Results in Romania

Patience and I are now safely back in hot and sticky Garden Valley, TX.

The preliminary results of the ministry that we are involved with in Romania are very promising. Every day, our two teams went to two different parks and put on a Vacation Bible School for any children who were there. That means four different parks and four different groups of children. After the first day the children were waiting for our teams to show up and there were more children each time. Over the course of the four days the gospel message was presented in a progressive way beginning with what God had made, progressing to how man had sinned and been separated from God, and then to what Jesus did for us, then to what God now requires of us. At the end, on the last day, the children were given the opportunity to offer their lives to God. Many, many of them did.

What will happen now is that Salem church, with whom we have been working, will send teams of people back to those same parks one day a week to meet with the children and continue teaching them about Jesus. Their hope is to actually find an opportunity, at some point, to visit each child’s home and invite them and their parents to church. What a marvelous thing it has been to be involved in the very beginning of an outreach like this.

My Big Adventure

Last March or so I stumbled upon this webcam while doing some online research on Oradea. I made it one of my favorites and occasionally I would open it up and just look at this city that I was going to eventually visit. Today I decided to not go with any of the ministry groups, but, instead, do the tourist thing. My goal was to find this area of the city and see if I could locate the bridge and intersections I could see from this webcam. My sense, from our bus ride to the church here, was that if I headed west down the main street near the church I would eventually come to the river that I could see from the webcam.

I took my ticket and got on a tram going in that direction. I kept a close watch, making sure that the tram didn’t veer off, but kept following that main road. If it turned any other way, I was going to get off because I didn’t know anything about this city and didn’t want to be lost here. It didn’t turn and I started seeing buildings that looked more and more like the ones I had been looking at for five months through the camera lens. When we stopped and I could see a bridge just ahead I hopped off. This area looked very familiar to me, even though I have never been in this part of the world. What a strange sensation. I walked across the bridge and suddenly realized I was on the very bridge that was in the camera’s view. What an amazing coincidence, because there are many bridges that cross this river. The busy street that I have been on every day to buy bread and run other errands is the very one that runs across the bridge I had been looking at.

The camera is attached to this building.

The camera is in the dark recessed area with the arched top, just under the clock.

Here is the view the camera sees, only in this case, from street level.

This whole area with the lovely old architecture is called the city center and these are government offices. Across the river is a mall like the Nicollet Mall. I walked quite a ways on it until I came to this building.

I turned and began to make my back, stopping only to buy pastries and coffee. The pastries were wonderful but the coffee is always a disappointment.

As I wound my way back to the intersection where I had left the tram I realized I didn’t really know which one would take me back. It would make sense to get on a tram with the same number, wouldn’t it? Did the color of the tram mean anything? Did I have to get on a #3 blue or would a #3 of any color suffice? Should I just walk? It must be miles. The places a tram stops are listed on a placard in the window. Why didn’t I memorize the name of the station where I had picked up the tram? Finally, I chose to get on a red #3, believing that the number must be more important than the color. Sure enough, it followed the main street all the way and ended up at the station where I had caught it. Thank God. I’m not hopelessly lost in a country where I can’t speak the language.

Light in a Dark Place

This same apartment building can be seen everywhere.

Here are a couple of photos of Romania. It doesn’t all look this bleak, but the effect of the communist era is still very apparent. The factories and apartment buildings built by the communists all look the same. I saw this exact architecture when I was in China in 2005. The factories are built entirely above ground, including any pipes for moving any liquid, sewage, etc. The landscape is now bisected by these enormous, ugly and decaying pipelines. Instead of taking them down, the Romanians have simply built new houses and stores around them. Romania is still fairly poor, trying to recover from the communist years and the ten years following when the communist leaders remained in power, but called themselves socialists. They do not have one lei to spend on urban renewal.

Romania has recently joined the European Union and will soon be changing their money system from the lei to the euro. They think that this change will bring prosperity to their nation. My personal feeling is that their economic salvation does not lie in aligning themselves with much of the rest of Europe. But nobody asked me.

If we can bring the light of the gospel to Romania and cause them to desire to serve God in spirit and in truth, then the prosperity that comes with that will follow. Here are some photos I took last evening as the team that Patience is on performed their VBS skits in a dirty park surrounded by communist era apartment buildings.

