Romanian Grace

The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon. -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem

30 November, 2006

another Magura ascent

My latest and greatest ascent of my favorite mountain. Sorry for the length. I need an editor.

I went hiking with a couple of gypsies the other day. I had met them in their community, called Malin, way out on the outskirts of town, of course. I don’t know how it came up, but they both said they could make it to the top of the Magura in one hour, which I thought was a pretty impressive feat. I had made it myself in about an hour one time, but I was running, and I did not think that was their gig. So we arranged a time, 1:30 on Wednesday, and they would meet me in the middle Malin.

“You will bring some meat,” they said. I agreed that I would do so. All of a sudden I was not just their hiking buddy but their pack horse as well. I could see where this was going, but I can seldom pass up an opportunity for a good hike, especially on this beautiful, local mountain.

So. At 1:30 I was in their village, and they were nowhere to be seen. Doamna Mariana, the mother of one of these guys and the village matriarch had apparently been alerted of my arrival and came out to greet me. Not much gets past that lady. I told her I was looking for her son, and she sent this little boy off to find him. A crowd began to gather around me as I stood there with my pack on in a white t-shirt. Everyone else was wearing a jacket, but I had been figuring on staying warm while hiking.

There I stood, catching about every tenth word that Doamna Mariana said. I did not want to seem a total dolt, so I said, “It sure is a beautiful day.” Her son, Claus, showed up (he must be in his thirties or thereabouts) and she yelled at him to change clothes. I have no idea why he needed to change clothes for a hike up the Magura, but I was in no position to question Doamna Mariana. Her son located, she then turned her attention to finding Dan, my other hiking buddy. He was in his house, from whence he soon came out with his three year old son latched onto his leg crying that he, too, wanted to go.

I don’t think either of those guys thought I had any real intentions of actually showing up the day we made the plans. They figured, I guess, that I was just being polite. I think they wanted to back out, but I don’t think Doamna Mariana would have let them. They would have been publicly ridiculed, and perhaps beaten up by her. As we snuck away from Dan’s son, whom Doamna Mariana was distracting for that purpose, I told Dan that I had brought fleica (fatty pork), slanina (smoked pig fat) and ciucas (a popular sort of energy drink in Romania), but that I had forgotten the bread. I think his enthusiasm for the hike improved tremendously when he learned of my provisions. He said he could round up the bread, which he did upon ducking into their local general store, and we began our ascent.

What really amazed me was that, as we went, the only direction they really seemed to agree that we should go was up. I am not convinced that they had been up the mountain in some time, but I tried to keep my mouth shut. They were, after all, gypsies, renowned for being quite savvy in the woods. We passed a couple of folks, a goat herder and a lumberjack, on the way up, and they made sure to tell each of them, “We are hiking up to the top with our friend, FROM AMERICA.

We crested the mountain in a little under an hour, but were still about a half mile from the true summit. I guess they got me on a technicality. In theory, that was the top, but only in the same way as sitting on top of your house qualifies as being on top of the world. But we made it to the top a while later, though Claus contested that where we were was just fine. The actual summit was beautiful.

At that point, I proudly pulled out my camp stove, thinking, “Man, these guys are going to be impressed.” Dan began cutting up the fatty pork and the pork fat, and I demonstrated that he could cook it in the pan I had brought along. And it was doing a pretty good job, I thought, but when Dan finished the first batch, he said to Claus, “Let’s start a fire,” then indicated that I should turn off my stove, that we wouldn’t be needing it anymore. Once we had a decent fire going, Dan emerged from the woods with three green branches he had shaved down into points on the end, cut some slanina and slid it onto the stick, followed by a chunk of fleica. Then it was rotisserie over the coals. The outside blackened and liquid fat dripped out and burst into flame. Dan pointed the stick toward me and motioned for me to try it. I felt like a caveman pulling the hunk of meat off the stick he offered to me. Char clung to my fingers. It was one of the more delightful bites of meat I have tasted.

As if the spits didn’t feel primordial enough, what Dan and Claus did next cinched it. Picking up the remainder of the meat, which was probably a half pound or so, they smoothed the coals out with a stick, then carefully laid the fleica right on top of the coals. They would then pick it up about every two minutes and turn it over, flicking off the coals that had stuck to the underside. In that manner they cooked the remainder of our meat.

We ate until the sun had sunk behind the distant mountains, then scrambled to gather our things so we could make it down before dark. I had thought about bringing a flashlight along, but I did not want them to think I was a wimp, so I left it at home. Turns out they would have thought it was pretty clever to have some light for our descent, which became treacherous only for the last mile or so. I am pretty sure we were not on an actual trail for most of the journey down.

