Sunday, July 5, 2009

Romania 2009: The Final Day

After an evening spent with the family, Hunter and I crashed out and got up fairly early so we could do a little shopping before leaving. Didn’t find what I was looking for and so we decided to have a traditional English breakfast of a sausage, egg and cheese McMuffin, hashbrown and OJ followed by a Starbucks Frapuccino.
Heathrow terminal 5 is actually really nice as airports go and we had no incident getting through all of the formalities before boarding our plane. I decided to still wear my Houston Dynamo shirt to travel in and not one person asked me if I played for them. Maybe it wasn't the shirt and my athletic physique that made people think we were the team but the fact that there was a group of us wearing the shirts. I’m going to stick with my original premise until proven otherwise. As we boarded I tried to convince the flight attendants that there was a mistake on my ticket and instead of row 37 it should have been row 3 or 7. No-one seemed to buy it.
We arrived early into Houston and had no real wait at immigration or customs and on the other side were the beaming faces of my wife and daughter. It was good to be home.
As I end out this series I wanted to share some final thoughts. First, I hope in some way you got to share in the amazing experience we had in Romania through this blog and through the photos. Second, missions work is something, I believe, every Christian needs to be involved in. It may not be travelling overseas but there are so many people who are in need not just physically and materially but most importantly spiritually. There are a lot of groups who do great works to help meet the material needs of those less fortunate but at the same time are leading people down a spiritual path that will not lead them to eternal life in heaven but an eternity separated from God.
Third, with a group of 27 people travelling together, thousands of miles away, to a country that doesn’t speak much English, there were so many things that could have gone wrong – travel delays or lost baggage, sickness or health issues, weather problems, personal disputes – but essentially the trip went off without any major issue. All of that is not luck but the power of prayer and a God that blessed this trip.
Fourth, in Romania there are a number of challenges that Christian (biblical) churches face and for the youth the pressures are even greater. Romania is developing and money is coming into the country but at the same time a lot of the worldly influences are coming in which are trying to suck the youth away from their faith. Not only are they under attack from the influences of the world but even the Orthodox churches are not shy in their condemnation of anything non-Orthodox. The majority of the elderly people go to an Orthodox church if they go to church at all and the public dislike for bible-based churches is very evident.
Fifth, I have never met any of these people before as it was the majority of our group but it was almost instantaneous that two groups separated by a language (America and England are separated by the same language J) had a unbreakable bond through the love of Christ as Christians. In the first few moments together on a coach they were singing songs together.
Finally, never take the blessings you have for granted. No matter what you are going through now for a time, there is someone else who is going through a tougher situation. The answer to many of our issues is not a focus on our own problems but a serving of others and a seeking for the Kingdom of God.
Until next year – May God bless you, and keep you and may His face shine upon you.2 Corinthians 2: 1-9 – “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Romania 2009: Day 10

