Europe’s Most Hopeless People

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):

The Roma

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.

The Orphans

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.

Granny’s Eyes and the Little Lost Bird

I returned from the Budapest, Bratislava, and Vienna trip feeling very tired and ready for a rest from traveling.  We had stayed in hostels the whole 2 weeks, so having a bedroom all to myself with a door feels like unbelievable luxury.  Of course, my hostel roommates were all very considerate—even those who were strangers—and I had no trouble sleeping.  But still, there is something about having space all to yourself.

When my plane landed at Milan Malpensa Airport and I turned on my phone, I received a voicemail message from a cousin that I had never met.  His mother had contacted me some weeks ago, asking if he could come stay with me.  He arrived in Milan the very same day that I did: Sunday.

My cousin is a big, sweet guy from Texas who goes by BC.  That’s very Texan to go by initials instead of a name.  This is his first trip to Italy, and he travels very light.  BC is 28 years old, very adventurous and open-minded.  When we wandered around a bit, looking for the tram stop in an unfamiliar area, it didn’t faze him one bit.  BC just takes things as they come.  He’s also a kindred spirit, with a big wanderlust and love for Europe.

He started out in Portugal, where he has friends.  After a few days there, he made his way down the coast to Spain, saw the Rock of Gibraltar, and back up the Mediterranean coast to France, then Turin, Italy where he spent the night Saturday night before coming to see his missionary cousin in Milan.  He showed me pictures of his trip, and they included some pictures of his mom, my dad’s cousin.  I saw a resemblance to my great-grandmother.  She looked like I would imagine that Granny had looked as a younger woman.  Her eyes were especially like Granny’s.  BC might look like his dad, who I never knew, but the family resemblance in his mom is unmistakable.

I took BC around the center and showed him the castle, the cathedral, the galleria, and La Scala opera house.  It’s amazing to be with someone who isn’t tired of seeing churches and castles.  It’s almost like seeing these things for the first time again.

Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo, is beautiful and a real wonder.  It is the 3rd largest cathedral in the world, after St. Peter’s in Rome and Notre Dame in Paris.  It was under construction for over 500 years, and has over 3000 life-sized statues built into its façade.  Although we didn’t go up there, it is possible to go explore the roof of the cathedral.  From the roof of the cathedral, you can really grasp just how enormous it is.  And from there, a whole lot more of the cathedral is still far over your head—all of it very intricately carved.

Inside the cathedral, BC and I went into the crypt that is behind and under the altar.  There lay the mummified remains of San Carlo (St. Charles), who had been bishop of Milan a few hundred years ago.  I had seen it before, and it still creeps me out.  BC was also creeped-out.  I also pointed out the statue of St. Bartholomew.  I had seen pictures of it, but had never spotted it before.  The saints are always depicted in the way that they were martyred.  According to legend, Bartholomew was skinned alive.  So the statue (which stands inside the cathedral near the side exit) shows him standing skinless with his skin draped over his shoulders—also very creepy.  Creepy religious art seems to be an Italian thing because I can’t remember even once seeing anything like this in any church in any other country.

When BC had spent 2 nights here, he declared himself to be rested and restless.  He said that he wanted to go by train to Como and on into Switzerland from there.  So I took him to the train station, helped him buy his ticket from the machine, and we said our goodbyes.  Yes, he is kin and a kindred spirit!

Today as I was finishing writing about BC’s visit a bird hit my window.  I was surprised to see that it was a parakeet.  It wasn’t afraid of me, and let me pick it up.  I took it downstairs to the custodian.  “Does anyone in our building keep birds?” I asked.  She said no, but advised me to ask the custodian of the building across the street.

I carried my little friend across the street and asked the custodian there.  She keeps birds, but both of her parakeets were still in their cage, which is enormous.  I asked if anyone in her building keeps birds, but she said no.  She opened the cage and told me to put it in.  At first the bird was reluctant to let go of my finger, but finally went into the cage.  It proceeded to investigate its new surroundings, while the other birds came closer for a good look at the newcomer.  There was a moment of tension while one of the birds fluttered at the newcomer, but soon they seemed to settle into a posture of guardedly watching each other.

“Thank you for taking the bird,” I said.  “Of course,” she chuckled.  “The cage is big enough for all 3, and I think they will get along.  I’m glad you brought it.  Left outside, he would surely starve to death.”

