Friday, December 6, 2013

Fall/Winter Update

As promised, here's a little more about what's been going on with me in the last few months.  I was able to send this in e-mail form to many of you, so if you are seeing this again, I appreciate it!

We finished a very busy summer late in August.  All in all, we had 7 weeks of camp this year.  Among these camps, there were camps for children and youth, along with several women's meetings.  We also had many opportunities to do evangelism and outreach in the evenings during these camp weeks.  Many young people here in the Reghin area heard the good news of the Gospel.  They also got to see how the Gospel changes lives and how people were willing to come from far away to share that good news with them.  We had around 1000 kids and young people involved in these camps this summer.  This doesn't count the many adults and helpers that were a part of these weeks.  We are very thankful to God for all that He provided for us during the summer!  God is truly good!

This year, one of our big ministry focuses is on discipleship and growing leaders.  One of the ways that I have been involved in this is through discipling and spending time with some of the youth in Apalina.  We started a new youth group on Friday afternoons for these youth.  Another way we are trying to help develop leadership among the church members is by asking them to take on more and more responsibility in the church.  Because our ministry continues to grow, the opportunities are endless, so it is a good time for these church members to step into leadership roles.  Last weekend (November 22-23) we had our first leadership weekend.  On Friday night, we had the youth from all of our villages in one location for an evening dedicated to issues of leadership and also sexual purity.  On Saturday, we had church leaders from all of our churches gathered together for training in leadership.  It is our goal to have one of these weekends every couple of months.  In addition to the work that Attila and I are doing in this area, Adel is doing a fantastic job of her work with the women of our communities.  She currently leads three different women's meetings.  Many women are coming to these meetings that do not come to the regular church meetings.  Last week in Apalina, she had 50 women!  Again, God is good!

The work in the after-school program also continues to grow.  After almost a year of mostly watching and making observations about how the program was working, we were able to start this year with several changes that have increased attendance and have made a difference in the lives of the kids.  My three personal goals for this year's program are to: increase attendance in the local school and in our school program (and not just numbers, also faithfulness of the same students coming), improving the parent/school relationship and communication between the two, and teaching important "life-skills" that will help prepare these children for life outside of school and childhood.  So far our average attendance has doubled from last year to this year.  We have had some days with more than 30 kids (last year we were averaging 10-12 kids per day).  We are having parent meetings once a month where parents can ask questions, teachers can share concerns and growth, and the kids can teach their parents what they've been learning.  We also started a ticket system to encourage faithful attendance and to enforce the life-skills that we are teaching.  Every Friday, we have a school "store" where the kids can spend their tickets to buy things like shoes, winter clothes, school supplies, snacks, and toys.  This has been a big success.  The last Friday of the month, those kids who have two or less absences are invited to some sort of special attendance celebration.  In October, we went to the library in town and then to the park.  For November, the special celebration was a movie with popcorn and other snacks.  For teaching the life-skills, we have been using a list that I brought from my school in the States.  Each week we focus on one new skill (such as responsibility, patience, caring).  On Monday, we spend time talking about that skill.  During the week we give the kids scenarios and ask them how they would demonstrate that skill in a given situation.  During our most recent parent meeting, we also talked with the parents about using these life-skills at home.  So far, we have seen a big improvement in the attendance and the kids' attitudes toward school and learning. 

In a week, I will be heading to the States to spend some time with my family and loved ones.  I'm excited to have this time back in the States, but the work here continues.  Please pray for our ministry during the Christmas season.  We will have programs for children where we will deliver shoeboxes for Christmas.  Some of these kids will receive only this shoebox as their Christmas gift this year.  Pray for Attila and others here who will help deliver the boxes and the message of God's love.  Pray also for the many meetings that will take place during the Christmas Season.  While many of us are enjoying our families and friends, there will be many here who will have even more work during this time.  There are also many families that I work with who do not even have a reason to celebrate.  They see Christmas as just another day of the year...a day when they will likely be cold and hungry.  Pray that we will be able to show them that there really is a reason to celebrate that has nothing to do with the things that we have. 

