Now that we’ve returned from our trip to Eastern Europe, and I’ve knocked a little of the fog from my jet-lagged brain, I want to take a moment to reflect. So many things to be thankful for.
Fun and Inspiring Adventure
My beauty intake tank is pleasantly full after seeing 15 castles/fortresses and 10 cathedrals in five countries. We whizzed around Eastern Europe on planes, trains, taxis, buses, and riverboats.
My adventure magnet status may have been dormant, but I’m glad to report that I’ve still got it! And there is no one I’d rather have as my adventure partner than my husband. I love showing him the places and people that are so formative in my life.
We marveled at the new skyscrapers and highways that look like the Autobahn, but felt strangely comforted that not everything has changed. Sometimes the new sits juxtaposed right next to the authentic parts, the Eastern Europe I fell in love with.
There were funny things, too. “Cheesyburger and deeper fries” on a menu, a shuttle driver smoking under a Rauchen Verboten (No Smoking) sign, a Thug Securitate police car, and a kiosk window named Non-Stop bearing an Inchis (Closed) sign.
Fruitful and Persevering Friends
But the most important part by far, the part that we will always have with us, is the people. They are what set our trip apart.
For whatever reason, God has orchestrated 2017 to be my year of Romanian reunions. In February, I met with the American women who had served there and returned to the States for a healing time of memories, tears and laughter.
And this trip, we visited friends in Romania and in Hungary. Some were teammates from the 1990s who have stayed all these years, but most were university students during the revolution of 1989. They were introduced to Jesus back then, and they’ve continued to grow in love with him after all this time.
My tears of gratitude were always close to the surface as I leaned in to the memories, with humbleness and wonder. I realize how deeply I miss these people and places. In order to live all out wherever I am, I have to submerge the missing. But it’s still there. Always there. When I allow it to come to the surface, I feel how vast the ache is.
The morning we met my friends in Bucharest, Steve and I mediated on John 15:16. “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”
Chosen by God (imagine!) to bear fruit. That fruit has remained for 28 years. It hasn’t been easy for them. They’ve faced difficulties and persecution and disappointments. But they have in turn born fruit that’s also remained and born fruit, that’s born fruit, and on and on.
My time during the decade of the 1990s in Romania and Eastern Europe was worth it. We made a difference. It has lasted.
Kind and Helpful Strangers
And then there are the impressions left by new people in our lives, people we met on every train and at every stop.
In Hungary, a lady who sold me a book of metro tickets, laughed until she cried as we pantomimed turning pages in a book, when I forgot the word könyv. (An easy thing to do.)
A Croatian women tenderly cupped my face when I used my memorized Croatian phrases. (I never showed her they came from my 1986 Serbo-Croatian phrasebook–a language now obsolete.) A Serbian lady kissed me when I did the same thing.
Our tour guide in Bulgaria made me cry when she said, “We do what we can. There’s no shame in any job. No job is too low. The only shame is in laziness.” Her words came after women on our tour complained about the sub-par bathrooms.
In Romania, the woman who sold me a traditional folk blouse, called a ie, asked if I’m a Christian. When I asked her why she thought that, she said from my smile and the light that shines from my face. Before I could feel too
good about that, she added, “Why else would an American come to live in Romania in 1990?” Smart woman.
Yay for the IE
And so I’ll close with the ie (technically pronounced “ee-eh” but it sounds like “yay” to me). This is the first one I’ve ever had and “yay” describes how I feel about it. As we left the Bucharest airport, I read an article about the ie.
June 24 is the universal day to wear a ie. (Worldwide isn’t good enough; Martians need to wear theirs, too.) People will gather in two cities in Romania: Iasi and Hobita (the birthplace of sculptor Constantin Brancusi, my undercover reason to live in Romania all those years ago).
If they reach 10,000 ie wearers, they will break last year’s record of 7,000. And the IE will be inducted into the UNESCO heritage.
So I shout out a big YAY for the ie! And an even bigger YAY for the privilege of being able to return to the lands I love.