Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Craiova for the Day

I've been sleeping every night in Draganesti since arriving on the 9th, and the original plan was that the rest of this week, starting tonight, I would stay in Craiova.  Plans change pretty quickly around here, though, and it was decided yesterday that instead I would just spend a full day there today and come back to Draganesti in the evening.  While I had been excited to get to know Craiova better, there are so many people and ministries that I love here in Draganesti also, and I'm glad I didn't have to say goodbye to this place just yet. 
Draganesti looking prettier than usual
Some roads were clear, others, not
so much

That being said, it was a full and encouraging day in Craiova!  It snowed overnight again, a little deeper this time, and Draganesti was so beautiful in its white blanket.  Alecs was my trusty driver yet again, and our Canadian friend Mike and his son Sam came along, as well as a guy Raul had hired to do some construction work at the Craiova church.  Alecs and I made a Starbucks run when we got to Craiova (I'm quite familiar with the Craiova Starbucks at this point), then jumped right in to Raul's teaching.  Every Tuesday the Equipping to Equip group meets.  There are 8 students who have practical mission projects and receive Biblical training and support in what it means to be a missionary.
Raul and his 8 students
I loaned my Romanian Bible to a friend

I got to sit in on some dynamic teaching and discussions, was pleased to understand much of what was being said, and also had some specific roles Raul had assigned me ahead of time, like bringing back food for everyone for lunch, talking about different models of churches and giving examples from the US, and accompanying each of the students when we went out to do evangelism in the city.  I also got a chance to interview each of the students about their mission project and prayer requests and needs, and it was such a joy to get to know this group.  Most of us went out for dinner at the mall afterward, then made the now-familiar trek back to Draganesti.  

Canadian friends help Nicu take down a wall
in the church building
I was reminded in Ecclesiastes yesterday that it is a grievous thing when God gives good things to a person but does not also give him the power to enjoy the good things.  I'm thankful for the many good things I experienced today - the joy of fellowship, the beauty of freshly-fallen snow, a delicious warm coffee on an icy morning, laughter with friends from around the world, teaching from God's word, the sound of a beautiful language and the ability to sometimes speak and understand it, a cozy room to sleep in, cookies and conversation before bed, and so much more - and I'm reminded that some people might experience each of these things and yet not experience the deep enjoyment that they bring, and not know the Giver of the gifts.  So tonight, I am thankful that I am thankful.

Beautiful Craiova

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Lovely Kind of Monday

As I write, it's evening here, but morning at home.  On a normal Monday, I would be in my 3rd hour of a 10-hour workday, just getting started with the new week, probably getting through emails and planning out the week with my boss.  But today...
Fresh snow this morning.  The footprints
reflect my journey from bedroom to kitchen for

I woke up to snow!  It had snowed a little overnight and snowed off and on for a couple hours in the morning.  I was a classic Phoenician and took pictures and videos and couldn't stop staring out the window.  This caused me to be a little bit behind in my morning routines, but I was ready just in time for Dorothy and Laura to pick me up for a mini road trip to the town of Corabia.  Corabia is on the southern border of Romania (across the river is Bulgaria!) and on the southern edge of the ministry area of Hope Church.  Cornelia and her husband Mircea have lived and ministered there for almost 6 years and are somewhat isolated, being about an hour away from most of the other members of the church. 

Cornelia, Laura, and Dorothy on the streets of Corabia
I don't know Cornelia well, but I do know that two of her greatest loves are Jesus and coffee, so of course we hit it off.  The 4 of us ladies took a bitterly cold but beautiful walk to a local café, where we had pizza and coffee and heard Cornelia's story and prayed with her.
Tasty pizza, tasty latte, sweet fellowship
When I got back to Draganesti, I walked back to the church and got to go along with a few people to check out an apartment to rent (no, not for me!).  Christy, who is an American missionary preparing to be here long term, got an absolute steal - a large, furnished apartment super close to the church for less than 200 dollars a month.  It was fun to see how relatively simple the process was here - she checked out the apartment today, they'll write up a contract tomorrow, and she will move in on Wednesday!  I helped Raul with a couple quick tasks at the church, and got my homework assignment for my time in Craiova tomorrow, then got to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening here at the house.

