We took a little jaunt over the pond to Romania this summer. It was a mission’s trip for our church to visit a feeding center we sponsor via Manna Worldwide I say it all casually, but truly it was the first time I had technically been out of the country and I was excited out of my socks! When Pastor told 2nd Man he would be heading up the trip and I could go along, I was thrilled and honored. One of my biggest joys is to see things I’ve never seen before.
One of my other joys is reading biographies. In the past several years I had read the biography of Richard Wurmbrandt who started an organization called Voice of the Martyrs and others like him. He told of his time imprisoned in Romania under communist rule and his escape from the country after his release. It struck a curiosity in me as to what life must have been like behind the iron curtain (and still is like in some parts of the world).
The missionary we were visiting, Rica Sever Gonciulea and his wife Cathy had a similar story in their escape across the Danube River into Serbia, and making their way to the United States. They didn’t get to see their children for three years, before they could get them over to the states as well! You can see The Gonciulea’s story here. However, what is even more impressive is that they don’t just readily offer up this information about themselves, but live for now and the future in winning souls to Christ, feeding and teaching underprivileged children and helping get orphaned children off of the streets. They are so humble in fact, it is a bit intimidating to be in their presence. Serving alongside their daughter and son-in-law the Ciupuligas they are a worthy foe for the enemy.
A lot happened on this trip, so I think I will break it up into parts so as to cover all of my thoughts. So here is part one:
We showed up at the church on time and all was looking pretty clear for our departure. Everyone was in good spirits and seemed rested up and ready. Our motley troupe of travelers consisted of; 2nd man and myself; one of the secretaries, Miss Lynne; a mother and teen daughter duo, Tammy and Laura; another mom and her two teens Cynthia, Carissa and Karston; a couple of other ladies, Judy and Suzette; a single lady from a sister church in town, Michelle; and another mom and her 8 year old daughter, Connie and Kyleigh. If you were able to follow, that was 10 women, a little girl, a teen boy, and 2nd man. Pretty heavy on the estrogen this group was.
I’ll take this moment to put in a disclaimer that I truly do love everyone that went on this trip. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I’d never want to displease Him or hurt them. Any views of frustration or annoyance are meant in good humor and this is my story. I’m very sure I was the source of frustration to others as well, but they can write that story.
2nd man had tried to prepare us all ahead of time, knowing that large groups of women, with little male presence, could sometimes boil into trouble. Mix that with at least four (maybe 5) of which are strong choleric personalities. No offense to the cholerics out there, just a fact that it’s a strong personality type. Then mix that with us melancholies on the trip…well let’s just say that the word for this trip was FLEXIBILITY. However, his reminders to “die to self” and be flexible were well taken and well applied, as we soon would find out. I had suggested that we get shirts that said “It’s a good day to die!…to self” but we decided that was probably not a good idea when traveling through security at the airports.
When we arrived at the airport our little motto of flexibility was instantly put into high gear. We were supposed to be allowed to have two checked bags each since we were a humanitarian group taking shoes and other activities to children overseas. Well, the first airline that we checked in with didn’t get that memo and we ended up paying $1200.00 to get those shoes and bags over there! 2nd man did a primo job at assuaging the initial frustrations and working with the airlines to sort it out. Then, while checking in our bags one in our troupe had packed everything including a kitchen sink I think, so we had to disperse some of her belongings throughout everyone else’s. It was an eye rolling moment that we soon found out would be the least of our worries.
We got through security rather well and were on our way to the gate where we were welcomed with the news that our flight was cancelled! Not delayed, but all out cancelled. As we stood in line to get our schedules rearranged the airline attendant announced that we could call an 800 number to talk to someone directly with the airline that could help us. Since we had a large group we initially thought this was a good idea. Immediately one of the ladies started dialing right alongside of 2nd man. Now this was amusing to me since 2nd man was the leader. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking, so I tried to politely say aloud to 2nd man “don’t you think we should only have one person calling? That way we won’t be doing any double booking?” She didn’t take the hint. Finally, 2nd man realized that she had the need to make this call so he conceded and let her talk to the person on the line since she got through a little faster than he. However, this proved futile as the airline worker had to make different flight arrangements for each person in our group individually. They had, at one point, our resident 8 year old, flying separately from her mom! I was a little appalled and would like to take this moment to suggest to American Airlines that they get a better “group travel” reservation set up. After going through all of this rigmarole, we had to rebook everything one at a time AGAIN with the airline worker on site, so the whole phone call thing was in vain anyway.
After 7 hours of this nonsense everyone was on his or her way to Chicago. We were split up onto two different flights, but we were on our way. We were actually excited though, because it looked like we would get a 7-hour layover in London and maybe go see some sights. However, that dream was crushed when we arrived in Chicago, ran through the airport (which is quite large I might add) only to find out that our flight to London was now delayed as well. Boo! I had a glimmer of hope that maybe the two ladies that had been separated from us could now get on board the same flight to London, but that would not happen either, so we all hurried up to sit down again until the flight left.
A little side note on international flying in coach class if you’ve never done it: For some inhumane reason, the airlines walk you through the first and business class sections of “spread out and prepare to be pampered” before sitting you back in the cattle car area of the plane. This is cruel and unusual punishment for the middle class person in my opinion. Keep in mind I’m only 5’2”. However, I was in the middle of the middle section of the plane and thought I was gonna crawl out of my skin. There was no seeing Greenland, or Ireland as we flew over. There was no getting up and walking around the cabin because everyone around me was asleep! Only one other time have I felt claustrophobic and that was in a cave deep in the earth, but I digress.
We did get the privilege of having a layover in London’s Heathrow Airport. It is known as the largest airport in the world. Of course the layover wasn’t long enough to go have tea with Princess Kate, but we at least had time to do some fabulous people watching and a little shopping too. You know, to buy stuff in a gift shop that has places you didn’t actually get to go see. There were people from every nationality on the globe at this airport. Security was filled with a mass of humanity. There were as many security lines as there are cash registers at Wal-Mart. With the difference being that all the lines were open! They were busy and thorough. A couple of our group got the full pat down privilege and a full check of carry on luggage items with some confiscations to follow. This was just kind of humorous to me, but I’m sure they didn’t like it.
After getting everyone through the corral we were able to find a spot to impose squatters rights and made a home base. From there we chose to rest, text or shop for the next five hours.
Finally, our flight to Bucharest, Romania was at hand and our group was all together! As we got closer to our gate filled with passengers who were mostly Romanian themselves, the language barrier started to take affect. In fact, the woman I sat next to didn’t know a lick of English. Well, that or she just didn’t want to talk to me (which is quite possibly true). Anyway, cultural reality started to set in and we were on our way. This flight was, thankfully uneventful, but late late late. We landed in Bucharest around…well…sometime around dark thirty. We met up with others who would be part of our group for the next 6 or 7 days; three people from Manna, Jerry, Curt and Beverly; A couple from Albuquerque NM, Sarah and JJ; and a college student from Arkansas, Courtney. Our missionary, Pastor Gonciulea, was also with the group.
What I had missed in the memo was that we still had a three or four hour bus ride through remote villages to the city where we would stay for the night! We finally made it to our first destination and got into a small twin sized bed around 4:30 am. Ahh sweet rest!