Month: July 2011

Halfway Through

Alright… Fasten your seatbelts. This is probably going to be the most intense of my blogs. It should probably be split into several parts, but I only have a little internet time to post. For the sake of your corneas you may want to ration your readings over a few days or turn the brightness down on your computer. 🙂

I have worked mostly with children in the area (Turkish/Muslim/Gypsies), Romanian children, poor children from farming families outside the city, and the children in and from the slums. In each situation the number of children who attend the programs far exceeds the number of parents who come for the services or Bible studies. In many households we have visited, the parents and grandparents explain how free they are from the restrictive Orthodox church or of how they want to live their own lives in their own way. What I have learned from this is that, while many children attend the program (15 avg. in Peştera, 40 avg at Golgota, 30 in the slums, and 15 in the Turkish church) , many will no longer come to church when they are too old for the program. In other words, while the kids are doing a wonderful job at listening to and learning from the stories, as adults they will not darken the doors of a church. The stories have no lasting effects on their lives. When I am confronted with this I hold onto God’s promise in Isaiah that his World will not come back void.

My prayer is that these ‘free’ people would taste the freedom that the Lord offers to us through his salvation. I pray that they would learn of and exercise their freedom to enjoy Him instead of living in their slavery to sin. Because they are so poor, many live lives of addiction, sex slavery, and anger. Please pray with me that God would bring a new dawn of His glory in their lives and that they would begin to hunger for something that would truly satisfy. Pray that God would continue to call people from his kingdom to feed these Gypsies with His words and that they would search for freedom from the tyrannical hold of their sins.

Now that you have prayer requests and you have a little of an idea of what God is doing here in Romania and in my life, let me share with you a few stories to further highlight what I’ve already told you (and in some cases provide a little amusement and/or comic relief).

Many of you know that I have been in prayer about whether or not God is calling me to long term service with the Roma (Gypsies). As I approached the halfway mark of the trip, I began to wonder what that affirmation would feel like if it came: a lightning bolt, and gradual realization, a still, small whisper that I had already missed? My answer was two-fold, and both parts hit me in the same day – one like a load of bricks and the other like falling into a soft bed at the end of a day of hard work.

The load of bricks came first. I was working at the Turkish church like I normally do in the mornings and I was pleased to see Sibel there that day. She is 11 years old, stunningly gorgeous, and smart as a whip. The Turkish Gypsies are given no education, and many of them are worse off that the Romanian Gypsies. Some of them can still only speak Turkish (the last time I told a story it had to be translated into Romanian, and then Turkish for the kids; the story was, appropriately, the Tower of Babel). Anyhow, Sibel has been given no education except what could be given at the church, and she can read and write and do some mathematics. She also has learned some Bible stories and can quote some verses. I had just played tag with her in the parc the night before and I was struck by how universal tickle tag is because she played the same way my little brother Jacob does. Monica told me afterwards that Sibel’s mother had married her off the summer before (because she is so beautiful and smart) to an old man for money. Monica was so happy to see her because it meant she had run away. She came late to the program at the church, with her brother and sisters and we had just started to color when her mom stormed into the church. They were speaking in rapid-fire Turkish, so none of us could understand exactly what they were saying, but Sibel started to cry along with her cousin, and her mother grabbed her by the arm and started to drag her out. Her mother was taking her back and none of us could do anything to stop it because it is perfectly legal and we would be beaten if we tried. Sibel resisted as much as she could, but she wasn’t crying hysterically. It was sort of a resigned understanding cry, and it broke my heart. I haven’t been drowned in suffering during my life, but I have seen plenty, especially on other mission trips. Nothing hit me so hard as when Sibel was taken away. I felt like she was my little sister (because she was so close to Jacob in age?) and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t even cry.

Later that day I was in Peştera and still exhausted from lack of sleep and what had happened that morning. Fratele Corneliu had brought the Legend of the Three Trees cartoon, so I didn’t have a lesson, and I was just sitting on a bench with a couple of the girls on either side of me. I had my arms around them during the cartoon, and after it was over they just leaned in closer and none of us wanted to move. I felt perfectly content – you know, like those times when you know you are smack-dab in the center of God’s will? – and I literally felt the joy and love inside of me start to gush for them from a heart much bigger than my own.

