Wednesday, March 30, 2011

more thoughts on redemption and romania

Friday I had a free afternoon and ended up spending about four hours in the park, walking around, taking a few pictures and mostly people-watching. Something I realized as I watched all different types of Romanians walking past is leather jackets and sunflower seeds, two things found in abundance here, both make me think of Communism. Now, this might simply be the result of reading Ayn Rand's _We the Living_ about four times, but it got me thinking about what other things come to mind. And sitting there on a warmish spring day, it occurred to me that I could not imagine a country under Communism in the summer. I think Communism and I think winter, long lines, boots. I was talking to a friend about it and she said most people associate it with Russia and therefore Siberia, vast winters.

But there on the bench, some twenty-one years after the revolution, everyone rollerblading past and the trees starting to become green again, people out and about with their McDonald's and Coke enjoying the warm weather, I could not even imagine this place and its past being one thing. On the one hand, all the western imports do seem more like a thin veneer, a shiny western wrapping over something that is very much its own thing (not western, but no longer Communist--just Romania as it is, as a country and culture(s) in and of itself). And on the other hand, I am reminded of a very present past, something that for better or worse and in ways I have yet to learn, has done a lot of shaping of this place.

I know it sounds like I'm probably obsessed with Communism--honestly, I don't want to bring it up that much because I really do believe that we are not what we lived through, what we made it out of. Yes, it shapes us, surely. But with me, my identity lies in the God who saved me, not what he saved me from. And so with Romania: it's not just a post-Communist country (or any number of other things from its history you can identify it with), it is X, whatever X is and I hope to figure that out with time.

Yesterday I did my first really tourist-y thing here and went with a new friend to the People's House. The guide said a lot of really interesting things, one being that it didn't belong to Ceausescu, that the people were the ones who built it, whose taxes paid for it, and therefore it was theirs. After we left, my friend said that she was glad that it was something redeemable, that they didn't tear it to the ground but instead made something good out if it, owned it.

And that's it, right? That's what our God does. He takes barren women and makes nations, he takes raving murderers and makes the sort of evangelist who changes the world. He takes broken families and saves countries from famine. And then restores that family. I think of my brother, I hope for him. And I wonder what this looks like for this country, right now, because surely it is not a question of if it is being redeemed, but how? And I am excited to know.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

dedicated to the dog who tried to eat me today

Forgive the grammatical mistakes, as there are plenty:

Aici cainii sunt nebuni

Toate zile, marti pana luni
Fug dupa copii
Masinii, bunicii
Nu conteaza deloc ce le spuni

Le place gustul de oameni
Spun eu, ''pa pa, prieteni!"
Nu m-au mancat azi
Dar daca tu cazi
Aminteste: nu scapa nimeni

"Dar ce frumosii sunt cainii!"
Stiu! Asa sunt si ursii
Dar le va fi foame
Vor carne, nu poame
Pai acum le cunosc suspectii...

Which means something like:

The dogs here are crazy
Every day, Tuesday through Monday
They run after kids,
Cars, the grandparents!
It doesn't matter at all what you say to them

They like the taste of men
I say: "Bye, friends!"
They didn't eat me today
But if you fall
Remember: no one escapes!

"But dogs are so cute!"
I know! Bears are too!
But they'll be hungry
They want meat, not berries
Well at least I'll know the suspects...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


"A fourth truth about you is that you are intelligent because God is intelligent: "In the beginning was the Word [logos, a Greek word meaning reason, or logic] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Logical sequential thought flows from the orderliness of God's mind. As a result, though we are not all intellectuals, we each possess a mind and a way of thinking and learning, so Jesus commanded us to love God with our minds (as well as our hearts and all our strength)."
--Dick Staub

Sunday, March 20, 2011


And look what I found parked outside my bloc after church this morning. Small world!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


"'I thought,' she said, 'that I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things he sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms, as when we go swimming. I feel as if I were living in that roofless world of yours where men walk undefended beneath naked heaven. It is a delight with terror in it! One's own self to be walking from one terror to another, walking beside Him as Himself may walk, not even holding hands. How has he made me so separate from Himself? How did it enter his mind to conceive such a thing? The world is so much larger than I thought. I thought we went along paths--but it seems there are no paths. The going itself is the path.'"
--from Perelandra, C. S. Lewis

Friday, March 18, 2011

"united we rise"

Came across this video today and thought it was interesting. I've been thinking about this sort of thing a lot lately, particularly with the history here, riding through metro stations with names like Eroii Revolutiei (Heroes of the Revolution). Thinking about in what we put our hope, whether a political system or ourselves, 'universal brotherhood' or 'unity' or God--and what we expect from that. "A world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness," coming together "in the name of democracy."