Romanian children have come to VBS.
The taller ones are part of the ministry team.

Matthew acts out being stuck in sin with ‘the sin chair’.
Patience has come to tell him how to get free.

Two photos from a skit called Ragman
which is an analogy of the gospel.

A Little Slice

Here's the bldg. Salem Church has built. It has dorms we're staying in.
Here’s the bldg. Salem Church has built. It has dorms we’re staying in.

Hello from Romania. We arrived safely after about 27 hours of traveling. We slept the first night about 10 to 11 hours. It wasn’t enough. The young missionaries have been doing a little training here in country and tonight (Sun.) will run their first Vacation Bible School (VBS) event in two park locations in the city. We have two teams to do VBS, and starting tomorrow morning each team will run VBS twice daily in two different locations. One will be done in the morning, and one in the evening because parents generally will not let their kids out during the afternoon because of heat advisories. This evening we’ll see if all their training pays off.

As for myself, I have been busy running errands, doing administrative activities and trying to be helpful wherever I can. I am in the fortunate position of being part of what’s going on, but not being directly responsible for any young people. Today I got to do one of my favorite things while in a foreign land, and that is going to the store.

The market, which is family-run stands, is closed today because it’s Sunday, but the large department store is open. It’s always fun to see how these things run a little bit differently in different places. Here you have to rent your shopping cart for 50 lei (maybe 29 cents). You put the coin into a device with a coin slot which is attached to the cart itself and then it’s released from its chain. The store is huge, maybe the size of a Super Target and it sells everything from a drill press to women’s underwear to food. I had gone in first, without a cart, to scope out where everything was, or so I thought. When I was ready I went to the Information desk (like customer service) and got some change because I didn’t have any Romanian coins. I got my cart, looking just like I belonged there, I’m certain. After all, someone mistook me for a Romanian yesterday. I went and gathered up my items, including six big loaves of bread, for our daily PBJs. I got some red paper for one of the VBS projects.

Then I went looking for some personal items. Sunblock: Patience had hers confiscated because she put it into her carry-on luggage, mints, Kleenex. Why can’t I find Kleenex? I decided to ask a woman I saw wearing a store smock. I asked her first if she spoke any English. No such luck. So I acted out blowing my nose and she caught on right away and took me to the correct aisle. An aisle which I had already been down, of course, but the Kleenex weren’t packaged the same as at home and 90% of them aren’t the Kleenex brand.

Its great fun looking at all of the different products and packaging and I could spend a lot of time in here. I also came across an espresso stand so a bought a cup of espresso for less than 50 cents. It was interesting. It came from some kind of automated machine, not an espresso machine. It tasted ok for someone who hadn’t had any coffee in two days.

When I got to the check out I unloaded my items onto the belt, but the woman didn’t start ringing them up. She looked at me and said ‘you must have card’. I motioned to my stuff as if I wanted to leave it there and she indicated that was fine. Back at the information desk I gave them my passport. They made a copy of it and input some info from it into a computer. What in the world is this all about? They gave me a sheet of paper with my name (spelled wrong) and some other information and I gave that to the checkout lady and she rang my stuff up. Then I was stopped by security on the way out so they could match my purchases to my receipts. I know I look pretty suspicious. But at least I got my 50 lei back when I returned my cart.

It’s interesting how they track foreigners. They got my passport info when I exchanged currency earlier, and now they know what I did with some of that money. This is supposedly a ‘free’ country. Well, at least it’s no longer communist.

Weekend in Romania

Ah, the Paris airport in the early morning. Can you tell which one managed to sleep on the airplane?

The Reverend Mother and Tiger Lilly’s team rolled out of Garden Valley, Texas on Thursday for a five-hour ride to Houston for the flight to Europe. RM stopped drinking anything the night before the bus-ride; it was a five-hour drive with no bathroom in the bus and no stopping! Friday they caught an overnight flight that laid-over in Paris and then terminated in Budapest, Hungary. After that it was another six-hour bus ride to Oradea, Romania where the team is staying and ministering. I didn’t hear if there were toilet facilities in the bus or rest breaks in the trip to Oradea, but RM filed this email to me:

Hello, We made it after only 27 hours of traveling. I slept, last night, for 10 hours. I have been sick with a cold which I think I got from Emmie, one of the Project Directors. We are staying in a building built by the church. It has dorm rooms that sleep four. We are the first people to sleep in the beds because it’s brand new. The bldg. has a kitchen, an auditorium, the pastor’s offices and lots of other rooms, the purposes of which I don’t know, and maybe they don’t either, yet.

