When we finally made it onto our train out of Rome I was
feeling a bit like a cat in a tub of water.
We settled onto the train with some McDonalds comfort food which is
saying a lot, since back in the States McDonalds is not on my comfort food
radar at all! However, when in Rome…er leaving Rome. Whatever.
Our train took us north through Tuscany. With our limited time we chose to travel over to Cinque Terre along the Italian Riviera coastline instead of Florence. Although we can appreciate fine historical art, our family enjoys more than just this, and as I wrote in my previous post, our son in particular was so over the naked statues everywhere.
Our train did take us through the city of Pisa. We didn’t have time to get off of the train,
but caught the slightest glimpse of the tower from the train window and decided
as a family that it counted! This was
such a relaxing a beautiful train ride!
We passed breathtaking vineyard areas with the tall pointy trees
And the olive trees were everywhere. I may have to figure out how to grow one of these beauties back home. This was all on one side of the train, while on the other was the beautiful blue coastline. It was about a two hour train ride through many tunnels into our final destination for the day. We were staying in the town of Manarola in the Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre pronounced (Cheen-kway tehr-ray) is a grouping of five fishing villages that used to only be accessible by boat. They are connected by a trail that many visitors to the area enjoy walking. It is supposed to be one of the best hikes in the world hitting all five villages in one day if one chooses to hike it that way. We weren’t going to be able to do the hike, but that was just as well – it gives me a reason to return. I now consider this one of my favorite places on earth!
Manarola is literally built into the hillside. There are no vehicles in the town just a main
road. The only down part is that it is
literally built into the hillside – that means walking up that hill to get to
your apartment. But oh that walk was
worth it. And beneficial too, as the
food was also tremendous.
The first thing we did after getting off of the train is walk through a tunnel in the side of the hill to get into the village. It’s like going through the wardrobe into Narnia people! When you walk out into the sunlight on the other side, it truly feels like you’ve walked into a totally different world. We headed up, up, up, up, up (pant pant) up up up to our apartment to be terrifically rewarded with the view of a lifetime! We gave kudos to our Meggers for picking this stop. She had seen Manarola on a calendar she had in her bedroom and though it would be cool to see. Since this trip, I have now seen this picture all over the internet. I’m not sure how much longer they will be able to keep this village so quaint and awesome, but we’re glad we got here when we did. After all of us taking pics and videos of our place we headed back down stopping at each little curve in the hill to take another picture. The town is still so antiquated and protected that even the shops close at 6:30 or 7:00 so we did stop to buy up all our tchotchkes and t-shirts. Then onward through town, we were headed for the sunset setup to get the famous picture for ourselves. We were not disappointed. The only disappointment someone could even slightly experience here is not being a professional photographer which I am nowhere close sigh!
We were finding ourselves hungry and there is a restaurant up on the hill overlooking Manarola. Lynn suggested looking into eating here, but we were pretty sure it may be out of our price range with the location and outside seating and views. Oh how thrilled we were when we found out how affordable it was! Within minutes we found ourselves seated along the coastline overlooking this magical place and enjoying the best food in all of Italy. Seriously, Nessun Duma was awesome! We ate Focaccia bread sandwiches which seems like such a cheap name for such deliciousness in my mouth! We even splurged on dessert since we were intoxicated by the atmosphere.
I practically had to drag myself out of here the next morning when it was already time to leave. I’m trying to talk Lynn into us taking a honeymoon whenever our daughters get married and going back to Cinque Terre! I mean, shouldn’t the parents of the bride get a trip too? Ok, so I may have to work on my manipulating skills, but somehow, if the Lord wills it some day, Manarola, I will come back to you.
Ah Roma! We finally made it to Rome and our first steps out of the train station felt much like being in New York’s Grand Central Station. People were everywhere hustling and bustling through the station and out onto the streets. Once we got our bearings and located our Air B&B hosts location on our Google map we started trekking through the streets with our rolling carryon luggage in tow. We realized on our first train trip that we could bring more than just a backpack as long as it could be carried up and down stairs, so for this trip we packed a little bit easier. However, I was regretting this decision as we trudged through the cobblestone streets trying to find our Air B&B hosts restaurant where we were to meet him and be led over to our apartment. It was a hidden little restaurant that definitely oozed charm and our host was immediately bubbling over with welcome arms just as one would imagine an Italian restaurant owner to be. We had to wait on his associate to come and take us to our place so we decided to go ahead and eat while we waited after our long travel weary day. We had pizza of course! Americans in Italy – what else would we order?
When our co-host arrived she led us through the streets some more to our apartment. It was down a narrow cobblestone street that was beautiful and old and charming, again ,just as one would imagine Italy – as long as you looked up above the first floor. There is something about Europe and spray paint! If it stands still it gets vandalized. I’m not sure what the source of pent up anger is in these unseen vandals, but they strike everywhere! Not being used to this in small town America, I just tried to suppress the hitch in my spirit and look up.
Once we were settled in our apartment we hit the streets for the evening. First stop – gelato!! Yum this stuff is so amazing and addicting. We were all immediately hooked. Since we had arrived in town later than we had expected due to the train delays, we strolled around and did a little bit of souvenir shopping and just looked around at the local neighborhood sights in the dark of the evening. This made for a packed day to come, so we tried not to stay out too late.
The next morning we awoke early and hit the local bakery for breakfast and coffee then off to catch our hop-on hop-off tour bus. We decided to splurge on this kind of touring since we had very little time to hit the highlights of Rome. Actually we met a couple on our first leg of the tour that chuckled at us as they told us they were in Rome for a week! They did give us this wonderful tip though, that when going to the colosseum we should get in the ticket line for the Palatine Hill as it was a much shorter line and included both places. We had hit Rome in the perfect week we found out as it was some sort of cultural week and most of the museums and city highlights were free! We were excited about this and as it turned out, this proved to work greatly in our favor later.
