Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thoughts from Anne - Community, Sacrifice, Gratitude, and Leaning on Grace

First, I need to apologize for writing this sooooo late. It seemed
like a lot of people had waited until the last day to do their post so I figured I would just do mine when I got back. Then when I got back I went home to dial-up and figured I would do it when I got back to Calvin, and then I kept putting it off to do homework and now it is 12:34 on a Sunday night (technically monday morning), a couple weeks after our trip and I know if I don't do it now it might be another week. Anyway, I don't really know what has been said because I have
not really checked out the blog for a while, so sorry if I'm
redundant. I guess I'm willing to run that risk anyway because I am
going to write about a couple of my own personal reactions to the trip
a couple weeks out. I think the trip really challenged me to look at
the way I live now and plan to live after college.

First, I feel like there was a big emphasis on community, whether that
was trying to make it happen within our group, examining the perfect
model, the Trinity, or experiencing and hearing about some of the ways
communism broke it down. Somewhere in there I started to learn how
good and how important community is, and since my return, I think I
have spent a lot of meaningful time with the people that make up my
community. I have really been appreciating and working toward
community and I feel like that is a gift from God.

Second, seeing the sacrifices Dana, Brandi, Brianna and others are
making daily for the things they believe in really challenged me to
think about my own beliefs and how they fit into my actual life. I
cannot say that I have really come to peace with this yet. Maybe that
is appropriate. I know that college is where God wants me right now,
but I don't know if I'm doing it as well as I could be. Actually, I
know I am not. That is hard to live with, but I would rather be aware
and leaning on grace than clueless and carefree. Maybe Romania was
God giving me a little push, letting me know that his will for my life
is not always convenient or comfortable.

Finally, seeing Diana again reminded me of how grateful I am to
everyone who worked to put this trip together. Whatever it was, it
could not have happened without Jeff, Ryan, Diana, Daniel, Janelle,
Brandi, Dana, Davia, Tibi, George, Maria, Raluka, Ilie, Vale, Monica,
Father Christi, Robbie and so many others (sorry if I'm butchering the
spellings). The so many others includes our group from Calvin. You
all really made this trip interesting and fun. It is an experience I
will always treasure and ponder in my heart.


-anne fennema

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hope in Goodbye

It is currently Tuesday night, and this morning our class was required to go our separate ways in order to start classes again for second semester. Back to classrooms and labs. Back to book reports and exams. Back to life as it was before Romania.

But in some ways, we can never go back to life as it was before Romania.

A week ago tonight our class was treated to a home cooked meal and a 'disco' organized by the students from Impact clubs around Lupeni and Uricani. The night was a particular blessing to me as I had been able to get to know many of the students from the Uricani club through my home stay experience. In fact, after my 'home stay,' I had been able to meet up with both my host siblings and their friends on multiple occasions; thus the night was a bittersweet goodbye. As we laughed, danced and shared our lives together for one more night... we schemed of ways to see each other again, even if it were years down the line. Some of our friends had created facebook accounts so that we could exchange photos and keep in touch, and some talked of visiting America, while we talked of coming back to the Jiu Valley (this time in the SUMMER); but the theme was the same: this would not be the last time we saw one another.

As I think about our new friends, even now I maintain that we will meet again. However, such plans are not always in our hands, thus I've been considering the 'what if's' of the situation. What if a week ago really was 'goodbye'?

Earlier in the day last Tuesday, our group was able to sit down for one last 'class meeting.' During that meeting we discussed anything and everything concerning our trip. From thoughts about the Orthodox Church, to how amazingly crazy Brandi and Dana were to start the New Horizons Foundation, to how we would answer everyone's favorite post-interim question ("How was it?" --like it is actually possible to describe 'how it was' in a few sentences!). However, one topic of discussion really caught my attention: hope. How did Dana and Brandi manage to maintain their hope despite all of their set backs in Romania? What colored the hope of the revolutionaries who revolted against communism in the first place? And what type of hopes and dreams did the Impact students have for their country, and for themselves?

Hope is a word that sparkles in Romania-- in ways that it never could in America. We talk about the 'American dream,' and discuss the desire to graduate from college. While in Romania, the dream is for so much more. The dream is for a society that trusts each other and helps. One where free enterprise, free thought, and imagination are encouraged for the first time in 50 years. The dream that people will start asking 'why', and that someone will have the answer.

Last Tuesday, as we were giving our final hugs and reminding one another to keep in touch, I couldn't help but think that my new friends were the definition of hope. They are all working hard to change their country, their schools, their families and even themselves. They are starting to ask 'why'; and teaching others to do likewise. And maybe more importantly, they are coming up with the answers to their own questions and problems.

And, therefore, I am OK with the 'what ifs.'

As Paul put it in Ephesians 2:13 "But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ."

