First Day In Romania

I landed in Timisoara on Wednesday afternoon...

It was a very smooth and enjoyable flight, which I am always grateful. I was looking forward to escaping from the endless rain that we have been experiencing in Greenville. When I stepped off the plane, I discovered the rain had followed me to Romania.  

Sam was unable to pick me up from the airport because he was working with a missionary team from Texas at the House of Joy in Susani. Before I left for Romania I messaged my friend Daniel, who lives in Timisoara to let him know that I would be there for several days during my trip. He told me that his house was close to the airport and offered to give me a ride if needed. When I cleared customs, he was there waiting for me and it was his day off, so we were able to spend the afternoon hanging out in the city. It was a cold and rainy day, so it felt like I never left home. 

I have made a few friends at local businesses during the time that I have spent in Romania. As Daniel and I were walking to get lunch, we passed by Typica Specialty Coffee, my favorite coffee shop. I have become friends with the owner and all the people that work there. I stopped in to say hello before we went to lunch.

Though it may be hard to believe, there is a fantastic authentic Mexican restaurant in Timisoara. The owner’s name is Edwin. He and I became friends because I ate there a few times during my trip last September. Daniel had never eaten there, so I thought it would be a perfect place for lunch.

After lunch, Daniel and I met up with his girlfriend and another one of their friends for coffee. I have come to enjoy the quality of coffee in Romania thoroughly. When we left the coffee shop, Daniel dropped me off at the place where I stay while I am in Timisoara. While waiting for Sam to get into the city, I settled in and unpacked. 

It was a wonderful first day in Romania! I was able to reconnect with friends and to make some new ones. After a long travel day, it was the restful day that I needed to help me prepare for the work in the coming days.

A Quiet Walk In the City

The end of my trip is approaching and I am sitting in a local coffee shop reminiscing on the days that I have spent in Romania. It was strange walking through the city center in Timisoara this morning. The city is normally vibrant when the sun is out, but the city has been unusually listless over the last several days. The entire world has pressed pause in response to the health crisis that has been rapidly spreading. As I look at the empty city streets, it seems appropriate to take this quiet moment to reflect on the goodness of God and the unexpected ways that he has blessed this trip. 

Even before I made my first flight, I knew that this trip would be different from all the others I have taken because of the escalating situation with COVID-19. Sam called me three days before my departure and informed me that we would not be able to go into the prison while I was here because of new regulations being put in place. Naturally, this news was disheartening but the Lord resolved my heart to move forward with the trip and his faithfulness never disappoints. 

Today I have been bouncing from one coffee shop to another. Businesses are limited in the number of people they are allowed to have inside because of health concerns. In a way, my morning has been a comparative representation of my time in Romania, navigating through unexpected situations while still being effective and fruitful in all the places we have been. In the coming days, I will be writing blog posts describing the different aspects of the Lord’s faithfulness that I have experienced on this trip and sharing the fruit that has come from the work that we have done.

Days 1-2: Travel Difficulties, God’s Grace & A Developing Trip Theme

This will be the first in a series of four blog posts telling about our mission trip to Romania from November 1st-10th, 2018.

The reasons for us taking this trip were to travel to the prison to share the Gospel with some of the new young men, to meet with the directors of the prison to discuss several new procedures that have been implemented for “religious activities” in the prison, to reconnect with our Romanian friends and ministry partners in order to discuss our continuing partnerships and to research and plan for organizing future short term mission trips with groups from America. 

It was Thursday afternoon and Kensey and I were packing the car up and doing one last check to make sure we did not forget anything. It was raining as we drove over to Jonathan’s house to pick him up. Jonathan Day is one of our pastors at our home church in Greenville, SC. This was his first time traveling to Romania and we were excited to introduce him to the prison ministry in Buziaș. It was also the first time that I was able to fly since my head injury in 2017, so I was a little nervous about the possible effects of the cabin pressure on my head, but my heart was overjoyed in anticipation of what the Lord was going to do. After packing Pastor Jonathan’s stuff in the car, we all got in and headed to Atlanta for our first flight. The next two days would be a chaotic adventure full of numerous travel difficulties that nearly derailed the trip.

