Stories of Impact

A Warm Day in July

warm-day-in-julyIt was a warm morning in July, a dry Sunday that would only get hotter. The sun was rising and southern Romania was inviting us to rest. Nothing hinted at the opportunities we would have this day. Driving through a village, I saw a large group of people seated on the side of the road. They were gypsies—boys and girls, teenagers and adults all together, laughing and discussing the latest rumors in their community.

Their poverty was obvious everywhere. Their homes looked like ruins. Their children were poorly dressed and noisy. I saw what Jesus saw when He looked at the people of His day: sheep without a shepherd. I pulled over and stopped the car. They looked at me suspiciously, wondering what a man like this would look for in their village. People do not stop when gypsies are gathered in groups. But Jesus would.

I approached the group and greeted them politely. "How are you today?" I asked.

"We are doing well," an older man replied. He seemed to be the leader of their community. His hair was white and his face was burned by the sun. The years had left deep marks on his face. A little light in his eyes was shining bright.

Centuries of history went through my mind. The gypsies were sold as slaves to the rich people of Europe. Sometimes they were sold together with other animals, counted as animals. The Nazis tried to kill them all, and the communists drove them into Siberia, both determined to free the world of gypsies. But Jesus was filled with compassion when He saw people scattered and hopeless.

"Have you been to church today?" I asked. "Today is Sunday, you know, and people do go to church on Sunday . . ."

"We are not allowed into the church," one man answered abruptly. "The people and the priest say that we stink, we lie, and we disturb others from coming." A lady whispered to me. "Some people always accuse us of stealing their belongings while in church."

"Jesus loves you," I told them. "It doesn't matter what people think or say about you. God sent His Son to die for you. He lived among poor people like you. He was rejected for associating Himself with poor and low level people. He loves sinners."

"We are sinners," a dark-skinned young man said. "We cannot come near God. Our parents died and they all went to hell because they were all sinners. Now is our turn to follow them into the fire."

I opened my Bible to John 10:10 and read: "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." Then I read John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 5:12. Their eyes got bigger and bigger. Some of them got tears in their big eyes. The children stopped playing and laughing. They heard the name "Jesus."

"Jesus really loves you so much," I said. I got tears in my eyes too. It felt like the time of Jesus, when the crowds were hearing the greatest news of all.

"We can come to God right here and right now, and He will make you His children, His sons and daughters. Would you like to pray with me and to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?"

Time stopped. The burning sun would not hinder gypsies from bowing down before the Jesus they had never known—a loving, forgiving, caring, and giving Jesus. A God they saw for the first time as a loving Father.

I started to sing my favorite song, a song my grandmother taught me during the years of communism, a song many of the people sang during times of persecution and beatings under the atheistic regime:

"There is a Name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth; it sounds like music in my ear, the sweetest name on earth." I cried just picturing Jesus looking down on us and smiling to see gypsies touched with love in His Name. "Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me!" Tears on their faces shone in the July sun.

I have thanked God for opening the door I have thanked God for opening the door of salvation to this people. A few hours earlier, they could see neither hope nor light. Now they were entering into the presence of a God that has been waiting for them for generations.

Happy for the great miracle of people being born again, I decided to continue my trip. I got into my car, but had to quickly come down to earth. While some prayed, it seems that other gypsies had been busy doing something else. Everything that was mobile in my car had disappeared: the CDs and the CD player, my cell phone, my sunglasses, my books . . . I was glad my car keys were in my pocket.

I was totally disappointed, then angry, and then . . . I was about to say, "Because you've done this to me, I will never have anything to do with you gypsies again." Instead, I found myself saying, "Because you've done this to me, from now on I will do everything in my strength, by God's power, to reach your nation for the Lord."

Three days later, I got a phone call from the king of the gypsies. Florin Cioaba saw one of our parenting seminars on TV. He asked me to help teach their people about family and parenting values. We agreed to meet. Within two weeks we led our first event in Sibiu, the gypsy king's headquarters. What a tremendous blessing to see old and young gypsies together for the first training on the miracle of life-change.

