Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 10 – A Day for the Tough, the Journey Home and Final Thoughts

Day 10 – A Day for the Tough, the Journey Home and Final Thoughts

The alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m. (although I think for some of the others it was earlier) and 45 mins later we have the bags packed in the vans and say a prayer before leaving the hotel for the airport. Because of a recon trip to the airport the night before, we got to the airport without event on Saturday morning. The only hard part was actually trying to return the rental vans. The guard opened the gate but when I asked him where to
park he looked at me like I was foreign. Okay so he didn’t speak English but if you say “Hertz” at a rental car return area you
would expect some kind of understanding. I am sure we were not the first people to return Hertz rental cars to the airport. After a shrug of his shoulders we just pulled into three empty spaces and dropped off the keys in the drop box.
This year we got to the airport just when the BA counter opened, not an hour or so before hand. We still had the same problem as last year which was despite there being an obvious line some people just walked up to the front of the line to check in. This also happened at the security check point so it must just be a cultural thing. It just happens to be an extremely annoying cultural tradition. Despite very careful packing one of my bags was 2 kilograms too heavy, about 4.5 pounds heavy. One thing I do remember from last year is that the airport personnel are stickler for rules (except for enforcing the “no-butting-in-line” norm) and so I had to frantically rearrange a couple of bags to make them weight appropriate. From check in it was through to security. Now having travelled extensively and internationally I am pretty careful about what I pack in my carry-on luggage and so was surprised when my bag got pulled aside. Now the way they have the screens set up at the security, once you have walked through the
body scan, you can see the bag x-ray screens. So when my bag was pulled I looked at the screen and could see that by computer battery and by flashlight were circled. In most countries the procedure is to locate the suspicious object and verify it is okay or remove it and re-scan the bag. Not in Romania. He went through my bag and randomly emptied pockets into a tray and then emptied bags of my computer cords etc. And so my bag was almost empty and the contents haphazardly strewn in a tray. He then rescanned everything and gave me my bag and tray of contents to repack.
A three hour flight to London followed by a 3 hour layover, led to our boarding the 747 that would take us from London to Houston. As we boarded the plane I struck up a conversation with one of the flight attendants and having found out that in Coach there was no power outlets for computers, I asked him whether it was okay if I ran an extension cord from row 50 (5 rows from the back of the plane) down to business class. After thinking about it for about 3 seconds he just laughed. During the flight I tried to work on my computer but realized that the balancing act on my table and belly made it so hard to use a computer hence the lack of power outlets.
The flight westward is longer than the eastward journey and with it not being an overnight you find ways to keep entertained for nine hours. With the new Video On Demand system entertainment was not the issue. However the problem we faced was the temperature. In our section it was like an oven. When you are cramped up with your knees touching the seat in front, body touching the person next to you and sitting on a leather seat the last thing you need is for the cabin to be hot. I write this so graphically so Stuart can get an understanding how us common folk travel. Anyway for about 8 hours of the nine hour journey we were unbareably hot and sweaty. As you watch the screen that shows the flight path and it tells you that the outside temperature is -52˚ you’d think that a 10 second blast from outside would cool things down pretty quickly but no we just sat and suffered. When you walked the plane you would find pockets of cold air and so the crew’s rationale for it being hot where we were was that some other people were cold. Now call me stupid but if you are cold you can put blankets on and stay warm. I don’t think the alternative of me taking clothes off is an acceptable or desirable option. Anyway about an hour before we landed it finally cooled down.
So now we are back home and I have had a day to reflect on our trip here are some final thoughts. As we drove home last night the sun was setting and that is the same sun that was setting on our Romanian friends about 8 hours earlier. I don’t know why but God has ordained that I should be living in America and those friends are to live in Romania but I cannot take for granted the blessings I have. Simple things like a good and reliable shower, a comfy mattress, a pillow that has some constituency to it and is bigger than your head so when you roll over you don’t have to keep your head in one spot. However, more important things like food on a table or housing or religious freedom are also things we take for granted. Now in Romania they have food but they grow a lot of it themselves including raising chickens on rabbits for meat. They have housing but that might be a family of four in a one bedroom apartment. They are free to go to church where they want but if they don’t go to the orthodox church they may be shunned by family and friends and definitely will be by society. We saw kids whose source of entertainment was a cardboard box that had been pulled from the trash not a TV or a computer or a video game. But no matter what the circumstance, no matter what they had or didn’t have, these people at the churches in Puciosa and Fieni had a love for Jesus and a smile on their face. I just wish I had half of the fortitude these people had to deal with what card they had been dealt. Once a year Puciosa gets invaded by a group of Americans and believe me they remember us (especially when Russ with a little help from me drink two restaurants dry of Mountain Dew and I, with a little help from everyone else, can get a restaurant to sell out of Papanosi). So how we act and what we say are so important not only in representing God but also representing ourselves, the churches there and also Harvest Bible Church.
One of the biggest frustrations I have is the language barrier. I have learned some
of the language but there is only so much you can talk about when you know how to say hello and good bye, right and left, and count from 0 – 99 (actually I learned 100 this year as well). In one store we went to, the man asked Alex which cult we belonged to. I didn’t understand what he said but if I had known I would have loved to talk to him. There are people we meet at VBS who I would love to talk to but cannot. I got myself in trouble a couple of times when I said “Good morning” to someone in Romanian and then when they made the next comment saying “Da” as though I had understood but then with they came with another comment, asking me a question which I did not understand also and that seemed to require something more than another “Da”. The people looked bewildered when I tried to explain that I didn’t speak Romanian. My goal for next year is to continue to grow my vocabulary.
I did want to clear up one small point that had been floating around since arriving in
Romania. Certain comments had been made as to my navigational abilities and implications that I had to stop and get directions. There were also some photos that tried to prove these baseless accusations. It was obvious that I was trying to evangelize and the pointing done was in response to where the person was going after they died which then opened up the opportunity to tell them it wasn’t left or right they were going but probably down. I feel better knowing that everyone knows the truth now.
Some of the Romanian practices still leave me confused. The allowing of dogs to rule the streets seems strange. I guess that versus euthanizing them is a better option but you’d have thought something would be done. In a restaurant if the bill comes to 23.42 lei and you give them 50 lei to pay, you don’t get back 26.58 lei as one would expect but you get 25 lei back. I am not sure if this is self-decided tip they take or just the fact that they have no clue what to give back because their math is so bad.
Each member of the team gave of their time and their talents and it was a joy to spend time and serve with them. Whether it was their musical talents (Lindsey, Sue, Emily, Chrissie, Tiffany, Savannah, Holly, Katie, Michelle), their cooking talents (Chrissie, Tiffany), their VBS leadership talents (Dani, Kelley, Tiffany, Stuart, Russ, Barbara), their shopping talents (Chrissie, Dani), their preaching and teaching talents (Russ, Stuart, Damien), their sporting talents (Damien, Hunter, Barbara), their drawing and creativity talents (Hannah), their construction talents (Russ, Damien, Hunter, Stuart, Sue), their blogging talents (Katie, Holly, Michelle),
their driving talents (Russ, Stuart), their leadership talents (Russ, Stuart), their sitting at home talents (Nate and Sara Krupke, Steve and Kelly Zettlemoyer, Don Owens, Isabelle St Clair) and their “Bushy Bear” talents (Hunter), all was done with passion. Next year we already have direction about what can be done but we will have to see what God has in store for us.
God bless you all or as they say in Romania “Pace” (peace). Thank you for your prayers and for sharing this journey with us.
Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 9 - The Toughest Day

