Hope is ready to soar.

10 Aug

My precious friend Courtney has provided me with little cards bearing sweet notes of encouragement for my journey here in Romania. On today’s note was inscribed the word

And today, I felt like I did. I climbed a ladder and stood on the third level of the House of Joy in Susani, Romania. Only six months ago, I walked in the snow that had fallen inside the uncovered first floor of the building that will one day offer education, sports, and discipleship programs to children and adults living in 31 villages in western Romania. Today, a stairway led to the second floor that will offer classrooms and sleeping quarters for visiting missionaries. The third floor, when completed, will provide additional housing for those traveling here to serve the poor and forgotten.

Today, that floor provided a glimpse into the heart of God. I stood and counted the church steeples – each one representing a village filled with families in need. I laid on the rough wooden planks and felt the breeze wash over me – the same breeze that will one day cool the brow of a hard-working soul. I watched the clouds paint the sky, spied a flock of sheep grazing in a field, and tried to count the layers of hills that crafted a most beautiful horizon. I wanted to fly.

Hope is rising in Romania. It’s rising through the tender care of those who live in the villages, serving those in need. It’s rising through the love of those in the United States who long to see a better now and forever for those forgotten by most. It’s rising through ministries like Red Page and House of Joy. And it’s rising in my heart. Hope is ready to soar.

This is a call to all the dead and disappointed

The ones who feel like they are done

This is a word to all the ones who feel forgotten

But you are not

Oh you are not

We’re alive, alive, alive we’re singing

We’re alive, alive, alive and we’re shaken

We’re alive, alive, alive, alive in You

We are soaked in all the grace that we’ve been given

Unchained from all that we have done

Your mercy’s rising like the sun on the horizon

We’re coming home

We’re alive, alive, alive we’re singing

We’re alive, alive, alive and we’re shaken

We’re alive, alive, alive, alive in You

~Alive, All Sons and Daughters

Dirty Feet and Holy Ground.

8 Aug

There’s dirt on my feet – and I’m not sure I’m ready to wash it off. Today, I believe I stood on holy ground.

If you were to ask those near the village of Nevrincea, they’d say there’s hardly anything holy about the place. The village boomed under the Communist regime, but few people move there anymore. Abandoned houses line the pockmarked gravel roads. A Catholic church hides behind overgrown trees – no one comes to worship anymore. There is no business district, no cluster of retail stores, no beautiful park with swings and picnic tables. Silence is broken by the sound of chickens or turkeys.

Today, I walked those roads with a team from Red Page Ministries, House of Joy, and First Baptist Church Levelland. Our goal was to simply share love. Today, that love looked a lot like groceries, diapers and bibles. Twenty-nine bags. Twenty-nine bibles. Twenty-nine families. My team took our six of the twenty-nine and began our journey.

Every home was a story – every story a prayer.

Flora.

Flora’s eyes were a color I had never seen before – a blue-gray that looked like a troubled sky. Yet there was life in them that was far bigger than the disheveled home with dirt floors and crumbling stone walls. I found myself staring at those eyes, wishing I could see things from their point of view. Flora and her husband survive from money made selling fruits and vegetables from their garden in the summer. Her health is failing, but she knows she must keep working. The window is short – and the winter months are hard. She prays but doesn’t feel close to God. She wept when we prayed for her.

Marioara.

Marioara cares for her granddaughter during the summer. Her husband died from the ravages of alcohol when he was 40, and her children have moved away. Now at 60, her hope rests in the pension she will receive when she is 62. It’s a standard retirement stipend provided to all Romanians. The 300 Lei (about $100 US)  monthly is almost more than she can comprehend. For now, she waits – and hopes. She says she knows about Jesus, but doesn’t feel she really knows who He is. She feels so alone. She smiled when my friend Wanda gave her a pair of reading glasses – she can now see the words in her new bible.

Ioanna.

