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

29 September, 2007


We spent several hours as an entire team yesterday going over team documents, visions, strategy, and the like. In retrospect, we forgot to address the following. The reminder would have been good for me, apparently.

Unofficial team motto: "We'd really like to avoid a trip to the hospital."

Unofficial team policy: Don't do anything stupid.

I have once again managed to violate both of those at once ( I guess they often go hand in hand) and explore the inner workings of the Romanian health care system (which, for all its FREE).

I now have a cut above my left eye that will turn into a scar that will match the one over my right eye quite nicely.

28 September, 2007

limba si cultura

After going out for pizza last night with Darin and a few of our Romanian friends, several of us entered in to conversation about Romanian culture. One asked the question of us, "Besides language, what is the hardest thing about living here?" Darin answered well concerning lack of community, which I could have mentioned myself, but as I thought of it, a different answer occurred to me. "Learning Romanian culture," I said, "is much harder than learning language, since there really aren't any books from which to learn it." They were puzzled a bit about this and asked for examples.

This is a difficult thing to describe to people in the culture that stresses you out because you really don't know exactly what it is that's different; it's just everything. Our friends do not have a good understanding of American culture, and we definitely do not have a good understanding of theirs (and I doubt I ever shall completely).

I began to think of examples to give them.

...I don't understand why people have cookouts right off the shoulder of major highways, wearing their thong bikinis and Speedos.
...I don't understand why I can be at the grocery checkout with four people behind me and the lady tells me my sack of flour is busted. She asks me if I want to go and get another on (on the far far end of the large store), and I say yes. I really hurry because I know all those people waiting will be angry. I get back and it seems that no one is frustrated in the least. They seem to be standing patiently. No one minds waiting in lines here. Meanwhile, out on the road somewhere, Darin will be driving through town. He will stop at a traffic light. When it turns green he will be yawning, say, or looking at a billboard. If his pedal is not to the metal within .4375 seconds, people will be honking and screaming at him. I think we are consistently impatient in the States.
...I do not understand the concept of reciprocation that seems to prevail here, which says that if I am invited to your house, I must bring something with me and/or I must invite you over to my house (even at great expense) in the near future.

There were others. But it seemed like our friends had answers, justifications, for all of these. What I was finding difficult to express at the time, though, was that I do not really know protocol for any situation, which is incredibly tiring and stressful. When I go to someone's house, I don't know what is an appropriate length of time to stay, what you do when there is a lull in the conversation, whether to take my shoes off at the door or not, what to do if they insist that I keep my shoes on. I don't know what is funny to them, what I should laugh at, what I should do if I think they said something they thought was funny but I just didn't get. I don't know whether it is polite to ask ages or inquire after children or whether to bring up sex, politics, and religion.

It may not be that things are all that different here, it is just that I don't know whether they are or not, and it is difficult to ask, I have found, because most of us have not thought deeply about our cultural practices.

19 September, 2007

and on a personal note

Just bought a plane ticket to Dothan for a brief visit with the uAg before heading (together) to the Global Missions Conference in Atlanta. Any of you out there who either love missions or think you might and have a free weekend Novemaber 16-18 ought to attend.

I enjoyed my time in Dothan and all when I lived there, but I never thought I would like the idea of going back quite so much. Funny.

like going to the lake

Let's just say nothing is as easy as it seems. We had this science experiement for Abi and Daniel today. It is great. They are supposed to grow bacteria by collecting pond water into four different jars with different stuff in them (egg yolk, rice, dirt, grass). I had a perfect spot picked out, a beautiful body of water not far from here that might be a flooded rock quarry. I have run past this geographic feature numerous times, and I was sure it was the perfect plan.

After days of building up the "big bike ride" to my students, preparing them for steep hills, rocky terrain, aching muscles, burning lungs, and the like, we took a fifteen minute ride across a potato field to the quarry. We stashed our bikes in waist-high grass and headed for the water's edge. Problem. I had never noticed the twenty foot wide creek separating the road from the pond. Nowhere to cross, it seemed. What to do. We rode around for twenty minutes or so looking for some crossing. We were so close. There had to be a bridge or something. Nothing. So...

10 September, 2007

around the neighborhood

So, this guy was welding pretty much all day long, and I never saw anything actually chage except the number of empty beer bottles next to the car. I don't even know how they got the car in that position in the first place, but my guess is that it required at least ten guys.

And here is sweet Dina (pro. Dee-na), one of the most precious little girls I have ever met (and I have met quite a few).

