If you’re like me, when other people report on a mission trip I kind of tune out a little. It’s not that I don’t want to hear about their experience. It’s just that it’s hard to enter into their excitement since I didn’t experience it myself. I must have heard a few dozen times before this trip about how people in other countries have such authentic worship as compared to Americans. But, how does one process that information if they are American? Does that make me a fake because I’m an American? Or does it make me somehow inferior? I mean, I’m doing the best I know, so why am I being shamed? That’s how, I usually feel anyway…just sayin. But, truly that’s not my intention in writing down my experiences here. Oh, it is much different in Romania that is for sure. But, so is the entire culture, so to say they are better than us isn’t really my point. They’re just different. I’m pretty sure there are people in Romania who just show up to church, or who don’t come ready with hearts prepared to worship, just like here in America. I do propose, though, that the number of those people is much fewer and I will explain why later, but what I’m trying to say is that not everyone there is a super Christian, just the same as here. Some go to clear their conscience, some to please someone else, or some, because they are lonely or outcast, or curious. But those who come ready, and prepared are definitely apparent and boy was it amazing to witness. Was I blessed and inspired? Oh yes…immensely. Has it changed my worship and views of church? Hmmm, maybe some, but honestly, I’ve been trying to be authentic for years now. Some years and days are better than others, and I’m sure I fall prey to the American trap of soft and non-sacrificial worship. I believe with all of my heart though, I’ve been challenged to grow and move forward with walls down and roof off. So, without judgments or offenses I give to you Romanian worship.
Our first Service was at the church in a little village called Rogova, where our feeding center is located. We arrived early to take a tour of the building, which housed the church and feeding center all in one. The building itself has quite a history. The Soviet Army used it for communist propaganda during WWII, then it went through different phases of being a movie house, a nightclub/disco and more. At one time there was thought to be a ghost and the people of the town said that only the “Repenters” (their name for Baptist Christians which is meant to be derogatory, but I think is great!) could claim this building for good! The church had been meeting in a small meeting room for a while, but after a group of teens from Kentucky had visited the ball got rolling and God provided in amazing ways for them to acquire this building. I was so excited that our church had gotten to be a part of this building acquisition and reclaiming for the Lord.
Before the services started, Pastor Rica offered to take us on a walk around the village. It was more like a stroll or even maybe a saunter, for we walked slowly and as we walked people came running out to greet Pastor Rica (even people who weren’t members of the church!). Children joined us, and villagers greeted us.
Most of the properties are the same set up with a house, small yard and a wall around the property. Many have benches setting outside of the front gates that they sit on in the evening and greet their neighbors. The roads were dirt and pocked throughout. There were the occasional “leftovers” from the flocks that were herded through town in the evening, so we had to watch our steps. As we rounded one corner we saw the village water well, where they still came to get their water for some of the houses. That itself is a sad topic, because most of the villagers had kidney problems from the well water. Filtering could get rid of bacteria, but there is a problem with chemicals leaching into the rocks in this area and that cannot be filtered out. It’s just a fact of life that they will have to deal with kidney problems as they grow. Poor as they were, my most beautiful impression of this entire country is that they all try to make their space as beautiful as possible. Geraniums were everywhere! I guess I’ve always had an appeal for geraniums, so it really stood out to me. Other flowers were used as well to try and bring some beauty to their little neck of the woods.
This part of their beauty was heart warming, however, what was sad was when we rounded the corner where the Orthodox Church stood. Majestic and mighty, gilded and beautiful, it was a pillar of false doctrine and thievery. I grieved the lies that were preached as the “church” used up all of the money. Small idol centers were a staple item along roadways in many villages throughout the country. It was a place people go and light a candle and pray to a dead “saint” trying to appease this false idea of who God is and what He requires. Yet, as we continued our walkabout, and people flocked to Pastor Rica, I was heartened by what he represented to them…TRUTH! He preaches a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. With the Bible as authority (not man or priest), He teaches them the truth that through this personal relationship with Christ we can be forgiven and set free from sin. We serve a risen Savior and a living God who cares about them where they are (more to come on this).
As we arrived back at the church, people were beginning to gather for services. 2nd man was getting the honor and privilege to preach at the three services we would be attending and he took this privilege seriously and humbly, so we were anxious to get started. Inside the building I started taking some pictures as people allowed. I am still in debt to them in that I need to get them developed and mailed back, as they love to have a copy or see their pictures. I kept a small journal with me throughout the trip and especially during services I’d jot down observations such as these:
“I don’t understand a word, but the people are so loving and attentive.”
“The service: starts with singing
- – a gentleman from the congregation brings a small devotion
- – the natives around me (kids and teens) are restless in the back of the room…at least the young ones
- – The little boy next to me on his sister’s lap whispers something I cannot understand. His sister says in broken English ‘he says you are angel’ um tear!
- – There was no room by our group to sit, so I ended up in the middle of all of these kids! Love it!”
- – After the devotion was prayer time. Started with a young boy about Jarod’s age (8yrs) and then one at a time others would just stand up and pray. No hesitation or coaxing, just fervent sincere prayers!”
- – The group behind me came tonight, probably to see the American visitors. They were restless and kind of noisy, I’m sure it’s a process to teach them to behave in church. The girl in front of me opens a candy bar and water and the little ones flock to her like ducks right in the middle of service!
- – When the little ones next to me were talking during preaching the woman to my left reached right over me and whacked them with her paper fan! She paid no mind to my being there…too funny!!
