The Romania team got together 1x with everyone who had signed up to go – about 6 weeks out. Turns out that our application & screening process, (supposed to come with an interview, age minimum, checking for a semblance of maturity in Christ,) had turned out to be a ‘suggestion’ for some groups.
There were approximately 12 churches represented, with 125 people on the team; most churches had at least 1 adult leader with them. At this point, the unanswered questions from the scouting trip came back to haunt us – magnified- became clear through our ‘interactions’ that there was a serious issue: we lacked a cohesive idea of what the mission was about – so, everyone made it about what they thought it should be.
I dreaded the real-deal.
In August – we flew out of SF to Helsinki, Finland, the a plane to Budapest, then took buses to Romania. Rather than go through every day & every issue – the snapshots of the trip:
Groups of loud, obnoxious Christian teens making the “sleeping” portion of the trip east unbearable for just about everybody. And not sleeping. One memory is a guy playing his guitar at about 3 in the morning. On the plane. And when he was told to put it away by the flight attendant, he couldn’t believe he wasn’t allowed to ‘worship.’
One 16 year old guy got so scared on takeoff out of SF that he literally pooped his pants. Then sat in it for the 10 hour flight. It was only upon arrival in Helsinki that the accident was discovered & his adult leader had to make him (MAKE HIM) change his pants. The weirdest part was that he had a spare pair of skivvies & shorts in his carryon. The one he’d had on the plane. Turns out he was a bit emotionally disturbed, & probably shouldn’t have come on the trip in the 1st place.
Arriving in Budapest, & having the suitcase with all of our materials for the outreach not show up – (it arrived back in Reno 3 months later. Intact. Weird.)
Getting loaded onto buses in groups of about 20… & realizing that there was no one (or several someones) making sure that everyone was accounted for – & that the only one that supposedly knew where we were going was the bus-driver. Who didn’t speak any English.
Having our bus break down on the voyage from Budapest to Oradea, & waiting for hours for someone to come & fix the bus. Being left alone on the bus while the bus driver left & went… somewhere. He eventually came back, but not before many of us were THIS close to formulating a plan of action & an attempt to find help on our own.
Finally arriving at our “hotel” in Felix, very near Oradea, & finding that there was still at least 1 bus that hadn’t arrived yet. It stumbled in in the wee hours of the next day, with all the people who had been stuck on it looking like death warmed over.
Finding out that I would be staying on the 11th floor, (albeit with Chum!) & that the elevator didn’t work. And on Day 3 finding out by default that the water in the building didn’t quite make it up to our floor anymore. Meaning we had to use the facilities (showers, toilets, sinks) of our friends on the 3rd floor on down.
Cockroaches – initially it was repulsive, & Chum & I would count the ones we could see, & then try to squish them. It was tough because there were so many, it was impossible to keep them out of the bed – which made it tough to sleep for the first couple of days. However, the combination of familiarity & exhaustion soon made it so that we just either ignored the creepy-crawlers on the floor, walls, & bed, or we named them. Weird to think about the fact that we got “used” to having cockroaches in our beds.
Discovering that for all 125 of us, there was no firm plan for what we would do each day – & that any plans would be made on the fly by Stefan & our hosts from the Romanian Pentecostal Church. Which meant that things (plans, organization, scheduling, in every area) were worse than anticipated.
On that note – the food situation was rough – the area of Romania where we were & the state of the economy being what it was – our hotel had very little in the way of food. So, the breakfasts that we were to eat at the hotel usually consisted of a rotting tomato, a slice of moldy cheese, & stale bread, accompanied by boxed water.
The water was mineral (bubbly) water, which I like. However, there was a group-wide insurrection at having to drink “that”. So I & Fearless Leader spent 1 full day trying to find a place that had still water. Finally did, but it blew me away that our group (& the leaders were the BEST at this) would complain about the situation the way we did.