However, our first stop was actually the Vatican the one place we did have to pay to visit – go figure. I know – why would a Baptist minister and his family visit the central headquarters of the catholic church? Well, we found out that we were not alone in the impression that it was a must see. I truly just wanted to get right to the Sistine chapel to see Michelangelo’s great masterpiece. However, the Vatican museum that you had to go through in order to get to the Sistine Chapel, holds one of the worlds largest treasure troves of artwork! Some, of course didn’t trip my trigger and we were able to zip through some areas that pertained directly to popes and other such catholic notions. But, seeing works of Bernini, Raphael and other great and notable artists was surreal. In one hall they have tapestries that are larger than my house. Hangings that depict stories from the Bible like the sighting of Christ on the road to Emmaus. This was one of my favorites. I’ve often heard the illustration that we, as humans, don’t see the workings of God from the same vantage point that he does, much as a child sitting at the feet of a mother who is weaving a tapestry only sees the underside that looks like a chaotic mess. But, turn that tapestry over and you see how all of the separate threads and knots and colors were woven together to form an entire masterpiece! Until now I had only envisioned small tapestry works that, though pretty, are nothing compared to these hanging in the Vatican. As we finally entered the Sistine chapel I could hardly believe we were there looking at the real thing that I had only seen in textbooks and artbooks until now. However, in all truth, it was crowded in there as they make sure that everyone shoves in to see. Also, though it is a chapel and peopleare supposed to be reverent and quiet, it was loud! Keep in mind we were visiting Rome in the low season, I cannot imagine being there when the “real” crowds come. On top of this, our son, Jarod was just up to his limit in trying to divert his eyes from naked statues and paintings. When we first booked our tickets for this tour we were given specific instructions on what to wear as far as shoulders and knees being covered. Jarod, I believe, was the first to point out the hypocrisy of this rule, poor 12 year old Baptist boy! 😊 We weren’t allowed to take any pictures in the Chapel, but if we could, I think one of my favorites would have been of a random fellow American who wore a t-shirt that said “Ya’ll need Jesus!” So very appropriate. I will probably say this again in my recounts of these 3 months in Europe, but it’s hard to explain well, the mix of awe and of sadness and burden to visit these centuries old cathedrals that are awesome works of architecture and art, but lack the truth of the Gospel thereby leading people astray for centuries on paths of frustration and meaninglessness leaving them as empty as if they hadn’t believed in God at all. Many stand only as works of art and architecture never holding services or ministering to people’s souls.
1 Timothy 2:55For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
After this we traipsed back through the web of vendors that line the streets and bridges to our bus stop. As wonderful as Rome is, unfortunately you cannot get to any monument, or museum in the entire city without being accosted by selfie stick street sellers. They shove one in your face and when you say no, another comes up behind him and does the same thing – ugh!
I think I’ve maybe mentioned this before, but we are shallow tourists. Enjoying and delighting in seeing sights from movies or books. Some of the sights we had in mind for this trip had to do with the 1950s Gregory Peck / Audrey Hepburn movie Roman Holiday. So we recounted some of the places we had seen in this movie. The Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain were nothing like the movies. Of course we expected this, so there was no shock. But, again, look at the crowd on those steps in the off season! I’m not sure the steps themselves could even be seen in the summer.
As we made our way through town, we finally made it to the Colosseum only to find out that it was closing time and we couldn’t get in! This was when we had to really do a spirit check. The kids put on the bravest “that’s ok” faces they could muster they really did. But Lynn and I saw through it and felt the pain of knowing this was quite possibly a once in a lifetime trip and we missed the biggest attraction there! It stung – badly.
We walked on seeing some more sights along the way and were rewarded with the Circus Maximus where the emperor would watch the chariot races as well as another “Roman Holiday” sight – the mouth of truth. The legend says that if you put your hand into the mouth and someone asks you a question you had better answer honestly or else risk losing the hand.
By this time the bus tours had stopped running and we found ourselves at the opposite side of Rome from our apartment. We began our walk back which we never regretted as it is in these long winding walks that you really come across the sights you may not have seen otherwise. We were able to view the Palpatine hill ruins from an entirely different vantage point that we accidentally stumbled upon when we took a wrong turn. I was excited to see ruins of actual aqueducts in several different areas.
Funny story time: I’m not artistic – I’m an appreciator. So in highschool when they offered an art appreciation class my senior year I took it! One of the art forms we were appreciating one day were aquaducts. Well, somehow in all of my schooling I hadn’t ever given a second thought to what an aquaduct was or what it looked like. When the teacher started to describe them I was dumbfounded and made him slow down and totally describe these to me. He was frustrated I’m sure at my ignorance, but with a little rolling of the eyes he introduced me to something I had from then on wanted to see with my own eyes. Yay to that wish coming true!
Then we were able to visit the tomb of the unknown soldier which was quite impressive.
As we walked, we devised a plan to get up early the next
morning and take a taxi down to the colosseum and try to get first in line to
get inside. Then we’d take a taxi back
to the apartment and then to the train station to catch our next train out of
town. Satisfied with our plan, we walked
on and decided to eat dinner at our Air B&B hosts restaurant again.
When we finally made it to the apartment that night we heard
a ruckous down the street. It looked
like a fight was taking place and there were at least a half dozen people
involved. I sort of whispered to Lynn to
hurry up with getting the door into the building unlocked. When I heard a bottle break and yelling pick
up in volume, I was definitely whisper yelling “get in the door get in the
door!” My family was amused at my panic.
After a nights rest, we awoke early and headed out the door to hail a cab. Well, it’s not as easy in Rome as in New York to do this. We kept trying and trying. It was all the more difiicult since we were a family of five. European cars or so opposite of the huge trucks and suvs of Oklahoma. Anyway, we finally found one and down we went. However, this obviously isn’t that unique of a plan. We got our tickets fast enough and thought we were doing great until we got to the line for ticket holders to get into the Colosseum. It was over an hour long and we did not have that kind of time.
Another kind of business you find around these monuments is the last minute tour that will promise to get you into the place in under 10 minutes. Since we didn’t have to pay for the tickets, Lynn went ahead and paid for this tour 50 euro. However, the minutes kept ticking away. We frantically kept checking our watches and phones. We had explained our dilemma to the man when we first gave him the money so he knew we were on a tight schedule. When he took us over to the group with the English speaking tour, the tour guide was as slow as molasses. Lynn talked to him and said “Look, we have a train to catch, so we basically are just paying to get in with you and ditch you is that alright?” to which the self impressed tour guide was not sympathetic. Lynn reexplained to the original man who sold us this “tour” He finally seemed to understand that we weren’t kidding and tried to hustle us up in the line. Security is tight at many historical landmarks these days and there was no way to get around security. My arm got worn out from my constant jerk upwards to catch a glimpse of my watch. When we finally made it through we were down to 5 minutes to enjoy the entire Colosseum! We literally ran through snapping pictures with all of our phones willy nilly and stopping only to take a quick family selfie. We were yelling to each other “touch a column touch a column!” and we literally were running our hands down the walls and toppled columns as we ran through. I was in a panic at the time, but know I would look back on this laughing.
We then had trouble again, trying to get a taxi cab and when
we finally got one, he refused to stay down in front of our apartment so we
could grab our luggage and get to the train station. We ended up having to wheel our luggage again
through the streets of Rome trying to catch our train. In the end after running through the streets,
entering the wrong part of the train station and booking it over the
cobblestones– we missed the train.
This was heartbreaking to me because it meant we had to pay
for the next train and it would cost another 50 euro! So all in all, we got the 5 minute 100euro
tour of the historic Roman Colosseum. Ah Roma – Gorgeous, Historic, Awe
Inspiring, unforgettable, and exhausting😊!
This made our next stop all the more delightful!
Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day, but the Schuylers
toured it in a day (and some change).
Week 6 was one of the longest weeks of my life and it will most likely take multiple posts to cover it. Often when people refer to something as the longest of their life it is in a negative aspect, but this one was a whole mix of adventure that just makes me smile when I look back on it.
