Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We're All Back

I wanted to put up a quick post saying that everyone got back yesterday from Budapest safely around 2:30 PM. The group left our hotel around 5 AM on a bus, checked in around 6 AM at Ferihegy Airport, flew to Frankfurt and made their next flight much quicker than anticipated. Everyone seemed to be relieved to be back safely, but also a little sad to say that this week was over.

I can safely say that Romania has had a great impact on everyone that came this past week, including myself. Whether anyone will ever return again in the future, or if this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, Romania has changed us all. Working with orphans in Gavojdia, building the House of Joy in 100 degree heat all day, and playing with kids from poor villages has changed our perspective and enriched our life in immeasurable ways. Something about this place will always stay with us. My prayer is that we never forget what we saw and did there, but ultimately remember the beautiful things God did this week and allow it to change the way we live our lives in America. I was told by a friend of mine from Dallas back in April that Romania has a way of staying with you, no matter where you are in your life or in the world. I pray that every one on this trip has this same experience.

This was a powerful week and I am grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of it. I thank you guys for reading this blog and for supporting me while I lived in Lugoj. God did and will continue to do amazing things in Romania, and I feel blessed that I got to have this incredible experience. I was blessed to work with such a great group of people and to make many new friends from Pioneer. My life will never be the same after this experience, and I think it's safe to say that applies to the other 41 people on this trip.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My Experience in Romania- Guest Blogger Brian Bessent

What an experience we all have had! My team has been located in the village of Susani where we have led VBS each day. We have had van loads of kids dropped off each day from neighboring villages ready to hear Bible stories, sing songs, make crafts, and play games. Pastor Ovidiu and his wife Adina are so gracious to open up their home and allow us to be a part of what they have been doing here for a long time. We are sorting through suitcases now and getting prepared for a big Texas party in the village tomorrow. We will invite all the children and their families to come and play games and eat food and experience a real Texas sized adventure! As we begin packing and reflecting on our time hear, many of us ask, "What will they do when we leave here?" We must remind ourselves everyday that God has been working here and will continue to work here long after we are gone.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Week of Joy From The House of Joy - by guest blogger Barbara Ringwald

This week has been filled with one joy after another. How can one person have so many blessings bestowed on them in so few days? From the kids at the orphanage (who can be real imps) to Bro Stan's sermon tonight on Paul's joy on the road to Damascus, the Precept Center, Pastor Ovidiu and his beautiful wife Adina, our student translators, van drivers, this gorgeous mountain setting - everything on this trip has truly touched my heart in a deep way. Even my roomates, Patsy and Annelle - I could not ask for better! I know now what it would be like to be in a nursing home - I'm sleeping on the top bunk that has rails on both sides. I've also met some new running friends who have challenged me to hit the road with a new vigor!

Pace (which translates the peace of Christ be with you)


*additional update from Nathan - Speaking of the word joy...excitment over the House of Joy community center here in Susani that our construction team has been working on all week reached a new level as walls began to form. The PDBC team spent the better part of the day in 100 plus degree conditions loading brick by brick by brick from pallets to the new foundation. I wish that every member at Pioneer Drive could have seen the look on Pastor Ovidiu's face as the outer walls of this much needed facility went up. What began this week as a pile of rocks and a seemingly impossible task has turned into a realized vision for our friends in Romania and a tool to reach many for God's kingdom.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Guest Blogger-John Whitten, College Minister/Teaching Pastor, the gathering/Pioneer Drive Baptist Church

Today has been a great day here in Romania! I think we have finally settled into a routine and the jet lag is behind us! We are going strong at our ministry projects. Today our construction crew was able to get the slab poured. We jokingly talk about "Romania time" We are learning that others don't always share the same passion for promptness that (some)Americans do! After waiting around all day yesterday 8 truck loads of concrete arrived on-site today and we were able to get the slab poured! It was great to hear Pastor Ovidiu look on the scene with excitement! The vision God has given him is coming to fruition!

There continued to be many children involved in Vacation Bible School today in the village! Brian Bessent was filling a lot of water balloons today! Jimmy Gault shared a message and was teaching the Romanian children how to play washers. Each day the number of children who have participated has increased. Our orphanage team split in two today and one group spent some time at a very impressive Christian school. The other group returned to the orphanage where we have been working. Stories were shared at our share time tonight of children who have been hurt in the past are beginning to open up to our team! What a great testimony to sharing Christ's love with others! Many of our Vacation Bible School and Orphanage Team Members have had a great time getting to know the children but are definitely struggling with what will happen when they leave! Attachment is happening from all sides!

We had fried chicken, kind of, for dinner! We were introduced to a chicken schnitzel, which again, is kind of, like fried chicken. The construction guys learned the beauty of a cold pepsi and some took a break and tasted ice cream from a village store! Others today went out and canoed on the beautiful lake outside our lodge. We continue to learn the uniqueness and beauty of this culture!

Our team continues to grow together! During our share time it is evident that God's spirit is doing something incredible in the lives of our team! We all know that we will not return to Texas the same! The amount of transparency and authenticity that is present makes it clear to all of us that we are a part of something special. We know that this would not be possible without the prayer and support of so many who are praying for us and who have given to this mission! We are thankful for our prayer teams and the many others who have offered support and encouragement! Pray for us that we will continue to see what God has for us, seize opportunities, and be a blessing to the people of Romania!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pictures From Day One- VBS and Construction in Susani

Guest Blogger- Danny Barefield, Music Minister from Pioneer Drive

What an awesome experience to come to Romania for this mission endeavor. Today we completed the prep work to lay the remaining concrete slab for the “House of Joy” in Susani. The concrete was supposed to come but was delayed by a failure in electricity at the plant. Hopefully in the morning things will move faster and more work can be accomplished. While we waited on concrete we were able to go to the Susani VBS and see them in action. We watched the children play, observe Bible stories, sing and do crafts. Over the day they hosted more than 100 children. I was able to sit down at the keyboard with Sammy (15) who plays drums and Raul (13) who plays guitar and have a little jam session. The most enjoyable part of the day for me.
The people are amazing. There is such a sweet spirit among the people of Romania and they have been so receptive. This is a relationship that will not conclude after this trip, but will continue for years to come.

