Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Romania in a Snapshot

For all you people out there who are considering coming to Romania please do. The country has so much to offer, the people are extremely loving, the food is great, the mountains are breathtaking, and through the work of FNO (Fundatia Noi Orizonturi)the country is changing person by person. The Northwestern-FNO partnership has created an experience that has forever changed my life, and hopefully will change yours as well. So once again, please come as God will use this experience to open your eyes to our calling as his creation, and you will be changed forever.

Before leaving Romania to come back to NWC there have been many things rushing through my mind. I am going to address some of these things below with pictures.

During my time spent in Romania I have seen a lot of contrasting images like something beautiful right beside something a lot less beautiful. You find little things beside big things, beautiful new houses beside old falling apart houses, and sweet new cars driving on roads that definitely need improvement. You see old rattly trains riding on the same tracks as new luxurious trains, ruins of Communist bloc apartments beside new modern buildings, and local piaţas (like a farmer's market) in the shadow of new western-style grocery stores. Here in the Jiu Valley the majestic mountains compete for height with the looming communist era unused smoke stack. The contrasting and almost contradictory images are countless. So, to get a better idea of this, here are some pictures.

This picture was taken on our trip to Corvin's Castle/Hunyad Castle. It was built in the 14th century, and is located in Hunedoara, RO. This castle has appeared in many films and is known to be unique due to its many different styles of architecture (Gothic, renaissance, neogothic and baroque).

This picture of an old deserted communist era bridge was taken on our train ride back into Lupeni over fall break. The bridge and other desolate buildings are hidden by bloc apartments and other newer buildings. Seems to be a hidden yet constant reminder of the past.

A picture of the Jiu Valley taken from the top of the mine shaft in Lupeni. We are looking east towards Vulcan and Petroşani.

On a beautiful Sunday night Michelle and I went on a hike with Michelle's host family, the Vlaicus, to their friend Nalush's shepherd hut. Nalush taught me how to milk sheep. Romanians use sheep milk to make their favorite salt cheese called brinza.

A picture of our group during our Retezat backpacking trip. While others have already written about this I will reinforce that it was awesome.

I snapped this one of Mirela, my host mom (sister). For our last meal at the house we had chicken and sheep cooked the traditional way over the fire. It was absolutely delicious.

I chose these pictures in hopes of giving you a little better understanding of what things are like here. I am so thankful for this experience in Romania. I have made friends and memories, and have grown in my mindset in regards to how I view the world and my place in it. We are leaving Lupeni in two days and while we are coming home it feels like we are also leaving home. I look forward to the day when I can hopefully come back.

A Few Thoughts Before Departure . . . From Romania This Time

At this time next week, I will be in Orange City, Iowa.

That thought has been iterated countless times by various people this past week. On Saturday, we had a good-bye party with the local IMPACT groups. I got to say good-bye to two of my host brothers. On Sunday, I went to the Catholic church, the Orthodox church, and the Pentecostal church because I wanted to visit them all one last time before leaving. After the Pentecostal service, I got to say good-bye to my host sister, Persida. We've finished all our papers and projects - except for a couple people who still have presentations to do while we're in Bucharest. Some people - people who are much more organized than I have - have begun to think about packing, and what to put where so that we don't have to dig around in all our luggage while we're in Bucharest, and for the days we're going to be in Orange City.

Put more simply: We're getting ready to leave. The idea has been expressed by several people that, although we're ready to be home and see our families and friends again, at the same time, we're not ready to leave.

But I think I'm okay with leaving.

A few days ago, I rediscovered a quote that says very well what I wanted to put into words. So here are a few words of wisdom from one of my favorite Babylon 5 characters, G'Kar:

"I believe that when we leave a place, part of it goes with us and part of us remains. Go anywhere in the station when it is quiet, and just listen. After a while, you will hear the echoes of all our conversations, every thought and word we've exchanged. Long after we are gone, our voices will linger in these walls for as long as this place remains."

A part of it goes with us. There is certainly a part of Romania that is coming back with me. I may not know yet exactly what it looks like. After all, as Ian Malcolm would say, "All major changes are like death. You can't see to the other side until you are there." Well, I'm not there yet. I don't know exactly what is coming back with me, or what form it will take once I'm back in Iowa, or Minnesota. I don't feel very different.

But, at the same time, I know I'll take back with me an appreciation for the culture I have been a part of for the past three months. The incredible hospitality. A simpler way of living. One of the things I was most looking forward to about this semester was learning about Eastern Orthodoxy. But I haven't just learned about it; I've experienced it. No matter how many books you read on the subject, I don't think anything could quite compare with walking into an Orthodox church, hearing the chanting, smelling the incense, seeing the icons, taking part in their Liturgy. And I've come to appreciate more and more during this semester the deep amount of common ground that I, as a Catholic, share with them. We can acknowledge our differences while embracing our similarities, and that's something that's coming back with me.

G'Kar also says that a part of us remains. So what part of me is staying in Romania? And where is it staying? Well, I think, mostly, it will remain with my host family. We grew close in the time we had together. We didn't have many deep, engaging conversations, but we had so many wonderful experiences. We got to know each other not so much through words, but through games of ping-pong and hikes in the mountains, through movies we watched together and through the songs we sang at church, through the apples we picked and the chickens we fed.

I got the impression several times that I'm much quieter than the students who have stayed with them in the past. Persida asked me once how she's supposed to know if I'm happy if I don't say much. I replied that I'm a quiet person, but that doesn't mean that I'm not happy. I'm not the most talkative person in the world - okay, that's a bit of an understatement - but I eventually managed to convey how much I loved staying with them. I specifically requested to be placed with the IMPACT group that they're a part of. Even after the homestays were over, I continued to show up at their church on Sunday evenings. We laughed and smiled together - two things that I'm very good at that don't require a lot of words.

So maybe that's a part of me that will remain with them. The memory of a quiet, smiling girl who would be happy with practically anything that they wanted to do, and who slowly became part of the family. And my hope is that, even if they may not hear the "echoes of our conversations," that, maybe, instead, they will hear the echoes of our laughter and see the reflections of our smiles. And those memories will remain with me, as well.

Will I miss Romania? Absolutely. But I also know that I carry a part of it home with me, even as I carry with me a part of every other place I have learned to call home - Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia. And I can hope that a part of me remains in each of these places, in the hearts of people I have come to know and love.

