Roma rummaging through trash heap.
In 2008 I had the opportunity to serve the poorest of poor. There is a people group in Honduras known as, "the people of the dump" who literally live, eat, work, and sleep in the city trash dump. Inside this trash dump there exists disease, human excrement, germs; where people can be found working near mangy dogs, cows, and vultures. The smell is nauseating and the flies are numerous. Many people have called it, "Hell on earth". Here in Albania there exists something similar. Although the Roma don't live in a city trash dump, they live right on the banks of a river that acts as a city trash dump. People from all around come here to eliminate their trash in this small neighborhood that seems hidden from the rest of society. Like Honduras, disease, feces, and germs exist here. Mangy dogs can be seen fighting over half-eaten food. Adults and kids often rummage through this trash seeing what they can round up for themselves. In fact, their houses are made from this same scrap material. I can't imagine waking up everyday to this life. It's no wonder many of the Roma revert to alcohol and drugs... draining out their depression and hopelessness. They often ask, "Where is God in all of this? He's not here." Hell on earth.
Alleyway in Roma neighborhood.
Jesus often spoke about hell throughout the Gospels. We get the English word "hell" from the Greek "Gehenna". And, Gehenna means "Valley of Hinnom" (Nehemiah 11:30). During Jesus' time, this was a literal place existing on the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem. It is believed this place acted as the city trash dump. It was also the place that many pagans sacrificed children to their gods (2 Chronicles 33:6). Here, there was "gnashing of teeth" often associated with dogs fighting for scraps. Fires were used to burn corpses and other waste. Jesus' audience included 1st century Jews, and they knew of this place that He often spoke of. They associated it with a place nobody dare venture into. It was for all intents and purposes... Hell on earth.
Three boys from the Roma neighborhood.
I don't want to get into some theological discussion about hell. There is enough of that already going on. But, what I do want to focus on is the hell that many people are already living here on earth right now. It's hard to imagine places like this actually exist. Especially during this 21st-century we live in, with the numerous technological advances and modern comforts we have. We have the ability to tap into resources we've never had before. We have the ability to end poverty, hunger, and disease. And although there are a great many organizations and ministries already doing this, there is not enough. Nearly 2,000 years ago Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God more than any other topic. And, I believe Jesus equipped us with the ability to bring the kingdom of God to people who are living in hell on earth... now. He charged us with caring for "the least of these". As I gaze upon the Roma neighborhood and see a lone naked child rummaging through the trash, I am overwhelmed with raw emotion. I ask myself "Why?!". Why, does this dear child deserve this? I don't have an answer. But, I know that the only way this child will be helped is by God calling out more people from the comforts of their own lives and bringing them here to work. Bringing the kingdom of God to these people. Letting the light of Jesus Christ pierce the darkness they now live in.
Roma hous made of scrap material.
Please, will you prayerfully consider joining in this work? Consider this a plea. We don't need money... yet. We need people. We need you. We need people who believe in the words of Christ to care for the poor, the widow, and orphans. The message of love, grace, and compassion. The message of hope that cannot be found in programs, organizations, or strategies, but only in Jesus Christ. We need people willing to jump into the trenches, get their hands dirty, and help lift up the very people that Jesus is drawn to. Mother Theresa once said, "First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for him in disguise amongst the poor." We see Jesus everyday in the Roma begging in the streets of Tirane. We see Jesus in the naked Roma boy digging through the trash heap. We see Jesus in the drunk Roma man wallowing in his sorrows on the side of the alley. And, we see Jesus in the helpless Roma woman who is beaten by her husband. Will you join us? Will you come see Jesus with us?
"The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
For the past 24 hours I have felt the weight of the Holy Spirit’s conviction. When that happens, my mind starts asking my heart lots of questions. Why am I feeling this way? What is God telling me?
It all started yesterday as I was driving with a friend down the busy Lana Blvd. here in Tirane. She and I had just had an amazing visit with some of Albania’s poorest people, in their “home” by the river. Our hearts are tender toward them and we both want to show them the love of Christ. As I was driving, I was learning so much from my friend as we were discussing different strategies in the global scene of how to help them. I remember saying “sometimes we don’t see the forest from the trees “– me describing myself as seeing the trees and her seeing the forest, because of our differing daily roles here in Tirane. I was so interested in hearing what she had to say and saying what I was thinking that I was in auto pilot for what happened next.
As we were stopped at the red light, and my windshield was squirted with water from a Roma boy – I was quick to turn on my windshield wipers to communicate to him that I did not want my windows cleaned. First, let me tell you that all around Tirane, at almost every intersection of the Lana Blvd, there are many beggars, and every time I see them, it’s an inner struggle. If we give them money, we are reinforcing their bondage of begging. Early on, based on this thought and conversations with other believers, we had decided not to give them money (Leke) when we see them. Is that right? I don’t know. Aren’t they who Jesus refers to as the least of these? Yes.
