Being my 5th year going to Romania, I start off these trips with less anxiety than I used to. However, going to the first village of the trip is always nerve-racking. It’s often hard, whether you’re a pastor or just a guest, to speak up in a church. One thing I have learned working in a church is that it is way too easy to think about who you’re speaking to and what they think of you instead of the God that you are speaking about. Sometimes when I pray aloud I wonder, am I REALLY speaking to God? Or am I just trying to speak to the people in front of me? I left the singular church service we were able to do in Romania at peace that God was the center of our service. It’s as if God was telling me that it would be our only church service before we even knew we would be leaving early. He gave me the grace of allowing me to fully be present and just enjoy what I was doing rather than thinking about myself. I am so grateful to have shared the Gospel during the service, and I walked away feeling like it was one of the more confident Gospel presentations I’ve ever done. There was nothing particularly special about what I said, but I don’t know if I’ve ever shared in Romania with that little anxiety or focus on myself rather than God.
As you probably know, at 3 AM that night we were woken up and told to pack to flee Romania immediately. This is such a reminder that we never know when our last church service will be and to never hold back. Normally during the first village in Romania I want to see other people do the service so I can get back into the rhythm of Romania. But this reminded me that God doesn’t wait for the car to get warm before he takes off. The ministry of the Gospel is as urgent as ever, and we should be reminded that every church service counts. There is no waiting for our churches to come alive, or waiting to have the finances or to have the right people surrounding us to be alive in Jesus. Each place He directs us is for us to be ACTIVE, not waiting for something to happen.
As someone who thinks airports are the worst place on Earth, I have to ask myself “Why?”. Why did 30 people travel for 20 hours, risk our health, risk our jobs at home, spend all of this money, for ONE church service with fewer people than an average Sunday at my small home church? Because God’s ways are not our ways, and that’s how much he loves every one of us. Not one person out of 30, all who have lost countless hours and plenty of money over this trip, have shown an ounce of bitterness or panic. Not even our incredible leaders, who have lost more time/money than any of us. We are united by the spine-chilling statement of Mr. Thomas: “all the money, all the flights, all the airline trouble, the possible quarantines we face at home, was worth it to spend one hour with Pastor John (the pastor of the one church we were able to visit)”. I hope you see the strength of God and the Gospel in that statement the way that I do. Mr. Thomas has more reasons to complain than any of us, and I am still not sure how he and Mary were able to stay awake as long as they have rescheduling flights so that the rest of us can make it home safely. There is not a doubt in my mind that this is where God wanted us, even during the chaos and inconvenience of the pandemic. He wanted me here to share the Gospel and speak to the singular boy named Colin in the village we went to. If God cared enough to send us through all the difficulty of this week and come all this way for one church service, then think about the love of Jesus to come infinitely farther to dwell with sinners like us.
The one thing this trip has taught me is that God is the only one that provides true peace and that we should seek that more often. As someone who is rarely at peace, Philippians 4, which tells us to be anxious for nothing, is a difficult chapter for me to wrestle with. The amazing thing about God is that he can take a person who has anxiety over simple everyday things like schoolwork or conversations and bring him to complete peace while the world is in an absolute panic, he’s fleeing a country at 3 AM heading to his least favorite activity (flying), and facing major disappointment. I hope this trip teaches me and others to have this trust in God in all things. Control is an illusion, none of us have control, so we need to start trusting the Lord with every aspect of our lives.
God must have a sense of humor to allow one of my most embarrassing (and hilarious moments) to occur while we were packing to leave the country. It left me and several team members in tears of laughter, while we were simultaneously fleeing the country. Even something as silly as humor brought peace in a time of chaos.
The experiences and the team on this trip have exemplified the Bible’s teachings to set our minds on things that are above and to hold lightly onto our worldly processions. This is a lesson that all of our world could learn in a time like this.
I will close with lyrics from a song by I Am They.
“You brought me to the desert, so you could be my water. Wherever You lead me, I know You won’t leave me. Wherever you call me, you will make a way.”