We started off the week with church, of course. We went early so that I could drop off thefamily and drive over to the children’s hospital to see my friend Marina and Baby Ben whose finger had been crushed. Visitors were not allowed up to this point and I wanted to try and be an encouragement to her. This, I might add,was the first time I had driven in downtown Mannheim. Often Mannheim is described as an easy city to get around because of how it is sectioned off into blocks. However, this isn’t the case with the entire city, only the very central part. Of course the hospital was on the outskirts of this area where the roads literally go in all directions and diagonals.
A little background on me, I’m not one of those useful minister’s wives who can sing or play piano. However, I have always been an asset to my husband’s ministry in that I’m pretty good with directions and navigating. We’ve been to numerous large cities, NewYork, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles etc. The only one, up to this point where I have gotten totally turned around is Houston, which is awful! Now I can add another – Mannheim. I am so thankful for GPS systems in newer cars! Seriously, I couldn’t have done Europe 20 years ago people!
So, here I was trying to listen to this GPS tell me where to go when I noticed a car to my right and a motorcycle who are both motioning to me like I’m crazy. Then it dawned on me, I was totally in the wrong lane where oncoming traffic would be approaching any second. Funny thing was, neither the car nor the motorcyclist would move to let me over – go figure! When I finally got myself settled in the right lane, I made it to the hospital parking lot. As I pulled in the guard in the booth, who spoke impeccable English, asked what business I had there. I let him know I was there to visit a friend and their child. He frankly told me that I was in the wrong parking lot and that it was only for people bringing their own children into the hospital. I promptly apologized and asked for directions to the proper lot. Instead. he found it easier to let me know that he would let me in, but that I’d better read the signs well or else I would be charged 200 euro! He informed me that not knowing German would not help me in the matter and just not to be stupid in my parking (his actual words!) So, with some trepidations I drove on down into the parking lot and found a spot that didn’t seem to have any ominous signs around it and went in for a visit.
Baby Ben was in very good spirits and getting along so well even though his little hand was all bound up! Truly, he is such a happy contagious little fella. Marina seemed to be doing well too, as much as a momma can who has been stuck in the hospital with her little one for days. We had a great visit and I returned to the church only 20 minutes late – a success under thecircumstances.
That night after service we had our monthly pizza fellowship where my friend Asha, who is a British young woman working as a nanny in Germany, made me some actual British scones! I make scones for Lynn’s Sunday School class back home in the states, so it was fun to try an authentic recipe, which was outstanding and yes – I gotthe recipe! She was so pleased that I put the jam on first and then the cream as I guess this order of toppings is debated throughout the UK from village to village. Thank you, Asha!
Our big plan for the week started on Tuesday. We really wanted to fit in a trip to Italy while we were in Europe. This was a little bit complicated as we had a Bible Study every Tuesday night which kind of breaks up the week and the time for travel. However, we were undaunted by this challenge and came up with a masterplan to work around our limitations.
One thing Americans think of when they think of Europe is rail travel. In theory it sounds like an easy and obvious way to travel. However, it is a littlebit puzzle-like to fit the plans together. For instance we hear of night trains that will whisk you off to your destination while you sleep! Sounds great in theory, but the problem is getting to the night train. Our closest one that went to Italy was in Munich. The problem was that we couldn’t get to Munich in time to catch that train. So, instead we had to piece together an overnight trip that turned into a grand adventure. Another, weird thing about rail travel is that they sell you on rail passes, but that doesn’t necessarily get you everywhere you want to go. More than likely any large trip you take will entail purchasing reservations on the trains you want to catch. So after piecing together your route, you then have to add together all the reservation costs. It takes hours in the planning for a family our size, and I never did find where anyone would help. This would be a great job – being a train travel puzzle solver.
Our original grand plan was to get home from Bible study about 8:45-9:00, sleep for a couple of hours then head to the train station to catch our first train at midnight. This first train really only took us right back up to the Mannheim train station, but we wanted to park the car for free and where someone could watch it for us. Lynn is discipling a man every week who can’t get out because of health conditions. His apartment looks right over the parking area where we left the car, so that worked out nicely. Anyway, our train from Mannheim didn’t actually leave until 3:30 in the morning (I know!Crazy right!?) So we planned to just hang out in the terminal area until then. Here’s where the adventure started to unhinge. When we arrived in Mannheim, we were greeted with the realization that they actually close the inside of the building from midnight until 4:30am! We were faced with having to wait for 3 hours outside in the freezing cold! We tried to huddle up against the doorway out of the wind where an elderly couple were doing the same thing. It didn’t help – at all. After a few minutes of this we got on our phones looking for an all-night coffee shop or something that might beopen. No coffee shops were open unfortunately. I told Lynn that maybe we could just go to a hotel and sit in their lobby for a little while. He eventually went up and around to the street view and the elderly man followed. A few extremely long minutes later he reappeared and said that there was a doner (shawarma type place) open across the street from the train station and maybe we could go over there and buy some food and sit a bit. This seemed like a good plan so off we went wheeling our luggage behind us.
Immediately when we walked in, I knew this was not going to be a good experience. The place was crowded with people, smoke, and a whole sketchy atmosphere. A couple of things to note here: 1. It was the week of Fasching,which is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s a carnival time of partying the week before Ash Wednesday for the Catholics. Most of the country celebrates this time with raucous parties and dressing up in costumes, similar to what people do at Halloween time in America. 2. Germany doesn’t have the same kind of anti-smoking-in-public-places laws that the U.S. has. So there we sat in the smoke-filled room with people in costumes coming and going. It was quite the education for our family in social anthropology as we watched people like Pirate man with his two devil ladies on his arms coming in to get a late night/morning snack. Lynn ordered a couple of doners, but we weren’t exactly hungry, and the atmosphere was killing the appetite as well. I noticed the elderly couple did the same as us, but only stayed about a half an hour before leaving. I’m not sure where they went or maybe they had an earlier train than us. I saw a single young woman come in wheeling her luggage behind and my first thought was “wow, that seems kind of dangerous for her to be out in the middle of the night with luggage by herself. She must be a student and/or avid traveler.”I couldn’t help but overhear her talking on her phone in English – she was American. After finishing her middle of the night meal she retreated into the bathroom which was only inches from my chair where it sounded like she was sick. On my left were a couple of men who were playing on the slot machines. They were there for the entirety of the night/morning while we were there. We didn’t see any of them win anything, but the coins kept going in as the cigarettes kept getting lit. Then walked in a blond girl with a funky haircut and leather jacket. She reminded me of some kind of 80s punk star or something and she was twitching like crazy as she ate her doner. I’m pretty sure it was a tweaking kind of twitch from drugs. It definitely wasn’t normal and as she finished, I noticed her reach into her purse and grab a pill from a folded-up piece of foil and pop it in. Pretty soon one of the slot machine men noticed her and bought her a drink and well, let’s say they left for awhile. Meanwhile, the young woman in the bathroom was concerning me as she had been in there for over 30 minutes. I was thinking all kinds of mom thoughts,like was she ill? Was she doing drugs? Did I hear crying? Did someone follow her in there? Is she even alive? I was about to go investigate like Angela Lansbury from “Murder She Wrote”, when I finally saw her come out of the bathroom and I whispered a prayer of thanks and relief to God that she was ok. Or at least seemed ok. Throughout our loitering we noticed cars pull up and deals (probably illegal) go down. I was stuck between feeling awful that my kids were getting this kind of exposure to just not even caring because at least it was warm. I was so happy to see 3:00 show up on my clock.
