Thursday, March 27, 2008

Now that I have seen...(part 2)

This last picture is my absolute favorite thing to photograph. Last year I took a similar picture that was almost identical from the inside of another gypsy village home of the sunlight shining through the curtain. It's such a beautiful thing to see the light that shines through to a place that might seem so dark and dim.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Now that I have seen...

Let me introduce you to the kids at the Isaiah Center through Forget Me Not Ministries:

Below is little Florica, being held by Rachel Ross. Rachel first met Florica in the baby hospital, I believe, and she has since met Florica's family in the village and brought her to be a part of the center in Tinca. Florica's family, as are all of the center kids' families, is also supported by receiving food monthly. Florica is sneaky, and she knows it! I think a few times I caught her pushing the toilet flusher over and over and it made it overflow...Once I think I caught her trying to drink out of it or playing with the water. She likes to be involved, but because of her background sometimes gets overwhelmed and just wants to be cuddled.
Below is little Simona, who is Florica's cousin (I hope I'm remembering this all correctly...). Simona is 23 months old and is a precious little ball of joy. I'm hoping later on that I can post a video I have of her from the last night when we went out to eat. She has the cutest smile and is a happy, cuddly, little baby girl. Coming from a family that does show love, but just doesn't know how to appropriately show it, she has been molested even at her really young age.
Below is me holding little Samuel (Samu), who is about 3 years old we think. He and his older brother Abel are part of the center. Samu is totally ornery, but he's also totally adorable. I mean, seriously, do you see that smile? He has the cutest little giggle on the face of the earth, and I can't tell you how happy that little squealer can be. Rotten as he can sometimes be, I was blessed with about an hour of some good cuddle time w/ him one day, and I loved every minute of it. I am actually deciding to sponsor Samuel w/ $30/month to cover the costs of him being at the center. Each child needs at least 9 sponsors for them to be completely covered, and currently each only has 2-3. So if you're interested, let me know!

Below is Samuel's older brother, Abel, who is 4 or 5...look at that grin! It must run in their family. He is the little boy who actually walked to the center 3 times during the week before we were there when they were closed for some construction. He wanted to escape his home so badly that he walked over a mile to get there only to find out he had to go back home. Abel has a scar on his head that is from an axe, probably used in abusing him. He is a playful, outgoing little boy, but he has a pretty fair temper as well. It's sort of inevitable considering the background he has come from. He has progressed sooo much from the stories we've heard since he has been at the center in its first 2 months.

Below is little Maria, who is just as sweet and ornery as the rest of them! She is 2 or 3, I believe, and is just a really fun little girl. She loved to color and paint and be involved in everything the other kids were doing at all times. She has the funniest little belly that sticks out, and you can't help but just pick her up and tickle her and give her kisses.
Below is sweet little baby Alex, who I think I previously wrote about. Alex is 2 and 1/2 years old, but he appears to be about 9 months old. He has Downs Syndrome, and because of neglect he spent the first 2 years of his life just laying in a stroller and not being allowed to fully develop by being held or played with. When alex first came to the center they thought he may be blind because he wasn't following anything, but in the past 2 months he has started chattering, following all kinds of things w/ his eyes, eating lots of food, and sitting up on his own. He was really mad each evening when our group would leave and there wasn't someone to hold him constantly, so he kicked his legs a lot! He is really getting used to being loved on! He is soooo sweet.
And of course below is little miss Izabella. She's technically not one of the kids in the center, but she's a precious little princess who you need to know! Rachel first met her in the baby hospital when she was 3 months old, and she took her home when she was about a year old. Now that Iza is almost 5 this summer, she has only about 6-9 months until her official adoption to Rachel is complete. Praise the Lord and continue praying that this process will happen smoothly! She is one of the funniest little kids and could not remind me more of my niece, Maddy. She love love loves to play monsters and hide-and-seek and imagination games.
And here are a few more of the kids just being entertained by us crazy Americans!

