Day 8: It Is Hard to Say Goodbye

Today we rose bright and early to go work our final day at the work-site. Our group split up as seven of us went to work and the remaining three went to go spend the morning with the kids from the Sunshine School. As the work team unloaded at the house, we got to work pouring concrete columns on each side of the house. We worked efficiently and finished before noon. By the end of the week we had completed both the inner and outer walls and put in reinforced concrete columns.

Randall is the champion of the wheelbarrow.

While the fellows went to the work-site, the ladies walked to the city park with several Darius House and Amy’s House kids. The walk is only about 25 minutes, but many of these roads are main roads. Us Americans had death grips on the children’s sweaty little hands on the main roads. It was fun to see them playing on the playground with all the other children. They were living out RCE’s vision of a normal life. There are tons of swing-sets at this playground and they are a fan favorite with the kids. The park is huge and the RCE workers are amazing at keeping track of the children and keeping them engaged. The park has lots of spots of shade, so we were able to spend most of the morning there before heading back to the Sunshine School for lunch.

After lunch, we finally received another siesta today. Our work schedule has been great but very full, and we have often asked why Romania doesn’t take a siesta like other parts of Europe. This is one tired crew! Our post-siesta, afternoon activities included shopping and The Arad Street Food Festival. Ovi, ever the amazing guide, first took us to exchange dollars for lei. The exchange rate is about four lei per dollar and US money goes a long way. Just down the street was another pastry shop where we sampled sauerkraut, potato, chocolate, and apple pastries on the street. We hit up a souvenir shop in the city then headed to “the ‘burbs” to visit Jumbo, Romania’s Toys ‘R Us, and Real, a huge supermarket. We purchased six different flavors of Fanta at Real and proceeded to have a Fanta taste testing in the parking lot. Will was the final judge and his verdict is orange is the best. Everywhere we went we were amazed at how little we spent, especially at the grocery store!

The pastry case.

Ovi informed us this was the 3rd year of the Street Food Festival. They had moved it to the city park some of us toured the other evening and with the shade from many trees it was lovely. We got there early and crowds and lines were not very long. The event consisted of about 20-30 food & drink trucks, live music, picnic tables, a pop-up bar, and beans bags scattered about for lounging. We were all able to order different things like huge German sausages on pretzel roles, Angus beef, tacos, and chicken sandwiches. Will, who always likes distinguish himself from the rest, chose McDonald’s. He has set a goal of visiting McDonald’s in every country he visits, so he can check Romania off his list. We walked through the city to a specific street vendor Ovi knew about for ice cream cones after dinner. They offered two flavors of ice cream: chocolate and cantaloupe. Some ordered a mixed cone; cantaloupe ice cream probably a first for many of us. We then took a quick stroll by the river and headed back to the Sunshine School.

Our time here has quickly come to an end and we had to say goodbye for now to Ovi, but we look forward to seeing him in the states this Fall. It is time for us to pack our bags as we head out of Arad at 5:30 tomorrow morning. We will take the same route home; traveling to Budapest by car, a quick flight to Frankfurt, a short layover, and then the long flight back home. We will arrive home with tired eyes, but very full hearts.

There are certainly comforts of home we have all missed, but we will be sad to leave Romania for many reasons. To name just a few: the people and their warm hospitality, the need, the food, the loving children, and specifically the RCE staff and Martin Family. The RCE ministry here has been the most amazing thing to see. It is so much more than most of us ever knew before we came. The ministry is commendable for how they care, shepherd, steward resources, and so much more. We have been touched by and applaud their efforts to work with the local churches here in Romania for every Caring Project Family. We have also been pleased to see and hear about how they educate, counsel, and mentor families, as to not enable them. The people of Romania get mercy ministry. Even this week we saw many, many examples of those who RCE had helped giving back because they know that is what the Lord has called them to do. The Lord is touching hearts here and may everything RCE does glorify him!

Will is in heaven eating McDonalds and chilling in a bean bag!