So, as I close what will probably be my last blog post from Romania, I will add what G'Kar added to the aforementioned quote. A part of Romania is going with me, and a part of me is staying, but, to the people in Romania, and especially my host family, "I will admit that the part of me that is going will very much miss the part of you that is staying."

Pace si Doamne Ajuta,

Sustainable Development Revisted

I came to Romania to study missions. One of the things I expected to do here was to participate in sharing the gospel with Romanians. I had a view of missions that was so focused on salvation that I overlooked the transformational nature of the gospel. We have learned in our development course that there is often distaste in western Christians circles about the notion of working toward universal human flourishing. Many times mission work is thought of as being solely proclaiming (our) “Jesus” to the lost; the focus is on an eternal abundant life that begins at physical death. In a lot of ways it is enough for us if people go to heaven when they starve to death. We aren’t happy that people are without food, but can handle that reality so long as we are reaching them with the gospel. I didn’t even realize that I believed this until I came to Romania. Development and the gospel are about the same thing: people. We have been taught that sustainable development is about meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. If the glory of God is man fully alive, then why is it that a lot of Christians are looking to usher in the coming of Christ by letting the world fall to pieces? As a Christian, I needed to reexamine my responsibility to mankind and all of creation.
We have been studying sustainable community development as an approach to Christian missions. This has been totally new territory for me. I have always been interested in social justice issues, as well as environmental concerns, but have been dubbed a radical/liberal by a lot of fellow believers because of my focus on the quality of this life. Studying development here in Romania has shown me just how “Christian” sustainable development truly is. Typically, development has been thought of in terms of economics, but we are learning that development is not about money alone; it’s about people. We have tried to examine sustainable development holistically. Sustainable development involves social, environmental, and economic development. The word development here does not mean uninhibited growth toward an end of abundance. Development necessitates that we focus on meeting the needs of all people while at the same time respecting the limits of our resources. This requires us to spend time thinking about what it means to flourish as a human being. Poverty, disease, ecological devastation, and financial crisis are all connected. I see all these problems and do not know where to begin. Sustainable development is not a solution to a problem; it is a way of approaching life in this world. The future of the world itself and all people---present and future---depends upon the choices I make today, tomorrow, and every day that follows.
Even though I exist in a time in history when any response to human suffering or environmental crisis is consequential, I have to figure out why I should care in the first place. I can’t value a sustainable approach to development just because things happen to be awful. I need to approach development as though it should have always been sustainable; as though sustainable development is right for its own sake not just because it has the potential to fix some of the problems we have created in our pursuit of “development”. It is the quality of motivation that is significant. How I think about people and the world has bearing on how I should live. I have a Christian world view which should influence how I care for all of creation, including but not limited to human beings. It is not as though Christians today are called to sustainable development because of the state of the world. Christians have always been called to care for the kingdom both now and forever, it just so happens that things are currently worse than they have ever been in regards to human flourishing and creation care.
We are facing a humanitarian crisis---millions of people are starving and oppressed. We are also facing an environmental crisis. Our real crisis is our way of thinking. We have to illustrate the connection between ecological issues and issues of human welfare if we are to change the way in which development is done. I think we tend to approach all of this and try to understand it linearly, as though once we figure out the exact steps to take in order to have healthy people and a healthy planet we can work really hard to implement those steps and all will be solved. I, as one person, think about these things and realize this is impossible for me to bring this about alone and instead of being inspired to join with others I am moved to retreat from the task as it looks daunting. But the reality of our situation necessitates that I do something, anything. I can’t single handedly solve the humanitarian and ecological problems of our world. But I can live a life that is conducive to the saving of both.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Being a Christian Canadian in Romania with a bunch of Americans

This semester I have been living in Lupeni, Romania with a bunch of Americans (and I guess also Romanians). I have learned so much this semester about many different things, but also about my national identity of being Canadian. Now, most of the year I spend with Americans anyway since I go to school in the States. My best friends and fiancee are American and I have nothing against Americans. They are part of my family.

So, since there are only seven of us from NWC here our group is often referred to as "the Americans", both by Romanian people here and by our group. At times this semester this has really bothered me. Now don't get me wrong, I do not want special attention or want to be singled out as the only Canadian. I just do not want my identity to be clumped in with the majority because it is easiest. There are a few other terms that our group has at times used, such as students from Northwestern or North Americans. When these terms are used I do for some reason feel happy because an effort is made to include all of us.

This question of identity is something that I have wrestled with throughout my years at NWC being a Christian Canadian living almost permanently outside of Canada,as my faith has developed and I have also gained a better sense of being Canadian. So then, what part of me is Canadian and what part is Christian?

Most of the time I like to think that who I truly am is just a Christian – an identity that contains life now and in the future, and that should be bigger than all other terms. Yet when talking about their faith, it is not enough for people to say that they are just Christian. Almost everyone has to clarify further by saying that I am Reformed, Baptist, Catholic … It is like the name “Christian” has been tarnished and is not enough. When one claims an identity it is hoped that that identity is mostly understood, and hopefully respected. We all want to be recognized as what we claim to be. When people ask me what my faith is I just say “Christian,” but by the further questions that follow it seems that this term is not understood or enough.

I am also a Canadian. I realize that this is just a temporary title as this life will end and I will move onto the next still bearing the title of a follower/Christian. However, my identity as a Canadian has been very important to me. I think that it is because when I think of Canada I think of home and the people I know there. There are things about being “Canadian” that I do appreciate and value, such as the value of peace and the welfare of all, the value of maintaining different cultures, and that to be Canadian is to be an immigrant. I like the history of the country and the peaceful way that independence was gained, which to much of the world (especially the U.S.) is unknown.

So what is my identity? I do not fully know. I know that I am Matthew Andrew Gray and I am a Christian while also having the national heritage of being Canadian. My faith and identity as a Christian gives me a purpose for living and shapes what I want my outlook on life to be in light of what it is not due to the fact that I am human (nationality doesn’t matter here). I have inherited the history of Canada by my birth and the history of Christianity by choice outside of nationality. My greater identity as a Christian affects the way I live my life as a human being with the added title of a Canadian. Yet, there is something in me that makes me extremely thankful to have the title of a Canadian and not that of another nation, like the U.S., because of the added identity “components” that go with being a Canadian.

