Europe is a hopeless place, filled with hopeless people. That’s something that most tourists have no clue about. They come from places where there are jobs and plenty of money. They see the majestic Eiffel Tower, the famous tower of Big Ben, the historical Colosseum in Rome, and the romantic canals of Venice. They take pictures and go home thinking that they have seen Europe.
Trivia: Few have actually seen Big Ben because it’s the name of the clock’s bell
Trivia: Christians were fed to the lions in the Circus Maximus, not the Colosseum because it was a bigger venue and open to all, so it served as a warning not to join the Christians. The Colosseum was only open to the nobility and was where the Gladiators fought to the death.
The tourists might have had their pockets picked or seen (or most likely tried not to see) beggars in these beautiful places. If they were brave enough to ride the buses, trains, trams, or subway, they may have smelled someone near them who doesn’t use deodorant. These tourists go home thinking that they have seen Europe, too.
But the reality of Europe (or any place for that matter) can only be truly known by living here. Life in Europe is hard, and it’s hardest on immigrants. Americans must learn how to navigate ancient bureaucracies that are full of rules that make no sense—that’s just the way it’s done.
The Europeans have a love/hate relationship with America. They love our movies and TV shows, and the fact that we come in and spend money here, which boosts the economy. But they hate our loud and often obnoxious presence. America is the land of comfort and convenience, the land of efficiency and practicality. Most of Europe is none of those things. So when Americans come and complain loudly about the realities of Europe, it angers Europeans, who may wish that you would just quietly spend your money and go back to America.
The biggest difference between America and Europe is that Americans are an optimistic bunch. Even the most pessimistic and negative American is more optimistic than the average European. In a word, Americans have hope. Europeans have mostly given up hope. This hopelessness is what makes Europe “by far the most secular, least Christian” continent on earth, (Operation World, page 79). Europeans love our optimism, love the fact that we smile a lot, but they consider Americans naïve.
Here are some of the most hopeless groups of people in Europe (and probably in the world):
There are Roma (gypsies) throughout Europe, and they are the most universally hated group of people by far. The Roma are not all lazy beggars and thieves, as most people think. In fact, they are quite industrious. However, because the majority of them have no legal documents, they cannot materially participate in European society. They can’t get jobs, so they create their own work. Some Roma are business owners, employing their family members. Others pick and sell flowers, wash windshields at traffic lights, or play music on the subway—all of which are forms of begging. Some of the gypsy girls visit the alley door of restaurants and shops, begging for food or money in exchange for sex. Some sit outside of churches, grocery stores, and cafes, begging. Some have broken and set their legs in crazy ways or amputated their legs, giving themselves a “beggar’s pay raise.” And, yes, some of them break into houses and steal whatever they can carry away.
Most of the Roma could not integrate into the rest of European society even if they wanted to. Their lack of legal documents also means that even if they have the money, they can’t buy or rent property. So they live in camps at the edge of town. Some camps are worse than others, but none of the camps are a place you would want to go, much less to live. Roma hygiene is practically nonexistent, even if the facilities are available to them—and often they are not available. Every Roma camp is the third world. Just outside the beautiful European cities that attract so many tourists are Roma camps: Paris, London, Rome, and Venice all have their Roma camps.
But the biggest barrier to integration is the Roma family, itself. At the head of every Roma family are the patriarchs, the grandparents. All family issues are decided by the patriarchs, and all money is brought to the patriarchs to administer. Roma family values are so foreign to the rest of us that it makes them a frightening mystery to most people. Understanding Roma family values will help you understand the Roma. In a nutshell, the family is everything to the Roma, and you serve the family, the patriarchs, by bringing them money. You might think, well my family is important to me, too. But here’s some examples of Roma family values at work:
- Sending your daughter (or son or wife) out to sell herself as a prostitute brings money to the family, so that’s a good thing.
- Paying to ride the bus, train, or subway takes money away from the family, so that’s a bad thing.
