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

31 May, 2007


Just thought I'd check in and say I am safely stateside, if that is safe. People here are crazy, and I think we drive too much and too fast.

My plan seems to be working. My body feels, I think, like a Chattanoogan's (if you don't know what "plan" I am referring to, read back a few entries).

A thought occurred to me as I made my way through the Frankfurt airport for my connecting flight. I was walking up to ask one of the desk employees there is I was at the right gate, and as I approached her I began thinking, "How do I ask this question?...Can I ask this question?...What response do I expect?" Of course, there was no need to go through these steps because in an international airport, they speak very good English. But I realized that for the last nine months, I have been going through this process every single time I have opened my mouth to a Romanian. I think it is part of what makes me so tired aver there. Three or so times the mental work to say anything and everything.

I had lunch with my mother today. Sweet tea. Extra lemon. Ice. Free refills galore. Incredible. I did not realize how much I missed that.

Preparations for the wedding (my sister's, not mine) seem to be sufficiently stressful to convince me that I am glad I have not been here the last six months. Additional stress: a death in the family. My mother's uncle died two nights ago after a pretty fast and steep decline. God's timing seems inconvenient at times, and often stressful, but I believe it is as perfect as the rest of His works. "This, too, is from the Lord Almighty, perfect in power...."

Coming soon- The Sound of Music: A missionary's delightful duty

29 May, 2007


[for those of you just tuning in, I am on a blog-posting roll here, trying to stay awake until 5 for reasons mentioned below]

I just spent four days at a camp for Outdoor Ministry Training. I went for a couple or three reasons. I figured I would get a chance to practice my Romanian a good bit, for one. I also really like the couple who ran it. They are Germans who have been living here for 10 years with their three fairly young children doing children and student ministry, primarily, though camps. I have gotten to know them a little and respect them as much as anyone else I have met doing ministry here. I guess another reason was purely selfish, that I thought it would be fun. I think I accomplished all of the above and more.

What I wanted to say, really, though, was that the thing was actually run by a group from a church in Seattle, good folks, whom I hope to meet again here in the future. Seattleans, I think, are different sorts of folks than the rest of us, and I think I have a lot of misconceived notions about them. They are not cooks or hacks or any such thing. They are actually pretty normal, if you broadly enough define the word, and they love what they do. They were: a bread baker, an REI employee, a missions pastor, a recent retiree, and a guy named David. Anyway, it seems that whenever I meet other believers from radically different cultures than my own (like Romania, Seattle, New York), I am challenged to rethink the non-negotiables of my faith and to consider what is actually essential. I get the same from reading Anne Lamott, but I won't go into that right now.

Anyway, it seemed to me that the Seattleans threw the word "story" around a lot. Probably as much as people in my circle throw around the word "worldview." But it got me to thinking about my "story," or my life as narrative, I guess you could say. So. Sitting on top of a rock one morning, looking at taller rocks across the gorge washed in morning sun, I think I had an epiphany about my story. It is one long narrative lived between unbelief and disbelief. In spite of all the obvious spiritual applications I could make here, I will illustrate first with an account of the night before.

40 people in the woods has never been my idea of a good time. Yet, that's what we were. We had also brought along a bunch of heavy food, way too much in my opinion, and...horror of horrors, we did not bring any tents, only Wal-mart type tarps. Remember, I did NOT come on this Outdoor Leadership Training course to learn anything. That was never one of my objectives. You all know, of course, that I have nothing to learn about the outdoors, especially with Romanians, in Romania. So, with that fact established, I had every right to be grumpy (inwardly...I was perfectly civil outwardly, of course) and sceptical. I threw my hand in at putting up one of those silly tarps anyway, because I had to, I guess, and then one guy came up and changed my idea around. He wanted to build an A-frame instead of my architectural masterpiece.

The food was bad. We forgot salt for the instant mashed potatoes. We cooked over a fire (gasp! uncivil), and got the pots a filthy black (I was responsible for carrying one of those pots down in my backpack. What if my backpack got dirty on the inside? Everyone else seemed to be oblivious to the impending disaster of it all. I couldn't figure out how they could be so blind. Sure enough, the thunder began shaking the rocks under us at 2.42 AM, and the first raindrops fell against the side of the tarp. The wind was, I knew, laughing at the stakes I had whittled out of pine branches to "secure" our tarps as it whipped against the plastic. All I could think about was how hard it is to dry out a down bag and how heavy a soaked sleeping bag is to carry down the mountain.

