Saturday, September 15, 2018

Blessed is the Dead-End Town

Blessed are the dead-end towns,
The places where beggars and mothers walk the same streets,
Where the man in designer clothes passes the man with no legs.

Blessed are the busy streets,
Where gypsies walk in colorful, glimmering skirts,
After girls in stained sweaters and torn pants pass unnoticed.

Blessed are the broken paving stones,
Across which people short and tall, rich
And poor, make their way, with no children or many.

Blessed is the dead-end town,
Where everyone who couldn't leave stays,
For this town has everything to gain.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

End of Summer Newsletter

Dear friends, family, and supporters:

Due to my having a blog, I have not been writing proper newsletters but now I understand how necessary it is to have a consistent way of keeping all my supporters informed. I hope you will bear with me as I figure out how to share everything that is happening with all of you.

I returned to Romania the last week of July, in time for language school. This was my third year attending, and I began and completed the B1 level over those two weeks. I succeeded in obtaining my certificate and I also walked away with a few good friends. I have already heard from Romanian friends that I am speaking Romanian better. It must have been all that practice with genitive and dative pronouns. Anyway, I am glad I attended while I was able to do so. I understand what a privilege it was to have that experience again.

When I arrived back in Piatra Neamț, I was able to focus on ministry and on obtaining my visa. I found the place where I could have documents translated, and I began to have each document translated and legalized.

In August, I helped out at a VBS at my church. I played with the kids, a handful of whom I knew from previous work with the orphanage. We had games, a message, and crafts. I helped clean up afterwards and then I attended a meeting for summer camp, for which I was to be a leader. I would also be participating in skits! The camp's theme this year was to be the will of God.

August was a full month. My friend Bas, who I met in Sibiu at language school, came to visit Piatra Neamt and we went on a few adventures. We took the Telegondola to the top of the mountain, we hiked down, we made our way to the lake, and I took Bas to church one evening. He wished he was staying in Piatra longer, but he plans to return.

Immediately after walking Bas to the bus station early on a Monday morning, I met up with my church to head to camp. Camp was an exciting, busy, and encouraging experience. Our days were full, for those of us on the leaders' team, and we worked hard to give the campers an immersive five days in our theme, the will of God. We had games, two small group Bible studies a day, apart from the main sessions in the gym, of which there were also two a day. We held our altar call on Wednesday, so that those who came forward would have more camp time after they gave their lives to Jesus, rather than sending them off on Friday night. And we did have several students talk to leaders that Wednesday night, which was such an answer to prayer.

We had been preparing for this camp for months, and seeing it become a success was wonderful. It is my prayer that the truths of God's love and all the blessings of a life lived for God will continue to soak into the hearts and minds of our young people. Camp is only a small chunk of the year, and I pray that the larger chunk of life for these teens will be lived with renewed hope.

A few days after I returned from camp, I was off again--this time to a YWAM Romania conference. I was seeking to meet people, make connections, and learn about evangelism from the speaker. And I did meet a lot of people, even making a few friends, and I learned about the necessity of evangelism. I also got to experience some great times of worship, during which God ministered to my soul and refreshed me. I think we all need worship that lets us catch a little bit more of a glimpse of the face of God. I left the conference with a renewed spirit, and even managed to flag down my bus before it left without me.

I submitted my visa paperwork to my church, and so now I pray and wait. Daily life is pretty normal. I'm still managing our social media presence. I've been tutoring Vasile in English whenever his work schedule will allow it. Last night I cooked fried chicken, a salad, and fried zucchini, and I only needed a little bit of help from Nadia and Joe. Next time I can do it all on my own, but man, who thought frying chicken would take so long.

I'm still living with Tante Lenuța here in Piatra Neamț. One of our girls is now living with us, after another girl moved out. I pay rent for the girl and myself, and I pick up household products when I can. I typically do my own cooking at home, but Tante Lenuța does love to make sure I eat and sometimes she cooks platters worth of food, so I'll indulge in her creations a little now and then.

I've also been tutoring one of our boys in English, since he has plans to do some traveling. He's made a lot of progress, and I'll see if he has memorized his Bible verse this week, the last verse of 1 Corinthians 13. He's able to read the whole chapter on his own and understand it.

All in all, this end of summer season has been a blessing, and in this place of looking back to the past, anticipating the future, and enjoying the present, I have so much to thank God for. And I thank God for all of you, who have enabled me not only to do the task at hand but to look ahead for what is yet to come, and that is so encouraging. So thank you, friends.