It's true that we need kindness and gentleness. I'm also thinking of a quote by Will O'Brien: "When we truly discover love, Capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary."

This is far from being fleshed out, and anyway I want to know what you think.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Mostly just thoughts simmering, these days. There's so much to process, so much that's being observed and sifted through and it's hard to step into in a way that doesn't portray it as miscellany. But that's how things seem to be stringing together lately, and so I'm writing about puzzle pieces, praying about them, waiting for the picture to be completed.

I realized while writing that last sentence that there's probably no better way to describe this process of language learning. And it is one tremendous process. The Romanian language is beautiful and complicated, and every time I feel like I'm starting to get a good grip it manages to wriggle out of my hands. But it's exhilarating--if often frustrating and demanding of patie
nce--to run after to it, to wrestle with it, to slowly begin to master bits and pieces. And to know people a little more in their language, to have a conversation with a student and hear straight from her heart and understand. The truth is that I don't expect this language to ever be anything other than wily and I think if I speak it the rest of my life it'll still be that way, but that part is fun, and I do hope that if I communicate anything it's how amazing it is to be doing all of this.

This Saturday I did indeed play volleyball with some people from OSCEB and I would like to say th
at currently both arms from the elbows down look like beat-up Russian butcher arms, like hams. No, that's gross, too explicit, too masculine. And I hope you made some kind of face when you read it. But they are black and blue and swollen--that's another constant since I've been here, covered in bruises, heh. We played for four hours, longer for the others as I got lost and meandered my way through two gigantic parks in the sunshine until I found them. There's something to physical activity when your brain is tired, though. I understand you when you tell me mai in spate or (ne??) schimbam and even your mischief about smecherie and I can respond in a language that isn't English or Romanian but the one going on in our heads. (With that I'm treading on some shifting ground--I've been reading _The Language Instinct_ and it's got some interesting things to say about all that.) Anyway, it's more manageable, it's a good balance to the intricacies of Romanian. And hey, it was awesome when our team won about five times in a row with nearly all the girls, holler.

The relational side of all this has been incredibly blessed as well. Getting to know my roommate and old friends here more, being a part of a small group. Something I've been thinking about the last few weeks is vulnerability. I ended up skyping for three hours with my lovely Colombian roommate in the States and talked about the sort of things that so easily pull my focus from God, that make me ''prone to wander,'' and here I find the inclination more than usual, as expected. I am foremost thankful for a friend that God is still using some 5,000 miles away.

The thought returns here, tho
ugh, because my life is surely in this place. And these people that I'm beginning to know: is it too soon to be open? How open can I be? Normally, in the States anyway, I'd jump right in, always more likely to err on the over-share, and if you're reading this you probably already know that. Buuh. But there's a sense of the need to appear righteous, holy. While I've been told this was something to expect in the communities of which I am a part here, I realized while praying that maybe it's me as well. I'll just say now that I don't know enough about the culture to be making any sweeping generalizations, but even if it has some validity, and it seems to have some, it makes no difference if I'm holding back as well. If I am afraid of looking unqualified, of being 'too sinful' to do this job.

Let's save the suspense and cut straight to it: I am. As surely as anyone I know, even the
most 'righteous.' "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Tim. 1:15-17) So I will reach my hand toward yours (I will try!) and I hope you will take mine, and the good news is that it doesn't end here. The old has gone, the new has come! And we are daily being made new--so when I find myself looking backward, distracted, maybe instead of pretending, I can say, look! And we will call each other again and again to God in love. It's why I'm here. And fear has nothing to do with it.