Day 9 – The Toughest Day

I know yesterday’s blog wasn’t really a blog but for the first time in the two years of coming to Romania I really was too tired to function. And so tonight I will try to cover the last two days in a little more detail.
Yesterday was the wrapping up of VBS. Both Puciosa and Fieni had about the same number of children (40-50 at both locations). From what I could tell the children had a great time. Some of the children really touch your hearts. One of the boys at Puciosa has been a royal pain for the last two years and nothing changed this year. After about 30 minutes of his acting up you are ready to beat him. But this year for the first time I heard more of his story. He comes from a gypsy family and is one of 8 children (I think – it may be 14 children but that seems way too many). And his 14 year old sister is in charge of looking after all of the young ones including a young toddler. When you start to realize that this boy has essentially no guidance it is not difficult to understand why he constantly acts up. This year Russ decided to show some tough love and discipline him but do it with some guidance. Today as we said our goodbyes he was there with his elder sister and he wanted his picture taken with us and loved the picture he had with Russ.
For the roving Brittoners we began and finished up in Vulcana Bai. VBS was in a field, on a hill, in wet grass – the program had to be cut down from 4 hours to 2 hours and so essentially we used the accounts of Moses and Jesus to give the gospel message. Talk about difficult conditions to do crafts and even act out some of the scenes but I am proud of my family and the job they did to pull off another great VBS. Here we had 27 kids and again this was after handing out flyers one day before. The toughest thing for me was the fire eating. In Varfur the wind posed a problem with fire eating and having learned from that when I faced the same windy conditions in Vulcana Bai I remembered to face so that the wind was blowing away from my face. But now I had a new problem – when I faced with the wind blowing in the right direction and put my head back the sun was shining straight in my eyes. As I lowered the fire into my mouth I had to shut my eyes for the last few inches. When I came to the part where I light my tongue on fire I literally shut my eyes and hoped I pressed down on my tongue and then was able to find the flame with the other stick. This was by far and away the most difficult fire eating I have ever done and frankly makes think twice of whether I will ever eat fire if there is even the slightest breeze.
Niku and I spoke and he was so happy that at the 3 locations we reached almost 70 kids. One of the goals of this year’s trip was to expand our outreach and that was done. There are already ideas afoot of expanding the time in Magura, Varfur and Vulcana Bai and even sending a team to Rimnicu Sarat.
Today was the toughest day of the whole trip. The goodbyes. After breakfast we headed to the church where we began the painful process of saying goodbye to both the Puciosa and Fieni churches. Dani won the prize for most time spent crying but frankly everyone pailed in comparison to the deluge Izzy produced last year. In fact I am sure Izzy has shed several tears this year and she wasn’t even on the trip. Again the tears shed between the youth were very touching but for me the most touching was the 14 year old girl who came to the church with the trouble boy and the toddler so they could say goodbye. She had spent 4 days at VBS where she had been able to actually act like a kid, singing songs and doing crafts, and had help looking after the toddler. She was walking up and down the street by our vans bawling her eyes out.
The drive back to Bucharest was uneventful except for Stuart, who was leading, once again having a desire to make a right turn from the left lane of a roundabout (traffic circle). After a traditional meal at Hard Rock some decided to visit a Museum of Houses, some took a water ferry to the hotel and Russ and I drove to the hotel. One of the biggest changes this year has been the police presence wherever we have been and today in Bucharest it was even more the case. We had road stops, police cars and ambulances flying up and down roads and at one point Russ almost had a head on collision with a police car. I do have to say that this was not Russ’ fault at all. He made his way on to a roundabout going the right way and suddenly a police car appeared out of nowhere going in the wrong direction. Both Russ and the police car completed diversionary maneuvers and I put my money I was going to use to bail Russ out back in my wallet.
We rounded out today with a devotion and then dinner at the hotel. Just like last year there was a group singing in the restaurant and just like last year the lead male singer blew us away with his 1970’s look. I am not sure any photo could do justice to this guy’s outfit.
Well just to finish off this blog here are some random stories or thoughts from the trip.
Food has been a main topic of conversation and controversy this trip. From the first meal here with Hannah unable to order anything she liked, to the wonderful food we had at people’s houses, to the joy of being able to turn up at breakfast, lunch or dinner and have it prepared for you by Chrissie, Tiffany or Daniella. Stuart finally changed from only praying for the hands of the person who prepared the meal to praying for their whole body. Dani had a saccharin disaster. With Hannah needing a sugar substitute Dani picked up a saccharin dispenser for her. The one-by-one dispensing didn’t work and so Dani prized the top off the dispenser sending hundreds of tiny saccharin tablets all over the table including over the Papanosi.
Last year we were all surprised by the listing of Crap on the menu. Now this is a fish and the only debate is whether it is Carp mis-spelled or actually a fish by that name. Hunter finally couldn’t take it anymore and ordered Crap to share with Michelle. They really didn’t like it and so Russ and I tried it and both agreed it lived up to its name and that it left a horrible after taste in your mouth. Depsite this proclamation Holly and Savannah seemed to determined to disprove us. I am not sure why you would run the risk of the proclamation being right but they didn’t find it quite as bad until the after taste set in. So take note if you make next year’s trip, do not order Crap or Mushroom soup at the hotel restaurant.
Some people make lasting impressions. When I turned up at Fieni to do my fire eating Marian asked the children if they could remember a special person from last year’s VBS. The answer was not George Bush but “Miss Isabelle”. This year it was Hunter who made an impression. Before VBS on the last day a little girl named Maria cam running up and gave Hunter a picture of herself and had written her address on the back. As she walked away she professed her love for him. What these 8 year olds will do for a boyfriend. I must admit it was not hard to be attracted to her especially with her Mickey Mouse slippers on.
Philippians 4:11-13 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Tomorrow we head home and so have an early morning leaving the hotel at 5:45 a.m.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 8 – VBS Ends