We made it to Atlanta safely and in good time, which if you have ever driven through Atlanta then you understand that justifies a praise offering unto God. While sitting at our gate, they announced that our plane had some minor mechanical issues that needed to be fixed before we could take off and that our flight would be experiencing a short delay. That short delay turned out to be three hours long and was the beginning of the most stressful, exhausting and frustrating travel experience of my life.  

The person at the gate in Atlanta reassured me that we would land in Germany in plenty of time to make our connecting flight. We landed in Germany with less than thirty minutes to make it to our gate. We did not make it. Pastor Jonathan volunteered to stay with everyone’s carry on luggage while Kensey and I went to find and recheck our luggage. We spent the next several hours in a seemingly endless loop trying to locate where the airline sent our luggage. We became quite familiar with the layout of the airport, as well as the “lost and found” building across the street, as we followed the inadequate and misleading instructions of each airport employee that we talked to. No one seemed able to give adequate directions to the mysterious door that we were so desperately looking for. Finally, after our third visit to this one particular information desk, the gentleman informed us that the door was located on the wall behind the giant giraffe. Now, you may be thinking, the door being directly behind a giant giraffe statue that we walked past ten times would be an essential and obvious detail to mention, but I guess that part got lost in translation. Kensey and I were able to get our luggage. The next task was to try and get on the next flight to Amsterdam so that we would not miss another flight. This would prove to be equally as difficult as finding the door behind the giraffe. 

When we first arrived in Germany, the attendant at the gate gave us a phone number to call in order to change our flight in case we missed the one we were scheduled to be on. The phone number was incorrect. We were directed to our airlines customer service desk and no one was there. They had closed for the day thirty minutes before we landed in Germany. So, we had an inoperable phone number and there was not a single employee of our airline in the entire airport. After I spent several hours on the phone with customer service, we finally thought we were going to be able to get on the right flight. We would miss every other flight on our itinerary if we did not make this fight. The airport personnel were more harmful than helpful to our situation and caused us to not be booked on the flight. We were now stuck in Germany with no other options offered to us by our current airline. We were still separated from Pastor Jonathan, we had missed the only other option without spending the night in Germany, and we were not going to make it to Romania in time to go into the prison to meet with the boys. Later on, Pastor Jonathan pointed out that to end up in our situation everything that could have gone wrong had to go wrong.  

As I sat in the airport, I asked God to calm my mind and to help us get to Romania. The first thing to do was to have all of us in the same place, but we could not get back to Pastor Jonathan without boarding passes. Somehow, he carried my guitar and all of our carry on luggage across the airport by himself and made it to us. The next thing was getting a flight to Bucharest that night. I went to another airline that I have flown with in the past and explained our situation. The person at this airline worked with me for over an hour to get us a new itinerary that would allow us to make it to Bucharest in time. This new itinerary would alter the back end of our trip and it was going to cost a lot of extra money, but we were going to make it to Buziaș the next day. 

The grace of God was evident throughout this entire experience.  We were mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, which normally does not create a patient and kind attitude towards people, but the Lord was faithful in giving us an attitude of grace. There certainly were moments when we wanted to express our anger and frustration but the Lord gave us a calm and level head as we faced each obstacle.

We landed in Bucharest at 11:00 PM local time. After collecting our luggage and going through customs, we caught an Uber to our hotel. We were greeted by Oana, the night manger of our hotel, with a warm smile and a pleasant conversation. Her kindness and hospitality was comforting to the soul after our inhospitable interactions with the people in the airport in Germany. Normally, we take the kindness of strangers for granted and are soon to forget a generously hospitable act, but Oana’s kindness and accommodating attitude was a shining light in what had been a disheartening two days. This was yet another demonstration of God extending his abundant love and grace to us.