I would love to see my Romanian siblings again. I would love to sit in the No Name Cafe in Uricani with a steaming cup of
ciocolata calda again. I would love for some of my friends to come to America. But even if none of that is possible, I am reassured by the fact that our friends back in Romania are determined to change the course of Romania's history. The students there will continue on in their education and quest for social change, Brandi and Dana will continue on in their awesome work with Viatsa and the Impact clubs, and us Calvin students will continue on in our own modes of renewal---separated by thousands of miles, but with the same goals and driven by the same source of hope.

"But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you." - Psalm 39:7

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Minor Inconveniences

Coming home from a foreign country always tends to make one thankful for things we all too often take for granted. For example, being able to drink water out of the tap (not to mention a reliable source of hot water) is a refreshing change. Having doors that don't swing back to always leave a crack open, no matter how hard you try to close them, is also a surprisingly missed convenience.

Of course, being able to understand the names of food items and know what one is buying in the supermarket takes some of the excitement out of eating, but I think most of us appreciate a little of such "dullness" in our lives. Not having to constantly worry about pronouncing one's sparse Romanian vocabulary with enough accuracy to avoid both confusion and the inevitable amusement at one's own expense is also a nice change.

The last few days we had some repeated trouble with power outages, too-- on Monday after returning from Timisoara the power in Apartment 8 went out. As soon as the power was fixed that day it went out again the next night (Tuesday) while we were sleeping. This, of course, meant no hot water, which meant no hot showers, and it also meant that some of us were doing some last-minute packing for our trip back to the states while in near-total darkness (thankfully a few of us had head-lamps which were passed around amongst the group). Leaving Lupeni to go to Bucharest didn't allow us to escape our troubles with fuse boxes, either, for our final night in Romania the power in the hostel we were staying at went out completely. This allowed for some nice candlelight chats-- but thankfully the power went back on after an hour or so.

This is not to say that we were staying in poor, miserable conditions-- on the contrary, I found our apartments to be on the whole quite amiable. We were all in all well taken care of, and our few inconveniences were generally pretty easy to either deal with or to find an alternative, more creative solution (like making toast in the oven rather than in a toaster, for example). Yet, I think all of us were looking forward to coming back to the United States to our lives of modern convenience and relative ease.

One of the subjects we focused on in our class discussions was the concept of suffering as being integral to our Christian lives and being an "agent of change". These minor inconveniences we encountered were far from being intense forms of suffering, but I would wager that every single one of us was looking forward to the end of such inconveniences and returning home to our comfortable lives. As well-off American citizens there really are not many constant sources of worry in our lives; we have the occasional stressful situation, to be sure, but we don't have to worry about our basic survival by any means. It is so hard for most of us (myself included) to commit to being put in a stressful situation for an extended period of time-- yet in so many ways, Christianity emphasizes suffering as one of the primary means of achieving growth and a closer relationship with God. Going to Romania really helped us to consider the significance of suffering in our own lives; I'd like to think that all of us Calvin students in Romania grew immensely as a result of such experiences!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

from timisoara to lupeni

Monday marked our last day that we spent in beautiful Timisoara. The plans for the day were for us to meet with a friend of Christi, Father Christian Pavel, who is a counselor for Social Assistance at the Orthodox ArchDiocese in Timis County. We all sat in a circle at the Orthodox Social Assistance offices and got a feel for the work that church is doing for those under their jurisdiction from human trafficking issues to domestic abuse. The reoccurring concept on our trip of a person's mentality resisting changes came up again during the talk. After our talk, we left Timisoara and headed back to Lupeni. Once in Lupeni, we had some time to unpack some before we divided up for dinner. We divided up for some of us were returning to visit again our host family friends and the rest of the group were heading to Pizza Planet with the returned Dana from the States. Most people later met up again at the local disco, but due to it being Monday night there was no dancing only socializing happened then. Thus our day was complete, even with us completing our Die Hard movie during our trip back to Lupeni. :)

Bearing in Mind the Trinity

Last week our class had a discussion on some readings about the Orthodox view of the Trinity. Our reflections were from two chapters of the book The Orthodox Way one being Signposts on the Way, and the other God as Trinity. In discussion and study of the Trinity we focused on two icons. The one that I studied was an icon painted in 1410 by Andrei Rublev in Moscow Russia. The painting focuses on his interpretation of the story where three strangers visit Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18. Some have interpreted the three strangers as God attended by two angels while others including Andrei Rublev interpret the three as the Holy Trinity. In his icon
The first angel represents God the Father. God the Father is first wearing a blue garment that represents God’s divine nature while the purple represents God’s unfathomable nature and royalty. Behind God is the house of Abraham, which symbolizes God’s master plan for creation as well aa God’s representation of being head of the house.
The second angel represents God the Son his red garment represents his incarnation while the blue garments represents his divinity. The tree found behind the head of God the Son symbolizes the cross and the tree of life and the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.
The third angel represents God the Holy Spirit. The light blue represents heaven while the green represents earth. Together they signify the life-giving force of the Holy Spirit, which animates that everything exists. Behind the head of God the Holy Spirit is a mountain, which represents elevation and purity.
All three are holding a staff, which too symbolizes their divine power also represented by the gold halos surrounding their heads.
On the Table is the chalice, which represents Christ sacrifice for us and the Eucharist.
Unlike other paintings of the Trinity with a closed circle painted around the Trinity this painting has God the Son and God the Holy Spirit focusing their eyes towards God the father, while God the father is returning them a blessing with his hands which incorporates a continuous movement and circle encompassing all three at equal levels. There is also an openness between them that invites the viewer of the icon into a relationship with the Trinity.
Learning more about the significance of icons in the Orthodox Church has expanded our continued understanding of the Orthodox way as well as allowed for a deeper perspective of the Trinity. I think that each of us has a better understanding of icons and more enlightenment towards their worth.