Canada is the dominant culture I knew growing up and the Christian culture I have received has come out of the room made by the culture in Canada. I like being Christian and I like being Canadian, but when it comes down to the wire and I think about what gives me a purpose in this life in the places I have been and will go, my national identity does not matter – it is my faith. Therefore, being here in Romania my nationality is Canadian, and it will stay Canadian, and so will my identity as a Christian.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Ripple Effect

Recently we had a week dedicated to talking about sustainable development. This includes all the highly political buzzwords like sustainability, community, development, environment, ecology, organic, green, etc. And to be honest, even as a biology major and the son of an organic farmer, I despise talking about these things. It all just seems too political for me, like everyone talks and throws out theories, but no one does anything.

But the more we talked, the more I realized, “Hey, this stuff makes sense! To destroy your only home is just, nonsensical.” This inevitably led to the question: “So why do we all do it?” I think that if everyone around the world, with the knowledge that nothing is impossible, were to look at the state of the environment, they would agree to take all the steps, big and small alike, to fix it.

The problem is that everyone in the world can’t put their minds together and reach a decision. There can be no worldwide, simultaneous decision; there is no single collective consciousness of mankind. Taking into account the little I understand about human nature, it seems to me that until everyone knows that they’re not the only one who cares, no one will do anything.

In Romania, for example, everyone I’ve talked to seems to care at least a little bit about the corruption of the government. But because each person feels that they are alone in their caring, they don’t speak up, and when everyone does this, no one knows that anyone else cares, and the cycle goes on. Nobody thinks that change is possible, so it doesn’t happen.

I think it’s the same with the environmental crisis and the steps necessary to gain total sustainability. As I already said, taking those steps just makes so much sense. The only price, as I see it, is a slightly lowered standard of living for (debatably) the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population. Is that worth it? I think that if we could ask the collective mind of every human alive, we would receive a resounding, “YES! But like in What About Bob, the only steps we can take are baby steps.

While it isn’t possible for me to go to every person alive and tell them to take the baby steps necessary to reach total environmental sustainability, it is possible for me to take those steps myself. At my house in Iowa, we have a garden. We ourselves grow most of the vegetables and legumes we eat. We mulch our waste and use it for fertilizer. My dad sacrificed some of his organic farmland to plant a strip of native Iowa prairie grass that strengthens the soil and even combats weeds. My mom trades some of the garden and field produce for fresh milk from the neighbors. Steps are being taken.

And this is just one family in northwest Iowa. When the neighbors see that we care, they’ll show that they care, that they can take those baby steps as well. When they’re neighbors see them, they’ll take the steps, and on and on.

The answers to the world’s problems are not shiny new technologies that only solve the effects of the problems, but practices and methods that respond to the problems themselves. And these practices and methods can’t be mandated or shoved into usage by force; it’s a ripple effect.

Until everyone knows that they’re not the only one who cares, no one will care. But show your neighbor that you care, and you’ll change the world.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dead Men Tell No Tales?

Last week, during class, we spent a morning talking about creation and stewardship. At one point, we ended up talking rather extensively about death. During the discussion, the idea was presented that death is completely evil, and that we of the modern age have made too much of a 'peace with death.' That death is horrible and certainly should not be considered a friend. That death is also evil because "The dead cannot praise God," which is, of course, a Bible verse. Specifically, it's from Psalm 115. From this verse, the discussion came to the conclusion that the dead exist in some sort of unconscious state until the Judgment Day.

Please allow me to say now what I should have said then: I respectfully disagree - with pretty much all of it.

Please do not assume that my disagreement is simply a product of our modern "peace with death." Please do not assume I disagree because I have watched too much Touched by an Angel or because I listened to Gandalf say that "Death is just another path, one that we all must take" or because, upon reading Eragon, I fell in love with Brom's dying words: "And now for the greatest adventure of all." These things may be the visible signs of my 'peace with death.' But they are not the cause.

So, let's talk about death - one part at a time.

First, we've got the idea that death is completely evil. For starters, I'm uncomfortable with calling anything "completely" good or "completely" evil. Especially when the emphasized theme last week was that there is wheat and tares - good and bad - in everything. Every person. Every act. Every part of culture. I suppose you could say that this only refers to all parts of creation - that death was never meant to be part of the picture and therefore has no good in it. But if death is never good . . . then where does the term "Good Friday" come from?

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with the term, "Good Friday" refers to the day when Jesus died. It's known by other names, but I have pretty much always heard it referred to as Good Friday. The day when Jesus died. Died. Not rose. We don't celebrate the Resurrection until Easter - the following Saturday after sunset. Yet we call Friday "Good". Because Jesus' death is "Good" - Jesus' death was part of God's plan of Salvation. But if God's death can be "Good," what does that say about our death - we who are made in the image of God?

Last semester, I took an Introduction to Literature class focusing on "Love and Death." At the beginning of the class, we were given a survey. One of the questions asked us what a "good death" would be. I don't think that's an oxymoron.

But maybe that's just a product of my modern way of thinking, so let's take a look at that. Is that really such a modern idea. The case in point was the view of death as a friend, so let's look at that. Maybe it's just my Catholicism showing, but the very first person I thought of when this idea was mentioned was Saint Francis of Assisi. And the phrase that came to mind doesn't even describe death as merely a friend, but as "Sister Death."

Granted, Francis did this with everything. Everything - everything - was either a sister or a brother. Take one look at his "Canticle of the Sun" and you'll get a picture - Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brothers Wind and Air, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Sister Earth, and, finally, Sister Death. But it's not by mistake that he includes Death in his family, or that he saves her for last.

So the idea is at least as old as Saint Francis. Of course, it's ridiculous to say that all people in St. Francis' time shared his beliefs. But it's just as preposterous to assume that everybody today has made this supposed 'peace with death.' I would say that there have been people in every time who have viewed death as something to be feared and despised, just as there have been those who have not. Ask the average guy on the street if he thinks death is his friend, and I doubt you would get a 'yes' very often.

