Saturday, August 31, 2013

Missing Pieces

During my three weeks in Romania, I tackled a 1,000 piece puzzle.  It was a great time filler on slow days and evenings.  Normally I start a puzzle by putting the frame together.  But this is one of those uniquely cut puzzles where you can't easily pick out the edge pieces.  So I worked by sections without the border. 

About halfway through, I began to suspect that I was missing a few pieces.  I had a few completed sections with holes in them, and no matter how much I searched, those distinctive pieces did not turn up.  It took a long time to finish the frame, and I was afraid there would be a chunk of it missing.  The closer I got to finishing, the more empty spots popped up!  But I am a die-hard puzzler once I get in the mood, and I hate to quit on an unfinished picture, especially so far into the game.  So I determined to finish this one before I left, no matter how many pieces were missing!

In the end, I counted at least 30 holes in my puzzle!  They were scattered all over, so you could still basically get the whole picture.  Of course it's disappointing to have a puzzle full of holes, but in the larger scheme of things, 30 out of 1,000 isn't a huge number, and it's still a beautiful picture.  It's just broken.

That puzzle is a picture of us.  I think of Scott and Carolyn's girls.  They have been through rough places in their young lives.  They are broken and damaged.  But they are beautiful young women with incredible potential, deeply loved by God. 

Their missing pieces make them rough around the edges.  It makes successful living very difficult for them at times.  It makes life difficult for those love them and are helping them.  But does that make them any less worth it?  Should we cast them aside because they are missing 30 pieces?  Should they resign themselves to living in defeat as victims of circumstance for the rest of their lives?  Sometimes that is what they want to do, because that mindset has been deeply etched into them through the pain of rejection, abandonment, and abuse.  They often revert back to this thinking when things get hard, and it requires a great deal of patience to walk through it with them. 

But God says they are worth it.  He says you are worth it too.  He sees the whole picture.  You are His masterpiece, holes and all.  Jesus Christ wants to come in to your broken, empty spaces and make you a whole person.  Don't get me wrong, it's not an instant removal of suffering.  This is a process.  We will still experience some of the pain and dissatisfaction of holes in this earthly life.  It is the God-built longing for our true home and our final state of wholeness in Heaven.  God knows what we will be then.  It is the beautiful, priceless work of art that He set out to create from the beginning of our lives!  And He is willing to walk with us through all the broken places and missing pieces until the day we see the face of Christ and become like Him! 
"Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is."  1 John 3:2

Just think how glorious that will be!  And you know, I like to imagine that when God finally fills in our holes, it's going to be with precious jewels!  Because He gives beauty for ashes and joy for mourning.  What a beautiful Savior!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

God's Heart

Today I want to tell you about a few more friends I have met here and the work they are doing.  Jackie has been living in Romania for a long time.  She is the pastor of a Gypsy church, and God has given her a lot of other assignments over the years.  One thing He called her to is taking care of widows in this country.  She has a friend, Irene, who helps her in this ministry.  Irene is from Wales.  She spends a lot of time there advocating for the widows' ministry, and she tries to visit Romania a few times a year.  She likes to spend time with these ladies, listen to their stories, and see how they are getting along.  This program is to help widows in the most desperate situations, to give them a better chance of survival.  Some of these women receive pensions, but it's a pitiful amount.  A few of them are still able to work and earn a little extra money, but many are in poor health and can't work.  Some of them can't get a pension, for one reason or another. 

When Jackie and Irene hear about a widow in dire need, they visit her and assess the situation to determine what she needs most.  The majority of these widows are given a pack of food essentials each month and wood to keep them warm in the winter.  Often they are more concerned about the cold than about food.  Imagine yourself barely able to get around, living alone in a rundown house in a village.  You have no way to get wood for yourself.  Freezing would be a very real fear.  Others need medication and can't afford it.  Some have a family member to take care of them, and all they need from the program is medicine. 

Irene was visiting while I was here, so I got to meet her and learn a lot about the ministry.  She told me the stories of some of the people in the program.  She tries to visit as many as she can while she is in the country.  Some of them live in far away areas, and she can't always get there.  Last week, after we spent time at the mental hospital in Mochria, we went to visit two of the people they care for in a nearby village, and I got to see a little bit of what they see. 

Elena lives alone.  She broke her leg at some point, and it wasn't set right, so she walks crookedly.  She suffers from arthritis.  She has a flock of chickens that she cares for.  Their hutches are practically falling down.  She also keeps a good-sized garden, although I don't know how she keeps it up.  But most older Romanians are extremely hard workers.  They just keep going until they have nothing left.  And they don't want help with their work.  We brought Elena food and sat with her for awhile to talk.  Irene said that she does not seem as well as before and is losing some of her memory.

