Tuesday, January 29, 2008
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
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
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.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
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!
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
This Monday we finished up our homestays. Listening to everyone’s stories, it is clear that they will probably be one of the highlights of our trip for a lot of us. It is also safe to say, I think, that our host families taught us valuable lessons in hospitality. For example, some students were given the best room in the house while the families slept in the living room or crammed into one bedroom, most were not ever allowed to help with dishes or even clear the table, and we were all fed delicious Romanian food (and lots of it!!). In my case specifically, I was given my host sisters’ bed while they slept on hard couches in their living room. On my first day I mentioned that I really liked a certain type of juice they had given me. From that day on, almost everytime I sat down I was handed a full glass. I was never allowed to pay for my own drinks or taxi rides when we went out, and their was a constant stream of “do you need anything?” “do you want anything?” “if so, just ask!” I hope that one day I can offer my guests even half of the hospitality that I was shown this weekend. After all of this, imagine my surprise when my host sister Evelina offered ME a gift. We had become very close over the few day we spent together, but I was still taken aback when she told me she wanted me to have one of her scarfs and a necklace. Evelina’s gifts will be things I treasure forever, but I suspect that my homestay with her family offered me an even more important gift. Not only did it teach me clear lessons about the virtue of hospitality and offer me an inside glimpse at Romanian culture and family life, but the most important gift that I was given this weekend is the friendships that were created.
As my new sister and good friend Evelina quoted in a note to me, “Nothing makes the Earth seem so spacious as to have friendss at a distance”
Yes, I know this is a bit corny, but it's true! :)
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Better late than never - the following is a reflection on our activities from Wednesday, January 9th:
Today we went up Straja road to the base of the mountain of where New Horizons does their high ropes and team building program during the summer. We got the chance to experience a bit of this by participating in a few organized games led by Vali and Ilie who have been a part of New Horizons since the beginning. It was cold and snowy but this didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves. The games we did included, the thumb game, flying tree, electric fence, Alaskan Football, and the square game. All these games had one thing in common and that is teamwork. None of these games would have ended in success without having the proper communication, trust, encouragement, patience, and participation, all things which make a team successful. So these games were good reminders that it isn’t just one person that brings the success, it is the contribution of all that are involved.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
This past weekend the students have been having a wide range of experiences here in the Jiu Valley, everything from watching American horror flicks with Romanian high schoolers to getting filled to the brim with traditional Romanian food, from attending choir practice at the local Pentecostal church to skiing down Straja mountain. The one thing all these experiences have in common is that all are taking place with the students’ Romanian host families. This weekend, each of the students is spending their time with local families, experiencing a bit of Romanian through the eyes of their Romanian hosts.
Thus far we have had so many amazing experiences to learn about the people and culture here in Romania and the different ways in which social entrepreneurship is being used to address this community’s needs. However, of all these experiences, I am sure that for many of the students their time with their host families will be one of the most impacting, as students will hopefully see first hand not only the needs of this community but also how families, young adults, and church communities are living here in the Jiu Valley, how they are finding joy and making beauty amidst the hardships of living in a post-communist, economically depressed context.
The students dispersed for their homestays early Friday evening, regathered for lunch yesterday afternoon, and will remain with their host families until tomorrow morning. It was great to hear some of their stories yesterday, and I look forward to hearing many more tomorrow.
On a personal note, I have enjoyed my own homestay with Daniel and Janelle, the two Calvin grads volunteering at New Horizons who have done much of the work in organizing this interim. They were and still are two of my dearest friends, and it has been so good to be here with them, catching up and seeing the work they are doing here in Lupeni, as they join in the social entrepreneurship working to transform both the Jiu Valley and Romania as a whole. They, along with the other New Horizons staff, have done an exceptional job in showing us hospitality and offering us amazing experiences from which we have already begun to learn and grow.
I am so grateful to be a part of this interim experience in Romania.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Unfortunately I had to leave for a mandatory YL conference that is once every 4 years. Which is fortunately infrequent because we are living in the lap of luxury, and frankly I don't want to participate in this lap dance...considering the opportunity cost involved. But, "asta este" as they say in Romanian.
Anyway, we are honored to host you as students and guests in Bucharest, Lupeni, Timisoara, Straja and the other locations. Special thanks to Jeff Bouman, Janelle and Daniel and our Bucharest staff (Maria, Diana, George) for all that they put into it. And as I have heard, and is always the case here in Romania, there are unexpected surprises.
For my part, I hope you can catch a vision for how service learning/IMPACT can play a powerful role in grassroots development issues. Linked with this is the role of values for development and how adventure education can help surmount post-communist apathy. This is the praxis orientation of our work.
Now for theoria, or moral/ontological l vision The other main idea is the social doctrine of the Trinity and how this can provide an ontological, epistemological and ethical framework for community development. Here is the link to my paper if you did not find it http://www.new-horizons.ro/about_us/img/JournalOfTheYouth.pdf This is linking the Trinity with social capital development and fighting corruption.
Unlike Western theology, which tends to posit a linear direction to spiritual development from theoria to praxis, Eastern theology inverts this and argues that right living (asceticism) is necessary for right thinking. Orthopraxy is necessary for Orthodoxy.