Please pray with us for the ministry here:
-Pray specifically for the C Family. Pray their lives would be changed by their new home. Pray they would heed Ovi’s guidance and learn to care for their home. Praise the Lord for their local church and its involvement in their lives.
-Pray for the workers as they continue to work on the home and hope to have the roof on in the next month.
-Pray for Ovi and Doina Martin. Pray for strength for them both in this ministry. Pray for wisdom as they help make decisions about where the ministry will go next. Praise the Lord for their beautiful family, and pray as their daughter gets married this month.
-Pray for all the RCE children and placements, as well as all the Sunshine School children. May they live normal lives. May they know the Lord as they are able. It can be hard to just see pictures online and get a good feel for them, but they are all special in God’s sight.
-Pray for the RCE staff, who are all a delight. Give them strength as they do this very challenging work. Pray they would have perseverance even when they cannot see results.
-Pray for more opportunities to help those in Romania. Shout praises for the Lord’s providence and provision in the families he has already brought to RCE.

The next building on the RCE campus will be the Teo Sport Hall. This will provide a much needed space for physical therapy. Please pray construction goes well. Teo is an RCE child who died last year from muscular dystrophy. Please also pray for his brother who is also suffering from MD and the prognosis does not look promising.

We are all off to bed for an early flight! Well… except Robert and Daniel, two of our teenage teammates, who were invited to play soccer with some folks from Ovi & Daniel’s church… starting at 10pm. We hope they are having fun! It looks like this trip is a wrap, please pray for safe and uneventful travels tomorrow.

THE SUNDAY SCARIES: I can’t help but feel the Sunday Scaries, and it has nothing to do with work on Monday. I know it is only Friday, but I’m not sure I want to leave. The scaries are setting in for a couple of reasons. First, our time here has been so beautiful and these people are so loving why would we want to leave? Second, our lives have been changed by being here. We must go back and decide how this will impact our lives in the States. How will we steward our resources? Where will we invest our time? I’ve been told to expect culture shock returning to the states, and I’m not sure I’m quite ready for it yet… this trip has sure given me a lot to think and pray about.

Day 7: A Normal Life

What do you do with a free day in July when the weather is beautiful? Climb a mountain to see the ruins of a 14th century castle and enjoy the incredible views from the top. While at the top, play silly games with your friends and then enjoy a quiet walk in the woods. And before you head down, have a picnic lunch. That’s the stuff of a normal life.

And that’s what we did with the first half of our day. But we got to do it with the orphans from the Darius Houses and Amy’s House. These kids have a variety of cognitive, emotional, and physical disabilities. Today we enjoyed the same simple pleasures together.

At the top!!
Jump Anna!
Angela and Sorin

We started our afternoon by learning about RCE’s Job Center programs. These are programs that provide vocational opportunities for young adults with special needs, including young adults still with RCE, and others placed in local families years ago. They make a variety of snack packages (salty and sweet!) and jams that are sold in community. They sort, cut, and package old clothes into bundles of rags that are sold to local industries. And they work in RCE’s vegetable garden, yielding produce for all the different RCE kitchens. And they learn the joy and dignity of work. All part of a normal life.

RCE jam for sale.

We finished our afternoon at RCE’s Pecica campus. This is RCE’s residential campus for older teens and young adults who came through the Darius Houses, but were never adopted into a Romanian family. The residents vary greatly in their abilities and function. Some live a semi-independent life. They have a small private apartment and take the tram each day to Arad to work at the Jobs Center. Others live in Sorin’s House, a beautiful new home that opened in March, 2018, or in Pecica House. All enjoy the peace and quiet of the beautiful campus and the security and significance of simply being known and loved. A place to call home where you are known and loved. All part of a normal life.

We spent a couple of hours working on the campus. We cleaned, we painted, we worked on a new swing for the playground, and laid brick pavers to help finish a large covered porch. And we played games and laughed with our friends. All part of a normal life.

A lovely bright peach color for the sides of the new porch. Romanians love bold, bright colors for their homes.

The world doesn’t count disabled orphans in Romania as worth much. But to our Lord, they are just as precious as any of us. And through His love and power, RCE restores their broken lives to what they should have been.

