This particular morning while I was making breakfast, I saw the sheep right on time. Yet today it was raining. Actually, it was pouring. And it's cold. The lightning left streaks in the sky, and the thunder reverberated between the mountains. Instead of their normal route along the open pasture, all the sheep were walking underneath the treeline, trying desperately - and in vain - to find some kind of protection and stay dry. Even for animals used to being outside, they were attempting to take shelter any way they could. I thought about how miserable it must be to be out there right then. In the cold and in the rain. And then, I noticed the shepherd. And his sheep dogs. Just like always, steering the sheep safely to where they need to go.
They told us that the Brussels airport was small and easy to get through; that we wouldn't need long to go through. Even so, with kids we knew we wanted to get there early, so we planned to be there three hours early - a length of time that may have seemed silly to everyone else. The rest of the missionaries left the day before us, on a Thursday, and had absolutely no problems. We were the last to leave the Zav Center and fly out Friday at 10:20 a.m. We left our hotel on time. We go all of our luggage to the check-in on time. Then while lifting the very first bag, Derek threw out his back. I knew it was bad if he was even mentioning it, let alone allowing his 20-week pregnant wife to lift all the bags myself. He was hurting, and there was nothing we could do. That slowed us down, but we still had plenty of time. After checking our bags, we were directed to another line to pay for our one extra piece of luggage. We stood in the wrong line for 20 minutes and were redirected. We stood in the third line for 10 minutes, and although we had been assured that this line could print our boarding passes after we paid the fee, we were redirected back to our original line to get our boarding passes. At this point we knew we'd be cutting it close, but we felt assured that this is why we had left as early as we had. On to the security lines, and we discovered that they had an expedited family line! Somehow we got behind the sole elderly man that moved incredibly slowly. As we passed through security, we had just 10 minutes until boarding began at 9:50, and we thought we were home-free. Then we saw the passport line. We didn't even know there would be a passport line. But it stretched on. And on. And on. Frankly, it was laughable. Everyone in line with us seemed to be just as surprised and baffled at the length of this line, as it was unexplainable even to the frequent flyers through this airport. We called the Ebbers and told them there was no way we would be able to make the flight, and the next one wasn't until 8:00 p.m. I was dreading trying to entertain our children for the next 10 hours in a tiny airport. I tried to book a hotel in Bucharest for the night since we wouldn't be getting there until almost midnight; there were literally no hotels near the airport available on this Friday night. I was so anxious! It took us 45 minutes to get through the passport line, and we didn't really think there was any hope of us getting on the plane, but we did our best to speed-walk/run through the terminal, as Derek winced at the pain of his poor back. As we arrived at the gate, the clerk told us that they had held the entire plane for us! I couldn't believe it, and I instantly teared up at the Lord's provision for us. I was pregnant and parched after having no water for almost four hours - and running through the airport. As we boarded the plane and the kind stewardess helped carry Atticus on board, I told her I was pregnant and pleaded for some water. I honestly wondered if I might pass out. She kindly brought me a cup to drink, and I gulped it down. Then she brought me the ENTIRE 2-liter bottle of water that I'm sure was supposed to be kept for serving almost the entire plane. She handed me the whole thing, and it was gone by the time we got off the plane. The Lord led us along this path and provided for us. We were so amazed, and even more grateful!
We bought iPhones for the first time in our lives specifically in preparation to move overseas. We thought having them would help us communicate more easily and cheaply via FaceTime and iMessage with people back home. We had no idea that iPhones would be an unintentional status symbol here in Romania, since virtually nobody else owns iPhones because of the expense. We're careful about when and where we use them publicly so as not to make ourselves a target for pick-pocketing. One morning Derek went to language school, and I couldn't get in touch with him the whole time. Finally, he got home for lunch and told me his phone had dropped out of his pocket in the taxi he took to school. He always makes a point of getting a receipt from the driver, but this time he had forgotten. We had no information to help guide our search; we didn't know the taxi company, the driver, or any special identifying information. We thought for sure that the phone was gone - hacked and sold somewhere on the black market for a nice little profit for someone else. We prayed at lunchtime that God would somehow bring the phone back to us, but truthfully we thought there was absolutely no chance of ever seeing it again. After that one time, we prayed that God would provide a replacement for us. We have such little faith. Our friend was so kind to help. He called several taxi companies in the city to ask if they found it - no luck. He tried to help us file a report with the police - but since we had no identifying information it was a lost cause. So in a stretch, he posted about it on the Brasov Lost and Found Facebook group and then spent the next few days scrolling through the group to see postings of what had been found. Three days later, he sent us a single picture text that he got from the Facebook page. Sure enough, it was Derek's phone. Our friend got us all the information we needed to go pick it up from the police station the next day, so we got it back. Just like that! No reward money. No big hassle. We just got it back! The Lord led Cipri (and therefore us) to find our phone in this big city!
