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The Online Bridge: Fall 2004
Issue 9, November 2004
       
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Back: Darren Franks, Dr. Terry Fossen, Joel Ellard
Middle: Alita Stark, Lauren Wright, Chara Euraba, Becca Gunther
Front: Romanian Children

Missions Team Partners with Romania
by Christine Okken

In the Spring of 2004 Taylor University College sent a missions team to Romania to minister to the churches and people there. The team consisted of: Lauren Wright (3rd year BA General Studies Program) from Edmonton, Alita Stark (Social Science Program) from Edmonton, Becca Gunther, (grad of 2nd year General Associate of Arts, now in the Grant MacEwan Travel Program) from Edmonton, Joel Ellard, (2nd year Religion and Theology Program) from Vermilion, Alberta, Darren Franks (grad Bachelor of Arts, working, intending on going into camping ministry), from Raymore, Saskatchewan, Chara Euraba (Religion and Theology Program) from Regina, Saskatchewan and Dr. Terry Fossen Senior Pastor Central Baptist Church Edmonton.

The team spent just over 2 weeks in Romania, flying into Hungary and driving into the Transylvania region of Romania. Their main responsibilities were in providing ESL Classes (English as a Second Language) for the people in the area. They also provided children’s ministries, helped with a youth retreat, and helped in leading worship services all with the NAB’s Gateway Missions. This group was the first of 6 teams with Gateway that were in Romania this past summer.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the team members following their return from Romania. Here is what they had to say about their experience.

   

What surprised you?
The entire team felt the poverty of the people and country initially surprised them the most. It was quite a contrast as the team flew into Hungary a modern and more affluent country then drove into Romania. The first things they witnessed were old factories literally falling apart and broken-down buildings. The cars, the few they saw, were small and old, and roads were absolutely terrible to drive on. Witnessing the living conditions in gypsy communities was quite a shock as well. In these small villages houses are almost “hobbit like”, very small, built with thatched roofs, (and the irony – with many having TV antennas!). There were animals running everywhere, each family seeming to have geese, roosters or dogs.

And yet the team was also surprised by the warmth and hospitality of the people despite their meager living conditions. As the team was hosted in village homes, families moved everything to make a place for their guests. “They were so poor, but they gave us their best”, Joel described the people as “astonishingly hospitable” and upon describing them; his next words were “I want to go back!” The people really integrated the team members into their families. They also found an extremely positive reception from the people with regard to Christianity. People were eager to learn and there was a real openness to the gospel. Churches were so receptive to whatever the team could give.

The main Pastor the team worked with was Pastor Kovach, Academic Dean of the local Seminary as well as pastor to some of the local small churches. They witnessed that this is no small work load for Pastor Kovach. Churches often consist of a few believers in each town that meet together and want to do evangelistic work in their community and Pastor Kovach ministers to 6 such churches.

And surprisingly, the team found that the language barrier not as much of an obstacle as they initially thought. Each group found a way to communicate with each other by the end of the time.


A Romanian Gypsy Village

 


A Romanian Church Service with Brass Instruments

   

Teaching ESL classes

How did you feel you made a difference while you were there?
The students felt that they made the most difference in the kids program they put on. At the start of the week the program had 50 children attending, by the end of the week there were 112 children. One of the team members said “I still cry when I think of those kids”, many wished they could bring the children home to Canada.

Above all, the team had opportunity to make a difference by loving as Christ loved. Above all, they were able to provide encouragement to the churches. These Romanian believers were encouraged that people in North America have not forgotten them. The people in Romania felt that the Taylor team was able to bring churches and families closer together by their presence and involvement.

These people had great appreciation for the little things that the team did. One of the most appreciated services the team brought was in teaching ESL Classes to the people and being available to practice English with their students. The people of the communities loved to practice their English with the team.

The decision to teach ESL classes came about because the team was only in Romania for 2 weeks and wanted to do something that would provide the most influence in the community. Not knowing what kind of response they would find, they were overwhelmed and weren’t ready for how many people came to the classes. Because many so people responded it was a real open door to the gospel for the churches as they continue to work with these people. Dr. Fossen would like to see more ESL teams go to Romania. He sees it as being the people’s opportunity for advancement and a door opening the gospel to these people.

Each team member taught 2 classes each day (AM and PM) and had between 5 – 20 students in each class. The team worked hard from the time they woke till the time the crawled into bed late at night. Time was short and they wanted to make the very most of it they could, even if it meant little sleep.

   

How are you different for having gone to serve?
Most of the team felt they couldn’t even describe all the differences experienced in their lives since they have returned from Romania. From subtle to life changing influences each team member has felt impacted. For Alita the trip made her evaluate her life in a new way. “Why do I need so much?” Why do we as people need such big cars and houses? Becca felt it helped her not take things for granted. She realized there is nothing she can do to make God stop loving her and this has given her a new peace she continues to carry with her. For Lauren a significant experience was in the youth worship service as the two groups were singing the same song, in two different languages. It was a powerful experience to be corporately worshipping together in Hungarian and English knowing God could understand both. It changed her view of God and worship. Chara felt different in being able to newly appreciate the universal need we have for God. She sees her heart having softened there, seeing evidently that we all need love and we all need God. For Joel the change came in seeing the evidence of such strong spiritual warfare. He and Dr. Fossen both described specific regions they had visited having a real darkness or lightness about them as the spiritual battles were evident. And for Darren, the experience has confirmed for him that God has called him into camping ministries.

How has this affected your perspective on missions?
Each team member had experienced individually the call from God to go on this trip prior to the start of the school year. None feel called to full-time cross-cultural missions, but all have felt that this was one of the most powerful and life changing experiences they could have had. Each of them have a new appreciation for short term mission trips and feel that if anyone has the ability, its something no one should miss. Chara describe her greater passion to work for Kingdom glory in her daily life. Impacting the world this way is what is really important.

The trip was less of a “rescue” for the other country as they felt it was a partnership. What they were able to provide by going to Romania was an infusion of encouragement, labor, and teamwork for the people and churches there. Dr. Fossen describes it as being “side-by-side, arm in arm” with the people there. Alita realized that “you don’t have to be a ‘special’ person to be in missions. God just uses anyone and their gifts who is willing”.

The team described the trip in one sentence, “We laughed a lot… A LOT…and we cried a lot”. The world is not the same. These young Christ-minded leaders have made a powerful difference in the world beyond, and that difference is evident in their own lives today.


Team with Romanians