Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reflection of Romania

We spent our last days in Bucharest touring the Palace of Parliament and a really cool outdoor museum. As the hours passed the realization of returning to the United States became more and more vivid. One whole semester submerged in a different life. Different friends, different family, different world; yet, there were similarities.

The friends were just as caring as back in the states, my family just as loving, and the world was still connected to the same reality of life. The more I thought about the semester, the more I looked for a purpose. I don’t know why I was able to partake in this Romanian Semester, but I do know it has changed my life forever. Actions are the repercussions of thought, and this semester has indeed changed my thought.

I have learned about the Eastern Orthodox Church, Experiential Education in school and in the community, Romanian Language History and Culture, and finally Sustainable Development. All of these classes have pushed me to new realizations which have brought about new responsibilities to the different communities surrounding me.

All of these new thoughts help create a better, more well rounded, education; but more importantly then the education, is the life experience. I lived in Romania! I lived with a family and shared that life; I walked down the Romanian streets and talked (very poorly) to the men and woman I met. The Romanian semester does teach you important scholastic information, but the true jewel of the program is living the Romanian life.

The Romanian semester will always be apart of my life, and there is nothing I can do to change that. I know I will return someday, and I know I will never forget the adventures, the faces, the love I found. To close I want to quote a famous C.S. Lewis book; “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king queen in Narnia.” The Romania Semester Abroad will always be part of my life no matter where I travel, no matter how my thoughts change, I will always have this experience to remember.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lupeni and Romania

So here we are just a little over a week away from our semester in Romania ending, and our trip back to the United States. I really cannot believe how quickly this semester has gone. I feel like it was just yesterday that I got off the plane in Bucharest, and now it’s almost time to go back. While the semester has gone very quickly, I feel like I have learned a few things about Romania, and more specifically the area we are staying in. So I thought I would share a little bit of that with you.
Just like other countries, not all of Romania is the same. After having traveled to a few different parts of Romania, the truth of that statement is very clear to me. While there will always be some things that remain the same in a culture, and more importantly in the Romanian culture, certain events and people change other people’s experiences, depending upon where they grew up, and what area they are from.
For the Romania Study Semester abroad, we as a group are stationed in Lupeni, Romania. It’s in the Jiu Valley, an area that can be pretty cut off from the rest of the country. It is also an area that can be very different from the rest of Romania. While I have not been to a lot of places outside of the Jiu Valley, some of the major places have been Timisoara, Cluj, and Bucharest. It is apparent that these places are all very different from Lupeni. One major aspect is that they seem to be moving forward past communism much more quickly than Lupeni is. While all of these places still have a long ways to go, they have made more progress than the Jiu Valley. They are cleaner, more available to tourism, have more options available to people, and even often have a different feeling about them. People feel more welcoming, and less cautious of foreigners, and also tend to be more globalized than Lupeni, which I believe can be both a good and a bad thing.
While this is true, I have found that once you get past what can seem to be a rough exterior of many Romanians, the people of the Jiu Valley are warm and welcoming. If you are a guest in their home they work to make you feel comfortable and accepted. As you spend more time here, and become more active in the community though IMPACT and New Horizons, people start to recognize you and will often stop you on the street to say hello. Also, when walking I have come to enjoy looking at the area around the city. The area around Lupeni is all mountains, and is absolutely beautiful. The more time I have spent here, the more I have come to love it. While Lupeni, and the Jiu Valley in general is often different from the rest of the country, it is a part that is worth seeing and experiencing. I am glad to have had the opportunity to study and live here, and will miss it when we leave.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Best of Life

(A view of Athens from Mars Hill)

I sit here writing this entry with only 14 days left of my semester here in Romania. I can barely wrap my head around this fact and keep thinking to myself "where did the time go?" To answer that question would be to write a novel about all of the spectacular things that I have seen and accomplished in the short four months that I have been here. Because I do not have time to write a novel and other homework is beckoning me I will leave you with a taste of the many things that I hold dear to my heart since the beginning of this adventure.

Throughout this semester I learned what it meant to be stretched physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I learned what I, as a person and an individual, was made of. I learned that through teamwork, love, and trust you can achieve many things. I learned that God does not have a language but he has a lot of children. :-)

As a child of God traveling abroad I was able to see the magnificence of his handiwork across the country of Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece. I was immersed in a language, culture, and religious beliefs that were not my own but over time I came to see as both beautiful and inspiring to my own culture and beliefs.