Thus ends my sixth Magura voyage to date. More to follow.

27 November, 2006

Thanksgiving Romanian Style

All in all, a pretty good Thanksgiving. You might call it untraditional, but that seems to be the norm around here these days. We started up the Magura (pictured here) at about 10'30 AM on Friday. No Romanians seemed to notice that we were celebrating the holiday a day late, and the day turned out to be much more beautiful than the real Thanksgiving Day. We all bore packs, some more full than others, and there really was minimal weeping on the way up under such burdens. About two hours to the top, and we were putting the finishing touches on the meal, most of which had been prepared, but my trusty MSR Pocket Rocket (that's a stove) did the trick for the veggies: zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, onion, and garlic, plus a lot of butter, which is tradition enough for me. My Aunt Barbara makes maccaroni every year with at least two pounds of butter. Once all the noodles are gone, there is enough melted butter left in the dish for a (very) small child to drown in. Seriously. But I still got my fix up there on that mountain. The rest of the food was pretty standard, and here is a picture of the spread. So, what am I thankful for? I am thankful that God has not just called me to serve Him in Romania, but that he has provided for me abundantly along the way. My needed financial support came in and continues to come in while I am here; I have joined a team that is glad I am here (I still don't think they have all the facts yet); I teach students who love the Lord and who love to learn. They actually seem cheerful when they walk in in the morning. I am constantly encouraged by them, and they have made this, by far, the best job I ever have had. I can even thank the Lord for the elements of my life here that are difficult, like being away from my family and such on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can have a tendency to be lonely when away from family and close friends, and this holiday season could become a sort of apogee of despondency, but I am trusting that the Lord will teach me more about loving and depending on Him and on those whom He has provided for me here. He promises to only have good things in store for His children, even things that do not look all that good to us. On another note, my sister...who is ENGAGED as of Thanksgiving...will come for a visit before Christmas. That will be very nice, as she will be the first familiar face I will have seen here for four months or so.

Parting shot: a poster for the movie "8 Below"

language barriers

My mom told me to ask my French neighbor, Benoit, about some good names for her next French poodle. I had a hard time conveying the meaning of "French Poodle" to him, so I drew him a picture to clear things up. Strangely enough, he still didn't know what I was talking about.

22 November, 2006

Ireland-Romania Update 6

Every once in a while, I like to update people back in the States, or wherever, on what's going on over here. Not all of them read my blog as faithfully as you, dear friends. So, here is the newsletter I sent out today.

Ireland-Romania Update

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Two weekends ago I went with some of my team Ed and Emily Hartman, and three of their children: Abi, Daniel, and Katy, to a nearby church. It was small and tucked away at the end of about seven dirt roads. I couldn't get there now if I wanted to. When we walked in, the man I assumed to be the pastor seemed very happy to see us, greeted us all, and motioned for us to sit down on the front row. The conversation went something like this:
Pastor- We are very glad to have you today. Ed, you will preach, won't you?
Ed- Well, I do not have a sermon prepared, but I could greet your congregation...
Pastor- You can have the whole preaching hour. [He then turns to me and says]- and you...
Me- My name is Nicholas. Good to meet you.
Pastor- Fine. You will teach also, for ten or fifteen minutes, to the young people. (I looked around and saw no one under fifty in the whole place).
Me- I don't think you want me to do that. I am not really a preacher.
Pastor- Ten or fifteen minutes. Fine! [He then addresses all of us (the Hartmans, their three children, and me), saying]- and you will sing a song for us today?
All- You REALLY don't want us to do that.
Pastor- Yes, of course! We would love for you to sing for us.

Well. We wound up singing "Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing", and when we finished, he just looked at me and gave me a nod that said in any language, "You're on." So on I went. The only notes I had been able to scribble down were the words, “magnet on fridge,” which I had marked through twice. After delivering the message through a translator, I did not know quite how to end, so I said, "That's all," and scuttled to my seat. I have never heard a sermon that ended with, "That's all." I am glad most Romanians have never seen Looney Tunes, or they would immediately have thought of Porky Pig at the end, when he says, "Abdipabdipabdip...that's all, folks!"

All that to say, the Lord worked mightily just to get me standing up there and to say anything remotely intelligible. I am not the most "together" guy I know, but I do like to prepare a little before speaking to crowds. I have since been called on to teach twice with no time to prepare, so I am learning to appreciate what I was told are the two most important words for a missionary: BE FLEXIBLE. But I think there has been another, greater benefit to my being compelled to stand up and to teach on that particular passage, where Paul describes the reality of his and all Christians’ daily struggle with sin. After Paul describes his struggle and his wretchedness, he goes on to say, "There is now NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS."