When we got over to the station, we hardly even cared that we were in the cold again, we were all a little bit traumatized and glad to be out of the doner place. It’s funny what perspective can do for an attitude. We heard an announcement over the speakers, but it was all German, so we didn’t understand a word. When we saw 3:30 come and go without a train, we asked a man who was there in the cold with us what the announcement was saying. He informed us that our train was going to be an hour late! I looked at Lynn and said, “I can’t go back over to that doner place! Please don’t take us back over there.” Which was a silly thing to plead as he wasn’t about to take us back over there. However, that left us on the freezing cold platform in the dark cold night to wait.
We all tried to find our own way to cope. Jarod curled up on a bench and tried to just get into a tight ball like an armadillo. The girls sort of did the same on the other side of the bench. Lynn and I literally closed ourselves into a phone booth (yes, they still have some of the old time looking Superman-changing telephone booths over here). The gentleman who had let us know about the delay took a double look at us and just smiled and shook his head. We were desperate and didn’t care. Yes, it is beginning to sound redundant, but it literally was one of the longest hours of my life.
When the train finally arrived, we were delighted to be in the warmth. Then I realized that my seat next to the window had some sort of air vent that was blowing cold air that I couldn’t control. I was swept back in time when we would go on youth activities with the teens at church on our big MCI touring bus and it would blow cold air at your face all night. However, it wasn’t quite as bad as being out on that train platform, so I curled up and just tried to sleep.
Our traveling adventure wasn’t over yet though. We had two more train changes before we would make it to Rome, so I had to set a timer on my phone so as not to sleep through our stops. Because of the first train’s delay, it had a domino affect on all the other trains for the day and we had to keep getting in lines to get our reservations exchanged. I will say that throughout Switzerland, the train station personnel are very helpful when travelers find themselves in these situations. Thankfully the rest of the day’s travels went relatively smoothly thanks to them. We rested and took in the picturesque landscapes like going around Lake Lucerne Switzerland and pleasant people that we got to meet like the American widow who had moved to Europe for a change of scenery after losing her husband. She was encouraging and helpful with tips and warnings for our time in Rome.
Speaking of Rome – well, I’ll write about that adventure inmy next post…
On the fourth and fifth weeks of our time in Germany we stayed close to home (feels a little bit odd to use that reference) with the exception of just a couple of day trips around the area. It was nice to get our homeschooling in and have a little bit of a routine around the house. Lynn worked upstairs in Bro. Walters office area getting sermons prepared for Sundays, working on the Bible Study and trying to work ahead for when we returned to the states.
The kids were able to get lessons in and even get ahead a little bit in their lesson schedules. Meanwhile, I was still plugging away at trying to learn my way around the grocery store and run a house in a foreign country. We were also able to do some outreach and passing out invitations to the church with some tracts.
It’s a little bit hard, with the language barrier to start good conversations unless we can come across someone who speaks English very well. Passing out these tracts is about the best we can do in this area. We’re just praying that the Lord will use it to further his kingdom some way.
So, keeping it real here, my Sanguine/Melancholy personality has struggled a little bit with the German people as a group. When I go to the store or anywhere publicly it is with some anxiety. People, in general, don’t smile or wave or even sometimes acknowledge your presence. I’ve even been hit with carts at the grocery store when I’ve paused in front of a freezer section too long. Of course there are exceptions to this every now and again. However, coming from Oklahoma, where people wave from their car if they don’t even know you or neighbors smile and wave as they are out in their yards, it seems very cold and stoic over here. My personal bent is to smile and wave at people and they just think I’m plumb crazy here in Germany. I don’t think it’s a meanness, but it sure does make me sad and certainly matches the mood of the area on the cold, gray, and cloudy winter days.
Some have explained to us that where Americans tend to be friendly on the outset publicly, they are perceived as superficial by the German people because their friendship seems to be fleeting when needs arise. Whereas, the German people may seem unapproachable, but once you make friends here, they are loyal, real friends who will be there for you in good times and bad. Of course, both of these viewpoints are gross generalizations of both people groups, but I can see where they may think these thoughts, though I would hope it wouldn’t be true of me as an American. And yes, it did make me a bit self-conscious for a while as my personality isn’t going to change just because I’m here, but I’ll let God sort that out in people’s minds.
However, one of the blessings of being in a mission work for
the length of time we are here is that we get a chance to make some new
friendships. In spite of my above
statements about the Germans as a whole, the people of Rhein River Baptist Church
have been so welcoming to our family, and in these weeks in particular we were
able to get to know two familys a bit better and spend some time with
Our first outing was to Luisenpark in Mannheim with Evan and Katarina (Kat) and their two kids Robert and Addy. Apparently, every winter Mannheim puts on something called Winter Lights each night at the park through the end of February. I like this idea rather than just having Christmas lights through December. It kind of makes January and February less dreary. We met at 3:00 at the park and when I say park I mean a large scale kind of park. In Ponca City, our parks are on the small side, maybe a walking path, definitely a playground area, or even a splash pad, but this was not like that at all. I add this because I wore the wrong shoes! I was thinking something like, “Oh a nice little park with a few lights and maybe a duck pond or something – ballet flats will do.” Uh – nope! More like walking for mileS and yes the “s” is capitalized. My Rheumatoid Arthritis was not very happy with me and my joints afterward, but it was so worth it! This park was amazing!! There were, of course play areas for the kids, several giant chess sets, a bit of a zoo, storks roaming around, gardens, a Chinese tea house and just miles and miles of beautiful picnic, walking and play area. We ate at the restaurant on the property as the sun went down and then walked it all again to see the winter lights.
These were just breathtaking. Even better was the company. Evan and Kat are really special people. He is American and she a Russian/German. They had great stories and history to give us as we walked and chatted. She told me how her family were part of a group of Germans who had lived in Russia for a time. They had a community just on the border that was all German speaking. I had never heard of this before. They both have a love for the Lord that seems genuine and sincere and growing. We so appreciated them taking the time to show us this wonderful place and educate us a bit on Germany and its people. In a day and age when time is so valuable, we appreciated them using the greater part of a day to get to know us and host us.
A few days later we went to Speyer, one of the oldest cities in Germany founded by the Romans. We were hosted for the day by Rene and Marina and their three kiddos, Leah, Timmy and Baby Ben. Rene and Marina are both German and this was Rene’s hometown.
