Monday, June 1, 2009

The Beauty of Espresso

Well--I have a confession to make. I have fallen in love...again. No need to doubt my fidelity however, this love is not of the romantic variety. This love is of the frothy, strong, and exhilarating variety. This love is for a little drink called espresso. Why did no one ever show me espresso before? Of course I had heard of espresso, but this always conjured up images of preppy rich kids and snooty businessmen going to expensive coffee shops to feel like there life was worth something. My first day in Braila everything changed.

We were sitting on the porch of an old Communist apartment bloc sharing the Gospel with some younger guys smoking cigarettes. A few minutes into our conversation, one of them excused himself to run an errand of some kind. He soon returned with a small cup filled with some kind of coffee drink. The look (and smell) of this beverage captured my attention. Later on that day I spotted a sign for espressos and that was all she wrote.

A beautiful thing about Romania is that virtually every convenience store and street stand sells a small cup of this big flavor for just 1 lei (33 cents). That's right, just 33 cents! My favorite place to buy them was a convenience store behind the church. Not only did they give you more for your money, but the flavor was so strong it literally gave me a buzz every time I drank a cup...which was multiple times a day. Anyway, I realize this was a semi-pointless post, but I just wanted to share my fascination/appreciation for this Romanian delicacy. I'm told we have them in America too, but I don't think I will feel comfortable paying more than 50 cents or so.

Notice the cup in my hand.

Group of college students from the church.

Jesus would have drank espresso.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Church on the Street

Our team has been going at it strong for about the last two weeks. Troy (the missionary here) divided the city up into seventeen zones and we have been prayer-walking and sharing Christ through literally every section of this city. We have walked over 40 hours and have been able to share the gospel with hundreds of people who had never heard the biblical good news of Jesus Christ. Yeah...we are tired. God has been teaching me a lot throughout this trip--teaching me of humility, submission, service, joy, and the comfort of his Holy Spirit. I want to share one particular instance that happened last night that sticks out:

Last night we made our way to the town phaleza (easily the most happening spot in Braila) to have some conversations. After speaking with a couple old ladies I spotted a younger guy sitting on a bench, taking a break from roller-blading. We went over to talk to him and ended up sitting and sharing the Gospel with him. I went verse to verse having him read it and then explain what it meant to him. I was enjoying myself and I liked this guy because he seemed genuinely interested in what the Scriptures had to say. I pointed him to John 3:3 (You must be born again) and asked his opinion. He read it once. Then twice. After having ample time to contemplate this deep text, he looked up at us, clearly confused, and asked, "How can you be born again?" Before any of us could try to answer this, he basically quoted Nicodemus's response to Jesus beginning in verse 4: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?"

I was immediately struck by the absurdity of this text. What does it even mean to be born again? Of course I knew all the right "churchy" answers to this question, but for the first time I was gripped by the revolutionary, mysterious, and downright weird ideas of the Gospel we have become so bored with. The meaning and shock value of this passage has been lost in the familiarity and cheesiness of our Christian bubble. To an American non-believer, "born again" would conjure up images of televangelist scandals, intolerance, irrelevance, and political aspirations. This Romanian man, however, was struck by the deeper spiritual implications of this text. His genuine questions enabled us to share with him the beautiful Gospel message.

What if Biblical interpretation was not only relegated to quiet studies and ivory towers? What if theology meant doing something rather than just knowing something? I am convinced that discipleship must include praxis as well as knowledge. Latin American theologians have beaten us to this principle and developed the idea of a well-balanced praxiology. As I sat there sharing Christ with Leonardo, the text I was using became real to me. This passage of scripture was no longer a intangible spiritual idea, but rather it was a description of our work ministering on the streets of this city. Proper Biblical interpretation must occur in the context of mission. I use study helps and commentaries more than most, but there is something about doing the Bible rather than just reading it. There is an incredible power when the Church is released into their streets rather than held captive in their sanctuaries.

Our Streets

Daily group for ministry. We respond to both "The Dream Team," and "The All-Star Team."