There were several bright spots over those two days. In hindsight, we gained valuable wisdom for how to handle similar situations for future trips. The Lord answered our prayer and made a way for us to get to Romania on time. All of our luggage made it safely. Oana was a  delight and she provided some laughter and happiness at the end of our long journey. We were able to get a good night of rest in preparation for the Gospel work in the prison the next day. 

We would see that our experiences during the first two days would prepare us for a developing theme throughout the trip: Satan tried to prevent us from getting to the places where we were supposed to be, but was unsuccessful. When we arrived at the places we were supposed to be, we discovered that the Lord had gone before us and everything was wonderful. 

Biblical implications of the airport fiasco:

After we made it to Romania and I had a few days to reflect on all of our troubles at the airport, the Lord brought a passage of Scripture to mind. The sequence of conversations that Jesus had with his disciples in Matthew 16 are very applicable to a specific aspect of our experience in the airport. We were following the directions of many different people in search of the door that would lead us to our luggage. Most of the instructions and directions we received were misleading, untrue, inadequate and some were actually harmful. In Matthew 16, there are three conversations that demonstrate that misleading and untrue instruction and inadequate information is harmful for those who are followers of Jesus. 

At the beginning of Matthew 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees come to Jesus and ask for “a sign from heaven.” They were coming to Jesus with insincere hearts with the intention of demanding something that was insufficient truth. Jesus left them and instructed his disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The disciples perceived what Jesus was saying in an earthly way and not by faith. Jesus responded to them, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?” There was a deeper spiritual meaning in Jesus’ words, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Jesus was telling his disciples that the teachings of the religious leaders were misleading and deceptive, and they should not allow their teachings to spoil the truth of God that was in them. 

Jesus then asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The people that the disciples interacted with in their daily lives had an inadequate perspective of who Jesus was. John the Baptist and the prophets were great men of God, but Jesus was the Messiah. That is why what people said about Jesus was inadequate. I will come back to the next sequence at the end.

Jesus begins to finally explain the purpose of his coming and the culmination of his life on earth. He explains that he will “suffer many things” and will be killed and “on the third day be raised.” Peter, who had just spoken the Gospel truth of who Jesus is, rebukes Jesus and tells Jesus, “This shall never happen to you.” The response of Jesus is pretty incredible, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” This may seem unnecessarily harsh, but Jesus had just revealed the Gospel purpose that will fulfill his purpose to bring his Father glory and to reconcile his people to God, and in his flesh Peter utterly rejects it. When our hearts and minds are not set “on the things of God” but “on the things of man,” we become a hinderance to the Gospel and to our own walk with God. Between Jesus asking who others say he is and Peter rebuking Jesus, there was the most important conversation of the entire chapter. 

Jesus asks his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter gives the true answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus’ response to Peter tells us something profoundly important and essential to the faith of the believer. The illuminating absolute truth of who Jesus is can only be revealed to us by God himself. He does this by drawing the hearts of people to himself by grace and through faith. The epistle of Hebrews tells us, “In many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” 

We received all kinds of false and misleading information about where the door was in the airport. We spent hours following this information and it always lead to a dead end. In the same way, Jesus taught his disciples that the teachings of the religious leaders would infect and spoil their hearts, the wrong perspectives of the people was inadequate and did not lead to the truth of who Jesus is, and even our own hearts can be harmful to seeing Jesus for who he really is. When we were finally given the right instruction, that provided an adequate perspective and our own hearts did not get in the way, the mysterious door we were in search of was revealed to us. As Christians, we must have a discerning heart that is fully resting in the truth that God the Father has revealed to us through Jesus Christ the Son and by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit in order to walk in humble worship and obedience to what God is doing in the world. Let us pray that we would always have our minds on the things of God and pray that God would eliminate the things of this world that sway us from the truth of the Gospel.