This town was A-mazing! It had that old European feel to it with people out and about everywhere! Lots of little shops and a town clocktower which is actually called the Old Gate that was part of the city gate in medieval times. It is about 180 feet high and was built somewhere between 1230 and 1250. I couldn’t help but to feel compelled to touch it as we passed under the archway – to feel the history that it contained in some way.
Rene and Marina walked us all over the town visiting old churches. Old is a relative term here as one of them was “only”100 years old which would be very old in my American experience. However, they also showed us the Dreifaltigkeitskirche (and no, I cannot even begin to pronunciate this!) which was built in the early 1700s as a part of the protestant movement. When he was a child, Rene’s church family met in this church building for a while.
Then, to beat both of those, is the Speyer Cathedral which was founded in 1030! As you walk around this cathedral you can see the difference in stonework as it has been through many war times and has needed repairs through the ages.
We ended the day with the most amazing food at a local Greek restaurant called Korfu. My mouth is watering just remembering this meal!
More importantly we got to know Rene and Marina on a more personal level and consider them new friends as well. As a matter of fact, later that week their baby, Ben had an accident in the home and crushed his little pointer finger. It was scary for all as we prayed for them to be able to save his finger. They had to do a surgery to try to save it and now, some 5 weeks later it’s doing so much better, but he still has to jump through some hoops before we know if the finger is saved. He was the cutest little patient in the hospital though, and still had the ability to give us all a smile!
Getting to know all of these church members better has been a blessing to our family. We came to be a blessing to them, but, per usual and praise be to God, the opposite is true.
On our third week in Germany we were starting feel a little
bit more comfortable in our surroundings.
This is when we decided it would be a good time to venture out on our
first rail trip. It was the week of
Valentines Day and my birthday, so I had the perfect place in mind
Hohenschwangau! Yes, it is a
mouthful. This is located in the
southern part of Germany in the Bavarian Alps region. What I specifically wanted to do was visit
the Neuschwanstein Castle – yes, also a mouthful. (Honestly, I don’t know how German kids pass
their spelling tests!) This castle is
famous to Americans because it was Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s
castle at the one and only Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It’s famous to Germans because of its
mysterious builder King Ludwig II who died before finishing the castle.
We left on Wednesday morning of this week after our Tuesday
midweek Bible Study. We were so excited
to actually take the train somewhere! (I will insert here that I am not a great
photographer. I realize this is not a
good quality in someone who keeps a blog.
However, I get caught up in the moment so much, that I just end up
taking it all in through my eyes and forgetting to pull out my camera or
pulling it out too late, but I think I got some good shots by which to remember
this fabulous trek.) The train is
nice to take because it saves energy mostly.
It can still be long because of all of the stops along the way, but nobody
had to drive or navigate us so that we all arrived ready to enjoy.
I thought maybe that we would have to cancel the trip. Lynn woke up with a mysterious pain in his
elbow in the night. When he awoke in the
morning it was red and swollen. By the
time we arrived at our destination, the picturesque town of Füssen, it was
huge, red, swollen and excruciating to touch!
So, though we enjoyed the trip down, he was constantly reminded of his
pain with each movement. We decided that
maybe we should find the apothecary and they could direct us to a clinic or
something. Thankfully, the lady at the
apothecary could speak enough English to tell us where we needed to go, but her
English was broken enough that we misunderstood some of the directions. We ended up walking around in the freezing
night looking for this clinic! When we
finally found it the Dr. there was stupefied as to what the cause was. She said they could do a blood test, but that
would require him to stay in the hospital overnight – not something we wanted
to do. She didn’t see any reason to
believe that it was an infection and thought maybe it was gout. However, she wasn’t completely sure, as this
doesn’t usually show in the elbow in a man of Lynn’s health. She basically gave us ibuprofen and sent us
on our way. It has since gone down, but
we’re putting it on a list of things to check out when we return to the States.
Since we were on foot for this trip, we decided that we
should have the hospital call us a couple of taxis to get back to our Airbnb apartment. Lynn, Katie and Jarod went in the first and
Megan and I took the second car. We had
quite a scare as he drove as if we were in some kind of high-speed car
chase! Then he dropped us off a block
from our apartment. Since he couldn’t or
wouldn’t speak English we just laughed and walked the rest of the way back.
In the morning we made our way on the bus over to
Hohenschwangau to see the castles. Yes,
Ludwig II’s father also built a castle in the town which was a beautiful tour
as well. Here are some pics outside of
It was finally time to get up the hill to take our
tour. This was the exciting part of our
day. The castle sits up on top of a hill. A hill that takes over 30 minutes to walk! There is the option of a bus that can take
people part way up the hill, but since it had snowed recently the bus was not
running. We decided to go with option
three – a horse drawn carriage that would take us up part way. However, the line was so long for the
carriage that we missed our allotted time.
Thankfully, Lynn talked to the people at the castle and they allowed us
to go on the next English-speaking tour.
It really was a marvelous experience to see these beautiful castles! Like we stepped into a fairytale land. We were able to linger around and take some
fun pics outside of the castle. On our carriage
ride back down the hill we squeezed in with a group of Asian ladies who seemed
to be having a fun time. I noticed the
woman beside me was trying to take a selfie, so I kept ducking out of the way
until she finally let me know that she was trying to take the selfie with
me! Then they all started taking pics of
our family! They spoke little English but
were able to tell us they were from Korea.
After a slight pause they clarified “SOUTH Korea!” When we saw the same group of ladies in a
store down in the town, one of them approached Jarod and rubbed his face! Guess they thought he was as cute as his
momma thinks he is 😊.
After our castle tours, we boarded the train again and headed
for Innsbruck Austria. It was only a three-hour
train ride away and we thought it would be a great experience to get to see a
little part of another country. We weren’t
going to have much time for exploring as we needed to get back to Mannheim for
Church on Sunday. So, we decided to take
the cable car from the middle of town up into the mountains. Before we went on this trip, I made sure that
we all had new hats, gloves, coats and boots.
I was ready for snow and mountains.
What I was not ready for were the breathtaking views and the warm air! It was amazing to be surrounded by so much
snow but not feel frigid. Check out some
of our views at 7,400 feet above sea level!
Coming from Oklahoma
we had never been skiing (well, the girls have tried out skiing in Nebraska,
but, well…). We didn’t try here
either. However, we had a blast watching
these crazy risk takers! We watched some
of them tackle the slopes that were at a 70degree angle down. One lady that rode the cable car up was at
least 70 years old and said she had been skiing this area for 14 years. At the next stop down from the summit was a
landing area where most of the skiers hung out with a restaurant and beach chairs
set up on a deck looking down the mountain.
At this point we watched the ski jumpers doing their thing making my
heart skip a beat each time one came over the hill.
We took the cable car down another to another stop where we
at lunch at a little Alpine café. The whole
area had kind of an American beach town vibe with skiers instead of
surfers. I was so grateful for the
Each week we’ve learned new things on this journey of
ours. One thing we learned on Friday evening
as we traveled home was that the Friday night trains are crowded and that means
you stand or sit wherever you can if there are no seats open. So, we ended up sitting. This wasn’t too bad until the train came to a
halt before we even reached Stuttgart.