Today is July 4th, our nation’s birthday and our Independence Day. But how can we celebrate 4,500 miles from home? Our Romanian hosts took care of that: the biggest feast yet, a live band that began with the Star Spangled Banner, some Romanian fireworks, and a wonderful “birthday” cake. We all felt incredibly loved by our Romanian friends.

Happy Birthday USA!!

Just when you think the day is done: US versus Romania in soccer. The Romanians prevailed 4-3, but only because we ate more!

Day 6: 2nd Day of Home Construction, Romanian Style.

It is starting to look like a house.

I think most of us were dreading our second day of manual labor building a house–because of the 93 degree temperature we had on Monday. However, there was a thunderstorm overnight and we awoke to a light rain and much cooler temperatures. Praise the Lord! As it turned out we had a perfect day to work outside; fairly cool and overcast all morning, but sun and blue sky in the afternoon without sizzling heat. As a result we made quick progress on the house, completing all the interior walls and pouring concrete for 4 structural columns; only 9 more columns to go on Friday.

Jim is still smiling on the job.

The tasks were similar to Monday: some followed the recipe for cement mortar, others used wheelbarrows to bring the mortar from the mixer to the mortar layers and masons. Many of our own team acted as mason assistants and became good mortar layers. The masons were skilled Romanian construction men who were careful to use levels to make the walls straight and perpendicular. All of us again had the opportunity to unload a pallet of perhaps 100 ceramic building blocks and move the blocks in close for the block layers to fit them in with mortar; reminds me a bit of building with Lego bricks, but this time with mortar in between the bricks. Others from our team started a new task today: putting together four thin rods of rebar which would be used to make the columns. I would have thought we’d make the columns first and then fill in the spaces with the Romanian style ceramic bricks with mortar, but they do it the opposite way. The ceramic bricks go up first with mortar, then wooden forms are added in corners or in the middle of long walls and the rebar is placed down in the column and then a wheelbarrow of concrete with fair sized rocks mixed in is poured down the columns by hand–passing buckets upward fire-brigade style until the skilled worker at the top pours it down the column and fills each one up.

Our team, the builders, and the C Family! We are making great progress.
Alan and Anna making the forms for the columns.
Rob is a great mason’s assistant, if this whole preaching thing doesn’t work out. 😉
Will is helping make mortar by shoveling sand. We love his energy and enthusiasm.
Unloading blocks by hand.

For lunch we visited another Romanian family, actually a family that had immigrated to Romania from Ukraine; it was Mom and Dad, 7 kids and a grandmother or two. RCE had improved their home and added on to it to make it more livable for them, and their lives dramatically improved. They served us a delicious pork and potato soup which fortified us for work in the afternoon. We ate in the shade of their trees, Romanian style, and it was quite lovely. They sang beautifully for us and lifted our spirits for an afternoon of work.

The grandmothers.
Our lunch hosts singing.

After a day of real construction work, we had dinner at Amy’s House on the RCE campus–spaghetti and then chocolate desert made by some of the residents there. The Amy’s House residents and staff member joined us. Ovi told us his story–how he was to become a history teacher or leave Romania and go to America, but God “touched him” and he developed a heart and lifelong passion for mercy ministry to Romania’s many needy children and families. We were all quite moved by his testimony and his honesty in describing how God has worked in his life. He explained the scope of RCE’s work and the many facets of the ministry. This all makes so much more sense now that we have seen and visited many of these places. The work is so much more vast and rich than what we knew before we came here. RCE has 105 full time employees and that doesn’t include part timers or contract workers. He also shared his vision RCE and his hopes for the future. Ovi and his wife are so optimistic and trust God to provide in all that they do, even in a place where hope for the future could be daunting.

Pretzels. 25 cents for regular 50 cents for specialty like cherry filling or chocolate filling.

Then Ovi took those who wanted to go on a tour of downtown Arad. We walked through a beautiful city park, saw The Cultural Palace (for arts performances), walked across the River Mures to the city swimming pools and waterslides, and then it was off to Gigi’s for street pretzels and McDonalds for ice cream (yes, McDonalds and Ovi told us about the first grand opening of McDonalds in Arad which drew hundreds of locals and was quite a shindig).