One day we found a McDonalds on our route to the hotel – & ended up finding a way to take our bus by it every day – we bribed the driver & would buy as much food as we could carry to stash for later, & to feed the driver & his family too. McDonalds never tasted so good.
Fearless Leader & Stefan kept disappearing for hours at a time, every day. Turns out, while we were waiting for our hosts to come up with a plan on the spot, something for 125 people to ‘do” on this mission trip, they were at a tennis club playing tennis together. That one still rankles me.
My group ended up getting set to the same place to do work for several days – even when there was no more work to be done. And, the 1 thing that we’d really wanted to do, & had been promised that we’d be able to, to go to one of the Romanian orphanages, didn’t happen. Dealing with that disappointment was crushing. As was the problem of an ever-decreasing group-wide morale.
There was 1 phone in the hotel that could be used to call the States – & only during a 2 hour period of the day, & only if the operator & owner of the phone was bribed $10 US by every person, every time, that wanted to use it. After the fiasco of the scouting trip, I decided that if I couldn’t call theBean, at least I would use a tape recorder to communicate with her during the trip – & then give her the cassette tape when I got back.
There was an undercurrent of personality conflicts, leaders having issues with each other, & out & out insurrection against Fearless Leader. Which of course modeled our Christianity up close & personal for all who were exposed to it.
From my perspective, our hosts made sure that the outreaches were tailored just for us – so we could have our missions experience, give an altar call, & pray for the people that came forward… And the focus was definitely on the “numbers of people saved” (e.g those that came forward) without any thought given to what happened to them after we went home…
One night, we found our way to a pseudo-restaurant near our hotel – turns out it was a restaurant (good!) & a dance club (bad!) It didn’t take long for the majority of our group to get onto the dance floor to bust a move. After a couple days of this, we found out that dance clubs were one of the things that Romanian Christians looked at as ‘the devil’s playground,’ & a place that was as distasteful & ‘sinful’ as a house of prostitution… meaning that in their view, the only people who went there were the unredeemed pagans, & loose living hedonists. And of course, the American missions team. Had a hard time talking through that with the whole team, as several of the American team leaders from different places wanted our Romanian hosts to just “lighten up,” & didn’t seem to care much that it bothered them so bad. So much for cultural sensitivity.
The crowning moment of the trip was the return of the mob – just down the hallway from my & Chum’s room, there was a collection of rough-looking characters (reminiscent of the Hotel Dacia, but without guns.) They were fairly rowdy, & had women in & out of the room – but mostly they kept to themselves. Except for this time.
We had just gone to sleep, when there was a commotion. By commotion, I mean screaming, crying, & loud voices yelling. And a siren. Then there were what sounded like fireworks popping, but what must have been a gun being fired. I was mortified. Chum & I were praying under our blankets with the roaches. I grabbed my tape recorder, & dictated my last words to theBean, & a modified last will & testament. No exaggeration, it sounded like WW3 outside our door, & I was sure that we were going to die. Then, someone started banging on OUR door. To the room we were staying in. And yelling in Romanian for us to open it. We didn’t. We prayed more, & finally they went away. We looked out the window to the ground below & saw a ‘paddy wagon’ that was being loaded with a few people.
Turns out, the Romanian cops had showed up & busted our mob friends from down the hall. Hmm.
Its not that everything that happened was bad – its just that SO MUCH of it was. A few people came to know Jesus, & the group from our city had grown closer in the midst of adversity. At the same time, it felt like we’d wasted our money in going on the mission. Worse, we hadn’t been prepared for, & many of us felt like we’d wasted our time, been ineffectual, & had nothing really to show for our time there. Worse still, the majority of the bad could have been avoided by simply making sure that the questions that we’d had on the scouting trip got answered before we would go on the trip.
What I took from this experience was the fact that I needed a missions philosophy – some clear, concrete guidelines based on values & relationship… something that would provide a screening process for what we would/wouldn’t do in the future for missions.
In the weeks after the trip, I put my thoughts on paper… & wondered if going to Germany was still as good an idea as I’d thought the previous May…