Justin (22 year old missionary from Atlanta) speaking to a local Romanian leader named Bogdan. Transformed from an abusive drunk, Bodgan is now one of the strongest leaders in the mafia-ridden valley planting churches and raising leaders.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Galațsi Plan

We have been in Braila, Romania (our final destination) for about a week now and I finally have enough time to write and share what we have been able to be a part of. We are working with a missionary named Troy, a 22 year old intern named Justin, and some of the local Christian Romanian leaders.

Our team has been blessed to join these missionaries in literally breaking ground for work in this city. Braila is a town of about 300,000 in the southeast corner of Romania not far from the Moldova border. This town has many ties with the mafia and is known as one of the most dangerous cities in all of Romania (sorry Mom)! Troy has designed a very intricate plan that he has implented in another nearby city known simply as "The Galatsi Plan." Much like in American, the traditional church structure and mindset is doing almost nothing to pentrate the overwhelming lostness in this area. Most of the local Romanian Baptist churches are very legalistic and will not leave the safety of their nice buildings to share the Gospel. The Galațsi Plan is designed to confront this type of dying Evangelicalism with a living, communal, New Testament cell church movement.

The different phases of this plan look something like this:

street evangelism--in home Bible Studies--Cell churches (in homes)--leadership training

If you know me, you know that I very quickly caught on with this revolutionary type of evangelism and church planting. When the Church moves out of exclusive buildings full of bored spectators and back into the home and streets, we will certainly see an awesome move of the Holy Spirit!

Anyway, please pray for our team as we prayer walk this city and make contacts for the future Church God will raise in this city. Also, check out Troy's blog which will have updates and pictures from this project:
In Christ, Matthew

P.S. If you are reading this posts and praying for our team please leave a comment so I can see who all is keeping up!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Forgot

I was going to put these pictures on the last post...but I forgot. So without any further adieu, here they are!

Night Church where I heard the man pray

The Church we worshiped at in the morning

Classic Horse and Buggey

Gamaliel Was Right

I have been in Romania for about 5 days now and we have seen some amazing things. Romania is unlike anywhere I have ever been is a unique mix of European, Latin, and Slavic. The language is strangely familiar yet mysteriously foreign. The Latin base of the language has enabled me to pick up on a few words and phrases.

Many of the elements of modern Romania seem to be a reaction to the intense Soviet rule present for so many years. As a part of the Soviet Union, Romania was subject to harsh government rule and persecution. This persecution was especially focused on the eradication of religion, intellectual communities, or any other perceived threat to the government's totalitarian rule. In 1989, Romanian erupted in riots and protests that eventually spread to other nations resulting in the fall of the great Soviet Union. This brand of violent communism existed in Romania from roughly 1945 to 1989. During this time, all churches were banned and Christianity was made illegal. By forcing the Christians to conform, many thought that the faith would soon disappear within Romanian borders.

On Sunday I had the privilege of worshiping along my Romanian brothers and sisters. I am always deeply touched by experiencing worship in another language and culture. By hearing the saints cry out to Christ in an entirely different tongue, I am reminded of how unimportant I am. God is not American. The Holy Spirit is not restricted to North America. I am a part of something bigger...something better. The missionaries here have been speaking of the importance of "kingdom thinking." Rather than thinking of Americans, Baptists, or any other group, we must think about the overarching KINGDOM that God is building in the hearts of men and women throughout the globe. Nations will fall, churches will divide, but the kingdom of God is the only thing that will last for eternity.

