“For the two weeks we were in Medgidia, our days were long and exhausting, both emotionally and physically. We were up and out on the town as early as 7am everyday, and out until 11-12pm at night. The hot sun and love-needy children drained our energy, but every morning we awoke with a smile on our faces and enough drive for another long day. It was truly by God’s grace that we were able to do all that we did nonstop. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every minute of the hard work, and seeing the ear-to-ear smiles on the children’s faces made it all worthwhile.
Because it would take at least 15 pages to write about all we did in Medgidia, I’m going to focus on only a couple of experiences that moved me the most, that I hope will not only bless you, because you made this happen, but also reveal to you why I fell in love with this place and strongly yearn to go back. Before the trip, I was in constant prayer that God would show me how to use my gifts in order to bless the people. I knew I couldn’t help much with hard physical labor because of my back problems, and I hoped that there would be something specific that God set aside for me. Turns out, God had more plans in mind than I expected. Before He could use me though, God did a work in me that even words can hardly describe. He had to break me down to build me back up again, remolding my heart and opening my eyes to see what He sees, and love how He loves.
After our first day in Medgidia doing vacation bible school for the children, Cindy had a big night planned for us. We were going to visit the gardena: basically a giant muddy junkyard where a huge congregation of gypsies live. Already at this point, I was in complete shock at the living conditions of the people I had been with all day, and felt my heart slowly cracking, about to break. Cindy led us through a muddy trail, past massive 20 ft high piles of bottles and trash, until we eventually ended up in a dead field amongst a couple of gypsies. We huddled into a circle, started praying and worshipping, and before we knew it, people were flocking to us, intrigued at what was going on in their normally desolate home. The sun was setting behind us, lighting the sky with soft oranges and pinks. A single tiny turquoise hut (about the size of a normal bedroom) sat in the distance. Apparently that small room housed about 10-12 gypsies. Children were running around playing with tiny newborn mutt puppies, and a very pregnant girl my age stood next to me, gazing at me with her big brown eyes, separated by our language barrier. An elderly man with no legs in a wheel chair somehow managed to roll through the mud to get to our circle, and sported a huge smile on his dirty, wrinkly face. People of all ages and every color all stood together, once on opposite sides of the world, now smiling, clapping, dancing, and singing in different languages. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard; our world’s collided as different tongues sang to the same awesome God.
I was feeling so many different emotions at once; awestruck at the beauty to be found even in the most broken of places. God’s splendor lit up the sky in a warm fading sunset, shining on all of His people, even the ones that had no idea of his existence. It’s hard to describe the overwhelming feeling I had in my chest. The lump in my throat was rising and I could no longer hold back the tears. Suddenly I broke down, sobbing. I couldn’t process the combination of emotions I was experiencing, and all I knew how to do at that moment was cry. Even these people, in the worst situation, had pure raw joy, something that doesn’t exist past the material obsessions on our side of the world. They had absolutely nothing, walked around nearly naked, caked in dirt, yet they smiled like they had the world in their hands. Just knowing that we were able to bring that joy to them through God’s goodness was the greatest blessing I could ever feel.
At the same time, behind the smiles, I knew how much these people were hurting. They didn’t have God in their lives, they lived in a dark place. How could they survive this situation without God? My heart was completely shattered at this. I realized that the tears I was crying were hardly my own; I was seeing through God’s eyes, and these were His tears. He didn’t want His people to be suffering like this. This wasn’t His plan for them; this is what happened when corruption took over the world. He loves them so much and they have no idea. What I felt was only a sliver of how God feels about his suffering people around the world. I don’t know why God lets horrible things happen, nobody does. But what I do know is that He has a greater plan, and makes all things work together for our good, if we choose to give our lives to Him. I’ll never forget that night at the gardena; the night that completely changed my heart and prepared me for the next 13 days I had left to love on God’s people, my brothers and sisters.
As you know, I’m an artist. I love to create, paint, draw, photograph, whatever it be. God has blessed me with the gift of creativity, and knew I would put it to good use glorifying Him. While in Medgidia, Cindy put me in charge of painting a mural for one of the churches. I had to come up with a scene to paint, draw it out, and paint the entire thing with the help of a couple of my team members in only 6 hours. Generally, it takes me that long to paint a simple 11x14in canvas, and this was a giant wall. Because of the theme of “Jesus performing miracles” we were teaching the kids during vacation bible school, I decided to paint “Jesus calms the storm.” This scene seemed perfect because we taught the kids that even when they’re scared, Jesus is always with them protecting them. The kids live in dangerous circumstances and without the comfort of knowing Jesus is there for them, they are left alone and hopeless. This mural would be a constant reminder that “Isus” (Jesus in Romanian) was always watching over them.
Painting the mural was a challenge, being a perfectionist. I knew I couldn’t get it up to my standards in such a short amount of time and I’m always too hard on myself. After I finished it, all of the kids rushed in too see how it had turned out. I turned around to see their faces gazing up in complete in awe, jaws-dropped and wide eyed “oohing” and “ahhing.” I realized that these kids have never even seen art before, yet alone a giant mural that was now theirs to look at. Seeing how much they appreciated it made me feel so special that I was able to bring that to them. It’s a blessing to remember that my art is on a wall across the world, bringing life to the empty walls of that tiny church, reminding every soul that steps into that room of God’s unfailing love.
One major way I connect with God is through nature. Going on this trip, Emily (our team leader, and my best friend) informed us that this was not a pretty place; this was a broken, dirty, down-trotted city. I had no expectations for anything beautiful. However, near the second half of our trip, Cindy told us that we would be taking kids from the village on a camping trip into the Romanian forest. I had no idea what a surreal treat God had in mind for us after all of our hard work in the hot city. The second we were dropped off at the camp spot, I was in a dream. We laid out in the shade on the cool green grass, in between rows of perfectly aligned trees. The forest opened up to a giant grassy field, where wild horses freely galloped around our tent circle. Directly across the pasture, up a hill, was a beautiful sunflower field that ran for miles upon miles of vivid yellow and green. This place was unreal, and as I laid in the grass protected from the hot sun under the green trees I was able to finally just breathe and take it all in; this was really happening.
After a long day of entertaining the children, storm clouds rolled in and blocked the raging hot sun. Relief swept over everyone as slowly raindrops sprinkled down from the sky. Within seconds, it was pouring rain and screaming children darted for the tents. I stood outside, arms wide open and let the rain drench my still hot skin. I convinced my friend to start a mud fight and a slip n slide with me, and we spent hours sliding down the muddy hill, caking mud onto everyone including the pastor of the Medgidia church. We were having the time of our lives. Purple lightning shattered the sky above us and the orange sunset was peeking through the blue rain clouds. God truly blessed us in the coolest way, giving us the perfect day to be able to simply soak in His beauty and recharge our spirits for the days to come. I will never forget my Romanian camping experience of a lifetime.
Overall, my trip was incredible. We all experienced our highs and lows, but I wouldn’t take a single second back. I learned more in two weeks than I could learn in 15 years of school. The first night, Cindy spoke to all of us saying that this trip wasn’t just about serving the people, but about ourselves because we were going to have a work done in our own hearts and God was going to show us things we never knew existed. This was most definitely true for every one of us. Coming home was really difficult, and it was hard to go back to the lavish lifestyle I live in that I feel so undeserving of, while I knew my friends were living in extreme poverty across the world. I think about them daily, and have been presented with an opportunity to go back this summer. I am so anxious to return to the children and see how much they have grown, both spiritually and physically. I can already see their beautiful faces smiling back at me.”
Changing lives with the love of Christ one step at a time.