It’s currently 1 a.m. and I am just sitting down to write the blog so you may have to forgive me if this is short. The reason for the lateness of the blog is that today is the last day in Puciosa and we crammed in as much as possible and I am just getting back to my room. The quick rundown of the schedule was as follows.
• Devotion and Breakfast
• VBS in Puciosa, Fieni and Vulcana Bai
• Lunch
• Last minute shopping in Targoviste and Puciosa
• Construction in Puciosa and Fieni
• Fellowship dinner in Fieni
• Volleyball in Puciosa
• Final evening wind down at Café Vienna
• Packing for the trip back home

I will write a lot more tomorrow but for now I need sleep.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 7 – Church on Wednesday (like most normal churches)

Day 7 – Church on Wednesday (like most normal churches)

I am not sure whether we had another mosquito in the room last night or whether the mosquito bites that had been inflicted on me the night before were just coming out. At the latest count I have 36 on one arm and 11 on the other. As least I know I will be leaving a part of me here when I go home.
Today the roving team headed back out to Varfur. There were 31 kids and a couple more mums. In speaking to Niku this is a village that is ready for an evangelical. He was so uplifted to see the response from the village towards the VBS and not only that, the mayor of the town seems to be open to having Niku start a church there.
Again in typical fashion the plans change on the fly. Our time in Vulcana Bai on Thursday is only supposed to be from 10 a.m. to noon, not 2:30 p.m. and so Niku me if we could go back out to Varfur on Thursday afternoon. I let Niku know that the VBS material would be finished today but I could go out and do a series of object lessons for them. In the end as I started to prepare a 2 hour program Niku changed his mind. In a way I would love to have gone back out because the instant interest from this area is something that needs to be grasped to.
In the afternoon we had some free time except for the fact that nothing had been communicated to the people in Vulcana Bai about the VBS tomorrow and so a team of people went there to hand out flyers. Barbara and I got to accompany Alex to Targoviste and while there he took the time to take us to a couple of places. First, we went to the old fortress which was in ruins but was being rebuilt. The only thing open to the public was the tower and in that we learned some of the history of Romania and of Targoviste. Romania used to be a country made up of three regions all ruled by a prince. Then about 400 years ago it was united under some man named Mihai who has his head buried in Targoviste. I am not sure what happened to the rest of the body but they only seem to care about where his head was buried. The capital was moved from Targoviste to Bucharest and remained a monarchy until the end of World War II. Sometime during this period is when Vlad Tepes ruled as one of the regional leaders in Targoviste. His name Tepes means “stake” and because of his father being called Dracul, Vlad Tepes became known as Count Dracula. He lived upto his name by putting a stake through people. At the end of World War ii the Russians came in and installed a new ruler who was a communist. They took the wealth from the rich and gave it out. Despite everyone having a job and being able to have the essentials in life they could not handle the lack of freedom that existed under the communists. Eventually in 1989 the communist leader of Romania was killed in Targoviste.
The strange thing about the ruins was that the wall had been built up and then inside these walls a number of ruins had been uncovered and the buildings were being rebuilt. However, the tower was rebuilt but on top of the site where the church used to be. The church was being built somewhere else. So essentially they were building a series of new buildings to cover up the ruins.
Second, we went to visit an area in old Targoviste which has been re-done to create a shopping/restaurant area only open to pedestrians. I was actually very nice so we sat down to have a coffee. And then the rains came in. So we jumped into another café and had another coffee. I told Alex if we kept doing that we would be wired for church. It did stop and we returned to Puciosa for evening Church.
At church I started to get some of the emotions of this trip as I realized we only had one more day in Puciosa. This trip again has been a blessing to me and it is hard to think it almost done for another year. Niku had asked all of the VBS kids to bring their parents to the church for the service and had promised I would do fire eating (not inside during the service but afterwards outside. This was going to be the 3nd time for me to eat fire. In Varfur I did the fire eating and was rather challenged with the wind. I only singed one side of my beard. Then in Puciosa after the service I did the fire eating. At one point I push one of the burning rods on to my tongue which lights my tongue on fire so I can light the other rod. Unfortunately I did not have enough liquid on it and I had to push down very hard to have the flame burn on my tongue. It never is a good feeling when you take a fire and push it onto your tongue but I got through it.
Tonight Barbara and I and Russ and Tiffany went over to Solomon’s house and met his family. It is very strange to see a family over here all with strong Christian values and all getting along together . Solomon is one of 11 children of which one died at birth and the eldest died from leukemia 10 years ago. As Solomon talked about this brother who was about to die when Solomon asked him to teach him music, you could see the tears in his eyes. This was how Solomon got the passion for music but also the heart for Jesus. After eating, Solomon introduced his mother. With Solomon on the accordion and the mother either singing or playing the harmonica and the rest of the family singing, we were serenaded by them. Folks, I think we have found the Romanian equivalent of the Parkin family.
Philippians 3:13-14 – “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 7 – The Egypt Files Continue