And then the change came. I do not know what it was, but it was a different spirit at work within me. From somewhere in the quiet between thunder stomps against the gorge walls and the continual slap of our frail tarps in the wind, I first remembered that Stonewall Jackson claimed to have felt as safe in his saddle as in his bed [some missionary...doesn't think of scripture for comfort...]. The thought lingered that I should get up, pack my sleeping bag so it would not get any wetter, and just sit out in the rain until it stopped. I reached down and felt my bag, though, and it was completely dry. As I lay back, and the lightning continued to flash, I began to think that maybe this storm was not a surprise to God, that maybe there are a couple of places I could think of in scripture where He seemed not to think that storms were all that big a deal to control. I felt, secure...even happy. Or maybe content is a better word. I began to enjoy the storm. I drifted off to sleep before the storm ended, and I do not remember having a better night's sleep in the woods.

In the morning, when I awoke, I walked around the yet unstirring campsite to see not one tarp unsettled, not one pool of water gathered under any of them. People seemed to be sleeping comfortably. The tarps had held, as I am sure they had countless times in the past. Unbelief to disbelief. "I do not believe this will work" to "I can't believe that worked!" That morning my Bible reading took me to Matthew 27, the account of Christ's betrayal and crucifixion, and the account of how the disciples responded to that. Looking back through the gospel accounts, it seems that there are a number of places where Christ tells those closest to him what is going to happen to him. Apparently they did not believe him. Even the on the night He was betrayed, not only Peter said he would never deny Him, but all the disciples said the same. All the disciples then scattered when Christ was actually apprehended. Unbelief. Peter even took his sword and cut off the ear of a servant (why?). Unbelief.

How would the disciples have acted differently if they had believed the truth of what Christ had been telling them for years? We know how they would have acted, because we see how they do act following Christ's resurrection. They are bold. They get beaten, happily, for His sake. Every single one of them, except for the exiled John, is tortured and killed. How often, though, I wonder, did the disciples say, "Can you believe this? We get to go preach in the synagogue...we get to preach before the Sanhedrin, we get to preach before Roman guards, Ethiopians, the emperor himself." And then later, "Can you believe they didn't kill us? Can you believe we escaped? Can you believe that guys is preaching the gospel now?"

I find myself also asking, "What would my life look like if I really believed in the resurrection?" How different I think it would be. As with the disciples, it would affect the way I loved people and the way I loved God. It would change the type of people I am attracted to. It would change, I think, the way I approach serving God. I would be free. Hebrews says He has freed us from the one who has the power of death, the Devil.

I am going to end this long entry now.


For those of you following. I have all but canned my attempt at a newsletter tonight. Maybe I will go home and pack some and do the thing tomorrow. I actually like writing them. I think everyone should have to do it. But now seems not to be the time.

I should say that the time I have spent since school ended has been mostly out of doors. After the last exam, all of my students,

their parents,

Darin (here's another picture of him),

and I

headed out for a hike in the mountain range for which our school is named. It was a nice hike. Great weather. We stayed at a cabin that was built by ethnic Germans in the 1920s. My team leader (boss), was actually born in Romania to Saxon parents who left under communism after many hard years. There still are some Germans, but many of them left when they could.

But our time hiking was a good time to be in a beautiful setting, remarking almost by the minute on the glory and majesty of the Lord, then realizing that He had been equally glorious and majestic in His provision for us during this school year. He has created each of us, students, teachers, parents, administrators, in His image and called us to be a part of His work.

If we take seriously what Colossians says about Christ's being the image of the invisible God, and if we bear Christ in us as new creations, if we have taken on His nature, then we ourselves are far more glorious, and far more lasting that any of the creation we see when we look out of our windows here or even when we gaze out from 6,000 feet.

28 May, 2007

school's out for summer

It is now almost eleven. Six hours to go until I go to sleep and begin pulling off my master jet-lag solving plan. Perhaps I will perform one blog for you each hour. I also intend to finish a newsletter while I am up and thinking about it. I also discovered that gas stations here have iced coffee in their refrigerator sections. How perfectly delightful.

I also need to grade the exams that my students finished. Last week. I am little behind on that but have some good excuses. One of them is that my good friend Darin, pictured here,

broke his foot in three places yesterday. I will not tell his story for him, but I might later give him a special feature on my site so you can get all the details. One word we really don’t want to hear here in Romania is “operation.” In fact, we have a team slogan: We would really like to avoid a trip to the hospital. In addition to this, in light of a couple of recent accidents, we have decided to institute a team policy against doing stupid things. We believe this will revolutionize life for us here.

