ROMANIA : NEW FRIENDS
In my prayers and preparation for the week in Romania, I allowed myself one simple and selfish prayer; I asked that God might bless me with an acquaintance near my own age, who might have similar life experiences, who might speak English, and with whom I could completely be myself, let my guard down and simply allow all of my quirky personality traits to surface without fear of judgment or self-conscious thought. It was a fleeting prayer, a simple request of my heart, and I thought little of it as the days drew near to our departure. Imagine my joy when, within the first five minutes of our drive to our first village of Agrişu-Mare, we stop to pick up a young man who will serve as our interpreter through the weekend and he and I quickly discover a range of common interests. It was actually a few days before I fully realized that God had answered each aspect of my selfish prayer.
Laurenţiu Gavriş is the son of our host parents, and we quickly discovered a mutual love of music and movies. Of course, our tastes differ considerably – mine run toward pop/rock and contemporary Christian, while his are fixed firmly on Gaither homecomings and a great love for Jessy Dixon – but we are equally passionate in our interests. Laurenţiu and I talked excitedly during the 45-minute drive to the village, sharing personal favorites and marveling at our similar personalities. His English is excellent, and my heart released any anxiety regarding communication barriers. I’m sure the Lord heard my unspoken gratitude in every leap of my heart as we talked and talked and talked like old friends. By the end of our short drive, I felt as if I’d found a long-lost brother. And the rest of the week just enhanced that feeling.
My life mirrors Laurenţiu’s in many ways. His mother, Cornelia, is a homemaker; his father, Gligor, works for a power company; and their personalities are so similar to my own parents that I marveled over it the entire week. Laurenţiu has recently graduated from university, but I sensed an uncertainty in his outlook on life, as if he still isn’t sure what direction to pursue. This is my life, as well. In so many ways, Laurenţiu is exactly the same person I was at his age (26), and I knew quickly that the Lord had in mind for me to share my life as encouragement to him. I still struggle with many of the same things Laurenţiu is encountering right now, and the Lord was so good to allow me time to see through another perspective. Laurenţiu is truly a special gift to me during this week.
We developed a quick rapport, realizing that we shared a similar sense of humor and later coming to see that we share a deeper sense of personal struggle. He and I tend to see the world through the same lens, although I have the advantage of twelve additional years; it’s not a greater maturity so much as a longer season to explore and analyze. But we view the world in almost exactly the same way, and we see people more deeply than most others we know. In my mind, this is a rare gift, a quality I admire in people but hardly ever find. In conversations with Laurenţiu, I came to know that he saw everything in me that I had always wished someone would see. I’ve spent much of my life disappointed that people never really try to understand me, to truly see me and learn the depth of what I have to give to others, and in one week’s time my new friend Laurenţiu said the very things I’d been longing to hear all of my life. There will never be a more precious gift from my God than what He gave me during my time in Romania with this new friend.
Laurenţiu himself gave me one more precious gift, a parting gift of sorts. I had been taking photos all week, trying to document everything that I was experiencing, but I had been unable to get smiles from most of the people I met. I had to assume this was a Romanian stoicism, but I desperately wanted a good picture of the people with whom I’d spent so much time. My camera was full of failed attempts to capture the two of us in mutual photogenic moments. But on our last day, Laurenţiu looked at the camera and said, “What is it that Americans say? Cheese?” This was my most precious gift and the image I bring home to remind me of God’s faithfulness to answer our deepest (and even unspoken) heart desires.
The Ştefan Family
I met many people throughout the week, but the majority of our time was spent with Avram Ştefan, the deacon of the Baptist church in Agrişu-Mare. Brother Avram accompanied us on every home visit throughout the week, and I came to see just how much of a shepherd he is to the families in this village. He seems to know everyone, and he feels at home with each of them, often scouring their grapevines for clusters of grapes to snack on while we conversed. Avram cares deeply for the lives in his community, and he cares even more for their spiritual growth. As the week progressed I developed a great love for the Ştefan family – Avram and his wife, Sylvia, along with their children Emi, Ema, Julian and Julia – and wished for much more time to get to know them. What I do know is that the Lord is working through each of them, using their enormous talents and great hearts to lead the community of believers that surround them. My heart was full of the children from day one, and I keep their faces in the forefront of my mind as I pray for their village. I can’t wait to see how the Lord blesses each of them in the days to come.
The Bālāceanu Family
We spent the most time with Pastor Florin Bālāceanu, getting to know him better than most of the people we met, and we were privileged to spend the last weekend with his family, as well. Florin and his wife Gabriela have four children – Ema, Robert, Rebecca and David – and I came to love them like my own family. Ema is enormously talented in voice but also attends art school to hone a talent in painting. Robert is 11-years-old and full of that 11-year-old boy spirit that I know so well from my own nephew. We were able to spend many hours with Robert during the week while he was on vacation from school and stayed with the Ştefan family; I laughed and laughed at his constant cheerfulness and somewhat mischievous nature. We never had time with Rebecca but spent the last weekend getting to know David a little. He turned 7 years old while we were with him, and his pure joy at the attention lit up the room. He has the sweetest demeanor and dimples that remind me of another nephew. It was amazing to me that I found a Romanian counterpart to all of my own family members, and I hold them all so dear. They invited us into their home, and they welcomed us as family. I count them as family, as well. I look forward to spending more time getting to know them, especially a time when Gabriela and I can communicate freely and become the friends I feel certain we can be. For now, I hold them close to my heart and await news from Romania through all of them.
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