While this is not the type of work I ever do, it has been fun to work with those who do. It has also been a joy to work alongside my other church members all together for the same cause. I am thankful for a mission hearted church.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day One in Romania

Today was the first day that the entire group went to their respective places here in Romania. We decided to start a bit late because we wanted to give the group a little time to sleep in, but after that we hit the ground running. After breakfast and a quick meeting, we split up into our different groups, got in different vans, and drove to our different locations. I'll do a synopsis of each location, but we're all very excited to see how the group will come together as a whole. We have a meeting after dinner to talk about what each group did that day and some interesting stories that they have, which allows all of us to see a glimpse of what's happening with each group.

Construction: After driving to Susani to the House of Joy property, the team got started working today on the foundation. They assisted by a professional constructor (who has a group of three guys) and some volunteers by throwing rocks and shoveling mud all day in the sun. Danny was allowed to drive the Bobcat and after shaking off some rust he shoveled like a pro. They are really excited about the progress they will be making this week. The goal for the week is to do as much as possible, with probably a specific goal being to put up all the first floor walls.

VBS: A team also went to Susani to do VBS with some kids out there. Since we missed out on the morning, this group had more time to prepare for the mass amount of kids that showed up in the afternoon. Bus load after bus load came and when all was said and done, around 100 kids showed up. They played outside games with the kids and also did crafts with the kids, with emphasis on building relationships and connecting with the kids for the first time. They are expecting more kids tomorrow and in the future, so that should be interesting.

Orphanage: Today was a great first day. This is the group that I'll be leading all week, so I'm much more connected with this group than the other two (even though I've been heavily involved with all three during these previous five months). We split the group into two vans and drove to Lugoj, where we picked up four translators at Manu's private school just around the corner from my apartment. We then drove out to Gavojdia and walked in with Delia, Jon Hogg, and Stan. We then met the administrator and he gave us a tour for about an hour. On the tour, we saw a colossal pig who we've named "Wilbur." After this, we ate lunch in our van and then played games with the kids outside from about 2 until 6 PM. We played basketball, volleyball, soccer, and gave tons of piggy back rides. My group did great with these kids today and I'm very excited about this week.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Group Has Arrived

I want everyone to know that the group safely arrived in Budapest. The flight was on time and apparently was boring and uneventful. After a quick head count, each person got on a lift in the airport and we got on a bus that was waiting for us outside.

We then went to Szeged, a big city in Hungary next to the border with Romania, and ate at a McDonalds and in the city center. After this, we walked around for a while and enjoyed the sights and then got back on the bus. They are very tired but had a little more excitement after getting some food in them.

The trip from Budapest to the Precept Center is around 5-6 hours by bus, and when we got here everyone went to their rooms and we had dinner. They are all excited about tomorrow's activities, but even more excited about sleep. I will continue to put up posts/pictures of everything going on here so people back in America can see how things are going here. It's great to have everyone here and see friends that I haven't seen since December. Life in Hungary/Romania is good, so no worries.

Oh, You Know, Just Another Morning in Budapest

I'm sitting here with Ovidiu and Jon in a McDonalds this morning as we wait for the group's plane to arrive in a couple hours from Frankfurt. We're in a different McDonalds this morning, but last night at McDonalds on Vaci Street I broke two glasses and ran out of the store. We picked Jon up yesterday, went to a European Wal-Mart to buy water and snacks for the group, ate at a KFC, and then went to the city center. Once again, this hotel is great and after we unpacked our stuff we tried to park our van. We went down into a parking garage but more than halfway down we realized we couldn't fit, so we had to back out.

After circling the block for 20 minutes, we found a spot and parked. We then walked down Vaci Street (the main street in Budapest) towards a restaurant I picked out in March for the group (which Jon loved, by the way). On the way, we saw a Hummer limo that had 8 wheels (6 in the back) and a random motorcycle rally that lasted thirty minutes that included a police escort. We've also talked business and have everything planned for the group, and last night before I broke the glasses we had a productive discussion about future opportunities.

We had an all-you-can-eat breakfast this morning, which Ovidiu and I dominated, and are about to go to the airport to pick them up and check out a rental car for Jon. I'll post tonight after we get back to Romania.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nathan and Danny in Romania

Ovidiu and I picked up Nathan and Danny from Budapest yesterday around 3:30 PM our time, and after eating in a McDonalds (and enjoying my Nesquick McFlurry), we drove back to Romania. They were completely exhausted and didn't really listen to anything we said because they were half-asleep the whole time. We had dinner last night at Ovidiu's place and I stayed the night with Nathan. We woke up this morning late, had breakfast, went to see the House of Joy property, had lunch at Domacris in Lugoj, I gave them a tour of Lugoj by car, and now we're in my apartment. Life is good here and we're very excited about the group coming over. This will be short because things here are a little bananas right now, but it's a good kind of bananas.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Last Post Before the Group Comes

As hard as it is to believe, I'm leaving tomorrow morning early to pick up Nathan Adams and Danny Barefield from Budapest. After five months of planning and the last two weeks of complete craziness, I'll be seeing my long lost buddies in less than 24 hours. Everything here is ready to rock and roll for the group and everyone here is very, very excited for them coming over. In just five days the group will be here, and in just two weeks I'll be flying back to Dallas. Crazy.

I want everyone to know that during this week I'll put up posts of what Nathan, Danny, and I have done here in Romania for everyone to see. More importantly, I'll be putting up pictures/a post for every day the group is here next week. This is so everyone who keeps up with this can have a visual representation of what we did that particular day. I'm very excited to say that this is my last post before they come and can't wait for everyone to get here to see what I've been experiencing since January. It should be a great experience for everyone coming over and I'm glad that we have the technology so that people 5,000 miles away can see what we're doing over here. Anyways, all is good and can't wait to see some long lost friends in a few days.