on the road back to Draganesti

So my afternoon was actually a little bit normal.  I talked with Christy (my roommate for two more days), played piano (there's a piano in my house!) and spent some time online looking at different models of the local church, for a lesson tomorrow in Craiova.  Despite my insistence that I was capable of buying my own dinner down the street, I instead had it hand-delivered to my bedroom door by Raul's youngest son - Raul has been so careful to care for my needs while I'm here.  This was definitely a blessing due to the sleet and crazy low temperatures outside.  I am happy to be in my warm and cozy room, looking forward to tomorrow, and very glad that this was not a normal Monday.

Just proving I can dress for winter when I need to

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Some People You Should Know

In one of the kids club neighborhoods, 
with a neighbor's horse
Today was another joy-filled, fellowship-filled day in Draganesti. I got a late start this morning, enjoyed a cereal breakfast and conversation with my temporary roommate Christy, and then hurried down to the church, not because I knew what the plan was for the day but because I knew it was certainly time to do something and that most plans start there.  Sure enough, I quickly met up with my friend Vera, who oversees 5 kids clubs here in town.  I got to go with her to 3 different neighborhoods, participate in 2 of the clubs with her, and enjoyed a lunch and great conversations with her at the church also.  Our last club of the day was the same group I was with when I passed out last Saturday, and I feel like that group and the other we did today allowed me to replace those memories with happy new ones.  Today I was filled with strength and joy and energy and able to jump right in - playing
Teaching some somewhat distracted but extremely 
well-behaved kids at club #1
Rata rata gusca (Duck duck goose), singing songs, and telling a Bible story.  After the last group, our friend Dorothy took us and Laura (another American missionary) out for cappuccinos at the local café.  We talked and prayed together, then all went our separate ways.

At Nico and Tavi's house.  Their daughters are on the far left
and far right
tonight's delicious dessert
I was invited to Nico and Tavi's house for dinner - these are dear friends that I connected with 2 years ago, and I am so glad that spending time together is an annual tradition.  Their oldest daughter was in the hospital for the first part of our trip, and it was a joy to see her happy and healthy and to enjoy this sweet family for the evening.

Instead of dwelling on the details of my amazing day, I want to give some d
etails about my amazing friends here - really, just ordinary sinners saved by an amazing God and serving Him with a faithfulness that encourages my heart in ways I cannot explain.

Vera with the youngest
member of the kids club
Meet Vera.  She is about my age and was adopted by Raul and Ana as a 12-year-old girl, and her heart is for the children of this town.  When she finished school, she was offered a job in England...and she turned it down because she knew that the kids of this town would have nobody to take her place.  She meets with 5 groups every week, and meets 1:1 with many of them as well.  She brings them food and clothes and shoes when they need them, and brings them love and encouragement in the Lord when often their families don't offer any such thing.

with Dorothy and Laura at the Art Cafe
Meet Dorothy.  Many of you have heard me talk about her because of her work with the widows here in town, her kindness to me during last year's trip, and her amazing bilingualism of which I am quite envious.  But I am seeing more and more how crucial Dorothy's role is as an encourager.  She does kids clubs and widow ministry and other practical tasks, but she also makes purposeful trips to see other missionaries and to bring them fellowship and encouragement when it may be lacking.  She loves to bless other people, to hear people's hearts, and to pray with people.

