Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fire Refines

I have been in Romania for well over a month now, so I decided to dedicate this post to some updates on how I have been doing, to document some changes as I have been adjusting to the cultural differences. I spent a good chunk of my college life learning about the differences between cultures, how to adapt to them, how to work within a foreign culture to share Jesus in the most effective way, and how to really just figure out how to survive while on the field. Those classes and lectures were beneficial but there is really nothing like being thrown into the middle of a country halfway around the world. So what is it like?

First things first: my level of tolerance for being grossed out has increased. Whether it's petting stray animals, using the men's room in an emergency, picking and eating fruit that is somewhat dirty (or may have a worm in it), drinking from a well--you just figure out that there is a reason that we all have immune systems. And guess what? I haven't gotten sick at all. I'm just as healthy as I usually am in the States (and much, much healthier than when I was in India). I know many Americans would be hesitant to do a lot of the things we have been doing, like climbing over fences and eating with unwashed hands, but when you are regularly doing these things, you get used to it. And anyway, aren't fences built to be climbed?

Another change has been taking shape in the way that I speak. Yes, my Romanian is improving, especially my comprehension of it, but there has been another, unexpected alteration. Sometimes I speak like English is my second language. The funny thing about viewing English as a tool instead of as a default setting is that you begin to notice all the deficiencies of English. There simply are not enough acceptable ways to use English, like in order to phrase something in the best way possible. English can be awkward, so as I have learned from Nadia and all the other people I have met who are basically fluent in English but not native speakers, why not use English in your own way? Let me try to think of an example..."If you get more creative with English you can sound more uneducated but at least you can say exactly the kinds of things you want to say." Or something like that. I know that since I have been here my English has changed but unfortunately I usually forget exactly what it is I say now that I never would have said before.

Perhaps the biggest change has been that I am becoming more comfortable with people. Talking with people, attempting to communicate in nonverbal ways, touching and being touched by people, living with people--these all sound like ordinary things that are experienced on a daily basis anywhere, but it's all magnified when you're in a different culture. It amazes me how love can be communicated regardless of what language you speak. Yesterday, we arrived at the center to pick up the kids to take them to the monasteries. "Katie, Katie!" little Daniel called to me. He ran up to me, but then started calling my name again, as if I was hiding somewhere and he was trying to look for me. "Katie! Unde Katie?" He ran off to the side of the center, climbed a tree while still calling for me, and shook the branches, as if I might fall out of them. There's something special about being called for, searched for, sought after, even if it is just a silly game. Sometimes love catches you by surprise. I don't feel like I've done enough to warrant the acceptance I have received. But that is the very nature of love.

One last change--I am eating a much larger variety of things. I have eaten 95% of the things that have been placed in front of me. The remaining 5% constitutes 1) mushrooms and 2) certain kinds of cheese. I used to basically be a picky eater, when I was younger. This was partially because at home, I ate the same types of things over and over again and, especially when I was a small child, I didn't like sauces or certain textures of foods. I feel like now, however, I have reached the point of fearlessness in trying new foods. And I have liked the majority of things I have eaten, like ciorba (Romanian sour soup) and polenta, Joe's jambalaya and Kendra's potato soup. So much good food.

Each period of my life has been like a different sort of fire. High school really sucked, but it refined me, and then college also sucked (most of the time) and that was like a new fire, and I was refined again, and then India happened, and then I lived in Raleigh, in the best fire yet, and I was refined again and after that I really felt like I was beginning to shine. Romania is the newest fire yet, and although all these things might sound trivial, like the parts about drinking from wells and eating soup, they add up.

"Refined, I'll become the most dazzling, precious treasure. I'll be treasured over all the earth." -Flyleaf, "Treasure"

But it's really not about me. I still pray I can be content with my role in the story. Because it's not about me. Some (and perhaps, most) of the stuff that happens in my head and in my life I can't share on this public of a platform but I hope that by giving you these glimpses into my world that you will be inspired to let God lead you on your own adventure. Let the fire refine you.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Wishful Thinking

A few days ago Joe, Nadia and I set out on an all-night road trip to Bucharest to pick up Nadia's friend Karolis from the airport. They both studied at the university in Poland together and have continued to be friends. Karolis is from Lithuania and aside from Poland Romania is the only other country he has now been to.

