10 May 2011

romania on my mind ... the trip home

day six ...

woke up to a cell phone call at 1:00 am ... who’s calling me in bucharest? ignored it, because that’s just what i tend to do with phone calls.

when the real alarm went off at 6:40am, i awoke to a gorgeous, warm morning. i wish that i had brought running shorts with me, but i had to settle for tights and a tank.

today’s run took me out east, where i was intending to loop back south to the parliament buildings, run through the park that we’d explored last night and back north to the hotel. easier planned than done – and there were three important lessons that i learned:

1. in bucharest, it’s not the cars on the road you have to look out for – it’s the cars on the sidewalk (if you’ve ever been here, you’ll know what i mean).
2. mapping the route is the easy part – locating the road name signs is not.
3. even when stray dogs are surrounded by people, they will only chase the running ones.

as it was, i navigated down unintended side streets and was distracted on various occasions by police vehicles either travelling at high speed with sirens a-blazing or escorting what looked to be romanian dignitaries flanked by their equivalent of the secret service. add in that i ran straight past my hotel without noticing, and a 10km run turned into 12.71km.

after breakfast back at the hotel, doug escorted me to the bus stop, where the airport express had just arrived – barely enough time for goodbye. the bus trip itself was reasonably uneventful , although i did discover that at unidentified stops the officials responsible for verifying tickets will board the bus and randomly ask for valid transit passes. and even though my ticket was rejected by the magnetic scanning machine situated at each of the bus doors, apparently when it was checked by the official it passed muster.

check-in at the henri coanda airport was uneventful – thankfully. they actually have two airports in town. i’m not sure that i could have handled another “oh, you’re supposed to be at the other one”.

lunch at the terminal doesn’t offer too many options , so i managed to complete the trifecta. i have now eaten at pizza hut, mcdonald’s and burger king in romania.

highlights of the flights home?
a. seeing the swiss alps from the air
b. being patted down by munich airport security ... these guys take no chances
c. lufthansa flight attendant commenting on how much she loved my outfit
d. one hour delay for the flight from boston to Toronto (actually, i’m still waiting in logan international airport even now)

so, figuring that it'll be a late arrival back home after catching the simcoe county airport shuttle, i'm posting this before wrapping up the day. but i'm definitely bringing back great memories of bacau and bucharest to barrie.

(say that 10x fast)

[post script: i've now arrived back in toronto, but my luggage didn't make it. that's two for two on international flights where my bag has gone missing. last time it was our honeymoon.]


09 May 2011

romania on my mind ... continued

day five ...

ahh ... much better sleep last night. i woke up still tired, but did feel like i'd gotten a serious chunk of shut-eye. i set out for my 5 or so km run this morning, and did heed advice and headed into the city as opposed to away from it. still, no other runners, and people looking at me like i had two heads. could've been my lime green shoes.

doug had a late night in târgu ocna , but we made it for breakfast just after 8am. marian and his youngest daughter analise joined us, and all was great - until we went to settle the bill with the innkeeper. none of us had enough cash, neither my debit nor my credit card worked there. we scrambled until marian's church credit card cleared the transaction - but then we had to hit up an atm to make sure we were square with the church before hopping the train back to bucharest. residents in bacau (and even most of romania) do not have a lot of money, and the churches (at least protestant, non-state) are in the same boat. but all debts were paid, and we shared hugs with our friends before hitting the rail back into the big city.

train rides in romania still rank among the best train experiences i've had. even the trip back into bucharest ... for a while doug and i worked on trying to figure out our expenditures on this trip, all the while sitting across from an old romanian man who was occupied talking on alternating cell phones (he had two on him). after about two hours, he taps us me on the arm (having noticed that i was taking photos along the way) and pointed to a memorial-type structure in the distance and says, "that is a very important location for romanians because of the first world war".

ai yi yi ... i hope we didn't say anything inappropriate in english. he'd have understood every word.

as it turns out, the location was where the romanians took a stand against german forces in ww1. but more interesting than that was this 75 year old retired economist, who had travelled much of europe and india, and who spoke six different languages. he was filled with anecdotal and personal stories, and shared about his beliefs about living the christian life.

what a great guy.

arriving back at the golden tulip in bucharest, we settled into our rooms, only to be eager to go on the hunt for covrige - the now-beloved romanian soft pretzel. we walked down to see the romanian pariiliament buildings (it's enormous - probably viewable from space) and meandered back through a very pretty park, complete with an albino peacock.