Again, watch on here for daily updates with the group. Get excited.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

House of Joy Foundation Pictures (Susani, Romania)

Here are some pictures from the foundation we're working on for the House of Joy. These pictures were taken before the 9 straight days of rain, but as you can see we've made good progress.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Five Straight Days of Rain

I sort of forgot to update this and just realized it, so my apologies. I've been very busy going to Gavojdia Orphanage and working on the House of Joy construction lately. I will put pictures up of the House of Joy construction site when I get them from Ovidiu so everyone can have a better idea of what things look like here. It's been raining for five straight days here and has been way, way too cold for May, which is actually very bad news for the foundation. We don't quite know how all this rain will impact the foundation (and the group coming over in three weeks), but as soon as I know I'll put up a post. Why is the weather so abnormal and could potentially be a problem for us? I blame Iceland.

This week my roommates have class all week at Grace Baptist Church here in Lugoj. They are enrolled through a branch of Covington Seminary in South Carolina, and a couple professors from there are here this week. We'll be making a quick trip back to the teenage prison tomorrow morning to visit some of the inmates again and give them some pictures also. Life is good here and we're excited about the group coming over. It was great getting to Skype with some of the kids at Pioneer this past Sunday morning and good to see some familiar faces again.

And a funny story: I just got back from watching my roommate Ruben play in a soccer game with Ovidiu. Besides it being in the low-40's and cloudy, it was hilarious watching them play with the 60+ person crowd composed entirely of older men. Every one of them sported a bald head or a stylish mullet, ate a bag of sunflower seeds or a ham baguette, and a collective smell of light beer, cheap cigarettes, and old-man Romanian musk. I found out that most of them were betting on the game and were taking calls during the game to get scores from other games in the area they had bets on. The whole time I just was just wishing the crowds in American sporting events would be half as fun.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm Loving Type A Personality Week

The title says it all: after four months of random spurts of Type A personality, this past week Type A has burst onto the scene with a vengeance. I might be tempted to say we've gotten more done for the Pioneer group coming over in the past week and a half than the entire four months I've been here. Several factors have played into this, most notably the warmer weather, but it's been a drastic change. I was almost tempted the other day to make a "to do list", but decided that was too American.

We've arranged a bus with a bus agency, purchased iron, remodeled the old bar/disco into a place for meeting on Sunday nights, played soccer at Gavojdia Orphanage, settled all of our authorization requirements for the House of Joy, and eaten many a Turkish kebab. It's been busy, busy, busy; ironically, much busier than whatever "busy-ness" I discussed in my last post. Waking up early, working all day, eating a kebab for lunch, and then having more work has become our "routine", a word that I've never used in my first four months here.

We're still doing meetings with village teenagers in Susani on Fridays and village children on Saturays, where we play games (as shown above) and do VBS activities. The big news is that we're finally opening the renovated club this Sunday. After all the dust, drywall, concrete, and "mysterious mixture" we've encountered, it's exciting to finally open it up to the world. Most things with the group this summer have been squared away, which is also exciting, and all we're waiting on is to start pouring the concrete for the HOJ foundation. And I'm positive that Spring in Romania is might be a step above fantastic. Life is good.

Funny story of the week: I was chased by two wild park dogs for "not knowing my boundaries", saw a pig at the orphanage that was the most colossal monstrosity I've ever seen, and celebrated Cinco de Mayo today by eating a Turkish kebab. Every day brings new experiences and crazy, crazy encounters with local Romanians.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy

I wanted to put a post up that didn't have anything to do with Iceland, which hopefully will give me some closure. Am I still bitter? Of course. And word on the street is the neighbor volcano, Katla, could also explode. No matter what happens, I'll never forget "Iceland Volcano Ash Cloud of Terror and Mayhem 2010."

As for Romania, things are going great here. Our meetings on Fridays with the teenagers from surrounding villages in Susani have continued to grow. Our meetings on Saturdays with younger kids from those same villages has really, really grown. We have loads and loads of fun, as illustrated by the "crazy, in the moment, totally bananas" picture above. And our meetings on Sunday nights in our apartment in Lugoj have grown and we are really looking forward to moving into the new club that we have rented out. This club will become the new place where the group meets on Sundays, so we have been very busy remodeling the interior and removing the Bailey's, Kahlua, and Smirnoff bottles the past week. My job is to sand the windows, so every day when I leave I look like I've been antiqued.

This week Ovidiu and I are kicking our planning for the group into high gear. We took care of some business in Timisoara and Lugoj all day today, will do the same tomorrow, and have appointments with high-ranking, super important people the rest of the week so we can get everything nailed down pat. Things are very busy here but I'm enjoying every minute of it. The weather has really warmed up and I can almost feel the start of a new tan coming on. Almost.

Funny story of the week: I saw a pig on the side of the road going to one of the villages that probably weighed more than my entire family. It was a Mother Pig and had three little piglets with her. As I drove by, Ruben turns to me and says, "Remember that sausage you had yesterday? That old woman killed a pig just like that and has enough food for a whole year. You're welcome." Let's just say I don't think a movie called "Babe: Pig in Romania" would be the best idea.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

So One Time A Volcano Blew Up in Iceland...

...and caused me to be stuck in Europe, alone, for six days. I was supposed to meet Tom Horn, Trent Martin, and Kyle Timmerman in Munich, which sounded fool-proof so I bought a train ticket to Prague the evening of their arrival. I had no idea that a volcano exploded until I heard a woman talking to her friend on the phone on the Munich metro saying her flight was probably cancelled to Chicago. I told her to stop joking with me when she told me about the eruption and that it wasn't funny, and that's when she pointed to a man's newspaper a few seats away that had a huge picture of it on the cover. I walked in the airport and it was complete insanity: there were huge lines everywhere, it was very loud, and there were already people camping out. I would say that's a slight change in plans.

I didn't know what to do, at all, but I figured it would be better not to waste a ticket to Prague than to stay in Munich for another night and that this would blow over (literally). To make a long, long story short, it didn't get better and I bounced around Europe heading east for the next five days. The lines in the train stations were 8 and 9 hours long everywhere, so I had to get creative with how I got around. I met people from all over Europe and the US who were stranded and couldn't get back. Some had work on Monday and didn't know if they had a job anymore. Some were running out of money in a bus station because they didn't plan on staying for four extra days. All in all, I took three trains, three buses, a boat ride, and a taxi in five days to get back here to Lugoj. In those five days, I went from Munich to Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Oradea, and Timisoara to get back to Lugoj by 12:00 AM this morning. Let's just say I'm a little bitter towards Iceland.

