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“Visiting Romania” by Karen C. Ross

24 March 2011

Although I helped to raise money for the Romanian projects over the years I was unable to actually go to Romania as I was always teaching when the groups set off. However as soon as I retired I joined a group in March 2009 and headed out for a visit.
Cluj Old And New
We flew out from Luton and arrived in Cluj, Napoca which is a modern, busy university city. I don’t know what I expected. Certainly not the massive pot holes that filled the roads, nor the manic drivers who swerved to avoid them. I remember seeing the buildings in the city on our first day’s tour and being astonished at the really old and really new right next to each other. I loved the churches I saw, some simply kept whilst others were highly decorated. We were able to go inside and spend time in the quiet, which the people there do daily. I remember that the city market was interesting with a wealth of fresh produce. Some foods I have never seen before but I was surprised as not much was being bought. The modern mall was a bigger surprise but the people told us they are full of western goods beyond their reach. How sad really to look on at things they wanted but couldn’t have. Is it so different in our city??
Winter Wonderland
We were later taken by church members outside the city to see the countryside. It had snowed heavily and we saw a Winter wonderland. It reminded me of Austria. We visited a frozen waterfall, had snowball fights which made us laugh and certainly cut across the language barriers. We saw the land given to them by one of our members on which they will build a youth camp. We still send out money to support young people going to Summer camps. We were taken to the craft villages selling a multitude of goods. I saw many of the items I had purchased over the previous 20 years and felt at home in this strange land. I found the people very welcoming, willing to share everything with us despite their obvious lack of material wealth. I remembered some of them as they had been to my house for a barbeque. They were delighted to see us and I found they had a different type of wealth that many would crave for here. They loved God and therefore his people!

I had interesting discussions with the leaders in Manastur church, Cluj, about the use of women within their church. I was assured that if God spoke to me I could stand in their church and tell all. I could not preach however as women are not pastors within their branch of the church, nor could I become an elder. I declined either way as my Romanian consisted of about 5 words and God did not speak to me at that time. I was heartened to hear Norman Hiley preach in Romanian however to thunderous applause. In the 18 years since it had been built the church had grown and technology had now a major part. I was amazed to find they gave us headphones in the church to listen to the service. Young people in the congregation translated for us.
Christi And Family
I stayed with a wonderful young couple (Christi and Ramona) and their baby daughter, Dorettea. They lived 10 flights up in a graffiti covered tower block, in a small flat. I later found they had given up their bedroom for me. I was there first ever guest and they looked after me well, asking question after question about our church and the lives we led. Luckily Christi spoke reasonable English. They both had been to university and now worked in the church with the young people, bringing them to Christ. They live humbly but happily, saving their energies for their families and friends. They held house groups in their flat weekly and read their Bible daily. They were saving for a settee (for guests) but I found it quite normal to sit on the floor with them. I found it easy to babysit for them. The baby did not know what I said to her but she laughed anyway. They have an abundance of love in a stable home with Christ’s values at the heart. I have kept in touch with them. Baby Anna was added to their family 3 months ago.
Gypsy Church
I had heard about a gypsy church in Cluj and one of the elders who is greatly involved with it took our group to see it. Not far from the modern Manastor church we drove to a ‘gated’ community. Not as you would imagine though. It felt like we had entered another world. It did not house rich houses in fact the houses seemed very poor. The people, especially women, were dressed in traditional gypsy costumes and they lined their street to watch us in silence. We entered their small church and were given the best seats. The pastor, whom our church supports, welcomed us. The children came to watch us enticed we were told by the promise of a doughnut at the end of the talk. We had taken them sweets but did not know how many there would be. Over 40 turned up. The pastor said they would share!! They waited outside for us at the end of the talk and instead gave us a pocket full each of their sweets, ‘white love hearts’ and loads of smiles. The elder said many did not go to school, even though there were places for them in the state system. They preferred to stay within their community but no schools happened there. The state could not do anything really about the truancy. The gypsy children were growing up in an illiterate world constantly unchanged, hidden within the city.

When I returned to Leeds I looked around as a visitor might. We only see part of that too. Did you know that we have children who are stopped from going to a school by their parents? Some are home schooled, others truants. The council has little say in what happens and barely check what they learn. So is it much different?

