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?"
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.
I loved the smell of her studio. The deep, earthy smell of fresh leather.
I loved the look of her studio. Rugged. Exposed brick with wallet cut-outs hanging. One green painted wall. The organized chaos of a true artist.
I loved the sounds of her studio. Her husband's mechanic shop on the other side of the wall. The clank of the design fork teething through the passport carrier she was creating. The words of the Gospel of Luke being read in the air.
I loved the friendship in her studio. The way that I listened to her story unfold - the weaving in and out of themes - as she strung together the needle and thread stitchwork on her project. The way we weaved through laughter and tears and the deepest desires of the heart.
I loved the idea of her studio. The way the whole room represents her perseverance and grit over the past year as she chased her dream of becoming an artist and finding leatherwork, though she had absolutely no experience before. And just one year later her Christmas orders are backlogged so far that her multi-colored hands give testament to her dedication to her craft.
I loved how watching her work brought me back to my Creator. Her mantra that she was created to create. The way her hands delicately knit together something so intricately beautiful out of something dead and useless, the same way our Merciful Potter molds the clay into a vessel worthy of being poured into. And worthy of pouring out into others. I'm grateful she has poured into me.
In his book-turned-movie Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand said he wasn't angry with his Russian Communist torturers for the same reason he wasn't mad at rabid dogs for doing what is only natural to them. The communists are sinners given over completely to the lustful and wicked cravings of their hearts in an atheistic system that glorified them to be that way. They are people who do - in fact - have the moral law written on their hearts because of them being made in the image of God. They are without excuse for their horrible deeds. Yet even in that, Wurmbrand recognized that they were the real Walking Dead, living only as the sinners they know how. And living as the products of being shaped by a system and told lies for years in their atheistic government.
In our last newsletter Derek said that we were praying that God would re-open the door with Alexa, our Roma friend who cleaned for us. The truth? Derek may have been praying for that, but meanwhile I had been quite content that no Roma people had been ringing our doorbell recently. In fact not even many of our neighbors have been ringing our bell much since we returned home. I can submit to God if He brings people again, I suppose. But I can’t really bring myself to PRAY for them to return. I idolize my comfort and control of my schedule far too much to pray for those things to be challenged.
We've had a lot of people ask us about the mold in our house we had previously reported on in our previous emails. Given our kids' sicknesses, it certainly was a concern of ours and everyone else's. So understandably many people have asked us about it and showed concern about us moving back into the same house when we go back at the end of the month. So for those who want the full explanation - or for those who are just interested in knowing a cultural difference between Romania and America - here is the post for you!
Every missionary talks about learning new cultural differences that they didn't even know existed. You can't ask questions about a topic you don't know is something you should ask about! For us, one of those major things was the differences in house construction.
In Romania, the houses are built of concrete, have single pane windows, and no air conditioning or ceiling fans. And hardly anyone has dryers so that we hang our clothes out to dry. And Romanians always leave the furniture a few inches from the walls. Being ignorant newbies, we didn't recognize that all of these differences was a recipe for mold growth in the house if we didn't do certain things. The concrete walls meant that the same wall was getting super cold on one side and super warm on the other side. The single pane windows meant that condensation was constantly forming on the windows and dripping down. The lack of air flow with HVAC systems or ceiling fans meant that there wasn't air circulation. Hanging wet clothes to dry inside the house during the cold months added a lot of moisture to the air. And to save space we pushed our furniture up against the wall and stored things in every nook and cranny. Without realizing it, we basically created a jungle ecosystem in our home which was just perfect for mold growth in those dark spaces behind our furniture. Ahhhh! This means that we did all the wrong things ourselves and now know how to make changes!
We have purchased a dryer, a dehumidifier, and two air purifiers to help with the humidity and mold. We've learned that during certain rainy seasons we need to be wiping down our windows on a daily basis. We purchased a few more fans to help with air flow throughout, and we know to open the windows as much as possible when it isn't freezing cold. Our team members even taught us about opening up our kitchen cabinets at night to allow for air circulation in those areas, too. And because the houses are constructed of concrete, we have confirmed that there can't be any mold "hiding" inside the walls like they could be in the States.
We looked at moving into another house, but everywhere we saw had the same issues because this is just a cultural difference that we had to learn about. We don't feel like moving homes is necessarily going to change anything; not to mention that it's very hard to find rental properties in our area anyway. We've spoken at length with our pediatric pulmonologist about the mold, and we did blood allergy testing for both boys that came back negative for mold allergies and didn't show in their blood work that they had mold disease. So while it certainly wasn't helping our situation, we don't think that the mold actually caused any of our kids' issues, though it certainly could have exacerbated the asthma. But given the fact that we've figured out what we need to do to keep the mold at bay, we don't feel like it's going to be a pervasive issue any longer.
We're really looking forward to moving back into our home. We love our neighborhood and neighbors. We love our fenced in yard that is perfect for the dogs and kids. We love some of the "extras" our house has that aren't found in other houses around. We love that the house is right next to the mountain and giant field where the animals go to graze. We love our landlord and how awesome she has been with us and our situation. Truly, this house has been a huge blessing. And now that we can go back and start again with a better understanding, we're really hopeful that we won't see the mold anymore.