I loved my time at Regent, but now that I am an alumnus I have moved my blog to my own server:
To my friends and family who have supported me with your time, money, and prayers on my expedition to Romania this summer: THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart.
I forgot to bring the charger for my camera, unfortunately, but I'll try to supplement my report with a few photos I collected from others along the way.
On the way to Romania I had connection in Amsterdam for 6 hours. Naturally, I met up with Leslie—a dear friend who works at a church in the heart of the city. We had a nice lunch together and we visited the top of the a large library in Amsterdam from where we could see most of the city.
In Romania, I stayed for a day by myself in Bucharest and then I met up with Lucian, a young man who is a dear friend and an inspiration for me. The example of his life journey has been a key factor in understanding the Lord's calling for my life. Lucian traveled to Bucharest to try to get a tourist visa to the States to visit myself and some other friends. Unfortunately, the US embassy did not award him a visa due to his lack of strong ties to his country, but it nonetheless was a nice few days exploring the capitol city together, along with a mutual friend who met up with us.
After a few days we took a train back to the apartment where he stays in the north-eastern Romanian city Piatra Neamt. PN is a lovely city tucked in a small mountain range, a bit bigger than our local Appalachians. I was able to visit Luci's work, visit some friends and their families, see Irina, and bring greetings (as is the Romanian tradition) to Luci's church. I played in a soccer tournament outreach (which I brought back a trophy from), made tacos for all the people at the office where Luci works (they had never had Mexican food!), and took a cable car over the city and into the mountains (twice, actually). I spent a lot of time praying and cooking with Luci, being able to appreciate his responsibility at work, and discussing our understanding of God—all of which were encouraging for both of us. One day, Luci and I went with Irina and another friend to a state-run orphanage just outside the city. We played some games with the kids, sang some songs, and I was privileged to be the speaker. After asking each kid a little about themselves and what they want to do with their lives, I shared a short lesson on David and Goliath, emphasizing the idea that, although there will be trials no matter what their life goals, the Lord can give them the strength to overcome the mightiest of obstacles. Our group had great rapport with the kids, and I ask you to pray for Irina and the others as they minister there once a week.
After the very nice visit with Luci and other friends, I headed up to Suceava to meet with the MWB for summer camp! I stayed in a hostel like I did in Bucharest (for those that don't know, a hostel is like a pension house with rooms full of bunk beds. It is much cheaper than renting a room at a hotel, and the lack of privacy doesn't bother me). I say that merely to mention that a) the hostel owner was Sarah Palin's tour guide in part of Romania, and b) since it was the 4th of July, I found it interesting that I ended up talking world politics with a young man from England and a young man from France who were also staying at the hostel. J. Thankfully, I didn't have to make any Declarations and we all got along quite nicely! Later in the trip I stayed in the same hostel and weeded the owner lady's garden in exchange for soup and sarmale—a trade I would make every day if I could.
Anyways, on the 5th I met up with the MWB team. I was impressed by the level of energy and organization on the part of the volunteers, who mostly came from the local Baptist church. We drove about 100km out to the camp situated not far from the medieval Voroneti monastery, nestled gently in the mountains. Somewhere around 115 kids came to the camp—ages ranging from 5 to about 23 (which made it especially interesting for the game director.) I was assigned to co-lead a group of older boys, which included my sponsorship kid, Costel!
Camp consisted of games, group devotions, camp meetings, hikes up the mountains, soccer, creating and performing skits, excellent traditional Romanian meals, a sweet zipline and rockwall, and endless kids' songs (which I now know by heart in Romanian.) J. Apart from normal group-leader responsibilities (serving meals, keeping order at camp meetings, etc), I spent a lot time getting to know all the kids, teaching them UNO and Mennonite Sword-fighting, and exchanging English and Romanian vocabulary. I even got to use the little bit of sign-language I learned when I was a kid with a deaf boy (although I could only use the alphabet, because Romanian sign-language is a different, of course). Later in the week a couple of Dutch volunteers came and we did an international night, during which I shared the seven pounds of American candy I had brought, some images of American national parks (for a guessing game), and the traditional American manly cheer/chant ("OOH OOH OOH") which I heard the rest of the camp whenever I did something in front of the group. J.
For Costel's birthday, I gave him his gifts, got to hear more of his life story, and we even got a little time to read together (I brought him the Chronicles of Narnia in Romanian). It was so important for me to be able to make this connection with him. I don't think either of us will forget this summer!