But we began our road trip the right way: by stopping at Lidl and picking up a bunch of unhealthy snacks, like two kinds of paprika flavored chips, Haribo gummy bears and sour gummy bears, some bananas, and bread and sausages for a more substantial meal. We indulged in these provisions as we drove that evening, me enjoying being in the backseat while trying to write something worthwhile. I eventually wrote a poem about how we were passing field after field of dying sunflowers, their heads browning and drooping down as if they too hated that this was their end.

I love car rides. I love driving, too, but being in a backseat gives you a freedom to get lost in your thoughts without worrying about navigating or driving safely. "I like the peace/ in the backseat/ I don't have to drive/ I don't have to speak/ I can watch the countryside/ And I can fall asleep." "In the Backseat" is one of Arcade Fire's more underrated songs. Anyway, I didn't fall asleep right away, and this was a good thing because we made our first stop alongside the road to stretch and there was a grand surprise waiting for us.

We had scarcely gotten out of the the car when a small gray and black striped kitten appeared out of the brush. It wanted to take shelter under our car but obviously this would have made it difficult to leave so I shooed it away from the car and eventually got it to let me pet it. Nadia and I pet the little kitten and I even picked it up. It had some stickers in its fur but otherwise it was not dirty. We could not see its mother anywhere. Nadia fed it a sausage so that it would stay away from the car and we got back in. I wish we could have taken that cat with us, rather than leaving it by the side of the road. But Joe is allergic to cats, so that wouldn't have jived very well.

We continued on our way into the night, listening to the radio and looking out the windows. I noticed that I could see a lot of stars. Like, a TON of them. I could see more stars than I had ever seen before, which struck me as odd, that I have lived 24 years and done somewhat adventurous things and never witnessed a sky full of this many blazing stars. I immediately recognized the Big Dipper, which I had never done so easily before. It was right in front of me, and so clear. Usually all I can find is Orion, because of his belt, but I couldn't see him at all. We pulled over to the side of the road to get a better look. Joe was looking one way and I was looking the other, and then Joe saw a shooting star. I turned around and we waited for another one, and sure enough, we saw a faint one fly past off to the left. But I saw it! My first shooting star...I think. I can't remember if I've ever seen one myself or if I'm thinking of all those movies (it's a good thing I'm writing this stuff down or I'd forget everything). We got back in the car after seeing that second shooting star and we were driving away when I realized I hadn't made a wish yet. I made one quickly (did you really think I'd tell you what it was?) since I figured there must be some sort of 5 minute grace period for making wishes on shooting stars. Hopefully.

We got to the airport and Nadia and I went in to wait for Karolis. He arrived and we took pictures. It was early in the morning, so we were all tired and met up with Joe, who had been sleeping in the car, to head home. I sat in the front passenger seat and fell asleep for a little while while Nadia and Karolis talked in the back and Joe drove. The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, and we arrived back home at about 5 am. But what a great time! Playing with a kitten, seeing a shooting star and meeting Karolis. Good things do happen after midnight.

If you'd like to see some pictures of our other adventures and of the kids, check out my Facebook albums! Thanks.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Seek Me and Live

I haven't written an introspective post in a while, so I felt that I was overdue to produce something of relative depth and insight. I guess we will see if this piece lives up to that hype, but let me begin: in the middle of what I am doing here in Romania, where is God? In the day-to-day, what can I tell you that will show you how God is working? I have realized that many missions can be wasted in the doing, in busy-ness. What am I doing here of importance?

Long-term missions is a different animal than short-term. There is less frenzy, less frantic buzzing from place to place, doing VBS here and then rushing to visit the elderly and then build a library, and on and on. Long-term missions has two focuses that differentiate it from the short-term. These are 1) language learning and 2) doing life with people. If you are seeking God in these things, then your faith seeps into both areas. You learn the language to tell people about Jesus. You do life with people because preaching at them can only be done, really, on Sunday morning by one person in the church in their language. Telling people about Jesus and preaching are two different things, and you can do the former successfully through, yes, doing life with them just as well as if you preached to them (perhaps even better).

