Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ministry, messytry

When I was on the plane last week heading to the conference, I almost started crying thinking about how everything would be in English. I don't think we'd even left the runway yet. When we landed in Birmingham and I asked people in the airport for help finding the train station, I didn't actually cry like I expected, but to hear my language, to speak in it... there's a sort of ownership there--there's another word I can't think of at the moment but it conjures up the image of being 'on my turf now.' And to have polite small talk with strangers! I don't know if it was English or England, perhaps both, but it was wonderful.

It's a strange feeling. In one sense, I still wasn't in my culture. The language gave the sense of it being a sort of cousin culture, but on the other hand, there was a feeling of being home in a way I haven't felt in these last six months. It keeps coming back to this, no? Writing about feeling at home. Snatches of it in Romania, in England. You catch and lose it and run after it again, elusive as always. All this longing, and it's one thing I'll never doubt: "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." And, from this amazing song:

I am a pilgrim, a voyager
I wont rest until my lips touch the shore
Of the land that I've been longing for as long as I've lived
Where they'll be no pain or tears anymore

But doing this sort of work changes you. I am not Romanian, despite the things I've picked up. And while I'm American, I suspect I won't fit as well when I go back. And so in a group of people who are all living and working cross-culturally, who are learning languages, loving and teaching students, you find people who understand. It's a sort of sub-culture, even, a culture of cultures. And I didn't want to leave.

It sort of hit me the day before we left. We had some extended time to go off on our own and pray and as I sat down to read my Bible, I felt so ornery and aggravated that I was arguing in my head with everything in the passage. So I finally put it down, thought a minute and came to this conclusion: I'm really going back tomorrow. Tomorrow I will be in Romania. And oh man I did not want to.

Weird, right? Sara loves Romania so much, she loves working there and the people and the language and so on. True, but something about it wears on you in ways that are hard to pinpoint. The obvious things--being away from friends/family/more prone to loneliness, the general frustrations of cross-cultural living--all these things are bearable and certainly the life God has led me through has prepared me very well for this sort of thing. And you think, yes, I am handling this well, no? You feel like you are. But it weighs, it is heavy here and it pulls on you in subtle ways and then suddenly you find yourself on a bed telling God you're not ready to go back. Despite the assurance that 'you are in the right place,' despite loving it, even.

Well. I'm back, so there's that. I know this is normal, so there's that too. And the awareness that we have one gracious God, one who waits patiently while his petulant child throws a fit because she doesn't want to do the thing that she really wants to do. So then there's the sucking it up, the shouldering-in even when it's not flowery and easy and even now there's some thankfulness in being back. And enter grace: he works despite the ways we mess it up, despite our attitudes, despite how what we want changes as often as the weather. And there in the mess of it he's teaching us, teaching them, transforming and redeeming and so far it doesn't seem to be any easier but I am grateful. Or I'm being taught to be--a little of both.

One of the people leading at the conference, one I knew was a pastor before I found out just by the way he prayed, led a seminar on grace and he said something that seems to have stuck. He talked about the unforgiving servant, how he had no idea how huge his debt was and therefore just how much grace he had been given. I could write posts and posts on this, but for now I feel like God is showing me in small pieces the grace he's giving me. How that relates to coming back here and doing my job and his work here, well, we'll see.

No neat ending on this one. Just lots of thoughts. The messy work of it all and a God who came down here and got his hands dirty, if that makes sense. Well, if he did, guess we ought to too.

linguistics at subway

I spent most of Friday hanging out with two Dutch friends killing time while waiting for our flights. We ended up at Subway--I could have cried over my six inch spicy Italian on wheat--and after eating began to teach each other language stuff. They taught me some Dutch, I taught them some Romanian.

Just for fun, I started with probably the hardest sound for native English speakers: ɨ (close central unrounded vowel). If you click the link you can listen to it. So Americans usually pronounce a word like pâine (bread) as if it p-w-i-n-e. But after I pronounced it for them I decided to write it down as well and they got really confused. Where's the l? they asked. The l, what? They were hearing an l.

Turns out the l in Dutch is this one: ɫ (velarized alveolar lateral approximant). Think that Russian-y one that sounds like swallowing. They sound much more alike to me when the Dutch one is said after a vowel as opposed to how it's initially pronounced in the link.