09 September, 2007


look closely

07 September, 2007

the post office

Lucky for all of y'all out there who like reading all this stuff, I seems to have misplaced my journal. So now I write most of my thoughts to you (and the uAg).

Here's what a trip to the post office might look like if you were living in Romania. I have made a habit out of going to the post office lately in the interest of staying in touch with an unnamed Amercan girl (uAg?), about whom you will certainly hear in subsequent entries. On this particular day (rainy...shared a cab ride with a neighbor from the block; also, bit of tendonitis in my knee from overdoing it on a recent run, and my computer in my satchel with the letter to be sent, strap over by shoulder but under my jacket, on account of the rain), two gypsy kids I have seen before were hanging around the entrance. I had seen these kids before in the center of town (which is not all that far from the post office), when my friend, Darin, bought them some sweet bread one night...which could preciptate a whole other story, but I am working on staying focused in these entries. You can tell my efforts are mostly in vain.

So the kids apprroach, and I tense, not because I feel threatened, but because I never know quite how to respond. As a general principle, I do not give money out, neither here nor in the States, and frankly, this day I really didn't want to be bothered by their hunger (how inconsiderate for them to be hungry and in my way). So, when they came up to me and asked for money, I said...not right now. Of course, I made a mistake there. If I wanted to say no, which I think is a perfectly valid response sometimes, I just had to say it. Instead, the girl responded, "When?" "Not now." I pushed my way into the post office. They followed me in. When I went up to the counter, I had business to do. I had first to figure out how to say all the stuff I wanted to do, then I had to be understood by the lady behind the glass (I hate talking through that glass), then I had to understand all the stuff she was going to say back to me. This is true of almost every interchange I have in Romania. I go to bed tired and wake up tired most days. The kids were watching my every move. I was having trouble concentrating on the very important tasks at hand, so I turned to the girl (who is much bolder than the boy) and said, "Wait a minute." They went and sat by the door and waited. I was amazed.

Back to the task at hand. I had to pay my gas bill, buy a bunch of envelopes, and buy all the stamps to go along with those envelopes (the uAg gets lots of letters from me). I didn't really know what postage I needed for those envelopes, so I had to figure out how to get that across to the lady, and I had to figure out what she was telling me in reply. After we had arranged for the gas bill to be paid, the purchase of ten envelopes plus all necessary posatage, I came out about ten dollars short. Dang. Could this get any harder. It's always nice, though, for the Romanians, many of whom think that every American is Bill Gates' close relative, to see me come up short on money. We halved the number of envelopes and stamps and I got out of her hair.

I sat down next to the gypsy kids at the table in front of the room to address the envelope and put the letter in. I was putting the stamps on when the boy (both of them were watching intently) said, "You have to put an address on it." I thought that was kind of interesting. I thanked him kindly for the reminder. Actually, when I had tried to send my previous letter, I addressed the envelope and sealed it, only to realize that the stamps were inside. So maybe the kid knew me better than I thought. Anyway, I got a clue then, and thought, maybe this trip to the post office is not about getting a stupid (albeit brilliant) letter sent out. "What's your name?" I asked the girl. It was Madelina. His name is Claudiu. By this time I had the letter out, and he said, "You have to fold it in half." Again. Thanks. I was beginning, slowly, to get the picture. They were pretty interested in the process of sending this letter. Maybe they knew it was going to the States. Anyway, I said, "This is for my prietena in America. I was at the point where the letter was in the envelope, and the envolope was stamped and addressed. I looked at Madelina. Do you want to seal it? She seemed excited to do so, but Claudiu grabbed it first and sealed it. He must have run his hand over it twenty times. It was very sealed. Since Madelina seemed pretty disappointed, I quickly thought of another task for her. I asked her if she could plaease take it out to the mail box in front of the building. She was gone and back in seconds.

Oh. The story goes on. Just another reminder that we don't have to look all that far or even dig all that deep for "ministry opportunities." Sometimes they find us just fine. For that I am thankful.

For those of you who are dubious concerning my use of the word "ministry" to describe the above, you might also be right, but at least I know two kids' names that I would never have known otherwise. Small, but a start.

06 September, 2007

a good question


So, I have been asked more than once over the last year questions of the following nature:

"Why did you go all the way to Romania just to teach a few American kids?"

"Are you disappointed that you are over there and are not doing any real ministry?"

"You're life looks like The Sound Of Music...I thought you were a missionary."

