As I sit down to compose this letter, my family is currently working through two different portions of the Bible. For our family devotions we have been reading the Exodus - a story of the oppression by the Egyptian empire in its enslavement of the Hebrew people. Simultaneously, Catalina and I have started working through the book of Isaiah, which, very similarly, recounts the oppression of empires, as it looks towards Israel's exile by Babylon and Assyria.
While there are many aspects of these stories that would be worth dwelling upon, this year I find that what stands out for me is the idea of families being uprooted. After finally living in one place for more than a year - the first time that's happened in nearly a decade for our family - we are experiencing a small taste of rootedness. This stability functions to highlight for us the uprooting of others. We are seeing millions of Ukrainians being uprooted through war. In our own community we are not infrequently experiencing a loss of those in the church through their need to move across Europe for work. While the world has always had wars and economic stressors, this year we are seeing these things in a different light.
Over the years, the road to missionary life has often been a painful one. Sometimes it's a good pain - like a hunger pain reminding you that you need better sustenance. The challenges have driven me to my knees in search of my Bread of Life. The pain has shown me my sin and strongholds to battle. A good pain. But it's also just been like a grief pain. Some things are just sad. Or just scary. Or just plain difficult, even when you know the Lord is weaving together a beautiful masterpiece in the end. Even then, it is still painful to go through that refinement. I'm grateful for the Lord's patience with me. And His blessings through these painful circumstances. I want to share a quick story with you that has been a faith builder for me. Because it demonstrates to me just how much my Lord cares for me as His daughter.
Quarantine boredom, for me, equals leafing through the Kohl's catalog sent to the house. Part of it was legitimate: I'm getting an InstantPot for my birthday! But then I stumbled across the kids' clothes page and saw the cutest dress. I immediately thought, "Oh! Elin would love that dress for Easter!" But that was quickly followed by "But there's no need to buy an Easter dress this year since I highly doubt we'll be back at church by Easter." I flipped to the next page.
But that thought started going round and round in my head. And the Lord brought a question to mind:
"So do you dress up for Me, or do you dress up for the people at church to see you?"
We've made sure that we are stocked up on our kids' asthma medication. We have enough toilet paper for the next week. We've made some heavy food hauls to the store to enable ourselves to stay inside as much as possible. Yet even with all this preparation, as my baby is still trying to get over bronchiolitis, my son has asthma, my husband has strep throat, my friends have cold symptoms, and my family members have underlying medical concerns, I still don't feel ready and secure. Am I really prepared?
Home is Where...?
One of the first questions people ask us when we come off the field from Romania is, "how does it feel to be home?" We're not the only missionaries who get this question. We just returned from a conference with about fifty other missionaries, and they all bemoaned receiving this same question.
For many, the issue of this question lies in the problematic defining of the word "home." When so many of your greatest and most recent memories have been made in another country - and when so many close bonds have been made with those working beside you - "home" isn't such an easy place to identify. Home isn't simply the place you've lived in the longest, though that may help to make a place home. Home can also be the place in which you have experienced the greatest joys and pains. It is possible, then, to not really have a home, or to have more than one home.
But having been on the field only a little over two years, this notion of dual homes hasn't been my biggest issue with the common question posed to me. My issue is not so much that I like some other place more, but that I like this place much less. Now this isn't some anti-American article, though those who are uber-patriotic may see any critique of or displeasure with the United States as anti-American. Instead of being unpatriotic, I am hopeful that my view is simply realistic. And really, more than a critique of the United States, I believe my experience is more a critique of myself.
The day before Palm Sunday, we plan to hold a community outreach event called "Walk Through Holy Week." In a museum style, we'll invite families to go through our church to experience several of the key events of Jesus's life leading up to the cross. They'll be able to read passages of Scripture, and kids can read from a children's Bible. They'll be able to make paper palm fronds, wash each others' feet, smell the perfume that was used to anoint Jesus, touch a crown of thorns, drive a nail into a cross, roll dice to cast lots, and reflect on what a miracle it is to find an empty tomb! Our goal is to make this a family-friendly event that will help people truly prepare their hearts for Easter as they have hands-on experiences of the Scripture stories. Please pray for this event - for hearts to be turned toward Jesus!
It is also the church's tradition to have a big potluck lunch after our Easter Sunday service. Please pray that our church will invite many people, and that many will attend. Easter is a time that most Romanians will attend a service, so please pray for open hearts and responses!
Please continue to pray for the unity of our church and for the elders of our church, who are experiencing many personal trials. It is a very difficult time for many people in our church. Please pray against the attacks of the Enemy and for the Lord's protection and victory over the trials that they are experiencing. Please pray for Truth to be exposed and lies and persecution to be rebuked.
Please pray for healing for Atticus. He's had 10 ear infections since we returned to Romania. We discovered this month that he somehow contracted three different bacteria in his right ear and sinuses. We thought we were going to have another five-day hospital stay for IV antibiotics but were grateful to find out at the last minute that we could just use two antibiotics at home. However, just three days after his antibiotics were done and he had gotten better, his left ear started draining for the first time. We don't feel as though we're able to get a straight, well-informed answer from the doctors here, and this is causing a lot of frustration for us. With allergy season quickly approaching as things start to bloom, we really want to find some answers but don't really know how. Please pray for the Lord's wisdom and guidance, and for Atticus's complete healing. This poor child has been sick with something literally ever since we got here, with very few days of reprieve in between sicknesses - with the notable exception being when he got better after his surgery in the States and until we returned to Romania. We believe very much that there is a huge spiritual component to these sicknesses.
