The pastor in Romania is also kind of the go-to guy for all of the pastors in the area. So he has connections to many different people and churches in nearby villages. And some of the greatest, most humbling, most memorable experiences from my trip was getting to see some of these village churches.
Even just getting to the villages was an experience. We piled up in the pastor's van and rode out to remote places, sometimes about 45 minutes to an hour away. The countryside was just beautiful. The rolling hills and distant mountains, the fields and livestock, well, it reminded me of where I grew up in Kentucky--only prettier. I can't tell you how many pictures I took just of the Romanian countryside. Oh, I guess I could show a few pics, though.
I should have also taken some pictures of the actual villages, but I didn't want to look like a crazy American tourist. But it was interesting. There were a few times when we had to stop and wait for goat or sheep herds to cross the road. I mean, it was stuff you see in movies and don't realize it's real until you're right there. And then it's right there. And you realize it's someone's normal life, every single day. That's more than a little bit mind blowing.
The first village we visited (and I'm probably going to spell it wrong) was called Hernova. About 80 people showed up to their small, but very nice little church building. There was a little stove to heat the building in winter. During the service, a guy played the accordion. It was so beautiful and quaint and amazing--I almost pinched myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
It all was even more remarkable when I learned that just two years ago when my pastor and other team members went, that little village church only had about 16 people. The lovely little building was only a concrete slab foundation. But God is at work in that little village and in the church. I gave my testimony there, which is just a story about how God has used all my weaknesses as opportunities to show His strength. I'm not sure how well that went over in that culture, in that place that is so different from everything I've ever experienced, but it was real and true, and I hope God used it to at least encourage those beautiful people.
And there was also something magical (the C.S. Lewis type, not the Harry Potter type) about worshipping with those people. I was reminded of Revelation, where every tribe and nation and tongue is going to be bowing before the Throne, singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." Mmm.
The next village we visited didn't even have a building for their church. We met on benches outside. A missionary named Gabriel travels to that village and others with a keyboard and small sound system. There he preaches and sings and even does some songs with the kids. The kids performed a couple of songs for us. I couldn't understand their words, but one of them had hand motions--it was obvious they were saying that "Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you, Jesus loves everyone" or something very close to that.
I also gave my testimony there, which was nerve-racking, but it would have been even more so had I realized I was speaking to a lot of the Roma Gypsies who had attended that service. We tried talking to a few of them after the service, but only a few seemed interested. They like to keep to themselves because society treats them as outsiders (to put it mildly). I'm not sure, but I also think my general paleness was shocking and offensive to them :-). We did manage to speak to one lady (with the help of a translator). She told us she was not a Believer, but she likes coming to hear from God's Word. I think many of the people who came that night, who come to many of the services, are unsaved. But they like coming to hear the Word. Please keep them in your prayers.
There is another village we visited, but that's for another blog post.
Before I log off this one though, I want to mention one other experience.
One of the families we visited was very poor, as is the case with many families in Romania. This family had 12 children, some of which were grown and had moved away to work, but still. Twelve children! The dad worked, but he had been injured (and I don't think the injury was going to keep him from going back to work, even though it really should have--his foot was completely black and blue). The family lived in what I would describe as a glorified concrete slab. It was a house in that it had doors and windows--fairly standard ones, but it was basically a concrete slab.
They welcomed us inside it and talked to us (in Romanian, with translation) about how their family had lost their other home in a fire. They described how one child had woken up and alerted the rest of the family. They described how one child hadn't made it out, and how another one of their children had run back inside and rescued her. They were so grateful they had all made it out safely. The mother and father were both in tears over how God had given the family safety, how God continued to give them all health. The dad wasn't complaining about his injury; he was praising God that he was healthy in other ways. He and his wife were praising God that they had all they needed. They were so, so grateful. Living in a concrete slab with so many mouths to feed, they didn't stop praising God from the moment we entered their home.
It's another world. It's one I am grateful I got to see, just for a moment. I got to see into the everyday lives of people who have so little, of people who are grateful for what little they have. Here in America, we have so many resources, and yet we are so lazy. And I'm not trying to be judgmental, an I'm talking to myself as much as I am to anyone. But God allowed me a little window into this remarkable world, and I'll never be the same. I hope you have the opportunity to go sometime, to Romania, to another place where people live so differently, where people have so little, but are grateful for it. It will change your life.