Then we went to visit Geeta.  The program includes mostly women, but Geeta is a widower.  They found him last year, I believe.  He was living in deplorable conditions.  He has a hernia the size of a melon.  When his wife died, he was barely able to care for himself, let alone the house.  There had been a fire in the house at some point.  He was living in trash and filth.  No one in his village would help him.  They said he was mean to everyone, so they didn't care what happened to him.  Then the missionaries came in with a work team that was visiting from the States, and they set out to show love to Geeta.  They spent a whole day taking everything out of his house, and they had to burn all of it.  They repaired the fire damage as best they could, cleaned, and painted.  They brought clothes and food.  People in the village would come by and ask why they were helping Geeta, when no one else cared.  Now someone goes to his house once, sometimes twice a month, to clean, change the bedding, and bring clean clothes.  He also gets canned food that is easy for him to manage.  To me, his living conditions are still very crude, but it is much better than what it was.  The young man who usually goes there to clean was with us, and he said that Geeta is always happy to see him.  I don't know what kind of life Geeta led, or if he was really as mean as people say.  But I wonder how these acts of Christlike love are affecting him, perhaps changing a hard heart.  Not many people would stop for Geeta, especially if he did act nasty and they had known him a long time.  Not even many who call themselves Christians would stop.  But Jesus would. 

These people have often led very hard lives, and they are mostly alone in the world.  But God has heard their cries and sent His servants to care for them.  If only all His people would care like He does; I think there would be no more desperate needs.  But I am preaching to myself too.  We know how God feels about these things.  James tells us, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this; to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."
But do we listen?  How often have you and I turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the brokenness in our world?  How often do we stop caring about what might happen to us if we stop to help, and start caring about what will happen to that person if we don't do anything?  Convicting?  YES.  All I can think about is how uncomfortable and overwhelming it would be to step into a situation like that and try to do something to change it. 

I think the first step is to acknowledge how spiritually destitute we are: destitute of true love, forgiveness, mercy, patience, kindness....apart from the life of Christ in us.  Jesus had a big problem with the church of Laodicea in the letters of Revelations.  He tells them they are poor, blind, naked, and wretched....but they are deceiving themselves.  They think they need nothing.  And because of this, they are in dangerous territory.  The cure is to repent and come to Jesus to supply what is lacking in our souls.  We have to become desperate to have hearts that are desperate for Him!  If we desire to see the kingdom of God come to earth, we need God's heart beating within us.  If you are not there today, don't despair.  Take the hardness of your heart to Him.  He knows what to do with it.  Ask Him to make you willing to receive His heart, no matter what it costs. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

God-Sized Vision

Last week I got to see the future site of the Solid Rock Ranch in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains!  The vision for this ranch is what originally drew my interest in Rock of Hope Ministries.  The therapeutic ministry through horses and God's creation is close to my heart, so I want to share with my readers the story of how God is working to bring this vision into being.

If you read my previous post about Caleb, you will remember that I talked about Caleb waiting forty-five years for the promise God gave him to be realized.  I struggle to imagine myself waiting even ten or twenty years for something!  Well, it has now been ten years since God called Scott and Carolyn to Romania and gave them the vision to build a ranch for hurting youth.  To a human perspective, especially in today's "instant everything" culture, very little has happened to make this dream a reality.  If you saw the pictures I posted on Facebook of the ranch land, it is just empty country right now.  Beautiful, but wild and empty.  There is no cleared pastureland, no road to the top of the hill, no buildings, no animals.  But go beneath the surface, and God's hand is clearly visible. 

God put the same vision on Scott and Carolyn's hearts individually before they ever talked about it.  When they realized they were being called, they started looking for a mission organization to help them.  Some friends of theirs had been trying to apply to a certain organization for a long time but without success.  One day Scott and Carolyn received a call from the director of this organization, and after a ninety minute conversation, they asked him what they needed to do to apply.  He told them the phone conversation was their application, and they were accepted! 

Scott has a lawyer friend who owns a horse breeding farm in Romania.  She suggested that they start their own non-profit organization.  He then asked if she would consider being on their board of directors, and she gladly accepted!  This same friend has promised to donate horses from her farm to the ranch!

They ran into a lot of difficulty trying to find land to purchase for the ranch.  Finally they decided to step back and stop trying to make this happen.  They left the ball in God's court.  If he wants this ranch, He is more than able to put everything in place.  Some time after this, God brought Gabi into the picture.  Gabi is a strong Christian, Romanian, and he is also a veterinarian.  Horses in Romania are generally only used for work, and most Romanians do not understand the concept of having horses for pleasure and therapeutic benefit.  But Gabi and his wife are different.  They believe strongly in the purpose of this ministry and the need for it in their country, and so they came on board to help Scott and Carolyn.  Gabi was raised by his grandparents in a small mountain village, and he says that he met God while walking the hills with his grandfather.  He wants other young people, especially those from the city, to experience the same thing. 

In Romania, property is passed down from generation to generation.  Gabi's grandfather owned a large portion of land, and when he passed away, Gabi inherited the land and the house where he grew up.  So when he learned of the vision for Solid Rock Ranch, he offered his land!  In fact, once the ranch is built, he wants to leave his job with a pharmaceutical company and work full-time in the ministry!  He and his wife plan to live on the ranch and care for the young women who will live there, while Scott and Carolyn remain in the city with the transitional apartment.  The ranch would be a place for those girls who need a lot of healing, a safe place away from the distractions and danger of the city where they can regain hope.  When they are in a better place emotionally and spiritually where they are able to move forward in life, they would graduate to the apartments, where they can get a job, go to school, and save money so they can eventually be on their own.