The travel was fairly uneventful, which is good. David, the other Project Director told us his favorite part is taking the groups through the airport because of the logistics and problem solving challenges. I’m fairly certain he’s been in the military, because of the way he runs things. He looks like ex-military too.

While we were waiting in the Houston airport he told us stories from some of the trips he’s been on. For instance, on a trip to Albania, a girl had half of her hand cut off and he had to go to amazing lengths to get her the appropriate medical care within 24 hours so her hand could be saved. They managed it. Emmie told me those were the early trips and every time something happened GE would make a new rule to prevent things like that in the future. They do seem to have a lot of rules, but now I know why.

Global Expeditions is a ministry of Teen Mania, formed to introduce young people to the missionary vision and to send them around the world. This summer GE had 58 trips planned to 21 countries (including the U.S.), and the trip my family is on was one of four to Romania. When they arrived at the church they are staying at in Oradea there was already a previous group there that had been working on various projects, including organizing a neighborhood block party for Sunday evening that would kick-off the church’s Vacation Bible School this week. The VBS will be the main focus for Tiger Lilly and her cohorts, though other public ministry in streets and parks is planned. Sunday at church they had a special visitor, Ron Luce, founder and head of Teen Mania.

RM’s role is as the assistant to the two Program Directors leading the trip. There are 30 youth (ages 11-13) with an adult Missionary Advisor for every four or five kids. RM handles the travel logistics, daily itineraries and other crucial details such as going to the market daily to buy bread for the main course of most of their meals: peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.

This morning in church Ron Luce, the founder of Teen Mania, spoke. He flew in last night. Teen Mania has been working with this church for 10 years and this is the first time Ron has been here. I heard a little of his testimony of how he started Teen Mania and GE. After the service was over I had him pray for me as a youth leader. I’ve attached a photo of him with his translater, Ted, on the right.

I did see some gypsies here in church today. The church has some ministry to the gypsy culture, but no one talks about them much, I’ve noticed. I followed two down the street a ways, on my way to market to buy bread, and I wanted to take their picture but I thought it would be rude; as if they were not real people, but animals in a zoo or something. They were very colorfully dressed, but looked very downtrodden.

Yesterday I was mistaken for a Romanian, but today when I left the store I was stopped by security so they could check my purchases against my receipts. There were many security people standing around, but I didn’t see them stop anyone else. I wonder if it was the visor I was wearing or what clued them in that I was an unsavory individual. While I was in the store I heard all kinds of American music played over the PA. some of it was very old. I heard Baker Street. Isn’t that funny?.

I have to go almost every day to buy bread for our daily PBJs.

In addition to emails, I can follow the trip’s progress from a parent page on the GE website. The Project Leaders upload photos and news regularly. They posted the following as the group packed up to leave Texas last week:

The juniors learned how to communicate their faith using their personal testimonies and the basic principles of the gospel. We watched dramas that depicted how to tell others, who are from another culture, about God.

Evening worship, once again, was amazing. In fact, many of the students moved out of their seats and went down to the front where there was more room to express how excited they were about God.

After an excellent final service, the young people got ink, and put their finger print on a map of Romania. It symbolized their commitment to use their unique abilities to leave an impression on Romania, and make HIM known.

Packing went until around midnight, and now everyone is sleeping. We will be ready to leave campus around 7am in the morning.

Pray that God will help us to travel smart, and to pay attention to detail. Pray that our leadership team stays energized and alert, as we load these teens on the planes!

Dave and Emmie
Project Directors

P.S. We want to honor Marjorie, who is our ‘Country Assistant.’ Marjorie spent all day organizing passports and travel release forms, getting team lists together, and prepping games for the students to play while we travel on the long bus and plane rides. Thanks to Marjorie we have everything ready to go! She rocks!

Amen to that!

Update: Out of solidarity, I decided to have a PBJ for my supper tonight as well. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm!

