Monday, March 26, 2018

Tales from Bucharest

24 hours from now, Lord willing, I'll probably be somewhere over the ocean, heading westward.  Right now, I'm resting at my Airbnb after a full and happy day.  I'll head out again for dinner soon, but I figured blogging now might be a good plan since I won't want to do it late tonight, or tomorrow after a long day of traveling, or Wednesday when I go back to work.
Yesterday started with a visit to the coffee shop in the building next to my Airbnb, which my host recommended, and which was fantastic.  I then took my first Romanian Uber ride (which turned out to be the 1st of 4 in one day!) to meet my friend Adoriana and her husband Bogdan at their church.  Last time I saw them, they were helping me into my 3am cab to the airport in was so nice to see them again, in the light of day!  Their church is small and meets in a medical clinic, and I enjoyed the service and the people there a lot.
at Adoriana and Bogdan's church
With Adoriana in the mall

Afterwards, Adoriana and I took another Uber to a really nice mall. In the middle of the mall, there are waterfalls, a ropes course, a skating rink, and a rollercoaster!  She treated me to lunch in the food court (my first mamaliga of the whole trip!), and then I bought some new socks (I've been going through multiple pairs a day) and went on my way.  After coming "home" to change, I took the subway up to the biggest park in Bucharest, explored for quite awhile in the snowy beauty, then came back to the Old Town area and got dinner and a drink on the top floor of the amazing bookstore there.
a bench at Herastrau Park
more Herastrau Park

Some kind of chocolatey orange drink,
called a Winter's Dream!
While I was eating dinner, I got a phone call from my friends in Draganesti.  Turns out, an American visitor had arrived in Bucharest unannounced (or an email had been lost), to spend time with Hope Church, and was waiting at the airport for a ride to town.  Since the church is about 3 hours from the airport and I was about 30 minutes from the airport, they asked if I could go to the airport and meet her and spend time with her until someone could get there to pick her up.  So I quickly left the pedestrian part of town, got an Uber, and got to the airport as fast as I could.  Problem was, nobody had a way to get ahold of this woman, and I didn't know what she looked like, only that she was an American in her 50s.  So I wrote her name in large letters on a page of my journal and wandered all around the arrivals area holding it out and looking for any potential Juanitas...only to find out that she'd given up on us and had gotten a cab herself.  So...I got Uber number FOUR, which was a bit trickier to figure out from the airport, and came back to my cozy apartment.  It was such a strange night, but I'm thankful that I had the experience of Ubering to the airport so that I know what to expect early tomorrow morning!

This morning's breakfast
At the National Theatre
My first attempt at using the panoramic function on this phone.  
I kind of cut the theatre in half, but you get the idea.
Today, no Ubers so far.  I walked back to the excellent little coffee shop nearby and spent a long time reading and journaling and praying and reflecting.  It was nice to be so relaxed.  Then I walked another block to the National Theatre, where I took a guided tour with a bunch of Romanian schoolchildren.  The guide spoke very quickly, and my theatre vocab is apparently quite poor, so I understood very little, but it was still a beautiful place and it was fun to see and hear how excited the kids were.  The rain had stopped by the time of the tour, so I got more adventurous than I'd planned for the day, and walked quite a long way.  I took some touristy pictures of the giant "People's Palace," wandered through some more beautiful parks, and ended up eating a late lunch at a restaurant I'd enjoyed in 2016.  Then back to my apartment, where I'm resting now.

Palace of the Parliament.  The heaviest building 
in the world, visible from the moon...but not
entirely visible from down the street today
Despite the weather, I made it to my favorite park 
after all!
One last bowl of my favorite soup, and my own
little pitcher of mint lemonade.   That's right,
I'm allowed to drink lemonade from a pitcher
with a straw.

The plan is for me to return to Romania next year, if not before.  I'm so thankful for this plan, but I also know that it is MY plan and that God's plan has not been revealed.  Every time I say goodbye to this place, I know that it could be the last, though I hope with my whole heart that it won't be.  I'm eager for home, with my family and friends and my apartment and my church and my work and my flip-flops and my iced coffees and my ability to so easily navigate my world.  But I'm already eager, also, to be back here again, beginning another adventure.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Farewell Draganesti, Hello Bucharest

Tonight, I am tired.  My feet are tired from much walking and much freezing (next year, weather-proof boots!), my arms are tired from lugging a suitcase around this snow-packed city, my mind is tired from trying to function on my own after being cared for so well by others these past two weeks, and my heart is tired because leaving Draganesti is never easy and I miss my friends already.

And yet, despite my tiredness, I am also happy.  Hard goodbyes mean that sweet fellowship was shared, tired feet and arms mean I haven't stopped adventuring, and my tired mind gets to rest some tonight as there's nothing to navigate and nobody to awkwardly try to speak Romanian to.  And while I'm still awake, I want to get some of these past 48 hours' memories on record.

Yesterday morning, I took an early morning walk to the church through SO. MUCH. SNOW.
Walked to the bank to exchange money...but where is the bank?
Delivering tracts
The town was practically shut down, schools closed for the day, and neighbors one by one coming to dig themselves out.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  And breathtakingly cold.  I walked down with Alex, who goes to the church and lives in the house where I was staying, and he did not agree with me that it was beautiful...partly because it is his job to clear the church driveway and courtyard.  We got cheap cappuccinos (have I mentioned how much I am going to miss cheap and readily available cappuccinos??) and pastries from the store across the street from the church while trying to figure out where the key to the church was...anyway, we eventually made it inside. The day was filled with random tasks to help with at the church, errands to run, and some more delivering of pamphlets around town.  Then last night was small group night.  I went to the same group I went to a year ago, but in a different house and with lots of different people.  What a deep joy it was to sing songs and pray with this group, and a perfect way to close out my time in Draganesti.
Small group
  After a post-small group dinner and conversation back at the house with the Finns and Christy, we all went our separate ways.

