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.