But wait there is more, Ovi knew people at the the best hotel in town–the 11 story hotel Omni and next thing we knew we were on the balcony of the tallest building in town overlooking the beautiful city of Arad.

The small crew that went on the tour.
Views from the 11th story.
We came at the right time of day.

It’s very good to be with Ovi. Ovi’s love for all the children we meet is beautiful to see. We have seen Ovi act as father or at the very least an uncle to all the children including the Darius house kids, Amy’s house kids, RCE placements, Caring Project family’s, and more. I am reminded of Psalm 68:5 “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” At lunch he showed us pictures of the baptism of two of the girls in the family we were visiting; he looked so proud. He tears up when they sing for us; hope has been restored and lives changed. We are so thankful for the opportunity to see this.

He also mentors the caring project families as a whole. He and his wife teach the parents how to clean, how to care for their house and family, and they encourage them to get their driver’s license or pursue other things. They do much spiritual mentoring. This includes the Darius house kids and placements, RCE is not trying to fix their physical disabilities (although they do work on that as much as they are able) they are trying to meet their spiritual needs. RCE provides stability for these children. They let them know that no matter what they do, they have a place here. So they can run away, or break things, or destroy flowers, or even deny Jesus Christ and RCE will still love and care for them.

THE LORD PROVIDES: Ovi’s love continues for his city. He sees himself doing mercy ministry in Romania for many, many years to come. Towards the end of our evening tour we asked Ovi how RCE received their property. He said it was free; given to RCE by the city. Someone heard about what RCE was trying to do and was in full support. What a blessing! The RCE campus is so close to downtown Arad that land is quite expensive. We toured the neighborhood full of large homes, some even mansion sized. RCE is so grateful to be here, it is only a 25 minute walk to the main drag. Ovi said on nice days he will walk with the children to the park. Another amazing example of the Lord’s provision here in Romania!

Day 5: A Road Trip of Mercy

On Tuesday, July 2, we departed our home base at the Sunshine School for a day-long road trip into the Mures River Valley. There were two major objectives for the day: see the work of RCE’s Placement Team & RCE’s Caring Team. The Placement Team works to place abandoned/orphaned children with special needs into loving homes and the Caring Team is focused on poverty prevention.

The first part of the road trip was focused on the work of the Placement Team and meeting families who had adopted children. There are 12 families in this valley, all within the same county that RCE is in, that have adopted special needs children over the past several years. The work of the Placement team is thorough and excellent. On their staff team they have social workers and counselors along with placement specialists who work with the family, the legal system, and local churches to make sure that the placement of these special needs children goes well.

During the morning it was both a blessing and incredibly humbling to meet family after family who made the decision to adopt a special needs child, most of them had adopted multiple children. RCE is committed to walking alongside these families for many years after they adopt the children.

We stopped in one particular village named Obarsia where four families have adopted children. The village school had closed down years ago and the classroom was empty. These families were able to work together with RCE to get permission to use the classroom as a satellite campus of the Sunshine School, now there is a school for special needs children there in that community.

Four families in Obarsia that have adopted children
This couple adopted these two young boys with special needs.
Will enjoys lunch with one of the children that has been placed in a loving home by the ministry of RCE

The second half of the day was focused on meeting families that had been helped by the Caring Team. This team is focused on breaking the cycle of poverty. They help in a variety of ways: food packages, school supplies and tutoring, small interest-free loans, and housing improvements. Their work is always done in partnership with the local church. During the afternoon portion of our road trip we visited a small car repair garage that RCE helped a man start and a small raspberry farm that they assisted with a loan.

I have been impressed by how RCE has levels of accountability built into all of their assistance. Again and again you can see their commitment to empowering those they serve and not enabling any unhealthy choices or habits in life. 

RCE helped this gentleman start a small car-repair garage.
Team member Alan Peters (and everyone else) samples the produce at the raspberry farm we visited
Every mealtime brings the warmest hospitality and tastiest food. Here Juliana Hege enjoys a baked apple dessert.

