Thursday, April 29, 2010

Romania Mission - Austin

How do you take three weeks of life, that while still fresh and raw in the emotions and memories -- seem to eclipse all before -- and distill them into a thousand words or so? How do you share some of the same stories you have heard for a half century, but never fully comprehended? How do you give even a glimpse of a world where eyes are empty of hope, where poverty is the norm, where daughters are sold and women are valued less than cattle -- but where the singing among a core of believers expresses a joy seldom seen in richer countries?

Words are wholly inadequate. Poetry cannot convey the whole. Poverty and hopelessness of a depth I have never before seen -- six days with a savage dose of diarrhea -- local workers who did not show -- yet I long to go back.

Romania is a land of poetry, even in the midst of the darkness. Understanding almost no words, yet I felt the poetic flow of language rich with meaning. I saw the joy, so startling against the hopelessness. I felt the passion as they prayed.

My Christianity has cost me so little. My joy in Christ seemed a shallow thing there. The passion of their worship has rarely touched my life. How can that be? What secret have they discovered that we, with our wealth and comfort, have lost?

First impressions lingered. A war zone? Shattered buildings and ruins. A sense of suspician and fear. What is this country? What are we doing here?

A warm embrace at our destination. An island of refuge in a sea of unrest. A beacon of hope in a land of darkness. Exhaustion, but a night's sleep followed by an easy morning. A first glimpse of a building we are to turn into a home. Is it even possible?

Spiritual Warfare -- I've heard stories of it from missionaries all my life. I've gained some measure of intellectual understanding. I haven't, as some, rolled my eyes at the stories, but I've never fully comprehended them. They were beyond my experience. Somehow, we landed in the midst of a battle, but not one that fit the war-zone images our cameras caught.

In the days just before our arrival a doctor, a single lady and part of the missionary team, had her house broken into. A pastor, exceptionally gifted and passionate about his ministry, struck and killed a drunk man who staggered into the street in the darkness in front of his vehicle.

Among our team, two men faced intense dreams of spouses being hurt back in Canada. As a team we were just beginning to get to know each other. But when grown men cry over their dreams, even the most unresponsive should take note. Several team members heard voices in the night -- voices that did not come from neighbours. One team member faced an intense sense of oppression that refused to lift. Most of us got some sleep, though troubled. One team member got none. The sense of being under attack, intense and deliberate -- but outside the experience and understanding of any of us -- lay heavily. As a team we drew together repeatedly in prayer. We had little understanding of what we faced, but came before the God whom we knew understood fully. In hindsight, I can still claim little understanding. My attempts to articulate this battle, to put it into words anyone not there can comprehend -- feel lame and lifeless.

Two more days of sleeplessness and oppression for one team member brought the painful decision to have her return to Canada. Her husband, who has had much input into the construction and had launched us well on our current project, returned with her. That brought a loss to our team impossible for us to understand. The were both so vital among us, contributing so greatly even in the midst of their hurt. We could not, and still do not understand why God allowed them to be taken from us.

It seemed the battle calmed then, but in our personal prayers and in our team prayers we tried hard to keep our guard up. My sickness had not yet reached its worst. Our first full working day saw long hours of cold rain. Removing portions of the roof and covering with tarps as we went, a raincoat did not prevent my being soaked, chilled and unable to stop the trembling by the end of the day. Cramps and weakness over the next several days had me voicing the opinion that I was sure they could find a grave for me somewhere in the country. I have a high pain threshold, but the cramps were vicious.

I worked as much as possible through the worst days of sickness. I ate nothing the last day and accomplished so little. As I began to recover, I could not wear a belt or a carpenter's apron. The slightest pressure on my lower abdomen brought agony.

Yet we pulled together as a team in a way I cannot describe. Personality issues were such minor irritants. We moved past them, upheld each other and saw construction move ahead beyond our expectations. We had lost a key construction worker. Local men committed to working with us never showed. I was almost useless for three days and others on our team struggled with the same malady, but somehow the projects moved ahead. Direct ministry opportunities seemed to be few, yet some lives were touched deeply. Little glimmers of hope broke through the wall of suspician a neighbour had erected.

A volcano 2000 miles away brought a disturbing undertainity as we pushed hard to complete projects on schedule. We faced something of an emotional roller-coaster as air-space closed and opened, airports expressed their hope in reopening, then delayed those openings repeatedly. We had worked hard physically, with many emotional and spiritual challenges. As a team and as individuals we were tired and ready to come home. But airports remaind closed. Our flight was cancelled.

How do you put a value on our blessings in that context? Tens of thousands of people across Europe were stranded, many of them in transit, stuck in airports. We still had beds in a missionary home. They had adequate food on hand -- and believe me -- a team of eight putting in long hours of physical work makes a big impression on food reserves in a week. We still had a purpose. There was much work we could carry on with. Those ministry opportunities, rare as they had seemed, had not disappeared. We drew together even more closely as a team, and accomplished much in those days.

So much more could be said -- begs to be said. What is it that makes me ache to return? I do not feel "called" by God to commit the rest of my life to Romania. I am thankful to be home, to be sharing a bed with my wife again. I am not experiencing the homecoming culture shock I anticipated. But I have seen a couple of lives impacted in a deep way. I long to be part of a multiplication of a work that turned a shanty into a home -- that gave a place of his own to a man who has probably never had the resources to own more than a peddle-bike. There is room behind that home to build three more. Somehow that dream has grabbed me and won't let go.


Janet Sketchley said...

Brian, thank you for sharing a glimpse of your experiences.

May God bless each member of your team and continue to work through you, and may He continue to bless His church in Romania.

Peter Black said...

Brian, your Romanian reflections provide an almost tangible sense of what you and your team experienced on the mission.
Praise God for what was accomplished materially and spiritually, and will continue to be wrought out in days to come, for the help of Romanian people, and the Body of Christ there.

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