And a funny story: Have things ever gone so wrong and seemed so ridiculous that it's almost funny? When anything and everything, and I mean everything, goes wrong in such monumental ways for no reason at all? That's what this entire week was like. I did enjoy such headlines in newspapers that said "Europe under a cloud of uncertainty" and watching news anchors on CNN trying to pronounce "Eyjafjallajökul Volcano."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Love Driving in Romania

Ciao, ciao. Well, it's been pretty interesting since I got back from Motru last Tuesday. I met up some people from Buena Vista, Colorado and tagged along with them a little bit (but only in the afternoon so I could sleep in a bit). They joked that I only wanted to do the "fun" things with them, and they were right. It was good to hang out with some more Americans, though. We've started having a meeting with teenagers from surrounding villages in Susani on Friday and it went really well. Danny, Ruben, and I are leading that, so we're really looking forward to see what happens with it.

However, the main news is that I've been given a promotion here so I can drive around. Once I got behind the wheel of our 2002 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter colossal van, I realized how much I missed the view from behind the steering wheel. Taking trains is great and walking places has its perks, but after three months of no driving I realized something's missing in my life without it. Not anymore, though. Maybe it was the autobahn a couple weeks ago that's made me all nostalgic for driving, I don't know, but I'm grateful that I get to drive to pick up kids from a couple villages outside Susani on roads that are covered with chickens, roosters, flocks of sheep, and even some horses. I feel like a rebel behind the wheel.

Also, we've officially started work on the House of Joy property in preparation for the Pioneer group. The picture above is from the site the day before we started work with a lot of the children from the meeting. We've bought a boat-load of iron that will be cut and will be used in the foundation. We're planning on getting the hole dug and concrete poured for the foundation within a couple weeks, which will be great because it will allow the Pioneer group to start working on the first floor in June. Also, Ovidiu has rented out an old bar/club in Lugoj to have Sunday night meetings to reach out to the city of Lugoj. My roommates and I have been working there the past couple of days cutting dry-wall, removing insulation, and consequently getting black lung. I'm meeting a couple of college roommates of mine in Munich later this week so I'll be gone for a while, but I wanted to put a post up before I left letting everyone know that things are going great in Romania not just with me, but with the House of Joy as well.

And a couple funny stories involving little kids: Ruben and I were sitting in a park yesterday eating some shaworma (don't worry, it's delicious), when a little kid riding a bike pulls out a wooden stick while riding a bike and "pretends" to shoot me twice. He then rides off like nothing happened. Twenty minutes later while we're waiting for the owner of the building to come and let us in, a four year old gypsy girl came around the corner with her mom and said something extremely Rated-R to me in Romanian and then giggled. I asked Ruben what she said but he ignored me,so I repeated what she said and he completely lost it. He told me what she said and let's just say when I saw her today again, it was really awkward. Little kids here are nuts.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter in Motru, Romania

Ciao, ciao everyone. So after getting back from Frankfurt last weekend and the epic, all-night drive through three and a half countries, two days later I was off again to my roommate Danny's hometown of Motru for Easter. We took a four hour train ride from Lugoj to Severin, and met up Danny's sister Rebecca and her friend on the train. Severin is right on the Danube River, which seperates southwestern Romania from Serbia (so once again Serbia is so close, and yet so far away). After hitch-hiking from Severin to Motru, we spent the next five days (four nights) there and stayed in the apartment Danny grew up in. While his three brothers, two sisters, and two childhood buddies were all great, none could compare to his mother. She's a jack-of-all trades in the kitchen. I swear that woman could make a piece of lard taste delicious; it was like everything she made was the 8th wonder of the world.

On Saturday, we got in a 1982 Ford Sierra and drove to the caves outside of Motru. Maybe I didn't know what to expect from a cave, but it was much colder and darker than I ever expected it to be. And I had a sneaky suspicion that there were bats watching me...or the Count from Sesame Street. After that, we hiked on top of this huge hill, took some pictures, then went back and ate more food. We had Easter service on Sunday and I was asked to share a message, so I spoke on Mark 16 and blew the roof off the place (kidding). All in all, I had a great time and I was glad to see where Danny grew up. I'm pretty sure there was an average of about 11 people in the apartment at all times, so things were always bustling to say the least. And I want it to be known that I successfully nabbed a car for our ride back to Severin, making me a perfect 100% at hitch-hiking.

So what's on tap for this week? Rest. Hopefully. We're starting a program with some high schoolers in Susani on Friday, so we'll be planning for that this week. Also, we'll be nailing down more specifics for the House of Joy site so everyone at Pioneer, especially my bosses who read this blog, will be impressed with my liaison skills. I also met up some people from Colorado today, so I have a feeling I'll be with them often this week.

And a funny story: Danny, my roommate, was telling me a story about how he wore shoes that were way too small one time when he was playing basketball. He said, "It was nuts man. My..uh... leg thumbs were hurting real bad." What's a "leg thumb"? It's a big toe. After laughing about that for a long time, I apologized and told him that a hurt "leg thumb" is no laughing matter.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Autobahn Has Changed My Life

Hola friends. Well, it's been very crazy around here lately and I've pretty much been on the go non-stop for a while now. After we got back from Budapest last weekend, two days later we left for Frankfurt to buy an older van we got a good deal on. We were there for four days and stayed at the businessman's house, which was in the city of Weisbaden. We met up some great people who took us around Frankfurt, Weisbaden, Mainz (where the Gutenburg Bible Musuem is), and to KFC (twice). Time flew by while we were there and it was hard to leave, but it was great to spend time with some great new friends. Afterwards, we drove 17 hours home through Germany, Austria, and Hungary during the middle of the night. I vaguely recalling stopping at a German gas station that had a 1950's American theme and 1950's songs playing in the background...and then having to pay 1 Euro to use the bathroom. All in all, great trip, great new friends, Germany is great, but the autobahn changed my life. Who doesn't love no speed limits and watching Porsches, Audi's, and even a red Ferrari fly by you?

When we got back, I realized that everyone is splitting up to go different directions for Easter weekend. I hopped on with Danny and we're going to his hometown of Motru this afternoon until Tuesday probably, which should be a good time because I've heard his parents know how to cook well. Also, I've heard rumors that there's a cave there...maybe. Basically I'm like the Energizer bunny the past couple weeks; I'm just going, going, going. Have a great Easter break and I'll post again soon.

