us a fresh vision and eyes to see possibilities—again. So we gathered a new team from our former youth group—young people who they, themselves, benefitted recently from this ministry. Together, we organized an Amazing Race through Bucharest that was absolutely fantastic! We had 28 new teenagers. Some of them we invited in the malls and parks, and others heard about us on Instagram—kids who had never been exposed to the Gospel. Then we continued with Aliaj Games (Aliaj means Alloy; it is the name of our youth group). We did a series called Money Talks this fall because when we asked them what questions and concerns they had, many said money and finances. What a great topic because Jesus and the Bible have a lot to say about it! Our group solidified, the relationships deepened, and trust was built. And then, at the end of November, we went on one of the best trips with a youth group that I’ve been on. We spent four days together, with little sleep, but with much connection, depth in conversations, honesty and transparency, fun, and familiarity. This fall and winter feel like the real deal. This is like the kind of caroling that gave me a sore throat and aching feet, but it also gave me the biggest smile on my face and the purest of joys.

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As this year is coming to an end and you are getting ready for 2023, what are the areas where you need fresh vision or a re-fresh altogether from the Lord? Are there things that he is inviting you to stop doing and others to start doing? This is not an opportunity to add to the pressures that you might already have been feeling. Our God is gentle and kind, and he is gentle and kind towards you, not just towards others. 

Have a Merry Christmas! May your house be filled with cinnamon and orange smells and with people that you love! And may you follow God in 2023 as he directs your steps toward the Real Deal.



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