Anyway, I don't honestly know enough about this to say much of anything intelligent and it's been four too many years since my linguistics class (in Spanish!), but something at least feels similar in the way I make these two sounds, so even if I can't tell you in technical terms what's going on, I can hear/feel it. However! I looked it up and Wiki tells me that with lateral approximants (like this one: ɫ), the center of the tongue makes solid contact with the roof of the mouth. And of course with ɨ your tongue lifts toward the roof of your mouth (but doesn't touch).

Well of course! That makes so much sense! It made me so excited when they insisted they heard their l. I love this sort of thing, though. Example, with l and r (the tap). The first time I learned to say te extrañ
are in Spanish, I heard te extrañale and proceeded to say it like that for over a month until I finally heard it again and saw it written out with, to my surprise, an r. It happens in Romanian, too. A word like locurile gets my tongue a little twisted with the l and r that close and I have to slow down about half the time to get it out.

All you linguists, feel free to correct my fumbling descriptions. And language lovers, aren't these sort of things exciting? So much fun! Do any of you switch up sounds like this sometimes?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

wild dogs, dancing & lots of culture

Well, curled in my bed eating lemons with salt to cure a sore throat and otherwise still sort of spinning from this past week at a conference in Germany. Lots of thoughts and reflections about the talks, particularly one on grace, and just how difficult it is to return to Romania after spending a week among people who do what you do, who love students and long for home too.

But that's for tomorrow. For now, the shenanigans and fun leading up to, during and after the conference.

First, I have Bucuresti to thank for being possibly the only city in which nearly getting run over by a car helps keep you from being eaten by a dog. Yeah, that happened. I was walking to the bus stop the day before I left with two big backpacks and one of the street dogs that usually hangs out in the area (and has never bothered me before) decided because I was much larger and formidable-looking than normal that it was his job to chase me out of his territory (read: the part in front of the bloc where you have to walk).

So there he was behind me, barking really loudly. Normally they don't bother me and when they I do, I talk to them. You'd be surprised but heeeei ce faci, ma? cum te cheamaaaaa? works wonders. Probably people think you're crazy and possibly the dogs do too, but it's kept me from being bitten so far and these dogs get pretty aggressive. Anyway, this dog was entirely too aggressive to converse with so I just kept walking quickly and hoped he'd stop once I got out of his territory (again, read: the street).

About a second later I noticed that there was a car coming. Split-second decision-making, pros and cons. If I stop, I will not be hit by the car but I will be eaten by a dog. If I keep walking, I might not get bit (bitten?) but I might get hit--although the dog might too. Second option: more pros. (Six months ago I would have been appalled to hear people joking about running over street dogs... turns out Bucuresti nudges you out of that sensitivity.) So! I stepped in front of the car driving toward me and all in the same second, he slams on brakes, I side-step the car (pretty spry for a kid with twenty kilos on her back), dude is laying on the horn and shouting and the dog bites my leg. Luckily it was more of a nip and I was wearing jeans. However once I was on the other side of the street I turned around and yelled:

Nu mi-e frica de tine! Which means: I'm not afraid of you. Sucker.

Just as a fun factoid, I was reading some newspaper at the conference about some people who cycled across Europe raise money to buy a minibus for a church in Romania and while in this country they reported being chased by wild dogs. Yup, sounds about right.

Second, for the fun night at the conference we got to do ceilidh dancing. Before the actual night, they called for volunteers to help demonstrate to the rest of the group and being deprived of dancing for the last six months, I decide to volunteer myself. Good fun, right? Cross-cultural jumping-in, no? Well, then. Let's just say that while, at one point in my life I could salsa like a boss, I started out less than graceful at the ceilidh dances.

Anyway, finally got the hang of it, and let me tell you, it was a blast. I love dancing anyway, and this sort involved lots of swinging around and stomping and dancing with everybody. So as not to disappoint, I even fell on my head once. Yup. Grace, too, is a gift from God.

And third, the last evening a handful of us played a pick-up game of soccer. I was barefoot and even scored one pretty baller (buh) shot. The best part about it though was that about halfway through a Ugandan guy joined us. One fast dude. When I went after him when he had the ball, I could never tell which way he was going to go. In fact, I even told him that at one point. I said, my feet get so confused when I'm in front of you, left? right? what? Without pause, in the most African way you can imagine, he says:

It is okay to do a little dance!

