Our morning begin bright and early with a trip to the grocery store to purchase food items for poor families in Simleu. We went to Kaufman’s, a supermarket which is very similar to ours. We bought rice, pasta, flour, sugar, corn meal, beans, cooking oil, canned pork, sausage, canned fruit, spreadable chocolate, canned meat, salami, and powdered detergent. We bought enough for six home visits for a cost of 849,50 leu, which is about $200 USD.
After leaving the grocery store, Cha Cha took us on a drive through a 3,000+ member gypsy community that is now Christian. Prior to the work of Marantha Missions, going into this community was extremely dangerous. The people were thieves and murderers. After the planting of the church, this community has been transformed into people who love the Lord. The transformation is evident in many ways, including the addition of a church building, a school, and more permanent housing. The pictures you will see later truly tell the story of the amazing things God has done through the willing hands of others.
From the gypsy community, we traveled a bit farther into the village town of Simleu. There we picked up Livio and Claudia. Livio is a youth pastor at the church in Simleu, and Claudia is a social worker. Livio served as our translator while Claudia took us on the home visits. Nothing could have prepared us for what we witnessed. Nothing.
Our first stop was an apartment block in a largely gypsy community. We walked up ten flights of stairs (five stories) to a very tiny apartment. There we met Stephan and Susanna Varga and their daughter. Stephan was a supervisor at a construction company in Simleu. He was instructed to terminate two employees for poor work performance. After terminating them, they attacked Stephan as he was leaving work that day, stabbing him numerous times and leaving him for dead. The injuries resulted in paralysis and multiple other medical conditions. Susanna is now taking care of him, and they are living on less than $100 per month, and about $60 of that goes to medicine. It was overwhelming to hear the story of their suffering, but it was absolutely amazing to hear how they love and trust in God – despite the difficulties, despite their suffering. They are remaining faithful. They were so grateful for the food, and Susanna received the first scarf from the Wildly Blessed Women. Susan Brown, your scarf has been given to a beautiful woman!
Our next stop was to visit Roselea, an absolutely precious Hungarian widow. Roselea was in her 70s, and she captured our hearts instantly. Claudia shared with us that she had been abused by her husband for many years and stabbed seven different times. One of the stabbings resulted in the loss of a kidney; another stabbing resulted in the loss of a pregnancy and her inability to have any children. After the death of her husband, Roselea had no other family to take her in except a younger brother. However, he has placed Roselea in a single 8×12 room separate from his house with no running water and no heat… not because he does not have room or the financial means to care for her. His reason for persecution is because she is a Christian. And despite her desperate home situation and health concerns, Roselea’s face absolutely shines for the Lord. She welcomed us with amazing hospitality – fresh grapes and plums and cookies. Here we were bringing food to her because she has so little, but what she has she so generously shared with us. She sang a song of hope to us in Hungarian and prayed for us! What a lesson for us all to learn – to give out of sacrifice, not just in abundance. Penny Wiethorn, I wish you could have been there to see Roselea’s face when I gave her your scarf. There are no words. Her eyes filled with tears as she wrapped the scarf over her head, and then she smiled the most beautiful smile. She will hold a place in my heart and my prayers always.
Our next stop took us for quite a hike. Literally. We walked up a very, very steep hill on a dirt road with deep ruts. The walking was extremely difficult, even for those of us in good physical shape. But what will amaze you is the people we met over 1/4 mile up this hill. First stop was Agneta, a 60-year old widow. Like Roselea, she is living in a tiny, one room house with no running water or heat. She has numerous health conditions and needs surgery; however, her son is willing to provide only the bare minimum for her. Can you imagine what it would be like to carry your own water up that hill… daily? Yet, despite her hardships, she knows Jesus offers living water, and she remains hopeful in Him. Agneta received a beautiful scarf from one of KeLe’s co-workers, Marilyn.
Climbing a bit farther up the hill, we met Maria. She is married with three young children. Her husband is an alcoholic, and he is suffering from a tumor on his pancreas. These two issues make it extremely difficult for Maria and her children. Maria spoke very little, but the pain on her face was so evident. She is fighting hard to stay hopeful in Christ, but the battle is a brutal one. When I gave Maria the scarf from another of KeLe’s co-workers, Joyce, tears just ran down Maria’s face.
And still farther up the hill, we came to the Lucaci family – husband, wife, five children, and a grandmother. They live in a very small house with only two beds. The wife, Liliana is scheduled for a difficult surgery on Monday. She is very fearful of the surgery and the long recovery. Liliana was not at the house when we first went by. She was as work. We actually met her on our way down the hill. Yes, she, too, despite her illness and pain, makes that very same hike up the hill. She spoke through tears to Claudia, explaining how she afraid she is, yet she knows God loves her. I left her with a beautiful scarf from Petra McNamara.
And still a little bit farther up the hill, we came to Stephen, Maria, and their son, Marios. Again, the tiniest of homes. No running water. House is serious disrepair. Winter coming soon. Health issues for both Stephen and Maria, and their son, Marios, has Down Syndrome. So many challenges, yet still clinging to the hope that only God can offer. Maria now has a beautiful scarf from Rochelle Brunson.
As we made our way back down the hill, our weariness came not only from physical fatigue but from the weight of social injustice and the brutality of poverty. It is so very difficult to see all of this, knowing that the little bit of help we provided them is truly just a drop in a very big and very empty bucket. Just like each of them, our hope has to remain in Jesus. We are not clearly not able on our own.
After an incredible meal at the local pastor’s house, we quickly headed to another gypsy village that recently had a church planted in it. Oh, the joys of these precious children! They don’t know what little they have. They don’t know what others have that they don’t. They were eager to hear a Bible story, play games, do crafts, and they absolutely devoured snacks – stuffing their mouths and their pockets as fast as they could. Marvin and Jeff were magical in leading the kids in games, and KeLe, Laura, and Doyle tackled crafts with the kids. We were exhausted by the time we finished with them, but what fun it was to share Jesus with them.
From there, we quickly hurried to the Baptist church in Simleu where Jeff provided training for a group of pastors, and Marvin spoke the gospel to them through the sharing of his testimony. Then we headed to the church meeting, or as we would call it, worship service. Laura played the piano for the service, and I sang with her. The Romanian voices joined in with ours singing Oh, How I Love Jesus and Amazing Grace, My Chains are Gone. It was spectacular! Doyle did a great job of sharing his testimony, and his love for the Romanian people was so evident. KeLe shared her favorite Bible verse, and Pastor Jeff preached a sermon from Mark 4, Jesus Calms the Storm. He spoke of how Jesus can calm the storm in our lives, too, and those present in the congregation were clearly moved by the way Pastor Jeff shared the Word of God. There are so many more details I could share, but it is now 1:06 am in Romania, so I’m going to share just one. Remember Rosalea? Well, when I sat down at the piano bench with Laura and looked out into the congregation, her precious face was the first one I saw. Our eyes connected, and she instantly blessed me with a smile that can only come from a love of Jesus in her heart. She waved at me, and I waved back, waiting for the first opportunity when I could go to her and once again kiss her cheek and hug her. Oh, the blessing that precious woman has given to me!
We head out early again tomorrow. We have 15 home visits planned, another kids club at a church in Alamsu (I think that’s right!), and then worship service in another church. We know that once again God will prove himself faithful, showing us yet a new depth of His love and mercy for all people. We are seeing and serving the “least of these,” and our lives will forever be changed by what we’ve experienced.
Transform us, Lord, for your glory!