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!