Maybe we're more aware of death. After all, it's everywhere. On the news. In the papers. In books and movies and songs. But how often is it portrayed as good? There are certainly deaths that are viewed as honorable - when someone dies to save another, for example. A soldier who dies in the line of duty. A firefighter who risks his own life to save those in need of help. And some deaths, perhaps, have more appeal than others. I would rather die in my sleep, for example, than be hit by a bus. (Maybe that's just me.) But I would disagree with the idea that, as a culture in general, we view death as a good thing.

Which brings me to "The dead cannot praise God" and this idea of a state of unconsciousness until the Judgment Day. My initial reaction was "What???" It wasn't until a while later that I realized exactly why.

So, the Bible. Psalm 115. One verse. "The dead cannot praise God." God said it, I believe it, that settles it, right? Pardon a moment of bluntness, but, for goodness' sakes, people, what are you thinking?

Even if, for a moment, we assume that we're just looking at this one verse here, we could still take different perspectives. We could bat around the idea of whether this verse is referring to a physical death or a spiritual death. We could look at historical context and what the ancient Hebrews believed about death at the time, and how that has changed in the few thousand years since the Psalms were written. And, looking broader, if you like, we could toss Bible verses back and forth all day. Mark 12:26-27 comes to mind. "There it is written that God said to Moses, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is the God of the living, not of the dead." Living. Not 'those who will be living again some day.' Living. Present tense. Of course, God is outside of time, so the future is the present and so on, and so we could go back and forth all day, which is what happens when verses get yanked out of context to prove a point.

Forgive my bluntness - rudeness, perhaps - but there are a few things that drive me crazy, and that's one of them.

And I'm not the only one. Another one of the classes I took last semester was an Introduction to Christian Theology. In this class, it was stressed that we should look at four sources of theology: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. So let's do that.

As far as tradition goes, in my own Catholic tradition, the position seems fairly clear to me. Catholics have a long history both of praying for the dead and of asking the dead to pray for us - which makes zero sense if they're stuck in some sort of unconscious state until Judgment Day and the trumpet sounds. After nearly a semester of studying Eastern Orthodoxy, I think I can safely say that we agree on this point. Both traditions ask saints to intercede for us - much like asking a friend or neighbor here on earth to pray for you.

As far as Protestantism goes, I'm not an expert by any means, so, in an effort not to lump all Protestants into one group - and because I don't want to write an encyclopedia-length post dissecting every single different denomination based on what I can find online - I'm going to say that traditions vary and leave it at that.

That brings us to reason. My reason, quite simply, can't think of a good reason why God would want to leave the dead in some sort of unconscious state for who-knows-how-many-centuries. Of course, that doesn't mean that there isn't a good reason - just that I can't think of one. Other than that, my reason doesn't have much to say about what happens after death. As annoying as that is to someone who enjoys logic as much as I do, I flat-out can't reason this one out. It doesn't work that way.

Which leaves experience. Well, I haven't died, so that leaves first-hand experience out of the question for now. And I'm not going to go into stories of people who have died - or had near-death experiences - and returned to life, because I don't personally know anybody who has.

But that doesn't put experience out of the picture. Last year in October, my uncle Marty died. One of the games he liked to play with us when we visited was a game called Ticket to Ride. My family has a few versions that we've picked up at various thrift stores and still enjoy playing. Usually, at some point during the game, someone - usually my dad - will say, "Love you, Marty." It's something simple. But I believe that when we say something like that, he's listening. Shortly after his death, I participated in the Hospers talent night. (Hospers is the dorm I live in.) I sang For Good - and dedicated it to Marty. I believe that he heard me.

Every Memorial Day for quite a few years now, I've played Taps at the cemetery outside our town. When I do that, I'm not doing it just for the people I can see who are listening to me play. I'm doing it for those who have died - who I believe are also listening. I also played Taps at my grandpa's funeral - not for the rest of my family, but for him.

Shortly after we arrived in Romania, we spent a week up at Straja. There, they have an Orthodox church, and, outside the church, a tunnel of sorts with paintings on the inside - pictures of saints. The first time I went inside, I felt completely surrounded - in a good way. Surrounded by the presence of so many people. I don't know how they could be there so fully if they're not even conscious and aware. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

I experienced something similar during Fall Break. While we were in Milan, we visited an absolutely amazing cathedral called the Duomo. Yes, it's huge. Yes, it's magnificent. Yes, it was wonderful to climb on top and see the view. Yes, it's amazing how many statues there are.

But the highlight for me was a moment when we were inside. I was kneeling in one of the pews over on the right side. As I looked up, I saw a statue of a saint. I felt as if he was looking straight at me, and his hand was extended in blessing. I don't know who he was or anything about his life, but, in that moment, I felt as if I had been truly welcomed to the cathedral.

Again, this is purely my experience. In this respect, I can't speak for anyone else, and I can only assume that people's stories will vary. So, speaking for myself, taking into account scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, I will say again that I respectfully disagree with the opinion voiced in class, and I believe that the dead - or, rather, the living - are aware and present to us.

All of this may seem like quite an elaboration on a few somewhat offhand remarks made during class, but I believe it's important. Because how we view death affects our views on so many other things. As Captain Kirk would say (Oh, dear, here's modern culture again), "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life." It matters enough that it's been bugging me ever since that day in class, and, obviously, it matters enough for me to write a rather long blog post on the topic. It matters.

Why? Because we're all going to die. Because death is the sister "from whose embrace no living person can escape," to quote Saint Francis again. I like that picture.

Going back to the survey we took for our literature class on love and death, another one of the questions asked how old we expected to live to be. I never gave an answer. When we were asked to talk about our answers to one of the questions, I explained that if I die when I'm old, I'm fine with that, but, if death comes sooner, well, that's okay, too. I didn't say it with the intent of making a good philosophical impression, either; I meant it wholeheartedly. My professor remarked that I have a "sense of my own mortality." I think she meant it as a compliment, and I've certainly chosen to take it as one.

I don't know where that sense comes from. Maybe it does have to do with watching a lot of Touched by an Angel episodes - Andrew (the Angel of Death) has been my favorite for quite some time. Maybe it does have to do with Gandalf and Brom, and, while we're at it, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ian Malcolm and plenty of my other favorite characters who end up dead. Or maybe it goes deeper than the modern culture explanation. Maybe something deep inside of me agrees with a man who, nearly eight hundred years ago, saw death as a sister.