So the nature of both language learning and doing life is that they take time. Lots and lots of time. That's why it's called long-term (no surprise here). I can't produce a list for you of the people I have converted while in Romania, but I can show you pictures of children, of teenagers that I have loved and I hope that this will be enough, but for some people I know it won't be. If I tried to tell my testimony to one of the kids in Romanian all they would be able to understand is "Jesus" and maybe the word for "death." So I am learning the language, slowly. I think I have "I'm thirsty" down and of course the word for ice cream, among other things. But it takes time.

Where is Jesus? Does he approve of what I have done so far? What we do is both fun and draining but I think that this is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would really be into. Feeding teenagers, getting to know them individually, and on a deeper level, finding out where their hearts are. No one else is doing this ministry in this city, maybe not even in the surrounding areas. Why are we here with these kids, living life with them and messing around? I think it's because Jesus said these kids are worth it. They are worth flying halfway across the world for. They are worth all my struggle to learn this language and adapt. Jesus is worth it.

"Seek me and live" is the one phrase I have underlined in the entire book of Amos (you can tell I'm extremely thorough in my exegesis). But really, Amos 5:4 contains a nugget that reminds me of all I need to do to survive, no matter where I am. Seek God. Seek Christ. Wherever you are, whether you can speak the language or not, whether you are resting or trying to convey to your supporters that this is in fact Jesus stuff, that God is moving, that you are growing closer to the children and after all it has been less than a month of ministry, seek the Lord. In the seeking, living becomes possible.

Yes, even when I am in the country of my dreams, doing missions like I always wanted to do in Romania since I was fourteen years old, I feel like it is not enough. It's enough for me, but I suppose I worry too much about what people think of what I'm doing. Maybe it's because I spent the last year working 2+ jobs that had concrete results, deadlines, responsibilities and expectations. This new gig is very fluid. I have time to read my Bible and edit photos, more time than I thought I'd have. I worry that if people saw what I'm doing, they would want me to produce results. Conversions. Miracles, even. How many people have I healed? How many mountains have I moved? Isn't that what missions is for, moving mountains and performing signs and wonders?

God is in this. And I have seen miracles in my own life that would have convinced me of his presence if I hadn't already been completely convinced. God loves these kids and I won't give up on them even if I can't speak Romanian, even if they follow the world and even if no one else believes in what I am doing. I won't give up until God redirects me, if he so chooses.

I'm sort of an open book. I really don't know how to tell any story other than my own. Sometimes this is extremely irritating, like when every poem I produced for my poetry class was autobiographical. But I believe God has given me a story to share as I seek him and find my life in the process. I am very glad I get to share this story with you. You are indeed a part of it.

Much love and care,

Thursday, August 18, 2016


On Tuesday we took a bunch of kids to Club Next, our new building across from the zoo, in order to clean it up. And man, did it need it. A big part of the job was also cleaning out this shed that was full of a bunch of junk, and I was proud of the kids for not being completely grossed out by it.

Among the items we found as we cleaned: old tires, empty bottles, old clothing covered in filth, an agenda hearkening back to 1987, a good sized bag of human hair clippings (!), old pens which Gabby happily confiscated, spiders, wood, bricks, a TV, and plenty of other stuff. Ciprian found a five lei note inside an old purse, which was probably the best find of all.

All this cleaning took a few hours and we got a lot done. I'm still confused about the bag of hair we found but I'm slowly recovering.

Yesterday I went with Nadia to the center, and with a few girls (Gabby, Elena, and Valentina) we walked to their school so that Nadia could request that allowances could be made so that a few of our kids could come with us to the Black Sea at the end of the month and let them take their math test at a different time. Nadia was stunning in a flowy white dress and must have made a good impression because the administrators she spoke to did in fact allow the students to take the test at a different time. I didn't fully realize how important this was until we walked out the gates of the school and once we could talk freely, everyone started tearing up. It was suddenly clear how much this trip means to all the kids. I can't wait for it.