Ioanna and her husband moved to Nevrincea in hopes of finding a better life. And theirs is better in comparison – they raise four pigs and two cows each year to help provide food and earn a living. The floors of their home are planks – a gift from children who now live in Italy and want to help make the family home safer. Their youngest son is in high school in Timisoara, and they don’t know where the money will come from to let him continue classes (there are no high schools in the villages – children have to move away if they want any hope of a good education). She says they believe in hard work, and in caring for others. They give all the glory to God. She hugged and kissed and hugged us again, and didn’t want us to leave.

The stories continued along those dusty roads. Two sons caring for a mentally challenged brother – alone with no parents, a mother and daughter waiting for dad to return from prison, a mother struggling to care for her sometimes violent son. Nicoleta’s family lives there too.

With every step, I heard Christ say, “See Me there – in the hungry and the hurting, in the lonely and lost. Serve Me there – on the dusty road, in the forgotten villages.” With every step in Nevrincea, I thought of those in my own city who have stories of struggle and pain. That dusty road isn’t just in Romania. That road is in my home town. That road is holy ground.

 

Nicoleta’s Smile.

7 Aug

It’s the smile that first captivated me. It’s ever-present. And it’s powerful to melt hearts.

Nicoleta and Bianca.

Nicoleta snuggled into my lap as we listened to the story of Stephen at Kids Beach Club. She did her best to pay attention, even with the distraction of Hawaiian leis, nametags, treasure chests, and her little sister Bianca sitting next to her. Her hairstyle was far too familiar – I had seen it on countless orphans in third-world countries as an easy remedy for a lice breakout. And her clothes were tattered and dirty. But that smile. Oh that smile.

The story of Stephen taught about courage – about being brave in the midst of hard times, about being an overcomer in Christ. I looked at Nicoleta and her sister. Neither really understand the meaning of the word “courage,” but both live it every day. The girls and their siblings live in Nevrincea, with a mom and a man who now does his best to care for them. It’s unsure if he passed away or walked away, but their father is no longer around.  The oldest sister, a teenager, is now caring for a baby of her own. Dana, the middle sister, has special needs. Bianca, the youngest, rarely talks and doesn’t stray too far from her sisters. Nicoleta is the rare gem – she’s open and talkative and happy. She shines.

It’s a rare and special gift to meet Nicoleta and her sisters. They live at home only during the summer months. During the school year, they are taken to a “placement center” – or children’s home – to ensure they receive an education and proper care. I try to wrap my head around a yet new description of the word “orphan,” and the tears fall. That “if only I could take Nicoleta and her sisters home with me” rush sweeps over me, but I know the answer. They are social orphans. I’m called to be family – whatever that looks like. And for them, family looks like transformation of the village of Nevrincea. It looks like food and clothing. It looks like clean water. It looks like education programs. It looks like the Gospel – lived out every day.

Now it’s my turn to understand the meaning of the word “courage.” It’s my turn to be brave and be bold for Nicoleta and her sisters. Working with Red Page Ministries and the House of Joy, I believe transformation can happen. As I watch my team from First Baptist Church of Levelland fall more deeply in love with this village, I know change is coming. It’s already begun.

I love this smile.

And that makes me smile. Just like Nicoleta.

Romania – Hope and Light

6 Aug

It’s Saturday morning, and I sit in our hotel room in Budapest, burning CDs for our journey to Romania. The concert that plays through the earbuds brings tears to my eyes – the songs combine into one great symphony of hope and light for the broken. In my mind’s eye, we are already on the road that shifts from smooth to rough at the border, reminding us we are stepping back in time a bit to a country still struggling to find its own place in a sea of neighbors who dismiss it as worth just a little less than valuable. I’m standing in cities that are marked with memories of communism – but not in the pristine, memorialized way that is the stuff of tour buses and maps. And I’m walking roads filled with the dust of poverty as money which fills the coffers of city programs runs dry before it reaches the villages. Romania is broken. But the words of the songs speak the truth – there is a symphony of hope and light.

The team from FBC Levelland.

I’m traveling with a team from First Baptist Levelland (a small community in West Texas). For everyone, even those who have been to Romania before, this is a first-time experience. We’ll visit a local orphanage and spend time with the discarded children there. We’ll do a special end-of-summer camp for village children, teaching them a program designed specially for the Red Page Teams by Kids Beach Club. And we will deliver groceries to sustenance farmers who struggle daily to provide for their families. Only 11% of the homes have adequate sewage. Some have no electricity. And only 25% of the children will ever make it to high school. Sickness and disease are rampant in some of the villages.