I don't know about you, but as a missionary (remember, servant of God and all that), I think I am supposed to be above petty sins; I am supposed to have this Christian thing sort of figured out; I ought to be nigh on perfect. One of my mom's friends said I am an angel on loan. See? Actually, most missionaries are just like that, but as for me, I’m with Paul.

So. I am learning how to respond when confronted with the reality of my sin, disobedience, and failure. To where do I run? Or, as the psalmist writes, “Whom have I in heaven but you, O God?” (Psalm 73:24) To whom do I run? To the Father who will not nor cannot condemn us. What if I totally fail as a teacher, a friend, a son, a missionary? No condemnation. What about when other people condemn me because I have disappointed or hurt them? No condemnation. What about when I condemn myself for giving into the same sins again...again? No condemnation. What about…. No condemnation.
Pray that I will be well acquainted with the Father's love for me, that I may go out and love others graciously and generously.

-Romanian Holiday-
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. The plan is to hike up the Magura, my favorite little mountain in Romania, as a team and have our dinner up there. Problem is, weather looks rough, so we are changing Thanksgiving to Friday instead. The thing is, no one here will even know. They have no clue what Thanksgiving is. I love living in a foreign culture. I decided to write this newsletter before Thanksgiving because I may be out for a few days afterwards. I do not know how many pounds of food and cooking utensils we are going to lug up that mountain, but it might hurt. You should be able to check out pictures from it on my blog site ( after the weekend.
Pray for me and our whole team this holiday season as we are away from our family and good friends.

Here are an additional few ways you can be praying for me right now. Last week I asked several of you to join me in praying that I would be able to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t know why, but it was just really really hard for me to get up. I have to be at school at 8:30 AM, and I was barely making it some days. I tried to rule out any possible diseases: malaria, bird flu, African sleeping sickness, Lyme’s disease…and I finally came to the conclusion that it has a lot to do with the stress of living in a totally foreign environment. It wears on a guy, I guess. Much of it goes unperceived, perhaps, but it takes every ounce of my concentration just to catch about 10% of what a Romanian says to me. Reading signs, going to the grocery store (see blog site); all these things add up. It was also a good reminder that I need the Lord far more than I will usually admit. Praying for his help in opening my eyelids and getting my feet on the floor reminded me that it is always and only by His Grace that I do that anyway. ( have made it up by 7AM two days this week).
Pray for my continued awareness of my dependence on God and for my general endurance and well being.

I am aware daily of my need to speak the language. It is a long and slow process (as any learning process must be for me), but one that is well worth working towards if I am to really minister to these people.
Pray that both I and my language teacher, Cati, will be patient and full of understanding during this process.

Those of you who know me are aware that I am pretty scattered. I could be a better teacher (the job I am called to do here) if I could come up with and adhere to a schedule and an organizational system, but to do so feels almost impossible for me. My innermost being repels anything that stinks of structure.
Pray that I will get my life in order!


Nicholas Ireland

That’s all, folks!

Bill Boyd

The link below is where you can access some sermons of Bill Boyd's, a pastor in Austin, TX who can really "bring it." Unfortunately, the one on Romans 7:15-8:4 called "Free to Struggle" is no longer posted. It has really meant a lot to me over the last few weeks here in Romania. No condemnation. If I could just believe that every morning when I opened my eyes. Alas and alack, I am sure the others are all up to snuff.

If it doesn't look like a link you can click on, just copy it and paste it in the address thing up top.

20 November, 2006

Who does this guy think he is?

...and where did he get his car?
(You can click on the image to enlarge it).

17 November, 2006

and I wonder why I'm tired

Okay, I have been here for twelve weeks and have gone to METRO, the big Sam's-type store here numerous times to buy groceries and other essentials (like a snowboard last week). But I had never had the courage to buy meat there and was, consequently, mostly vegetarian when I would prepare food for myself. There is nothing wrong with their meat, it's just that I could never be sure what it was I was getting. Sure, it looked enough like pork chops, or chicken, but then it would be right next to something unidentifiable, and I would begin to question. I would walk away from the meat section and look for the packaged yoghurt.

