Love from Romania

July 12, 2015
By MB Communications Team

image1Our team arrived at Life Academy in Timisoara, Romania on July 11. Trip historian Millie Atkinson is posting frequent updates. They will be added here as they arrive. She is also sending pictures, which can be seen here »

July 21

We’re home. We were blessed and arrived back in Atlanta around 8:30 last night. The Deborah House team met us at the airport. Bob Skinner was there to pick us up in the Mt. Bethel van.

We appreciate those who prayed for us and  participated financially in making this trip possible.  What a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ!

As you know, the theme verse for Life Academy is John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (abundant life.)

We have experienced this abundant life on this trip.

July 20

Our final evening in Budapest was fun as we strolled around the old city of Buda. Emily and Caroline recommended strudel, which we enjoyed before dinner. Dinner was at a favorite restaurant of the team, 21, just a block from our hotel. There are lovely views from this area overlooking the Danube towards the Parliament. For Downton Abbey fans, it is the view used in Viking River Cruise advertisements.

It is always hard saying goodbye to Colly, Andrea, Vio, and Felicia, and when they ask if we will come next year, our answer is, “Yes, God-willing.”

We are now en route to London. I am looking forward to enjoying fish and chips again. Mike will stay a few extra days here. The remainder of the team will fly on to Atlanta.

For all of us, there is quite a bit to process. We saw longtime friends, made new friends, and experienced  life in a different part of the world. Yet, as Believers in Jesus Christ, we have hope and joy no matter the circumstances. On this trip, we have all experienced the abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10.

July 19

This is our last day in Timisoara

Thunder and heavy rain woke us up. The cooler morning temperature was a relief after the nearly 100 degree temperature yesterday. Since it was raining, Colly and Vio set up two tables in Colly’s living room. Once again, we had a delicious breakfast and fellowship around the table. The Nelsons had our devotion. As we ended this special time together, Mike presented Colly with a notebook of cards and letters. Family and friends of Colly had been asked to write a note of appreciation or encouragement as Life Academy celebrates 10 years!

On to Betel for worship! Paul C. presented Pastor Peter Bulica a plaque from Life Academy in appreciation for 10 years of service together. Pastor Alex Neagoe brought the message from Exodus 33:18-23, blessings that come from standing close to God. One of the blessings is that God showed a part of His Glory to Moses. I could not help but think of our week together with our Romanian family as just a little window to see God’s Glory. Or as I say sometimes, a little glimpse of heaven.

After the service, we said our goodbyes until we meet again. Paul and Bette are staying a few extra days to travel with Jeff and Lauren. Colly, Andrea, Vio, and Felicia are traveling with the rest of the American team to Budapest. The new (used) van that Colly drives has been comfortable, safe, and reliable. Many thanks to those of you who provided funds for its purchase.

Hopefully, we will have time to walk around the old city of Buda before dinner together. Tomorrow will be a long day flying from Budapest to London and London to Atlanta. Thank you for your prayers. We have felt them.

July 18, afternoon

On Saturday evening there was a tenth anniversary party for Life Academy at the Betel church. Attendees included Life Academy young adults, Betel youth and some parents, three Betel pastors, and our mission team. Of course, Vio, Colly, and Miha were there plus Cristi (dubbed Colly 2 by Colly). Bianca, Cristi’s wife of one year, was also there. We opened with singing, led by Cristi, followed by prayer and dinner.

After dinner, Paul C. gave a brief history of Life Academy and his partnership with Colly. Several team members spoke briefly of their experiences over the years. Two pastors, Peter and Alex, praised the Life Academy mission for their work with the orphans but also mentioned that Betel church had benefited in several ways. This has been a wonderful partnership between 2 churches with similar names but different denominations (Baptist and Methodist). The body of Christ in fellowship and action.

Then Colly distributed laminated diplomas to Romanian helpers and the American team members. After Colly gave a brief talk, he then invited Life Academy young people to say a few words; a handful came individually to the microphone to offer heartfelt thanks. There was a tasty chocolate cherry birthday cake for Life Academy. As the celebration came to a close, Life Academy young people were invited to take home clothing items displayed in a nearby room. Many of these items came from the MBUMC consignment sale.

Afterwards, team members had a Saturday night stroll through Unity Square and Liberty Square.

July 18, morning

We arrived safely back in Timisoara at 2am after traveling 1,511 kilometers! We are tired but with a heart of gratitude for an abundant life!