(Enjoying some pizza in Bulgaria)

Learning to grow in community with the students that have come over with me and also with the Romanians I have come into contact with I have learned the true meaning of love and friendship. Many people have asked me how this semester has been and if I would ever want to travel to Romania again. To them I say that this semester has been the best thing that I have done with my life so far and yes, I would travel to Romania again in a heartbeat.

In Christ,

NGOs and Missions

In a conversation I had while being here, we discussed the differences I have seen in my experiences between how NGOs (non-profit organizations), such as New Horizons, and mission organizations, such as Hellenic Ministries in Greece I worked with this summer, differ in reaching out to others. Both organizations are working within the same area of the world, and are in the context of Eastern Orthodoxy. The difference is one has set itself up in opposition to the church already established and the other is working along side it. It has been such an interesting conversation, I decided I would share it with you all.
For those of you who do not know, I have had some background in studying other world religions and have even been lucky enough to tutor a class on the subject for two years. But until these past two experiences, I had only been able to talk about various religions and how to go about "tackling them" to bring the people over to a more Protestant way of thinking. I say Protestant because that is the background I come from, but it is true in a generalistic manor of many mission ideologies. This is a very crude way of thinking of missions, and I did have a more academic why of thinking, but the basics for missionaries before going out into the field is that we are going to help them. After being in the field and having the experience of seeing different ways of "fishing for men," I am able to better understand what my calling may be. I hope to explain that here without it dragging out :).
This past summers was one of the best of my life. I was able to experience something probably .0001% of the people in the world are able to experience. I worked at one of two water camps in Greece with nine other students from the United States. The last part of the summer we left the camp and went down to the lower Pellipines part of Greece where there had been many fires and handed out New Testaments. (The picture to the right is from this summer, the Greek Bibles we handed out and pamphlets we put in them.) I really enjoyed this, but struggled with the fact that we were handing these out to a nation that as 98% Orthodox. The picture we had painted for us of the 2000-year-old tradition was a pretty bleak one, and were told the Church was more of a political system. I came home from Greece for a month and then got on another plane that took me to Romania. Here the population is 70% Orthodox and one of the classes we were taking was Eastern Othrodoxy with the founder of the NGO who was also Orthodox, although he had became one while being here. I did not understand why the organization would join up with a church of the past that was corrupt (in my past way of thinking) when they were trying to bring up leaders of the future for a country that needed some serious direction. Through all of the classes, though, I began to realize that while the Bates (the founders) may not agree with all the Orthodox Church says, there is still good within the theology, tradition, and faith. By working along side the church they were able to breach gaps the organization I had worked with this summer would never have been able to do because of the stake that was intentionally driven. Even though the founders of New Horizons had to give up their more Protestant background, they were able to grow more and gain trust in a country where corruption and distrust had been instilled in every person through fear.
I am not trying by any means to raise up one example over the other, because there are weaknesses in both however I have now been shown a different way or lens of how missions can work. New Horizons and the ideas behind it have shown me you are able to use the resources available to you in order to further the kingdom. New Horizons is a non-governmental organization, thus it can not be under a Christian name, but it holds Christian virtues, and is instilling those virtues into the leaders of the future. While the goals of the two examples I have been shown may look different, they are both trying to further God's kingdom, and as Kailen Fleck says, are both doing kingdom work. However one has been around for half the time and yet has made connections, received grants, and become a nation-wide organization, while the other is struggling to get youth from their own country to come to the camps.
I have been very privileged to be invited into the family of both of the organizations I have worked with, and love the people in both very dearly. I am grateful for the friendships that have been made and the life lessons I learned. I understand the The Eastern Orthodox Church is different in both countries and has been changed because of past political problems within each country. As I said earlier, I do not wish to favor one over the other, only to put the two experiences next to each other, and to leave you with a few questions...what are the goals of missions really? What implications do our actions have on the ones we are "sharing the gospel with"? When looking at a place phenomenologically, how do we recognize the good within the tainted community and still be a servant-learner rather than bring our own ideas in?
Hugs and Hope,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Different Sides of Romania

After our fall break we spent a week in Cluj. Unfortunately because of a passport situation in Greece, two of the students were not able to come and had to stay in Greece for a week. This week in Cluj was full of interesting lectures, experiencing the city life as we went sight seeing, and being able to experience the nature of Romania.