- – After the prayer time the mandolin band played. I love this music! It’s kind of like Euro bluegrass. Sounded like Fiddler on the Roof…without the fiddler….mandolins instead…never mind.
- Jerry Abbot gave intros. Of the American group
- – Kyliegh Garza played piano and then her mom, Connie, gave her testimony of how God provided them the way to make the trip. She was visibly nervous at first, but pulled it together and did a perfect job!
- – A woman’s group sang for us after that
- – Then 2nd man got up to preach with an interpreter or as he called it, and interrupterAfter the service a trio of Muslim teenage boys approached 2 Man and one in particular asked him some pointed questions about his claims that God cares. 2nd man took the opportunity to graciously answer their questions the best he could and you could see their countenances begin to soften as he talked to them with tenderness and not defensiveness. After about 15 or 20 minutes, they left with plenty to think about.
- We waited for a few minutes as the shepherds drove their sheep into town after a days grazing and the loaded on the bus back to Severin.
- He preached from II Kings 6 about the story of Elisha and the floating ax head with his main points being that God cares for you. He cares about the big and the little things and He doesn’t want us to worry. That’s pretty simplified, but He’s the eloquent one in the family.”
Services in Severin Sunday morning started out much the same way as in Rogova. Severin was the city church that we had first seen when we arrived. The gentleman who gave the morning devotional gave it on 2. Cor. 5:17 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I didn’t understand a word, but boy could that man preach with passion! Afterwards the prayer service and music services proceeded much like in the Rogova church. Bro. Sammy Ciupuliga worked hard in preparation for our arrival and it was evident in the music service. The mandolin group along with others who weren’t there the night before played beautifully! They even surprised us by playing our national anthem! They are a very musically talented group and practically had a cantata ending with “To God be The Glory.”
2nd man then preached from Isaiah 6 about God’s core attribute of holiness. It was a well put together sermon that he gave flawlessly with the help of Bro. Sammy. They worked well together and really got into a rhythm. The congregation was a responsive group with many who spoke out “Amen!” (Pronounced, a mean)
Most of the people in this church, though wealthier than the village people, walked to and from church. As they left that day, they went through a line of us giving handshakes and expressing the word “Pace” (pronounced pacha) which means Peace. It was a word that under communist rule would let them know who was a believer without getting caught. It stuck and to this day the believers greet each other with this expression. There was a gypsy woman who has been attending lately and she just all out grabbed my face and kissed both sides!
After eating lunch at the church we loaded up in the bus to head to our next church service. Well, let me back up first. A few of our ladies had to get something ( I don’t even know what) from the grocery and asked if they could walk over before we left. They hadn’t returned when we needed to leave so we drove the bus over to the store to try and find them. There had been some sort of mix up with money and communication and it held them up. So, 2nd Man, Brother Abbot and Pastor Rica all went in to try and find the ladies. As they all returned to the bus I was giggling as the men surrounded these ladies and looked just like the shepherds that had herded their sheep into town the night before. So, then, we headed to our next service. This was a bumpy 1-½ hour drive into the small mountain village of Lupsa. This village was composed of about 400 people and was where Pastor Rica and his wife Cathy had grown up. The church is located upstairs from a small Manna feeding center nestled into a hill and surrounded by dogs, chickens, ducks and even bee hives. Pastor Rica’s own mother lives in a tiny apartment in the back of this building with just a bed, and small bathroom that takes buckets of water to flush down the toilet. Such humble living.
The ladies all showed up with scarved heads greeting us much he same way as the other two churches with warmth and expressions of “Pace.” The spirit was incredibly welcoming and casual. I was stupidly out of place in that I hadn’t had time to change into flat shoes and stumbled my way up the hill into the church.
It was hot. No other way to put it. People in Romania just don’t have or use air conditioning and especially in a little remote church such as this one. The room that was the church was about 25’ x 25’ in size with a patio out in front of it. The Mandolin band had traveled with us to this service and set up outside on the patio. They were delayed in their playing a bit because of the humidity in the air that affected their strings. Two little girls who stood in front of us to sing touched me. The younger one in particular was exceptionally talented in her singing. Here they live in some remote forgotten village corner of the world, but yet they praise Him in their song.
The ladies and men from the congregation did much like the other churches in praying, but they also stood and read a scripture or sang a song or read a poem or gave a testimony from their week. It was so moving even though we couldn’t understand them. The singing was beautiful and the idea that a precious village lady who didn’t know much about the outside world, knew enough to stand and read poetry about the Lord! It was convicting in the sense that we are, as Americans, emotionally handicapped in our praise, either leaning too heavy on feelings or not feeling at all. This was genuine praise stripped down and raw, and real.
As I sat taking it all in, I was caught up in the whole environment. As 2nd man preached, he was accompanied by clucking and quacking and rooster crows, I was soaking, soaking, soaking it all in. A couple of hours later the services were all over.
No, people in other countries aren’t necessarily better than us and I’m not trying to shame anyone. The truth is we do tend to get caught up in our soft living and mighty pride over here in America. But, I do believe that we can learn much from our brothers and sisters in Christ who have faced harder times than we. You see, while Romania was under communist rule until the late 80s people had no options of riding the fence in their Christianity. You were either in or out, the choice had to be made, for the risk was great. Risk breeds commitment and we just don’t face that here…yet. Oh I don’t want to face risk any more than the next person, but I do want to learn what I can from a people who have faced the risk and blessedly come through!