Elisabeth Heffner

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Common Grace

On Sunday the 20th, we had the privilege of attending an Orthodox Church service in full; what made the service special was that Father Cristi had prepared copies of the liturgy in English for all of us.  Having the liturgy completely changed the way I experienced the service.  Instead of being something that I could not draw much from, it was transformed into an experience that deepened my appreciation and understanding of the Orthodox tradition.  The progression of litanies and antiphons (responses) was very interesting to follow because the order has obviously been refined over history of the Faith.  
The Service began with the Great Litany and Antiphons in which the Priest and Deacons prayed for various topics ranging from the people of the Church to the country as a whole.  Prayers were also said asking for mercy and testifying to the goodness of God and calling people to be attentive to the Epistle readings.  The service progressed through the Litany of Fervent Supplication, the Litany for the Deceased, and then to the Great Entrance in which the Priests came out of the back room and after censing and putting forth a prayer in reverence to God, moved on to The Petitions.  I liked the different phrases of The Petitions and especially the way it concluded with The Crede.  Finally being able to understand what was being said made me realize how remarkably similar the wording of the prayer time (and really the whole service) was to that of the Protestant services I am used to.  Then was the Holy Anaphora which included justification of the people and the Priest blessing the elements.  This was followed by the Lord's Prayer and then by Communion. The Communion process was interesting because at this particular church the Children were the first to partake, so it was good to see a younger generation being included in the deep-rooted tradition of Orthodoxy.  After Communion was a Prayer of Thanksgiving and finally the Dismissal which included phrases like "May the blessing of the Lord and His mercy come upon you through His divine grace and love always, now and forever and to the ages of ages".  Reading along with what the Priest was saying at times like this refocused my idea of what Orthodoxy by reminding me that it is not some abstract idea completely different from my own ideologies but is rather reverent and sincere religion founded in the same triune God that I have worshiped in North America.
Through our experiences with Orthodox Church here in Romania, I have also acquired a better understanding of the iconography used in Orthodoxy.  Through our talks with Priests, I have come to realize better that the kissing and use of icons is more a way for the people to show love and respect to the Saint depicted in the icon and is not as close the heresy of idolatry that I so often used to view it as.  I believe that by keeping and open mind and seeking to understand Christianity from a viewpoint different from my usual one, my faith, my appreciation for other religions, and my theological background/foundation as a whole have been fortified.  

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How we spend time in Lupeni

Today our group enjoyed a leisurely day in Lupeni. Our group had a great meeting in the morning where we discussed our latest reading about Orthodoxy ideas concerning the Trinity and also about a few icons. It was interesting to read and reflect on the articles ideas concerning the Trinity and apply those ideas to our own lives. For example, our group talked about how in the Trinity, God is often seen as the head of Trinity, with the Son and the Holy Spirit behind Him. Rather, it should be a perfect communion of the three persons with equal partnership. We also examined how the Trinity can be applied to our own lives. An example from the reading was of interweaving our work, school, faith or family together similar to the way the Trinity is interwoven. In other words, our faith, family, school should not be seperate entities but all used in conjuction to one another.
After the talk, we each headed our own way to check out Lupeni. A group of girls and I decided to check out a few second hand stores and a few markets that sold produce or random clothing items. It was a fun and exciting experience to dig through giant bins in the second hand store, which was a challenge. We also headed to Pizza Palace, a favorite pizza place for those staying here.
After looking around town, we headed back to the apartments, where another group of students was cooking dinner. Over the last few days, our group decided to divide into smaller groups and cook dinner for everyone, which generally is about 20 people. It is a challenge to navigate through Romanian groceries stores and figure out how much 20 people will consume at dinner. However, both dinners we have had with student cooks have turned out excellent. Tomorrow morning is our last morning in Lupeni for the week, so we are all eating breakfast again together.
I have found that cooking together is a very fun experience, so tomorrow morning will be a fun experience.
After breakfast, our adventure continues onto Timisoara, which sounds like it will be a great experience for everyone!