Today we went to the center where Nadia was cutting hair for a bunch of kids and just hung out in the big room. I played chess with Mutu. He beat me in 2 minutes at first, but then he went easier on me and I actually stood my ground during our second game, although he was still victorious in the end. Then I played foosball with Daniel and the other younger boys, which was a lot of fun, only I had to be careful not to impale any of them with the poles. We also played with a tennis ball, which made things more exciting because sometimes the ball would jump out of the table.

Daniel is a very interesting kid. He's friendly and agreeable, but wants to get his way and can be trouble. He's ten but looks like he's seven. He knows my name and there is something about him that prevents me from being angry at him, even when he refuses to share. As he gets older and his cuteness wears off, he'll have to learn how to play better with others. I played catch with him as Nadia finished her fourteenth haircut of the day and then we left to get a late lunch of pizza. Nadia left the bag of hair clippings in the large room, to be thrown away later. So at least there was one less mystery to be solved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In the Forest

Last Saturday, those of us here at NGC, or Next Generation Capital, took a bunch of kids to the forest. It took a few trips back and forth to bring all the kids over but it was definitely worth all the trouble. We had a blast! Just a low-key day of adventuring, grilling and playing. Let me give you the deets.

When we first got there, the younger boys scampered along the little creek that flowed by our campsite. We had a few balls, a soccer ball and a volleyball, at least, and these would inevitably find themselves bobbing in the water down below, but there was always at least one little boy willing to risk life and limb (or at least soaked shoes) in order to retrieve it. I sat with Kendra and two of the older boys, Claudiu and Stefan, and we just sort of relaxed. I tried to practice my Romanian and not say something stupid like "este pace."

Next came different activities. Some kids would play sports, some would begin grilling the food, and my team and I went out exploring. I got the right team. Our assignment was to pick leaves of various plants and bring them back the way real explorers must do in the rain forests of Borneo. We found plenty of specimens and, ahem, other things, like an assortment of used prophylactics on the forest floor, to the entertainment of the older boys and to my dismay.

We returned with our more innocent finds and found rows of pieces of chicken already being prepared for the grill. I really like Romanian food. It is always consistent enough to never surprise me, and I like that. Chicken, potatoes, sausage, bell peppers, bread. We all ate until we couldn't anymore. It was pretty great.

After this we played games, or, rather, most people played a dodgeball-like game and I just watched because I didn't want something to happen to my camera (one of the drawbacks of being official photog). Then we decided to go for a walk before leaving, so we wandered down the road and we began throwing rocks at poles because what else do you do in the forest? Ciprian's aim was the best and soon rocks were breaking into pieces upon hitting the concrete pole. Then we casually made our way back to camp, and began loading into vehicles.

I don't really care much about or for Woody Allen, but he did say that 80% of success is showing up, and I think that sort of applies to our day in the forest. I wasn't required to orchestrate some complicated competition or micromanage anything. No one was. Yes, the adults had to do adult things, and I took pictures and made sure not to completely forget everything so that I could write this, but we were all there to have a good time. And if there is anything that kids need, especially kids with few parental figures in their lives, it is adults who can just be with them and have fun. This isn't rocket surgery. It's just doing life with kids. And 80% of the time, if you just show up, you'll make an impact on a kid's life. And that is worth everything.

One kid I am especially sweet on is Costel. He's absolutely adorable and I can't wait to see how we continue to grow as friends. Being with kids like him in the name of Jesus is the whole point of what I'm doing. Maybe I need to remember that everything else is a bonus, just icing on the cake. Telling you all about these kids that the Father loves is a good thing. But being Jesus to them would matter even if no one knew. Some things are just that important.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Rainy Daze

I was pleasantly surprised to wake up today (before 6 a.m., for some reason) and find that a cool, cloudy day was just beginning. I love days like this, when the sky is overcast and it constantly looks like it could rain at any moment. We see far too few of them in inland Southern California. I got sick of the rain in Raleigh, when my job required me to stand outside for hours at a time in almost any weather. But this morning the gray was a welcome sight.