During the event, many gypsies made decisions for the Lord. Vasile was one of them. His face showed God's grace and love. He was forgiven and he knew it. Other people around him could tell that Vasile was a changed man.

We started a Walk Thru the Bible School for the gypsies in order to teach all of our seminars. Vasile became one of the most diligent students. After the first meeting he came to me and asked for a box of Christian literature. I promised him a box for the next meeting.

It was a rainy day when we met again, and I brought a box of about 20 pounds of Christian booklets. Vasile was very happy. His dark, aged face became bright. He was happy.

At the end of the meeting, which lasted well into the night, Vasile grabbed the box, thanked me, and whispered, "Could you bring another box to me next time?" As he walked away, he smiled and disappeared into the rain. Another box, I thought to myself. What would he do with this much literature? And where did he go in the rain?

The next time I brought another box, but before I gave it to Vasile, I had to ask for an explanation. "Tell me, please, what you would do with this much literature. And where do you live?"

"I live six miles from this town," he answered with another big smile on his face. "My family and I been living there for over 40 years."

"How do you get the box there?"

"My brother, I carry it on my shoulder!"

"Brother Vasile, I will give you a ride." My car was almost new at the time, and it was pretty nice. Brother Vasile was poorly dressed and I knew that the village where he lives was in a muddy area. But the box was too heavy for him to carry that far.

"No my brother, I will carry my box," Vasile said as he smiled again. "I really like to learn about The Miracle of Life Change. Brother Beni, could you please bring another box to me next time you come?"

Before I could answer, Vasile was gone in the dark, carrying his box.

I came up with a strategy for the next time. "I will not give him the box anymore. I will just ask him to get into the car and I will drive him home. This way he cannot just disappear."

Saturday evening, brother Vasile brought other people from his town to our seminar—three tall, strong men that had never been to a church before. They listened to the presentation and they showed interest in spiritual things. Brother Vasile was the happiest person in the room. He had witnessed to his friends that week, and now they had come to see why his life was so different.

At the end of the meeting, brother Vasile again came to take the literature. "Did you bring my box?" he asked.

Your box? I thought. No, it is still mine, and now I will see where you take it every time. "I will give you a ride this time. I do not want you to carry this heavy box six miles in the dark."

"Let me tell you my story,'" Vasile said. His face changed. His smile disappeared and tears flooded his eyes.

"I was born in a large family of gypsies," Vasile began. "We lived far away in a forest. My parents were alcoholics, and all of my brothers and sisters had to beg for money and food in the neighboring villages. My parents died when we were very young. I almost do not remember them anymore. I grew up and I started my own family when I was 15. I had my first child at 17. My wife was 16. We have 12 children now.

"For 25 years I walked to this town, and every night I would carry stolen things on my shoulder. Walking in rain, wind, and snow, six miles every night, carrying boxes of things I've stolen from people."

Vasile stopped for a while and looked toward his friends who were praying now to accept the Lord. He smiled again and said: "Only God can do this, isn't that true?"

After a long sigh, he continued. "Now God has changed my life. He forgave me. He gave me a new mind and a new destiny. I am taking God's Word to the people in my village. I cannot read, but my children can. They read the Bible and they lead us through the questions in the student's workbook. I meet people that I have stolen things from. I cannot pay them back, but I offered to work for them in their gardens and yards."

My eyes filled with tears now. "God can really change people," I whispered. Vasile was a clear testimony of this miracle.

"Brother Beni, I asked forgiveness from God and I know He forgave me. I asked Him to give me health and strength to carry boxes of His Word to my people at least 25 years. Brother Beni, please allow me to carry my box for my Lord!"

Brother Vasile is still carrying boxes for the Lord. His boxes, for his Lord. God changed his life and is using Vasile now to make "the miracle of life change" a reality.

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