Getting back to my room last night I checked for mosquitos and did see one but could not catch him or her but that was it. Feeling at ease I went to sleep and slept well. Apparently that mosquito ate well. It seems as though she (because only the female bites) walked up my right arm where I have 21 bites, she then jumped over to my left arm and got in 8 bites before she was either full or I woke up.
This morning we headed over to Varfur for VBS while the Puciosa and Fieni teams did their things. On Monday some of the team had headed over to Varfur to hand out flyers for VBS but we had no idea how many kids would turn up. How many kids would turn up ended up being the least of our problems. At first the vice-mayor wanted to put us in a derelict run down building. Now call me a sissy but I wasn’t going to step into a building that should have been condemned. The fact that the building was falling down was probably reason enough that it was derelict and for those who have seen Romanian construction know how solid their foundations are. Option 2 – we were going to be given a scythe to go and cut the grass in a field. I was starting to get the feeling the vice-mayor was looking for some cheap labor. Option 3 – at the end of the government building there was a patch of grass we could use. We didn’t have any electricity which wasn’t the end of the world but we didn’t have any furniture at all. Now the kids were able to find a dry spot on the pavement but we had do everything on the wet grass. Worse than that I was supposed to do my egg trick today. I thought for a few minutes how I could balance the glasses and eggs on Hunter’s back but I am not sure he would take the broom being whacked into his rear end. With some improvisation we found some construction concrete molds that looked like they were going to be used to build a drainage ditch. We had the bottom one just like it would be in the ditch and then the second was turned upside down and balanced on top. Next we had to do our best to even it out. I will come back to what happened.
By the time we had set up in Varfur we had 21 kids and 1 mum. This was a great turn out for only having one day of notice. It was also good to see some faces from the Church in Puciosa. The churches in Puciosa, Fieni and Magura are starting to grow their outreach. The one good thing of being outside was we could do some games where we could run around. We played a game called sticky tag which involves one person chasing another and then having the ability to switch places with someone else. Hunter did his best impression of a baseball slide on the wet grass and ended up on his back side. Then as he was chasing I tried to get him to take it easy on the little kids. Well they were a bit better than I thought and Hunter was running for about 5 minutes straight. At one point I heard him run past me saying “I can’t breathe”.
Back to the egg trick. I had set up everything as usual but noticed the pan the eggs were balanced on was not even. I tried to compensate but I was not sure how it would turn out. Well as you can see in the photo the eggs didn’t work exactly to plan but it’s still quite impressive how it ended up – two of the eggs were split but balanced on top of their glass.
Everyone met back up at church and had lunch. It seems as though Puciosa had the same number of kids and Fieni had grown to about 50. After lunch we all split up – some went to Fieni for some street evangelism, some stayed in Puciosa to help lay the concrete which was only 3 days late and my roving team headed back to finish VBS in Magura. Today we had over doubled to 10 kids which was great.
Tonight the church had once again arranged for us to go to dinner at someone’s house. We went to Daniella’s house who lived in Magura. We spent a while with Daniella as we ate and she shared about her husband and 2 sons all of which do not go to church. The stories we hear over here about people’s lives rally make me appreciate what I have but more importantly convict me to be a better husband and a better father.
Philippians 3: 7-9 - “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 6 - VBS begins