An announcement came on over the speaker, but we couldn’t understand as
it was all in German with no translation follow up. After about 20 minutes like this Lynn finally
asked some of the men around him if any spoke English and if they could tell us
what’s going on. One young man said, “Something
was blocking the tracks.” This is when
another man approached and let Lynn know that was a kind of “code” for a
suicide occurred on the train tracks. Apparently,
this isn’t a rare thing in Germany as there are hundreds of suicides on the
train tracks every year delaying trains countrywide. I’ve read since, that the number has even
thought to be upwards of about 800 per year.
Goodness, what a horrific thought!
As we waited for the next hour and a half, Lynn kept talking to the man
who had shared that information with him.
Giving him as much of the gospel as he could as the man was clearly an atheist. However, he was very congenial and they both
enjoyed talking with one another so extensively. We have prayed for this man since then. Praying that God would open his eyes and
convict him of his need for salvation. It
was a terrible cause for delay, but a divine appointment indeed for one man.
We finally made it home much later than expected, but
thankfully we had Saturday to sleep in and recuperate. We’re still getting used to the different
schedule of the church over here. There
is only one service on Sundays, and it is at 4:00 pm. We hardly know what to do with ourselves on
Sunday mornings, so we’ve been having our own family time of listening to
sermons from our home Church’s App so that we can keep up with what our own
Pastor is preaching back home. It’s been
a sweet time of fellowship for us. Just
to keep it real though, I may struggle a little bit when we return, and I can’t
have Sunday morning church in my pjs.
Monday night of this week we had a final supper with the
Clarks before their departure to the U.S.
This is when they introduced us to a new food called the döner kebab. This is a Turkish dish that is found
everywhere around here right now. We, in
the states would probably call know some of its relatives, the gyro or shawarma. It’s meat, usually veal or chicken cooked on
a vertical rotisserie and then shaved off into portions and served in a German
pita bread with vegetables and sauce. This stuff is money! So good!
After dinner we said our goodbyes and well wishes and headed back to our
little apartment. We were on our own now, with high hopes of being a blessing
to this church.
On Tuesday morning we moved from the little Airbnb apartment
to the Clarks house. Everything is
smaller in Germany including the roads and cars. However, we were determined to do this in one
trip, so we stuffed everyone into the vehicle and then Lynn went about stuffing
the luggage onto our laps! It looked
like a horder’s circus act, but we did it!
It’s a strange thing to move into someone else’s house and try to make
it your own. They actually have a larger
house than ours back in the states with four floors counting the basement. We aren’t used to stairs and especially ones
that tend to curve upward and are hard stone.
I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a feat of great proportions if we all
make it home without anything broken.
All of us have had a slip or two on the stairs as we are getting used to
going up and down. We’ve found that we
don’t even go down without assessing if something needs to be taken with us,
the same with going up. I’m also hoping
for some calories burnt by this as well.
That evening was our first Bible study night. We planned on leaving early to make sure we
got there before everyone and got the church set up with the tables to sit
around for the discussion. Well, we
headed out a little bit later than planned and wouldn’t you know we got lost on
our very first time out! We left the
house about 15 minutes later than we had planned. It was dark out and our first time navigating
out of the little town of Brühl and into Mannheim, which should normally take
just around 20-25 minutes. The Clarks
had put the church into the GPS system of their vehicle, but she takes some
getting used to. She’ll say things like,
“take a right and then go left,” this can be very confusing at times, but we’ve
learned that she means that some exits on the right have you travel further
down the road so we must stay left until our actual exit. We didn’t know all of that then. So, the very first exit we needed…we
missed. One of the quirks of the
Autobahn is that if you miss your exit, you’ll probably be traveling a few
minutes before there is another one where you can turn around. We finally got turned around and wouldn’t you
know we missed another exit! By this
time all of us were feeling the panic. You
know that feeling where you panic, and you can’t think about the simplest of
solutions? Well, we were there. Poor Lynn!
I can only imagine how frustrated he must have been inside as he was
trying to navigate himself while little miss GPS was also trying to navigate,
and I was in the next seat trying to navigate him as well! When we finally made it to the church it was
7:00 right on the dot! Thankfully, the
members here tend to run late, so we actually beat them all there anyway. Whew!
It was dicey there for a few minutes!
We brought with us, from the States, copies of the study by
Jim Berg called Changed into His Image.
I’ve been through this study
twice already and still learn more each time. It’s an in-depth sanctification book that’s
great for discipleship purposes at pretty much any level. We figured it would aid the discussion if we
have an actual workbook to go through while we’re here, giving the participants
homework each week to fulfill. This first week was just an introduction night
as he explained the study and how we will go through it. We also had a bit of a testimony/meet and
greet so as to get to know some of the members a little bit better. I loved hearing all of their testimonies of
how they came to know the Lord and how they came to this church. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again,
I’m humbled when I realize what a small world we live in and how Christ has
permeated all these different nationalities.
We also started back into homeschool lessons with the kids this
week. It felt good to establish a bit of
a routine. This, of course, has to be a
flexible routine with all we have planned to do, but routine, nonetheless.
Late in the week we took the kids over to Heidelberg during
the day. We were still getting used to
driving in Germany as well as driving a manual stick shift which neither of us
have done for quite a few years. We made
it thankfully, but on one of our wrong turns we ended up on a hill of a street
that certainly seemed one way since there was a stone wall on one side and it
was so narrow. But, no, not in Germany
they figure you can get a few cars lined up side by side in the space of about
two and a half meters wide – Oh wait! Let me speak American – that would be around
8 feet. We decided to turn around in a
driveway along one of the crests of the hill but backing out was also a
challenge. The Volkswagen that the Clarks
own has a sensor system for backing up that beeps at you. We are familiar with cars that have back up
cameras that seem very helpful, but this just beeps and as you get closer to
any objects it beeps faster and louder which is always a good mix for keeping
the driver calm as he’s backing out in a dollhouse size area along a hill on
which any second another car could come zipping around. Thankfully, Lynn did it well and we were on
our way back to where we needed to be.
We walked along the old town part of Heidelberg which was
our first taste of old Europe and all of the beautiful architecture. We found some really cool shops including a used
bookstore that was about 3 stories high with a spiral staircase in the middle
of it. Katie was in a wonderland
here. She just loves books and to be
surrounded by all of these treasures made her giddy with delight. Of course, most were written in German, so we
didn’t find any English books of interest for us, but it was still a really
cool store. This area of Heidelberg is
like the idea of Branson Landing (if you’ve ever been to Branson, Missouri), put
into 600-year-old buildings…aka charm galore!
Heidelberg university is also situated in this area and is
said to be around 600 years old! Imagine
the feel of walking on a university campus that is older than our own
We lingered and enjoyed the day so much that we didn’t even
have time to go up to the castle at the top of the hill. We’re hoping to do that on another day.