In both church services we attended on Sunday there was a special time of "free prayer" for the entire congregation. This time was free for anyone in the congregation to pray aloud while the rest of the believers would prayerfully agree with shouts of "Amin!" In the night service I was struck by the beauty of one certain prayer. A few rows to my right sat an old man. This man looked weathered, experienced, and tired from a full and hard life. His age told me that this man lived through World War 2, the Communist regime, the Revolution, and the advent of the information age and internet. Slightly hunchbacked, this man slowly stood and began praying with an energy uncharacteristic on his age. I mean PRAYING. I listened to his cries ascending towards heaven in an unknown tongue. His face wrinkled with passion and I realized I didn't need to know what he was saying. Raising his voice, the congregation joined in with prayers of their own and cries to God. As this precious saint began to weep, I was tackled by the beauty of this moment. The goal of many secularists and politicians has been to stamp out Christianity. The aggressive athiests of our days theorize that through greater learning and intellectual stimulation Christianity will become as irrelevant as the Greek and Roman myths and deties. As I was sitting in that small Romanian congregation, it hit me that this line of thinking was not new. In Acts, a wise rabbi by the name of Gamaliel offered this advice concerning the new radical faith of the apostles:

"Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished and all who followed were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these man and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" (Acts 5:35-39)

Probably born right before the Communists took over Romanian, this elderly man had known Christianity as illegal for most of his adult life. Rather than embracing secularism as expected, this man was a part of a large underground movement of faith that outlasted the regime that targeted them. Watching this man pray I knew that his faith was real. This man had tasted persecution but had persevered. Our faith began as a small radical movement consisting mainly of poor Jewish fisherman. Throughout the millennium we have seen this small movement shake the world to it's very core. Christianity spread to three continents in 100 years. About two centuries later, this faith had defeated the strongest empire on the face of the earth and became the official religion of Rome. The Church can and will persevere. So fear not for the Church brethren. Fear not impending persecution. Fear not irrelevance. Fear not governments. Fear not the recession.

Throughout the entire world there exists pockets of dedicated believers enduring the kind of persecution that ripped through Romania. One day, when we are able to travel freely through places like Saudia Arabia and North Korean, we will no doubt be encouraged and changed by the fierce prayers of saints stronger than us. Saints that persisted through it all. Saints like this man.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Yesterday, I arrived in Romania for a 3 week practicum trip. My major (intercultural studies) requires an overseas component to apply the missiological knowledge we are gaining. This year, it was decided that we would go to Romania to work in Cluj Napoca and Bucharest doing university ministry, working with village churches, and helping missionaries make strategize for future outreach programs. We flew from NYC to Budapest, Hungary. From Budapest we took a 7 hour bus ride to the northern Romanian city of Cluj Napoca. I will be writing and reflecting throughout my trip tuned!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Deviant Art

I know I have shared some of my poetry on this site before, but now I am unveiling a new central location with a lot of my poetry--both old and new. I invite all comments and criticism.


Friday, January 30, 2009

I miss 中国 (China)

Ok, I know I said I wouldn't write anymore about China. I know I said that I was moving on in my blog to write about more current things in my life... well I lied. Yes, that was the original intention, but for some reason I cannot get China off of my mind! So consider this a post in honor of Chinese New Year this week.

Here is a short list of the things I miss most about China:

  1. My friends (The Chinese and American friends that walked this journey with me)
  2. The food (Going from basically the culinary capital of civilization to NGU caf food has plummeted my taste buds into clinical depression)
  3. Walking (There is a certain beauty and practicality in being able to walk to anything you need. America's suburbia is definitely stressing me out)
  4. Adventure (In China every day was adventurous, unpredictable, and full of new experiences)
  5. Tea (Dance Tea-- nuff said)
  6. Speaking Chinese (Struggling through this incredibly difficult language filled me wonder and a much needed dose of humility)
  7. Community
  8. Chinese Art
  9. Being a Minority
  10. Catching/Riding Buses
  11. Pirated DVD Stores
  12. Motorcycles ( I miss the crazy and dangerous feel you get when you ride a motorcycle taxi...)
  13. Old Chinese Men (My friend Park and I agreed that these are by far the COOLEST old people in the whole world)
  14. Playing Games (Ping Pong, Mahjong, and Dou Di Zhu)
  15. History
  16. Reading the China Daily (It's surprisingly refreshing to get world news from a Non-Western perspective)
  17. Chinese Barbecue (Meat on a Stick!)
  18. Not being in America
  19. Being in China.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Just A Reminder

Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages...