This final picture is of them praying before they have their snack--yogurt. They sing a little prayer song every time they eat and it is the cutest thing ever.

More pics to come...that's just an introduction.

Monday, March 24, 2008

coming soon...

I am back from Romania, back at work, and suffering from some strong jet lag, but nevertheless I'm back. I'll be posting pictures soon...keep an eye out for them if you want to see more from our trip!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

only one more day :(

It's sad that I only have one more day here in Romania. I can't even believe it has gone by this fast! It's hard to believe it!

Today I spent most of the day w/ the kids and it just felt good to love on them and hold them and give them billions of kisses on their cute little cheeks. They love having our attention especially b/c with 15 of us around they're bound to get one-on-one attention with someone. They are such a joy, and it's amazing how you can figure out each little one's personality w/o even knowing their language. You know when they're being sneaky and ornery, and they pretend they don't understand when you're telling them "Nu! Nu!" (nu=no).

We've been blessed to spend this week w/ Rachel, Iza, and the other workers and kids at the Isaiah Center (FMN). I'm sad to leave. Rachel said she's going to hide our plane tickets. :)

Tomorrow will be a shorter day at the center, finishing our painting inside the apartments and painting the fences, sorting clothes that were donated, and saying goodbyes to the kids. We'll leave and go to the overlook of Oradea and pray for the city as a group. I'm hoping then that we'll have time to come back to Caminul Felix to play with kids here outside for about an hour, b/c I haven't even seen my kiddos from last year! It makes me sad to be halfway around the world and right next door to them but I haven't seen them yet! It's hard when we have dinner each night and by the time we're done it's dark outside. We can't invite ourselves into the homes, and the kids have school the next day. So tomorrow hopefully I'll get to see some of my kiddos!

Saturday morning we leave for the Budapest airport early and will fly to London. We have a 19 hour layover in London, so we'll be quickly sightseeing and staying overnight before our long flight back on Easter sunday. I'm hoping we're not welcomed back in Chicago w/ the 6-10 inches of snow that is expected. :(

I think I have more to process from this week and I'm learning from each experience as a leader and a servant. Hopefully I'll have more to share later on...tonight I'm having trouble finding the right words!

Have a great night!
Buna sera!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

short update...

Well, I'm about ready to head to bed, but I thought I'd at least update ya'll on my finally arrived today! I got it tonight when we got back from visiting Real to get some souvenirs in the form of European chocolate. yumm..... And I will say, it feels great to be wearing my own clothes again, even though I learned some good lessons from living without it for several days.

I'm looking fwd to tomorrow b/c it's my group's day w/ the kiddos in the center. The last 2 days we have been painting, so I'm ready to spend some time w/ the kids!

We had great group devos tonight just singing songs while 2 of the guys led us on the piano here in the living room. We were joined by 3 other guests staying here at the hotel who are originally from Spain and Italy but are at a Bible College in southern England. They were older than typical Bible college students, but it was great to worship with them and learn about what they're doing. It was a glimpse of heaven singing w/ a few different nationalities present...including our very own William (he's one of our group but is an international student from Hong Kong...and we LOVE him...he's hilarious!).

Well, I am out...

noapte buna!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

eyes are opening...

Today our eyes are opening. It was our second day in Tinca, but the first day to actually meet the kids at the center and get to know them and even deliver food to some of their families in some very poor villages. We arrived at the center and went straight to deliver food to 4 of the families of kids in the center. It's a part of the program for FMN that they support the families so that the siblings of kids in the center who aren't a part of it will be provided food as well.

We drove to their muddy streets and walked in all kinds of things. I actually stepped in poop...not dog poop, human poop. Sorry for the grossness, but that's the reality of it. They don't have outhouses, so they go on the ground. (One of the projects for the next BIG group that's coming in May is to build outhouses through FMN for the villages.) In the midst of taking pictures of the kids in the village and holding a precious gypsy baby, I stepped in it and had no idea. It tends to look just like the mud and trash on the ground. I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

It was similar to my experience last year of visiting poor gypsy villages, but it's never an experience that is redundant. It is always a reminder and it's a great experience for our students to see how others live. When you see poverty face to face and meet real people behind just the word or idea of poverty, you don't forget it. You don't just walk away the same. I think we all realize we can live without our bags if families of several people can live in a one room shack and relieve themselves on the ground outside the door.