Scott and Carolyn were introduced to horse ministry through Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Oregon.  They read the book Hope Rising, which is full of stories of how God has used horses to rekindle hope and healing in the lives of hurting children.  One of their daughters even worked at Crystal Peaks for awhile.  This same ranch has sparked dozens of similar ministries across the U.S. over the last several years, including His Ranch in Missouri, where I have been working for almost three summers!  And Crystal Peaks donated all the horse tack that Solid Rock Ranch will need!  Maybe you can begin to glimpse how God is tying all of this together.  I think it's awesome to be part of this is so much bigger than me, bigger than His Ranch and Crystal Peaks and Rock of Hope Romania!  This is God's story, God's vision, and he is putting all of the pieces together according to His will.  It matters little whether the setting is Oregon, Missouri, Romania, or Timbuktu!  God allows us to join Him in His redemptive plan for the whole world, and He will use each of us in a unique way, if we make ourselves available to Him.  Our part is simply to obey when He calls. 

I feel privileged to have learned some of Scott and Carolyn's part in this story and to see God in their lives.  They are still waiting for Him to bring the vision to completion, and there is much work still to be done, but they fully believe that He will accomplish it in His timing.  One of the needs right now is for more land at a low price.  During Communism, the government confiscated private farm land.  Later on, they returned the land to Gabi's grandfather, but Gabi discovered that they did not actually return all of it.  They gave him separate parcels of land that are not even joined together, which is not going to work very well for a ranch!  The rest of the land is still owned by the state, so Gabi wants to buy it back, but money is an issue.  Of course there will also be a lot of cost involved in clearing the land for grazing and farming, building a road, house, and buildings, and all the equipment that will be needed.  God has not provided the funds at this point, and yet He has done so much to confirm that it's going to happen!  His will does not lead us where His grace cannot keep us.  I'm really excited to see how the story of the Solid Rock Ranch continues to play out.  I can't see the future.  I don't know if God will bring me back to Romania to have a part in this.  But I want to stay close and available to Him, because the One who gave the vision still calls, and He has many other servants that He will call to join in the work here in the days ahead.  He may not call you to work with horses, or to leave your job to work on a ranch, or to move to a foreign country and start a ministry.  But He has work somewhere that He invites you to join, and He has built unique gifts and desires into you for that purpose.  It may be something right where you are, or it may be somewhere else He wants to take you.  Remember that He has plans for you, and they are plans for hope and a good future....a life of walking with God will bring rewards for all of eternity!

I close with a quote from Pendragon, one of my favorite movies.  It is an inspiration for all of us to take to heart as we follow our Lord today:
"Whatever happens, remember; what God calls us to do, He gives us the strength to accomplish....the grace to live...or die... for His glory."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hearts of Passion

During my time in Romania, I've had the pleasure of meeting with a small group of missionaries on Wednesday nights for a time of Bible study, spiritual encouragement, and prayer.  Last week we did a study on Caleb, one of the twelve spies sent into the land of Canaan by Moses.  Out of twelve men, only Caleb and Joshua had faith to believe that God would bring the people into the Promised Land, despite all of the miraculous ways in which He had delivered and cared for them and showed His character, despite the covenant and promises He had made with Israel.  Because of the faithlessness of the rest of the people, God told them they would wander and die in the wilderness; their children would go in to the land, but they would never see it.  Then He said, "But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land in which he went, and his descendants shall possess it."  Num. 14:24  It was challenging to dig deeper into the life of this man and search for the secrets of his passionate heart after God. 

When his companions lost heart, fearing the inhabitants of the land over the power of their God, and swayed the opinion of the entire mob in their favor, Caleb stood alone on the promise of God's covenant.  He said, "Let's go take the land; we are ready and able to do this!"  When the people doubted and grumbled, Caleb urged them to trust in the Lord and warned them not to rebel against Him.  He never faltered in his faith.  God had promised to go with Israel, and Caleb trusted that as a result, no one would be able to stand against them!  No matter that the people of Canaan were strong, well-armed, and some were giants....Caleb understood that God had removed all protection from them because of their wickedness.  He was all-in with God; he was ready to obey the command to take the land, even though I'm sure he couldn't see how it would all work out.  Caleb did not trust in what he could see.  He lived by faith, and this faith set him apart from his companions.

But Caleb was not immune to the consequences of his people's rebellion.  He had to endure forty years of wandering in the desert, watching all of the people over twenty years old die.  Can you imagine waiting forty years for God to fulfill a promise or a dream?  I wonder how many of us would have given up.  And how did it feel to slowly lose his family, his friends, so many people he loved and respected and worked with?  When it was all over, Caleb was the only one over the age of sixty in the entire race of Israel, except for Joshua and Moses.  Think of eighty years of age, he finally set foot once more in the Promised Land and began to see his dream come true!  And it took another five years until most of the land was conquered and Caleb received his inheritance and was able to settle in.  But in all that time, he never stopped following God.  In Joshua 14, we read that Caleb came to Joshua and asked for his inheritance.  He reminds Joshua of God's promise to them all those years ago, and he says that he "wholly followed the Lord my God".

After the study, God prompted me to do my own search of other people throughout the Bible who had this "different spirit" like Caleb.  What I found was deeply inspiring and challenging!  God has pointed out specific lives of individuals throughout Scripture to show us what kind of people are pleasing to Him.  We need to study their examples.  I just want to make a quick note on what I found here. 