All of my experiences at camp were incredible. I wish I could tell you what it meant to me to be able to spend time with Costel, to be endlessly sincere and sweet, to sing at the top of my lungs during song time, to speak Romanian, to just be gentle and play with kids, to be in the mountains and have time to pray, to have the stillness to listen to the Spirit, to worship like a child in the midst of worshipping children, to get 30 hand-made birthday cards from kids who can't speak my language, to rest and breathe deeply, to share Jesus' love with kids and teenagers alike, to remember what it is like to let every ambition fade into the background and just soak in the joy of belonging to Jesus. I sincerely mean these words, and I sincerely wish I could convey my gratitude for this gift that you all have made possible. May Jesus bless each of you with a special sense of his presence.
If I defend my belief in Jesus, the reason that I follow him, it is not as a man who defends his nation simply because he was born to it, knowing not whether its leaders are corrupt or correct. Nor is it a defense like that of a man who defends his institution because he has vested interest in its success.
No, I defend the hope I have found in Jesus as if it were a glowing diamond which I found deep in a dark mine, just when I thought there might not be a world above. It is a precious gem of hope that I love first, as its beauty has captured me, and I believe second, merely because I cannot look away.
I only hope that my face may reflect its mysterious light. And if it should come to pass that we reach the surface, that day breaks, that light itself indeed has a source deeper than my own fabrication—then I am certain that I would give anything to becoming a child of the light.
"Which do you suppose is greater," the Egyptian asked his French friend, "the torch or the sun?"
The two men sat at an outdoor café across the street from the warm Mediterranean Sea. They had become friends many years before when they both had attended a semester at Oxford University. The Frenchman was on a business trip in Cairo and hired a coach to Alexandria to visit his old friend for the weekend.
"Alas," replied the Frenchman, after pondering the curious question for a few moments, "I think the torch is greater."
Both men were just at the crest of their senior years. The Egyptian carried a few more pounds than his wife preferred, but he cleverly hid it under his loose fitting galabaya. His skin was more weathered than his European friend's, but his eyes still shown with his characteristic wit. The Frenchman, a slimmer figure, had thinning gray hair, round spectacles, and sported a scholarly, leather-elbowed suit coat despite the humidity.
"Because?" Asked the Egyptian with a slight smile.
The Frenchman paused for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to play along with what he knew was an invitation to a philosophical joust. "Well," he said, resigning himself to the game, "I am aware that the sun is vastly brighter and more comprehensive in its ability to give light to the earth. However, its power is confined, limited to shine for only part of the day. It is the torch that is versatile. When the sun, it all of its greatness, goes down, it is the torch that lights the way of men. It is by the light of the torch that toil can continue through the darkest of human hours and progress can be made in spite of natural cycles. Thus, it is the torch that frees man from his slavery to planetary rotations."
"Well said," mused the Egyptian. "When the earth turns its back on the sun, we do indeed need torches to light our way. I must point out, though, that the sun is not useless at night. On the contrary, the sun fills the earth with its warmth which, although somewhat less noticeable during the night, quietly sustains the earth and its life throughout its period of darkness. And it does not leave the earth in utter darkness; it reminds the earth of its presence by reflecting its light off the moon. Perhaps the sun knows that man needs both darkness and light in turn. Whatever the case, the significance of the brightness of the sun as compared to the torch cannot be lightly brushed aside. The limited capacity of the torch can lead to perceptual errors that become clear by the overwhelming light of the daytime sun. Details hidden by the flickering of the flames are revealed by the sun's steady radiance. The torch only allows one to see a short distance ahead, but the sun, in its glory, allows man to see infinitely further, to plan routes and understand terrains."
The conversation paused as a young Arab waiter appeared with two glasses of mint tea, fresh mint leaves, and a tall water pipe for the two to share. The Frenchman stirred his tea and took a few sips, but his friend could see, through puffs of shisha smoke, that he was thinking hard on his next reply. The Egyptian grinned, he always enjoyed rather strange, playfully intellectual discussions and missed his years in university.
"Ok," The Frenchman replied at last, setting down his tea and leaning back in his chair, "Of course I cannot debate the immense ability of the sun to illuminate and clarify during the day. And yet, even during the day the sun has a limitation. Man does not spend all of his time outdoors. And although it is true that many buildings have enough windows to allow the sunlight to flood their interiors, some do not. Basements, for instance, or impenetrable fortresses, or deep inner rooms. Consider caves, for that matter. It seems that it is a matter of control. The torch can be actively used and controlled by man, he can use it to light dark places when they need to be light, and he can darken them when they need to be dark. He can explore the crevices and caverns where the sun's light never reaches. The sun cannot be built upon, added to, brightened, dimmed, or changed. It has no potential for increased utilization. Indeed, man cannot even perceive its center, but only its reaches. It is hard to look upon and harder still to understand. It is the torch that can be understood, manipulated, and controlled."