Day 6 – No I didn’t skip Day 5

No I did not skip Day 5 – yesterday’s should have been Day 5 and so we are now back on schedule.
Last night we moved into the new hotel which was a huge blessing. We have sheets and blankets, the pillows do actually support, no rooster to wake me up, no train and no dying dog and the shower is fully functioning. We did get the dog battle outside but that brought back good memories of last year. The only issue we had was not really with what the room didn’t have but what it did have. All night I would be buzzed by a mosquito and it just never seemed to leave me alone. When I got up there was a mosquito on the wall by the door. So grabbing a paper pad I whacked that mosquito. The only two problems were that when I hit the mosquito it left a rather large blood spot on the newly painted bright yellow walls. Second, when I looked up I realized that it was not a mosquito that was buzzing me but about 30 or so spread out across the ceiling and walls. In the bathroom they had installed a small window to allow for the moisture to escape and they had left it open. That was the entrance way for all of the mosquitos. Re-arming myself with the note pad I systematically killed each of the mosquitos. Now as I sit in my room it looks as though we had slaughtered something in here because blood spots are all over the walls and ceiling.
One of the most important logistical aspects of the trip is the food and Chrissie and Daniella, Niku’s wife, along with Tiffany have been sweating over hot stoves to feed us. The food has always been delicious. Okay I hope that is enough praise because Chrissie said she wasn’t going to cook anymore until the cooks got a mention in the blog.
We are now over half way through our missions trip and today marked the first day of VBS. Both Puciosa and Fieni started at 10 a.m. and had about 40 kids come along. As usual there were the few kids who were there first thing in the morning but both got under way on time. The roving team otherwise known as the Brittoners, finalized preparations for the first half of their VBS program. Because we did not begin until 3 p.m. and this was the only day in which we could be at the two main VBS locations, I did a trick/object lesson for Puciosa and then headed off to Fieni to eat fire. Romanian gas still tastes disgusting.
The roving team’s VBS really had to be created from scratch and so the changes in locations and time create changes to the program. Sometimes when you get familiar with something and you are trying to think ahead of what is to come you can get your words all mixed up. I had Hunter and Savannah asking the kids who created the first “God” instead of “man” and Barbara told them to really get into the role they were playing i.e. when they entered the stage as monkeys they needed to make monkey noises “Oink, oink.” I think we laughed for about 5 minutes flat with these mistakes.
The VBS in Magura only had 4 kids but when the village only has 20 kids in total itvwasn’t too bad. The main observation about these kids was their appreciation. They sat and listened and when we did a craft they just sat down and did it. One of the crafts was to color in a piece of card which folded into a pyramid. Each kid sat down and did their best effort and after each marker pen they used they put the top back on and put it away. And this was without a single word from us. In most Sunday School classes the boys would have scribbled across the card so they could get up and play. And all of the kids would have just left the markers out mostly without the caps on. As my family debriefed we discussed this and felt as though there were two main reasons: 1. There is a high level of discipline sometimes instilled by the parents and always enforced by the Church; 2. These kids have very little and so when they get to use a marker pen, which kids in America take for granted, it is a special occasion for them. Also the responsibilities on these kids are so much greater than American kids. Emma, who is 16 and whom we had lunch with on Sunday, has to look after a sick grandmother during the summer while her Mum works. Cassandra, who was the girl we bumped into outside the grocery store, had been so excited about going to VBS but she did not turn up today. We later found out a little more about her life. She is not homeless but both parents sit at home and do not work but have their two kids beg for money so they can survive. Apparently Casandra had not “earned” enough begging money and had to make more. My heart breaks for these kids especially when I consider the blessings that youth in America have been given.
Big Alex invited us to his house for dinner this evening. For Hunter and I, it was great to see everything again and for Barbara and Savannah it was amazing for them to see how they grow all their own vegetables and fruit and also raise their own meat. Unfortunately Breakfast, the rabbit, lived up to his name not too long ago but lunch and dinner were still alive. The pig which Alex had last year has grown huge and he has only a few months left before he becomes the meat supply. At the end of the meal Alex’s , Mum came out to say goodbye having spent our whole visit there cooking food for us. She said a lot of things in Romania which I couldn’t understand, until she came to Hunter and then the only 2 English words came out “Bushy Bear”. We all died laughing.
Philippians 2: 14-15 - Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world
Our goal over here is to shine as light and bring the gospel to villages and people who would not hear otherwise. But when it says to “Do all things without grumbling or questioning” it is so convicting because I do not always do all things with a happy disposition. Tomorrow we get back on the VBS trail.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Church All Day