After delivering food to the families we went to the center and as we drove up, the 6 kids were in the window waving and excited to meet us! We got to spend a little time w/ them before we broke up into 3 groups of 5, one of which got to play with the children all day and the other two groups painted in the center. Tomorrow we'll be painting again, playing with the kids, and screening some windows so the mosquitoes will be kept out.

It's a joy to meet these kids we've been hearing all about from Rachel, Sarah, and Erin this weekend. Little Abel & Samuel (Samu), Maria, Florica, Alex, and Simona. 3 girls and 3 boys who have very different backgrounds of distress and tragedy. They are beautiful little bald-headed kids (the girls at the center shave their heads - because of lice- every Monday when they pick them up, and they're bathed and cleaned up entirely each morning) and they are clearly affected by the lives they've lived thus far. But they've come a long way from what we've heard, and I look forward to hearing about them someday down the road even after more progress!

Our group shared quite a bit tonight in our devo time, and I'm seeing several of them beginning to step up and see the change they can be in the world. I'm excited to see how their lives are impacted and how this week will change them forever.

And an update on the bags...I just tracked them online and 3 of the 4 missing bags have arrived in Budapest and will hopefully (fingers crossed) arrive for us tomorrow! Hooray!

One girl has a slight cold, so if you could pray for her, that would be great. Also, I woke up at 2 a.m. last night feeling very panicky for some reason, and if you know me well, you know that isn't completely uncommon. I'm not sure if it was a reaction to my medicines for some odd reason or something I ate or dehydration or what, but I got a cold washcloth for my forehead, put in my headphones, and listened to a podcasted sermon from Jon Weece at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY and calmed myself down until I fell asleep. Please pray that doesn't happen again tonight. For some reason Satan enjoys attacking me with panic and anxiety, but I won't let him win! And I'm realizing that prayer really does heal...I'm hearing stories about this here. Rachel even had her friends pray over her apartment here recently b/c she hadn't been sleeping well if at all in it for over a felt like there was a "presence" or something there, and after they prayed last weekend she has slept great! It's an amazing thing what prayer does. Another girl, Erin, was healed from an allergy to yeast b/c her friends prayed for her! She can now enjoy the yummy bread that is a part of every meal in Romania it seems. Praise God!

Well, I'm off to you all read this you're probably still at work or enjoying an early evening. It's after 11 pm here and I'm exhausted.

Noapte buna!

Monday, March 17, 2008

day #5 in the same clothes...

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Honestly, I barely remembered it was St. Patrick's Day until one of the girls in our group shouted out "Happy St. Patrick's Day!" as we were sweeping and scrubbing the floors in the children's center today. And then on the way back to the hotel we saw the most beautiful double rainbow. It was vivid and bright and big and close and colorful and cheery. I was hoping that we'd reach the pot of gold at the end when we reached our hotel and that my luggage would be in the pot, but no...still no luggage.

Most of our group finally received their bags this morning, but my suitcase is still missing along with Traci's and Ashley's in our group. Beginning tonight I'll be wearing some clothes from other girls so that I don't start smelling! Thankfully we still have showers and all and at least had a change of clothes yesterday for church. It is frustrating, but during the day I don't even think about it much. I'm learning to live with less, and that's a wonderful thing to learn on a mission trip. Maybe it's my punishment for packing too many things...I'll surely learn my lesson from here on out.