Hebrews 11:6 tells us, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him."

Enoch walked with God and was commended by God as having pleased Him.  Gen. 5:24, Heb. 11:5

Noah also walked with God and found favor in His eyes.  Gen. 6:8-9

God Almighty made a personal covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  Abraham's faith in God's promise was counted to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.  Gen. 17:1-2, Rom. 4:3, Jam. 2:23

Moses spoke with God face to face and found special favor with God.  Ex. 33:11, 17

God said that David was a man after His own heart, who would do all His will.  David had success in all he did because the Lord was with him.  1 Sam. 13:14, 18:14, Acts 13:22

God called Job blameless and upright; he distinguished him over all the other people on earth. 
Job 1:8

Daniel had an excellent spirit; the pagan Babylonians called it the spirit of the holy gods. 
Dan. 5:11-12

I long to have a place with these great men of God, one with an excellent spirit, in whom He delights.  These men were rare among their generation.  But what about today?  Romans chapter 8 explains that everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of God living in them.  If you have the Spirit of God in you, then you have the power to walk with God as these men did!  It is no longer limited to a select few individuals.  The Holy Spirit is available to all who will surrender their lives fully to His control. 

"And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh....and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."  Acts 2:17,21

As you look into the lives of each of these men and many others in the Scripture, you will see that the common denominator was their faith in God.  They knew who God was, and they believed Him.  Period.  They believed Him with their whole heart.  If you and I will do the same, God will have the same pleasure in us as He did in them!

So I leave you with this powerful prayer from Ephesians 3:  "that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."


Friday, August 16, 2013

Living It Up In The Village

So today I got a taste of real old-fashioned Romanian hospitality!  And when I say taste....I mean taste!

Scott took me to the village where the Solid Rock Ranch is going to be built.  We went with Gabi, Scott's Romanian ministry partner, and Nick, a friend from England.  The village is about a 90 minute drive from Arad.  Gabi was raised in this village by his grandparents.  When they died, their property became his.  And he wants to use it for the ranch to help the young people. 

His grandparents owned two houses next to each other.....the house they lived in, and a guest house.  They also had shelters for animals.  All of this is in a very small compound.  The buildings are extremely old, and one of them is still virtually untouched since Gabi's grandparents lived there.  The plan is to fix up both houses so that mission teams have a place to stay when they come to help with the ranch. 

So this morning, the guys did some work on the house and the grounds.  I got to be the weed killer with a canister of poison water....(insert evil laughter).  Scott was planning to take me up to the hill where they want to build the ranch house later on in the afternoon. 

Around lunch time, Scott asked me if I'd like to take a quick trip next door, because I might be interested to see the neighbor's animals.  So we go in and meet this 50ish Romanian man, and he is really happy to show us around his property.  The guys visited him the day before, and he was showing them his guns; he does a lot of hunting.  Right away he invites us into his house, where he is making goat cheese....he makes it from the fresh milk every day and sells it.  I wish I had taken my camera...he has the cheese in these bags and he squeezes out all the whey and feeds it to his pigs.  It takes about 36 hours until the cheese is ready.  Then we go outside to look at the animals.  He owns several pigs and a small herd of goats.  He starts calling this boar, by his name I suppose, and the boar is inside a little shed.  This is a really smart boar; he can open the shed door inward and come out!  Then he gets all the goats to come out so we can get a good look and proceeds to explain to us that each year, at Christmastime, he kills one pig and three goats, mixes the meat together, and makes carnate, which is a Romanian sausage.  He then takes us over to see his barn where he has stalls for the sows when they give birth, and he's showing us the hill up behind the barn where he leaves food for the wild boars, so they keep on coming back, and one day he will have a stakeout behind the barred door on the end of the barn and shoot them. 

We were fascinated by all of this and he is more than happy to explain what he does....apparently he doesn't get many visitors.  This is a pretty remote village.  The guy speaks Romanian, which of course I don't, so Scott asks him lots of questions and tells me what he's saying.  After all this, the man cajoles us to come back into his house and sit's obvious he wants to show hospitality by offering us food.  This is a very important part of Romanian culture.  Okay, the first thing he brings out...tuica (pronounced sweeka).  Homemade Romanian moonshine.  Made from plums.  He starts pouring it out into three little shot glasses.  Scott gives me this dubious look.  "It's really strong," he says.  Have I ever had anything alcoholic?  Nope.  Unless a little cooking wine counts.  He told me I didn't have to drink it.  But I realize that in many cultures, it is a great offense to your host if you refuse what is offered.  So I thought, why not just try it?  I've never had a desire for alcohol and I choose not to partake because of all the negative connotations, but this is an interesting situation.  I've heard the stories....people have been offered much nastier things in foreign countries.  At least it is not fish eyeballs or insects or some kind of animal guts.....