Back to the exams, though. Here is the thesis for Katy’s paper. “Animal Farm and The Great Gatsby show that the glorification of the One creates uniformity and the overvalue of the many creates chaos, therefore true unity is found only by following the model of the Trinity, a balance between the One and the Many.” A comparative paper on Animal Farm, Gatsby, and Henry Krabbendam’s Covenant College lecture notes for his Christian Doctrine class is not exactly the kind of paper I was writing as an 11th grader. I was just trying to write what I thought the teacher thought was the right answer.

I would also like to include an excerpt from Abi’s and Daniel’s final writing projects. Daniel was basing his off of some Annie Dillard stuff he had been reading, and Abi was after more of an Italo Calvino effect.

Here’s Abi’s…

Letters blur. The page shifts in and out of focus. The room dims. Slowly, you realize that you are fighting pirates on a hidden island. The sun glints off their golden belt buckles and earrings. You hear the clash of metal against metal and groans of wounded and dying men. The nauseating smell of sweaty men and rum soaked clothes almost overpowers you. Gasping for breath, you fall upon the sand and cower underneath a hulking pirate. You try to scramble away from the advancing Spaniard but stop suddenly when your head cracks against a palm tree. Something scratches your back. Thinking it’s your stiletto, you reach back only to find a two inch long tag rubbing your back. Recognizing your defeat, you humbly beg pardon from the pirates and ask them to stop and wait while you crawl out of the book to get the tag from your shirt to stop rubbing the back of your neck.

You look around your room. The open window lets a breeze come in and play around the fichus trees that line the wall. Your great-grandfather stares down at you from his gold frame on the terracotta wall…

and here’s Daniel’s…

I look out on to the sidewalk of water with the poles on each side guiding the fish as they walk together at night. The water rushes up onto the shore and onto my feet, then rolls back into the water, crashing against the stumps and poles that in my mind are the park benches and water fountains. The poles run out into the sea, leaving a path of water in between them where the fish, crabs, and most of the time, the spearsman lurk around. My feet are enveloped by sand, like shackles. I cry for help in my mind because I cannot get out. The bright light from the sun then comes and blinds me, pulling me back into reality, where I am not stuck at all.

You can also check out my students' photography at this address:

the wayside

For any of you still out there, who maybe swing by and check this thing on your way to more promising sites, thank you. I realize I have fallen by the cyber-wayside. I have gone the way of probably 97.47 (according to recent surveys) per cent of bloggers who started their own sites in the last two years.

In an effort to motivate myself to be amore regular blogger, I am going to stop putting the pressure of posting something brilliant (as if any of my past entries were) and focus on a casual relation of facts, thoughts, and observations. Other bloggers have tried to solve their problems by changing blog servers or domains or whatever it is...I cannot so easily fool even myself. I am simply changing strategy, staying one step ahead of my apathy.

Here is my plan. I leave for The States on Wednesday morning at 2 AM to fly out of Bucharest at about 6-ish something that morning. A brief layover in Frankfurt and I will be on my way home to the sweet sunny South. It is now Monday night at 10:23. I will stay up for another 7 hours and go to bed around 5 AM. That's about 10 PM Eastern time. Then I go to sleep for a very reasonable seven hours or so. I awake at 1 or so in the afternoon, do a little packing. Do a little shopping. Tidy up around the place and maybe go for a run. Take care of last minute business. My ride to the Airport comes at 2, and I stay awake for the whole ride down. I stay awake, very important, all the way until I get on the plane in Frankfurt. From thence I will sleep as if it is midnight or so in the States and I have a night's rest awaiting me. Pay no attention to the stewardesses serving peanuts, biscuits, trays of packaged, carefully preserved aluminum food. Sleep. Sleep because that's what decent people do at night. Never mind that the sun has already begun rolling along its diurnal course and is burning through the same clouds through which you are flying. You have shutters for this very reason. You wake up in a few hours, "with the chickens," (*nota bene: chickens are no longer allowed on international flights according to FDA and PITA, I imagine, regulations) and wait. When you get off the plane, it really feels like 2 PM. You are ready to go eat at the OK Cafe on your way out of Atlanta. After all, you have been silently turning down food on the flight for the last 8 hours or so. Wake up! Welcome home.

Great blog entry. Gimme five.