During the summer after my junior year of high school, I went on a ten-day mission trip to Oradea, Romania with dozens of other teenagers to host Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) in Romani villages scattered along the outskirts of the city. As we trained at the Global Expeditions base camp in Texas, practiced Romanian words, and finally flew over the Atlantic Ocean, the expectation that we were being sent to help people in poverty grew.
After stepping off the bus that transported us from a Hungarian airport, our team turned to face rolling hills and a local church, Biserica de Hristos, confident that we would bring hope to the natives. Chanting songs and practicing various parts of our VBS, we re-assured one another that we were “world-changers.”
Until we went to Tinka.
As the poorest Romani village, Tinka sprawled across acres of trash and human waste. Songs shriveled in our throats when we witnessed a young woman stick her hand down her throat, throw up, and then eat her vomit out of hunger. Suddenly, our skits seemed foolish and our trinkets, trivial. We performed anyway and prayed with excruciating humility that our insignificant efforts would make a difference. But playing with the kids and exchanging broken Romanian with their parents only exposed our inability to really help them. Amidst trees that formed a canopy of brilliant green over rickety shacks constructed from metal scraps and bamboo, we discovered our own inner poverty.
A few days after visiting Tinka, we stood on the summit of Mushroom Top Mountain and lifted our hands over red tiled rooftops and crystal skies. Stretching our bodies toward a Spirit that whispered with the wind, we wept at the realization that Someone could already save them – and He wanted to save us too.
Jesus didn’t come to rescue us with petty programs or lofty speeches. He came as a human, for humans. He came with compassion so scandalous that kings and religious leaders tried to suppress him, his own people discriminated against him, and we murdered him. But death could not defeat him, and he spread himself across the trash and human waste of our lives and offered his life for our freedom.
As I stood on Mushroom Top Mountain, Oradea gleaming in afternoon light, I felt God’s faithfulness in the sky, in the people around me, in the plan I knew He had for my life. The profound love I experienced in that moment set me free from my own poverty.
The following poem speaks of this fundamental transformation, which renews my hope each passing day:
There is a crown within this earthquake –
A glazed, glinting headdress
Golden as a yoke.
Break the egg
Tear down the mountain
There is a crown within this earthquake.
Sanctuaries are shattered and dead
Hands pull back the curtain
No rip it to shreds
From top to bottom
Expose open air to the holy of holies
Where no man should go
Without a rope wrapped around his ankle
And bells to clink and clank and signal
Yes you are alive and still walking.
Go to the tomb, I tell you
Gritty bits of rock and jewels lace the mouth
Open in after-shock, shaken and empty.
Murky chamber, peer in: For the man
Is not here. He left only linens
From his two-night stand with sour sponges and satan
Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?
Raise a hand and touch the scars seared with
Nails gnawing at flesh, pound them deep for
My King: He is not here.