So I took a teensy swallow.  Gotta have a sense of adventure.  Not everyone can say they've had Romanian moonshine!  It didn't taste as bad as I expected....but strong....yes, definitely.  Burns all the way down.  The guy kept telling us it was "medicinal".  Not having any ambitions to find out what it's like to be slightly intoxicated, I was not going to drink the whole glass.  Scott finished his, trying not to outright choke, and then when I waved off the rest of mine, our gracious host told Scott to finish mine too!  Poor guy....I kept trying not to laugh too much at the faces he was making while he put it down.  Meanwhile, our host brings out a hunk of goat cheese for us, which was pretty good, and some walnuts, and he wanted to offer me something else to drink, like, no.  Pepsi?  Ok, I can do Pepsi.  And then, get this, he fills up Scott's shot glass again....despite protests!  Scott very nearly lost it on that one.  Oh, but we're not done!  He brings out a container of some dubious looking orange stuff and starts spooning it into a pan....and Scott is making really horrible faces at this point.  Faces like, "Oh no, what did we get ourselves into....this is really bad."  Out comes a carton of little sausages in their congealed grease...presumably the guy's homemade carnate.  How are we to know what is in this meat and if it's really safe to eat?  Does he even refrigerate it?  I am not too grossed out....I'm just watching Scott and wondering if there is a way to graciously refuse the offering, but I still think it's all rather funny, and Scott is just fervently hoping that we're not both going to end up sick!  So when our host leaves the room, he breathes a prayer, "Lord, sanctify this food!"  After the sausage gets a cursory "heating" on the stove, it is served to us with bread.  Two pieces each.  He insists!  So we eat.  And it is good!  First time eating goat meat for me.  Why stop with one first in the day, after all?  I have to force myself to finish both pieces of carnate, but I do.  This whole time, the guy keeps talking, going on about his family and how he makes the moonshine, showing us the machine that grinds up the meat for the sausage, giving me hunting magazines in Romanian because I think he just really wants to give me something to take home.

At last we graciously extracted ourselves to get back to working on Gabi's house.  We thanked our host and left with the goat cheese that Scott decided to buy....and the man gave him two for the price of one!  We get back next door, giggling over what has just occurred, and poor Scott is feeling the effects of three shots of tuica.  He had to sit down for awhile, so the rest of ended up talking while Gabi worked, until Scott was ready to take me for a hike up to the ranch hill.  But I'll save that for the next post. 

All in all, it was quite a unique experience and a wonderful day, plus it makes for a great story, and every writer loves to have a story to tell!  So I just have to say....Thanks, Scott, for showing me a great time in a Romanian village.  And thanks for drinking all the tuica.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Sunday In Romania

I promised to share about my experience in a Romanian church.  To give you a little background, the Catholic and Orthodox religions are very prevalent here.  We know they are extremely works-oriented.  Then you have many Romanian Baptists and Pentecostals, who are also largely focused on the traditions of men and believe that following all the rules will keep them in good standing with God.  Any church departing from these traditions is looked upon as radical.

I attended Harvest Metanoia Church, which is one of these "radical" congregations.  In America, it would not be so different from many of our churches.  The teaching is straight from the Bible and focused on applying God's will to life.  They have a band leading lively worship music with guitars and drums.  The people dress nicely, but more casual than a typical Romanian church.  No head coverings, no specific dress code.  It reminds me of a non-denominational community church in the States. 

But so many of these Romanian churches are about strict dress codes, no makeup or jewelry, head coverings for the women, segregating the men and women in the service, preaching for hours about traditions and man's opinion of Scripture.  They do not view the Bible as the supreme authority for the believer.  Harvest Metanoia, on the other hand, is a church dedicated to following the God of the Bible and seeking Him in their daily lives.  The pastor said that many people think he is crazy and radical for the things he preaches, but he is not ashamed or afraid to proclaim the Word.  In fact, that is what his message last Sunday was about.  Proclaiming the Word as our only authority.  He took us through the book of Acts, pointing out every instance where the followers of Christ were proclaiming the message of God.  They did not put any confidence in the tradition and opinions of man.  They did not try to persuade people with fancy speeches.  They recognized that God had called them, in fact commanded them, to proclaim His very words.  The Spirit of God makes the words of God come alive and change people's hearts.  The apostles' main job was to proclaim the Scripture, but every believer is called to proclaim God's truth without fear to the people in our path, as opportunities arise. 

The service was in Romanian, but they have a translator for the English speakers.  The translator's voice was transmitted to a handheld electronic device that each of us was given, and we used earphones.  It was a little challenging to focus on the words because the pastor's voice was somewhat louder than the one in my ears, and she translated as he was speaking.  I'm sure she simplified a lot of what he said in order to put it in English, and sometimes she had to stop for a moment because he was talking so fast and she would get lost trying to keep up!  But she did a fabulous job.  All the songs were in Romanian, and we didn't have a translation for them, but a few of them were tunes I recognized, so I sang along in English under my breath.  For the songs I didn't know, I just listened.  It's really cool to listen to singing in another language, even though you can't understand, when you know it is praise to God.  It made me think about day a multitude will stand before God, people from every tribe and language and people and nation....and we will all worship the Lamb with one voice!  I imagine we will all speak the same language, or our different languages will be understood by all.  But even now, when people of different nations are worshipping God around the world on the same day, sometimes at the same time, all in our own tongue, He understands every one!  And He loves it!  And I just imagine this symphony of multiple languages rising up before His throne, and to think that He knows every name; what's more amazing....He knows how many hairs are on every head! 