Much love,
Katie Hofer

Monday, April 16, 2018

Run, Ask, Seek, and Knock

This is my second post written from Baile Tusnad, Romania, where I am volunteering at an orphanage for Hungarian children. I've gotten more used to the activities here, the kids have gotten more used to me, and today was an especially good day. It was fully, truly, completely warm out, sunny, and so instead of staying in to watch music videos many of the kids came out to play.

A carload or two of children returned from Easter vacation today, as well, so it was quite the jamboree in the back. Kids shared roller blades and drew with chalk-like "sponge bricks," climbed on the jungle gym and kicked soccer balls.

Well, it was a jamboree but it was also normal life. One of the boys who was returning clung to his mother, crying. He didn't want her to go. He had two siblings and his father was an alcoholic who kicked out the mother and kids, and the mother had no way to provide for her three children. The boy cried for a long time.

Earlier, I had hiked up to a tower Pete, Eva, Robi, and a boy named Alex. We stopped to view the city from the tower but continued on past it, down a path I hadn't been down before. We adults talked about languages and explored a water collection facility that looks like a mysterious forest house. The last landmark we stopped at was a clearing on the edge of the mountain where two cell phone towers stood, Telekom and Orange.

Normally hiking is a special event, something I do occasionally, and because of this I'm never really prepared for each semiannual hike I go on. But today's hike was the fourth I've gone on with the foster parents and children here, and I felt like I was finally getting used to it. Usually I'm afraid of falling, but I pushed myself and didn't suffer any mishaps.
 
Paul tells us to run. "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it," (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Try anything enough times and it gets easier. Interacting with the kids became easier because we were outside, but also I think the kids and I were figuring each other out. It's easier to interact with little kids when language is a challenge, so I've been pretty chummy with the youngest ones. So that's probably why when the youngest girl of all returned, a five-year-old, she learned my name immediately.

This is remarkable because largely around here, I'm known as "the Romanian woman." In my normal territory in Romania, I'd never be known as Romanian. Though as in Baile Tusnad, sometimes even American visitors think I'm Romanian. Anyway, this little girl nick-named Gabitzi (gah-bee-tzee) took me up to the jungle gym and we played together on the slide, and I got some nice photos of her, too.

Later Kati, the firecracker, grabbed my hand as she roller bladed and took me with her this way and this, and I ran to keep up with her, camera and all. It felt good to do something, not just try to get by with Romanian or limited Hungarian or lucky English or gestures. I try to show love and affection to the kids, especially the girls, and sometimes they don't buy it. I understand. I'm just a visitor.

But I keep going. I'm not as exhausted by everything as I was in the beginning. I have four full days left, and I'm going to focus on being all in, all hands on deck, full speed ahead. I don't need to be perfect, but I do want to be present.

Matthew 7:7-8 tells us to ask, to seek, and to knock. "For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." This is one of those rare verses that gives us a specific cause and effect. We cannot receive if we do not ask. How can we find if we do not seek? And nothing can be opened if we do not knock.

While this passage is not a guarantees that I will receive, or find, or get an open door, these things are only possible if I try. We may rely on God for our daily bread but he does not call us to remain idle. We have a role to play.

Even though my time with Hungarian children proved difficult, mainly because of the language difference, I learned a lot and experienced something that will inform my future. God does not want any of us to give up even when things are hard, because if we do what we must, we may just win the prize. We may find our time was put to good use after all.

Thanks for reading. Please check out my Go Fund Me page to donate to my continued work in Romania with teenage orphans. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Growing Small in Baile Tusnad

Hello, it's me, and the day before Easter I arrived at the Carpathian Legacy children's home in Baile Tusnad. I'm still in Romania, but in a predominantly Hungarian region, ethnically, linguistically, and culturally. So if I'm a fish out of water being an American in Romania, I'm like, extra dry here in a place where I only speak a handful of Hungarian words and phrases.

How are you? Good. What is your name? Gentle, smart, beautiful. Thank you. You're welcome. Those already comprise a good deal of what I know. So why on earth am I here?

When I became a missionary, which I guess could have officially happened when I graduated from college or moved here, or maybe when I went on my very first trip to Mexico, I signed up for this: for putting myself in situations where I'd have to learn what was going on even when I really had no idea. Lately I've been praying God would just miraculously give me the ability to speak Hungarian. Hey, it happens to some people. The bright side is I'm feeling more secure in my Romanian. The grass is always greener.