And one last one, one of the many gems from this weekend, our resident French girl on trying England's pork scratchins:

It is like ze food for cats!

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Two especially good ones from the previous week:

"Christianity seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder.'
--Lamin Sanneh

"Imagine the multicultural chorus of saints from all the ages--ancient Israel's Levite psalmists, clapping African saints with joyful praises, European Reformers with their majestic hymns, monks with their Gregorian and Ethiopian Coptic chants, Latin American Pentecostals with shouts of triumph, messianic Jews dancing the horah, and a generation of North American street evangelists doing gospel rap!" (Would that not be epic?)
--Craig Keener

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

bucuresti surprises me again

Something about Bucuresti: I haven't once seen a really beautiful sunset. It may just be that all the blocs are in the way or that I'm not looking. But this city has done me one better. The thing about blocs on top of blocs is that it means windows on top of windows. And this evening walking home, the bloc facing me looked like it had been lit on fire. Ten stories of bright, blazing orange. And so it seems that anything can reflect beauty, even the grimy side of a Communist bloc.

Above it were hundreds and hundreds of birds. It's still hot here, but I wondered if they were flying south for the winter. My best guess is that the direction they were going was north-west and I wonder now where they were headed. They just kept coming. And so I walked below them, face turned to the sky under the warm orange glow.

Swing Life Away was playing on my iPod. It's just a simple 90s song but I love it so much. A few lyrics:

I've been here so long, I think that it's time to move
The winter's so cold, summer's over too soon
Let's pack our bags and settle down where palm trees grow

But I don't want to move yet, not out of Romania, I mean. I've spent my whole life moving, picking up and starting again. Some new city where Fall is different, some new country where the language is not my own. And I love it. I hope this isn't the last place I live. But watching those birds--I didn't envy them, not exactly anyway. I love doing what they do, look forward to doing what they do, but for everything this city is, this country, its dirt and grime and life-worn people, I am content here. This is where I'm supposed to be right now. It's a good feeling.

The metaphors reach around. Most anyone who can leaves this place. They go to Spain or Italy or the States. Anywhere but here. Not like the birds. And it isn't perfect here. It's a hard, heavy place. But on the bus today God of this City started playing in my headphones and, surrounded by those same threadbare people, it meant something fuller than it ever has before, even having thought through this something like a year ago.

For greater things are yet to come
Greater things are still to be done in this city

I believe that. I see it already. And aren't we all just vessels anyway? Broken, perhaps, some of us pieced back together and filled with a God who restores and redeems. There's the capacity for so much here. Like the filthy side of a bloc, one of thousands here, but the funny thing is they serve as really good reflectors. Who knew?


"Even though the image is now contorted, people are made in the image of God. This is who people are, whether they know or acknowledge it. God is the great Creator, and part of the unique mannishness of man, as made in God's image, is creativity. Thus, man as man paints, shows creativity in science and engineering and so on. Such activity does not require a special impulse from God, and it does not mean that people are not alienated from God and do not need the work of Christ to return to God. It does mean that man as man, in contrast to non-man, is creative. A person's world view almost always shows through in his creative output, however, and thus the marks on the things he creates will be different."
--Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live

Monday, August 15, 2011

an average day at the park

Today, while sitting in the park listening to music, as per usual I was approached. An old man rode by me on a bike staring straight at me and then circled back around not long later and stopped in front of me. The following conversation occurred. (Note: I understood a lot more than I can reproduce so forgive any inconsistencies language-wise.)

Domnul: Sa nu va deranjez... (something that sounded like asculti) musique? C'est (something) musique? [Not to bother you, but... (I think) what kind of music are you listening to?]

Sara: ... [Trying to remember some French]

Domnul: Parlez-vous francais? [Do you speak French?]

Sara: N-- [Started to say that I didn't]

Domnul: Un peu? Un peu? [A little?]

Sara: Oui, mais... [Yes, but... (in reality that was a stall)]

Domnul: (a whole string of stuff I don't really catch) musique?

Sara: Je ne comprends pas. [I don't understand (but I finally remembered how to tell you!)]

Domnul: (something I don't remember)

Sara: Aaa... de unde sunteti? [(attempt at conversation) Where are you from?]

Domnul: Auf wiedersehen! [Goodbye!]