- Passing your children around among the adults of the family to be used like sex toys trains them for prostitution, which will bring in money, so that’s a good thing.
- Passing up an opportunity to steal something when no one is looking won’t bring money to help the family, so that’s a bad thing.
- Selling your child either to traffickers or to black market human organ dealers brings money to the family, so that’s a good thing.
On that last point, the Roma are always happy with pregnancies because one way or another, they will find a way to bring money in to the family through that child. Do they love their children? Love doesn’t really enter into Roma family values. Money is really everything for them.
The Homeless of Budapest
When I was in Budapest, I wrote about the homeless in my book Look, Listen, Love. Budapest has an estimated 30,000 homeless people (Operation World, page 403). The homeless people that I saw didn’t beg for money. All over Europe, and indeed the world, homeless people beg for money. But not the homeless of Budapest. They have lost hope. They sleep in doorways and in the entrances to the subway. There are so many of them that the city seems to have given up hope of helping them. So the police don’t chase them away when they camp in a doorway, in the park, or in the subway entrance. I guess that’s help of some sort, but not much.
But the Roma and the homeless of Budapest, although hopeless, are not the most hopeless group of people in Europe. The most hopeless people are the orphans of formerly Communist Central and Eastern Europe. I met 1 just this week.
Mary came with a missionary family from Romania that stayed with me. She is the nanny to their 4 children. They are discipling her even though she hasn’t yet made a decision for Christ. They had to be very careful talking about her because although Mary doesn’t understand English, the children are bilingual. Little pitchers have big ears, and they also have big mouths!
What I understood between the lines is that Mary grew up in an orphanage. Most orphanages in the formerly Communist countries keep the children under very tight control. So they grow up sheltered, but not loved. Mary had never seen an elevator before. She had no idea how the thing worked, and preferred to take the stairs instead. When I was introduced to Mary, I did as with any introduction: I smiled and offered my hand to shake. Mary turned her gaze from my smiling face and reluctantly took the hand.
Mary clearly loves the children, especially the oldest, Sally, who is 7. She told the mother that Sally loved and accepted her when nobody else would. I suspect that Mary feels safer with someone who is younger and still quite small. Because she had never experienced love, she found it very hard to believe that anybody, the family, me, or even God could love her, only Sally. It is very much an issue of trust.
What I know about orphanages in the formerly Communist countries is what I learned from Stella’s Voice, a missions organization that goes to Moldova and rescues orphans, and Nefarious, a documentary about human trafficking, and from talking with missionaries who work with prostitutes. Orphans, particularly girls, need rescuing because when they reach their 18th birthday, the orphanage gives them a bus ticket and a little money, and they are left on a bench at the bus stop. The traffickers know this and come by to take the girls and set them up into a life of prostitution, usually in Western Europe. Since they have no skills and no life experience, the girls go along without a thought. Sometimes the orphanage directors will encourage the girls to “be friendly” with the traffickers even before they must leave the orphanage. In this way they learn that their only value is sexual.
With the ever-present children, I never was able to learn very much specifically about Mary’s life. All I know is that she is 29 years old, though emotionally I would put her more at 12. She has been with the family for 4 years. She has heard the Gospel and attends church with the family, but has never made a declaration of faith. The mother, who is also Romanian, told me that Mary’s inability to trust has at times made her so difficult to live with that she almost gave up on her. But the Lord told her that he put Mary into her home for a reason.
When you think of Europe, please remember that the beautiful places you’ve seen in pictures are only a small part of the reality. Europe is desperately in need of missionaries. There are some countries with almost no Christian presence—and that presence is hardly Christian, being either steeped in worship of the Madonna or loaded up with traditions that include curses for sale from the priest. Please pray for missionaries to answer the call to serve in Europe. Pray for the missionaries and pastors of Europe who have been laboring for years to bring in the final harvest. And if the Lord is calling you to come serve Him in Europe, please be obedient and answer that call! God is good, but there is no time to waste. The Day of the Lord is upon us.