Later that night after those two experiences and the next day I was praying and God began to show me that He had given me a piece of his heart for the people here. I have cried for them and prayed for them for so long, but I wanted to make sure that God wanted me with them, not just that I desired it. I have no doubt that I’ll be back, even though I don’t know God’s timing yet. If God has truly lent me His eyes to see this people’s pain, and a piece of his desire to glorify His name among them, I don’t know that I’ll be able to stay away – maybe only for as long as Jeremiah could stand the burning in his bones and keep quiet.

During my time here in Romania I have really come to have a new understanding of the story of the Fall. I really have. 🙂 I have come to believe that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a Corcoduş tree. That’s a tree here in Romania and it has a fruit kind of like a plum. They grow wild here and everyone just picks a few as they walk by one on the road. The fruit is delicious and good to eat. I’m just sure it was the one Adam and Eve ate one because they are so delicious and tempting. I climbed up a hill with a friend to get to some ripe ones and ended up sliding back down. The tree I was holding onto stabbed me and gave me a nice puncture wound with a big knot and a beautiful bruise. I experienced the consequences of sin firsthand. 🙂

I went to the Black Sea Monday with the Norway team before they left. It was wonderful. By the way, Vagar has been flown home to Norway after he was held for a little while longer here because of an infection scare, so while he is still in a coma, now he is home. We swam and I found some beautiful shells and I shucked sunflower seeds on the beach like a real Romanian. Florin got very sunbunt because he didn’t use sunscreen. I forgot mine too but I sat under the umbrella some of the time and I just got a little pink for a few hours. We were there from about 9 to 6:30 except for when we went to eat lunch. Tuesday Frate Cornel Dema (the pastor of Golgota and a big joker) called me a cartofi (potato) and Florine a roşi (tomato). He always makes vegetable jokes because when we first met someone told him I could name the vegetables growing in his garden and so we spent a few minutes pointing and naming.

Well, thanks for reading. I hope you learned something or got your curiosity quenched and learned about some prayer requests. I’ll finish off with some humor, if you don’t mind. Thanks for the prayers, and I’ll see you again soon!

Romanian expressions:

1.”Tu esti varzǎ.” Literally translated, it means ‘you are cabbage.’ It is an insult, kind of like ‘You’re a jerk’ or goober or loser. If you say this to someone with the right tone of voice it can be taken as a light-hearted jab. I have yet to say it to anyone, but maybe sometime soon. 🙂

  1. “Anything is possible in Romania.” This is a catch-all statement used to excuse anything that happens out-of-the-ordinary. Why are the Gypsy children bathing naked in the nice fountains and pools in the square and no one is trying to stop them? Oh… anything is possible in Romania. Why do the horse-drawn Gypsy carts use car tires? Because anything is possible in Romania. 🙂
  2. ‘It will pass by the time I get married.’ This is an old gypsy saying appropriately used when you are hurt or something is inconvenient. Monica says it to me anytime either of us takes notice of a scratch or sunburn or a stubbed toe. “Yes, it hurts, but it will pass till I get married”. She says it to me sometimes too. For example, I broke a plate when I was cleaning the other day and she said, “Don’t worry, it will pass till you are married.” We both laugh because neither of us have much on the horizon in terms of prospective husbands. 🙂
  3. The proper greeting to men at church is “Peace bro.”I thought it was kind of funny, considering the alternate meaning that phrase has in my American context. 🙂 Actually, they say “Pace frate (PAH-chay FRAH-tay),” and frate is short for fratele, or brother.
  4. “You have a giant head.” This is, contrary to the American reading of it, a compliment. It means you are smart or you learn quickly. There is no sarcasm or mocking in it; the phrase is just a plain and simple compliment (so if I say it to any of you when I come back home, don’t be offended). 🙂
  5. “Have a funny dream.” This one is an amusing way to say goodnight to someone. It is the equivalent of ‘sleep well’ because you wish them a refreshing and restful sleep.

One Week Old Romanian

I’m a week-old Romanian!! I will have officially been in Romania for a week at somewhere around 1 o’clock tomorrow morning your time. I am practically immersed in the language, and I am learning quickly. I thank God every time I think about it because the people here see it as an effort to relate to them and they appreciate it and listen to what I have to say. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “They don’t care what you say until they see that you care.” I know numbers, foods, days of the week, important phrases, colors, some church words, a few other everyday nouns, and the alphabet. I think this week I’m going to tackle some verbs and conjugation. They are harder than the hard parts of both French and Spanish combined. The little bit I know of French and Spanish have been a gift as well. Because I know words from those languages (and because some body language is universal) I can often guess correctly the topic, and sometimes the content, of a conversation. I have learned the song  “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” in Romanian, and I am starting to learn others. God has blessed me in so many ways that I am overwhelmed. He is helping me to learn the language, He has blessed me with a wonderful Romanian family (Gaby and Gigi repeatedly tell me that I am their American daughter and they are my Romanian parents), the people I work with are wonderful Christians, and He has given me a burning love for the children here that spurs me to teach and play and sing and laugh with them. Thank you all for the prayers; I am blessed too with friends and family back home who are praying earnestly for me and for the people I bring God’s love to.