A road trip like this forces you to consider how you are living your life back home. How am I stewarding the resources God has given me? I met several families that adopted these special needs children after all their biological children (one family had 11) had already left the house.  I am still a decade away from any potential empty-nest years, but how might I use that season to make mercy happen? And even now, even this next year, what would it look like to extend God’s mercy to those around me with special needs, battling with poverty, or those who have been orphaned?

Day 4: Grace and Mercy

Today we witnessed and experienced grace and mercy in a dynamic way. Very simply and with purity we were loved and were able to love. Psalm 145 has never been more meaningful than today.

“The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.” Psalm 145:8-9.

Let’s start with grace. We have faithfully followed Ovi’s rule of eating well and not dieting while in Romania. We had another spectacular spread for breakfast. We followed that meal with a fabulous lunch hosted by the local Baptist Church with traditional Romanian cabbage roll filled with rice and meat. The C family joined us with the kids singing afterwards. This good food continued with dinner hosted by a family that RCE previously helped complete their house. We enjoyed noodle soup, delicious potatoes, pork sausage, fried pork and chicken. The dessert was glorious. The entire family sang marvelously. They will visit the USA in the Fall. Stay tuned. You will not want to miss meeting and hearing about this family.

Traditional Romanian cabbage roll with rice and meat. Yummy!
Enjoying Romanian hospitality.
Everyone is excited when the mashed potatoes come out.

That was the grace of God.
Now for the real mercy work.

We began building with the Romanian builders. The meaning of laboring in love took on new meaning as we moved block into place on the already poured slab of concrete. It reached a hot 92F. We drank a lot of water, worked hard, and made great progress. The Romanians were expecting to lose a few Americans. The body count was zero, and we all survived. We kept working and even Ovi confessed we had a good team and accomplished much. It was hard work. We pray that the Lord uses the work He has brought about to bless the C Family and many more.

The slab before we began.

The last block of the day.
We are building for the Lord, the Croitoriu family, and their community.

Day 3: Hot Hills

The RCE staff again thought of us and let us sleep in. They had a wonderful breakfast of fried eggs, sausage, cucumber, tomato, radish (all 3 from the garden), cereal, apples and bread (of course). The eggs were very fresh, nothing but local, with the brightest yellow/orange yolks. Even without salt they tasted good! Sorry even Wegmans can’t compete with that. We were also treated with homemade sweet cherry and apricot jam made by the older children in the RCE Job Center. Abundant coffee has been served at every meal and every need has been provided for above and beyond.

Small reception after church. These are the families of placements.

After breakfast we headed out to one of the villages for church. The church we visited supports RCE extensively. They have provided 18 placements for RCE and the principal of the Sunshine School attends this church. All of the service was in Romanian, except for Rob’s preaching. We were a bit late (our professional driver may have gotten a bit turned around), and as we entered they were singing Great is Thy Faithfulness. According to Ovi’s wife they have translated many songs. The Romanians sing beautifully, especially Ovi’s daughter, Karina. We couldn’t understand a word but it was lovely none the less! Jim gave a nice greeting to the church and then it was our turn to sing. We had chosen Amazing Grace and only practiced once that morning. It was a rocky start but thankfully the keyboard player knew the hymn well and began playing by ear. The Romanians knew it to and began singing some in English and some in Romanian. Saved by the Romanians! We all thanked him profusely after the service. Rob preached a wonderful sermon on the cost of Grace, which was translated by the pastor. Again, as an American who only speaks one language, I felt very humbled. We then proceeded to their fellowship hall for a small reception they had provided. It must be apricot season as they are abundant here; we also enjoyed sour cherries, as well as pastries. Here we got to speak more with the pastor of this church and meet some of the folks who have adopted. We got to see their children, all grown up, some of them married and having their own kids, and all doing so well. The Romanians are such a kind and welcoming people. They are excited to see you, serve you, and help teach you the language. They have much patience!

One small part of lunch.

We then headed back to the RCE campus for another wonderful meal, though none of us were hungry. The first course of the meal consisted of chicken noodle soup and bread, a Sunday specialty in Romania. Ovi was quick to point out the broth was made the right way, low and slow, unlike in the U.S.. The soup was followed by a cabbage salad, schnitzel and mashed potatoes. With very full bellies we took another quiet time for naps and reading.