Today we went to the center in Tinca for the first time. Tinca is one of the biggest gypsy villages around with a population of about 3,000 gypsies. Rachel and the other girls from Forget-Me-Not Ministries opened their center in January and now have 6 kids that they care for at the center. 3 of these kids stay there 24 hours from Monday-Friday, and 3 of them are taken back to their homes (reluctantly) each night. The girls at FMN take shifts sleeping at the center a few nights a week and sometimes even take the children home to their own apartments so they don't have to go back to their families.

Many of the kids in the center come from backgrounds where their families simply don't care about them at all. 2 of the 6 have grandmothers who care for them primarily and do show love for them, but most of these kids have been born to young girls around the age of 12. Typically in gypsy culture girls are expected to be married and begin having kids between the ages of 9 and 14. They are very uneducated and some don't even know how they get pregnant, which is why many of them keep having children that they don't want. This creates the obvious problem that exists in Romania.

And because these people, the gypsies, are considered "dogs" and "non-human" to Romanians, they are basically rejected. It is hard to believe that a culture could actually discredit another person's humanity, but this is very real, and it's why the gypsies live in their own villages that are separate from the rest of society. It is a beautiful thing here that in Salem, the Christian church we attended yesterday, there are gypsies in the church family that are welcomed there. Hopefully this begins a witness to the rest of the culture that might spread.

So you can understand the need for the FMN children's center. It's a place of safety, refuge, compassion, and love for kids who come from backgrounds of abuse, molestation, incest, and other tragic situations. It's similar with the ministry of Caminul Felix, the place where our "hotel" is. And so Rachel, Sarah, Erin, and other staff at FMN as well as the house parents at Caminul Felix certainly need plenty of prayer as they strive to meet the basic physical, emotional, mental, educational, and spiritual needs of these children.

Last week the center underwent some construction projects, which means that the kids were at home with their actual families all week. One little boy, a 4-year-old, walked a mile and a half THREE TIMES in the past week by himself to get to the center because he wanted to be there and not with his family. He very easily could have been hit by a car or hurt some other way, but he wanted to escape his reality and get to a place of refuge and love. Thankfully, he is okay, and tomorrow the girls are looking forward to picking up their 6 kids that they have been missing for the past week!

Today we swept, scrubbed, and mopped the floors that were covered with plaster and paint from the construction that happened last week. It was tough work, but we made more progress than I thought we would! We had to get the place ready for bringing the kids back tomorrow, and I think our group did a great job and worked really hard. We're excited to meet the kiddos tomorrow and paint some more rooms and serve FMN as much as we can!

So while 3 of us are still adjusting to life without our luggage, we're learning a few more important things. I'm realizing the things we take for granted in America like running water that is clean (despite what we think...), grocery stores that abound, freedom, life without prejudice, iPods and laptops and gadgets galore...we live with much more than we will ever need to actually survive. We think we need certain things, but it turns out life is much simpler, much less complicated, without all of the stuff that we shove into it. So while things would be much more convenient with my luggage here, I'm learning to give up control and I'm learning to be dependent on the people around me, and I'm learning to appreciate the difference between needs and wants.

I'm looking forward to whatever else God wants me/us to learn this week.

In our group time tonight we just talked about things we're learning or thinking about so far, and one of the guys said this: "When we got there today, all I could see in the backyard of the center was tons of children just running around and playing...even though it was empty, that's what I saw in my mind." And what a vision that is. Please pray that it will be the future for FMN Ministries that the backyard will be full of children and they will be fully supported and fully staffed enough to provide a safe, loving refuge for kids who can't find it elsewhere.

Until tomorrow...noapte buna! (goodnight!) Ciao!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

today's update

We still don't have our bags...and we're still wearing our clothes from 3 days ago. Last night we went to buy clothes for church, so we actually had some clean clothing for today. I'm still wearing it. Our bags are here in Oradea, but we won't get them until morning when our driver delivers them. I'm praying mine will be w/ the rest of the group's since I arrived a day later than our group and gave the Budapest airport Rachel's address instead of the Caminul Felix address. I think someone called there and took care of it for me. Let's hope so.