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"  Revelation 7:9-10

I can't wait for that day!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Today I went with a group to Mochria, which is an adult mental institution, about an hour's drive from this city.  One of the missionaries has been in Romania for many years, and this is one of the many ministries she has started.  The first time they visited Mochria, conditions there were terrible.  There were two very old shower heads and only cold water for all the residents.  Their food storehouse was nearly empty.  The group kept going back, taking food and other things to help ease the misery somewhat.  After some time they were able to build a good relationship with the staff and work together with them to make improvements.  Now each time they go, things look better.  A group goes in once a week to spend time and do an activity with the residents.  Today we had Scott and Carolyn (the couple I'm staying with), E, one of their Romanian girls (name omitted for privacy), Bogdan, who has worked with them for many years as a translator, Irene from Wales who runs a charitable foundation, and myself.

As soon as we arrived, people were waving and calling to us out of the windows!  We set out a simple craft for them to do and then went into the building to gather everyone who wanted to participate.  Some of the women were so excited as they came out of their rooms, and they wanted to grab my hand and hug me and know my name.  Once we got everyone settled in for the craft, we passed out cups and began serving them juice and water.  Scott told me they don't get water or much to drink on a daily basis, so we always bring plenty of liquids and keep on refilling the cups. 

Some of the residents there are not very "with it", but others are bright and responsive.  They participated very well.  A few of them know a little English.  All the others in my group speak at least some Romanian, so they helped people with their craft.  I just kept handing out drinks and cookies and smiles.  These precious souls are so starved for attention.  Most of them are older, but one girl was there who the missionaries have not seen before.  She is only twenty. 

Later on, we sang a few songs with them, and then many of them wanted to take turns sharing their own song in front of the group.  It was beautiful to watch them sing, and then to take turns praying after that.  Simple and sweet, like little children.  As we were getting ready to leave, I helped walk some of the women back to their building, and we gave them little packets of coffee, which is a real treat for them.  A few who spoke some English were saying, "God bless you", and thanking us for coming.  It was touching.  I don't know much about what their lives are like there, but I'm sure it is hard.  Yet they were so grateful that we came and wanted to bless us.

I'm looking forward to going back next week.  It makes me think....I'm so glad that other Christians cared enough to seek out such a place and do what they could to make life better for these forgotten people.  I greatly enjoyed my time with them.  But I wonder, if I had been the one to come in the beginning and see the state Mochria was in then, would I have done something?  Would I have seen these people through the eyes of love, as having incredible worth, and would I have labored and advocated on their behalf?  Or would I have thought it was too much to deal with, that I wouldn't know how to begin?  Would I have just felt sad for them and then went away and put it out of my mind?  These are tough questions.  I wonder what opportunities there are now, even right around me where I live, to walk out the love of Jesus to people in advocate for those who are oppressed, to help those who seem to be in hopeless bondage, to care for the least and give them a better life and hope.  Do I see them?  Am I willing to step up?  Because it will take a lot of my comfort zones for the greater good of others, trading my pleasures and pursuits for the work of God's kingdom on earth, changing where I invest my time and energy, trading self-interest for loving strangers and sometimes very unlovely individuals.  The Bible makes it clear that God has given us the love we need.  "And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."  Romans 5:5
So I pray that God tears down the walls of protection, pride, and isolation that self has built in my heart.  I pray that He makes my heart as tender as His towards the "least" of His children, who are actually the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  These are the ones that Jesus identified Himself with, saying that whatever we do to them, we are also doing to Him.  I pray that I will not continue to pass Him by. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

First Impressions Of Romania

Hey from Romania, ya'll!  I have been in Arad four days now, and I'm learning a lot of interesting things.  But honestly, my thoughts are rather fragmented and I haven't quite had the energy to pull together something that makes sense for this blog!  So I'm going to keep this simple and hopefully interesting, because after all, how many people want to read long and thought-provoking blog posts all the time?  I don't have time for much of that myself, and I used to be an avid blog reader, and I like thought-provoking writers!  Keeping this in mind, I think it's better to write short but regular posts....sound-bytes of my experience.  But please be patient with me, because I am a writer, and my thoughts come out better in writing once I get started, so things usually end up much longer than I intended!

I flew into Budapest, Hungary, because that is cheaper than coming into the Romanian airport.  I had a three hour or so drive with my hosts from Budapest to Arad.  The country I saw reminds me a lot of the Midwest....mostly flat fields of corn, beans, and lots of hay bales....but they also have fields of sunflowers.

Arad is the third largest city in western Romania.  It is crowded with rows upon rows of block apartment buildings.  During the Communist regime, Ceausescu consolidated all the farmland into huge communal farms and built tons of apartments in the city in order to move most of the people there.  You can also see some fairly typical old European buildings; churches and such.  Little shops are everywhere, and not always in places that would be easy to find.  We visited a salon the other day that was tucked away on a narrow side street in a rather nondescript building.  Trams run along between the main city streets, and sometimes right down the middle of the street.  Most of the streets are not built for the heavy volume of traffic they have now. 