We praise you, Lord, for Sister Death,
From whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins.
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your will.
No second death can do them harm.
~ From St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun

Pace si Doamne Ajuta,

Friday, November 13, 2009


Updates from Romania keep getting more and more difficult to write. The more time I have here, the more I experience. The more I experience, the harder it becomes to convey the reality of life in the valley to those so far outside of it. It is becoming almost scary to try to share my life “here” with all of you over “there” because I fear that I won’t explain things in a way that preserves the value of what we are doing and learning.
What I can tell you is that our lives are changing forever. We are being introduced to ideas and information that compels us to live differently. I don’t quite know how to translate what we have learned into my world back home…but I am determined to figure it out. I want to spend my life living in a way that is sustainable. I want to encourage those around me to do the same. I want to continuing thinking in terms of human flourishing and not in terms of dollars and cents. I want my friendships back home to have the same measure of reality and intentionality that my friendships with our group here in Romania have. I want to live out what I truly believe the gospel to be rather than go along with what some of the folks back home seem to think it should look like. I am having a sort of worldview crisis in that my life back home represents a way of thinking about people and the world that in a lot of ways is unacceptable. The way I see the world is changing and that change will be meaningless if I do not change the way I live when I return to the states.
Romania is real. My experience here is real. But I think the true test of the reality of this experience is not in the completion of the semester, but in how the experience of the semester here in Romania influences the way I live for the rest of my life. The memories will stay with me, but will the lessons? Will I continue studying these things I have been introduced to? Will I share my heart with those in my sphere of influence? Coming to the end of our time here, it is wonderful to realize that none of this ends with Romania. I will be headed home soon, and the experience will be fresh…will I find the meaning(s)?


The stars are the same here.

I noticed that quite a while ago, during our backpacking trip in the Retezat. It was a clear night, and I was on my way to our tent from the campfire. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I looked up to see a sky full of stars. Familiar stars. The big dipper. The little dipper. Polaris. The same stars I would have seen back in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, or even as far south as Virginia; they're close enough to the same latitude. The same stars, halfway around the world.

This past week, we've been talking about a lot of different things, all somehow complexly interconnected. A Christian worldview. Creation. Community development. Sustainable development. Sustainable community development. Local economy. Food - particularly corn. Dominion. Agency. Solidarity. And, oh, yes, the calorie content of Pufuletes - delicious little snack-food things that are largely air.

Last night, we talked about popular culture - specifically, music. Not my strong suit. In general, I listen to whatever other people want to listen to. My sister likes country; I therefore know many more country songs than, say, rap. We've been listening to quite a bit of The High Kings here. And I like it, partly because it's not something I would have been likely to stumble across on my own. My roommate last year listened to a lot of contemporary Christian music. That's also what I hear at TEC retreats and at Praise and Worship on Sunday nights at Northwestern. So I know quite a few songs - most of which I like, but some of which drive me crazy. But if you were to ask me which artist plays what, after a default guess of Casting Crowns, I probably don't have a clue.

All this is to say that I'm a little out of it when it comes to contemporary music. Given the choice, I'll opt for the soundtrack of a musical. Currently, the only CD's I have on my computer are the soundtracks for Les Miserables, Pippin, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Granted, I got this computer shortly before coming to Romania; when I get back, I fully intend to add Wicked, The Secret Garden, Man of la Mancha, The Phantom of the Opera, and Jesus Christ, Superstar to the list. That's the sort of thing I listen to. But even those are things that I've been introduced to by various people - my sister, my dad, or my aunt and cousin. I don't generally seek out new music on my own.

For this reason, I considered not attending the optional discussion of popular music. It's not really my thing. But, quite frankly, I had nothing better planned for 8:30 on a Thursday night, and, after a trip to Pizza Planet (where Taylor and I both mistakenly ordered bacon omelet pizzas - with mushrooms - instead of bacon pizzas) and a walk back through town, I could think of no legitimate objection to sitting around and listening to everyone else talk about music.

Which is basically what ended up happening. I spoke up once - and ended up startling everyone with my apparently unusual ability to repeat back a line after hearing it only once. The rest of the time, I sat back and listened to people toss around the names of artists and their songs like everyone should know what they were talking about, and analyze which song by band A sounds like it was written by band B, and whether singer X reminds them of singer Y. Finally, Heather played a song by Nickel Creek that I'd actually heard - once, courtesy of my sister. And Matt graciously ended with "The Parting Glass," sung by The High Kings, a song I've grown particularly fond of.

Almost everyone else contributed a song to the discussion. So I kept thinking about what, of the things I have on my computer, I could play if and when they asked. They didn't. Which is probably a good thing. Because, even though Pippin and Joseph probably qualified as pop culture when they were first staged, that was a while ago. And though Les Mis is a classic, calling it popular culture would be a stretch.

By the end of the night, though, I had settled on a song. Maybe I should have spoken up and asked to play it, but, by that time, it was already late, and Matt's decision to play "The Parting Glass" was the perfect ending to the night. (If you've heard the song, you know what I mean.) So I kept my mouth shut, as I have a tendency to do. But I'd like to share my choice with you now.

I had several options in mind at various times - songs that would make sense even when removed from their theatrical context. "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin and "Close Every Door" from Joseph came to mind. From Les Mis, "Bring Him Home" and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" would have made sense with little background explanation. All relatively straightforward. Any of them would have been a safe choice.

But, if I'm going to be honest - rather than safe - if I were to pick just one song on my computer to listen to, none of those would be it. My first inclination would probably be "One Day More," but I wasn't about to pick that because of the complex, simultaneous parts and because it would make close to zero sense out of context. If asked for a simpler song as an example of what I like to listen to, I would go straight to my Les Miserables album and double-click on "The Stars."

Part of me wishes I had spoken up, because this could easily have led to some very interesting discussion.

Why? Because it's not a safe choice. Not a song that everyone is going to happily and comfortably agree about. Because, among people who have some knowledge of the basic plot of Les Miserables, if I were to say that Javert is my favorite character, chances are that I would receive quite a few raised eyebrows. And "The Stars" is Javert in a nutshell. It's the essence of his character, eloquently worded and beautifully sung. And, though it sometimes leaves me shaking my head, I do so with a smile on my face, because, once you boil it all down, I understand. This is a character who makes sense to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with Les Miserables, the story centers around Jean Valjean, an ex-convict, now on the run. Throughout the story, he is pursued by Javert, who is intent on bringing Valjean to justice. Javert sees this as his duty, and his sense of duty is absolute. He is certain. Unwavering. Like the stars.