I had my first week of ministry, and everything went well. I loved working with the Norwegians. Half of them speak English just like you guys, and some of them speak with British accents, and only a few have a Norwegian accent when they talk. Thursday evening after one of our afternoon camps some of their group was wrapping up and playing with some children on a soccer field when one of the Norwegian boys got run over by a car. The car was going over 100 kilometers per hour (I have yet to figure that out in miles, but when Gigi drives me somewhere at 120 I feel like my eyeballs are coming out the back of my head). He was responsive immediately afterwards, but soon after he got to the hospital he went into a coma. He had a head injury and shattered bones in one of his arms, and the skin was all ripped up on that arm and his side. He was moved to the capital the next day, and his parents are there now with him. It was a huge shock to the team, but God has been faithful in providing the strength and motivation to continue to work. Please pray for them as they seek healing and deal with this event. The boy (Vagard) is still in a coma, and we don’t know how things will turn out.

Please pray for the team as they continue to deal with the accident and formulate understandings of God’s character. I was able to go to the church and talk and pray with a few of them the night of the accident. Most importantly I was able to listen when they needed to talk and didn’t want to talk to a team member or when their leaders were busy. I pray that I was a blessing to some of them – they certainly were to me.

Anyway, ministry went well this week. I was at Pestera for two of the mornings and Golgota every evening, and Thursday and Saturday (today) I was able to go to the Turkish church (mostly Turkish Gypsies who were, at least marginally, Muslim) and work with the kids. The Norway team had Bible lessons for all of the sites, but one evening they didn’t go to Golgota and one afternoon Fratele Cornel Dema and the Farm team and Florin and I went into the slums to have a lesson with the kids there. Those two times I did the Bible story and had a great time. We sang “Singing in the Rain” with the kids at Golgota and in the slums, and they love it (that’s the one where you end up looking like an epileptic duck at the end of the song after all the motions). The schedule was crazy this week, but my days were filled with the most beautiful children and teaching and serving and my gibberish Romanian. Next week things will be a little more solid, and I’ll be responsible for a lot more. Please pray for energy and sensitivity to God’s leading. I’m exhausted after this week, so next week I pray for extra focus of my mind and heart on things above. Perspective is very important when working with these children.

Alright… One more highlight of the week and I’ll close with a little humor. Andrea and Roxy left on Thursday (that’s not the highlight – that made me terribly sad), but before they left they taught me the alphabet and some pronunciation rules. Romanian pronunciation is not that hard once you get used to it. Anyhow, when we had the camp in the slums we made salvation bracelets with the kids. Florin was busy with some other group of kids and I had the little ones and those who couldn’t read. There was a note inside their bags of beads and twine that explained the meaning of each color and the knots in Romanian as well as English. I knew my colors by that time, but I because of the alphabet lessons I was able to read the Romanian words that explain the colors’ meanings to the kids. It was a blast. The only problem is that some of them still somehow think I can understand Romanian (after I shook my head and said “Nu inteleg” a thousand times).

Romanian Food Rules: (Preparation for anyone with a possibility of visiting Romania soon)

  1. “You try… This pepper not very hot” means “This pepper is very hot – so hot you’ll get second-degree burns inside your mouth if you try it. Oh, and I won’t tell you until you’ve already taken a (small) bite, but it’s too hot for us too, so we only nibble on it. ”
  2. When eating sunflower seeds like a real Romanian (anywhere you please, shelling them with your fingernails, and dropping the shells anywhere on the ground where you are standing or walking), do not wear closed-toe shoes with open holes in the top. You’ll be too embarrassed to dig it out of your shoe in front of everyone, so you’ll be stabbed in the toe with every consequent movement.
  3. (This is not a rule, but worthy of note, all the same.) If you didn’t like carbonated water before you came to Romania, don’t expect anything different once you get here.