The journey home. As always the travel day brings a mix of emotions; the sadness of leaving a country and friends that have been a part of your life for a short time; the excitement of returning home to see family; the anxiousness of having to spend several hours in airports trying to check in, get through immigration and customs; the rush of finishing the packing; the knowledge that you will be spending several hours on a plane in a space big enough for a four foot tall, 120 pound person; “where did I put the passports?”; “why did we have to get the earliest flight out meaning we have to get up at 4 a.m.?”
Before you know it you are in the midst of that whirlwind and when you have a group of 27 people travelling it is more like a tornado. I guess one of the advantages of wearing the bright orange Houston Dynamo shirts is that the glow keeps you awake as you fight off the lack of sleep. That is for everyone except Holly who “accidentally” misplaced her orange shirt.
Check in and security went without issue except for the Romanian who cut the line in front of me. I wasn’t go to question it but a few people in our group were willing to question him. In the end he was lucky it was a group of Christians travelling together as a group wearing football shirts and not a group of English football fans wearing Christian shirts. Everything in Romania has been very reasonably priced but suddenly in the airport the prices seem to quadruple but both Hunter and I were too thirsty to wait. We were bused over to the plane and I entered first with Hunter about 5 people behind me. We had to show the boarding pass as we entered the plane and I had both. Being the good father I am, I let the flight attendant know I was travelling with my son who was wearing a white hat, had curly hair and the same color shirt as me, and most importantly she could have as much fun with him as she wanted letting him know he could not board without his boarding pass. As I proceeded down the plane I heard the shout from Hunter, “Dad” which I, of course, ignored. When I looked back Hunter was looking at me with that “I know you stitched me up, Dad” look.
We arrived in England and pretty quickly got through immigration and had our bags waiting for us. My Dad picked us up and we had a short car ride back to Beaconsfield. The town continues to change little by little but it is still the same Beaconsfield I grew up in. As always the first port of call in England was the Fish & Chip shop and after 3 years away it was worth the wait. Both Hunter and I polished off a large portion of chips and fish. There really is nothing served anywhere else that rivals the English Fish & Chips.
In the afternoon we decided to relax and watch Wimbledon. I think I saw the start of both matches and the ends but not much in between. I think both Hunter and I were snoozing for a while. In the evening we surprised the rest of the family at dinner. My Dad had organized a meal but did not tell anyone we would be there. As they all sat down at the dinner table I don’t think anyone was surprised as Hunter and I walked in wearing chef’s outfits except for my Mum. The part that always amazes me is how fast we settle into a conversation together and it feels like we have never been away. It is good to see that we all still have the same sense of humour and the same practical joke nature. All in all we had a great time. The most humorous part of the meal was at the end when the bill came. My Dad was going to pick up the tab and Mark, Guy and I all grabbed for our wallets to help pay for the meal. My Mum grabbed for her pen so that my Dad could sign the receipt.
Again I am not sure how the day will be but my final blog might not make until Sunday.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Romania 2009: Day 9

Well here it is! Our last day in Pucioasa. The first order of the day was to finish packing and move the bags out of the rooms and into one room. It is amazing how fast you can fill up a room with just luggage but I guess with 27 people and then the extra luggage for VBS and food it doesn’t take long to add up. After this it was time to head over for the last day of VBS. Again both VBS’s had great turn outs – over 60 in Pucioasa and 46 in Fieni. The sweet part of this VBS was at the end when all the kids were leaving. For some you could tell they had had a great time and they wanted to hug everyone. Just to look on their faces was all the reward we could ever ask for. Our prayer is that in some way the last four days gave them a desire for Jesus and a desire for God’s word.
Everyone was starting to come to grips with the fact that very soon the really hard goodbyes would start. The adults we fellowshipped with: Nicu and Daniella, Florin and Mariana, Marian and Simona, Sorin, Danny, Alex, Avi, Didi, Iuliana, Dani, Jenny, Anna, Iulika, Sorin (the vet). The youth who we spent so much time with from the retreat in Sinaia to all the time in Pucioasa and Fieni: Raluka, Oana, Elizabeth, Anda, Emma, Laura, David, Filip, Little Alex (who is now Alex the tall), Solomon, Alina, Magda. As the goodbyes started so did the tears. Even Hunter was in tears (I think that’s Barbara’s genes). One piece of joy that Harvest Bible Church can share in is that we were able to buy one family a washing machine. The wife and children are in a very difficult situation with the father/husband and the mother is working two jobs to try and make ends meet and at the same time trying to keep a family together with very few resources.
As we drove back to Bucharest (on an extremely hot coach) I looked back on our time in Pucioasa but I also looked ahead to the hope that someday I would be able to return. In Bucharest it was a time to relax down and have one more meal together at the Hard Rock Café.
A couple of quick stories that came to mind that I had not shared. When in Romania do not order a Pepperoni pizza unless you like Jalapenos. Pepperoni sounds like the word for jalapeno and JP was a little surprised when his pizza turned up with no meat but just jalapenos. At some point we need to hold a burping contest between Don and DJ who seemed to be able to burp at will. The third contestant would have to be Isabelle who is not a frequent burper but has the volume to be a true contender.
This will be a little shorter than other days but given the need to get up at 4 a.m. local time I need to turn in early. Not sure what tomorrow will allow me to do on the blog front but I will update if I can.