my traveling buddies at the train station
The first guy we met on the subway was also a believer. 
We gave him a tract, and he gave us new testaments! 
Today, the 2 guys from Finland and I got an early morning ride to the train station.  It was so nice to ride the train WITH people this time around, and the train was a nicer, newer one.  We were on the 2nd floor, which was also a first for me, and the trip went really quickly.  When we got to Bucharest, it was a little challenging.  My original plan had been to take an afternoon train and go straight to the place where I'm staying, but riding in on the morning train with friends sounded like a better idea.  What was not a good idea was lugging a giant suitcase all around the streets of the city, which were still packed with snow and ice, while trying to play tour guide to two fast-paced guys in a city I've only really explored 1 time, 2 years ago.  We eventually needed to part ways because we had some different ideas of how we wanted to spend that time, and they had a train to catch soon anyway.  I did some slower solo exploring after that but was cold and tired, and was SO happy to arrive at my Airbnb, meet my friendly host who quickly grabbed my suitcase for me, and take off my wet boots and socks.  After settling in, I went walking again, with a much lighter load, took some fun pictures, visited my favorite bookstore, and went to a restaurant recommended by my host.  Old town, which is super close to where I'm staying, is full of tourists and lots of English-speakers or other foreigners.  This restaurant, though, was not in old town and was off the beaten path.  I may have been the only non-Romanian in the building, and the food was authentic and delicious.  I rushed through it though, because I'd taken a table reserved for later, and so I was able to make it "home" to my Airbnb before dark.  It's lovely here, and cozy and warm, and I am eager to rest.  Here's hoping I figure out Europe's spring time-change tomorrow...I have a friend calling me to confirm the time in the morning :-)

Nope, I don't think I'll sit there...
statues by the university
I made it to the beautiful bookstore

Tonight's dinner: a Transylvanian 
chicken dish and a mint lemonade
Resting in my Airbnb

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Adventures in the Snow

I can't decide what I am more impressed with tonight - the beauty of the freshly fallen snow, or the fact that people have survived in this stuff for centuries :-) 
the snowy church courtyard this afternoon

When I lived in New York, we had a couple of big snowstorms, but I was so spoiled, and drove my heated car from my heated house to my heated workplace down well-paved and well-cleared roads.  This week, I feel like I have truly experienced winter for the first time...and I am STILL so spoiled!  I still am staying in a heated room (though the heat in the rest of the house broke down yesterday), with hot water (in the building next door) and friends who can drive me from place to place.  There are people all over this area who have to hope that they have enough money for firewood to heat their homes and their water, who can only get to the store by trudging through the snow, who depend on the land for their food and are worried that the plants that were ready for springtime have been frozen and crops might be affected.  And there are my faithful friends here, doing ministry when it is cold and hard and uncomfortable, and showing the people around them the love of Christ. And life in Arizona, which often feels hard and discouraging and wearisome, looks, from here, like a very easy life.

Alex B and Vera with gifts for the kids
Delivering bags

With Ancuta and Ema

But I digress.  Here's a quick summary of the last couple days.  Yesterday, I went with Vera and Alex B and Sorin, all part of the E2E program here, to deliver bags of toys and clothes and school supplies and treats to families in the area.  Vera spent a few months in Canada for Bible school and only recently came back, so she is trying to reconnect with the families of the kids she ministers to here in town.  We walked and walked and walked and walked and walked a little more, in snow and rain and cold, and had some short but sweet house visits with several different families.  We enjoyed a cozy warm lunch in the church basement (have I ever been more thankful for heaters?) in between visits, and eventually stopped because it was just too cold.  I walked back to the other part of town and visited with my friend Ancuta, whose husband has been driving me everywhere on this trip but who I hadn't been able to spend time with.
  We talked and prayed and enjoyed her little girl, then I met a group for dinner.  There are two missionaries that just got to town from Finland, and this is their first trip to Romania.  Alex and Vera and Christy and I had dinner with them (my 3rd shawarma dinner in a row!) and then we called it a night.

Pamphlets for the people of Craiova
with a real live snowy Christmas tree at
the end of March
a slightly blurry picture of Dorothy 
and her dogs
Today, I returned to Craiova (I think this was the 6th time?) with a group to do some street evangelism with the Finnish guys.  We broke off into pairs - I went with one of the E2E guys, George - and took tracts to pass out and talk with people.  The talking part was a bit hard - it was snowy and windy and nobody was in much of a mood for a leisurely chat.  So George and I mostly put pamphlets in mailboxes and did quick hand-offs to people.  The Finnish guys were not at all turned off by the weather, but the Romanians and this wimpy Arizonan were having a hard time.  I joined the group that was headed back earlier - just myself and Vera and Alecs - and we made it back to Draganesti mid-afternoon.  I hid out in the church for awhile, watching the snow as it piled up, reflecting on all sorts of things, playing the piano, helping Vera with some projects, and then met my friend Dorothy for dinner at her house.  After a delicious meal, fabulous dessert, and an extremely cold but completely beautiful walk home, I am cozy in my heated room and ready for one last day in town tomorrow before heading to the big city Saturday morning.

Every trip to Romania is different, and my head is swimming, as usual, with so many thoughts about my time here.  I'm thankful for the almost-daily chance to reflect here on the blog, and eager to process more with people in person when I'm home. I also have been giving some serious thought to how wonderful it will be to wear flip-flops on a warm sunny afternoon when I return :)  But oh, how I will miss this place!
My Bible reading this morning just happened to include
Ecclesiastes 11:7 "Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for
the eyes to see the sun."  Looking forward to some sunshine!

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!