I got to stay inside during the morning hours, so I read some of Wild and wrote the first poem I've written in a long time (not for public consumption). But then Nadia and I drove to the center to pick up some girls...we had been about to go on a walk but it started raining so we decided to go on a tour of PN (Piatra Neamt). We stopped at Club Next and then ate at McDonald's, and then went back to Club Next to chill and so that Nadia could cut the girls' hair.

The girls were Andrea, a softly outgoing girl with straight, light brown hair and a ready sense of humor, Gabby, who is impossibly sweet and whose smile lights up her face, and Elena, the quietest but who really seemed to enjoy herself when I let her play with my camera. They all had their hair cut by the incredibly talented Nadia while I watched people pass our club outside, when I wasn't taking pictures.

 I was glad to get to spend time with just a few girls so I could really get to know them better. Short term mission trips tend to like to work with as large a group of children as possible, but long term missions allows for more focused attention among many kids over time. I am also finding long term missions is more relaxed, less stressful (at least in some ways) and gives me room to do my own thing. There really is a lot of freedom here, to do what I am led to do, and to try out new ways of doing things. Like, how the heck do I engage teenagers whose language I don't really understand, both literally and figuratively? It's all trial and error, I suppose.

The girls got great haircuts and I had a chance to continue to think about the future, which is becoming something I've been thinking a lot about recently. Thank God I'm living in a safe place with people who care about me. It's a better living situation than many I've been in.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed the photos! 

Monday, August 8, 2016

My Brain is Full

How is it possible for life to change so much over the course of only a few weeks? I suppose I should have expected drastic change but there are some things you can never prepare for.

The kids I've gotten to hang out with are classic teenagers, though maybe more self-sufficient than American teens. They are happy to chill on their own in the apartment on their phones and laptops, in the dark. I tried asking them if they wanted the lights on but they didn't understand, so I turned the lights on, asked "Bine?" but they evidently wanted them off so I flipped the switch back (I had wanted to read a book in the living room with them but I just listened to my ipod instead).

Speaking of ipods, music has been a godsend since I've been here. It's like medicine, sonic therapy. It really has helped me process the changes I've been experiencing. It's like there's an encyclopedia of emotions and circumstances in the palm of my hand, ready at any moment to assure me that I'm not so alone.

And I haven't been alone. It's like I've become a part of a family. Okay, not even "like," but a real family. Joe, Kendra and Nadia have welcomed me in so easily that there has been very little difficulty in adjusting to living in the apartment. Often I just chat and get to know them, go to the grocery store with Nadia, wax theological with Joe, reminisce about Sibiu with Kendra. This is my fifth living situation in two years, what with college and moving to Raleigh. But this current situation is very good. I have my own room, thankfully. That always helps, I've found.

We went to church yesterday. It was three hours long, which is a tad longer than I'm used to. But it was broken up into songs, Scripture readings, and little sermon snippets instead of one long sermon. I read some verses I chose (Psalm 51:6-8) and sang with Kendra and the pastor, in Romanian. At least I've learned how to pronounce Romanian words, even if I don't really know what they're saying.

Nadia made sarmale, or cabbage rolls, for us and the kids we took to church, so we had a great lunch. One kid ate four ears of corn, including mine, which I hadn't finished. After they left, Ciprion came over and we all hung out and watched several episodes of Stranger Things before going to bed.

I've tried out my Romanian throughout the time I've been here, saying dumb stuff like "pentru tu" (instead of "pentru tine," or "for you") when giving a girl at the disabiilty center a flower and I was trying to say "it's peaceful" but I just said "este pace," or literally "it's peace." But the kids seem to make out a lot of what I try to say in Romanian. Success!

You might be wondering what the first paragraph of this post has to do with any of the rest of it. What, exactly, is so hard about being here? Everything I've mentioned is manageable. Nothing incredibly difficult. Learning Romanian for ten days was a challenge, but I'm used to school stuff. In short, the changes and developments create a new set of concepts and feelings to think about. I've been doing so much thinking and praying. But these new developments are very, very, very good.