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,