Day 4 – Church All Day
The nights are getting shorter. I finished the blog at 1 a.m. which took me through the nightly dog fight. When I went to bed I realized that the hotel had actually changed the bed sheets but had only put one blanket in the bedroom which Hunter was using. I started to fall asleep but an hour or so later I started to freeze. Like a good father I went over to take the blanket off Hunter and realized he had both blankets. So I took mine and went to sleep. At 4:30 a.m. I woke up cold again because Hunter had kicked his blanket on the floor and taken mine. Now I couldn’t go back to sleep. And so I got up and packed my suitcase because we were moving hotels today. I then went to shower only to discover that when they cleaned the bathroom they completely broke the shower and so now all I had was a faucet about 2 feet off the ground. I must admit I thought about 5 minutes how easy it would be to get on my knees and take a shower that way. Realizing that the lack of sleep was blurring my logic I decided just to wait until I heard my wife or daughter taking a shower in the next room and then go in after that. Having spoken to Russ I am not sure it is much better at the new hotel. There the shower is just an attachment on the bath tub and there are no shower curtains. Russ did try sitting down in the bath tub to shower but had forgotten that everything in Romania is smaller and got kind of wedged in the bath tub.
Chrissie observed the Sabbath this morning and didn’t have breakfast for us and we ate at the old faithful Café Vienna. From here we split up into our three teams. The Parkin’s and the Hedner’s heading to Magura, The Canon’s, The Ayoubi’s and Stuart Holland heading to Fieni and The Britton’s, Emily, Damien and Katie stayed in Puciosa. There was kind of a plan about who was going to preach, who was going to give their testimony and who was going to sing. I think the preaching went on track but the singing and testimonies seemed to get added or changed on the fly.
After church we were invited to lunch at the Romanians’ homes. That too seemed to be a constantly changing plan but Damien joined the Britton’s to go to Emma’s house with her Mum (that is the Romanian spelling as well) and her cousin, Betty. Just like last year I am always blown away by the self-sufficiency and joy of the Romanian people. We had an absolutely delicious turkey soup which was made with all home grown ingredients (including the turkey). Then we had turkey, sausage, mashed potatoes and bell peppers in a special sauce. I think everything except the sausage was also homemade. It truly was delicious. As we got to know this family we met the grandmother who had had a stroke 13 years ago and had been bed-ridden since. Despite the mother working and Emma going to school they find a way to take care of the grandmother. I do think the highlight of the visit was the baby cat they had which found a way to climb up the table and into Hunter’s lap.
From here was back to Church for evening service which believe it or not was even more “on the fly” than the morning. Both Sue and Dani gave their testimonies. As much as we miss having last year’s team here it was probably very good we did not have Izzy here. When Dani started to cry during her testimony she would have never been able to finish if Izzy had been there with all the crying.
By the way at this point the Britton’s still did not have a hotel room for the rest of the stay. Some jockeying for position was beginning with Barbara staking her claim for the back seat of the van. Eventually we did get our rooms at a completely different hotel from everyone else. With us being the roving VBS team I am starting to get a complex about the obvious attempts to separate us from the group.
Before I go any longer let me give another example of flexibility. Way back in the planning stages the idea was for us to do 4days of VBS in both Puciosa and Fieni and then a roving team doing a day in Magura, a day in Vulcana Bai and a day in Varfur. Varfur was then dropped and instead it was only a day in Magura and Vulcana Bai. When we got Romania we were told it would different but no-one seemed to know what the plan was. Last night we had the first inkling of a final schedule and now we are pretty much back to the first plan. We do two half days in Magura and 2 half days in Varfur and a full extended day in Vulcana Bai. Now tomorrow morning the roving team has to redo their VBS plan to match the schedule.
After church it was the first real time when all the youth from Romania and all the youth from the US played volleyball. Barbara got an urge to relive her college days of playing volley ball and joined the US team. After going up 2 games to nothing and the dinner the Romanians finally won a game.
Philippians 4:6-7 - “ Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In the midst of all of the “flexibility” it is always good to remember God is in control.
I apologize now for the short blog today but I have to get some sleep after the 3 ½ last night. Tomorrow we begin VBS.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Hills Are Alive

Day 4 – The Hills Are Alive

After getting back to the hotel last night I was able once again to show my mastery of language skills. We had just found out that our new hotel could give us 4 rooms a night earlier. When I got to the hotel/dance club I needed to go and let the four groups in the main hotel to pack so we could check out in the morning. I asked the first employee if he could let me know which rooms they were in but he had no clue what I was saying and then one after one the employees came out to talk to me. I first found out there were no Americans in the hotel. I assumed they didn’t understand versus they had kicked them out. Then I was told I couldn’t have a room because they were full. I now have a greater appreciation of Holly’s game of charades with them the night before. Well I think the end result was that I am the new DJ for the hotel and I start tomorrow. They were also impressed with my hand movements (i.e. charades) and want me to perform my break dance for the club as well. I think the worst part was actually going up to tell the team. I knocked on the Cannon’s door and they refused to answer the door (not hearing them clearly I later found out it was because they were not decent). While I stood at their door the Hedners, hearing the commotion outside and seeing the silhouette of a large man (glass in doors must distort the view and like a camera put 20 pounds on a person), got scared and Sue threw Lindsey to the floor to hide her. Finally order was restored when Stuart came out to check on things having mopped up his bathroom after another incident with the shower.
Last night was a more typical Romanian night. At about midnight the dog fight began. It only went for about 30 mins. Then at 4:30 a.m. the rooster started up. This was followed up by a train passing through and for whatever reason wanting to blow his whistle every 10 seconds. Needless to say my 4 hours of sleep set me up well for a long drive to Bran and Sinai. I think my sleep deprivation also affected my family. At 7:50 a.m. I ran into their bedrooms and told them they needed to be ready in 10 minutes for us to leave for breakfast. They all looked rather surprised but did a great job of being ready. I then checked my watch and realized it was only 6:50 a.m.
Today was a day to take the Romanian youth to two castles. The first in Bran which was the castle belonging to Count Dracula. The second was the royal palace in Sinaia. Russ prepped us for the trip by cooking pancakes which I don’t think the Romanians fully understand but do like. We then all jumped in the vans for the three-hour drive. About an hour into the drive one of the Romanian girls decided eating pancakes before a long drive wasn’t such a good idea and left them on the side of the road. Then about an hour later the internal bladder pressure had reached breaking point and we had to stop at a petrol station (gas station for the American readers). It was kind of interesting to see a quiet gas station suddenly get stormed by 33 people trampling over each other to get to the toilets. My wife won the race which I think was relative to the amount of internal pressure.
We finally made it to Bran castle which was fairly interesting but we didn’t see any dead bodies or heads or anything. Similar to a lot of us who may have lived in New York but never been to the Statue of Liberty or London and not visited the Tower of London or Houston and not visited … um … that famous place you would go to in Houston, several of the Romanians had never been to Bran Castle.
From there it was on to Sinaia. Half way back to Sinaia we pulled off the road to have sandwiches which Chrissie and Tiff had prepared for us. In the field next to us were a flock of sheep and a few dogs, supposedly sheep dogs. Well being the animal loving people we are, everyone started throwing their leftovers to the dogs. Suddenly pandemonium reigned as the shepherd tried to move the sheep along but now his dogs were more interested in free food and the sheep lost formation and were spreading out. No matter what he did he had lost control of his dogs. I think what brought back a sense of order was when Tiffany started throwing orange peel to the dogs. They were not interested and gave us that look that said “You’ve got to be kidding me”
Last year we had seen the outside of the castle in Sinaia but this year we had a tour inside. As we entered the castle we asked to put slippers over our shoes. When you have size 12 feet and are wearing hiking boots there aren’t many slippers that would fit. So I careful positioned a slipper over the tips of my boots making me look kind of like an elf but it had to be done. Then our tour guide took us around. I think there should be a rule that a tour guide needs to be over 5 foot tall. With a large group of people all I could make out was a voice coming from the midst of the crowd. I am not sure what he looked like.
Immediately after the castle visit we went down into Sinaia. On the way down we came across a Black Bear that Russ managed to wrestle to the ground and Katie stabbed to death with a pen. We took the bear to the restaurant where we had it hung on the wall and then decided to eat (see photos for proof). That's our story and we are sticking to it.
After a relaxing dinner we headed back to Puciosa and Stuart finally let Russ and I know that he had been racing us all day and that was why he was always in the lead following Alex who was in his car. Russ and I had just thought he really wanted to be first and so had let him go. Now if you are in a race it is usually good to let the other people know and now armed with the actual knowledge there was a race the gauntlet was down. On the way back home Stuart drove like a maniac to make sure he was in the lead. I then had to drop a Romanian youth off in Fieni and so fell to the back. Then Stuart had to drop someone off and both Russ and I passed him and he was in last place by a long way. Of course his van started making up rules as to why Russ and I were disqualified but again it usually is better to share rules with the other teams before the contest starts.
Well tonight most people have turned in for the night except for the bloggers and Damien who is getting some blogging tips for next year. Coffee and Papernosi (donuts covered with cream and a fruit sauce i.e. a sugar rush) are the key essentials for late night blogging. The tiredness is setting in even with our fearless leader. Russ is now falling up stairs in restaurants and has changed my family’s name to the Brittoners. Tomorrow is Church day – a long day in which you spend a lot of time having no clue what Niku is saying.
Philippians 2:4-7 - Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.
I am constantly reminded here that my life is not for me but for Christ and if Jesus can come and take on the form of a servant how much more I should be able to serve others.
Until tomorrow night.

