There was with a growing sense of excitement when the 'Magnificent Seven' from King's Church 'rode out' from Luton airport on a mild November day en route to Romania. We did not know quite what to expect, but two of the team, Jenci and Emke, had provided us with very useful local knowledge as we were visiting the Transylvania region of Romania, which is where their family homes are located.
After a three hour flight we landed in Cluj - Narpoca and were warmly welcomed by Blanka, a Hungarian / Romanian friend of the church who was waiting for us in the arrivals area with a 'welcome' banner and a beaming smile. Whether someone was in fact Hungarian or Romanian and the nationalism attached to this question was to be an interesting facet of the trip, which we were to see later.
Blanka worked for the YMCA in Cluj and they kindly gave us access to their Volkswagen minibus for the mission trip. So on bundling into the bus, we set off for a lovely meal with Blanka and then had a quick tour of the city itself. Cluj is an interesting mix of the beautiful old blended with the familiar and modern, and it had a lovely sense of being a cosmopolitan place to live.
That evening, after our tour, we visited the home of Pastor Eduard and his family. We would be working with him and his team over the next few days, and we had a great time of praise and worship when about twenty of us all sat down in one room and sang together. I've found that Christians from anywhere in the world can easily worship even if they don't know the words of each other's songs! It was interesting to hear the different musical styles .
At the end of the meeting, we were blessed by being given a selection of savoury and sweet pastries to try. Some were delicious and others were in the interesting category, but all were much appreciated.
The following day, after a good night’s rest, we set off in the minibus for the village of Apata, a journey of about 5 hours. On way we visited Sighisoara, a medieval town with a church situated on the top of a hill accessed by a covered series of wooden steps and we got a great sense of beauty of this area of Romania.
On arrival at the village of Apata, we noticed that the area had become very rural. The roads were of a poorer quality than in the city and it was not uncommon to see horses ploughing in the fields or pulling long four wheeled carts, which seemed to be the transport of choice for many in the Gypsy community. Our accommodation was on the outskirts of the village and surrounded by undulating hills, and was in fact a large disused bakery. Pastor Eduard had converted it into a series of rooms, which were very comfortable, and two people of the team, Ricky and Tom, were housed in a converted security hut with loads of character and a wood burner for heat.
That evening, after a meal of assorted pork products, we drove to a Gypsy village called Augustin. It was interesting as we drove out of Apata to have Jenci explain that one part of the village was occupied by Hungarian speakers, another part by Romanian speakers and another part by Gypsies and that the Gypsies in that region could also be either Hungarian or Romanian.
The significance of such clear ethnic demarcation was difficult to fully comprehend, but the fact that Transylvania was once under Hungarian control and then became Romanian after the Second World War goes some way to explain it. Communism was an evil in the country that is now long gone, but as a regime, it suppressed the identity of ethnic groups, but once lifted, it caused them to again seek to find their own identity. It was not uncommon to see blue and yellow flags, indicating that the occupier was supporting an independent Transylvania, hanging in the front of houses as we drove passed. Gypsies in particular have struggled concerning their identity because many of them have no identity papers and are therefore technically 'stateless'.
The potential for destructive segregation was clearly demonstrated by one particular house in the village, whose ownership was disputed over by a brother and sister of the same family. The dispute could not be resolved, so the brother literally cut the house in two and to this day, they both live in their now separate halves.
As we entered Augustin, we stopped to pick up about ten children who crammed onto three seats in the vehicle. It didn’t bother them as the bumpy road shook us everywhere in the packed vehicle.
At the hall, we were met by about sixty excited young people and we had a great time of praise and worship. Ricky gave a testimony and I preached on the story of Zacchaeus and how Jesus didn’t overlook him, but knew Zacchaeus’ name. At the end of the evening, numerous hands went up to receive Jesus either for the first time or to make a re-commitment, which was a really encouraging start to the mission.
The following day was Sunday and we held a service in a hall where we were staying in Apata. People came from the surrounding area and the service was translated into both Hungarian and Romanian. The front row consisted of six elderly women, some wearing black with headscarves, all holding their Bibles and listening intently. They all came forward for prayer at the end of the service. Both Sally and Tom gave testimonies and Pastor Chris preached using a balloon animal as a prop. This resulted in about thirty children wanting similar balloons when we finished that morning!
It was interesting to see how the young girls reacted to Chloe in particular. They loved her dark skin and treated her as if she was a film star and queued up to have their photographs taken with her.
That afternoon we visited a rickety wooden bridge, which was one of the main routes out of the area and we prayed every time we crossed it from then on. We then enjoyed a BBQ with some of the locals, one of whom entertained us by balancing a heavy table on his chin!
On the Monday we entered the Gypsy village of Valea Belinului and it was a joy to split up into several teams and go door to door praying for people. In one house I met a man who was numb from the waist down due to a lifting accident and he could only stand up for a few moments. We prayed and as the presence of God began to minister to him, he began to cry. Due to language difficulties I could not establish whether he was fully healed at that moment, but he was smiling, standing and waving to us from the doorway of his house as we left.
That evening approximately sixty people, many of them children, met with us in a very run down and poorly lit community hall. We sang songs, the Gospel was preached and again many hands went up indicating that they received Jesus for the first time. At the end we were literally mobbed by both the children and the adults for balloon animals!
On the Tuesday we went in two teams to the villages of Herculian and Batarii Mari. Herculian was particularly a poor area with whole family groups living in shacks no bigger than garden sheds in weather conditions that can drop as low as -30 degrees in the winter months. It was noticeable that many were bringing their new babies for prayer because the wood smoke from the cooking stoves was causing breathing difficulties. It was wonderful to be able to bring a message of hope through Jesus to a people who feel that they are overlooked and despised by many throughout the world.
The following day we said a sad goodbye to Romania and returned to the UK. Though it had been a short mission trip, it had been both memorable and successful, and because of the connection with Jenci and Emke, I’m sure that a team from KCM will return to Romania in the not too distant future.
We want to provide help and to be a resource where possible in making a difference to the lives of people who are living in some of the poorest and most deprived areas of the world and to those that God might send us to.