Sunday, November 22, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yesterday (Saturday) we celebrated Thanksgiving in Romania. It's not an actual holiday here, just something us Americans do to make us feel a little more at home. I know we're early but half of our American staff was leaving for a month of furlough today (Sunday) so we decided to go ahead and celebrate (because having just Jen and I attempt to feed almost 60 people would have meant a whole lot more tears and at least one guaranteed mental breakdown for each of us).

I love celebrations in Romania because it brings together so many people (some who I haven't seen the rest of the year), laughter, stories, and great food. Our Thanksgiving was a nice little way to merge an American tradition with Romanian culture.

Part of the celebration included a time for sharing what we were thankful for over the past year. Some of the things that we gave thanks for were the recent engagement of two of the transition graduates, the new transition kids and the transition program, safety and protection, and friends who have helped us and been there for us.

We took a little time to celebrate Emi's brithday (he just turned 5)...
and when the celebration was over Jenny broke out the first of the Christmas decorations.
My first Thanksgiving in Romania was a lot of fun and helped put me in the holiday mood. This next month is going to be all kinds of crazy with prep for the holiday team, prep for Christmas, getting my ministry programming figured out, moving to a new house, and all the usual day to day stuff but I pray that it will result in some special moments and new memories.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Just Another Day...

Last Thursday was an extremely interesting day. Allow me to share it with you...

Mariana and I arrived at the team house in Pipera right on time and ready to head out to Periș for Character Classes.

As we're sitting in the living room, just moments from walking out the door, Jen says (from the other room), "Uh, we have a problem..." The problem being that a pipe on the upstairs sink has decided to explode and there is water dripping into Jen and Jenny's bathroom on the floor below.

Jen turns off the water under the sink upstairs and grabs some towels. I grab a mop. Thankfully this bathroom has a drain so we are able to push most of the water down the drain.

We are able to get things semi-cleaned up and leave a mere 15 minutes behind schedule.

On the way to the orphanage it starts to rain and Jen remarks that she wonders how the kids will be today.

We find out when we pull up and one child tries to shove a sandwich through the window (he was offering it to us) and another calls Jen, "Girl" (not a very flattering remark here).

We attempt to enter the 1st classroom and are told the kids have to finish copying their work and to come back in 10 minutes.

We wait and decide that it may take more than 10 minutes for them to finish (they are in 3rd and 4th grade after all) and go to the 2nd classroom to start with them.

Upon entering we find one child asleep on several chairs because he's sick and the whole room in a general state of chaos.

As soon as Mariana starts to call roll one of the boys throws a fit because she calls the girls' names first (as is polite). This child then proceeds to punch the girl next to him out of frustration. After I make him stop punching her, he begins to throw sunflower seed shells on her. I forcibly remove him from his chair and sit between them. He becomes angry and hides under the desk. This is all before the story for the day is finished, mind you.

Said child eventually comes out from under the desk and completes his craft.
A moment during which things are going well.
Finally making progress...
After the craft another child tries to give their picture to Mariana. She tells him that the craft is for a friend and that he should give it someone else. In a fit of rage he tears up his project which has just taken him 10 minutes to complete (and another 10 minutes for us just to hand out the supplies). For reasons unknown the boy who was hiding under the desk decides to rip his project up as well. Follow this with me lecturing him on Mariana's feelings and his selfishness and, finally, him issuing an apology.

Praise God that during this time my child was one of the few children actually working on his craft and behaving. God bless him.
My child. The angel.
I should also note that during this time there was another boy who decided he was going to be as loud and obnoxious as possible the whole time. He argued, stole the supplies, hit his head on a stack of notebooks, and tried to bite the cover of one of the notebooks.

Right about the time we were getting ready to leave one of the workers comes in with the afternoon snack: tuna fish spread on bread. When I say the smell was horrendous I'm not exaggerating. Even some of the kids turned up their noses. The room is now permeated with the smell of fish.

And then our time was up.

One class down, one to go.

We enter the other classroom and find that, thankfully, all the kids have completed their work and we can begin. However, with the smell of the fish snack, the humidity from the rain, the closed windows, and the general funk of little children, this room reeked. It was so bad my own child (who was coming to help us with the class) wrinkled his nose and said he'd wait outside until we were finished.