In this time of thanksgiving and celebration, I am so thankful for all of the many people who have helped make it possible for me to serve here in Romania.  May God truly and richly bless your sacrifices and prayers. 

With much love,
Paul Crook

Thursday, December 5, 2013

After-School Program Presentation

A few weeks ago, I was able to share about our after-school program with several other pastors who work with Roma/Gyspy communities.  It was a great opportunity to share what we have been able to accomplish (with God's help) so far with our program.  I hope you will have a moment to take a look at what we are doing!

God Bless!

Apalina After-school program

Finally Catching Up...sort of!

It's been SO long since I've posted something, but that doesn't mean that there hasn't been anything going on.  God is truly blessing our ministry!  For now, I just wanted to list a link to a website that has a lot of information about Gypsy ministry in Romania.  I'm also working on an update about my own ministry here to be sent out soon.  As always, thank you for your prayers and support!

Here's the link:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer Dates and link

I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all of you who are praying for our summer here in Romania.  Here is a list of the dates for our summer...some are a little past due.

July 9-20 Two weeks of Children's camp in Sibiu
July 20-27 Harghita Youth Camp 
July 27-august 3 Children's day camp in Apalina
August 3-10 Children's day camps in Gornesti and Glodeni
August 19-30 Team from England will be here to do camps and evangelism

Here's a link to a blog about our two weeks at camp.  We had a great two weeks with the kids from Gornesti, Peris, Glodeni, and Csavas.  

Thanks for the prayers!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Apalina Meeting

I just wanted to share a quick entry about our meeting last night in Apalina.  Other than the singing, the meeting was entirely led by those in the church.  It was truly an amazing experience for me to sit there and see that one of the things that I have prayed for happening before my eyes.  There is still a lot of discipleship and instruction that needs to be done (not to mention evangelism among a large part of the community), but this is a huge step and I and truly grateful to God for HIS work in this!  Here are some pictures of the speakers (Sorry, they are not the best quality).

Iren giving a testimony

Rita sharing her testimony

Ludaly sharing a testimony

Akos also sharing a testimony

Imrus and Attila singing one of Imrus' favorite songs.  He went on to share the message for the evening

Thank you to all of you for your continued prayers for our work here.  God is working, He is faithful, and He will do it!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Take a tour around After-School

I thought today I'd take you on a little tour of our after-school program through some pictures and stories. 

We have two and a half weeks of school left, and here, the kids are still working hard.  We have a few fun things planned for the weeks ahead.  We are planning a field trip to the zoo on the last day of school.  We're also planning to have a cook-out during the last week.  But for now it's business as usual and our kids are working hard.  Right now, we have three teachers working with the kids.  They currently split the kids based on their need level.  We are really trying to meet the needs of the kids where they are, and because of our after-school status (and not being tied to a specific school program) we can do exactly that.  We have some students who are just learning to read while others are working ahead of grade level (and of course we have everything in between, as well). 
Here are a few pictures to show you what's been going on around after-school.

Kids studying with Cristina

Claudiu and Anamaria working with their groups

Florin also came by to work on reading and writing...

...and he learned to write his name!

Sometimes the kids even help out with the kitchen work.

Cristina working with the kids to make some pastries on a special school day

Anamaria and the kids
Zozo working with one of the boys

Zozo working with a couple of guys on learning the alphabet

Zozo and I working on the lunch for the day

Claudiu with his group...working on math

We received some clothes and set up a "store" so the kids could pick what they wanted

Hot Dog Day at After-School

With Alex in the Apalina Church
Alex is one of my favorite kids in Apalina because he is so kind and so smart.  I have known him since my first trip to Romania to work with Attila in 2010.  Last year he was a part of the after-school program as an 8th grader.  This year he started attending the high-school in the city where he was studying to be a mechanic.  Shortly after I arrived in Romania in November, he stopped going to school.  When I asked him about his decision, he told me that he wanted to be free to play football (soccer).  His parents also supported this decision.  I asked him what he would do when he was older and could no longer play football, but that didn't go very far.  His sight was on the present and what made him happy in that moment.  About two months ago, Alex broke his ankle very badly in a football match.  He was in a cast for about two months.  When I visited him, I asked him if he would be able to play football again, and he said no.  Alex is a very smart guy, who could do very well in school if he wanted to.  Unless something changes and he goes back to school, he will be faced with a life of just finding what work he can.  

