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.