Meet Tavi.  He has been ministering for several years in the village of Maruntei, where there are no believers and no church.  While still laboring for this village, he was torn because he remembered how carefully he and his friends (including his now-wife, Nico) had been shepherded by older missionaries in the church when they were teenagers.  He asked the leaders of the youth group now if he could join them in their ministry, because he doesn't want to miss an opportunity for this next generation to be raised up as future leaders.  So he is now balancing ministry in Maruntei with ministry in the youth group, while also helping with the worship band and working as a leader of the church and as a coordinator of short-term mission teams.
Annual picture with Tavi and Nico

Meet Nico.  According to Tavi, there are 25 families in Maruntei with whom he and Nico have strong relationships, and he credits nearly all of those relationships to Nico.  She does kids clubs and invests in the lives of both the kids and their parents, as well as doing other house visits with Tavi.  She is also raising 2 beautiful girls, with a 3rd baby on the way, and spent much of last week in the hospital while her eldest had scarlet fever, and still she invited me into their home and refused to allow me to help with cooking or with dishes.  Spending time with Nico never fails to be encouraging.

If you met these people, you would surely love them as I do, and perhaps you too would grow in love for the God who made them, and who made them who they are.   I'm thankful tonight for the kindness of God in providing me with these friendships and with the opportunity to once again be with these friends face to face.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Visit #6, Week #1

I don't think it's even remotely possible that I will be able to sum this past week up concisely, so...if you're ready for a mini-essay, here goes.

Chaperones at dinner in London
Our trip this year started with a planned overnight in London.  We checked into our hotel (my last unshared room for quite some time), then took a bus and a long train ride into central London.  It was fun...but we'll probably never do it again.  The commute to central London was much longer than we'd been led to expect, and corralling 26 students through the subway system is no joke.  But we chaperones enjoyed a nice long relaxed dinner at an Italian restaurant.  Everything was delicious and it was a lovely welcome to Europe.  While the others made their way back to the hotel, I met a friend from the last two trips, Marcel.  We walked a little bit, then he drove me back to the hotel.  Riding as a passenger on the left side was so fun! I drank an 11pm cappuccino with him (oops, didn't actually sleep that night), then went to bed.

Flooded streets on the
way from the airport
Flight to Romania on Friday was uneventful, and it was such a joy to see familiar faces picking us up at the airport.  I rode with a group of students in a van with one of the Romanian missionaries, and the rest of the group rode a bus...which took the worst route through Bucharest rush hour and then got a flat tire.  My van arrived far ahead of the bus, so my group got to greet our friends here, eat dinner, and help prepare the house for the later arrival of the others.

The last thing I remember before fainting...
Saturday was probably the worst day I have ever had in Romania, in all 6 years. I did some ministry with the students, but while getting to know some neighborhood kids at the soccer field, I suddenly woke up on the ground, unsure where I was, to find that I had passed out and hit my head.  I was disoriented and afraid, and scared about why it happened (my anxiety-prone self jumped to brain tumor!) and thought that I might not be able to do the rest of the trip as planned.  I had a hard time thinking about anything else the rest of the day and was sad to not be able to wholeheartedly serve my team or the people of Romania.  BUT, after some good conversation and prayer with my friend and group leader Derek and with my Romanian friend pastor Raul, and after I took a nap and drank some water, I felt much better.  The rest of the trip has not really been affected!  Praise God!

the sign in front of Hope 
Church Craiova
I'll try to pick up the pace from here, especially since I've already posted some pics.  Sunday I and a group of students went to the city of Craiova to participate in a church service at the new church plant, then enjoyed evening service back in Draganesti.  On Monday, some students and I visited the missionary doctor here and her husband and kids, did some games and activities with the neighborhood kids there, and met their bees and ate some honeycomb!  On Tuesday, the whole team did street evangelism and passed out Bibles back in Craiova.  On Wednesday, my group went with a new missionary in the area, Tavi.  We got to visit different people in his community and pray with him and his wife.
"Red Light, Green Light" with kids in the village
our team with Tavi and his disciple, Sebi
Passing out New Testaments in Craiova

in front of Peles Castle
Thursday was the day the rest of my team had to say goodbye to Draganesti...but I didn't!  I went with them for their day of tourism - to "Dracula's" castle in the town of Bran and to another castle in the town of Peles.  The scenery was stunning and it was such a fun day.  I rode with them all the way to their hotel in Bucharest, then rode back to Draganesti with two guys from the church.  The transition from being a part of the team to being the remaining American with my Romanian friends is always such an interesting thing - and I love it!