The boy was very persistent in his effort to obtain some leke. I tried to ignore him, and eventually rolled down my window and offered him my water, which he did not want. He went on to another vehicle or the light turned green, I don’t recall, but I immediately felt badly and even began to explain to my friend all the justifications for what I had done. No matter how many “good things” I can think of that I do for the poor, it doesn’t cancel out this act. It still makes me teary.
Conviction. It’s painful sometimes, but without it we aren’t as moved to be more like Him. Thank you God for taking the time to show me how my actions certainly broke your heart and the heart of someone you love. I am grateful that this lesson is done in love and is not for me to feel badly about myself, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ! I got so interested in talking about the forest that I ignored the beautiful tree you placed right in front of me.
1. Isn’t it my intention to show Christ’s character in all that I do? Yes.
2. What evidence of Christ is in me while I ignore the beggars at these intersections? None.
3. What must my behavior look like at these intersections if I am to show Christ to them?
I’d love to say I have the answer for this, but I don’t. I may even avoid driving for a while till I have a sense of what God wants me to do. This is what I am still praying through and would love to hear others’ insights. Feels a little paralyzing, but I know the Lord will show me the way.
Thousands of Muslims pray in Skanderbeg Square. (Tirane, Albania)
Today marks the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. Here in Tirane, the mood was set at sunup with the call to prayer emanating from the tall spires of neighboring mosques. Many of the poor walked the city streets banging their drums reminding Muslims to give alms to those less fortunate. In light of this holy month of Ramadan, I spent some time in reflection and prayer for our Muslim friends. It is my hope that God will pierce through spiritual strongholds and reveal himself to many Muslims throughout Albania and the rest of the globe during this time of fasting and prayer.
As Christians, I think it is important we understand what Muslims believe. Not to discredit or criticize them. But, to gently and lovingly show them the truth found only in Jesus Christ. We should also refrain from demonizing and mischaracterizing Muslims. Remember, Muslims are not our enemy... Satan is. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
To gain a better understanding of what Muslims believe, David Souther from EvanTell ministries posted a great article on the Evangelism.net
website today that I want to share with you. It's entitled, "Christianity and Islam: A Sharp Contrast". The article touches upon the foundational tenets of the Muslim faith and shows some of the differences between Islam and Christianity. Ramadan has officially started in the United States, and because of that during the next two weeks we will be writing about sharing the gospel with our Muslim neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Along with today’s post, we’ll discuss some pointers to keep in mind when sharing Christ with Muslims and give our review of the book The Gospel for Muslims. To begin an effective dialog with people, it is important to understand their point of view. Here are six main beliefs of Islam and how they contrast with Christianity: 1. There is one God. According to Islam, God does not exist in three persons, therefore, there is no trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Also, God cannot have a Son and cannot become a man, therefore, Jesus was not divine. 2. God created angels. Islam teaches that one sits on one’s right shoulder recording good deeds; another sits on one’s left shoulder recording the bad deeds. On judgment day, these records are opened and on the basis of them the person is rewarded or punished. 3. God appointed a prophet for every age. This line starts with Adam and ends with Muhammad. Jesus is viewed as only a prophet. Muhammad is the last and greatest of the prophets, the “Seal of the Prophets.” His words have final authority. 4. Holy Books. Muslims believe that every prophet was given a holy book by God. Muhammad believed each book was pre-existent and sent down to each prophet as needed. The Quran supersedes all previous scriptures. 5. The Day of Judgment. God will judge the world on the “Day of Doom.” Everyone’s good deeds will be weighed on a balance scale against his bad deeds. Paradise awaits those whose good deeds outweigh his bad deeds. A fiery hell awaits those whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds. 6. Duties of Islam a. The Confession of the Creed (Shahadah) - “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” b. Ritual Prayer (Salat) – This occurs 5 times a day. c. Giving of Alms (Zakat) – Giving a portion of your income to the poor or to religious causes. d. Keeping the 30 Day Fast (Sawm) – You may not eat from sunrise to sunset during the lunar month of Ramadan. e. Going on the Pilgrimage (Hajj) – Once in his lifetime, the pilgrim is to travel to Mecca and perform various other duties while there. As you can see, Islam is in sharp contrast to the gospel of the Bible because it teaches that Jesus is not divine, did not die on the cross, and that no one can die for anyone else’s sin. In Islam, the answer to sin is good works. In Christianity, the answer is Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. As you can see, Jesus Christ is the main issue that divides Islam and Christianity." Adapted from the book Healing the Broken Family of Abraham: New Life for Muslims