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An American in Romania, he got a dose of kryptonite

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The first temptation on any mission trip is to see yourself as “Super Missionary from America,” swooping down from the lofty height of democracy and freedom to show the less fortunate people of the world what ministry can be when done correctly. Though thoroughly rebuking such a horrible thought, I nevertheless found myself on the receiving end of a dose of kryptonite.
Several of my classmates from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and I traveled to Holy Trinity Baptist Church in Brailia, Romania, as part of the Romanian American Mission (RAM) team, with some 100 workers sent to cities all over the poverty-stricken country June 23-July 7. During our two-week stay, we led Vacation Bible School activities in parks around the city, traveled to several small villages outside of Brailia to preach in their churches, and ministered to waiting patients at a medical clinic, manned by a RAM medical team.
Despite any of our initial ideas, what we found there was a group of committed Christian workers who, though deprived of our most common resources and creature comforts here in the United States, are passionate about spreading the gospel in Romania no matter the cost. I had believed that I would go there to serve and to train, but instead I was served and trained in ways I had never imagined.
Our first day out was surrounded with a certain degree of excitement. Teenagers from the church’s missions group had scouted out a park in downtown Brailia at which some 100 children were playing as part of school recess. We asked their teachers if we could lead them in games and a Bible story, to which they agreed. Because of a lack of transportation, we didn’t have all of our team members (including our translator) with us at the moment, and we were suddenly responsible for 100 children who were eager to play. Reaching down into our bag of on-the-fly goodies, we decided to play “Duck, Duck, Goose.”
I had my concerns. I imagined a group of young American children looking at me with a look that said, “This is so lame. You are all so lame. We are bored to absolute oblivion.” That was how I imagined it, anyway. One of the children, however, knew a tad of English and seemed excited enough as we explained it.
I was “it” first. As I went around the circle, patting the children on their heads, I was so moved at their anticipation — and by the absolute trust they had in us. It wasn’t so much that they were Romanian children or that I knew their amazing poverty, it moved me because they were children and I knew that we were only beginning our presentation of the gospel with them.
As soon as the word left my lips, all the children were cheering as I ran from the young boy chasing me. They were excited, and it was quickly rubbing off on us.
We played the game again and again and slowly the rest of our missions team, including the Romanian teenagers, showed up with a bag full of games and took over from there. For the rest of the our stay, “Duck, Duck, Goose” — “Ratsa, Ratsa, Gooska,” as the Romanian children called it — was a hit, and it served as our starting point to draw children to Christ.
Flexibility was a key to our service in Romania. There were times when transportation was a problem, and times when communication wires got crossed and people were left with no direction. Oftentimes we had no idea what to expect of each situation; no clue about the teaching environment or what it might be like; no way to know how many children to expect; no way of calling to find out. We had become so accustomed to a church calendar, but here we found the gospel working outside our plans, outside the realm of telephones, air conditioning and cars for every family.
In the evenings, the group would travel to a small village where the men were asked to preach. I really struggled with a message. I would be preaching in a small village called Baraganul the first week. Because I’m not a part of their culture and not a part of their daily life, I had no idea how to bring a message before them. Would they respond to a word study? An illustration from American daily life? How could I make Jesus relevant for them?
In preparing a message, I used Jesus’ model: observe their daily life and speak to them about what they know. As we were driving into Brailia from Bucharest on the first day, I noticed that the people of Romania depend a lot on what they can control. They drive horses and carriages just as much as they drive cars. They tend to their land to have food and not only to make a profit. They work hard and take nothing for granted.
Shepherding is still a common practice in the country, and as we passed a large intersection on the long trek into the city, I noticed a shepherd standing with his flock by the edge of the road. Though the cars raced by them, the flock stood still because their shepherd was calling out commands to them. It was a vivid picture of God calling out to us. The Holy Spirit was definitely leading me to the “Great Shepherd” passage in John 10, and God had at least spoken to one particular man ahead of time who would receive it. Seeing a soul come to Christ is a humbling experience.
There were many souls who found faith during our two-week stay, and sometimes it seemed so easy. I was talking about it with our main contact during the two weeks, Marius Mezin, the associate pastor of Holy Trinity, who drove us around the city. As we drove by one of the parks, he waved to one of the members of his youth group.
“They’re leading a basketball clinic here this weekend,” he said. “They play basketball with the children and then share the gospel with them. It’s one of several youth events all over the city.”
“Your youth lead them?” I asked, somewhat surprised.
“Yes they do,” he said. “That is just one of several evangelistic events we have each week.”
“Each week?!” I asked, even more surprised. “Wow, that’s really great: an evangelistic event each week led by the youth. That’s amazing.”
He looked at me quizzically for a moment and said, “Well, that’s the job of the church, isn’t it?”
I’ve heard the gospel put before me as a challenge many times before in my life, but in that simple statement it hit home more than at any other time. Presenting the gospel is the job of the church, and then discipling those who come to know Jesus, and then sending them out to present the gospel to others. It’s simple, and in Romania, where Christian workers are constantly thwarted by the remnants of communism and the power of the anti-evangelical Greek Orthodox Church, the people are passionate about seeing it spread like wildfire.
God’s kryptonite has made me feel a little less like Superman — flying around teaching Romanians how to be good at Christian work — and a little more like Clark Kent: keeping quiet and just taking notes. And though I’m thankful that I reside in a country where I can live comfortably, I know that the faith and perseverance of the Christians in Romania will give them a crown of glory the requirements for which I could never fathom.

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