So my point is, I'm used to being uncomfortable, to not totally knowing how to communicate. My purpose here is beside all that. My purpose is to be here for the children.

It's my third full day here, and I've seen what life is like, at least during the Easter holiday. A lot of kids have gone to be with whatever family they have, but there are still twenty or thirty kids here. These are the ones with no other place to go.

There's yelling, tumbling, tears, mysterious cuts and scrapes ("What happened to your knuckles?" I wanted to ask one older boy) and games played, movies watched, floors swept. Meal times bring everyone to one table, with schnitzel, bread smeared with eggplant spread (love this), sweet hot tea and veggies. It's still too chilly to play outside. I hope spring drags its feet over here, to the coldest place in Romania, before I leave.

I've learned in Piatra that I gravitate to the kids who are a little rough around the edges. Kids that are disobedient, awkward, maladjusted, desperate. I really try not to shower any children with more attention than any other. But to the ones who need what I have, I give willingly.

There's a little girl here named Kati. Yeah, like a Hungarian form of my name. She's nine years old and small. At a young age she didn't have much food, so now she's always the last one lingering around the table after meals, chewing on a piece of chicken or bread. She used to eat so much she'd make herself sick, so the caregivers try to watch her.

She has other behavioral problems, too. She whines and requires more attention than her house mother, Eva, is able to give her, with eleven other children to care for. Today Kati was given multiplication problems to solve, to get her to focus and sit still. I tried helping her with them, getting her to add two to four, two to six, two to eight. She would wind up with the wrong answer, somehow between the abacus and the numbers on the page, even getting a number smaller than the one before.

I bonded with Kati on Easter. She snuggled up to me on the seat as we all watched TV. Then she painted my nails white and glittery. Today before math Szende, an older girl, Kati and I played monkey in the middle. Szende speaks pretty good English and she's incredibly sweet, a laugh always at the ready.

I'm trying to spend time around all of the kids. The language barrier is tricky. Some kids just don't know what do with someone they can't actually talk to. So it's taking some creativity. I use photography as much as I can, but the kids get tired of having their picture taken. I have a lot more time to play and get to know these kids, the ones with no other home, and I'm hoping I can make a difference with love, with patience, with God's help.

There's this quote by Shane Claiborne that I've been reminded of, which goes like, "We grow smaller and smaller until we take over the world." As a missionary I've learned how to be small. Maybe I've taken it for granted, but working in small ways, in unconventional ways, is where the difference is made.

Got to go. I need to do something like play thumb war or throw a ball around.

Thanks for reading! To donate to my mission work, check out my GoFundMe.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Family of Love

We had driven for less than ten minutes when Nadia got the call. The foster family who has become the mother and father to three of our Next Generation girls would not have access to their cabin, meaning the two parents, three girls and their adult son would have no place to stay. Within minutes Nadia had arranged for the family to stay at our girls' apartment, with a key ready and clean sheets on the beds.

The day before, Nadia and Joe had been called to the rescue of another family of some of our girls. The oldest sister in the family had stabbed her abusive husband in the leg twice with a knife. Joe and Nadia had been called to search for the sister but found everyone at home, including the husband who'd been stabbed, who had gotten out of surgery and left the hospital.

Crises like this come to us, through our extended connections with the young people we have seen grow before our eyes over the years. Most of the time, we are able and willing to offer a place to stay, visit people, feed whoever walks through our door, give advice, drive when needed, and generally help out our extended friends, who we consider as family. This is the Love Revolution in action.

If we lived selfishly guarding our resources, not sharing our space, time, and money, we would not be living out our purpose here in Piatra Neamț. We protect our own, but "our own" is continually expanding and while we try to focus on the traditional Next Generation (the kids we've been with all along), new sheep keep wandering into our fold. Sometimes we even seek them out. And so we learn to love, and all that comes from real love: generosity, selflessness, patience, dedication. 

We are a family of love. We know that Jesus truly cares about the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoners. We know because Jesus doesn't just love them, he identifies with them. If you've seen them, you've seen him. If you've helped them, you've helped him. And if you haven't helped those in need, you haven't helped Jesus (Matthew 25).