We went to church this morning, which is a lot more exciting than church in America. They jump and clap and dance and don't mind being at church for almost 3 hours. We've enjoyed the rest of the day resting, buying groceries for our breakfast/lunch all week, and playing games tonight. We learned a bit more from Rachel tonight about Forget Me Not Ministries and the Roma (gypsy) culture that we'll be a part of this week in Tinca.

It has been a nice day but we're ready to dive in to working this week. Tomorrow morning our bags will be here and we'll head to Tinca to clean, clean, clean the center from some construction that was being done there last week. Tuesday morning we'll finally meet the 6 kids who are in the center. We're excited!

Keep praying.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

George? She landed...

(sidenote: if you don't recognize that quote, it's from Father of the Bride)

The 3 of us who were stuck in London have finally arrived in Oradea, Romania with the rest of our group. Currently it's 9:40 pm here, and many of us just went to the hypermarket, Real, to buy clothes for church tomorrow. Only about 4 or 5 people actually have their checked luggage, and the rest of us have been in the same clothes since Thursday. Thankfully the exchange rate is better in Romania than it was in London, so we were able to buy some clothes for less than an entire arm and a leg.

So, we're a day late and a few dollars short, but we are all here safe and sound. Tired, feeling a little dirty, and still confused about how our flights got so screwed up, but we are here.

I've seen God work through our airline mishaps already...first we met a guy named Steve from Des Moines, IA in Heathrow who was playing worship songs and on his way to do missions for a week in Barcelona, and we sat and sang praise songs with him for a little while and then he prayed for us and we prayed for him. It was good.

God worked in the way that when we had to check in at the hotel last night in London and used the business center to e-mail Rachel in Romania via facebook, she just happened to be online at the time I was sending her the messages. It worked out perfectly.

God worked in the fact that we were stuck in a place where people speak English, so it made our problems easier to resolve. Had we been stuck in Frankfort (which almost happened), I'm not sure that my 4 years of German in high school would have helped us through.

And it's only Saturday. We have all day tomorrow through Friday to see God's hand at work more on this trip. I know that He certainly will.

Rachel Ross and the other girls from her children's center--Erin & Sarah--are already working hard to help make things come together for us here. I'm thankful for all they're doing. The hardest part about coming here to serve is that I feel we're the ones being served rather than serving. I hope that somehow they are blessed through the little time we have here. And I hope that we are changed too.

We do have internet access right here in the "hotel" where we're living all week. I'll be updating daily (hopefully) if I can weasel enough time in between my students checking their emails and facebook accounts. I'll be checking mine as well. We appreciate your prayers for us and for Rachel's ministry in Romania.

As I sit here with one of my students playing the piano beautifully in the background, I am finally at peace. It's good to be at peace for the first time in a few days. It's good when things are out of my hands, out of my control. It's a lesson I'm learning. I have a great group of students here with me and I'm looking forward to seeing how this week will unfold.

Love you all and nuapte buna! (I'm pretty sure I spelled that wrong, but it's supposed to be 'good night' in Romanian...)

Friday, March 14, 2008

i do not heart british airways...

or maybe i should say that i don't heart american airlines? not sure whose fault it is, but I and 2 of my students are stuck in london, thanks to whoever checked us in at O'Hare and failed to check us in all the way to Budapest. i'm in the business center at the Renaissance Hotel at London Heathrow, not by choice, but b/c i have to contact our contact in romania and communicate what's going on.

so it might appear that we're living it up but not so much...

it's been a rough day.

we're flying out tomorrow morning at 8 30 and arriving in budapest around 11:55 am their time (3:55 am central time)

so we're safe. but pray for safe flights tomorrow and on the way home!!!!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


* I leave for Romania TOMORROW. And I need to pack. And I'm nervous and excited. I can't believe it's already time to go! It seems like it's still weeks away, but I'm so looking forward to being there soon. If you remember throughout the week, say a prayer or two or more for us for safety as we travel, good health, and most importantly that God changes some hearts--ours AND the kids we meet. Pray for Rachel Ross, a LCC alum, who we'll be working with in the gypsy village of Tinca. We'll be back on Easter Sunday.