We start the class and, as usual, I'm situated next to the boy who has the most issues with paying attention. Also sitting next to him today are the two girls in the class with the most limited attention span. Yep, I got stuck with the ADHD crowd. Not really a problem but it always keeps me on my toes.

The little boy sits in my lap during the lesson and then I get up to help Mariana hand out the craft. At this point I notice there is a wet spot on my jeans where the kid had been sitting. All I can do is pray that it is *only* sweat or pee and not something worse.

The rest of the class is fairly uneventful. I mean, after pee pants what can top that?

Our day was almost over and the only thing left to do was hand out some pajamas to a few kids. Luckily, I was able to entertain the kids by playing hand clapping games and eating chocolate one of them gave me (where this chocolate came from is a mystery but there was a ton of it and it came from a plastic grocery bag...I don't ask questions in situations like that). And I got to see my littlest girl in some super cute p.j.s...even though she refused to change back into her normal clothes.

I mean, who could say it was a bad day after seeing that face?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Happy Birthdays

This weekend we had a birthday celebration for Ruthie. She's one of the Heart to Heart "grandkids" and she was turning 5.
Ruthie with some friends from church.
Ruthie and Emi
There was an Olaf pinata to go with the party theme of "Frozen".
Ruthie opening her gifts.
Happy birthday, Ruthie!
We have also been celebrating birthdays at the orphanages with the kids who have birthdays during the last month.

I love parties and get-togethers with Heart to Heart because it reminds me so much of the times I have been here in the past celebrating Christmas, New Year, and the end of the school year. It truly makes Heart to Heart feel like family. And I love being able to celebrate a special day with the kids at the orphanage, something they would normally miss out on. I'm already looking forward to celebrating more special occasions here in Romania!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Learning Where I Belong

The other day I got an email from my boss asking for some updates on how things were going. One thing she wanted to know was something that God has revealed to us over the last month or so. I had to think about it but I realized that God has been showing me how I'm different...and how that's not a bad thing.
For example, my language skills are coming along for sure. I understand a lot about the mechanics and grammar. But, my actual conversation skills are...well...lacking. The other day my teacher told me that she is always surprised to read what I have written because it is beautiful and articulate. However, she said that when I talk I sound like a crazy person! I had to laugh because I know that I am forever mixing up verb conjugations and pronouns. My teacher tells me to stop inventing things at least once a week. I'm sure that I do sound kind of crazy! This is part of what makes me different. It takes me awhile to think of what I want to say. I'd rather write something down so that I can think about how I want to address the situation.

The more I thought about it though, I'm that way in general anyways (not that I talk like a crazy person, just that I write better than I speak). The way that I write has always been more eloquent than the way that I speak. In general, I spend a lot of time in thought. That is definitely different from a lot of the people I'm around. I feel like everyone always has something to say! Not that this is a bad thing but I often spend time just listening to conversations. Again, I've always been this way though. One of my roommates was telling me the other day that I need to talk more, just talk. I told her though that it's hard for me to "just talk."

For awhile I've been kind of stressed about this. I've been feeling like I need to step up my game, work harder, or something. But when I thought about what God is revealing to me I realized, I am who I am and what I have to offer will meet the specific needs of some of the kids here. Already God has been showing me this and I've been ignoring it! Every time I go to Periș there are 4 or 5 kids who run up to me and want to me to "go on a walk" with them. This means we spend 10 or 15 minutes walking up and down the driveway while the kids talk and I listen. That's it. I don't have to offer advice. I just listen. Maybe I ask a question or two or reassure them, but mostly I listen. And that's what these kids want to do with me! And, frankly, I'm good at listening :)

Calin, one of my walking buddies.
Raluca who likes me to just hold her.
 So, instead of trying to fit a mold that I think people want me to be, I'm going to be me. I'm going to think before I speak (and hopefully I will think quicker in Romanian so I can speak quicker when I do have something to say) and I will probably still spend most of my time listening and thinking. Because I know that this is just what some of these kids need.
Alina who told me she wanted to stay beside me all day.
Alex, another one of my walking buddies.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Language Learning

The other day, after my language lessons, I met up with my friend Talitha and we went to visit the kids at Periș. We didn't have anything planned to do, we just wanted to hang out with them. I played a little basketball, which turned into a "Keep the Ball Away from Melissa" game, and then spent some time just relaxing with the kids.