Every day we had two lectures from professors who worked at Cluj University and people who were part of different organizations. These lectures ranged from the bad living conditions in Romanian villages, where we learned about the conditions and came up with possible solutions, to the lecture on the court systems in Romania, where we learned how unjust they are and how many court laws are broken on a daily basis. From these lectures I feel that all the students were able to understand a lot more about Romanian society and the aspects that need to be improved. From the speakers we realized that changes are being made and that awareness is increasing.

While in Cluj we visited a lot of the city. We saw some churches, shops, and ate at different ethnic restaurants, such as a Turkish and Chinese one. One day we went to the Gorge and took a hike where we were able to see different rock formations. This hike was very peaceful and a chance for us to look at the beautiful nature that Romania has to offer. Another day we went to a botanical garden and had the chance to see different flowers and the rich colors of the leaves as fall was upon us. We were again given the chance to see the beautiful nature that Romania has to offer.

Cluj week gave us the opportunity to experience so many different aspects of Romanian life. We were given a look into the history and the life today of Romania in different areas, experienced the city life of restaurants, shops, and the important landmarks, and also had time to be one with nature.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Heading Home

As the semester is coming to an end, things are starting to wrap up. Our final project is done, all of our presentations are finished, and two of our classes have been completed. This only leaves us with a couple of papers to write before we board our plane home. This realisation has led me to reflect upon what an awesome experience it has been to live here in Romania.

It is sad to think about saying goodbye to the people whom we have built relationships with, the beautiful sights we have seen, and this place that we have called home for the last three months. However, it is also exciting to think about how we can take what we have learned through this experience, and apply it to our lives back home. Hopefully, this experience will not only affect our own lives, but empower us to make a difference in other people’s lives through the concepts and ideas that we have formed while over here.

Living in Romania has not only taught me about Romanian culture, but has also taught me more about North American culture, and has allowed me to see my own culture in a different light. So now when I go home and am immersed in my own culture again, things will not be quite the same. That is the beauty of experiencing another culture for a while; Your horizons become broadened in a way that can never be reversed.

So when I board that plane for home on December 1st , I will definitely be feeling mixed emotions. Another chapter of my life will be ending. I will be leaving with some pictures and a few souvenirs, however most importantly I will be leaving with a new worldview.

So to those who may ask me when I get home, whether I would do this again, my answer to them will be, “Definitely”. I think that everyone should have the opportunity to experience a different culture at one time or another, and I’m extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to spend this past semester living here in Romania.
In Christ,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sustainable Development

One of the projects assigned to us for our Sustainable Development class required us to give a twenty minute presentation focusing on the development, particularly through the lenses of the GDI(Gender-related Development Index), HDI(Human Development Index), and the GEM (Gender Empowerment Measure), of a country. This assignment was to help us see how these statistics do not show the entire picture of a developing country.

My country was Finland, but that is not the important part of this story. Ever since coming to Romania I’ve been stretched to think outside of what I already know. Now if you know me, you know that I love learning, so this kind of challenge wasn’t that hard for me to endure; however, when I did this country examination/presentation, I realized how important Human Development truly is.

After doing this project I realized how important Government, Human Development, and Economics are. I found a true appreciation for my country as a bigger picture. Growing up I knew about my Government, but I didn’t fully understand what their role was in my life. When learning about Human Development I started to see how lucky I am as an American, but more so as a student who as the opportunity to learn about these topics.

Economics was always numbers for me; now they are still numbers, but so much more. The numbers found through economics goes beyond a numeral, goes beyond a HDI, it helps people like you and me learn not only about another country, but about other people; people that are living, people that have a soul.

I am greatly appreciative for having this opportunity to not only learn here in Romania, but to be educated on topics that truly matter and will make a difference in my life. From now on I will pay more attention to my Government on a national level, but more so in my home town. It’s crazy how much I hate seeing the taxes taken out of my pay check, and yet I’ve never ever checked to see what that money is doing in my community.

Interesting fact, in Finland, if you made over 62,200 euro in the year 2008 you would be taxed 31.5%; Finland has a higher ranking in the HDI then the United States.