I just wanted to drop a line and tell you that although I am done with my China writing/reflecting, I will continue to write about life/Christ/politics/philosophy/the church/travel and whatever comes to my mind RIGHT HERE.

So basically what I'm trying to say is... "Thank you, come again."


Monday, January 5, 2009

Time To Say 再见...

The lights of the KTV parlor lit up the dark Xiamen night with an unusual, clean, almost mesmerizing brightness. This hub of nocturnal activity drew in the night crowds for eating, drinking, fellowship, and bad karaoke singing. On this particular night I found myself here with a group of friends--mostly Chinese students with a few Americans from our group. Walking into the building we were immediately met by shouts of Huan ying guan ning (welcome) by the smiling, uniformed girls who are paid to nothing but that. This pleasant greeting is both a reminder of the incredible hospitality of China, and of the rampant over employment encouraged and enforced by the local governments. We are led to our private room that will serve as the setting for the rest of the night's fun. Some of us choose our places in the comfortable couches lining the walls, while others rush over to the computer to begin filling our singing playlist with Chinese love songs and a random assortment of whatever English stuff we can find--let's just say we got used to singing Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears!

About an hour had passed when my friends Sally and Clark chose one particular song that they seemed really excited about. As soon as the music began, I knew i had heard the song before, but didn't really know where it came from. As the music to Beijing Huan Ying Ni began to creep through the speakers, the room erupted with emotion. This was the official song of the 2008 Olympics, translated as, "Beijing Welcomes You." I feel like this song has become the unofficial motto for the new China. This song, better than any others I heard, captures the hope, pride, and excitement that has been stirring in this country--climaxing at the Olympics.

For the next 7 minutes, I watched my friends sing their hearts out. For the next 7 minutes, I watched a music video with almost every Chinese celebrity standing together--united in love for their country. For the next 7 minutes, I was filled with love, respect, appreciation, wonder, and pride for China. In these 7 minutes, my perception of China was changed. In that moment, that night, in that KTV parlor...I finally got it. I got why/how the Chinese were so proud of their country. I finally got the depth and mystery of this ancient yet modern culture. I finally grew resigned to the fact that it was "Ok" for China to be different. Contrary to what my skin or language would have told me, in those 7 minutes I was almost convinced that I too was Chinese. Maybe it was less thinking, and more wishing--wishing I could be part of their past, be part of their future...Wishing I could sing this song with the same conviction I was seeing on the other faces there in that dim room.

There is an ancient Confucian philosophy that held to "The redemptive properties of Chinese culture." Applied mainly to neighbors and barbarous invaders, the idea went that Chinese culture was so magnificent and beautiful that it would actually change, civilize, or Sinicize (make Chinese) all those who came in contact with it. I like to think that in some very real way, this has applied to me--that is some very real way, China has redeemed and changed me. As those warring neighbors of old, after even such a brief contact with these people, I return just a bit more Chinese.

Throughout this semester you have read my reflections, meditations, rants, criticisms, frustrations, revelations, and epiphanies. I have learned, grown, got lost, made mistakes, had adventures, made relationships, fallen even more in love with my Creator, and even eaten a dog or two along with way. I apologize for the times I have seemed too hard on America...or not hard enough. My relationship with this nation is indeed a complex one, and it seems that with every journey I take, this home is illuminated and born again to be viewed with new eyes. My relationship with China has also been very complex--requiring work, patience, and effort to get to know her. (Like any good relationship) At times blinded by child-like flattery, I also realize that I may have over-exaggerated China's strengths, or ignored her weaknesses. All that aside, this nation returned the wonder, adventure, and mystery that has been conspicuously absent from a traveler whose world had grown just a bit too small. Although this trip is over, my relationship with China is not over. The times I have had will always stay with me--affecting me, enlivening me, saddening me, and forever tainting the way I view the world.