Acts 21:6 – “When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Romania 2009: Day 8

Well today was an interesting day. On the way over to the church Alanah shared with us that Jesse had had quite a lively night. Apparently half way through the night Jesse sat up in bed from a dead sleep, started a running motion sitting down on the edge of the bed. When Alanah asked if Jesse was okay Jesse said yes but then asked where the “Machina” was, not the machine but the “machina”. Jese then got up and went to the bathroom but she remembers nothing about it. We have now gone from Hunter to Jesse with the talking in the sleep but Jesse was definitely more active. I headed over to the church for breakfast and sat and read the newspaper as always. After breakfast we went to Fieni for VBS. For the games and the tricks (i.e. me) we went to a small playground area. I did one balloon trick for them and then they played a game with the 40 kids who turned up. During the game the local police came over to ask if we had a permit for having the kids in a group outside?! Not sure about this one - a permit to have the kids play a game outside as a group. Apparently there is still a lot of hold over from the communist days. Also the Orthodox Church has a lot of influence and so the police I think were just creating a presence.
As the game wrapped up and the police were walking off the kids sat on a wall and started shouting for “George Bush, George Bush”. I was waiting for the police to come back over to see why George Bush was in Fieni. All week the kids had been waiting for me to eat fire and today was the day. I really don’t mind doing the fire eating but there is still something weird about putting car gas in your mouth. Well today I had a little problem in that when I pushed the burning stick onto my tongue to light my tongue on fire, the liquid ran down my face. In about 2 seconds flat I had the fastest beard trim I had ever had as the front of my beard caught fire. Luckily no serious damage was done. One more time to do this before we leave.
During VBS Mark played the part of Goldilocks a part he played very well I might say. So from a butterfly last year to Goldilocks this year. I don’t even want to guest what he will be next year. After VBS in Fieni we went back to Pucioasa where they had had 70 kids. Again both teams had a great time working with these kids. Tomorrow is our last day.
Almost as soon as we were back a small group of us went to the Crisis Center where a group of orphaned young adults spend their days. Some of the people also struggle with a mental disorder and I think these are the ones that live at the center. One of the men there, obviously taking me for the linguist in the group, started to explain to me in Romanian about something with the building. I wasn’t sure what I agreed to do (“Da” being the standard response) but I think it entailed painting and fixing up a dilapidated 2 storey building. Hopefully he was satisfied with the balloon animal I gave him instead. At the end of the visit the team loaded up in the van and voted to leave me there. Apparently they felt I would fit in better.
After a trip to the Crisis Center we were invited to lunch in different houses again. This time Hunter and I split up and he went with a group of youths to Sister Avi’s house. I joined the Holland’s at Niku and Daniella’s house. It was interesting to hear from him about some of the challenges he faces as a Pastor in Romania. Each time you sit down with the Romanian people you learn more about them and how they came to Christ and how they live there life. To live outside of the hotel environment could definitely be a challenge for someone used to American standards but as a whole there is nothing that is not bearable.
In Pucioasa Church is on Wednesday night like 99.99% of Churches in America (Harvest being the 0.01%) and it is about 2 hours long. We did get some English bits but at times it was completely in Romanian. In Church “Da” is not really appropriate but “Amen” (pronounced Amin) seems to work as well.
Tonight being the last night in Pucioasa the tears were flowing and my guess is that tomorrow will not be much better. A fire was built for Samores and a few were made before a massive storm blew in. At that point everyone retired to Vienna, the restaurant on the street level of our hotel building. I have a feeling that restaurant is going to go into withdrawal tomorrow night after 4 or 5 straight nights of a large crowd sitting there for a few hours.
Just some random thoughts for the last night – the food has been good but I do miss the moist, chicken breasts and cinnamon apples. The crevice between living in America and Romania is not as wide as I thought.
1 Thessalonians 2:8 – “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”