In the Craiova church with the Equipped to Equip group
Today was just plain wonderful.  I had no idea what the day would hold but the introvert in me was coming alive after so long with such a big group (Don't get me wrong; I love the students, but...).  I slept in til almost 7, walked to the church and around town a little bit, then went to Craiova with Raul and his wife Ana and their son Samy, and another American missionary named Laura.  We met at the Craiova church with 3 of the students in their "Equipped to Equip" program, which trains up men to potentially be full-time missionaries.  So encouraging!  Laura's Romanian skills are better than mine (she's lived in-country for 6 years) so most of the conversations all morning were in Romanian, which was a fun challenge for me.  We stopped for lunch on the way back to town, and then I got to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening just talking with Ana and with Raul.  What a gift to be able to spend undivided time with them.  I walked home from the church this evening feeling completely comfortable and at-home here.  This place and these people are just so precious to me.

Ok, this blog entry feels more like a list of events than anything else, but it at least gives me something to look back on as a summary of the week.  Perhaps I'll blog more often now that the team is gone...but no promises.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Romania 2018: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

One of those strange things about Facebook and other social media is that some of the people who read posts are part of your daily life, your everyday interactions and conversations.  And others are not - you haven't seen them in a few weeks, or months, or years, or maybe a decade, and you value keeping up on their lives, and vice versa, but many of the details are lost. 

And I say all of this because I realize that some of the people reading my posts know my whole Romania story - my long-term history, the decisions I've wrestled with in the past year, and my plans for this leg of my journey.  But some of you only know one part of that, or last got an update a month ago or 6 months ago, or really don't know what my fascination is with Romania but just know that I talk about it an awful lot.  And so, before I head across the ocean and hopefully pick up more frequent blogging, here's a little story.

In 2005, I first went to Romania with a group called International Children's Aid Foundation.  I'd heard about it from a girl from my church, went with a group from New Jersey, stayed 2 weeks, and fell in love with the people and the culture and the language and what God has done and was doing there.  I went back in 2006 for 2 weeks again, doing similar work with a similar team.  I worked with orphans in a private orphanage and in a public one, used some of my emerging music therapy skills (hadn't finished my degree yet) and helped with English clubs and health clinics.

Image may contain: one or more people and child
Image may contain: one or more people and child

Image may contain: one or more people and child
In 2007, I went again, for a month, with 2 friends I'd met through ICAF.  We spent time with the people we'd met on earlier trips and then joined up with an Alege Viata team (the Romanian branch of Campus Crusade for Christ).  I was only falling more in love with all things Romania, and when I came home I began to work toward moving to Romania as a long-term missionary in 08.  For a variety of reasons, this didn't happen, and between 2007 and 2016, my only interactions with Romania were in my prayers, and in my long-distance interactions with friends there, and in my new friendships with Romanians here in Arizona.

In 2016, I was asked to help chaperone a group of students that my friend Derek was taking to Romania on a 1-week mission trip.  The students stayed for 1 week, I stayed for 3, I toured 8 different Romanian cities, and fulfilled the 9-year-old dream of getting back to the country I so deeply loved.  I connected with a different region in Romania than I'd been in previously, and was drawn in by a dear body of local believers working in hard circumstances in a region permeated by a strange combination of witchcraft and orthodoxy.  I was blown away by God's kindness in bringing me there and in causing my life to intersect with the life of Biserica Speranta (Hope Church).  But when questions were asked about me moving there, I froze up.  For some reason, that wasn't what I wanted in 2016.

2017 was the same in many ways and different in others.  I went with the same friend and some of the same students for about the same amount of time to the same church to do some of the same work.  But this time instead of being a tourist, I used my extra couple weeks to build on friendships that had been established in 2016 and to help with ministry.  And when I left, I was pretty sure I wanted to move there again after all. That is the very simplified version of what was going on in my head and heart.