The favorite spot.

Our team, Ovi, Lorena, and three RCE kids headed off for a hike in the afternoon. We picked up one of the children’s siblings from a government group home on the way. First, we visited this same child’s favorite spot in his village. He too used to live in the group home before coming to RCE. Then we headed down the road just a bit for a steep hike up to visit a fort. Again I learned that the Romanians are better at almost everything, including hiking. It was the first of 3 quite warm days we will experience here in Romania and we were feeling it! But the view from the top of the fort, the village, and the river were very much worth it. Our guides gave us an excellent history lesson and even instructed some of us on how to walk on the walls and climb the tower. Getting up was easy. but it was coming down that was the hard part. In America you would never be allowed to walk on the walls; it is entirely too dangerous. However, we are learning that maybe safety isn’t of the utmost importance in Romania. No helicopter parents here!

The front of the fort.
Rear entrance of the fort.
The river is behind us.
Jim and Randall.
The brothers at the top.

After our hot and sweaty hike, we all arrived back at the van safely, by God’s grace, and grabbed a cold drink in the convenience store. Many flavors of Fanta are available here and they are a fan favorite! We then headed to dinner at Daniel’s house. He was one of our professional drivers yesterday and started working at RCE two years ago. His family lives in a lovely home with a beautiful garden and two friendly pups, Happy and Lucky. His wife prepared yet another amazing meal of goulash and bread, followed by Tiramisu and watermelon. The pork goulash was amazing and the tiramisu got rave reviews, Daniel’s wife is a pro in the kitchen. I just want you to get an idea of how sweet these Romanian people are. After Randall talked about goulash he had enjoyed in another European country on the car ride yesterday, Daniel changed the menu and decided to make it for us even though it is a Hungarian dish and not a traditional Romanian dish. Truly the hostess with the mostest!

Daniel’s wife.

Back to the RCE campus after dinner for some exciting games of Volleyball. As I’m sure you can guess, the Romanians are better at Volleyball than the Americans. Are you sensing a theme here? We’ve have had a sweet time thus far, but the real work begins tomorrow! Stay tuned!

Ovi, our professional driver.

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT: I’ve been struck by the many similarities and differences here. In some ways it’s exactly the same as in DC and in other ways it’s completely different. For example, today we were driving, quite speedily, down the narrow village roads and not once but twice we had dogs run out into the roads from people’s homes. Ovi didn’t slam on his breaks and wait for dogs to go back inside. He didn’t get out of his car and lure the dog back into the home or onto a leash. Nope! He just kept driving, not even putting his foot on the break. The dogs got out of the way just in time, as he must have known they would. I couldn’t help but laugh as I looked around the van at all the wide eyed Americans who thought for sure the dogs were goners and thought about how traffic would have stopped if this happened on one of our streets. I frequently have to stop in my neighborhood and let the geese cross, but let me tell you these European drivers stop for no one. On the other hand, today at the reception after church I couldn’t help but feel quite at home. Something so normal in churches to have refreshments and welcome visitors after church. The city of Arad looks a lot like DC with McDonalds and Lidl, while the villages paint a very different picture with all their clay tile roofs and clotheslines. Similarly, they drive on the right side of the road here, and differently they sit all the men on one side of the church and all the women on the other side separated.

Day 2: Warmest Welcome

I am really wondering why we all fought quiet time as children. Never has it been so amazing! Most of us took naps during our down time, and the kind RCE folks kept the soccer fields quiet and the campus free of rowdy noise for a couple of glorious hours. (I should note our youngest team member, Will, did not nap and was still chugging away hours later. Wouldn’t we all kill to have energy like that? He asked for coffee the next morning, but believe me he doesn’t need it.) We awoke like new people, refreshed and renewed, and we were able to take a tour of the RCE homes and meet the children. As soon as we stepped into the yard area the children flocked to us. Many of them are non-verbal, but they wanted to touch us, hold our hands, and a few could tell us their names. One boy picked us weeds and gave them to us, while the youngest boy touched each woman’s painted toenails enamored by our nail polish. We were warned that one young girl was even obsessed with coffee and to not be surprised if we were rushed during our morning coffee. Little Marian was so excited to see Mr Perry, who he remembers from his time in America for RCE’s Run For Their Lives 5K earlier this year. Ovi showed us all their rooms and told story after story about them. He emphasized that while we were seeing them in a good place it was not always like this when they were in crisis.