Funny story: I've made a commitment to not speak English until June because my new friends in Germany were skeptical that I could actually do it. To prove them and the world wrong, I decided to make some notecards and write down random words/phrases that could be useful. While doing so, I decided to have an apple because I couldn't avoid how delicious and nutritious it is. I started slicing it and starting to think about something else, when all of a sudden I look down and see a pool of blood on the cutting board. I had sliced my thumb with our "dull" knife so badly that I bled in the sink for ten minutes, then walked to the bathroom (bleeding all over the ground on the way), and bled in that sink for another twenty minutes. Let's just say it was awkward when Ruben came home and there was blood everywhere. Who knew that learning Romanian would be so dangerous?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Good Ol' Budapest

I'd say it's been a pretty productive past few days since my last post. First, my roommate Ruben got engaged in the city square of Timisoara. My job was to scare the pigeons so that the pictures would turn out even better, but for the most part I just looked like a dork who's trying way to hard to ruin a priceless moment. He drops down on his knee, pops the question, she says yes, we all get excited; oh, and did I mention that it was jam-packed with people? Afterwards, they wanted to go get KFC and see How to Train Your Dragon in 3D at Ilius Mall, which has to be most awesome engagement celebration of all time.

The next day Danny and I went to Budapest to schedule tours/find restaurants for when the group comes over in June. We had to get up at 4:15 AM on Sunday, but we missed our train that left at 4:50 because it left 25 minutes early. And it was the only train to the next train station until 6 PM. Who does this? Seriously, why would you leave 25 minutes early at 4 AM on a Sunday? After much grumbling, we had to go wake up Ruben to drive us to Timisoara, but we made our next train and arrived in Budapest six hours later. We arrived and immediately put on our swim trunks to head to the Szechenyi Baths, which was the best thing in the whole world since sliced bread. What is it? A thermal bath where old people wear Speedos, others flaunt their belly rolls and saggy arms, and where you hear at least four different languages while sitting in one hot tub. After four hours of pure bliss, I realized that this is the reason why I love Europe.

Everything else went well. We planned everything out, found great places to eat, to sleep, and to see for when the group of 50 comes. We loved this saxophone player in Hero's Square, who would frequently play Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. We also loved the goulash at Cafe Intenzo (which, by the way, had a beautiful Hungarian waitress who was top notch). We never stopped walking around or climbing the hills on the Buda side, but it was a great experience. So we get back last night at 12:30 AM after a 9 hour journey home, and after a short night sleep we got up to do some manual labor in Susani painting some pipes. Our reward? Eating homemade Romanian food.

This weekend I'm going to Frankfurt from Friday to Tuesday to pick up a van that Ovidiu got a good deal on and desperately needs, which means we'll be driving back through not just the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, but also on the German and Austrian autobahn. I'm crossing my fingers that I could possibly drive, even if it's for just one mile, so that my life could officially be complete. Speed limits are for wussies.

And a funny story: While in Budapest, we found a super, super cheap hotel (22 Euros cheap) that even had breakfast included. Little did we know that we were sleeping below a group of very loud and very drunk Germans who would sing "Tribute" by Tenacious D, followed by deep laughter and a subsequent "Owww!!" This was all while sleeping in a room that was maybe five feet wide, on a bed that felt like concrete, all after walking around Budapest for 14 hours straight. We happened to see them the next morning, and when I say morning I mean 2 PM.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pictures From Teenage Prison in Buzias

Without further adieu, some pictures from Buzias...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Prison Ministry in Buzias, Romania

As I said in my last post, if you would have told me that I'd be going to an all boys prison in Romania for a week three months ago, I would have said you were sniffing glue. Who knew that I was going to be meeting up people from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky to hang out/evangelize 65+ teenage boys who have known nothing else in their lives except stealing, gambling, sex, and life on the streets? Who knew that I would be playing "jail rules soccer" with inmates 14-17 years old who are good enough to play professionally? Who knew that one of the guys I met was a professional magician who would be wowing crowds of inmates yelling "Magia!" when he walked into a room?

These are just a few questions that crossed my mind throughout this past week in Buzias. We ate with the prisoners, which was interesting because I hit my gag reflex twice with the soup, and played a ton of football (European) with them. We sang songs with them in their prison dormitories and repeated everything they said because we couldn't understand them (most of them which was vulgar). It seemed all they wanted to do was arm-wrestle with me, which in itself had no rules, so by the end of every day my right arm felt like spaghetti. We would sit and talk with them, asking questions about their family and what happened in their past that brought them here. And when you pulled your camera out, it was complete pandemonium; I've never had to pose for more pictures in my life.

All in all, this was one of the craziest experiences I've ever had. Some of the stories these young men told made me tear up; how could you not when you hear that some of them stole only because their parents live in Spain so they had to support their brothers and sisters? And not only that, but they only get to talk to them on the phone once a month. We asked each group if they could think of one person who loved them, and only four out of 60 raised their hand. Hearing stories like these and making friendships with these guys has opened my eyes to a whole new understanding of the world, and I know that I'll never be the same. Seeing them grabbing you and not wanting to let you leave was hard, and I told them I would be back soon. What they don't know is that while they may have benefitted from me being there, they completely changed my life.

That being said, this week will be a little slower. There are some people here from the Detroit area here, so I imagine I'll do stuff with them at some point. But the big news is that next weekend I'll be going to Budapest with Danny for three days to make sure everything is set for the Pioneer trip. They asked me if going there would be a problem. I told them "I mean, it's WAY out of my way, but I guess I'll fit it into my schedule..."

And a funny story of the week: When I first met these guys from South Carolina, one of them came up to me and said "Hi, my name is Brandon" loud and very slow. I said, "Hi I'm Alex." He says, "Wow, his English is really sharp." I said, "Well, I'm from Texas." And later on in the week, I met a 12 year old boy who came with the Detroit group. He comes up to me and says, "So where do you live?" I told him I live in Lugoj. He said, "Oh okay. Have you ever been to America?" I laughed and said, "Excuse me?" He repeated the question because he was being serious, so I said, "Well, I sort of lived there all my life. I'm from Dallas." Even Americans that come over think I'm Romanian.