Our family is all around us in Piatra. And you are our family, too. Those of you who follow us and keep up with what we do, you're in this, as well. No one gets blamed when things go wrong, but it truly is everyone's responsibility that dinner gets on the table, that we can afford bedding and toilet paper, and that we can keep being this unconventional family of love.

Please prayerfully consider financially supporting us. You can do so at this link. Happy Easter!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Moldova

I'm excited to tell you that I got to visit Moldova at the end of February. I got to travel with Joe and Nadia and Alin, which was better than being alone on a bus, which I could have done in going to Moldova. Plus I love road trips in any country.

We had to make a trip to Moldova because my permis de ședere was expiring, so I needed to leave Romania on the last day and re-enter the country the next day, to begin a separate stay. I could have flown somewhere; I actually considered spending some time in London. But I was short on both time and cash, and I have few if any connections in London, so we decided that an overnight stay in Moldova was best.

Joe, Nadia, Alin, and I got into the Ford and headed for the border. We drove through the city of Iași on our way there, stopping at a Lidl to pick up some snacks. We bought donuts, cookies, chocolate, bread and salami and cheese for sandwiches (and mayo) and Nadia found a pair of leggings for ten lei. Fueled by sugar, we continued our journey to the border, as I read more of the book Everything Belongs until it got too dark to see.

Just as it was getting dark, in fact, we reached the border. There was a line of cars waiting in the cold, as passports and vehicles were inspected before each car was released. Eventually it was our turn, and Nadia got out of the driver's seat to hand the passports, permits, and other paperwork over to the border officer.

However, things did not go according to plan.

Nadia was made aware that the paperwork for our vehicle was no good because the car was three months past the expiration of the necessary inspection. In other words, the Ford was overdue for a full evaluation and these border officers could not let us pass through the border because our car might have some defect or something. In addition, we would now be required to pay an excessively high fine.

The four of us must have hatched a dozen different plans for how to get me across the border before midnight and back in Romania the next day. I could walk across, wait in a store, and walk back. But the border patrol would not have let me do this on foot and besides, it was literally freezing out. I could try to catch a bus from Iași, but it was too late for that; no buses would be running. The border patrol suggested we hop in a car belonging to some of the people around us, but Joe didn't think it was a good idea for me to get in a stranger's car to cross over to one of the world's hot-spots for human trafficking, leaving me to try to figure how to get back on my own with no way to call with no cell phone service.

What we decided to do was this: Drive halfway from the border back toward home, and meet Andrei in the Zafira, which after a lengthy phone call, Nadia determined had up-to-date papers and would therefore hopefully be allowed to cross the border. The trick would be to do this switcheroo in time to cross the border before midnight.

We drove back through Iași, and I made sandwiches for us with the items from Lidl. We were all getting sick of the many sweets. Despite the stress, we were optimistic. If this didn't work, I'd have to pay a fine and cross the border in this way on a different day. I decided to see if we could do it.

Lo and behold, we met up with Andrei and Vasile in the other car. We jumped in and stopped at the same gas station we had just stopped at in the other car, probably confusing the guy behind the register. Then we hurried back through Iași and on to the border.

Well, after much praying and planning, we made it! We crossed the border into Moldova with twenty minutes to spare. There was a little confusion once we got into Moldova, because my passport was stamped four times, somehow, while everyone else's was just stamped once or twice. We decided not to let this hang over our heads, and we found a hotel to stay in.

Nadia and I took one room with two twin beds and Joe and Alin took the others. In the morning, there was a knock at the door and while Nadia remained asleep, I groggily opened the door to see no one until Alin and Joe jumped out from either side of the door.

"Please don't do that," I mumbled. They were both fully dressed and must have been tired of waiting for us girls. After Nadia and I got ready and we checked out of our rooms, we all had and early lunch at the restaurant downstairs.

After meal of greasy spaghetti, questionable cream of mushroom soup, and authentic Moldovan dumplings, we headed over to children's foster home we knew of in the country.

When we arrived, we found a young couple named Vlad & Carolina Pogor, who were now responsible for all the kids, though most of the children we at school at that time. But there was a little girl who was barely out of her toddler years, sleeping and cuddling with Carolina, who was actually her mother.

We talked with them, and had tea, and heard all about what they've been doing since they replaced the previous caregivers. There was some work done on the house, which we toured up and down, to make it a more enjoyable place to live. The kids began coming home, and Nadia brought out the clothes that she and I donated out of our own wardrobes for the girls and women to wear. We also gave them food, before saying out goodbyes and heading back out on the lonely, gray road.