The Egyptian passed the long slender hose from the water pipe to the Frenchman, scratched his head, and began his reply. "You are right," he offered, "in your assertion that the torch is more easily controlled than the sun. It is better understood and its center can truly be seen—especially after is has been doused in water. But, is control always such a good thing? The sun may never have been used to go spelunking, true, but then neither has it been used for felony. Never has the sun been used to burn down the house of a disliked neighbor or to light an enemy's crops ablaze and cause widespread suffering. No, mischief is the domain of the torch as it is indeed subject to the control of the men who carry it."
"You are missing one thing," interjected the European, "although the torch may be used for mischief, it is important for something very core to mankind: food. It is the torch, as well as other forms of controlled fire, that are used to cook and to cleanse."
"Ah," returned the Egyptian, "again you are very right, except that it is the sun which feeds the plants, which in turn not only provide us and the animals with food, but also with the very oxygen that sustains us. It is the sun that maintains the life cycle, stimulates growth, and simultaneously holds our solar system in an astonishingly delicate balance."
"Alas!" Chuckled the Frenchman, "The sun is very great, but the torch is very necessary. Perhaps, then, we should both concede that each have their place and work together to both sustain life and facilitate progress."
The Egyptian smiled and nodded his head slightly, "Indeed. It is unavoidable."
"So then what was the point of the game this time?" Asked the Frenchman, knowing his friend quite well.
"Just this," replied the Egyptian, "We must never forget the sun or trust too much in our torches. For when the morning light floods the earth, torches become pale and their light nearly invisible. The light of the sun is sure, while that of the torch casts as many shadows as illuminations. And, in the end, it is only by the light of the sun that we can make torches at all. The torch depends on the sun. Without the sun, the torch is bound go out, and life itself will disappear with it."
Inspired by Isaiah 50:10-11
What a silly species we are. So aware of our existence, so feeling, so conscious—and yet so unsure of our own origin. We explore the heavens and exploit the earth; we analyze, organize, and dissect the most complex bodies in nature and we in turn create immensely intricate technologies; we evolve and adapt and resolve and improve—and yet, we don't know where we came from, or what it's all for.
We speculate, though. We form theories and defend them with bullets and bulletins. We rally others to our side. We ignore our ignorance and bury our questions in material pursuits. We assume arrogant airs and put our trust in our towers of intellect. We fill our heads with philosophy, psychology, and self-help formulas. We take up causes and lose ourselves in the effort. We take pills to soothe our fragmented and painfully incoherent worldviews.
But whenever we stop to listen, we become slowly aware of a ringing in our ears. It's the ring of our loneliness, the depth of our emptiness, and it is harmonized by the groaning of the earth; the whole world shaking with the knowledge of its own brokenness.
But it's a frightening sound, because we, who have the conquered the earth, have no answer for our condition, no knowledge of who we are. So we turn our iPods up, take more pills, watch more television, and work more hours. We express our opinions louder, longer, and with more violence. We pretend we know who we are and we pay anyone and anything who promises to intoxicate our minds with quiet. But it never lasts long and peace proves elusive.
We have built for ourselves a magnificent world—especially in the West. But our great structure, our fantastic edifice, our invincible society is afloat on these unanswered questions. And, I'm afraid, sooner or later the nausea gets to all of us. Mortality just doesn't seem like enough, and the dull ache for more weighs our bodies down.
I wasn't fully him. I wasn't fully not him. It was a shared-body sort of dream. Half-first person, half-movie.
I was a native American Indian living simply with my family somewhere in the west. White people came. Cowboys. They were more powerful; they made us feel inferior in some odd sort of way. We tried to be friends, but they were tricky underneath their condescension.
They killed my people. They took our land. I barely escaped.
For a while, I wandered through the wilderness, full of rage. Rage against this new white machine, this unspeakably arrogant power invading our lives. I spent some time trying to get revenge, to kill cowboys who enslaved Indians.
There were nice cowboys too, though. One village I came across was full of Indians and cowboys living together in peace and friendship. I even met a few cowboys—nice ones. Not condescending, not tricky; ones that didn't treat me as a poor savage. We became friends.
I walked back to my village where there were a few survivors enslaved by the cowboys. It was night. The cowboys were rounding them up for some reason. I slipped in.
I cleared my throat, held out my gun upside down, set it down, and said that it was time to be friends. The cowboys lost it; they started screaming and pointing their guns at me.
Then I woke up.