Friday, March 5, 2010

And Just When You Think It's Spring... snows all day today, and you have to go unpack your long underwear from your suitcase that's out on the balcony. But it's all good because today was beautiful; so beautiful that I walked around the city all morning trying to be "artsy" with my photos, as noticed above. Danny and Ruben had classes all week for their college degree from Covington Seminary, which has a branch here in Lugoj. They had two professors here and I was encouraged to go to a few classes, which I did the past three days. I enjoy Romania the most in the snow; it's a new kind of experience walking down the street, probably with a factory dog behind you, having cold snow sting your face like needles as you cross the street adjacent to an elderly gypsy woman with a dull green headcovering. Talking with a couple of those professors tonight, they mentioned that they always think about Romania when they're back in South Carolina. They said they always think about this place wherever they are because it's a different place than they've ever been. They say they've "fallen in love with it." I agree with them more and more every day.

This weekend I'm going to Arad for a youth meeting with a couple guys who are flying in from North Carolina. Arad is a place I've heard a lot about, so I'm excited about making the couple hour van trip north with some new American friends. The big news for this post is that all next week these guys that are coming over are going to be doing ministry in a teenage prison in local village of Buzias, which is pretty close to Lugoj. I've asked to join them, so hopefully it's cool if I tag along (and if it's not I'm going anyways). We'll be there from 10-4 every day next week, spending time and eating with the inmates. I came here excited about new experiences and not knowing exactly what to expect, and I think this fits the bill pretty well.

As promised, a funny story: I was talking with Adina, Ovidiu's wife, and she was telling me that they were showing my Facebook page to some of the students here that they regularly hang out with before I flew over. She said they were looking at some of my profile pictures and saw the picture of Borat in that hilarious swimsuit, and she became very nervous about having me come over because they thought I was going to look just like Borat. She didn't want to show the picture to the students and was nervous about me acting just like Borat. The joke is that my "Avatar" character wouldn't be one of those blue characters, but Borat; they even expected me to have a mustache when I got off the plane. Adina says it's all good now because I don't wear anything like that picture or act outrageous like Borat. Yet.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

First Trip to Gavojdia Orphanage

Here are some pictures from our first trip to the Gavojdia Orphanage, about fifteen miles away from Lugoj. There are about 60 kids at this orphanage and they range from 4-17 years old. A lot of them still see their parents every once in a while but are sent back here because they can not afford to take care of them. Thirty years ago, during Communism and under the reign of Ceausescu, the orphanage was in much worse shape. During that time, the orphans were treated "like animals"; they were beaten, abused, and most of them could not talk before the age of 8 or 9 because no one had taught them how to speak. Since the regime fell about 20 years ago, a huge effort has gone out to help out the orphanages in Romania so things are much better now. It was an incredible experience to be there and we will be going back often, which I'm thrilled about.

Today we went and helped out Manu again at the school, this time moving huge, muddy pieces of lumber in the rain. They're hard working guys and a lot of them were orphans during Ceausescu's time, so they were eager to see what I thought of the orphanage. I found it funny that someone asked me if I knew Russian. After this, we walked home, took off our shoes and dirty clothes, and went to Susani for another children's meeting. This time we went to a further village, Nevrincea, which was probably the poorest village I've seen so far. There were several kids waiting for us, and once we got back to Susani it was clear that we had more kids this time. We sang and danced with the kids, then we were treated to Adina's homemade "sarmale" (a traditional meat dish), and talked while eating sunflower seeds.

Tomorrow, we're doing the Eucharist again with the elderly ladies around the village. I'm excited to see them again. Also, I'll be going to a couple classes this week with Danny and Ruben at a seminary here in Lugoj that they go to, which should be interesting. And next week, we'll be going to a teenage prison to do prison ministry with some people from North Carolina. Things are exciting here to say the least. Take care and have a great weekend.

Oh, and a funny story: I scored a goal while playing soccer with the older orphans yesterday, and everyone on my team started giving me high fives and congratulating me. I had no idea what was going on, probably because they all said that it was "next goal wins" in Romanian and forgot to tell the American on the field. So I basically scored the game-winning goal, which beat the opposing team in which every player was an orphan, and I was oblivious the whole time. Talk about a bittersweet moment.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spring Is Around the Corner

Spring is in the air, at least it seems like. It seems warmer, sunnier, and greener here the past week, so much so I've made the bold decision to pack up the long underwear. My sources tell me the weather could change at any moment and that it could very well snow later this week, but I'm think they've had too much salami. People are starting to come outside more and do "outdoorsy" things, such as eating lunch in the park, playing soccer, and street merchants setting up their carts in the city center. I know I'm going to jinx it by saying this too soon and with my luck there will be a blizzard this weekend, but I'm betting Spring just around the corner.

Last week we went by the Serbian/Hungarian border to take care of some stuff, and it got me thinking: Can I now say I've been to Serbia? I was five miles from the border, and I know that I wasn't "technically" there, but I'm going to say I've been there because I don't know anyone who's been closer (except for Preston Curry, who lived there). We had a meeting on Saturday in Susani with all these funny, sweet kids who did a bunch of arts and crafts. They'll be some of the kids we get to do VBS stuff with in the summer, so I was glad to spend some time with them. It was weird, all of them looked like we could be related. Ovidiu asked me to speak on Sunday so I spoke on Luke 15, which I thought went well. I felt very priviliged that he would want me to do that and afterwards, like usual, we had some of Adina's heavenly cooking and hung out at the house sharing funny stories. On Sunday night we had a big meeting again in our apartment, which is slowly getting bigger.

On Friday we're going to the Gavojdia Orphanage for the first time, which is something I've been looking forward to for a long time. I'm eager to see what orphanages look like here in Romania and to have an unbelievable experience like that. One thing I love about being in Romania is that every day seems to be a great experience that I've never had before. I wake up every day and know that this isn't just a normal day, but a day in which I'll be living in a culture I never imagined I would ever experience.For instace, when we came in the apartment a little while ago, we saw our old gypsy friend digging through our garbage can for food. We gave her a loaf of bread and some encouragement, and as she was leaving I can't help but think that those type of moments are ones I won't ever forget. Some things just go beyond words.