Next stop: check out the best inexpensive goods Moldova had to offer.

We bought bags of cookies left out in the open air, softened and stale with age. We then headed to the center of town, the fish market. I found Russian black tea and a bottle of peach iced tea with the brand name of Biola, my alma mater. Then we headed back out into the gloomy, colorless day to return to our home country.

 I am still trying to get a visa. In the meantime, I'll be here in Romania until April 20th, stay in California for three months, and then re-enter for three months, if I still can't get a visa.

I'd appreciate your prayers, for words from friends, for whatever you'd like to offer. Of course, I am also perpetually fundraising, so you can help out at Go Fund Me. Thanks for reading, friends!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Assignment

Yesterday Nadia gave me an assignment. I was supposed to go spend time with Monica, a young woman back in town on a break from her university. I'd briefly met Monica several months prior, but hadn't gotten to know her much. Nadia suggested getting a soft drink with her and then cooking dinner with all the other girls at the apartment. I was glad for the chance to do something sort of fun and new, so I put my shoes on and headed out.

When I got to the other apartment, Monica wasn't there, so I messaged her and waited for a little while, as she was out and about in town. Soon she returned, and we headed to the Centru, which has a nice bakery with many tables. We both got cokes and sat down.

As I'd been asking her about as we walked, Monica is going to university in a nearby city. She is studying music theory*, which I found interesting. How does one get involved in such a field? I failed to ask her this question, as I wasn't sure how to phrase it in Romanian, but I found out that she found her major difficult. She also told me there weren't many other people earning that degree. We had taken to using Google Translate to aid us in our conversation. I asked her what she liked to eat and she told me potatoes, rice, maybe some others...she just didn't like meat very much. She isn't a vegetarian, just not that big a fan of meat.

It was good to talk with her. Monica is an extremely gentle person. I tried to encourage her not to worry about what other people think. I feel like I'm similar to her, especially the Katie of the past. I was very quiet and shy and didn't speak up because I was sensitive and was extremely aware of other people's negative (or even just complex) reactions and got hurt easily. It's only now that I'm really seeing myself for who I was: a person who thought I had to read people's minds in order to communicate. Sometimes reading minds pays off, but mostly it's exhausting. I wasn't like this 100% of the time, but you get the idea. It might be because in certain areas of my life, I effectively was, in fact, expected to predict precisely how someone would think about everything, from the time I was a child. Some lessons are hard to unlearn.

Some people always say, think about the other person. And this is good advice. But no one should be obligated to read minds. It ends up messing with your own head.

Monica and I finished our cokes and went back to the apartment. She took a nap and I went out to browse in Humana, which is like Goodwill if Goodwill had two stories and a security guard at the entrance. In Romania. I've been trying to not spend much money on clothes, but I decided to buy a big sweater and a sweatshirt, since winter isn't going away anytime soon and my old sweatshirt is, well, old. Nine bucks for both.

I returned from Humana, inspected the food items in the kitchen, and decided to make a vegetarian version of my nameless potato concoction. There was meat but it was all frozen solid, and since Monica didn't much care for it anyway, I decided to make do without. After she got up from resting, we began cooking. No one else was going to help cook or eat. Half the people had sensitive stomachs (can't eat potatoes! can't eat onions!) or were leaving. So Monica and I continued to enjoy our time together, just us. She is very good about washing dishes.

We ate quietly, having talked so much earlier. Monica suggested I turn on the television. I put it to something with Romanian music videos, and without saying a word, Monica slipped away to her room after only one song or maybe two.

We can't rely on other people to make us into who we should be. Parents try to make their kids into good people, responsible people, successful people. Maybe this lulls us into expecting that if we do as others wish, we'll become better people. But it will only drive us in circles, because people will all expect different things from you, and especially the things that are bad both for them and for you. Growing up means stepping outside of the cycle and taking care of your business using your judgment, the judgment you have acquired through all of your experience and reliance on God.

What we try to teach our young people here at Next Generation, alongside love for others, is independence. Maybe those seem like conflicting goals. But they're not. There is a way to love others while walking your own path. It's not easy. We struggle with it often. But that is the way to peace, and to sanity.

Thanks for reading! Hope it made sense. To donate to what I'm doing here in Romania, please click here.