We've been without a car since we left the States in June, but we knew we needed one here. It's been seven weeks since we got here but have been unable to get a car due to visa issues. Then one day Atticus got really sick. Derek went out that evening to look at a car that a friend of a friend was selling. He was just about to take the car on a test drive when I called him to say that Atticus needed to go the hospital. The man who was selling the car didn't just sell us his car; he drove us to the hospital and waited the entire time to drive us home that night - all without dinner. After seven weeks of needing a car, at the exact moment we truly needed one, God didn't just provide us a car; He provided us a driver and a friend. We have since seen Traian (the man) several times. He has taught us how to drive here, been patient with us to teach us a lot of new Romanian, shown us great hospitality in his own home, and gone out of his way to help us with the paperwork needed for the car. God led us to this.
Having sick toddlers is never any fun. Having sick toddlers in a foreign country without your visas yet (which means you can't go to a doctor and are only able to go to the ER) makes you feel helpless, overwhelmed, and anxious. Atticus was running a 104.5 F fever, wouldn't eat or drink anything because he said his mouth hurt, and he started drooling all over me instead of swallowing his own spit. I was scared. Not just scared of the sickness, though that was enough! I was scared of the hospital here. I was scared of not being able to communicate with anyone. I was scared about whether the doctors would take me seriously, listen to me, allow me to ask questions because of the high-power-distance culture we're in. I was scared of them giving him medications or doing procedures with which I might disagree and not being able to ask or tell them. I was scared about even getting to the hospital in the big city. I was scared it might cost a fortune. As Traian drove us, I prayed for help, and the Lord answered. The receptionist spoke English and told me that it would be at least an hour wait. After just twenty minutes they took us back to see a doctor. The doctor spoke English and was so kind and patient. When I questioned her, she didn't get upset; instead she asked another doctor to come in and give a second opinion. She answered every one of my questions and even apologized to me that she couldn't speak better English! The medicine she prescribed worked perfectly. The cost was nowhere near what it would have cost in the States. We had a driver there and back. The Lord led us through that storm.
- healed Derek's back after throwing it out at the airport
- gave us THE BEST team leader and family, along with other awesome missionaries to help support us
- helped provide relief for my back/hips throughout pregnancy
- provided an English-speaking OBGYN that has a similar philosophy for birth as I do
- provided great language tutors
- provided a preK for our kids to attend where the director/teacher speaks English
So Now... Visas.
We're coming upon another time of uncertainty. Our visas. This is more or less how the process works.
Step 1: Come to Romania and ASAP apply for your visa with the Ministry of Cults. (Yup, that's right. All religious workers are considered "cults," so that's fun! haha!)
Step 2: Wait 30 days to receive approval from the Ministry of Cults to apply for the Visa.
Step 3: Use your acceptance letter from the Ministry of Cults to get your mandatory socialized Medical Insurance cards. Use this card to go to a doctor and have them look you all over. Get a Medical Certificate from the doctor that says you don't have any diseases or anything that you're bringing into the country. (You can't go see a doctor and get this certificate without first getting your medical card.)
Step 4: Take the Acceptance Letter, the Medical Certificate, and a host of other paperwork that we already brought with us (signed, notarized, apostiled, and translated into Romanian!) to Brasov and apply for your Visa. This step MUST BE DONE at least 30 days prior to the expiration of your 90-day tourist visa.
Step 5: Wait 30 days to get Visa approval.
So if you read through that whole process, you basically have 60 days from when you get to the country to apply for your Visa, and then you wait the last 30 days of your legal tourist status to see if you get approval. Otherwise, you leave and wait the required amount of time and attempt the process again. (At least, that's our understanding.)
THIS THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28th IS OUR 60-DAY MARK! We HAVE to get all of our documents into the application process so we that we can get our visas before our tourist status expires in one month. Here's the big problem: We're still stuck on Step 2! Our approval letter from the Ministry of Cults was supposed to get back to us no later than September 18th, and now we're sitting here just waiting. Until we get that letter, we can't make appointments and see doctors to get the Medical Certificate. We can't send off for our visa applications. Even if our approval letter comes tomorrow, it will still be very tight and difficult to obtain our medical insurance cards AND get an appointment with a doctor AND get the medical certificate by Wednesday so that we can go downtown on Thursday! We are in a MAJOR TIME CRUNCH and we have absolutely no control over it. All we can do it sit and wait. And pray. Which, thankfully, is a pretty big weapon.
So, what happens if we don't get the documents in for our application by Thursday? Honestly, we have no idea. There is a possibility of applying for a one-year Volunteer Visa, but we don't know that process yet. We don't know how strict those dates are, so maybe we'll just be a few days late. Maybe we'll be leaving the country for a week to buy us some time and then come back. Maybe we'll be going back to the States for a while until we work it all out. Honestly, we just don't know. But God does. He knows exactly what He wants for us, and we can trust that whatever it is, it is good.
PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR APPROVAL LETTERS COME TOMORROW! The Lord is our Shepherd and has led us this far. We will continue to follow His voice, regardless of the uncertainty, anxiety, or confusion. Please pray that we will rest as His sheep and remember that, even in the storms, He is guiding us and will never leave us because we are His.