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The Holy Spirit placed an overwhelming desire on my heart to go to Slatina, Romania to serve a local church, community and orphanage. From July 7th to the 16th of 2005, we did daily tasks/chores, ran a children's day and sports camp, and organized an evening youth program. The trip entailed a good bit of work, but we learned quickly that we were going to be blessed beyond measure by what God had in store for us.
When we returned from Romania, I could not wait to share how my Father worked on my heart, and how others can be indescribably blessed through missions. Below is my report letter that was sent to supporters of the trip:
Dear Friends and Family,
I thank God for providing this amazing opportunity for me to go to Romania. As you will soon find out, He taught me many things. I also want to thank you for supporting me for this trip to Romania. I reached my financial goal of $1,800 with your help, and most importantly, your prayers were powerful and effective...they were felt thousands of miles away. Only two weeks prior to our departure, I was informed that I still had $700 to raise. God was truly testing my level of trust. I began to get worried about raising the money. As I prayed, and realized I wasn't trusting God to take care of everything for me (if it was His will for me to go). He stretched my faith before I had even left for Romania!
This mission trip was absolutely amazing! The team consisted of seven students and four adults. Our first three days were spent in Slatina at the girls' orphanage. Our main goal while we were there was to use the inflatable "moon walk" in the schoolyard to attract the children's attention. In this way, we hoped to draw in children and minister to them in a practical way. It worked...it worked beautifully! The children didn't even know what to think about it. They gathered around in amazement as to what this "big, bouncy thing" could be. When we were ready for them to play and jump 'til their heart was content, we actually had to show them how to play in it. Once they figured out the objective of this "big, bouncy thing," they had a blast!
We went to the schoolyard for two consecutive days. On the second day, one of the parents told us that she couldn't get her nephew to sleep because he was so excited about us possibly being there the next day. All the activities at the schoolyard proved to be a wonderful outreach. We had approximately 25 young children come on the second day. After playing in the inflatable, we had the children sit down to talk to them about Jesus...what a great opportunity! Surprisingly, half of the kids raised their hand when we asked them if they knew about Jesus, which was a touching moment. But I also knew there were even more children that we didn't see that needed to hear the word of God and see the love of our Savior.
During our stay in Slatina, we visited several churches. On Friday evening, we were at a small village church where our mission team helped lead praise and worship. It was awesome to feel God's presence as we praised the One and Only in two different languages! Saturday, we went to the church that the girls at the orphanage attended. This was their youth night, and the awesome fellowship was an encouragement to me. This was the first time I saw their extreme hunger for the Lord.
Sunday morning, we went to another village church. A man named TaTa was the minister at the church. At the conclusion of the service, we asked TaTa to give us his testimony. It reminded me of Paul from the Bible. He is an 84 year old man who was imprisoned for his faith during the Communist rule, which ended in 1990. In his desperation to continue to grow in his faith under such strict conditions and imprisonment, he had his wife sneak in a small New Testament Bible. It was policy that all incoming packages were to be checked by prison guards before being delivered to the prisoner. This package miraculously skipped inspection. If it had been found, he would have faced further penalties. His wife also put a small bottle of wine inside a can of homemade jam. They used the wine for the Lord's supper. If that hasn't amazed you, this will. With a gun pointed to his head, he was told he was to spy on the Romanian churches for the government. He replied, "no." They threatened him further by saying they would kill him if he refused. His response was, "You can kill the body, but my soul belongs to the Lord. I will not spy on my fellow brothers in Christ." The General then came in and released him. Wow! What an amazing man of God!