And then his little polyglot self rode happily away.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

'nother article

This one's called "The Mathematics of Changing Your Mind." A quote:

If you want to assess the strength of your hypothesis given the evidence, you must also assess the strength of the evidence given your hypothesis. In the face of uncertainty, a Bayesian asks three questions: How confident am I in the truth of my initial belief? On the assumption that my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate? And whether or not my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate? One proto-Bayesian, David Hume, underlined the importance of considering evidentiary probability properly when he questioned the authority of religious hearsay: one shouldn’t trust the supposed evidence for a miracle, he argued, unless it would be even more miraculous if the report were untrue.

Now this doesn't exactly follow the logic of the article, but it made me think of something else I read a few years ago in a book I can't remember the name of. It said that really it seemed more miraculous that Jesus could die than that he rose from the dead. That God, who created life, from whom all life comes, could cease to be alive, could step outside of life into death: well, that seemed much more preposterous than coming back.

As for thinking through whether it would be more miraculous that he didn't come back to life, as I suppose this specific logic would want me to do, well, maybe miraculous is the wrong word. Wouldn't it be more unthinkable if he stayed dead, if you believe he was really God?

Anyway, fun stuff to think through.

(p.s. Feel free to point out any gaping holes in logic, on my part or otherwise--I just sort of threw this together and besides, it's the conversation around this that I'm more interested in. What do you think?)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

speaking romanian in front of large groups...

Well, after six months of language learning and twenty three years of crazy life, I give you this:

(And I didn't even throw up.)

Let it be known that I am not a public speaker, I never will be. I'll do it, but it'll probably sound that nervous every single time. Unfortunately it seems that I get a fat UHM American accent when I have to give a talk like this, one that I don't think is always there quite so strongly, but I am hoping that by the time I'm fluent enough that I don't have to think about how to say what I want to say, it'll tone down a little.

For those who don't speak Romanian, this is two minutes from a thirty minute talk I gave, this in particular part of my testimony. And though I stumbled through it, the conversations I had afterward with some of the girls remind me that he works through all the junk we bring him. Which of course is the whole point, his work, I mean. Definitely felt honored and privileged to get asked to do this.

Friday, August 5, 2011

a tale of two feet

Fact: I'm really bad at having feet in this country.

My first full day here back in February, my coworker took me on a walk around Berceni and being a) unaccustomed to Winter and therefore unaccustomed to dressing properly for it and b) a little jetlagged and therefore making questionable decisions, I wore flats. There was ice and snow and dog poop on the streets. And actually I don't think I'd ever worn these shoes before. Such was my judgment. Well, it did not take long before the back of my heel started to burn, but I figured I was getting a blister and there was nothing I could do about it anyway so best to just keep walking.

A couple hours later as I was being shown the Mega Image, I took a peek at my heel and imagine my surprise when my heel, the heel of my shoes and the back of my pants were all completely covered in blood.

And then about a month ago I was playing volleyball in the park, barefoot as I am wont to do, when my little right foot got crushed by a not so little guy. Actually, let's be clear. He wasn't much taller than I am, if at all, he was just thick. And wearing tennis shoes and coming down from a spike. And you know the veins or arteries that you can see on the tops of your feet? Well, immediately I started to bruise where those had been visible (they still aren't visible on that foot anymore). And by the end of the night the whole thing was so swollen and bruised I couldn't even wear my shoe. It's finally quit being tender and puffed up in the last week or two.

So three. This past week we were on the mountain, which is one of the best places you can be, sort-of hiking, which is one of the best things you can do. And I even bought a pair of hiking boots because six years after I quit playing soccer I'm still the fall-down girl and need every bit of traction I can get. The thing is, being one who prefers to go barefoot or in flipflops, I don't own any long socks. Just the ankle kind. But I figured even if the socks didn't quite reach the top of the ankle of the boots, it would be okay. Once more we see a gap in judgment.

Two hikes later, lots of gauze and some borrowed socks, I have blisters that aren't exactly blisters: they're more that the skin has been rubbed clean off. That's gross, right? Sorry. Anyway I've been healing them up as best as I can with help from lots of mothers, including my roommate's who put some yellow stuff and some powder on it and made me lie in bed all day Monday with my feet elevated to get the swelling down (looked like I was pregnant). Plus, poor circulation to the extremities means cold feet and slow healing. But we're working on it. We're working on it.