I'm not sure where this falls within the realm of cultural adjustment, except that there are different pressures here than in Wilmington, but I am thankful to say that that process is on the whole going smoothly, going well. And for that I thank you for your prayers! Will soon be joining some evangelistic Bible studies with some of the other leaders and students, about which I am very excited. Can't wait to update. And if by some miracle you made it all the way this far, thanks for reading. :)

Also, look what opportunities await me--thank you, Google, ever astute:

Friday, March 11, 2011

and spring

It's finally beginning to feel like Spring here, and the stringy, brown-skinned nine-year-old in me who spent summers swathed in the humidity of the south, heat indexes rising well over 110 degrees says: oh no. I think not. To say that forty nine degrees feels warm, to say that's enough to open the window a few inches and delight in air on your skin that plays with it, that does not wage war against it--what I mean is that it goes against everything I ever learned in the humid sub-tropic. When it finally drops below fifty, maybe sometime in early December, it means winter--what we call winter--has arrived.

And yet, today I did not wear four layers. I wore one underneath my jacket, and no gloves, no hat. As I walked behind my bloc the streets were mostly empty. The snow has all melted and I unwound my scarf from around my neck--and the cool air was delightful on my bare neck.

Tomorrow I will spend the afternoon outside in it playing volleyball with students. I spent the last thirty minutes looking for something I wrote a year or so ago that the mild air has had me thinking about, something about what a morning in this country might feel like. I didn't find it, but I did find this:

It was beautiful today. And my head's in a hundred other places. My heart's here and it's elsewhere too and I want to reach my hand across lines and oceans and borders and--

The T in me says, silly, look what a perfect clear day will do to you. It wants me to be reasonable, to be rational, but I find myself sitting here thinking of so many things, wanting to write sentences that don't end with words that liken stretched-out, flung-out sky to reaching, filled to bursting. I want to use words like expanse, cusp. The very cusp.

I think about how much a day like today will do to me. It was cool, but warm when the sun was on your skin, no humidity. It reminded me of Guatavita and the mountains in Romania. In fact, this morning I washed my hands with some scented soap, vanilla, and there was some lotion I used in Romania that smelled exactly like it. And I put on a pair of capri things I haven't worn since then and sitting there putting my shoes on, a couple of other things factored in, and I was right back. That soap has been doing that to me lately, bringing me back at unexpected moments. If it's not too strong a word, it's a little bit exhilarating. One minute you're walking to class and the next, all of a sudden you've got this feeling of familiarity--as sort of sensual deja-vu, I guess you could call it--and then a memory or two.

I think God must have known this when he made me--of course he did, so I suppose I'm saying how thankful I am that he did so this way. It's like someone leaving you a note, surprising you, something wonderful like that. God saying, remember this moment? And then I remember just how much he's blessed me, how much he loves me, where he's brought me from. That he has hope and a future for me. I'm in love with his creation, all twirly-spinny, nothing short of smitten. I feel silly. It was just so beautiful today.

It's late, but if I could be anywhere right now it'd be laying in the dunes down at the south end of Wrightsville, watching the sky through the long grass, forgetting about what's next or what six months ago was. Just cold sand, cold air, the swell and ebb of a whole ocean that only comes up so far.

But this is all new, this all beginnings and firsts. This time I do not find myself pulled places by similarities, pulled toward memories by some echo that bridges the gap. Rather, it is the differences, and even then they are mostly below the surface, waiting patiently to be processed. It's an unexpected change, this one: normally this constant processing spoils the coolness of a morning or the quiet of walking alone at night with too much introspection a la Surprised By Joy. And I'm thankful for the freedom in this.

At the same time, I'm recognizing that the busyness of a city like Bucuresti does not leave much space for the sort of solitude one finds at the south end of Wrightsville. I'm thinking I'll begin making regular trips to a park soon. In the meantime I am longing for a mountain to climb, for the sort of physical movement meets stretches of space for thoughts to run. To pray, especially. Nothing like going on the mountain to pray.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

tinerii romani

And look what I found in Piata Victoriei this morning:

(Romanian youth are /not/ superficial)

Interesting, indeed. Here's the Asta e Romania website I was talking about.