Cerefalva village, in contrast to Cluj, was an amazing surprise when we got there. It is 2 hours drive from Cluj and I felt I had stepped back in time at least one hundred years. There were no cars and only unmade roads in the village. Carts pulled by horses passed us at a slow pace and the water pipes we had helped to provide were in evidence as people filed their buckets. The houses seemed to be mainly made of wood and many keep animals in their gardens. We stepped over chickens or pigs to get to the doors. They also grow vegetables, their stable diet. Fruit is bottled for the Winter or used for exchanging for meat and bread. A few homes now have electricity but it was cold inside most we visited.

Their hospitality was wonderful though and the people seemed very content. We were taken each night to a different house for our meal. They shared their food with us happily and I was humbled as they served us. We were told they would live for a month on what was put on the table for us. Would we all do that so easily?

The people talked of visiting Leeds and using a shower or bath for the first time. Simple pleasures many of us take for granted. One lady proudly showed us the plain bathroom that had been put in her house, paid for by one of our members. It is shared with others in the village. They were trying hard to learn English and speak to us. I felt awful as I had tried to learn a little Romanian in advance but unfortunately the villagers speak Hungarian. We all learnt to say ‘Thank you’ in both languages as we constantly needed it.
Hungarian Reformed Baptist Church
Most of their clothes seemed to be of the past, although they did dress up for church. The men wore suits and sat at one side of the church with ladies at the other. The Hungarian Baptist Reformed church is at the centre of the village and I loved worshipping inside a green painted building with rough floors and wooden benches. The pastor, Noami Soos, is sought daily to help with issues. Alongside her elders they decide how the money is spent that we send.
Pulpit Traditional Cloths
They certainly look after their own. We were taken to see one of the oldest ladies in their village (Zsusica Nini 86). She could barely walk and wore large mens boots as they were the only things found to fit her in the village. She invited us in and gave us all an egg each for our breakfast. One of our members Joyce Cork, herself 85, sat with her and held her hand. They seemed a million miles apart in their lifestyles but shared their love of Christ easily. Zsuzsica told us she was waiting to meet Jesus and asked that we pray for her. She was ready to go and did not want to be a burden on anyone.
Joyce and the Old Lady
We left her very concerned for her well being but the pastor told us she was visited daily. Her meals were taken in and the entire village knew her and loved her. The following year when we returned she had died. The pastor admitting it was the first funeral she had cried at. The village hope to keep her house as a museum as it is still as originally built and furnished, possibly from 1900.

When they found out I was a retired Headteacher they took me to visit the village school. Two classes, one with ages 4-7 years and the other class was for the 8-11 year olds.All were very well behaved and eager to learn. They were keen to see us and listen to us.I was surprised at the bare walls and a large tiled heater, which would have been condemned here. It was the only heating. No one touches it, said the teacher!! The toys the little ones played with were old and sparse. When asked what she would like the teacher wished for small balls and we gave her £20 to buy some. She cried and we were told our money was actually worth 6 times more to them. When I returned the following year my case was packed with pencils, pens, rubbers, balls, dolls and cars. The small toys caused utter delight and I thought back to the huge amount every school has in Britain. A year had made a big difference. The teacher had indeed bought balls for the little ones and paint to re- do the room, as she agreed that they deserved a better environment but hadn’t had the money to do anything. I have returned to Leeds determined to raise more money for them.
I loved the first visit to Romania and went back the following year with my husband. He liked the village and enjoyed meeting the people. He calls Zsuzsi his ‘other daughter’ as she has stayed with us twice now. He was astounded at the differences we saw. Poor and very poor would sum it up I think, but rich in hospitality.

I have made friends with many Romanians and hope to continue the links for I have learnt a lot about material things and what really matters. They have shown me that God is at work throughout the world. Their faith is strong. They believe that God will provide for them. We may be the way God is doing it and I am happy for it to continue. I urge other members to talk to the people who have been over the past twenty years. Although things have changed somewhat you would still enjoy going to see the contrasting places. Look out for the photos and videos that will be available very soon.

For me, well I am making new memories and I hope in 20 years time they will be as good.

Karen C. Ross. Leeds. February 2011.

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