Update: The Reverend Mother writes: I’d like to point out that we’re only eating PBJs one meal a day. We have cereal or pastries for breakfast and today’s menu included fresh peaches. We have a large meal, prepared by some wonderful person, for lunch. Today we had roast beef, mashed potatoes and a salad of cucumbers and home grown tomatoes. The potatoes were kind of golden in color and very tasty. The tomatoes were probably the best I have ever had.

Biding my time

The crickets here in Texas are so loud, even during the day. Their voice box and vocal cords must be mutated.

All the rest of the missionaries arrive today. I’m approaching this with some trepidation, because I don’t know what they’ll be like. The people already here are really nice. I’ll have random people coming up to me and saying, “Hi, you’re Patience, right? I know your Mom.”

There’s a guy named Angelo here that I had a really good talk with this morning. He just turned 20 yesterday. He’s really nice, and he’s going to Romania with us! We were talking about Teen Mania and what we wanted to do in life. He said he wanted to travel around the world and preach in different churches. Future husband prospect? Hmmm… just kidding! I wouldn’t want to submit him to the usual torture for prospective boyfriends … disembowelment… decapitation… having a harpoon run through him. Or even being thrown out the window by my Dad, wearing his Haggar pants.

Well, I’m off to check the blogs.

Ciao for now!

Before you get to Romania, you have to survive Texas

Night Writer note: The Reverend Mother is one of the adult leaders of the Global Expeditions-Teen Mania youth mission trip to Romania. As such she had to report to the GE campus a couple of days ahead of the young missionaries for special training, though she wasn’t sure what this was to entail. Apparently she’s found out, and files this report:

Our team consists of about 10 people. Two Project Directors, four Team Leaders and about six Missionary Advisor Candidates. The actual Missionary Advisors (MAs) will be chosen during the training by the Project Directors. Our leader is a runner and in very good condition. I estimate him to be about 40. He made us do a light jog to the ropes course, about 1/5 of a mile. I’m no runner, but at least I didn’t keel over or anything, even though it’s very hot.

The first exercise required us to lift a tire from the ground off of an eight foot pole using nothing but ourselves. The tire and our bodies could never touch the pole. The facilitator of this little piece of torture would also give us random limitations, such as some of our group were blind or missing limbs, or couldn’t speak. It was frustrating, but we did it. We decided as a group that what we needed to take from that activity was teamwork and communication.

The next exercise required us to escape from a roped off area between four trees. The rope was about waist high and was ‘electric’ and below the rope was invisible razor wire so it was pretty deadly. If any parts of our bodies touched the ‘electric wire’ that part was gone. We lost some legs and arms and one guy lost his back. That must have hurt. Then a few of us, including me, ended up blind for some reason that I can no longer recall. We were at the mercy of the facilitator.

Ultimately we made a “step” on the inside of the enclosure and got the first person out, then that person became a “step” on the outside and many of us were able to ‘walk’ over with a great deal of assistance from our team mates. I was ‘blind’ when I went over. The biggest challenges were getting our 300 lb team member out and getting the last person out. We did have the use of a four-foot long 2×4 and got her out using that. Two guys held it above the wire across a corner and she managed to hoist herself onto it and then they shifted it over far enough for her to hop down on the outside. It was much more difficult than it sounds, because at no time could anything touch the wire.

Here is most of our group, Sunday night after dinner.
(Kevin – Angelo is the dark-haired guy fourth from the left. Thanks, NW.)

The last activity required us all to scale a ten-foot wall using only our bodies and again some people ‘lost’ the use of limbs at the discretion of the facilitator. We didn’t manage to get everyone over within the time-frame allotted, but we did get Dan, the big guy, over, which was nothing short of miraculous. We got over by climbing up two of our team members who stood against the wall and then others hoisted us each up till we could gain enough purchase to stand up on their shoulders and then reach up to the people above us so they could pull us up. Once you got up onto the guy’s shoulders and reached up you really didn’t have to do much but just allow yourself to be pulled up and over. The first person however, had to get themselves up there with no one to pull him. Obviously, that was one of the more athletic guys in our group.

After each activity we would discuss what we had done, how we could do it better, and the things that we needed to take away from the process to use when we get on the field. I guess I can see the application to the team work we will be involved in while taking sixty 11 – 13 year olds to a foreign country. Btw, this is the first time GE has taken people this young abroad. I’m trying to gear myself up for a lot of work. The missionaries are arriving today and when they get here its going to get very hectic!