Which brings me back to where I began - with the fact that here, half a world away from my family and everything I knew until less than three months ago, the stars are still the same. Constant. I can see now, perhaps even better than before, what Javert was getting at. Granted, the analogy isn't perfect. If I were on an island in the southern Pacific Ocean, for example, the stars would be very different. But I suspect that Javert would find a way of incorporating that as well as he includes the fact that the stars change throughout the year: "And each in your season returns and returns, and is always the same."

Always the same. There's something inside each of us that wants something stable, something certain. For Javert, the constant is justice. Duty. The law. These things form his sense of right and wrong. He knows where he stands, and he stands there unwaveringly. I've been reminded increasingly often recently that I tend to think very logically about things. And, to this logical part of my mind, Javert makes sense. Do I always agree with him? Well, no. But he makes sense.

The stars are the same. It's easy to look at two countries like the United States and Romania and see only the differences. But the stars are the same. A rainy, murky mid-October day here looks much like one back in Michigan. (There just aren't as many beautiful, orange-and-red trees in Ghent, Minnesota to make a comparison.) Soccer is soccer. Ping-pong is ping-pong. A church is a church. Christians are still Christians. The list could go on. Big things and little things. Important things and trivial things. Whole constellations and single points of light.

Not that there aren't differences. That would be a rather idiotic claim. In a few weeks, we'll be back in the United States (or Canada). We've already been warned rather thoroughly - perhaps excessively - about the concept of reverse culture shock. I'm not going to pretend that's not real; that's not my point. The differences exist. And they go beyond the fact that I'm going to miss ciorba and that I look forward to a delicious, thick-crust pizza.

The differences are real. But so are the similarities. The connections. The common ground. And, as we prepare for our final weeks here in Lupeni, I'm going to keep looking for the stars. The things that cross cultural boundaries. The things that unite people across time zones and oceans. As Javert would put it, the sentinels, silent and sure, keeping watch in the night.

Keeping watch in the night.

Pace si Doamne Ajuta,

Sustainable Development In My Own Life

After a most wonderful and relaxing fall break spent in Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, it was time for us Northwestern students to get back into our classes full swing. For the past three days, and tomorrow being the last, we have intensely been studying the idea and concept of Sustainable Community Development, and right now as I sit on my bed at 1:30 in the morning, my mind is continually swirling with thoughts and ideas about development and all the different ways and possibilities that this topic could apply to me as an individual living in today's society. So, I must write and try to put my thoughts on paper....(or on a blog I guess!)

I will start with the basics of what sustainable development is. We have learned that it is defined as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." We have been thinking about the "environmental crisis" that our world is currently in, looking at the nature of the problem we face, and thinking about our future and how we can make a difference by changing our behaviors as individuals. Here is one basic statistic that might help paint a better picture.

**About 75% of all environmental damage is caused by the 25% of the world's population who live in the North.

Our carbon footprint in the west is HUGE. The global economy has become so obsessed with producing as much as possible as cheaply as possible. Growth and production seem to be all that matters, and people will do anything to get that. We are experiencing unprecedented wealth and unprecedented poverty- the gap between the two continues to widen. The average bite of food an American eats has traveled over 1500 miles before it reaches our lips. Think about all the gas that that one bite of food has consumed. We are experiencing a health crisis due to our environmental crisis. Diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and child obesity are all on the rise. Global warming is in fact truly happening, whether people want to accept it or not. Glaciers are melting. And what are we doing about it? We continue to live daily consuming and producing, often without even thinking twice about it. Now is this a lifestyle that is sustainable? Can we continue to live like we are for the next 50 years? My guess is No. Sadly, "developing" countries are trying to become more like "developed" countries, thinking that it is the best way to live, but in reality it means damaging the Earth even more.

These past three days my mind has just been a mess thinking about my lifestyle and how I live, and it has almost been depressing. Yet, I do want to see the hope in all of this, and I do feel motivated to change.

I find hope when I look at this crisis from a Biblical standpoint. What does God have to say about creation? In Genesis 1, God describes his creation as good. Very good. He also says that humans are given the "office" of caring for and cultivating the earth. We are to have dominion over the earth, but NOT domination. There is a difference. Creation is not something that is indispensable; nature is not merely for "raw materials". Rather, humans are to enjoy creation and take delight in its beauty, but this also means caring for it.

So what does this mean for me? What can I do that would make any difference at all? First off, I know that my mindset has to change. I need to go from a view of total economy to local economy, which means that I can't be solely dependent on buying all of my food at grocery stores and Wal-Mart. I want to become more self-sufficient and be able to provide for myself, my future family, and possibly for friends. This might mean joining a community garden or starting one of my own. The idea of a local economy could also mean buying all of your fruits and vegetables from local farmers at farmer's markets. I cannot go into the store and let myself buy an apple that was shipped from Guatemala when there could be the same apples growing in my backyard. This just seems like common sense. Another fairly easy way to reduce my carbon footprint is to drive less. Carpooling is always a great option, but also just walk or ride my bike. I have been living in Lupeni for almost 3 months now and have gotten quite used to a 20-minute walk to places.

I wish I could explain on paper all of the discussions we have had in class and the different ideas that have been presented, but I can't, so all I can ask is that you look into this issue. Become educated and aware of what is really going on because I have, and it is affecting me, permantly. Talk about it with others and figure out ways to cut back on consumption and the use of fossil fuels.

I feel as though here in Romania, it is a bit easier to have that mentality of a local economy. The piata (market) is full of fresh produce, and it is all produced locally. Bread bakeries are everywhere and the bread is made right in the store. I don't have a car here, so I am not burning up fossil fuels. There are no dryers or microwaves here, so I simply don't use them. But, what happens when I go back to the States? Things will definitely be harder there because I have easy access to everything. So I guess my question to myself (and to you) is how hard am I really willing to work to change my lifestyle into something more sustainable? How hard can it really be? I am very anxious to find out.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What Elrond has to Say About Challenge by Choice

Buna Ziua,

Last weekend, our group spent a few days up at a cabana in Straja. We watched movies, played games, and celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with some delicious chicken that really did taste like turkey - as well as a wonderful assortment of other food. We played poker with various kinds of candy, and I was introduced to The Bourne Identity.