Since it's been a while, I have two funny stories of the week: 1)My friend Raul told me on Sunday that he had a pet lamb one time. I thought it was funny because it was so random, so he tells me the story (without any pauses at all), "Yeah, it was great. I walk him on leash all the time and he pull me around and he was my friend. He was so cute and awesome, I loved it. But my Dad killed it and we ate it for dinner." That's a story twist for the ages. Raul's the man.

2) I was in the shower yesterday and about to start to get the shampoo out of my hair, and all of a sudden I see solid brown water all over my feet. I thought it was something in my hair so I started washing my hair to get it all out, but looking down I see Nesquick-colored water running down arm. The maintenance crew was working on the water pipeline outside and all this dust and dirt had gotten into the pipeline, so the water looked like Austin Power's coffee in "The Spy Who Shagged Me." No worries, though: early yesterday afternoon everything was back to normal. Danny and Ruben laughed at me and said they'd never seen it so brown in their life. No matter where you are in the world, brown water is never natural. Have a great week friends.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Straja Recap, Etc.

It's been quite a week since my last post. We got back from the weekend in Straja really late on Sunday night, but it was a great time. We took about 25 people to Straja, a mountain resort place about four hours from Lugoj. We stayed at the "Sissi", a cabin about 2 km from the mountain. We got stuck big time getting up to Sissi because of the snow and slush, but after an hour we finally got there. We had long, exhausting snowball fights, Bible studies led by Ovidiu, intense games of Rummy, and mici (Romanian meat). We went sledding on the mountain on Saturday afternoon, which was amazing. Unlike Colorado or New Mexico, all of the hotels and rentals were on the top of the mountain, so it was like a big Romanian party up there. There were skiers, but we preferred to sled on plastic sacks and cheap sled rentals. It was great to get to hang out with some Romanian students, who taught me some new hilarious phrases such as, "Shut up, I'm the boss." We also played charades in Romanian, which was great for everyone except the American in the room. All in all, great trip, great people, loads of snow, and beautiful scenery.

The rest of the week looks pretty exciting. Ovidiu came to our apartment today and showed us the blueprints from House of Joy, which looks really impressive. It's going to be a great building and they definitely have big plans for the future. We'll be going to Timisoara tomorrow to do "business", and early next week I'll be going to Gavojdia to the orphanage for the first time, which I'm really looking forward to. This orphanage is one of the sites that Pioneer will be working at when they come over in early June. Everyone is incredibly excited about having the group come over in June and about having me here for the next five months, so that's a good thing.

I want to put a funny story on every post, so here it is. Danny and I were walking through the city center in Lugoj this afternoon, which is basically a big row of shops and stores, and saw a massive pile of snow fall on this high school guy from the roof of the building. It almost felt like a scene from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, except no Macaulay Culkin. I almost felt bad for the guy, but I felt worse because I didn't have a video camera. Adios and have a great week.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Straja Snow Shindig 2010

First order of business, congrats to the Saints, but especially to the city of New Orleans. I can only imagine how epic of a party that must've been down there in the French Quarter, which probably won't stop until after Mardi Gras on the 16th. It's great to see that city having something to celebrate after everything they've been through in the past five years.

But unlike those in New Orleans, they won't be able to party it up in Straja this weekend like this guy will. We'll be going to Straja, which is about four hours southeast of Lugoj, to stay for three days and play in the snow/mountains. My sources tell me that we might even be sledding...for real. We'll be taking some youth down there, around 25 or 30, and having a grand ol' time. Ovidiu has asked me to speak on Saturday night on hope, so that's something I'll be looking forward to and planning for today. We'll be playing in the snow, eating some food I assume, and having Bible studies, so I think it should be a great time. I'll make sure to take my camera and snap some photos so everyone can be jealous of Romanian snow.

This week has been pretty relaxed and easy-going. Danny made a homemade recipe in the kitchen, which was definitely something I've never had before and ended up being quite delish. The more I've looked at what I've posted on the internet, the more I realize how much I tell the world about the food I've been eating. At first I was a little embarrassed and wanted to make some changes, but after a while I realized that I'm just being honest: I love tasty food, sue me. Food makes the world go 'round, and without delicious food a person will probably have a lower quality of life. I mean, think about it: Do someone ever purposefully go out and choose to eat food that tastes like dirt? Doubtful. That being said, if the food here is an indication of my quality of life, let's just say I'm good to go.

Like I said, pictures from "Straja Snow Shindig 2010" coming soon. Take it easy and have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Moved (and Broke) A Piano, And Magic Sauce

I'm just going to give a play-by-play of how today went down. I wake up, eat breakfast with Danny and Ruben, and then take a shower. After I get out, Ruben tells me that we're going to go to a school nearby. As we walk towards the school, we see the gypsy woman of a few days ago and she recognizes me. The school is located behind the local synagogue, and as we approached the front door I had no idea what we were doing. Inside we meet four very loud, hairy, and hilarious Romanian men. The main guy, Manu, starts giving orders and before you know it we're moving a ridiculously heavy piano up a flight of stairs. All the men were telling me orders to do, like where to stand as we're awkwardly climbing the stairs. After that is up the stairs, we move an old one down, which was just as awkward as coming up. We then move this one into a van, which we all pile into and start driving down the street.

Everyone was having a merry drive down the road when the piano fell and broke the back window. Nothing scares you more than glass breaking when you least expect it. The entire back window busted out, with a corner of the piano out the window. We keep driving to our location and with every bump we hit, more and more glass gets on the road. I started laughing because of the situation, but nobody else did. Once we got to the house we were going to, we unloaded it and cleaned up the glass. On the way back, a guy next to me starts speaking to me and I have no idea what to say except (in Romanian) "I understand a little Romanian. Sorry, sir." He starts laughing and says, "What, you don't think I know English?" I laugh, he laughs, we all laugh. They told me they thought I was Romanian the entire time (which was why they were giving me orders earlier) but that I was just quiet. They thought I was from Timisoara because of my eyes, but that I look exactly like a native. Manu tells me that all the guys are orphans and are glad that I'm here helping in Romania. Manu then starts telling me how much he loves Manchester United, apparently thinking that if I speak English that I must be from England.