In God We Trust,

Here we are having class by the Lupeni river! Class outside is always better :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Two Languages, One Understanding

I have been in Romania for two months now and I love it. I am grateful for everything I have been able to experience and learn and grow from. One of my favorite experiences has been teaching English lessons to Romanian kids from the IMPACT groups. I have always had a love of teaching children, so I was excited to be able to do this with the children of Romania who I knew would also be teaching me something in the process.
The first night I planned on just talking with the kids in English and getting to know them better as individuals and also as children who grew up in Romania. Some of the kids were shy, while others were outgoing, but I did notice some similarities among the group. Everybody seemed to be in agreement that they did not like living in Romania and particularly in Lupeni. They said there was not much for them to do and not many opportunities for them. A boy named Peter talked about how he wanted to become a police officer after high school, but that it will be very hard to be able to go to a police acadamy. Some other boys were saying how most children in Lupeni always stay here because they are poor and do not have the chance to leave and do more with their life. This made me feel guilty for all the opportunities I have gotten in my life.
The following weeks I have been teaching them English, how to form sentences, and grammar. It has been a great experience. Most of them seem eager to learn and I love being able to teach them the rules and concepts of the English language and them understanding it the majority of the time. Through this experience we have all gotten to know each other a lot better. We talk about things such as music, school, our homes and through this I find that even though there are differences between us there are also a lot of similarities. These kids have the desire to learn and experience a lot and I am so glad and thankful to be a part of it. Even though they haven't had the easiest lives they still have this fun, loveable energy that is contagious. Every time I go to class I am reminded how it is possible to make any situation a positive one and I have tried to live by this idea here in Romania.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fall Break

Greetings from Cluj!

We are here in Cluj now for a week, resting up from our fall break travels and attending lectures from professors who teach at the university here in Cluj. For my fall break, I travelled to Budapest as well as Prague, so needless to say I spent many hours on the train. Many of the hours I spent sleeping or listening to music, since I was unable to talk to the people around me. However, on my train ride to Budapest, the man sitting across from me started speaking to me in English upon spotting the Canadian flag on my backpack. English being one of the eight languages that he is fluent in, provided us the opportunity for a rather in-depth discussion.

Upon finding out that I was Protestant, he proceeded to express his views on Protestantism. Although his views were less than admiral toward Protestants, I was able to understand more fully where he was coming from because of what I have learned through some of the lectures and discussions we have had in our Eastern Orthodoxy class. It was incredibly interesting to hear his view on Protestantism, and to experience the integration of what we learn in class, with real life experiences.

I asked him what it was like living under Communism, and it was incredibly interesting to hear what he had to say. He explained the positive things that Communism brought about, as well as the negative. I was very surprised to hear such a balanced explanation of Communism from someone who suffered under it for many years. I thought he would have more hatred toward Communism, as I’m sure I would in his situation. So although I was on break, this train ride to Budapest consisted of a mini Eastern Orthodoxy class, as well as a mini Romanian Culture and History class, but that is the best thing about studying here in Romania; our learning is not restricted to just the classroom.

In Christ,


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Hey everyone! We have been having a "yellow-zone" experience here thus far. By "yellow-zone" I mean in between green (comfort) and red (panic), and are in the learning and experiencing zones. A couple of the experiences our group has had thus far to put us there is the traveling. A couple weekends ago Anne, Hollyann, and I traveled (by train...I felt like we were going to Narnia) to Timisoara. Timisoara is where the protests that began the downfall of Ceausescu began, and is an all around beautiful city. We called our weekend "The Weekend of Angels." There were many times when we received help from local Romanians to point us in the right direction to churches, the train station, great restaurants, and site-seeing places. The picture above is just one side of the beautiful square where the protests took place. On Sunday we attended the Othrodox Church in the center of town (to the right) which was also pretty beautiful.

Other places our group has gone to were various places in and around Hunedoara, and area about 45 minutes from Lupeni. Last week we went, as a class, to the oldest church in Romania still holding services (dating back to as early as the 13th century), a monastery, and a castle. For our Romanian Language, Culture, and History class we are to give a presentation on various historical sites within the country. The beauty of the assignment is that we get to do these presentations on site. Hollyann gave her presentation at the church, while I presented on the castle.

The castle was originally a small royal citadel, but when Ioan of Hunedoara was given the citadel, he transformed the small fortess into a castle through two major constuction projects. The first ended when he became the Governor of Hungary (at this time Transylvania was part of Hungary) in 1446, and the second when he died in 1456. Ioan of Hunedoara plays a major part in the area's history. The castle was ruled by others, part of his family and then sold to the Torok family, until 1724 when it became part of the Austrian State. There are great traditions and myths which accompany the castle and play a large part in Romanian history, and it was very interesting to see where they originated from.