Kandasz is currently a 5th grader.  I have also known him since I came here in 2010.  He has never really attended school with any sincerity.  Starting in January, he started coming pretty regularly.  During this time, he was working with Zozo on learning to read.  When Kandasz started coming here, he knew very few of the letters of the alphabet.  Zozo started working on this with him in earnest, but the one problem we had was consistency in coming to school.   One day he would be here, and then he would miss three days.  When he returned, he couldn't remember what he had practiced the last time he was here.  Finally, he just stopped coming altogether.  When I talked with him (and his mother) about his attendance, he told me that he had work to do at home on those days.  At this point, Kandasz is still not coming to school, and he still doesn't know how to read or even write his own name. 

The stories of these two boys, while very different, exemplify a very specific problem here.  The children and the parents all live for the moment.  Getting them to see the importance of an education that may pay off in ten or more years is very difficult when providing food for that very day may be more important.  Figuring out how to reach these kids (and their parents) is a constant challenge.  I'm so thankful for Cristina and Claudiu who come from a somewhat similar background, but are great examples of what an education can provide.  They both teach in the local school here, and they work with us each day after school.  I'm praying for more and more examples that can show how an education can be a help.  Thank you for your praying and support of our program.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Car Tale

So this isn't exactly a new story, but part of it ended this week, so I thought I'd share.  Besides, this is a great example of what learning to live in another country is like. 

It all started on a nice, cold, snowy day in January.  I had been asked by one of the guys in Apalina if I could take him and his newborn baby to visit his wife's family.  This family lives in a village about 30 minutes away, and it is off the main road.  

Mihaly and his little boy
The road had not been cleared, so there were two tracks worn threw to the road by tires.  Otherwise, it was covered in snow and ice.  On the way, I had already made a mental note that I needed to be very careful on the way back because of how slippery the road was.  

Well, on the way back, as I was coming around a curve, I met a horse cart.  I wasn't going fast, but as I tried to move out of the tracks so that I could pass him, he decided to come straight ahead and hit my car.  This caused me to swerve off the road and into a ditch.  I wasn't hurt (other than my pride), but my car was stuck.  Now in my way of thinking it was time to call a tow truck.  The only problem was that I don't know how to call a tow truck here, so I called Attila.  He said he would be there soon to help me.  I didn't see how the two of us could possibly manage to get my car out, but I decided I would wait on him to come and then we could decide what to do.  He showed up with four other (big) guys from Apalina and told me that he just drove into Apalina and asked the first four big guys he saw to jump in the car and come with him (not telling them where they were going).  These four guys proceeded to pick my car up out of the ditch while Attila used his car to pull it back onto the road.  So much for calling the tow truck.  Here are some pictures of what happend. 
Here's where the door was damaged...the cart tore all the way through to the frame of the car.

Now flash forward to last weekend when I went to Hungary.  I had told Zozo on the way that I needed to pay the road tax because it expired in April.  Well, this wasn't the only thing that expired in April.  While I was in the States, the registration on my car expired.  This means that I needed to go to get the car inspected and get a new stamp for two more years.  In South Carolina, we no longer have car inspections, so this was another new thing for me.  We realized that the registration was out of date when we were crossing the border and the border police showed us.  You can imagine how worried we were when he showed us and then took the paperwork for the car and told us to wait.  After about 10 minutes, another guard came to bring my passport and the car paper back to us.  When she handed it to me I just stared...long enough for her to ask if it was my paperwork.  I was just so shocked because I was expecting that we would have to pay a fine and maybe even have to turn around and go back home.  We were able to go ahead and had a similar experience on the way back into Romania.  That time the officer told us that the paper would work that day only..."today it works, tomorrow it wouldn't".  So God was with us in that.  But that brings me to this past Thursday when I went to get the car inspected.  Attila told me to expect them to find something because they always do.  This turned out to be true.  There were two problems: something with the exhaust pipe and the other with the car door from the January meeting with the horse cart.  That sent us on a hunt to find a place that could fix the door.  Luckily the place we found could start right away.  Unfortunately, it would take until Monday to finish. 