At one point, one of the boys says to me, "Let's take a walk." So we get up and amble over to some shady space and sit down. Then a very special thing happened, this 16 year old boy started to open up to me about his life.

It was an awesome moment for me, this is, after all, why I came to Romania. I long for these moments when the kids trust me and tell me when something is on their minds.

This boy shared with me some struggles he was facing, some decisions that he had made (and seemed to regret now), and his issues with school. I asked a few questions and shared a few thoughts with him. However, for me, there was one thing hanging over my head throughout the whole incident: the language barrier.

I know (from personal experience and from research) that just being present is the biggest part of the battle. But something inside me still longs to be able to give some words of comfort, love, and guidance. And, while I understand a lot of what is said, I still don't have it 100%. And when you can't understand fully what the child is telling you, how can you find the words (in your limited vocabulary) to speak to his heart?

I know that God is bigger than any language barrier. I know that the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart when our words cannot. But I also want to be able to audibly speak the love and encouragement of Christ to these kids.
Iubim copii noștrii: We love our kids.
So, my biggest prayer request right now is that you would pray for me as I learn Romanian. I am not even a month in and I already have a sense of longing in my heart to learn as much as I can as fast as I can (I'm not exactly patient). Pray that I will grasp all that my teacher is teaching me. Pray that I will memorize what I need to memorize. Pray that I will be able to practice what I have learned. Pray for understanding of what is being spoken around me. Pray that God will give me wisdom and understanding of this language so that I can be the most efficient vessel I can be. And pray for patience when something doesn't come easily to me.

And please pray for our kiddos. To open up their lives to us is a big step and I never want to miss a chance to show them a glimpse of God.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Quick Visit to Voluntari and Other Things

So, not much in the way of excitement has been going on around here lately. For me it's mostly lessons and homework. The Periș kids were at the beach last week. One roommate went to visit some friends about two and half hours away and my other roommate works every day from about 2:00 in the afternoon until well past midnight (this means she sleeps until about 11:00 every morning and I'm lucky if I see her at all). My friend Talitha was at camp all week so I was pretty much alone. I got some housecleaning completed and some napping done but nothing of great importance. Oh, and a lot of homework finished as well.

By Thursday my roommate was back so we went to the team house to help make school kits to give to the orphanages. The kids don't start school for a few more weeks but we needed to get it done before some of the staff takes vacation. Several of them are taking international trips that will be several weeks long so we want to be ready to hit the ground running when they return.

After making the school kits we went over to the orphanage at Voluntari to hang out with the kids. It was a really nice day so we stayed outside with them.

Sometimes I let the kids play games or take pictures on my phone. I wish I could show you how dirty my case was after they had handled it on Thursday. But then I wouldn't have such fabulous pictures as this one of Alexandra shaking her butt:
Occasionally she does slow down long enough to take a decent picture. However, she has no "off" button for her sass.

Other than getting to see the kids, the week as been fairly low key. I say fairly because there are some personal things going on right now that I'm dealing with. All I can really say is that the devil is alive and kicking. It's hard when every day you feel the fatigue of the spiritual battle going on around you. It's hard to do my part daily to take every thought and action captive and turn it over to God. Physically I have been really tired this week and my body has been really sore. Emotionally I have struggled with anxiety and feelings of helplessness. I see the beautiful sunset and know the park is just across the street but I have had a hard time finding the energy or motivation to get out and enjoy it. I've felt kind of lonely. Not homesick but just lonely in that way you get when you feel like a total outsider (gee, I wonder why...).

Some of this is just a passing phase. I know that. I can sense that it is coming to an end as the kids return from their vacations and as we look ahead to the new school year. I'm excited about the possibilities that lie in front of me. Yet, there is the real tug of other things, the things that try and drag you away from the true mission, that try and take your eyes off God. It's for those things that I would appreciate prayers.