2 things follow: First, If this is even partially so, service learning can play a positive role for the kingdom even when explicit faith language is not used. It is structuring human experience along Trinitarian, self-giving, kenotic experiences.
Secondly, service learning can be viewed as a form of positive asceticism, world transforming asceticism and not a form of flight from the world, as was often the case where the Greek philosophical anthropology (the body is a tomb, etc.) has influence.
Okay, I am still on jet-lag and am wandering probably dangerously close to the precipice of heresy! I look forward to seeing you again!
We also visited the Horezu Monastery, built in 1690 by Prince Constantine Brancovan.
In a turn only available in the twenty-first century, we also enjoyed at least 6 episodes from season three of NBC's "The Office" while tooling through dark countryside after our sightseeing.
Our arrival in Lupeni was exciting - the Christmas lights are still strung across the main street, and the Pizza Planet served us a wonderful dinner. Odd juxtapositions continue as most of us are housed in former communist block housing apartments, but this professor and our two male students Eric Stehouwer and Sawyer Koops are being pampered at a former bed and breakfast just outside of town - a hyome now owned by the Bates after a wonderful fund-raising drive by their stateside (and other) donors.
Monday, January 7, 2008
We began by visiting the Patriarchy, the center for the Romanian Orthodox Church. It's a beautiful structure, filled with icons and gold detailing. There was a holiday service taking place at the time, honoring the beheading of St. John the Baptist. We stood amongst the crowd, surrounded by the beauty of both Romanian people and sacred melodies.
The highlight of the day, perhaps even the trip thus far, was most definitely the panel discussion that Diana coordinated. After lunch, we returned to the People's Palace that we had visited the day before. There, we had the opportunity to hear from five individuals as they spoke about Social Entrepreneurship in Romania. Gabriela Manta has been working with USAID for the past fifteen years, Gabi Achim works for CRWRC, Christopher Troxler is a former PeaceCorps volunteer who has returned to live in Romania and work as a partner manager of a business development website called Despre Firme, Carmen Colceag who works with the organization ART Fusion that uses performing arts to deal with social attitudes, and finally Raluca Voicu, a nineteen year-old who is working with the Romanian education commission. I truly appreciated the chance to gain a greater historical and cultural context in which Romanian NGOs work. We were also able to engage these individuals through questions, furthering the discussion about Social Entrepreneurship and what this term means.
The evening was relaxing. We enjoyed a dinner together at the hostel, including some home cooked Romanian food that a couple of our hosts prepared for us (delicious!), followed by a play in a trendy underground jazz club.
Tomorrow we head out for Lupeni, the headquarters of the New Horizons.
We'll see what's in store for us there!
Sunday, January 6, 2008
This morning we visited the St. Nicholas Student Church, the only student-directed Orthdox presence in Romania. It was a special day with the holy waters blessed for the year.
We also walked to the Bucharest Art Museum and took in several floors of Romanian art, including a full floor of iconography. All's well.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Today we walked. From the hostel to one of Bucharest's finest high schools where we were treated to a bit of history - lots of theological and experiential insight into Eastern Orthodoxy, Communism and its effects, social Trinitarianism, and the story of the New Horizons Foundation. After which we walked again, this time to the underground Metro. We came up at Bucharest's largest park, Herastrau Park. We walked through the park, past families pulling small children on old-fashioned runner sleds and busts of European Union leaders to celebrate Romania's entry into the EU a year ago. We walked to the Village Museum, an outdoor collection of houses, barns and cottages from the many different regions of the country. We then walked back to the Metro and to the Peasant Museum, another rich collection of Romanian history and culture. While we walked, we all wondered - about the blending of communist roots and capitalist seeds, about Orthodoxy's commitments and legacy in this environment, and about the place of a Calvin education in a world where context matters, and an elegant model can seem so simple...
Friday, January 4, 2008
We arrived safely after 19 hours of travel through Chicago, Vienna, and finally Bucharest. Just the day before our arrival the airport and much of the city had been shut down due to a highly unusual major dumping of over 20 inches of snow. Thankfully, the mayor kept his promise to have the streets mostly clear by today, and we landed without incident. We were met by the much of the New Horizons staff, and after off-loading the 7 extra suitcases we had carried for our hosts' Christmas presents and other long-distance ordering, we took our luggage to the curbside to catch the city bus, with the assistance of 4 wonderful Romanian guides from the New Horizons staff - Diana, Maria, George and Leroca. Another hour on the bus and we were able to walk the final half mile through snow-piled sidewalks and streets to our Midtown Youth Hostel. (see http://www.themidlandhostel.com for more on the hostel) where we rested for awhile and ordered local pizza and discussed the many different cultural boundaries we had crossed today. Tomorrow starts early with an overview of the history and current issues facing New Horizons, and a visit to two well-known Bucharest museums, the Village Museum and the Peasant Museum.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
What is a Viata? In Romanian, viata means "life" and this is the name given to the annual summer adventure camp established by the New Horizons Foundation upon their arrival in Romania in 1999.
For those of us headed to this wonderful Eastern European country for the next three weeks, I hope that we experience some of this "viata" as a group in our interaction with our Romanian hosts, with each other, and with our guest guides and speakers.
For our first several days, we will be in the capital city Bucharest, learning from local experts about their work with the development of social capital among youth and others in this setting.
For more information on our host organization, go to: http://www.new-horizons.ro/