ROMANIA : 28 OCTOBER 2007
Father, Dumnezeu, holy is Your Name. In the heart of western Romania, in this small village of Agrişu-Mare, You are present and You are at work. Your joy infuses the people and their hearts search for You, whether they are aware or not. And You have gone before us to prepare these days for your glory. My soul rejoices with Alleluias. Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! Praise be to God who saves us from the temptations of the world!
Lord, I reflect on yesterday’s meetings, unscheduled and unfamiliar as they were, and I realize that these were divinely appointed yet I failed to grasp it. I did not know how to begin conversations nor did I recognize the Spirit’s promptings as the openings came. My spirit did not yearn to evangelize and my heart did not turn to the things of the Kingdom. Forgive me, Lord, for lack of courage. Forgive me for not sensing Your Word in the midst of my day.
Lord, I ask for clarity of Your Presence in my mind and for words to enter into conversation focused toward salvation. I ask that You bless Hoini’s relatives, and that each would be given a sense of urgency regarding Your Kingdom. Lord, let not my failures inhibit their desires to be near to Your heart. Help us to understand that Your people are not closed off or resistant but that we are not claiming Your power to break through. Help us to lead by example.
Father, I feel so unequipped but I recognize Satan’s lying voice beneath my lack of confidence. Let not his attempts to derail me become a stumbling block. Let me not fail in keeping my eyes heavenward, and, Lord, please do not let me become discouraged. You have overcome the world, Adonai; grant me Your power to be an overcomer, too.
My heart is buoyed by Your Presence in this early morning hour. I am thankful for the way You have adjusted my body’s rhythm to be alive so early in the morning and with clear thoughts. You have been preparing me for these days all of my life. From a wanderlust ingrained in my bones to a life previously filled with moments of farm life, outhouses, and walking all day along rocky paths, before I ever arrived in this country, you gave me glimpses of Romania that will serve me well in the days ahead. Father, sustain my excitement as the week progresses. Help me tell the story that You have made of my life, Lord, and help me present it with the hope that anchors me and with the challenge given to us by Christ. I feel so uncertain about how to ask the Questions, but I thank You for the Spirit who will guide me. I understand that tools like the Roman Road may be new to the hearts and minds of the people I will meet, and I ask for Your guidance in presenting Your simple but powerful plan for spending eternity with You. You have equipped me from my youth for this very time. Let me not pass it up and let me not miss the harvest. We do all things in Jesus’s Name and for Your glory.
This day was truly the Lord’s day. John and I experienced our first Romanian church services, and my heart was lifted throughout the day. Laurenţiu had already explained that morning services were approximately 3 hours – one for prayer and song, one for Bible study, and one for sermon – but the reality of this is so much different.
Upon entering the church, one kneels to pray before proceeding to a pew. The women were sitting on the right side while the men sat on the left, although Laurenţiu said this wasn’t necessary anymore and suggested that I sit with him and John. While the first hour is devoted to prayer and song, both continued throughout the remaining hours as well. Songs are sung from a hymn book, although most knew them by heart, and they were often sung one verse and chorus at a time with a pause for prayer by the church members. One hymn could take quite some time to complete, but the process is sweet. The members of this church in Agrişu-Mare punctuate audible prayers with congregational “amins,” and one cannot help but feel the spirit of the early Church as it proclaimed its prayers “to be so.” It is awesome to witness.
After these prayers, often grouped by gender, another hymn is sung, followed by another round of prayers and many “amins.” Throughout the first hour of the service many hymns are sung, but quite often the order is determined by the movement of the Spirit instead of the congregational leader. The entire service has a spontaneous feel, though it is still structured within the hour time frames. I got the impression that many people feel obligated to remain on this schedule, and in one respect I can see how important it is to allow the Spirit of God to move. Americans are so accustomed to our non-stop orders of service that the services in Romania seem more in tune with the heart of God. There are truly moments here in which to “be still and know that He is God.”
The morning service featured a second hour of Bible study, and it was our host Gligor, Laurenţiu’s father, who taught the lesson. Though I was not privy to the translation of the lesson as was John, I was nonetheless moved by Gligor’s heart. Over the past 24 hours we have come to learn that he is an extremely witty man, given to teasing (especially his adult son), and that he truly has a heart for Jesus. Gligor is very motivated to learn the English equivalents to major topics he wants to discuss, and he is constantly laughing at practically everything. Gligor immediately puts a person at ease, and he makes you determined to communicate if only to share in the joke. His teaching in the morning service was easy, animated and interactive. He asked questions of his listeners and expected to receive a response. Without understanding a single word, I was still blessed by his lesson.
The last hour is reserved for sermon. John was asked to preach this morning in the absence of Pastor Florin (whose graduation ceremonies were held that day for the completion of his Master of Arts in Theology), and he was asked to fill half an hour. Even with translation time, the entire sermon was only fifteen minutes. John had never spoken before or preached at all, and his message was simple and direct. But I think it was useful for calming the nerves and introducing himself to the villagers. In the previous hours, when we ended early there was simply a waiting period until the clock showed the top of the hour when it was time to begin the next portion of the service. This might not have been odd if anyone else was going to come to church; as it was, everyone was already present in the same room and still we sat quietly waiting the five or ten minutes for the next hour to begin. With the early completion of the sermon, Laurenţiu simply facilitated a brief discussion about whether to change the evening service time to an earlier start. Apparently, many of the women arrived at 9am for church and had forgotten that time had moved back one hour during the night. They simply sat in the pews for an hour waiting for someone to show up for church. And so, with discussion and apologies for this confusion, many felt they should begin evening services one hour earlier to “make up the time” from the morning. When Laurenţiu recounted the discussion to us, he rolled his eyes and said, “It is the same every year.” Romania has only experienced time changes in the last few years, and it is difficult for some to remember each year. I told him it was difficult for some in America, as well.