P.S. We received a message from Nate to post more pictures. I can only give you 5 per blog but my real answer is "next year buy a ticket" :-)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fieni Visited and The Big Clean Up

Day 3 – Fieni Visited The Big Clean Up

As I got up this morning I realized I may sound as though I am constantly complaining but it is just that I try to see the light side of life and with my mind almost everything is funny. For instance, last night I was looking at all the bad things that could ruin my sleep - the mattress that is so firm it doubles up as a ping pong table; the pillow that is so fluffy that I had to roll it up to give some cushion to my head; the rooster that lives right behind our hut; the dying dog (or so it seems). And so when I woke up I realized that the mattress and pillow had not been an issue; the rooster crowing at 6:40 a.m. was actually a blessing because I had turned my alarm off and fallen back to sleep; and the dog did not make a sound. So feeling much better I jumped in the shower and the fun started again. The soap bars were so old they just disintegrated when you opened them. The shower was a stand up shower with a broken faucet so you had to hold the shower, the protection was a curtain that you had to put inside the shower “dish” (not quite sure what you call the thing you stand in), and so when the water is on the curtain blocks the plug. It really makes for an interesting shower.
As I walked up to the van I realized that my night had been absolute bliss as compared to the group sleeping in the main building. Starting about 10:30 p.m. the hotel had become a dance club. But luckily for them the noise only went on until about 3 a.m. Holly took it upon herself to go down and share the gospel at about 2:30 a.m. – well actually she walked downstairs to ask them to turn the music down. I can only imagine the bemused look on their faces as a teenager walks in and tells them to turn the music down because she wants to sleep and worse still she has to do it by playing charades because they didn’t understand English.
At breakfast this morning Russ created a Romanian Oreo - Nutella (a kind of chocolate peanut butter) in between two pieces of breakfast sausage - hey don't knock it until you try it which is why I will never knock it. After the morning ritual of devotion and breakfast we headed over to Fieni. For those that have been there you would be amazed at how much work Florin and Marian have done to the church. There is now a third floor and stairs up to the second floor. If there is any discussion as to whether there is a need for a construction team, discuss no more. There is so much we could help with.
From here we decided to work up a sweat by clearing the land at the church at Puciosa. They too have been hard at work and they now have the shell of a new building. As we cleared the land the neighbour, who is about 70 years old, decided to pick cherries except for the fact that his way of picking cherries was to cut the whole branch off. I tried to explain that you can just pick the cherry off by itself and then the branch can produce more cherries. But he would have any part of it. I tell you these old-timers are all about instant gratification. Part of our work today was to prepare the porch for the cement. This involved evening out all of the junk in the frame and then laying rebar on top so that the cement could be poured. Yesterday Damien had asked why he had not been in the blog. Since then he has made it a mission to be included. As he was carrying the rebar over to the porch he cut himself on one of the edges. After realizing that it was rusty metal and a few people joking about needing a Tetanus shot and my telling him that I would make sure he got back to the hotel room if he passed out, he decided to pay a visit to the local hospital. We may now have our Don Owens understudy. Luckily all was okay and no shot was needed. Just to make sure we do not have any more Don Owens incidents we have banned Damien from even thinking about driving over here but the extent Damien will go to, to get in the blog, is ridiculous.
If that wasn’t enough Damien is becoming the local target of photographers. As he and I were leaving a restaurant a teenager stopped and asked for a photo with him. Now obviously I thought they wanted me in the photo as well but the gentle shove away cleared that misunderstanding up. I think he may be okay now except for the fact that I told them he was Kobe Bryant.
On Friday night there was an outreach to the local youth for the church in Puciosa. In typical Romanian fashion the evening was very flexible. A few songs by the Romanians, an introduction of the team by Russ, a gospel presentation by Stuart and then Emily and Damien (third time he has been mentioned in the blog – is that enough??) gave their testimonies. And then Niku gave Sue the guitar to lead us in songs. Only problem was that when he played the guitar he had broken one of the strings. So in front of a large group Sue played a 5-string guitar while we sang. Then Niku advised that he had forgotten to order the pizza and so we had find things to do to keep the youth entertained. I personally liked the challenge of trying to play a guitar with 5 strings and so I got Sue to play another song.
We have just finished up our winding down time where we share some of our memories from this trip and from other trips. It seems as though Stuart has the same shower problem as me however he hasn’t quite figured out all of the ins and outs of managing the shower. He decided to try and balance the shower head on the tap while he shampooed his hair. The shower subsequently fell out of the shower and was spraying the bathroom while he happily worked up a strong lather.
Philippians 1:29 – “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
This was a verse from our devotion this morning (that our leader didn’t do last year) that I think Damien (fourth time today) took a little too seriously.
God bless you all. Tomorrow we head to the mountains.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 2 – From Bucharest to Puciosa