Monday, March 7, 2011

ten crazy things you might do or say when coming to live in romania for the first time

Finally have internet, and while I am quite out of practice when it comes to blogging, and in the hopes that this will lure you into skyping with me, instead of telling nearly a month's worth of stories, here are ten crazy things you might do or say when coming to live in Romania for the first time:

1. You'll eat this wonderful bread (actually all the bread is wonderful...) called paine de cartofi which means potato bread. What you'll call it instead in front of about eight Romanians is: paine de pantofi. Shoes bread! **Also, when I typed this last night, I managed to translate pantofi as pants instead of shoes. It gets crazier and crazier.

2. You'll also say ce ciorba (how sour soup!) instead of ce ciudat (how strange). Hopa!

3. And speaking of being confused, if your name is Sara you will have the unexpected advantage of being the only one. However, instead of having to determine which of the four Sara's is being addressed in a group, you will find yourself saying poftim? (pardon?) every time you hear these words: seara, tara, sare, sarea, and so forth. They're close, too, particularly when your name's being spoken by a non-native speaker, so about ten times a night you'll be greeted by good evening and asked to pass the salt and you start to tune out your name. AND THEN when they put your name in the dative (Sarei), you'll be so used to ignoring it you won't even know they were addressing you.

4. You, along with about thirty other eager students, will be tied to the back of a van well after midnight in the middle of the countryside and you'll be dragged down a long, icy road. There will be sledges involved, and also loss of feeling in the fingers, and you'll probably fall off and then accidentally get dragged or have to run alongside them so you don't get left to get eaten by wolves. It will be glorious. You will bond with students in all kinds of new ways.

5. You will nearly burn down the bloc (apartment building) when attempting to make microwave popcorn on the stove because you don't have a microwave. You'll be unaware of the need for oil and will accidentally start a small fire, which of course will be put out quickly enough, but then there's the waving of a white towel out the window in order to get the smoke out. And hey, you're not frantic, you're not panicking, but you figure there are only so many ways waving a white towel out a smoking window can translate and then you'll hear sirens. Turns out they're not for you, but oh man.

6. And surprise! They use real wine with communion at your church here. I don't think this is terribly uncommon in the States, but as you have never had it with communion before, it will catch you quite off guard. Imagine accidentally spitting out the blood of Christ. Buuh.

7. If you come sometime around the beginning of March and you're a girl, you'll feel pretty special! It's pretty much a week for women sandwiched between Martisor and Women's Day. And you will receive lovely flowers.

8. Also, if you blend in well, you will be asked four times (already) for directions in the metro. The first two times will be early on and you won't be able to say much except nu stiu (I don't know). The third time you'll not only understand what you're being asked, you'll know about where you're being asked and you'll give them directions. Only later will you realize you confused Sun Plaza (a mall) with City Mall and gave a fourteen-year-old bad directions.

9. You will realize that, as of now, this blending in will be both to your advantage and terribly problematic. It helps because everyone speaks to you in Romanian because they think you are and therefore assume you understand. This helps your language learning a whole ton. However, sometimes they think you understand a lot more than you do and you end up with one of two problems. The first is that when you don't understand, people don't think, oh you're foreign, they think, oh you are really stupid. The second is you wind up not knowing things you should know. The question now is: will you be stubborn and continue to insist on Romanian, or will you get over it and ask that it be said in English?

As a quick addendum, the problem with stubbornness and wanting to say so many things in a language you just can't yet is that you really want to know people better, you want to ask them about their lives and what they love and why so many things, but you're stuck behind a language wall you can only half-climb at the moment. So again, resigning to English with the benefit of having real conversations? Or holding out a few more months, shouldering through, and then all those good things?

10. Yes, you will say lots of really whack things. You will watch a lot, listen a lot, want to engage more and pray for people so much more than you have before. You'll miss your friends dearly but also feel at home here, will think lots of things about how life works in new places, where it all is leading, and you'll want to understand it the way a Romanian does. With lots of appreciation for how Americans do. You'll have to be very patient, and while that will not be easy, it will help that your friends here are so patient with you. And then, bam! You'll realize that all those years back home you spent learning about grace are coming in handy, and surprise, it's not so much that you have to be graceful, although you do, but instead you are given grace daily and abundantly.