* Have you ever had a ticket from one of those cameras on a stoplight? If so, I'd like to hear about it. I'm paranoid that I might be getting one of those pictures in the mail. I really hope not. I have the absolute WORST luck with tickets, and I'm not that bad of a driver.

* I got to have coffee w/ my good old friend Kunjali from jr. high and high school yesterday in Peoria. It was so good to spend time with a friend that I don't get to see nearly enough and hear how her life will soon be changing when she goes on her RESIDENCY. She's going to be a great doctor...and I'll probably call her w/ all my hypochondriac questions.

* Someone at Apple has seriously mastered the art of discovering new music. I want their job. Have you noticed that any song Apple puts on their commercials suddenly becomes a big hit? If I were a music artist, I'd make it my goal to be on an iPod commercial.

* Speaking of music, I will never get tired of jamming to Bennie & the Jets and laughing at the scene in 27 Dresses. Just saw the movie for the THIRD time in the theater and laughed harder than the first 2 times.

* I can't decide which carry-on to take on my trip...

* I also get to go to Florida for a CIY conference at Panama City Beach less than 2 weeks after I'm back from Romania. I so can't wait for warmer weather.

* I don't think I could ever be Amish...

* In the works of my writing...I'm determined to write something about how people deal with depression and anxiety and how those who have never experienced either don't know how to understand those who do.

* I'm really tired of all of the wannabe cool reality TV dance shows that keep coming out. Because I grew up very involved in dance, I'm quite opinionated about the topic and can spot a good dancer when I see one. I got this email today from "On Camera Audiences" about a new show coming up called Your Mama Don't Dance that will be hosted by Ian Ziering (formerly known as Steve on Beverly Hills, 90210). I am very firm in my opinion that So You Think You Can Dance is the only good dance show where the dancers have actual skill and it's not a popularity contest as is Dancing With the Stars. Also the new show on MTV, America's Best Dance Crew, hardly even shows the groups dancing. I like the concept of dance crews, but it needs some work. And now Bravo is coming out with Step It Up & Dance hosted by Elizabeth Berkley (formerly Jessie Spano on Saved By the Bell). It looks ridiculously cheesy. As will probably be Your Mama Don't Dance. So I will stand by my favorite show, So You Think You Can Dance, even though it only airs in the summertime. Nothing comes close in comparison.

and that's all of my scattered brain that I'll share for now...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!!!

So, I have the coolest mom in the world...
and I thought I'd just share it with the world since it's her birthday today. That's a picture of us in Vegas this past year (where we celebrated her birthday last March and again celebrated mine in September). While I look semi-crazy in the picture, that's not what's moms looks adorable, because she is, and that's all that matters.

And here are just a few reasons why my mom is the best:

  • She's a beautiful woman who looks extremely young to be a mom and a "mimi"...definitely often mistaken as our "older sister"
  • She wears cuter clothes than I do half the time
  • This past weekend I decided to call her "chubs" because she went from about a size negative 2 to a 4. She's skinny. But don't tell her that--she already knows, for crying out loud! And she's healthy, she's not anorexic, and you have nothing to worry about!
  • Who has a mom that cranks up Flo Rida's "Low" on the radio? Mmhmm...that's right. I do. We jammed to it several times in the car and yelled my favorite parts ("with the fur!!!" and "with the strap!!!"--if you don't know, see my post called "Coffee, Tea, and Rap Nonsense")
  • She made me. And my sister. And she married my dad, who was also incredibly awesome.
  • She's strong, despite what she thinks, but she's made it through an awful lot in life.
  • Um, hello...she took me and my sis to Vegas for HER birthday last year...and then me again for mine. How cool is that?
  • She is generous and loving and beautiful and fabulous in every way...and she has no idea that she is.