Our first Sunday
flying solo went very well. At first, we
were a little worried as, again, people showed up just right on time or a few
minutes late, and I mean everyone. However, we were relieved when they did
show. Our kids have taken on the
challenge of running a Children’s Church program for the young ones which went
very well. We brought over some Abeka
Bible story cards and the girls are each taking a week teaching the lesson
while Jarod helps with singing and games and helping the little ones listen.
Lynn brought an awesome message called “Don’t Pray it
Safe.” He’s preached this before, but
has to go through his sermons and do some editing for the cultural nuances and
applications. He did a great job of
preaching and communicating his message without losing anyone language
wise. After service we realized that
these folks like to talk about the message!
This is great as it provides feedback to Lynn on how they understood the
message and it’s also encouraging to know that they aren’t just listening but
are thinking it through as well. This is
always an encouragement to a minister when he knows that the crowd connected
with the message.
After church a sweet family from the church, Rene and Marina,
invited us to dinner with them at a local döner place that they frequent. We enjoyed getting to know this sweet young
couple and can sense we’ll be good friends through this experience.
Well, that’s the week two highlights. More to come as we adjust to living here in
Exhaustion thy name is jet-lag! I cannot recall when I have been more physically tired in my life than upon the day we landed in Germany. We flew out on Monday Jan. 28th at noon from Oklahoma. We landed at 8am Jan. 29th in Frankfurt, Germany. However, to us it was more like 1am! The Clarks met us at the airport to help us get our rental car and settled into our apartment for the week. They encouraged us to NOT give in to the overwhelming desire to take a nap, but one by one we fell prey to this debilitating fatigue. I believe someone could have performed surgery on any one of us without the threat of our awakening. Truly this was awkward in many ways. For one, we have never been to their home in Germany. I was hoping my kids, as well as Lynn and I would give a polite and warming first impression. But the luring weariness, just controlled us all. Here I was excited to be in a new country and see my friends’ home for the first time and I simply laid out on her sofa and fell asleep! When I awoke looking for Lynn, I went up to their third floor bedroom/office to find Bro. Walter studying at his desk while my husband was practically passed out across their bed! I didn’t remember having this feeling when we went to Romania a few years ago, but it was the real deal now.
That first evening we went to the Bible Study that they hold on Tuesday nights at the church. We were all nervous but also excited to meet everyone. Bro. Walter did a good job leading the Bible discussion, but I must be honest – I cannot even remember what the discussion was as the room was spinning while I struggled to stay awake. At one point I thought I was falling out of my chair! My only hope is that I was able to keep my eyelids open enough that nobody would notice!
After dinner we went to a family’s home that were members of the church. When they can, they hold a prayer meeting on Thursday evenings. We were impressed with their sincerity and openness with the prayer time for their personal needs as well as the church needs. They were all very welcoming and we enjoyed the fellowship after our prayer time. This is where we were introduced to all that the Google Translator App can do!
Driving was an intimidating concept to say the least. Only Lynn was on the rental as a driver since we would only have this vehicle for the first week until the Clarks left for the States. However, as I observed and learned the rules of the road along with him, I was overwhelmed. There aren’t any stop signs over here, just turnabouts. This is a good thing in my opinion as it keeps the traffic flowing. However, there are many more pedestrians and bicycles than what we ever see in the States. Our family joke has been repeating Bro. Walter when he told Lynn, “Watch out for the bikes and pedestrians. They really frown upon hitting them over here.” As if they don’t frown upon that back home. But we understood what he meant, they have rights over here and are in more abundance over here than at home in Oklahoma. So added to the observation of the driver is the roundabout rules, the yielding rules to the side roads on your right and the bikes and walkers. This doesn’t even touch on the Autobahn and all the rules of that road. you can practically feel the breeze as cars speed by at warp speed. Believe me there are no problems with people dawdling in the left lane around here!
Schnitzel: Walter and Dalene took Lynn and I into Heidelberg on night three. By now, we were still tired, but able to function like normal humans. This is where we tried Schnitzel for the first time. Basically it’s chicken fried pork cutlet with any of 101 sauces over it. The atmosphere was great, the company was great, the conversation totally enjoyable. The schnitzel -meh. I think it will have to grow on me. I guess I have 100 more options to try before my final verdict, but so far, I do not care what Julie Andrews says, this is NOT one of my favorite things. We walked around Heidelberg that evening and totally enjoyed the old European flair of this amazing city. The castle was lit up above us on the hill and was awe inspiring to behold! Lynn and I both felt like we were at an amusement park in the States that was built to look like we were in an old European city …but, no, it was real!
This leads me to my next impression:
Grocery Shopping: Dalene took the girls and I into town to grocery shop on Friday. We started with the bottle recycling area.
Side note: Germany is green extreme! This is not a criticism, it’s an admirable thing. The garbage isn’t even near the same as they recycle everything they can, so there are four trash bins, paper/plastic, compostable, glass, and then the “everything else” bin. As good a thing as it is, I’ll admit, I suffered from a paralyzing fear of putting something in the wrong trash bin for the first week or so.
Anyway, we were walked through the steps of taking plastic
bottles to recycle so we could get credit on our groceries. This wasn’t much different than when I was a
little girl and we would take in our glass pop bottles to get dimes at the
grocery store. We were at the store for
a couple of hours I’m sure as Dalene showed me the differences and how to find
the things I’m used to finding. This
proved to be one of my biggest culture hurdles at first when I tried this on my
own and felt lost and rushed.
Thankfully, that church members who introduced us to the camera feature
on the Google Translate App saved my life as a shopper! I can scan the shelves at the store and
translate items so as to choose the right one.
It’s not 100%, but it sure is a life saver! It still takes me a couple of hours to
grocery shop, but some of that is my own dilly dallying around the store.
Bratwurst (brot vurst): On Saturday of our first week, we went with the Clarks into downtown Mannheim. It’s a bustling large city like most I’ve been to, so the size wasn’t too unfamiliar. Of course it mixes the old with the new as some parts of the city or buildings are older than our own country! It was here we tried our first pretzel on the street – oh so delicious! Then, for our first real German bratwurst. Of course I didn’t get pics because I was too busy stuffy my face. This too was delicious and large! It was a delightful day navigating around this large metropolitan area. Our favorite part was the marketplace that had stands with fresh cheeses, olives, flowers and the list goes on. It was abuzz with people everywhere. It was unfamiliar with the language barrier and trying to navigate a large city, but we felt at ease having the Clarks with us as guides.
Money: We fast learned that people in Germany do most of their transacting with cash only. Even Burger King! This wouldn’t have been a big problem but that even though we had gone to our bank before ever leaving the U.S. to make sure our ATM card would work, we still ran into problems. After a few emails with our bank’s fraud dept. things were set straight and we were able to access our accounts and navigate on our own without having to constantly trade money with our friends.
Church: The whole reason we are here! We went with the Clarks in the morning to a service of another missionary in town who holds his services all in German. It was a good service, well as much as we could get out of it. We did feel our novice status here as we were observers more than participators in the service.