From March to November, I prepared for a possible long-term move to Romania.  And it got really serious this time around - the pastor from Hope Church came and met my pastors and parents, and I told my plans to my employer and got special permission to take a 6-week trip in 2018 and still come back to a job while I raised support to move there more permanently.  But, for reasons WAY too complex for a blog post, I decided at the end of November to step off that path.  

So 2018 has arrived, and I am super excited to go back to Romania, for 3 weeks...and to come home again for probably 49 weeks after that.  I have no idea what the long-term future holds, but I am thankful that God continues to provide the means for me to take now-annual trips to this country so deeply ingrained in my heart...and that the life and relationships and roles and ministries I have here in Arizona are also so precious and worth coming home to.  

If you read this far, bravo.  Now perhaps you know more than you did.  And if nobody read this far, at least I cleared my head a little.  Perhaps my next post will be from across the ocean!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Before I Forget...

I'm home!  I'm currently in my apartment, laying on my bed, with my laundry going, after a church service at my own church and lunch with an old friend at a favorite local restaurant.  Strange to suddenly be right back in "normal" life...but I want to blog about the last 2 days of my trip while it's all still fresh!

On Friday, I tried to take in as much of Budapest as I could.  I'd bought 48-hour tickets the day before that covered bus and boat tours and advertised free walking tours as well...so I took advantage of all 3!

But first...coffee.  There were coffee shops EVERYWHERE in this city, so it was hard to choose, but I choose one that was just a couple short blocks from my apartment.  I'd gotten used to the Romanian style of sitting down and being waited at in coffee shops...but sheepishly approached the counter after realizing this was not that kind of coffee shop :-)  Anyway, I enjoyed coffee and breakfast there, then started my exploring. 

Walking across the Chain Bridge
I walked across the Danube on a beautiful bridge called the Chain Bridge, and once I got over to the "Buda" portion of Budapest (there are two halves of the city, divided by the Danube, which used to be separate cities), I took the funicular (little cable car) up Castle Hill.  I explored up there for awhile, then walked back down the hill, and caught my tour bus, which took me back to Pest.  Yesterday's bus was a closed one, but this was a lovely open-air one, so I retook some of yesterday's pictures with a much better view and enjoyed the perfect weather as I retoured the city.

the funicular I rode up the hill
I got off the bus in time to grab some lunch before heading to the boat tour.  I was one of the earliest to board, and was listening to the other groups of people on board (some loud drunk guys speaking one language and some sweet ladies speaking another) and wishing I had someone to talk to (I'm actually kind of an introvert and don't always wish for this).  Moments later, a guy with a European accent asked in English if the seats were free next to me.  When I said they were, he called his wife who was at the back, saying "Hai!" which is Romanian for "Come."  He then answered a phone call and confirmed my hopes that he was Romanian as I eavesdropped on his conversation. :)  It was fun to talk with him afterward and feel at least a little bit connected to these strangers.

view of Parliament from the boat
The boat tour was beautiful, and afterwards I walked over to a different neighborhood for a scheduled walking tour covering Jewish history in Budapest.  It was fascinating, and of course sad also. I wish I could remember all the stats, but I think the guide said that 10% of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were Hungarian, which is especially striking because they were relatively safe in Hungary until the war was almost over.  We stood at the gate of their largest synagogue (the 2nd largest in the world!) and saw pictures of people standing in this same spot over piles of dead bodies in what was then a Nazi-built ghetto.  Such a sobering experience.

The Great Synagogue
Gravestones from the ghetto, in the
synagogue courtyard
in the foreground, my tour guide. 
Behind him, if you look closely,
an orthodox Jewish man.
And behind them both, an orthodox

Zsolt and Emese
After this tour, I got to have real friends again :-)  One of my music therapy clients is Hungarian, and his dad lives in Budapest. I've seen him about once a year these past 8ish years when he comes to Tempe to visit his son, and we'd arranged for me to meet him and his girlfriend for dinner.  They were such fun!  They took me out of the tourist neighborhood to a fun restaurant near a university.  I ordered a Transylvanian cheese platter, pumpkin soup, and an apple ginger lemonade, all of which were delicious, and it was so fun to have these bilingual friends help me feel less out of place.  They graciously paid for my dinner, then took me walking around town before escorting me back to my apartment.  What a perfect way to end my time in Europe!