We are now getting ready to leave for our fall break. Solita will be spending her time in Budapest with some wonderful Calvin friends studying abroad there. The rest of us are going to spend a day in Bucharest with Kailen, then going on to spend 2 1/2 days in Sofia, Bulgaria. We will then go on to Athens, Greece, and spend some time with friends I made during this past summer when I was there for 8 weeks. We are asking for your prayers during our traveling!
Hugs and Hope,

In conjunction with his theatre internship in Bucureşti, Northwestern senior Kailen Fleck has set up his blog KINGDOM WORK to keep his friends, family, and advisor up-to-date on his activities. The following excerpt is from his October 14 entry entitled "The Oppressed.." KINGDOM WORK can be found at the following link, where you'll be able to read more about Kailen's work in the city.

Dear Friend,

He carries an old twenty ounce pop bottle in his right hand and holds the squeegee in his left. Or is it the other way around. I can’t remember. All I remember is the limp in his step and the despair in his face. He was crying, crying about the licking he’s going to get for not making enough money, crying about the fact he can’t go and play like the other boys can, crying because he’s walking around in busy traffic, or crying because his leg hurts and he’s limping, I don’t know why and I don’t care. All that matters to me is that he’s crying, stifling his sobs so no one can notice. But I notice. I notice and my heart is rent from me so violently and savagely I can’t imagine what possibly could’ve done it.

I’ve come this way before, on my way home from the office, and I’ve seen many like him. He has to be no older than twelve, quite possibly younger. He reminds me of my brother when we adopted him from Bulgaria. He was only seven then. Is that how old this boy is? He’s one of many, I can imagine, all skinny and scrawny, either begging from car window to car window for some doggy bag feast or hoping the next idling vehicle they begin to wash will in turn produce a few bani with which they can purchase something to tide them over for twenty-four hours or more. He’s probably crying because this is what he did last night and the night before that and the night before that. He’s probably crying because he knows he’ll be doing this tomorrow night and the nights that follow. There’s no escape. This is his lot in life.

I sit at the tram stop, wishing I could take my eyes away, wishing like him that I could escape. In his face, in his very walk, in the state of his clothes and the age of the plastic bottle he carries, in his vulture-like hovering around cars in the four lanes of traffic behind me I can see the oppression. These are the losers of society, losers because they have truly had everything taken from them. It sits right in front of them, all fifty-plus of them, puffing exhaust into the already polluted air, purring and humming to their own individual tempo and tune because they have the choice to. They have the choice to be individuals. They have the choice to leave this place and they can choose where they go because where they go there will be security, there will be safety, there will be comfort. It may be small comfort, but it is comfort nonetheless. I realize now that maybe I’m also talking about myself.

What is oppression but one shalom being sacrificed for another? If shalom must be sacrificed, then there’s no possible way another can be created in its place, but people don’t realize that. Oppressors don’t believe that. In order to maintain their flourishing, their justice, and their delight, they must reap from that of another. They are vampires whose lust for blood drives them to the marrow of another’s shalom. But who are these oppressors? Can any of them be named? Can anyone truly point the finger, spin the dial until fate lands the arrow on the one responsible? Can the boy with the squeegee and old plastic bottle show me his oppressor? If so, would he point at me? How did I get here, an American in Romania? How can I ask the question, “Who is your oppressor?”

Many would say the boy chose this lifestyle, or his father chose it for him, and so on and so forth until the rationalization turns the boy into a thing. We’re not dealing with flesh and a soul, something like me, oh no. We’re dealing with a thing, a parasite of society, the dirty laundry that remains dirty no matter how many times you wash it. I’ve heard this argument before and have used it myself shamelessly in order to elevate my own self to a position of morality. I don’t give because I know it will be used for ill. Giving will only feed the dependency he has on the vice that he practices, making his circumstance that much more difficult to break away from. Yet I look in his face and think to myself how much I would want justice were I in his shoes, a justice I have no power to bring about. That’s why I would cry, because there is no justice. How can there be when I’m still in the mess I’ve been in for so long?

I am oppressed, too, though I, in a way, choose my oppression. Another much greater than I once, in a way, chose his oppression also, but he chose it because he knew full well the consequences of not choosing. The magnitude of not choosing seemed a much greater oppression to bear than the oppression he chose. And so, he died, taking with him all oppressions and thereby working once again towards a justice we all imagine, yet never gain, a shalom we all sense exists but never fully see. It is for this shalom that I choose my oppression, the oppression of empathy. It is an oppression that sadly, at this point, leaves me without action. I just sit and watch, wanting to find a solution but finding no easy ones. How then can action take place in the presence of such oppression? What is the difference that can be made by one American in a land not his own, for a people he doesn’t understand? Can the stage, possibly, be a place where such actions can be rehearsed, where oppression can be defeated and a difference made, a step forward to shalom? Or is it just rehearsal, just fiction, just a fantasy? Am I the only person that can answer that question? No. Who else must answer?