However, in the
afternoon at the service with the church for which we came to help, we were
able to feel more at ease. They share
the same building as the church that holds the morning service, but minister to
an entirely different demographic of people.
Rhein River Baptist Church is made up of an international group who all
speak English due to their diverse backgrounds.
There are people from Brazil, Russia, the U.S., England and Africa all
in one little body of believers. I love this diversity as it feels like a
glimpse of Heaven to me! Sometimes, in
day to day life we get caught up with our own little part of the world and
forget that we have brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world! I find it such an energizing feeling when I
am able to meet people like this! Of
course this is also a relieving detail since Lynn doesn’t have to learn an
entirely different language or work through an interpreter for this short 3-month
stint as filling the pulpit.
Since it was also
the first Sunday of the month, they have a time of pizza and fellowship after
the service. This was an enjoyable
chance to get to know some of the members and chat for a while.
We felt like we were getting our land legs as the jet lag
was subsiding and we were learning new things each and every day. That one week felt like an entire month, but
we were in for more as we approached the time of the Clarks leaving us for the
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!
As we awakened to morning in Romania, we were greeted with the honking of cars down on the streets, a cool breeze from the open window and the neat realization that my hair appliances were not going to be working on this trip. Before you think I’m too much of a traveling rookie, I must say that I did try to prepare for this. I bought a converter and adapter before we even left the states. Then, just days before leaving I read the instructions only to be alerted to the fact that it was NOT to be used with hair appliances. Instead it was only good for small gadgets like cameras. Well my thought on this is phthttttttt! I don’t want to use my camera for pictures if I can’t do my hair! Hello! It’s not that I’m ultra vain, but I was born with naturally frizzy hair…and a lot of it. Not pretty curls, and not smooth and straight. It is the main reason, that I could never be on a reality show like Survivor, that and I get hangry if I don’t eat. They’d tell me to bring one thing I needed if stranded on an island and I’d be there with a straightener and no plug in sight. Anyway, my plan was to just buy one when we landed because we originally were going to go to a supermarket for supplies. However, with the flight fiascos, I thought I’d be smart and just buy one in the London airport while we were on our layover. Pretty smart huh? I’ll admit I was pretty pleased with myself for thinking ahead. Yet, to my chagrin, the plug for England doesn’t fit the receptacles in Romania, go figure. So, I spent the morning knocking on doors asking our group if they had anything with which I could do my hair. I did borrow a hair dryer from Tammy and Laura Kleinmann, and as I’m writing this I’m remembering that I need to go buy a new one for these ladies as I blew theirs up trying to use it with …you guessed it, my converter.
On a deeper note, we made our first stop at an orphanage that Manna is now constructing. The construction and vision for it was originally that of a widow woman from the U.S. who had moved to Romania to start an orphanage. She had already helped start it before the building of this facility. Some, who are still in the care of the orphanage, are adults with special needs. She, unfortunately, ran into some health and then financial obstacles that prevented her from finishing the project, so she passed it along to Manna Worldwide. It is going to be an amazing facility when finished. Their model for orphanages is called Bridge to Life homes where they have a married couple raise the kids as their own in a family setting. This way it is not a dormitory, uncaring, or impersonal atmosphere, but rather a close knit family unit functioning with responsibilities and raising of kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. There will be enough space for four family units to live in this facility with quite a few kids per unit. My only regret is that we didn’t get to meet the young people who will initially get to live in this building due to time constraints and our late landing and altered schedule.
After touring the home we loaded back into the bus for a five-hour drive to Severin, the home of Pastor Rica and his family. Pastor Rica, we noticed was a passionate and thankful man. Just moments into meeting him I realized, “oh we’ve got a hugger here!” He hugged 2nd Man probably a dozen times before we even got to his home. He definitely knew how to make a group feel welcomed. Upon arrival we were greeted at the church with a church tour and home cooked meal that was amazing! The church construction was only finished this past April of 2014. They had gotten the plans from our own church back in Ponca City, OK and adapted them to fit their needs. It was so warming to see this church with so many similarities to our own and know that we had gotten to be a part of the planning of this building.
At dinner we were informed that our leader, Manna Director Jerry Abbott, as well as 2nd Man and myself would be staying at the home of the Gonciulea’s and the Ciupuligas. My initial thought was, “oh no!” I mean, it was kind and generous of them, but my private shy side sometimes gets panicked in these situations, as well as my private want-my-own-bathroom side. However, we were here to serve and I quickly dismissed my hesitations and decided to roll with it. Imagine my glee when we rolled up to their house to find a huge, western world style home that allowed 2nd Man and I to have our own basement suite complete with private bathroom! Now, let me give some background on how these missionaries were blessed with these accommodations. I assure you it is not because they’re just rolling in the dough. While they lived in the states they were blessed with a beautiful home and were able to bring over the plans to Romania when they moved back. Apparently the construction workers weren’t adept enough to do the English to metric conversions correctly and they ended up with a much larger house than the original plans called for. This worked greatly in their ministry’s favor for the first fourteen years of being back in Romania, as the church used the great room as their church sanctuary and the basement for children’s’ ministries. As a matter of fact, they had only just finished redecorating and getting their American furniture out of storage before we came. It is pretty expensive to even get an apartment in Severin, so their Son-in-law Sammy, daughter Becky, and grandson Sammy all live there comfortably as well. What a blessing!
They were such hospitable people too. We were treated so well and enjoyed some wonderful conversation. I likened it to staying at the home of Jesus. I actually felt kind of guilty though in that we weren’t exactly suffering for the cause if ya know what I mean, that and the rest of our group was staying at the local hotel. I was later relieved to know that the hotel was quite nice and comfortable for them. They came over in the mornings on the bus after breakfast to meet up with us and go out for the day. But, best of all (well ok best is an exaggeration but roll with it) they had a hair straightener and blow dryer I could borrow! Yea me!
We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast every morning with eggs, and cheeses, salami and home jarred current and sour cherry jams on fresh bread bought daily. I was sure I would not go home hungry. Pastor Rica enjoys gardening. That sounds like a pretty generic sentence in context with the degree to which he actually enjoys it. Though they are in the city limits they have an entire orchard in their backyard with plum, apricot, cherry, and peach trees. Along with a garden full of tomatoes, eggplant, blackberries, raspberries and a farmers market full of other things. We were privileged to eat of his harvest and it was fabulous! 2nd man and I strolled through the garden one evening with Pastor Rica as he kept shoving berries into our hands. I would just get my mouth wiped and here came more! Gotta love a man who keeps shoving sugar in your grip right?
Truly God has blessed this family for their great sacrifices. I don’t dare presume that it isn’t without it difficulties. They, however, don’t choose to share those readily and those of which I am aware aren’t mine to share.
But, suffice it to say, we were humbled and honored to share their home and company for the short time we were there.
In my next post I’ll share the joys of the church services we experienced…
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!