A few weeks ago we were at the end of our rope. We had endured several years of difficulties, especially as it related to our family - and particularly our daughter. Now, for five weeks straight, our daughter was coming to us in the middle of the night - every night - and telling us that she was having nightmares. We know this is a phase that many young children go through, but because of the frequency with which they were happening and her inability to ever tell us about her dreams at all, at first we thought this was just a ploy for her to get our attention and sleep with us, but we began to see that there was genuine fear each night as we were going to bed. At the same time, her behavior became increasingly horrible again, which could be expected with nightly loss of sleep. But this was to another degree. She began having some very severe rages again. We watched her spiritual life decline. For no apparent reason she didn't ever want to pray anymore. She seemed to be taking pleasure in her cruel behavior, and we were seeing no signs of her sweet compassion or repentance we knew before. She began acting very hateful toward us, yelling that she hated us and that we didn't love her during her rages.
As usual, Catalina caught the brunt of her nasty behavior, and it was clear that Catalina was really struggling with this major stress, too. Providentially, Elin's worst meltdown yet happened the night before Catalina was set to leave for our organization's Europe Women's Retreat. While there, she sought prayer from the more veteran missionary ladies. She went in, saying that she didn't really even know what to ask for per se. She knew she needed prayer about the anger she was struggling with, and then she began slowly telling the struggles that we've faced with Elin ever since arriving on the field - how her personality has done a complete 180 from when we were in the States. Without hesitation, the other women immediately declared that our experiences sounded like spiritual warfare. I'm not talking about the metaphoric spiritual warfare we always mention and don't really believe. I mean real warfare. They prayed fervently with hands over Catalina, praying for and declaring the Lord's victory over our situation - praying like they were doing battle.When Catalina got home we began to pray over our children each night - not simply for peaceful sleep - but that God would sanctify us and our house, that he would post angels around us to guard us, and that he would drive away any demonic forces which surrounded us. We rebuked the evil forces and declared God's victory.
Her first night back, Catalina slept with Elin after praying over the room. It was the first night Elin didn't have a nightmare, but Catalina had the worst, very vivid, very demonic nightmare she can remember. And after all this time of not really even knowing if Elin was telling the truth, the second night after Catalina's return, our daughter opened up to my wife and told her that in her dreams, there were dark monsters chasing and trying to eat her. She said she couldn't speak at all in her dreams and always wanted to find her sword. We were heartbroken for her. The next day - a Sunday - we taught our children the Armor of God for the first time. We acted it out and reviewed it over and over. We prayed it again before she went to bed.
The nightmares immediately stopped. Elin has only had one nightmare in the last seven weeks, and that was on the only night in that time span we broke our discipline of praying over our children before we went to bed.
While our church faces much turmoil, there are also some exciting possibilities on the horizon. Our church needs so much wisdom at this time, not only in the trials we face, but in the opportunities God is leading us to. Please pray for us as we consider moving forward with the purchase of a building with which we would seek to pool the skills and resources of our church to form a community center. Please read what our team leader, Derek Ebbers, wrote in their latest newsletter:
"The above picture represents an idea (or location) for a new project. Does it look like a great community center, or just a run down post-communist building that was once called 'The Institute'? Called that because it was the location where genetic modification and research of exotic plants was done during communism.
It is just a minute from our house by foot and next to a developing part of the town.
For several years we have had our ears open to community needs and several ideas have surfaced. We are in the process of communicating with church leadership and members about their participation. We believe that the reconciling work of the gospel message must infiltrate the community at many levels and in many ways.
Please pray for unity and clarity as we pursue what we believe could serve the kingdom and build the local church."
Continue to pray for the three Roma families we are working with, including *Alexa (not her real name). You may remember that she stole our credit card back in the summer before we went back to the States. We didn't see her for months once we returned. Now that it's winter, we see more Roma begging again, and Alexa is back at our doorstep regularly, too. We continue to encourage her to seek reconciliation with us and build trust - by demonstrating the truth of her claims with medical documentation, by being truthful and telling us that she has lied, and/or by allowing us to go with her to her house to assess her needs. She continues to string us along. We always still invite her into our home for coffee, while she tells us new reasons for why she needs us to give her money. We've shared with her the Gospel several times in different ways. It's truly sad. We believe she has a genuine love for us in a weird way, especially for our kids. But she's trapped in a cultural cycle of living by lying. It must be a terribly scary thing to try and give up everything you've been taught and be truthful with foreigners like us. Pray for our wisdom as we learn how to work and love in this community, as our learning and wisdom seem to come largely through mistakes we've made. It's a frustrating process, so please pray that God gives us patience, and that we would have a persevering love which would mark us as distinct from the non/nominal Christians with whom the Roma come in contact.