One of the most memorable services was the service we attended that Sunday night, which was a Baptismal service. This service is extremely special and important for the Romanians. They are proclaiming their faith not only to their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but to a world of unbelieving (and sometimes hostile) Orthodox followers. With their acceptance of Christ comes the acceptance that they will face persecution by the Orthodox followers (a vast majority of the Romanian population). Those being baptized gave their testimony to the church. Voli, a 16 year old boy, spoke of the persecution from his alcoholic father, who even threw Voli's Bible into the fireplace and burned it in front of him. Florentina and Nina, both 17, are orphans. Nina broke down in tears during her testimony. When she was three, her dad died and her mom didn't want anything to do with her. At 16, she was in a horrible car accident, through which she came to know Christ. I believe the reason Romanian believers are so strong and passionate in their faith is because they go through so much persecution. Romans 5:3-4 says, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope." The Romanians live by this verse. I was also touched by the ceremony after the Baptismal service. It was a time of intimate fellowship. It was clear that they share a love and genuine bond of Christ, which holds us all together.
Monday, we left for camp. The entire week of camp was absolutely amazing! We saw the biggest transformation in the Romanians, and in us. We saw the Romanians' natural competitiveness evident during game time. It became so competitive at times, it came close to the point of hurting one another's friendships over silly activities. In the middle of the week, Pastor Michael (our Youth Pastor) presented a lesson on the qualities of a leader. I Timothy 3 speaks of a leader as being temperate, self-controlled, gentle, peaceable, respectable, and able to admit when they are wrong. The next day, game time was completely different. Many apologized publicly for being so aggressive during game time. They were so extremely receptive to the lesson given the previous night. I was in awe over how willing they were to humble themselves and admit their faults and change. How willing am I to publicly admit my failures on a daily basis? Many times, we get so caught up in how we are perceived that we are extremely reluctant to humble ourselves in front of peers and most importantly, the Lord. They knew that in order to seek the face of the Lord, their hearts had to be right. They truly had a heart of repentance and wanted to set an example as a leader would, and as Christ would.
While at the camp, two people that I built relationships with stand out in my mind. One is a 25 year old young lady named Simona. She has cerebral palsy and is dependent on a caretaker at all times. Althought she struggles physically on a daily basis, she remains strong in the Lord! She has such a strong walk with Jesus, which she credits to her disease. Another youong lady, 24 year old Mihaela, also struggles physically. She couldn't given me a name for her condition, but she described it as a communication blockage between the brain and the legs; therefore, she can hardly walk. Throughout the week, she mostly depended on a wheelchair loaned to her by the camp. Surprisingly, she doesn't have access to any mobility equipment at home in Slatina. Despite her struggles, her heart is 100% sold to Christ. She loves her Savior with all her heart. I became extremely attached to these two young ladies while we were at camp. These ladies were, and will continue to be, an inspiration to me.
The last night, we went around the room sharing our thoughts and feelings that had accumulated throughout our stay. The Americans shared first, then the Romanians. We didn't want to leave them, and they didn't want us to leave. We developed such strong bonds within only a matter of days. I believe they ministered to me more than I was able to minister to them. I will never know what seeds I have planted, but I do know what seeds they planted in me. They taught me so much. The one thing that amazed me the most was how they face persecution for their faith in Romania, and yet they stand so tall, proud, and strong for Jesus Christ. They go through so many trials in life, and they keep their heads up and don't complain. They take the positive out of the negative circumstances. I am reminded of James 1:2-4, which says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." We are to rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that it is the good discipline from our Heavenly Father, and it is intended to keep us strong in Him.
Another of the several things I've learned from the Romanian people is that they love God with all they have. Every single one of the believers has such a strong passion for Christ. Here in the States, there are people who say they are Christians and don't even attend church. Then there are "lukewarm" Christians, who go through the motions. Even fewer are passionate Christians who are on fire for God! The Romanians hunger and thrive in Christ. They want to learn as much as possible with every opportunity.
Again, I am so thankful that God opened the door for me to go to Romania this year. He helped me overcome obstacles so that His will could be accomplished. Before and during the trip, I prayed that He would grow me and use me, and He has. I will never forget this amazing experience. I also want to thank you for your prayers. They were felt when we needed prayer the most. Again, thank you for all of your financial and prayerful support!
Beth Anne Lawrence