All of this changed on my last visit. They had just revamped their meat section, I got excited, and was thankful I was pushing a cart because the floor was slick and I nearly ate it right there in front of the butcher. I caught myself, looked around to see if anyone saw, and found myself staring right at a pig butt. They had pigs half frozen hanging right there, out in the open. I touched one and it was firm, a little squishy. I wanted to start punching it and singing the Rocky theme song. I continued my circuit of the meat room instead. I was amazed to find ground beef and bought a big pack of it. It looked pretty good, nice and red, without much fat. So I tossed it in the cart, grabbed sime chicken breasts, and moved on to the yoghurt.

Now, that was about a week ago, and I decided to thaw the meat today and noticed what the package said. The label read "carne de manzat." I have no idea, actually, what manzat is, but it is not the word I know for cow. I left my apartment with it and asked my neighbor, Silvia, who was on the stairs at the time, what it was. She had some difficulty explaining it, but soon someone else walked by and they had a discussion about what it is. I simply asked, "Is it COW?" "No, no. Not cow...." The man answered. He assured me it was not cow (cow must have been the only English word he knew, and he knew that was not what I had in my hand). I said, "Sheep?" Silvia said, "No." Goat? No. I was running out of options. Silvia said, "I think it's cow. Good bye."

Oh. That was comforting. I took it over to Darin's place, and he typed the word into his computer dictionary, and we think we got an answer.

It seems as though I had picked up horse meat. I could not believe it. I definitely could not eat it. Darin assured me he had bought the same stuff a while back and that it tasted a lot like beef. We were not eating horse. Incredulous, I called my boss and asked him what it was. He told me it was ground beef, no question. I told him to ask the Romanian guy he was with just to be sure. Sure enough, cow. Supposedly young cow, but cow all the same. Maybe under 20 years old.

I was relieved, I guess. Opening a pack of meat, though, should not add so much stress to my life. I am a chicken and veggies man from here on out.

09 November, 2006

on the street where I live

Most of you who might be looking at this site (I don't think there are many of you out there) have no idea about where I live. Now is as good a time as any to acquaint you with the neighborhood.

My apartment is one floor up to the right of the entrance. This is Block 8, Scara B. We are in the final stages of a pretty major facelift. If you don't believe me, scroll down and check out Peishpe a few shots down. That's what this place used to be like. Yeah.

...and here is a shot of the Magura (pronounced muh-goo-ruh), my favorite mountain to play around on, ensconced in evening clouds. I took this from my balcony. The buildings you see in the foreground are part of a huge old paint plant called Colorom. Everybody calls it Horishima now.

03 November, 2006

frisbee team Romania

A couple of shots of the local disc-ophiles. A friend of mine told me he saw the kid in the red jacket begging at the train station the other day. That was one of those "real world" moments for me.

Check out the kid in the blue hat about to throw through the legs. I don't know where he got that. He sure never saw me do it.

...and...bunny ears? Is that one of those universal things kids do in front of cameras?


Here is a picture of the snowy scene from our school balcony. Do you see the little snow-covered lean-to just behind the wall? I see a fire burning back there most nights. It seems that a family lives there. The apartment block you see is called "Paishpe," which simply means "fourteen." That is where most of the kids the kids who show up to throw frisbee live.


I have internet access again. It took three days of calling the internet guys to come fix it before it started working, and they still haven't shown up. God answers another faithless prayer. So, for those of you who have given up on me...shame on you...and I hope you have not given up hope entirely. My mom thought I was dead.

It is snowing here. What began with a few flurries last night turned into a steady fall of large flakes stopped by the time I rode my bike about 1 mile accross town to my apartment. It picked back up today and has been swirling downward for the last few hours. I was planning on hiking across one of the taller mountains here this weekend, but I think the winter has caught up with me. As they say here: "Iarna vine" (winter comes). The only unfortunate thing is that, snow as it may, we will never have snow days. Either the kids will be able to make it down here, or I will wind up lugging their books up the hill to their house. On the brighter side, though, we have built in a snowboarding day, so when we have a nice big snow one night, we can have school on the slopes (read: I get schooled by a 12 year old on the snowboard).

If you know me, you know that I am excited about this change in the weather. It has come pretty suddenly, as I recall having a couple of days up in the mid seventies last week. But the time has fallen back now, and the days get too dark to see by 6 PM. I guess cold weather comes with that increased tilt away from the sun. So it goes. What is unmistakeable, though, is the truth that I am in the minority here. In fact, there are Romanians here who homes don't have roofs or floors, whose walls have big chinks through which the wind blows, and so don't even bother closing the door. They are concerned with survival. I would not survive.

Please pray that my team here and I will seek the Lord's wisdom and strength to meet the impossible needs that are all around us. Pray that, as we do so, the gospel will be proclaimed in word and deed.