The afternoon proved to be restful, much needed after yesterday’s walking. Cornelia prepared another wonderful meal of vegetable-rice soup, pan-fried chicken with mashed potatoes, sliced red peppers, and sponge cake layered with chocolate cream and topped with whipped cream. Gligor wanted me to know first-thing on Saturday that their food was “all natural, not processed,” and these are the types of meals we have been served. Everything comes from their expansive garden, excepting a few sweets, and it has been a wonderful reminder of home. Cornelia’s cooking, and Cornelia herself, reminds me of my own mother, and often Gligor of my own father, insomuch that homesickness is far, far away. We all enjoyed the fact that this Sunday meal of chicken and mashed potatoes was the exact same as Southern USA, and we laughed even more when Laurenţiu said in their home it was “only served on Sunday.” Yes, often true in America, as well.
After lunch we simply enjoyed a restful afternoon of conversation with Laurenţiu. Cornelia spends all of her time in preparation for the next meal or serving her mother, who is invalid and cannot leave her room in the front of the house. Less than an hour before we were to leave for evening services Laurenţiu received a phone call that Pastor Florin would not make it to church until later in the services that evening, so John would need to prepare a sermon that was much longer than the morning sermon he preached. Laurenţiu informed John of this by saying, “Brother, you’ve got work to do.”
John’s prep time allowed opportunity to get to know Laurenţiu better. Upon our very first meeting – when his first words to me were “Hello. You’ll be staying with me!” – I have felt a kinship with Laurenţiu. Over two days’ time I have come to see him as a long-lost brother. We are very similar in many respects: a love of music and books, our views on God’s work and His people, familial relations, and even a shared sense of humor, worldview, and desires to be more and do more than our limited means allow. If I gain nothing else on a personal level this week, I have been fully enriched by having met Laurenţiu.
The evening services were more relaxed. We began again with song, punctuated by prayers and “amins”, and when Laurenţiu and John moved to the pulpit to lead the services, Deacon Avram’s 14-year-old son, Emi, moved next to me. Though barely a teenager, Emi is a leader among the children of the village. I saw in his face and in his response to me that he had decided to make me feel welcome. While John seemed to think the children were apt to make fun of our differences, I saw no offense in their actions. They are “making fun” in the literal sense of the phrase: everything foreign to Emi is a source of wonder and joy in the discovery. And in typical boy-fashion, it is repeated often for comic effect. I feel a great affection for Emi after this night, and I think this is God’s way of placing people in this experience who will hold the places of my loved ones until I return home. Emi is the boy that I see my nephew Kolby can become.
John’s sermon tonight was very effective. He was able to elaborate and use a personal story to enrich his message, and the story was so well-received that people continued to speak of it later in the evening. This really seemed to break the ice for John and give him the confidence for which he had been searching.
When Pastor Florin arrived to preach the main sermon, he asked me to give a testimony for the congregation. Earlier in the morning I had been asked to say something and I had frozen, not prepared to ever have to speak in church. I did finally hear the Lord’s Word after much putting off and managed to extend a short thank you for being allowed to join their community and told them of my being here as a direct result of Jesus’s challenge to “go into the world and make disciples.” It was stilted and short, but I knew it was God’s prompting instead of mine. This evening, however, when I was asked to share a testimony (after first declining to share a song!), I knew I could not hesitate. I spoke briefly of my early salvation, my turning away from the Lord, and the wilderness experience that led me to return to His flock, but I had to stop to contain my emotions when I reached the part about finally learning how much God loved me and remembering why I had come to love Him in the first place. Laurenţiu had already come to know of my penchant for tears whenever God showed up, and his quiet, comforting statement of “you can do this” was enough to help me push past the emotion. I told him later how much of a comfort he had been to me this weekend, and I thank God for this special gift of friendship He has chosen to bless me with.
The night service ended in fellowship with everyone enjoying the fruits used to decorate the church for the celebration of the Harvest Feast. Afterward, Pastor Florin asked if John and I felt ready to visit a young woman that evening who had recently made profession of faith but was not interested in attending church services. I swallowed my apprehension when John replied, “We’re here to go wherever the Lord needs us.” And so we did.
Our message to the young woman we visited was geared toward the importance of communal fellowship, but I felt that my words were forced. It was only later in reflection with John that I came to see what an encouragement he will be for me this week. I still need to let go of myself and let God work.
It was afterward, also, in walking home with Laurenţiu that I finally understood how God was working in me personally throughout the weekend; He had been using me to encourage Laurenţiu more than anything else. And this is direct answer to a very specific prayer for this adventure: I wanted God to use my personality, my singleness, my personal experiences to reach someone in a similar state. I did not expect that someone to be our host. But Laurenţiu is where I have been just recently in my life – he is a young man with a heart for discipleship but clouded by a frustration that his church family does not desire change. I believe God has – and will continue to – use me to encourage Laurenţiu to fight the good fight. And in doing so, He has reminded me to do the same.
continue reading: Day Five