Day 2 – From Bucharest to Puciosa

Aaah – the joys of jet lag. Now admittedly I don’t sleep a lot back at home but waking up at 3 a.m. local time raring to go is not the ideal start to a day. Not sure whether it was the large fluffy pillow (photo included and yes, that is my iPhone next to it not an iPad) or the fact that Hunter’s and my room was literally 2 meters from the front desk and I could hear everything that happened in the lobby or the background thumping of dance music that punctuated the air until about 3:30 a.m. that gave me a relaxing night but by tonight I should be falling on my face as I try to post the blog. But I am thankful for the additional quiet time which allowed me to work on the devotions for the trip as well as my potential sermon for Sunday.
This year we have taken a more spiritual approach than last year’s leader and are doing a devotional every day and following a wonderful buffet breakfast we spent about 30 mins looking at the start of Philippians. This was also when I found out that Savannah had also left her bible in the US. Next time I need to explain that packing light doesn’t mean just bring clothes and an iTouch. After this it was a quick check out and on the road to Puciosa. Following our somewhat troubled directions from the airport to the hotel we put Stuart in charge of getting us to Puciosa. We only had one major problem getting out of Bucharest which was Stuart making a left turn from the right lane which both Russ and I had to follow. I am not sure the man Russ almost had to run off the road was too happy and it was probably one of those times we were glad we didn’t speak Romanian.
Getting to Targovista was easy but then trying to find the Romanian version of Walmart there was another story. We did an obstacle course in the vans through a parking lot with a very low hanging tree. We again asked directions from a taxi driver who made it about as clear as mud where to go. Finally we found a Penny Max XXL which was in fact a grocery store but never the clothes store. We actually found out that the clothes store was right across the road but I think we had faced enough shopping for one day (at least from a man’s point of view).
Arriving in Puciosa was great. We were met by Chrissie, Tiff, Solomon, Oana and Daniella. It was amazing how quickly we had the old relationships rekindled. This year we have a different hotel to start out in. The rooms are nice but I have a feeling tomorrow morning will be different. Right behind our “hut” there is a field of chickens and a rooster. Next door is a large apartment block where there is a dog that sounds like it is dying and then somewhere in our wall or roof there is a bird that might as well be in our room it chirps so loud. We shall see how sleep goes.
The photo of Savannah is for Izzy – please meet Oscar our newly found puppy.
Our activities for the rest of the day were lunch, exchanging money, volleyball, a devotional, singing, more volleyball, dinner, a debrief and the traditional wind down in a local restaurant. When we got to the restaurant they kindly set up a large table for us and then cranked up the dance music for us. Kind of took away from our time to talk but we did get them to turn it off despite Holly trying to break out a few moves.
So if you are wondering what kind of things we do and what kind of impact is made let me share two stories. In Puciosa they are building a new building for classrooms. Russ went out today to buy tools so that we can help lay concrete on Saturday. Not only will they get a concrete porch that could be built out as a new room but they get new tools. Second, Chrissie, Tiff and I went down to buy some groceries as we entered a child was outside who we are not sure is homeless but came to the VBS last year. She actually is dressed as a boy, we think to help protect her. Anyway when we recognized her, her face lit up. She grabbed for her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper on which were the details about the VBS this year. She treasured that paper because that was her ticket to come to VBS. She hugged us incessantly and asked me whether I was going to eat fire. It is truly a blessing to see these kids with a smile on their faces.
Okay to finish up let me make just one more observation. The grocery has a nice variety of food and household liquids but you can also get a moped, a TV and a chainsaw. I am not sure about the floor management but some sales rep has done a wonderful job persuading the store that a chainsaw next to the meat section makes complete sense.
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11.