Our morning started with breakfast and a devotion in the backyard of the Tirziu compound. For those who have been on this trip, you know how special this time is. Andrea and Felicia prepared a delicious meal with some of our favorite dishes.

Emily had our devotion with Jeremiah 29:11 as the verse for the day. It was a lovely time as we reflected back over our week as well as the ten years of Life Academy and our Life Academy family.

We visited a Communist museum, which is in the basement of a pub. The museum contains items from the time of Communist rule in Romania. Some specific things that caught our attention included Communist propaganda and a photograph that dated to the revolution against Communism in 1989. The photo showed hundreds of people who were saying the Lord’s Prayer in Opera Square.

The team then divided up with the first time members going on the Revolution tour with Vio. Vio had been imprisoned for four days during that time, which makes the story personal and more moving. The rest of the team went to Betel to set up for the Life Academy ten-year anniversary celebration tonight. We also organized the children’s clothes which were donated from the Mt. Bethel Consignment Sale. Tonight the families with children will come in and shop – for free – thanks to the generosity of Mt. Bethel consignors.

July 17

It was an early departure from Sucevita this morning as we have a long trip back to Timisoara. We delayed breakfast as we had to travel back on the 30 kilometers of winding road we experienced Tuesday nite. The terrain reminded me of the Blue Ridge mountains but with many stately spruce trees.

For our concluding session last night, Paul A. did an overview of what it is to experience abundant life (John 10:10) with a reminder of the three enemies of the abundant life discussed by Mike the previous night. We then divided into small groups to discuss a few relevant questions.

On the trip back we passed through the city, Targu Mures, where Collin from the American team was adopted. Emil, one of our young men from Life Academy, was also at an orphanage in this city. After purchasing some lunch items, we had a roadside lunch by a cornfield.

We stopped at the Turda salt mine in the afternoon. From the entrance to the mine to the lowest point is 367 feet. There was a lake at the bottom of the mine where some of the group rented row boats.

A theme on the trip has been getting this group together is like herding cats. Let’s just say the ultimate example was at the salt mine where some of the group took the turn where they had to walk an additional five kilometers (three miles) back to the bus.

It is a miracle, but we are all accounted for and on our way to Timisoara.

July 16

Last night after dinner, we continued our session with Mike leading the discussion on anger, fear, and greed. These are three issues which can rob us of experiencing the abundant life God wants for His children.

Bette gave an overview about VBS which we will be leading today in a nearby town.

The pastor from the church had told Colly we could have as many as 200 children. Over the years, we have learned to keep the crafts and recreation simple. The Gospel will be shared. May we all experience the joy that comes from knowing Jesus.

Update, mid-afternoon July 16: It is hard to find words to describe the day so far. After driving a short distance, we arrived at Emanuel Baptist Church which is only 10 kilometers from the border to Ukraine. VBS was taking place all week. But today was special because of our visit. The children began arriving just as we got everything set up.

What lovely, well behaved children they are. How special it was to worship with them. Several from Timisoara acted out the story of Elijah and the ravens. The theme was God will provide. Indeed He did in every way.

The weather was perfect. All the teams worked well together. Yes, we had over 200 children in attendance! A woman from that church said about 70 children were from Emanuel, the others from the Pentecostal and Orthodox churches in town.

Crafts included God’s eyes, friendship bracelets, and decorating picture frames. Paul C. was in charge of the photo booth. Paul A. and a youth team headed up the science. Outdoor games were enjoyed by all.  Eric was in charge of the bouncy house – always a favorite.

Perhaps the pictures will capture a bit of the feelings of the day.

After a short bus ride, Colly surprised the team with a picnic and Mama Geta’s sarmale. She cooks at Betel.

Another monastery of Stephen the Great is in the area, which also includes his tomb. Again, exquisite art work was covering every bit of space inside.

Now back to our hotel. We are tired, but feel we have experienced the abundant life as we have served the Lord and His people in this part of the world.

Bette delivered your notes after VBS. Our deepest thanks for your prayers, notes, and words of encouragement!

July 15

We’ll start with an addendum to yesterday’s update: Well, it turned out it was 16 1/2 hours getting here which included four hours for eating and seeing attractions along the way. The last two hours were very challenging with motion sickness and a winding mountain road for 53 kilometers (31 miles) which seemed like eternity.