Sunshine School- our home for the next week.

After we met the younger children, we visited Amy’s house. This is a home for older children who are high functioning and semi-independent. There are four young adults living their now. It was a pleasure to meet them, hear their stories, and even see some of one young man’s artwork. He is quite the artist! RCE’s goal is to give them as close to normal lives as they can, and the homes are set up this way. Some of the team said the campus was smaller than they expected while some said the campus was bigger than they expected, either way I think we all agree that it is very homey. We were also struck by hardness of some of these kids stories. For example, time after time Ovi has promised a child they would see their parent and after arranging a time the parent is a no show, or stories of how these children were sexually abused. These kids don’t lose hope though. They have unconditional love for their parents and continue to want to see them. It is a beautiful reminder of Christ’s love for us. No matter how many times we mess up, His grace remains.

City Hall is emblazoned with “Way” “Truth” “Life” on the front.

After our tour, we headed into the city of Arad in an even larger vehicle. Ovi navigated the tight city streets just as expertly as he did the highways, much to the amazement of us Americans. We aren’t sure pedestrians have the right of way in Romania, and I can tell you I would not like to be a pedestrian or bicyclist on the road. I should also tell you that Ovi is quite the tour guide. He loves it! Ovi and his daughter Lorena are history buffs and they can tell you everything about Arad; we haven’t found a question he doesn’t have an answer for yet. It made me think I need to go home and study up on DC history. He is not blind to the struggles of Romania, but he has so much pride for his hometown. Ovi grew up in Arad, met his wife in the church, worked at City Hall and the stories abound. He can tell you in detail about the day McDonald’s arrived in Arad or the day he stood in the town square and protested during the revolution. His longevity in the community and his connections allowed us a tour inside the City Hall. We were originally told it was closed and we could not tour. Ovi picked up his phone made a quick phone call, and seconds later the guard’s phone was ringing and he was letting us in. It’s nice to know people!

Meet Ovi.

On our way to dinner, we stopped in one of the neighborhoods for a visit to the bakery. We have eaten bread with every meal here and can confirm that Romanian bread is better than American. Let me just tell you, this place smelled amazing! Ovi grabbed a couple of warm loaves and we broke bread right there, getting crumbs all over the floor. No bag necessary, we just carried the bread home.

French Fries! Isn’t this fryer set up cool?

Dinner was provided by Ovi and his family. The Martin family is as kind as can be and their home is lovely. We proceeded into their backyard and were wowed with Ovi’s “simple” garden. His garden is what dreams are made of, for real! It is filled with apricots, hazelnuts, tomatoes, and much more. Ovi explains that he grew up during a time where grocery stores were not a thing and you had to use your resources to provide. Everything here is so fresh and seasonal; fruit and veggies from his garden and eggs and chicken from the neighbor’s chickens. They had a fryer set up over the fire and fried french fries and chicken. We also enjoyed grilled chicken, squash salad (from the garden), ice cream bars and of course more bread. The team was starting to fade by this point but we enjoyed hearing more of Ovi’s stories and we took time to talk about our high’s and low’s for the day. Since we hadn’t technically slept yet almost everyone’s low was the long flights and lack of sleep. Honestly, it was hard for all of us to pick a high; there were just too many. Our answers ranged from the bakery, to meeting the children, to seeing their artwork, to dinner, to our tour of City Hall. I should also note that again Will was the odd man out, and I’m pretty sure his high was the long flight because he got to play video games and watch movies. The Martin Family is not fancy and Romania is a poor country, but they are the best hosts and have treated us extravagantly. Ovi’s favorite phrase is “by God’s grace.” You can tell are used to living with little and know all that has been provided is by God’s good grace.