I hearken back to a time when I shared the same pitiful look as the boy with the squeegee and old plastic bottle, a time when I too felt such agony that no tears and no crying to possibly expel the feelings I had. In many of these cases, it wasn’t even in the face of my abusive father. As horrible as those times were, the times I hearken back to were times of utter loneliness. I didn’t make a noise when I cried, because there was no one there to hear me. Utter loneliness then morphed into utter hopelessness. That is what the boy with the squeegee and old plastic bottle felt as he limped through idle traffic, risking his life in front of a fickle red traffic light in order to feed his starving belly. That is what I felt also as I sat waiting for my tram, not because our situations were similar, but because I empathized. Empathy alone, without action: utter hopelessness.



Saturday, October 11, 2008

Peaceful Awakenings

Greetings Everyone!

On Thursday we, as a class, headed out to Hunedoara to visit Densus Church, Hunedoara Castle and the Prislop Monastery for our Romanian History and Culture class. As part of the day Chelsea and I were asked to give a presentations on Densus Church and Hunedoara Castle. I gave my presentation on Densus Church and felt so blessed once we climbed out of the van and actually saw the structure of what I was presenting on.

The day continued and we visited the Monastery. It was so beautiful that mere words cannot begin to describe how physically beautiful the monastery was. While we were there we entered an Orthodox chapel. Once inside I immediately noticed the bare walls (usually all walls in an Orthodox church are ornately painted with icons and scenes), this made me a little sad. A sweet older nun explained to us in Romanian that the chapel had
(The chapel in the left of the picure & all of the girls at the entrance to the monastery).
been burned and rebuilt but they cannot find anyone to repaint the inside. As I was looking around the church I felt a sense of peace for the first time began to understand and earn a respect for the Orthodox faith. The dedication of this one nun to her faith and her spirit of goodwill to us visitors blew me away.

As I was coming to this realization I looked around the church and saw up at the front on a small table a vase of white roses (my favorite flower). For some reason this moved me and I began to tear up. Something within me changed and I felt a sense of peace throughout the rest of the visit at the monastery and even now as I sit writing this two days later. I don't know what changed within me but I know that Romania has been challenging me and changing me in many ways that I can't even begin to understand. I can only thank Northwestern for this amazing program and hope that other students like myself will somehow experience in their lifetime an amazing and peaceful awakening.
In Christ,

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

This picture is was taken in the New Horizons office (where the classes take place among the everyday work of our NGO) and here Stacey, Solita and Andrew are drinking tea while discussing their personal views after Eastern Orthodoxy class.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Greetings from Lupeni!

Once again we are increasing our level of involvement in Romanian society, and this time it is with IMPACT. IMPACT is a means of combining experiential education with service learning in an effort to equip Romanian youth with the skills needed to be active citizens in this post-communist society.

Last Thursday I had the privilege of meeting my IMPACT club and it was very inspiring to see so many youth excited about making a difference in their community. We celebrated two birthdays, brainstormed some potential service-learning projects for the upcoming year, and upon their request, played a game that I taught them.

One boy, Billy, was so kind that he translated everything that was being said in Romanian. So although I do not speak the same language as many of the kids, the language barrier has not diminished my inclusion in the club. I left the club meeting arm in arm with two of the girls, and I think it is fair to say that that epitomises the all around feeling in the group toward one another.

So we are all very excited that we have begun our involvement in our respective IMPACT clubs, and feel very privileged that we will be a part of IMPACT for the duration of our time here in Romania.

In Christ,


Friday, September 26, 2008

Hey Everyone!
Andrew here with a quick update on the Retezat trip!
We get out of our van and strap on our packs. Looking around you can see a beautiful blue sky with high bluffs filling the horizon. The sun is just past its zenith and everyone has an excited look about them. The sound of a river is audible as we start our short hike to our first campsite. We trek down a short path right over the rushing water. After a log bridge we hike up the other side of the hill and find ourselves in a wide open campsite!

There is a lot that happened during our trip, but ultimately this first campsite ended up being our second and third. The weather didn’t really cooperate with us, so we ended up staying at our first campsite the whole trip.