Meanwhile, I will continue to keep my eyes on the prize...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Some Random Things

1. I started language lessons on the 17th of August. My teacher (more fondly know as "Doamna") explained that in the beginning there is a lot to learn and remember. She assures me it will get easier as we go along. Right now I feel like my brain is so full that it might start leaking out my ears. This is only after 2 lessons.

2. Praise the Lord, we have a cold front moving through!
Last week was in the 90's and it was almost unbearable. My friend, Talitha, and I were devising a plan to make homemade air conditioning units. Thankfully we got a natural respite from the heat. I would be happy if it stayed this way until March.

3. We went to see the kiddos at Voluntari yesterday for the first time in several weeks. I missed their little faces! We made super hero "puffs", played some games, and colored pictures. The kids are extremely restless and getting bored. They leave for their last vacation (at the sea) next week before school starts. The kids from Periș are also going to the sea next week. School should (hypothetically) start around mid-September so summer is winding down for everyone.
Making our "puffs."

Playing games. I had no idea what the point of this game was but Darius sure did and made sure that I played it correctly. I'm pretty sure he won.
Alex and I.
Coloring time.
4. Currently there is a funeral taking place next door. Like, next-door-to-my-apartment, next door.
I'm not sure what the social protocol is for taking pictures of this type of thing but I did anyways. And yes, that is a casket lid propped against the wall.
Apparently this is how it's done in Romania. Next door is an open casket with a deceased person inside. And the front door is just open so people can come and go and pay their respects (and, apparently, leave flowers and money (according to custom)). This will continue for several days and then, I'm guessing, they will take the deceased person out. Down eight flights of stairs, nonetheless. We shall see. To say this is a cultural experience is an understatement.

That's all I can think of for right now. I'm going to enjoy the breeze that's wafting through my apartment and rest my brain for a bit.

Monday, August 10, 2015

After ___ Days, They Rested

Well, summer camps for 2015 are over. The last game has been played, the last song has been sung, the last dramatic meltdown has occurred. And now we rest.

To be honest the last week of camp was truly a trying time. All of our month-long summer team members had left. The schedule had to be totally revamped. Our original plan to go to Rosiori to have the camp was scrapped and, instead, we put the kids on a train and brought them to us. This meant that we had to entertain the kids all day long. I was tired just thinking about it. And, to top it off, because these kids live so far away, I'm not very close with many of them.

My enthusiasm was kind of low. Just being honest.

But God will work around me and my crap-tastic attitude. The "God Echo" (or Sacred Echo as Margaret Feinberg calls it) this week was, "Are you content where you're at?" Not, "Are you happy?" Not, "Do you enjoy this?" But, "Am I enough for you? Is what I have given you enough? Where are you fixing your eyes? On earthly things or on me?"

Ugh, lessons with God. You can't lie because He already knows the answer. And you need to learn it but sometimes it's not all that fun.

So, the first day of camp was rough, the second day was worse. It was a day where you just want to throw up your hands, throw in the towel, and send everyone home. My boss, Jen, had a little heart to heart with the kids and the third day was amazing. Then, of course,  just as things were getting good, the kids were behaving, and I was starting to bond with them, they went home. Naturally.

After camp we spent some time with the kids at Periș and Voluntari which was nice because we hadn't seen them in awhile. Then my paperwork for my health insurance in the States got lost, my phone data stopped working, and I spent 3 hours trying to set up the internet at our house (which had been out for almost 2 weeks).

One day I told my roommate, Corny, that I think God just wants me to be present in the moment. To focus on what I have and what He is doing around me. To stop looking around and start looking up. I really want my eyes to be opened. I want to be content where I'm at, no matter the circumstances. No matter how the kids act. No matter if the internet is working or not. No matter if my paperwork gets lost. No matter if it's a million degrees out and we have no air conditioning. No matter if I want to sing Blessed Be the Name of the Lord one. more. time. or not. Because this isn't about me. It's totally 110% about God.

Pray for me. This may take awhile to grasp.

Making team bandanas on the first day of camp.
Soccer in the park (by the flying saucer).
A game of aquatic basketball.
More basketball.
Team building activities.
Skits around the campfire.
Making s'mores.