dinner was at pizza mania, which was part out-of-the-way-family-run-restaurant and part international food chain. whatever it was, the penne alla diaviola hit the spot. and over supper we reflected on what was most meaningful/memorable to us on this trip: for doug, it will have been the serendipitous encounter with alexandr onthe train today; for me, it will have been encountering so many talented and passionate young adults who have been ostracized from their communities and countrypeople on account of their faith, who feel now that they must find their destinies in another country.

alright - bus schedule to the airport has been figured out. now it's time to wind down, prep for my final 10k intervals run tomorrow morning, and pack up to and bid adieu (somehow that doesn't sound quite right) to romania.


08 May 2011

romania on my mind ... continued

day four ...

hmm … don’t get it. another restless sleep in an extremely comfortable bed. doug also had an interrupted night of sleep in his room. not sure what’s up – might even be spiritual. all the same, we awoke eager to head to our respective church hosts to share a message to encourage and challenge them.

tried to order eggs and sausage for breakfast today – but since it’s a b&b style hotel, they didn’t have sausages available. so our hostess suggested “cabanos” for me. not knowing what that was, i said yes. well, doesn’t it turn out to be fancily-sliced hot dogs … odd, but i'll take it!

i was taken to trinity church in bacau to speak today, while doug travelled off to the pentecostal church in the city of roman. at trinity church, there were about 50 people in attendance, and the morning was filled with songs that i knew by tune but for which i struggled to pronounce the romanian lyrics. despite the language gap there was an undeniable sense of joy and hope in the air – a far cry from the first impressions that i developed of bacau before arriving here.

when asked to share the message, i began by describing how i’d lost my sense of direction during my run the previous evening. pastor marian almost choked before translating for me … apparently i went into territory that was far too dangerous for me. as he tells me, “you could have been robbed, or bitten by stray dogs”. he said that if he had known that that was the direction that i was headed in, he would have stopped me.

me? well, i knew that there was a reason that i perked up when the lyrics from “who am i?” played on my ipod … “whom shall i fear? whom shall i fear, when i am yours?”

the rest of the service went well, with even one of the songs selected by the worship team fitting in thematically with a key Bible verse that i'd used. funny how those things come together even when we don't plan for it.

pastor marian and his family graciously invited me to spend the afternoon with them. we visited the arena mall and had lunch at a restaurant there. again, i insisted on having some traditional romanian fare (while his kids ate pizza) – so i had “bulz ciobanesc”. nice dish.

the afternoon was spent at pastor marian’s home (about 15 min. outside of bacau city) having tea and cake, talking about the state of the church in canada, and watching humourous videos he'd used in church services. a very warm and hospitable family.

we returned to trinity church for the evening gathering - a much more informal time of music, some prayer, a brief reflection on the scriptures and open q&a time. about 17 people were in attendance, including two young adults who were not followers of jesus. i shared a reflection, and was asked many of the questions - including questions the highlighted the struggles of being a christian in romania vs. being a christian in canada.

post-service routine was very much like it is for us back home - a trip to mcdonald's. had my first big mac in years. (thanks ronald mcdonaldescu)

so one more sleep in bacau - maybe a sounder one. regardless, i'm surrounded by many more friends here now than when i first arrived.


07 May 2011

day three ...

really comfy bed, really fitful sleep. could have been the stray dogs barking outside, or the roosters crowing at an unnaturally early hour. decided to skip the run this morning.

excellent 'peasant omelette' here at the
Pensiunea Scorillo followed by a ride with Pastor Marian to Trinity Pentecostal Church in Bacau. some 30 participants came for the conference, representing six different churches and several different denominations. i bet you that there was only three people over 40, and the majority were in their twenties. what a great demographic for church leadership.

i thought that it would be challenging to fill six hours of teaching time, but a few small group breakouts were included, and once you calculate translation time - budda bing budda boom! - you find that you actually run over time by the end of the day. there were great conversations and questions - and some touchy areas (ooh, that women in leadership issue!) - but all in all very encouraging and very satisfying for us all. i think that we were challenged to take seriously the post-modern world (be it western or eastern) as we reformulate how to communicate who Jesus is and what is the Gospel message.

dinner ended up being a repeat of lunch (but who's complaining?), as there was a good bit of food leftover. i got to indulge in what may be one of Romania's true national sports - table tennis - with Daniel, who has a ping pong ministry. the only reason that i ended up besting him in a game (unless he let me win) was that for the most part he was in a shirt, tie, had a security card and lanyard around his neck and was talking on his cell phone at the same time as he was pummeling topspin backhands.

arriving back at the hotel by 7:20pm, i decided to cram in that run that i skipped this morning. so i set out for a 14.9k run ... only i got lost.

in the rural Romanian countryside.

with stray dogs chasing me for at least a half a kilometre.