Getting to Work

New things I have learned:

  1. Fratele Gigi can fix ANYTHING. It really is amazing. Just yesterday he cooked mackerel for dinner and it was good! (I don’t like fish, so that’s quite a bit from me). We are still carrying on with our mimed and sound-effect infused conversations, and he has tried in vain to teach me the difference between a ‘i’ with a tent on top and an ‘a’ with a tent on top. They both sound like tortured ‘uhhhhh’s to me…
  2.         How to count to twenty and say my alphabet (except for the tented vowels, of course).
  3.         Gypsies are the most beautiful people group on the planet. Hands down.
  4.         It is possible to play monopoly in Spanish with two Romanian girls who have taken less than 6 semesters of English combined. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to read the instructions well enough to understand and explain the rules about the many ways you can get into and out of jail.
  5. There are no motokars here, but the transportation is just as much of an adrenaline rush. Maxitaxi drivers take pleasure in stomping on the gas or slamming on the brake to throw you to either end of the bus. The taxis drive so fast it makes your head spin.

I am finally a little clearer on my duties, and I am so excited and blessed, but also a bit overwhelmed. Next week a team from Norway will be here to help at Golgota, so I’ll just be there to help and observe and learn. That ministry with the children will be almost like a kids’ camp or VBS with the Roma children. It will start at 5 in the evenings and last until… the kids go home. In the mornings I will be at Pestera doing a similar sort of thing, except I will be the VBS director. AHHHH!!! Just kidding… Well, not exactly. I intend to tell stories chronologically throughout the Bible with them – so they can get at least a little understanding of the meta-narrative there – and I’ll also have a craft and some games and songs, God willing. I don’t know if any of you learned any Romanian (or any Gypsy) songs when you were growing up, but I didn’t. I’m either going to have to get someone from my host family to teach me some or have them translate some I already know. God may bless me with someone native to the area to do songs for me. That’s my prayer, anyway. I’ll start on Wednesday with Creation. I’ll use my story quilt that Olivia (my wonderful little sister) made for me to give them a visual depiction of the history. Some of you probably know that creation is my favorite story, so I am glad to start with it. Plus, a very wise person once said, “Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start…” Mom and I found a 8” roll of paper before I left, and I brought it to use with the kids. I’ll probably use it to make a creation mural with the kids. It’ll be GREAT!! It always makes me feel a little bit better when the 4-year-olds’ alligators and flamingos don’t look any better than mine.

After the Norwegians leave I’ll have the same job in Golgota, and the times for Pestera will move to 6:30 or 7, depending on when the kids show up. I’ll have those mornings free, so I may work with a Turkish Gypsy church (ministering to a Muslim Turkish Gypsy community) with Monica or follow along for house visits with the FARM team that is here helping Fratele Corneliu as well. Monica is 22 and part Roma, and she speaks wonderful English. She is a large part of anything that goes on at Golgotha, and she will help me translate on days that Florin gets tired of me or his brain melts from translating into Gypsy Romanian (a little bit like Eubonics except far more different from the main language) or if he just needs a day off or doesn’t come. I have already spent some time with her, and she is a wonderfully mature young woman of God with a fiery passion for helping the Roma to learn about Him. She’ll be doing some other work with the Golgota teens that I may help with sometimes. The FARM team (an English acronym that I can’t remember, but it means native missionaries helping their own people) will be working with Fratele Corneliu in a different way. While I work with the children, they will be doing house visits and prayer walking. Some days I will have the opportunity to join them, but I am still praying  about God’s will in that area. I can speak enough of the language to endear people to me, but that’s about it. It’s kind of like when a baby stutters out ‘Dada’ or ‘Mommy’ or when they begin to lisp out common phrases or sentences and everyone thinks their sooooo cute. Yep – that’s my Romanian level. Anyhow, I don’t know the culture or the people or the language, so all I can really do is pray and smile. I’m not belittling praying at all; that’s alright if that’s what God wants me to do, but I don’t know yet. The FARM team is four people about my age – a married couple and a couple of singles – that are not from Romania. They are Roma, but they lives elsewhere and were trained to work with their own people. AnnaMarie can speak a little bit of English, and I think she can understand more that she lets on, but she grew up speaking Romani. So, if she ever needs to translate into Romani for me, we can do it with some prayer.