After that, we had a "leader meeting" in our apartment for a couple hours and then went to a local hotel to find a big room for our big meetings to meet at. The room has a lot of velvet. I mean, A LOT of velvet. I loved it, and I think that's what we're going to be using (for a while, at least). After that, we came back to the apartment and made Ruben's famous dish that he calls "Magic Sauce" (pictured above). It was magical, indeed.

Tomorrow we're going to Timisoara again, and next week we're going to Straja on a winter camp trip with the youth. More updates to come. Enjoy watching the Super Bowl, and go Saints.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Service in Susani

Yesterday we had the usual Sunday church service in Susani, so Danny, Reuben, and I took the train. We met up a Romanian friend of ours and took off early in the morning. Besides seeing a woman pull out a 9 inch long silver switchblade out of her purse to give to someone, it was an ordinary train ride. We took the Lord's Supper in the service, and then afterwards we went around the village and took part in it with some elderly women who weren't able to make it to the service. It was an unbelievable experience to see each of these houses, each with a woman living inside no younger than 92, living in very poor conditions. Each house, which were no bigger than 10X12 ft maybe, had a dirt floor, a fire-stove, a bed, and a few pictures. These women were very old but were overflowing with joy and gratitude to have us in their home and to partake in the Lord's Supper with them. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Today we went to look for an electrical part to an oven we just purchased, and on the way we saw an elderly gypsy woman slip on the ice and fall. She started asking for help but several people simply walked by her and refused to acknowledge her. We helped her up and she immediately started kissing my hands and rambling on and on with Romanian graditude. I told Danny and Reuben I couldn't believe that nobody would help her up, and they said that this type of thing happens all the time. Just one of the many life-changing experiences I'll be having while here in Romania.

Hope everything is going well back in the States for everyone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Without Further Adieu: Pictures

Okay, so I have some pictures to put up on here of Lugoj, Susani, and the trip to Budapest that we just got back from today. Some of the ones from Budapest are from Danny, who shouldn't be doing mission work but instead work for National Geographic.

Since the end of last week, there have been three guys from Dallas (two from the Village in Dallas, one from FBC Euless) who have been with us here in Susani who are bringing groups here later on in the summer. It was great to hang out with them and talk about such things as the NFL Playoffs, how Tiger Woods was found in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Mexican food. They flew out this morning from Budapest, so yesterday Danny and I took a train from Lugoj to Timisoara, where we met them and we drove to Budapest (which is only four hours). It's such an amazing and beautiful city, I couldn't believe it. Walking around at night, with hardly anyone in the streets in 20 degree weather, was quite an experience. I love that city so I'll make any excuse to get back there and eat as much goulash as humanly possible.

More updates soon friends. Adios.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Confession Time

Ok, so I need to make a confession: I don't know Romanian. I'm slowly learning and trying to figure out certain phrases so I can try to blend in a little better than I did yesterday when we were at the grocery store and I started to talk really loud in English and people looked at me from all directions.

A quick update on what's happened this week: On Sunday, I don't know if I've mentioned this yet, but there were four services in the village of Susani. They were all in Romanian, so when I was motioned to join a three person male choir inwhich we sang only in Romanian I had no idea what was going on (but it was still funny). On Monday, we went to Timisoara (the big city) and I was mesmerized with how busy it was. I lived in London for three months and never really felt lost, but in a city of 350,000+ people, I've never felt more directionally challenged in my life. On Tuesday, my roommates and I walked around the city looking for some furniture for our apartment, which gave me a chance to see the city for the first time. It's about 45,000 people and very cold, which is great because it snowed all day today. My roommate Ruben has joined the local futbol team here in Lugoj, so Danny and I went to watch them practice. Ruben was the youngest person in Romanian history to be accepted to the national team (14 years old), but he hurt his knee and is now trying to get back into it. It was awesome to watch them up close.

Today, we went to the city again and picked up this great pizza from a place called "Dominiscos", which serves "American pizza." It wasn't American at all. Not even a smidge bit. But it was delicious. The food here is unbelievable, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Tomorrow we are going to Timisoara again to pick up some Americans from Highland Village, TX who will stay with us for a few days.

I'll put pictures up on here soon, no worries. Have a great day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I Made It to Romania...Barely

Wanted to put a quick post on here to say that I made it to Romania safely, even though I almost missed my flight in Dallas because of some dumb people at Lufthansa Airlines. On my ticket it said "sponsored by United Airlines", which apparently means that's the airline I'm flying on. Needless to say, I barely made my flight out. But I made it to the apartment here in Lugoj on Saturday, and we went to several church services yesterday. Today we are going to Timisoara here in about two minutes to get some papers from City Hall about the House of Joy in Susani, the neighboring village we have been going to quite often. I'll put pictures and all that on here soon, but I wanted to let everyone know that I made it in one piece. I'll post again soon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

One For the Road

As I'm sitting here typing out my last blog while I'm here in the States, I see that I will be flying out in about 27 hours. And in 29 hours, I'll be in Chicago at O'Hare Airport. And in about 41 hours, I'll be in Munich, Germany, hopefully eating some bratwurst in the airport. And in about 44 hours, I'll be meeting Ovidiu, Danny, and Reuben at the airport in Timisoara. So why am I counting down the hours? Because I realize that gives me 27 precious hours to eat as much Mexican food as humanly possible.

It has started to settle in that this has gone from being something that I've been looking forward to, to "make sure you get your socks in your suitcase because you won't be back until June." I'm starting to realize that this is actually going to be happening, which is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking. Obviously I will miss my friends and family while I'm away, but I'm really looking forward to living in a completely different culture for the next several months that is completely foreign to my own. I'm looking forward to see how people are living out the Christian faith not in big air-conditioned buildings, but in small villages with no running water.

This is going to be an unbelievable experience and an opportunity of a lifetime. I have appreciated your thoughts and prayers as I embark on this journey for the next several months, and even though I'm starting to get a little nervous, I have comfort in knowing that there are people back in Texas (and elsewhere) who will continue pray for me.

So without further blogging, I'm about to go take my Dad on a tour of the new Cowboys Stadium. But first, a pit stop at the nearest Taco Casa.