We also watched The Fellowship of the Ring. The extended version. That's important because there was one part that they added for the extended version that hit me again this time.

The Fellowship is getting ready to leave Rivendell. Elrond, in traditional formal Elrond style, announces, "The Ringbearer is setting out on a quest for Mount Doom. On you who go with him, no oath nor bond is laid to go further than you will." A comment was made to the effect that it was ridiculous that everyone would only go as far as they wanted.

Maybe I should have said something then, but explanations for things like that don't always come to me off the top of my head. In fact, it's usually several hours or even days later that I realize, "Oh, yeah, that's what I should have said."

What I should have said is exactly what Elrond says in the book: "For you do not yet know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot foresee what each may meet upon the road."

What immediately follows is a back-and-forth dialogue between Elrond and Gimli, and goes something like this:

"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens." (That's Gimli, by the way.)

"Perhaps. But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall."

"But sworn word may strengthen quaking heart."

"Or break it. Look not too far ahead. But go now with good hearts, and may the blessings of Elves and Men and all free folk go with you."

Part of me wishes they had put that in the movie. It would have made it maybe a minute longer. But it speaks volumes, and means a lot personally to me - which is probably obvious from the fact that I didn't have to look up those quotes. Gimli charges in with an "I'm-going-to-stick-with-this-no-matter-what" attitude. Elrond sees deeper. It's important, eventually, that the others - particularly Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli - don't hold to Gimli's initial resolve to stay with Frodo no matter what.

Gimli had a plan. And plans are good, to some extent. Without a plan, the Fellowship might have ended up at the Lonely Mountain instead of Mount Doom. More likely, they would have been attacked and killed and the Ring taken. But, on the other hand, if they had stuck with the plan they had originally when setting out from Rivendell, they would have ended up going through the Gap of Rohan, or perhaps kept going over Caradhras and frozen to death.

But the plan changed. Again and again, the plan changed. Gandalf falling of the Bridge of Khazad-Dum wasn't in the plan. Merry and Pippin being captured by Uruk-Hai wasn't in the plan. And certainly Frodo and Sam going off by themselves to Mount Doom was nowhere in the plan. But, because Elrond forced no oath nor bond at the beginning of their journey, Aragorn was free to decide, "Frodo's fate is no longer in our hands" and rush off to rescue Merry and Pippin.

I've been keeping a prayer journal during our semester here in Romania. During our first week or so here, I wrote five quotes on the inside cover. One of them is Elrond's quote: "You do not yet know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot foresee what each may meet upon the road."

That could be seen as depressing advice, but, to me, it is an encouraging thought. I do not yet know the strength of my heart. I had no idea, when I came here, just how strong I was, how much I could do. I could not foresee what I would meet upon the road. But I did know, perhaps with a more Gimli-ish part of my heart, that I was ready for it.

I worked as a musician at a TEC retreat this past January. On the last day, known as "Go Day," one of the songs we sang was "Remember Me." I was particularly struck by the last verse. It goes like this:

Remember Me
When the children leave their Sunday School with smiles.
Remember Me
When they're old enough to teach,
Old enough to preach,
Old enough to leave.

That last line brought tears to my eyes. (Everyone cries on Go Day.) I looked around and saw people who were old enough - ready enough - to leave. And I saw the same thing in myself.

I've thought of that song quite a few times since then. I wouldn't be here, in Romania, if God didn't think I was ready for it. I was old enough, ready enough, to leave my home in Minnesota and my college in Iowa and come to a different country. I mentioned in a blog post the day before we came here that I felt like a Hobbit, completely overwhelmed by the journey in front of me. But, even then, I didn't call it off. Even then, I was ready.

This semester, we've heard a lot about the concept of "challenge by choice." When something is challenge by choice, we get to decide for ourselves whether or not a particular activity is going to push us out of our challenge zone and into our panic zone. This may be something like a ropes course, a sharing of personal feelings, a trip to an Orthodox church, or climbing up a big, scary ladder to the top of a mine shaft. From now on, every time I hear that phrase, I have a feeling I'm going to remember Elrond's comforting words: "On you who go with him, no oath nor bond is laid to go further than you will."

It's not an oath that brought me here, and it's not an oath that's keeping me here. And, especially now, so soon before fall break, I'm proud of the fact that I do not yet know the strength of my heart, and that I cannot foresee what I'm going to meet upon the road.

Pace si Doamne ajuta,

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thoughts on Experiential Education

This semester is entirely different from anything I’ve ever been a part of. For one thing, as of about 2 weeks ago, this is the longest I’ve ever been away from home. And I’ve been to places where English is not the primary language, but the immersion has certainly never been this intense, nor without a translator. And if I’m honest, I miss my home. It’s also a different group than I’ve ever been a part of before. I’m used to dorm life, to being surrounded by friends and brothers, dozens of them, all with different points of view and ideas of community. I’m used to “traditional” classes. I’m used to American food. I’m used to comfort.

Experiential Education. The title implies so much, as well as asking so many questions, like what’s the experience? What is education? What can you learn from an experience? Does every experience teach you something? Is there a teacher?

I am living with a Romanian family. Every day, I wake up in a Romanian home. I eat breakfast with Romanians, I go to the bathroom in a Romanian bathroom, I walk down a Romanian street, I am experiencing Romania.

Even in the absence of a teacher, a classroom, textbooks, and a proper desk, I am learning about Romanian culture just from living with a Romanian family. Even better, I’m learning things you couldn’t learn in a classroom. I’m learning what a typical family likes to eat, what time they like to eat, what they like to talk about, what they listen to on the radio, what books they read, how they treat foreigners, how they treat each other. You might say I’m learning about Romania by experiencing Romania.

Another one of our classes is called “Sustainable Development.” In it, we’re learning a lot of the academics behind many of the people and ideas that have changed/will change/are changing the world, for better or worse. We’re learning about what it takes to develop a community of people and encourage them to empower and believe in themselves so they can sustain that development.