19.5km later, i found my way back to the hotel.

a shower and a skype chat with some of the ladies back home and i'm ready to chow down on the chocolate covered cookies that Daniel bought for me (the spoils of ping-pong victory, i guess). then it's off to bed, and a preaching morning at Trinity Church in Bacau.


06 May 2011

romania on my mind

day one ...

so my trip to Bacau, Romania started off great. jason mccoy offered me a ride to the airport – and on the way we had a fantastic conversation, covering everything from the (purported) assassination of osama bin-laden by an american tactical team to the recent canadian election results to alternative models of christian ministry and who might back them.

i should have known that things might get bumpy at the drop-off, when i removed my bags from Jason’s truck only to close the door and wondered what it was that i’d accidentally kicked along the ground. it was my passport.

then the air canada agent informed me that as of two days ago, they started flying out of the toronto island airport. my booked flight was one of them.

a service charge later, and i was didn’t have to find my way downtown to the island terminal.

the flights to and from montreal were uneventful and on-time. in frankfurt i met up with doug johns, and we took a commuter jet over to bucharest. man, i find sleeping on planes hard – so i was absolutely fried when we landed. but there was still a bus ride ahead, and a short walk to the hotel.

night #1 in bucharest was marked by a soft-pretzel (staple university student food there), a walkabout in the rain and dinner at pizza hut. if i noticed anything, its that cars park on the sidewalk. all over the sidewalk – so pedestrians really have to be quite fearless.

off to bed at 8:30 pm.

day two ...

after about a 10½ hour sleep, my wake-up call rang and i got up for a morning run. 5k through the streets of eastern europe on a gorgeous spring morning. pretty cool, unless you call being chased by a barking stray dog for part of the way not cool.

after breakfast and a quick facebook/gmail check-in (my eldest daughter messaged me to let me know she was glad that i’d made it, but that she was a bit confused by the fact that i was writing to her from ‘tomorrow’ – i thought that i’ve got to use that somehow in my conference talks ... communicating from the future), i managed to get some individual walkabout time in on friday morning, and i used it to stop in on a designated historical church (where i was ordered by an ornery elderly romanian woman to remove my hat), the national museum of art and some out-of-the-way pizza joints.

we had a scheduled 1:40pm train departure time to bacau but a 12:00 noon checkout time. so we headed over to the train station a bit early. enough time to be accosted by gypsies looking for money and prostitutes at the train station looking for sex (well, actually money).

the train ride produced its fair share of interesting sights (in no particular order):

  • horse drawn wagons all over the place

  • more stray dogs (some alive, some dead)

  • stray cows!

  • plenty of drainage ditches, river ‘valleys’, and aqueducts – all without any water

  • shanty towns strewn with litter (presumably inhabited by gypsies)

  • views of the carpathian escarpment

  • fields of canola

  • various peddlers of their wares boarding the train at each stop, dropping off goods for our perusal at our tables
we arrived at bacau train station and were greeted warmly by pastor marian paduret who is serving as host, guide and primary translator. he took us to our hotel (a wonderfully decorated and quaint family run b&b style place), and stayed for some supper with us. we chatted about plans for tomorrow - which apparently should include removal of my earrings for this audience. normally, i would take this under advisement and ignore it ... but given that i don't want to give anyone an extra reason to not bother listening to the western-world english speaker, i think that i'll oblige. :)

closing up shop at 10pm, in order to get a decent 16k run in at 5:30 am.


21 February 2011

go east, young(ish) man

so it wasn't more than 5 weeks ago that my friend doug johns contacted me to see if i'd be interested in helping with a lecture series that he's helping to coordinate for a bible school in romania. immediately my interest was piqued, partly for the opportunity to visit a region of the world that i'd never stepped foot upon before. the subject that he's/they've asked me to present on is communicating the gospel to 21st century culture. which leads me to ask ... what do i know about romanian culture?

needless to say i feel very much underqualified - and yet am willing to tackle the task undaunted. it wouldn't be the first time that i've gotten into something way over my head.