I am staying in an apartment with three young Romanian women.  The missionaries live across the hall.  One of the girls speaks English very well.  The other two understand a little.  The set-up is to provide a family for the girls, but also to give them a semi-independent situation, so they can eventually become fully independent.  The heart of the ministry is for these girls to find hope in Jesus Christ, because only He can deliver them from the bondage of their backgrounds and the darkness of their culture. 

Let me catch you up on some things I've gotten to do so far.  There hasn't been a lot going on over the past week, other than hanging out in the apartments, getting to know my hosts and the other girls.  They have actually had a busy summer, volunteering with some ministries, going here and there, and having three interns stay with them before I came.  Scott and Carolyn, the Rock of Hope missionaries, just returned from a vacation in Greece with two of the girls.  So they were needing a break from all the other stuff.  The neat thing is that I get to be a part of their everyday life, and just like it is with most of us, some times are busy and full, and other times are slow. 

My first evening here, I got to participate in a small support group of missionaries who gather to fellowship, study the Word, and pray for each other.  Just to sit and listen to them talk about the realities and challenges they are facing in their lives and work has been a faith builder for me.  They are seeking to follow and obey God in the midst of a culture that is very difficult sometimes, and their faith in Him is real.  Living here without a lot of the American "securities" we are used to has taught them to cling closer to the Lord and to band together as the body for spiritual and emotional protection.  I feel privileged to see inside their lives for a little while and to learn from them.

I've also been able to spend a lot of time with Scott and Carolyn, who are doing a fabulous job of painting for me a picture of Romania....its culture, its spiritual atmosphere, its mindset, etc. 

The weather here is comparable to the American Midwest, although lately it has been much hotter than our summer in Missouri.  The first few days of my visit, temperatures were around 100 degrees.  Too hot to spend much time outdoors, and the apartments are not air conditioned, so you don't feel like doing much inside either!  I'm so thankful for fans!  It has cooled down a notch in the last two days.

On Friday evening, we went to the home of one of the missionary families who work in radio.  We had American hamburgers on the grill, which is a treat for them here.  After supper we sat around and talked....several in the group have just had major attacks on their work, so it turned into a time of encouragement to stay in the battle and keep trusting God, and then we had another wonderful prayer time. 

One of the girls was wanting to go get her eyebrows done (beautification is a really big deal here), and we decided it would be a fun thing for us to do together.  So Saturday morning, a couple of us went to a salon.  These things are much cheaper in Romania.  I have never paid to get my eyebrows done professionally in the States, and I probably never will, but it was a cool thing to do for once!

I went out walking in the city with one of the girls on Saturday night, and again on Sunday with a group of girls.  Europeans like to stay out late at night.  For the most part it is quite safe, and plenty of people are around.  We bought ice cream and corn on the cob and walked through a park with a colored fountain and saw a lot of the city.  Oh yeah, we saw a horse-drawn cart on the road.  I don't think it's a common sight, but it looked like maybe a touring ride.  Horses draw my eye wherever I go!

So there's your first snapshot of Romania through my eyes.  Next time I'll tell you about attending a Romanian church.

Ciao!  (That is hi and bye between friends in Romania)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Going Out With Flair!

Welcome to the adventures of Kari before she even set out on her trip to Eastern Europe!  Warning: the following account may be slightly violent and possibly includes blood and needles.

Okay, to give you a little background, I have an awesome “family” at His Ranch and the church in our small community.  Three other people join me to make the core staff at the ranch this season, and we have basically been together for three summers now.  We have an amazing bond in Christ and in our common experience in the day to day operation of the ranch ministry.  But we have plenty of room for the many short-term and long-term volunteers and friends who come to take part in the blessing.  Then we have Shannon and Susan, who started the ranch and provide the authority under which we work.  All of my friends in the community are excited that I have this opportunity to go to Romania, but they have made sure I know that I am going to be greatly missed.  Now my ranch family in particular has been on my case all summer about the fact that I’m leaving them for a whole month.  I know it’s their way of telling me how much they appreciate me and will miss me.  Around the ranch, we pretty much give anybody a hard time about leaving.  We get attached. 

So, Monday morning at ranch staff devotions, people were joking about me thinking I’m actually going to leave today.   We use something called Ungame in our devotion time.  It’s a deck of cards with questions designed to get know people better and share thoughts and feelings about life and deeper matters.  We have the Christian version, so it’s all questions about God and the Christian life.  One person reads the question for the day and we go around the circle, so everyone gets a turn to answer.  This can start some great thought-provoking discussions sometimes.   And other times it elicits a lot of laughter when someone gives a not-so-serious answer. 

So the question that morning was, If you could ask God to do three things for you today, what would they be?  Right away Ben piped up and said his answer would be that I not leave.  He came up with a serious answer later, but I have quite gotten the point that they are letting me go very reluctantly!

I had not planned to work on the ranch that day, since I had a few things left to pack and get done.  But I thought I might take one student after lunch, since she’s one of my regulars and I would have everything done by then.  But the kids on the schedule for that session were not able to come, so I decided to go out and take one last ride before I left.  Call it my horse fix that has to last me a month. 