And what’s more, we’re seeing it happen. We took part in groups at Viaţa camp, we’re involved with kids in the IMPACT clubs, we’re seeing empowerment spring up from even the darkest of places. I can learn all I want about how this development stuff works, but I wouldn’t really get it until I came here and saw it working for myself. I’m learning about sustainable development in Romania by experiencing it in Romania.

I guess you could say that having a class entitled, “Experiential Education” is a bit redundant. Every day is a new experience, and every day is a full semester’s education in itself.

The best part, I think, is that this education isn’t limited by Romania’s borders. It doesn’t end here. Yes, I miss my comfortable home, and my brothers in West (my dorm), and speaking the primary language, but what I’m learning here, what I’m experiencing, will go with me wherever I go, even to the ends of the earth.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Weekend Getaway

This past weekend, Taylor, Matt V., Emma, Matthew G. and I decided to venture out of Lupeni and take a trip to Constanta, Romania, which is a city right near the Black Sea, and pretty much to sum it up in one phrase: It was an adventure!! We packed our things last Thursday night, and Daniel was wonderful enough to take us all to the train station in Petrosani at about 11:00pm that night. Our first obstacle to overcome was to get the actual train tickets. We had a few "train station" vocabulary words written down, and I was going to be the brave one and try to communicate with the lady. Yep, I bombed that one and ended up getting us tickets for leaving two days later than that night! It was a bit of a mess, so Daniel called Janelle, and thankfully she was able to talk to the lady and clear up the confusion. We finally had our tickets for a train leaving in about 5 minutes, so we rushed out to the tracks, found our "wagon" and finally, our seats. Yes...we thought. We were on the train, it was moving, we had plenty of food, and we were now 11 hours away from Constanta. It was about 12:30am, and we were tired, so we attempted to get comfortable, which was a bit of a challenge. I think I slept about 4 hours that night, but soon enough we arrived at the train station in Constanta.

Now, we had met a friend, Razvan, at Viata camp who is from Constanta, so he met us at the train station and right away showed us how to use the public bus system. I think we were all very thankful that Razvan was there to help us because Constanta is not a small city; it is actually quite large, and not knowing the language can always make the simplest things a bit more of a challenge. So Razvan actually hung out with us the whole weekend, and it was a blast.

On Friday, we visited a historical museum, saw both an Orthodox and Catholic Cathedral, and of course, gazed at the Black Sea. It is not black, but rather a darker blue, and it really reminded me of the North shore of Lake Superior. It was beautiful, and it was so wonderful and refreshing to see a large body of water again. I did not think I would miss that so much! That night for supper we had Shoarmas, which were delicious. I guess they are more of a turkish food? It was chicken with peppers, tomatoes, pickles, cabbage, and a garlic sauce all wrapped up in pita-like bread. After supper we walked around the town and went to a part called Tomas, which had many more stores, shops, and a McDonalds! Now, apparently, McDonalds is considered a nicer place to eat in Romania than it is in the West and is actually more expensive. So we gladly stopped in and drank good coffee and had soft-serve ice cream! (This was the first time we had found soft-serve ice cream in Romania, so we were excited.) It was a beautiful evening and we were just able sit and relax.

Another part of our adventure was finding a place to stay for the night. It was such a blessing because Razvan knew a friend who had a cousin that rented an apartment, and they were willing to rent us the apartment for the night. The only problem; no electricity! However, we were totally ok with this and were thankful to even have a place to stay. So we stopped in a supermarket, bought some little tea light candles, and used them to light up the apartment. It was very cozy and fun.

Saturday was much more rainy and cold. However, we still wanted to go to the beach, so we actually went to a part of Constanta called Mamaia. Apparantly, it is like a resort town where all the locals go to in the summer. It was beautiful to see the beach and the Black Sea, but no one was there, and it was like a ghost town. So we didn't stay there for long and instead headed back into town to the "City Park Mall". Now I think for me, this place was the biggest surprise, or unexpected thing to see in Constanta. This mall was huge, and it had everything you could ever need or want. It was nicer than the mall in Sioux Falls or the one in Sioux City. I guess it just surprised me to see such a structure in any part of Romania, and it made me a bit sad because it reminded me too much of the West. We found out that the mall was just built about six months ago. I just hope that countries do not think development can only occur through big malls and restaurants, like it appears in the West, but rather through other ways of developing a community such as more youth activities, organizations, churches, parks, and other services for the people. Sometimes I think the West has got it all wrong with its massive malls that promote consumerism and materialism.

For supper that night we went to a Turkish restaurant, which was so much fun! We all ordered different things and tried each others as well. It was all so delicious and tasty. Matthew and I had a few bad spells with some fiery hot peppers, but it made for some good laughs! After supper, we needed to head back to the train station to make sure we were ready when our train left at 12:20am, but little did we know, there was no train leaving at 12:20am. When we began talking to the lady, again with our very limited Romanian vocabulary, she explained to us that the soonest train leaving for Bucharest was not until 5:45am the next morning, and then it would have a layover in Bucharest until 5:45pm that night, which would mean arriving in Petrosani at about midnight Sunday night. What?! This was NOT part of our plans. We thought we had our return tickets figured out and would be returning to Lupeni by noon the next day. Turns out we were wrong, and we had made a mistake. So, we spent the night in the Constanta train station.

At first, I was frustrated, but there was nothing we could do about it. We were together, and we were safe, so we made the best of it. We played a lot of Phase 10 and Hearts. I only slept for about 2 hours I think. Then we spent our 8 hour layover in Bucharest hanging out at McDonalds and then at a coffee shop in the train station. We played more cards, walked around, ate food, and talked. By this time we were very tired, needed showers, and just wanted to go home. However, we made it together, and it was an adventure for sure.

I am so thankful to have gone on this weekend getaway. It was very relaxing, full of memories and laughter, and we all learned things along the way. I feel that our group is closer because of the time we spent together, and we also experienced amazing hospitality by everyone we met in Constanta. Razvan was so willing to show us things and make sure we were ok and well taken care of. He was a wonderful tour guide, and we were blessed to have him.

Sometimes you just have to take risks in life. We headed out on this adventure not knowing what we were going to do, not knowing where we were going to stay, and not understanding the language very well at all. Yet, we were fine, and we had an awesome time. I feel we were blessed because we took the risk. I really hope there will be more opportunities such as this one to discover, experience, and learn more about the culture and people of Romania.