Our Team: Randall, Jim, Robert, Daniel, Rob, Will, Angela, Alan, Juliana, and Anna (from left to right)

We went to sleep with full bellies and thankful hearts. Grateful for God’s grace and the Martin Family!

Day 1: Travel Time

Launching! Our group of 10 gathered at Dulles airport. Mr. Perry was our organizer extraordinaire and had boarding passes to hand out for each of us. We said our goodbyes to family who had dropped us off, and we worked our way through security and the maze that modern airports are to our Lufthansa flight departure gate. The announcer ominously said she had bad news for us. My first thought was that the plane broke and we’d need to wait for another plane, but the bad news was simply that the entertainment system on our plane was not working and we’d have to struggle across the Atlantic in “the dark.” Fortunately for most of us, they got it repaired before we took off. The 8 hour flight over was marked by a pretty decent meal and the usual frustration of not being able to sleep well, much, or at all while sitting up. But the flight crew was efficient, attentive and helpful.

Juliana, Angela, and Anna in the Frankfurt Airport waiting for our connecting flight.

We arrived in Frankfurt dazed and jet lagged and our group got separated a couple of times but we all eventually wound up at the right gate for our next leg: a flight to Budapest, Hungary. Two of our young men had gone off to eat and barely missed the boarding time, but we were touching down in Hungary within an hour and a half.

Ovi and Daniel from RCE met us there and 7 of us loaded into a minibus and the other 3 into a Germany Opal car and off we went overland. Ovi used to be a professional driver for the Mayor of Arad; he drives well and fast. Daniel, no slouch of a driver himself, raced to keep up with Ovi. Once when I was asking Daniel questions, he got distracted and missed the rest area exit which Ovi took. Daniel calmly stopped by the exit ramp from the rest area and then expertly backed all the way down the exit ramp into the rest area. There Ovi passed out snacks which were put together through RCE–some of the older kids had produced the snack-treat bags. Then it was back on to the high-speed autobahn-like highway.

Ovi and Daniel were expert at driving over 80 miles per hour and weaving into the left lane to pass the dozens of semi-trailers and then tucking back into the right lane to let the BMWs and Mercedes blow past us in the left lane at over 100 miles per hour. We passed by wheat fields, orchards, forests, and amazing fields of acres of sunflowers before we arrived at Nadlac Hungary and Nadlac Romania–a town divided by the border. We stopped at a smaller border crossing where Romanian authorities checked passports and let us in to Romania–most of us for the first time ever.

We entered Arad and crossed the Mures River and were soon pulling in to RCE’s Sunshine School to have a lunch of soup with sour cream and a meal of sausages and coleslaw–and then a most excellent nap!

INTERESTING FACT: Along the way in the car with Daniel, I learned how the area used to all be under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and that Arad was designed by architects from Austria-Hungary and became known as “little Vienna” Austria for its design and building architecture. I also heard about life before Ceausescu–the dictatorial Communist ruler of Romania who was overthrown in 1989–and life after Ceausescu when freedom and liberation came, but also difficult transitions for many people.

We Have a Big Favor to Ask

The phrase too much to do and too little time is oh so real right now. We leave in T-minus 3-days. Prayer support team we need you now more than ever!

We would ask that this week you specifically pray for the following:

  1. TRAVEL LOGISTICS. Is it too much to ask that you pray for sleep on the plane? But seriously pray for safe flights, on time departures, smooth security checks, and easy car rides. Pray for lots of grace for tight spaces, time changes, and travel anxiety. 
  2. ENERGY. I feel like I need to say this one twice. Pray for energy to combat jet lag, energy to do our construction projects, and energy to play with the kiddos. We thank the Lord for coffee breaks and pray for the energy to stay present especially during our time with the Romanians. 
  3. MORE LIKE CHRIST. Pray we shine bright like Christ to everyone we meet. (Yes – the Rihanna song, Diamonds, is now on repeat in my mind.) Pray we would be Christ to others, and that the Lord would use this trip to sanctify us. Pray our actions and times of fellowship would be glorifying to Him.

We are very thankful for the opportunity to go on this trip! Thank you for your financial and prayerful support! Starting Saturday, check the blog for daily updates and our favorite stories!