There were negative things about this, like not being able to make it to our 8232 foot destination, Peleaga (the highest point in the Retezat); however the positive side was that we could go on a bunch of day hikes without taking our heavy packs.

It was an amazing experience and our leaders did incredible jobs! I can say that we all had a great time.

I hope you all enjoy the pictures!
In God We Trust,


Us, minutes before our first hike with our packs.

The amazing bridge we had to cross over before our first camp sight!

An amazing view from our first day hike! (If you look closely you can see us :)

Us on our second day hike. You’ve got to love blue skies!

Our fearless leaders (minus Daniel).

Me and my cook group, the Afina’s, on our last day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Excerpts from "KINGDOM WORK"

In conjunction with his theatre internship in Bucureşti, Northwestern senior Kailen Fleck has set up his blog KINGDOM WORK to keep his friends, family, and advisor up-to-date on his activities. The following excerpts are from his September 22 entry entitled "Experiential Education." KINGDOM WORK can be found at the following link, where you'll be able to read more about Kailen's work in the city.

Dear Friend,

Dave Nonnemacher, Northwestern's service learning guru, arrived in Lupeni sometime last week Sunday. As I mentioned in my previous entries, he went with us to the Retezat and made comments about us being a part of the 0.0001% of Americans who had the opportunity to hike in the mountains of Romania. He reminded us of this often. Anyway, he took us out for pizza tonight.

...remember Pizza Planet, the pizza joint we went to a couple of times when we first arrived? That’s where we had pizza with Dave. He wanted to give us some time to vent to him if we had to. We really didn't have to. It also gave him another chance to express how truly passionate he is about this opportunity we each have. I tease Dave about this, but I truly share his passion for the Romania Study Abroad program. The opportunities we have to learn here are invaluable.

Dave spoke a lot about experiential education and how important he feels it is within the context of Northwestern. Let me put my plug in here: if education can be had through experience (isn’t that what most of life is?) then I’m all for it. For crying out loud, Jesus didn’t always teach in a classroom (Sermon on the Mount.) Also, Northwestern continuing their relationship with New Horizons should be obvious. There are opportunities here that you can’t get anywhere else that can benefit everyone involved. I value very much the education I get in the classroom back home, the discussions had with my peers and professors, but experiential education offers something new and different that can still be applied to everyday life. I’m trying to work off of what Dave said, which he says so much better.

Experiential education, adventure education, the Romanian semester, it’s all something Northwestern needs to keep looking into. The work being done here in Lupeni is monumental, and it’s spreading. I’ll be doing very similar work in Bucureşti, work promoting social capital and community, things Northwestern is a large supporter of. This all needs to continue.

I’ve been thinking lately about how I’ll present all this to Northwestern when I return. Part of the internship will be to present my findings, my experiences, wrap it up in a package, and let people know what’s going on. At least, that’s what I want to do when I get back. I have a lot to wrap up. September isn’t over yet, I’ll be in the city, starting my work before the end of the week. Another adventure begins. What will I learn? What will I experience?


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Romanian Hospitality

(This is me with two of my brothers; Emma & Aunie)

After our week of Viata we came down from Straja into the town of Lupeni with feelings of accomplishment, awe and nervousness. I, in particular, was especially nervous about my homestay. I was so afraid that my family would not like me and had been praying ferverently every day for my family to accept me.

Arriving at the New Horizons Building in Lupeni was nerve wracking and I continually checked my watch as 6:00 pm slowly creeped closer and closer. My host family was one of the first to arrive. My sister Persida, (one of eight siblings that I have in my family) came up to me and gently linked her arm through mine and told me that she hoped we would become close throughout the semester and that we would have a good friendship. This amount of love shown to me right away blew me out of the water.

(This is Emma, Nachis, Tata (Dad), & Aunie)

Once we arrived at her father's they served me dinner and I was engaged in conversation about what kinds of food I liked. I quickly explained that I liked of the only Romanian words that I knew at the time. Suddenly Tata (father in romanian) got up from the table and disappeared outside. A couple of minutes later he came back in the house with a plate that had two enormous blocks of cheese on it and sat it right in front of me! I must have looked shocked because he burst out laughing and soon I joined in.

A couple of weeks into my homestay I was able to celebrate my 20th birthday. All of my brothers and my sister chipped in and made me an amazing cake with all of my favorite fruit and even bought me my favorite type of white chocolate. Suprising me further they sang to me in Romanian and took the time to learn the english version of happy birthday.