I am happy to report everyone feels better this morning after a good night’s rest and showers. Paul Cardell led our morning session for the entire group with John 10:10 as the theme verse. You may know this is the verse on which Life Academy was founded. It seems fitting to talk about the abundant life given by Jesus as we celebrate ten years of Life Academy.

Now we are back on the bus for a day of touring historic places in the area. Rain is forecast for the day, but we are praying it does not interfere with our plans. Again, we are passing through fertile, hilly countryside with a variety of crops like corn, cabbage, wheat, and sunflowers. The quaint towns are scattered throughout the area.

This region was never occupied by the Russians or Turks and is relatively close to Ukraine. The Austrian Hungarian empire influenced the architecture. In Suceava, we walked through a restored village that showed examples of homes from this period. Adjacent to the restoration were remains of a citadel belonging to Stefan cel mare (Stephen the great) dating back to the late 1400’s. After lunch at McDonald’s, we went to an exhibit that included Stefan’s throne and mannequins in period dress. Because of restoration at the museum, the exhibit was inside the local mall, where a few of us purchased food treats for the VBS tomorrow morning.

The sun came out while we toured Voronet monastery, an Eastern Orthodox religious site dating from 1488. The walls outside and in were painted with beautiful religious images on a well-preserved blue background. The nun who described the various images gave us permission to sing a few hymns, and the acoustics inside were outstanding.

It is fun to hear the laughter and conversations as we spend time together. What a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ.

July 14

Everyone was up early to meet the bus at Betel at 6am for our special trip to the north of Romania. Since this is the tenth anniversary of Life Academy, Colly wanted to do something special to celebrate. Life Academy family and friends are on the trip, 50 total of all ages, the youngest 2 1/2 years old.

As I write this, we are on a two-lane road winding through lovely countryside with corn, wheat,and sunflowers growing in the fertile fields. Romania is known as the Breadbasket of Europe. During WWII, Hitler had the rich soil shipped to Germany. The architecture in the small towns reflects the history of Romania.

We are traveling through the Transylvania region of Romania, making stops at various sites. After lunch we had a tour of an historic fortification site in the town of Alba Iulia. Romania has a complicated history, traditionally being composed of three regions with separate rulers.

We are continuing north this afternoon with dinner plans at Vlad’s (Dracula) castle tonight. The castle is not the authentic castle of Vlad the impaler, but simply a building utilizing the Dracula name for marketing.

All afternoon we have traveled through lovely agricultural areas and small towns. Leaving Translyvania, we entered the region of Romania known as Moldova (distinct from the country of Moldova). Although Moldova contains some of the poorest parts of Romania, the mountain scenery in the area where we ate remind us of Austria.

Colly had arranged dinner at Hotel Castel Dracula. We have been on the road 14 hours. It has been rowdy a few times with some of the little ones, but overall we have been blessed with a wonderful day, seeing Romania while building relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Just a few more kilometers to our hotel. I imagine everyone will sleep well!

July 13

Sunday was a lovely first day for the Life Academy team. The weather was beautiful with milder temps, perfect for our time getting acclimated. Some of the team visited local churches in the morning and then the annual BBQ in the afternoon. We attended Betel church for the evening worship service. Afterwards was a visit to Opera Square and gelato as an evening treat.

Today (Monday) we celebrate Francesca’s 15th birthday. This morning was spent at the church getting things organized for the week. In the morning, preliminary work was done for various VBS craft activities. The food was organized for delivery to apartments/houses of some Life Academy young people. T-shirts and sneakers were sorted by size, so they can be presented to Life Academy young people during the Life Academy 10 year anniversary retreat later this week.

After a lunch of shoarma at a Lebanese fast food place on the square, we returned to Betel and loaded the vans with the food items, spending the afternoon delivering them to Life Academy young people. The houses were ones for which we had assisted in constructing in previous years, and for those team members who had worked on these homes, there was a deep satisfaction in seeing the joy of those we have helped. Team members here for the first time received insights into the life stories of some young people who have been benefited by Life Academy.  We were tired and hungry as we gathered at Casa cu Flori, Paul C’s favorite restaurant in Timisoara. We are planning an early departure tomorrow (6am) for our bus ride to the retreat in northern Romania. Hopefully,  pictures will give you a sense of what we are experiencing.

July 11

We have arrived safely at the Tirziu compound. It is like coming home! Delicious food was prepared for us. Now to bed as it is 12:25am on Sunday!

Will write more later!
Thanks for your prayers! God has answered them! Know you are with us in spirit!

Millie