I got to the airport bright and early the next morning (via my host's friend, whose driving might have been the scariest part of my entire trip) and began my long journey home: 3 hour flight to London, 5 hour layover, 11 hour flight to Phoenix, customs process.  Everything went really smoothly, except when just after going through security in Budapest, I realized I forgot to leave my key to my host's apartment!  I tried to figure out how to get it to him, but eventually heard back from him that it wasn't urgent, so just added that errand to my schedule tomorrow: mail keys to Hungary :-)

This trip was truly amazing.  Thanks for "joining" me as I've rambled about it.  I don't expect to blog again anytime soon, but I'm excited to get my pictures (and my thoughts!) organized, so if anyone wants to hear more details or see more pictures, do let me know :-)  I know that I will not likely get tired of reflecting on it all!
How can you not love a city that has a flowerbed in a piano?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Beautiful Budapest

Today, I was purely a tourist, and on my own.  Strange to think that this was what so much of my trip was like last year, but this year I've been surrounded by friends and by purpose throughout my trip.  It was an adjustment today to go to pure tourist mode, but I had a good time.

Dawn arranged for my van this morning, which picked me up directly from her house.  It was just me and one other passenger for awhile, but we picked up a bunch of people in the city of Arad.  I got lazy about trying to speak Romanian, so I was just the silent American in the back of the van.  I tried to stay awake til the border...but did not succeed.  The others in the van woke me up to ask for my passport.  I was amazed that I just had to pass my passport up, the driver handed it to the agent, and nobody ever looked at my face to see if it matched!

How can a new city be intimidating when some of the first
words you see are "coffee to go" and some of the first people
you see are cute little kids holding hands?
I got to Budapest 3 hours before I was due to meet my host, but I made the most of it.  I'm in a super touristy part of town, so I didn't feel out of place with my touristy ways.  I sat on a lovely patio for lunch and enjoyed conversation with the host working there.  He is fluent in 5 languages and has learned some restaurant language in many others, so he plays this game where he tries to guess someone's language as they walk by and calls out to them in their language - "great food, excellent coffee, free internet..." etc.  He was so good at this!  And it turned out he was born in Romania, so I felt like he was meant to be my friend. :)

my building
After lunch I wandered a bit, then met my host's brother, who let me in to this amazing apartment I get to stay in.  I'll have to get some good pictures of it later.  I got settled in, then went exploring.  I got a pass for the "hop on hop off" tour, which includes bus routes and a boat tour, so I did the whole bus route this afternoon to get a feel for it.  This really is an amazing city.  The weather's gorgeous, so I was disappointed that I didn't get an open-air bus...but maybe tomorrow.  The pass is good til Saturday.

I'm staying right on the main pedestrian street here, Vaci Utca.  So I got off the bus a few blocks down and walked back through there.  I ate at a delicious Italian place for dinner, and treated myself to gelato afterward - I don't think I've bought any ice cream this whole trip! It was less than a dollar for this little cup, and it was well worth it.

Tomorrow, I have huge plans for seeing as much of the city as I can...and I'm also preparing myself that those plans might be a little over-ambitious.  Really, I'll be satisfied with whatever I can see, and am thankful for God's provision in things big and small to allow me to be here.  Tonight is my first night alone this whole trip...and I still feel far from alone. I've been so well cared for these last couple weeks, it truly blows me away.

First on tomorrow's agenda - starting the morning at a coffee shop!  I learned today that Hungarians are known for their love of coffee and bookshops... I think we will get along quite nicely. 

I mix all the bridges up, so I can't remember which one this is. 
But they're all pretty amazing.

Vaci Utca bustling with evening crowds.
I get to live here for 2 days!

Not sure if this statue has any significance,
but I liked having him in the foreground
for a sunset-over-Buda picture :-)