I wish I could write more about the love that this family has shown me because there is so much more that they have done for me but I have probably already written too much. To wrap it up all I have to say is that this family has shown me what it means to love unconditionally with your whole heart and I am so thankful for their Romanian hospitality.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some Pictures from the last post...

Hey! Some of you asked for pictures from Viata week and because I am new to this bloggin' business I had to make a new post. The picture on the left is HollyAnn and I on the "High Mohawk" and the picture to the right is a form of trust falls that our group is doing. The final picture is a beautiful picture of the Retazat Mountains from our cabana (I just needed to share that one :) Thank you for patiently waiting for some pictures. We were in the Retazat Mountains, but someone else will be sharing that story...until next time - HUGS AND HOPE.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy Shortykiwzouy!

We have arrived in Romania, as many of you know! After eating at a truly Romanian resturant, seeing a bear, sight seeing the summer home of King Carol, and over 10 hours of travel (of course some pizza at Pizza Planet too) we arrived at our cabana in Straja. Let me please paint you a picture of Straja. In the Jui Valley there are 5 cities within close proximity (we are staying in Lupeni for the rest of the semester). When you walk (or if you are lucky get to ride in a maxi-taxi) up the side of the southern incline of the valley, you come to a small ski-resort town which has a mini market, a couple club/bars, a couple resturants, an Orthodox church, and multiple cabanas. Also there are many shepherd dogs, sheep, horses, and cows randomly running down the slope. We stayed in a cabana owned by New Horizons which is on the slope going up to a large cross which glows at night. We (as a collective student group from Northwestern + Solita from Calvin) decided we were going to hike up to the cross every morning for devotions to get ready for our week long hike in the Retazat mountains.

After a few days for getting over jet-lag, we were interduced to "Viata" - a summer long program where over 500 students, mostly in the highschool age range, from all over Romania come to learn what it means to work together as well as push themselves in ways they never would have dreamt, such as hiking up to Straja peak, rock climbing, high ropes courses, and trust falls. We were able to join in with the groups and experience team-building with them. HollyAnn and I joined "Grupa Doua" which we named "Happy Shortykiwzouy!" We spent two days working on the low ropes courses, a day on high ropes, half a day rock climbing and then the other half orienteering. We spent the final day learning about taking care of the environment and then hiking up to the top of Straja peak. From there we could see from all sides of the peak - basically AMAZING!!! The last morning we got together in groups and said what we were thankful for about each person and received a braclet made out of hiking rope. This was very emotional. I realized that while I thought I was going to be the one encouraging, these kids were the ones pushing and encouraging me. 1 Timothy 4:12 seems to come to mind. We said some tearful goodbyes and road down the chair lift to the city of Lupeni. We stepped into the next chapter of our experience in Romania.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Explaining the New Horizons logo


This is Dana Bates, Founder of New Horizons. I want to say a bit about our logo both the design and the text. The compass symbolizes the importance of values through the metaphor of orientation in that life is orientated and given direction through values. The social capital paradigm gives ample evidence that life flourishes on all levels--even economic--when strong social values (integrity, honesty, trust, compassion) persist. Thus life "flies high", symbolized through the eagle or bird as the compass needle, when social and interpersonal values are strong.

Thus the social capital reference points toward the relational, social and communal aspects of existence or human flourishing. But is this adequate? What about the individual? Is the individual merely a function of the group? This was the error of Communism and by losing the individual they eventually lost the community a well. The Capabilities Approach on the other hand gives stronger weight to individual development and flourishing, human agency and views communal forms of life in light of their ability to promote individual human flourishing.

Thus we are left with two ideas that are often viewed as incompatible, each with strengths and weaknesses: the fundamental importance of the individual and the fundamental importance of community. In most political philosophy and development theory, these are in tension and there is the permanent temptation to reduce one to the other. Yet our contention is that human development must be (inter)personal, giving full weight to both aspects of our existence.

Now, do these "values" or concerns connect with theology--and if so where and how? This will be a major question of this semester abroad program, linking and correlating development philosophy with Eastern Orthodox theology.

We are glad you are with us!

Monday, September 1, 2008


Hi there,

We are Janelle Vandergrift and Daniel Heffner - the program administrators here in Romania. As we write this, the group is up on Straja mountain participating and assisting in the Viata Summer Adventure Camp. I am sure there are many stories and thoughts that will fill this page this semester as experiences lend themselves to education and education to experience.

We look forward to sharing this 3 month adventure virutally with you.