I do have one more opportunity that I’d like you to be praying about. I have the opportunity to work as a counselor at a camp for two different sets of church kids during the third week I’ll be here (one set in the morning and one in the evening). Right now I want to skip the opportunity because the woman leading it already has a team scheduled to work with her, finances to afford her camp, and she’s working with Romanians (the group that mistreats the Roma, generally) that already come to church. I’m only going to have four weeks with the Pestera kids and 3 with the Golgota kids to tell through the whole Bible, and they won’t get that information any where else – especially after school starts back for them. I already have a hard enough time cutting out stories to cover 4 weeks of material, but if I only have 3 and 2 weeks, I know it won’t be easy. I know for a fact though, that that is my opinion, not God’s. Pray for God to change my heart if He is calling me to work at the camp, and pray overall that I would be sensitive to His leading rather than my own feelings and hopes. Pray for strength, encouragement, and rest, as well as a united spirit among the many workers of the Lord here. Thanks for sticking it out to the end, and I’ll let you know how things are going when I can!



I Made it!

I am a bit jet-laggy, but all things considered it was a good trip here. No luggage lost and no planes left without me on them. 🙂 I couldn’t sleep on the first trip because of the excessively friendly and slightly creepy Ugandan next to me, and because of excitement. At the airport Fratele GiGi (Brother George) had just enough English to turn me away because my name wasn’t Charlotte (I can’t spell it with the accent on my keyboard, but it sounds nothing like Caroline). About that time my IMB contact turned around and sorted things out, and I wasn’t left at the airport. 🙂

I have learned many things already, and God has reiterated how wonderfully faithful He is through all of this. I live with the Alexandru family (in Romanian the family name comes first, and then the individiual name), and they have already been a huge blessing to me. Mama Gabbi (Gabby) has already made some fantastic food for me and she treats me like one of her own daughters. I spent a couple of hours with her yesterday looking at her family photos and swapping words between our language. It was a great bonding time. Fratele GiGi makes me laugh with his English, and I try to return the favor with my Romanian. 🙂 Their son Florin is 18 and speaks fantastic English considering the teacher I’ve heard about. Between him and a Romanian/English-English/Romanian dictionary, I’ve got a translator! The two daughters are beautiful and amazing. 🙂 Andrea is 13 going on 14. She and I have been fast friends and she has taught me the most Romanian that I’ve learned here. I’ve learned helpful phrases like “I’m sorry,” “Thank you,” “excuse me,” and a few nouns to fill out my vocab a tiny bit. I still don’t have any verbs or conjugation or tenses, but I’m hoping to learn a few. Roxi (Roxy) is 9 going on 10. We can only communicate a few words to each other, but she likes to hold my hand on walks and giggle at me. 🙂

I am living with the Alexandru family, like I told you before, and they attend Brother Corneliu’s church. Brother Corneliu has planted a church for the Roma called Golgota, and I will work there Tuesdays through Fridays. It will be like day camp. I can tell Bible stories and we will have rec time and a craft. Early in the days I will be at (Peshterah – I can’t spell it in Romanian without their letters) doing something similar. Be praying with me about some other opportunities that I may have. There is an option to quit working at those places and work at another camp. I don’t know what God would have me to do yet, so pray with me as I seek his will and begin working in Peshterah and Golgota. Mondays are market days, Saturdays are rest days, and Sundays are church days.

I’ll sum up my couple of days here with a list of things I’ve learned so far:

1. Don’t be too nice to the Ugandan at the terminal. He’ll be seriously trying to schedule a visit before you board and you’ll spend a good two hours of your flight answering and evading questions about your views on dating…

2. Jet lag will always baffle and intrigue me.

3. I LOVE ROMANIAN FOOD!!!! I may exceed the weight limit though for the plane ride back. 🙂 We eat several slices of bread with each meal.

Well, that’s all for now folks (in my best Porky Pig voice). Pray with me, and I’ll keep you updated. 🙂



And So it Begins…

Yes… I have a blog now. I never would have predicted it, but that is yet another demonstration of the fact that I am not omniscient. 🙂 I intend to use my new blog to inform my friends and family of what God is doing in my life and around me. That means, if you choose, of course, you can read about mission trips, lightbulb moments with God, and other exciting stuff that’s going on. I’ll christen To Be a Blessing with stories from my upcoming time in Romania, which somehow seems appropriate, considering the way it hinges together my life now and one that could be completely different (see my last post). I hope that you will all read and pray with me as God takes me on that adventure. One last thing: I am incredibly, terribly, sometimes soporifically, long-winded. I would apologize, but that’s they way God made me, and I hope that someday He’ll use it for His glory. Happy reading everyone!