I worked with Cash in the round pen for a few minutes to focus his attention, and then we saddled up and I rode him in the pen for awhile.  Cash belongs to Ben, who is the most horse-savvy person on the ranch staff.  This horse has been on the ranch since last summer and is available to use for lessons, but I had not worked with him much until this summer.  After sticking to the horses I’m most comfortable with for the first few weeks, I realized it was time to challenge myself and build up my experience by working with a different horse.  So I have been working with Cash and using him with a lot of my students for the past month.  When I ride him, I do it in the round pen because it is a small, controlled space.  Cash is a powerful guy with the capacity to go really fast, and he used to barrel race, so he’s programmed to make fast and sharp turns.  I know I’m not ready for that kind of speed on turns, so I’m starting out easy.  But since I’ve cantered him in the round pen a few times, I wanted to try it out in the arena, in a bigger space, and see what he feels like running straight.

After warming him up in the pen, I took him into the arena, and after a few turns I gave him rein to run.  Well, he started off and then went into double time!  This is more speed than I’m used to, and I was concerned about being able to control him on the turns without making it too sharp and falling off.  And he was running straight toward the arena gate.  My attempts to slow him fell short, and since I was worried about turning too fast, I didn’t try hard enough, so he decided on his own to turn as we got right up to the gate.  We’re still going at a pretty fast clip, and I felt myself losing my balance.  There was really nothing for it….I slipped off and crashed hard into the metal gate!  By the way, I was wearing a helmet because I knew falling off was a good possibility in this situation.  I hit the gate with the side of my chin and my left leg.  When I got up, I thought I was just going to be sore and bruised, and I was ready to get back on my horse and regain control.  Then I looked down at my throbbing leg and saw that my jeans were ripped and blood was soaking through.  Oops.  What on earth did I do?  I didn’t look the gate over, but there must be something on it that ripped into my leg.  I had a fairly deep gash.  It wasn’t bleeding too badly after the initial tear, but I wasn’t sure if I could fix it with a bandage.  Then as I’m checking out my leg, my lip starts dripping blood in the dirt.  Wonderful.  I still want to get back on the horse for a bit, but maybe that’s not such a good idea.  So I tie him up and meet Ben, who’s just walking out of the barn.  When he saw the gash on my leg, he thought it would probably need stitches.  It’s about 2:45 now.  I need to leave by 5:00 at the latest to catch the train at 5:30.  All I need now is a trip to the emergency room.  After getting a few other experienced opinions, it was decided that medical attention would be needed.  Two hours later, after five stitches in my leg, three in my lip, and a tetanus shot, I was set to go.  Two of my wonderful girlfriends gathered up my luggage and managed to grab most of the remaining items still waiting to be packed, without me even telling them what I wanted, and met us at the ER with everything, as there was not really time to go back home at that point!   One of the girls drove me straight to the train station and we made it with time to spare and even found a place to change out of my bloody jeans.  And that’s my story. 

You see, I knew everyone was sad to see me leaving and the mood was too subdued.  So I decided I may as well go out with a bang and give my friends some excitement!  I’m quite alright and very thankful that it wasn’t worse and I still made it on the train and my awesome friends took great care of me!  And I figure it will make a great story when I get to Romania and maybe help break the ice with the new people I meet!  We have an enemy who I’m sure does not want me going to Romania, seeking to know God better and love people in a different country.  But God has been leading and providing for me all the way up to the start of this journey, and the incident with Cash just proves that He’s carefully watching over me and He is not going to stop now!  Join me in thanking Him for His love and protection, and keep praying, because He is listening!

Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Viva La Adventure!

Hey there everybody!  This is the first official blog post for my Romanian adventure!  Here I am on the first leg of the journey, on the train bound for Chicago, where I will spend the night with my aunt and uncle.  Tomorrow afternoon I take off from O’Hare International Airport to cross the Atlantic!  After a change of planes in Switzerland, I will land in Budapest, Hungary on the 7th, where I will meet my hosts and make the four hour drive to Arad, Romania.  Viva the adventure!

Some of you may not know what I’m doing in Romania, so I’ll give you the short version right now.  I’ll be able to share a lot more information when I actually get there and find out what kind of arrangements have been made for my time.

I will be serving with a ministry called Rock of Hope Romania.  They have a website if you are interested in learning more about what they do.  My hosts, Scott and Carolyn, are American missionaries who have a heart to help the youth of Romania.  Their primary ministry right now is with young women who age out of the orphanage and have no place to go.  They have an apartment where some of the girls live, and they try to make it as much like a family setting as possible.  They are  loving on them, spending time with them, helping them get jobs and learn skills and whatever will bring them to a place of healthy independence.  Without help, most of the girls would end up on the streets, being dragged into a horrible lifestyle. 

I will be living in the apartment with the girls.  They do not speak much English, so communication is going to present an interesting challenge.  But I am praying to be able to build meaningful relationships with them in the time that I have.  I also have opportunities to serve with other organizations while in Romania.  This will probably include an orphanage, a children’s camp, and a mental institution.  I plan to spend three weeks in the country, and I’m sure there will be many stories to tell along the way!

This trip was not my idea to begin with, but God orchestrated it and provided above and beyond what I needed, and I believe He wants to take me deeper with Him through this experience.  I am excited to see what He has in store, and I am so thankful for all of you who are remembering me and praying as I step out in faith. 

Next installment: the story of how I launched my adventure….I had to create some drama to make it an unforgettable send-off!