The funny surprise is it always seems to be turned back on you like this. What a surprising place.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


All I want to do is write and I have no idea at all how to begin. As I'm writing in English, phrases I know in Romanian come to mind: at all--deloc, and I can see in some ways how the changes are already begun. I wonder what God will make of all this, what he'll do, where he'll bring it.

Last week it was Martisor and as I walked to the metro, the streets were even more full than usual with people selling things. One man I saw twice (going in one direction--I don't know how), first when I got off the bus and then again right at the entrance to the metro and he was clearly homeless, selling lighters and tissues. I don't want to write about the homeless people, I don't want to play the poor-Romania card. And I've seen these things before, have been in big cities, but Bucuresti is my city now. I live here, I buy groceries, my room is filled with its light in the mornings.

There's a lot of sitting back and watching, especially when things are so new. And I have seen a strange, eclectic collection of things. My first day I saw a little three year old boy go up and kick one of the sleeping street dogs and an old lady swept down out of who knows where and gave him a scolding even I understood. And the other night, it was late and I was waiting for a bus, hoping the last one hadn't already come, and it started snowing again, fine enough that I could turn my face upward and watch it fall in the orange streetlight. There's the Asta E Romania billboards that say things like Romanian youth are superficial and Romanians don't know how to enjoy themselves and at first I couldn't believe what I was reading, it was so negative. But I've since learned it's part of a campaign about pessimism, and I don't know much but I'm interested to see what they do with it. And of course there are the mountains, the ones that surprised me one morning in Rasnov, this line cutting into the sky, reaching upward in the distance, lit up pink catching high light. That place was so vast.

Here in Bucuresti I spend as much time underground as above, and there are so many people, little snatches of whole worlds for five minutes on the metro. Sometimes it's enough to have me praying and praying, wondering how their stretch of life brought them to that moment. Maybe that sounds presumptious, but I see more here than I did in the States, but it's somehow less accessible. What I mean is that, while back home everyone puts on a happy face, the other day I watched a man who looked like he'd lost his job, and he kept starting to dial his phone and then would put it back in his pocket and hold his face in his hands a while. But what can I do?, the potential presumption being that I feel I should do anything, but my stomach lurches forward and I find myself speed-praying until he gets off or I do, for a man I'll never see again.

I could go on with all this. The people are what kept my heart turned toward this place, and still it is true. I mean the people in church and OSCEB and how they love God, and also the man on the metro, my Romanian professor who spent an hour telling me how fatalistic her people are. Whether and to what extent any of this is true, I don't know for myself yet. I've been told from all kinds of people all kinds of things, but I won't pretend to know this people, this city. It's all still watching and seeing, and there is so much to learn.

There's a verse my old staffworker used to talk about all the time, Jeremiah 29:7: "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." I don't feel like I've been exiled here, and I don't mean bringing 'American optimism' and 'fixing' anything. It's still early on, and of course I think the dog poop is gross, that it smells on the bus in the morning, and I have been cold for three weeks straight. But despite the extent to which I may still be glorifying and romanticising it, the city is beautiful to me, and I hope dearly for it, the same way I hope for my own Wilmington down by the river at night. And it is surely a God of hope we serve.

And I am praying for Bucuresti, for its people. I think of my home in the south, how it is beautiful and also broken, also so dark. I don't know Bucuresti in this way yet, nor do I know its people but I ache to. Why was it so hard for that man to make a phone call? I don't know. It's all just questions right now, and I know God is at work here and somehow my students are a part of that, my friends here and those of you reading this. I'll be in Bucuresti at least six months--the truth is that right now I hope it will be longer--in Romania much longer. Whether God will bring me to a new country after this one as my roommate is convinced, o sa vedem. But that verse spoken to Jeremiah by a God who did bring his people back from exile, who promises to restore and redeem them, is underscoring all the questions. O sa vedem means we'll see, and I really believe we will.