As I crossed back to my apartment building I felt grateful that I had been home when the bird hit the window.  Otherwise the poor thing would have died sooner or later.  I realized that it feels really good to have helped the little bird, and also to help the people who pass through my apartment.  Not that the people are in danger, but it’s good to help them on their way.  This is what I do.  God is good!

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

Yesterday I went to Pastor Ivan’s church in the kindergarten.  Some of the newer team members were surprised and a bit dismayed to hear that I was going to a different church than the team.  But the head of OCE (Operation Capitals of Europe – oceprayer.com) was not dismayed.  I have joined the team often enough that he knows I don’t go off on my own without a very good reason.  I had already told him about the visit Wednesday to Pastor Ivan’s church and praying for the pastor, so I think he wasn’t surprised to hear that I wanted to return to encourage the pastor some more.

It encouraged Pastor Ivan very much to see me there, and he asked me to speak briefly to the church about my ministry.  One surprise was the musical talent in that little church.  I don’t often hear music that good in much bigger churches.  I suggested to Zuzana that they should cut a CD.  Books and CD’s make good fundraisers, and I believe that this little church is going to grow.  They will need to be ready for growth.

Zuzana told me that my visit encouraged the whole church.  Afterwards we caught up with the rest of the team for lunch and then we went to the castle.  At the castle we broke up into prayer teams for various concerns: business, families & children, art & culture, Israel, and an intercessory team that remained in the castle and prayed for all the prayer teams.

I chose Israel, so we took a walk to the site of the biggest synagogue in Bratislava.  It had been right beside the largest cathedral—St. Marten’s also known as the Dome of St. Marten.  There was only one other synagogue right beside a cathedral in all of Europe, the one by Notre Dame.  The Communists tore down the synagogue to build a bridge, but also to send a message about religion.

It was a very good time of prayer, and the anointing was so strong that at one point a blind man’s guide dog led him right into the middle of our prayer circle.  At another point a man with a German Shepherd walked past us.  The dog barked and barked, but interestingly, he was muzzled in a wire muzzle.  Since one of the Slovaks was praying at the time, I didn’t want to interrupt to point this out, but I think it is significant—prophetically showing that the Nazi spirit would never again threaten the Slovakian Jews.

One woman prophesied over me, saying that I have been called to be a blessing to the Slovakian believers, and to the unbelievers as well.  I confirmed that my calling is to support the Body of Christ here in Slovakia and throughout Europe, and through them to reach the lost.  So it was very cool to be confirmed by this prophetic word.  And I have a Slovakian word for how it made me feel:  FEE-ha!  I don’t know how it’s spelled, but that’s it phonetically.  It means WOW!  It’s my new favorite foreign word.

Afterward we joined the team of intercessors that had prayed for all the teams.  They went to Slavin, the World War II monument and cemetery, atop the other hill in Bratislava.  There we found 5 young skaters (for those over 30, that’s skateboarders).  One woman (not one of our group) had just finished hollering at the skaters, telling them that it was disrespectful to be skating in a cemetery.  Instead of leaving, they simply sat and waited for her to leave, and that is how we found them.

Upon arriving there, I felt an almost overwhelming desire to dance.  Someone pointed out the woman and said that dancing in a cemetery would probably offend her, too.  But, since others also felt moved to dance, we decided that the thing to do was to dance in a quiet and subdued way.  As we worshiped and prayed, we danced mostly with our hands and swaying, but the desire to dance became stronger and stronger for all of us, until it broke out in a joyous dance.  I think it is perfectly acceptable to dance in a Nazi cemetery.  Dance is a sign of victory, and the Kingdom of God is indeed victorious over the Nazi spirit.  Hallelujah!

When we finished, we turned our attention to the skaters, who had remained just a few feet from our group.  They had seen and heard all of our worship and prayers.  One man, who I call Dancing Joe, approached them and began to tell them about Jesus.  One woman told me that he has such a funny, friendly style that it completely disarms people, and they love to listen to Dancing Joe.  The skaters laughed together with him, and although they just shrugged when he asked if he could pray for them, DJ took their shrugs to mean OK, so he prayed for them.  And we left with them all smiling and waving goodbye to us.  The crabby woman had left, so they began to skate again.

One member of the team had brought a shofar with him, and he was stopped by an American Jew, who asked what our group was doing.  So he told the man about finding his Messiah, Yeshua (he’s a Messianic Jew).

It was a lovely day!  I feel such hope for Slovakia.  God is good!