In fact, the brokenness is so overwhelming in Nevrincea, some locals have asked if the people are cursed. But I know better. I know hope is on the way. I’m traveling with it today, and I’ll watch it in action. The 9 people on my team have never been to Nevrincea, but they’ve fallen in love already. They’re ready to walk the streets, pray with the farmers, and provide the support needed to change lives for the better – for now and for eternity. That kind of love is a symphony. We need more of those songs in this world.

Learn more about the work FBC Levelland is doing with Red Page Ministries, and how you can change the lives of those living in rural Romania.

Need.

3 Aug

In just a few hours, the journey begins – again. I leave for Romania, to serve with Red Page Ministries. It seems like only yesterday that I was traveling there for the first time, and falling in love with the country and her people. This time, though, I won’t braving the bitter cold with teenagers who were selected to attend a youth camp nestled in the mountains of Transylvania. There will be no ski areas or cozy hotels.

This journey takes me to the heart of the 31 impoverished rural villages served by Red Page and House of Joy. Together with a team of folks from First Baptist Levelland (a community in West Texas) and a trusted friend from Austin who has traveled with me to Guatemala two times, we’ll deliver humanitarian aid to orphanages and laugh with children and carry groceries down dirt roads to farmhouses filled with families who simply need.

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Camp NomNom – sweet (g)local nom-ination.

30 Jul

The pictures tell the story of Camp NomNom. 

Two days. Tasty homemade deliveries to folks who needed a smile –  in trailer parks and gated communities. All camps should be so sweet. Our thanks to everyone who gave – and received. We love you all.

~Court and Ronne

third world symphony

24 Jul

It’s not often you hear your heart written out in a song – much less an album of songs. Today, as I listen to Third World Symphony, I keep stumbling upon verse after verse that resonates deeply. Some lift up and some are stark reminders of just how broken this world really is – and how broken I really am.

Like “Down Here” -

What in this world ain’t busted, Crowns and cathedrals rusted.

Is there a thing we can trust in down here?

What in my heart ain’t twisted, I’ve kissed for less than 30 pieces.

Oh God can Heaven even reach me so far down here.

Up there, the prayers of generations split the clouds,

The groans of all creation turn to shouts…

All point toward grace, mercy,  and justice. Good justice. Holy justice. God’s justice.

Take a moment. Listen. Then purchase the album on August 30th. And if you haven’t gotten to know Shaun Groves yet, take a moment to visit his website. He’s been around for while, and he’s got great things to say about caring for the poor and orphaned (he’s a Compassion International artist and adoptive dad).

~Ronne

save the shoes.

15 Jul

What can a volunteer firefighter teach you? Plenty. I’m so thankful to my friend David Bryant for sharing this short video. It’s worth watching – and sharing with others.

Go ahead. Save the shoes.

~Ronne

(G)local missions at their sweetest.

12 Jul

Caring for the discarded, the hurting, the lonely, the rejected? Yes, it can be a very sweet thing. This is something Courtney and I have done for three years here in Austin, Texas. Every year, we end up with happy tears and full hearts. We can’t wait for Camp NomNom…there’s nothing more fun than being a food fairy.

This year's invitation.

Our first year, two high school girls helped prepare food and treats for single moms living at a local shelter. Last year, the original two became our team leaders and helped 15 high school girls made everything from cookies to cupcakes and candy to deliver to families and local ministries. This year, our goal is even more food fairies. We’ve already got some grown-up team leaders donning their wings to help make the day amazing – for both the girls and for those they bless.

If you’re interested in learning more about CampNomNom, send us a message!

~Ronne

(un)Commonly Discarded.

10 Jun

Creamy macaroni & cheese. Messy sloppy joes. Homemade cinnamon rolls. And always, veggies and fruit thrown in for good measure. Am I on a mission trip? You’d better believe it.

Ministry tools - of a different sort.

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