"Are people expected to pay for you to romp around in the mountains of eastern Europe?"

...and many others like them. Now, I should say that ultimately I am thankful for these questions, because they do force me to think about what I am doing here, the validity and reality of my calling from God, and what it means to be a "missionary (which is a word I am growing to dislike for various reasons)."

I have been thinking recently about my epitaph, if I even have one. Don't read too much into this. I don't know why I've been thinking about it, but it might have something to do with the way I semi-inadvertently angered one of my gypsy neighbors...who came looking for me the following day...who found out where I lived and watched for me to come out on my balcony in the morning so he could entice me to come down and "talk." Yeah right. But like I said, I am not ready to attribute recent, divergent thought patterns to anything in particular that has been going on in my life.

But concerning the epitaph, I was wondering if I would be disappointed (insofar as anyone could possibly be disappointed with such a thing) if my epitaph read Nicholas Ireland did nothing remarkable his whole life. Now, that sounds pretty awful to have inscribed in stone over your head for eons, but consider the alternative (remember, I am already stretching to say that I am going to be looking back and judging my tombstone for myself)--the alternative is for your epitaph to say something like: Nicholas Ireland fed zillions of people, drove the final philosophical nail into postmodernism's coffin, and saved a drowning man (perhaps it will also include the passing comment that he resisted for three weeks throttling the dog that would not quit yapping outside his bedroom window for hours on end every night, as it is doing now). Let's say that somehow I held on to enough money for my dearly beloved to write all that on a granite block, I have a hard time believing that I would not look back on it and say, "That's it!?"

Yet, I stray from the point (thanks for hanging on this long). To tidy up this one that I am in the middle of, what I am saying is that it is great to do great things, but it is also not bad to look back on a life of remarkably consistent, unnoteworthy living. What if all I do is love my wife, my kids, my neighbors, and my God? Furthermore, as I read Eusebius' Church History, it seems that the heroes of the church for three hundred years were pretty normal people, some of whose names we don't know, others whose books no longer survive, others who were just soldiers or farmers or servants.

Now, back to Romania (and the yappy dog from hell...the YDH, as I call him). If I leave here having "only" served in a supporting role, so to speak; if I leave here having only enabled some other or others to be about the business of building Christ's church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail, then I will not consider it a waste. I love my job, and I do not think that answering a real call on our lives precludes great satisfaction and even joy. In fact, it probably enhances it. So, for right now I am thrilled to be exactly where I be: teaching some kids who got over here and realized that they did not have the educational option they thought they had, building relationships with Romanians who need to hear the gospel before they realize that they are falling and have nothing to grab hold of, and toiling to see churches planted and thriving who will carry this message to more of those who have not heard than I could ever possibly reach. Nothing remarkable, but good, all the same.

another hard day's work

They always say, when you have a lot of work to get through, to do the most challenging stuff first. It works. After this, the rest of my day was a cinch.

Seriously. Much of my life recently has been spent reading...and writing, but that will be covered on my next blog or two. I have had my work cut out for me to prepare for a semester teaching Shakespeare, early church history, and medieval literature. I have not read most of these things before, and I must say that Augustine has been the greatest treat of all. Here are some excerpts from the first few books that I found enlightening:

(1.5) My soul is like a house, small for you [O Lord] to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it.

(1.8) If babies are innocent, it is not for lack of will to do harm, but lack of strength.

(1.20) But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in him but in myself and his other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error.

(2.5) Again, it is gratifying to be held in esteem by other men and to have the power of giving them orders and gaining the mastery over them. This is also the reason why revenge is sweet.

(3.7) I did not know that evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains.

(3.8) Your punishments are for the sins which men commit against themselves, because although they sin against you, they do wrong to their own souls and their malice is self-betrayed.

I wish Christian literature resembled this still. Not to say that it is all rotten, but most of it either lacks depth or the quality of genuinity or theological verity. So it goes. I lack all of these things myself. So, perhaps what I really mean is, "I wish I were more like Augustine." But as I read on in the book, and particularly when I got the part about his conversion (sorry to spoil the plot for any of you out there who were hoping to read it soon), what really convicted me was that he really needed answers to the big questions, and he could not possibly rest until he found them out. I tend not to struggle with questions with deeply hidden answers. I think they are fun enough to discuss, but at the end of the day, I am not affected by my inability to arrive at a definite answer. Call it what you will, Augustine did not share my problem. All this to say, you should read the book.