I know, this story is turning into quite a saga, but I really wanted you all to see what "normal" is here. :)  Even  in a "normal" weekend it would be hard to be without my car.  This was complicated by the fact that I had promised to make three trips to the prison: once each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  So Thursday afternoon, I took Attila's bike and rode to Apalina to deliver the bad news...that I wouldn't be able to go.  If I can tell you one thing about the people that I work with in Apalina, it's that when the set their mind on something happening, they will find a way! Each of the families found another car that I could drive to take them to the prison.  I ended up going to the prison three days, in three different cars, none of which was mine.  This is normal!

Monday, I went back to pick up my car with Attila, and it was done.  They did a great job fixing it.  It wasn't something that I had planned to repair at this time, but since I didn't have a choice, I'm glad it turned out well.

Thanks for joining me for this little car tale.  And thank you for your prayers for my ministry here! 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dear Friends,
Can you believe it?  I'm actually updating my blog!  Is this a day for celebration or what?  :)

I have had a lot of opportunities in the last month to catch up with some people in person, and many of you mentioned that my blog was out of date.  Thank you for your encouragement to keep up with it.  I've least for just fill you in on the most recent things happening here and then I will hopefully be back on track with trying to blog once a week.  I'd also like to start taking at least two pictures a week to post.  I'm thinking that if I write it here, I'll have the accountability to make it happen. :)

Since Christmas, I've been busy with school, road trips (some of my choosing, others to help out our community), and working with the people here in general.  We've received many guests during this time, as well.  God has really been faithful to help us in our ministry here.  There have been times when I didn't know where or how I would receive what I needed, but God always provided.  One of the biggest lessons I'm learning now is about trusting Him for all of my needs.  It's amazing how doing this can bring so much peace to your life.  In the times when I didn't know how I would be able to pay a bill or make another trip in the car without more gas, God was faithful and I never worried.  Thanks be to the One who is always faithful!

This past weekend, I had the privilege of being in Hungary for the installation of a new director at Word of Life Hungary (Elet Szava).   Although I would have loved to have had more time with my friends, it was such a great time of celebration of what God has done through faithful servants over the years there in Hungary.  For me, it was a bittersweet day because I saw my friend become the new director, but I also saw a very Godly and wise leader moving on.  I'm very thankful for all that Alex Konya has done in his time at WOL Hungary.  I had the privilege of being a student and an intern there while he was the leader, and I'm very thankful for his example of leadership.  I'm especially thankful for all that he showed me about trusting in God even when it seems the answers aren't coming as we expect, and when it would be easy to try and look to the world for help.  I'm also thankful to have worked with Csikos Gabor during my time there.  He was the Dean of Students while I was a student, and he had stepped into other roles while I was an intern.  During that time we got to work closely together and I learned to really appreciate his service and his friendship.  Thank you to these two gentlemen who have led so faithfully and have provided good examples for me.

I was also able to bring two good friends from Romania with me to Hungary.  Zozo and Jeno are both great friends and they are both an important part of my life here in Romania.  It was great to have them see the place and the people and places that were such a big part of my life.  Besides, one of them may even be a prospective Bible School student in the future.  Here are a few pictures of us in Budapest.

As I write this, I'm sitting in the church in Apalina, with the children in the other room studying.  At the same time, some of the kids that I taught and have worked with in America are taking state tests this week.  I'm reminded how much I love what I get to do with these kids, and I'm thankful that God has given me so many different experiences that have guided and shaped who I am.

Zozo and Dezso: two of my greatest friends together!
Ok, I think that's enough for now.  It's good to be back "in touch".  And I'd love to hear from you, too!  For missionaries, notes of even the smallest length mean a lot.  Here's how you can get in touch with me:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Giving out food packages in Gornesti

More deliveries with Zozo

Kids from the after school program
Skit practice: John baptizes Jesus
Skit practice: Mary Magdalene

Skit practice: Woman with blood issue
Skit practice: feeding the five thousand

Our skit group in Apalina

Christmas Fellowship with youth from Reghin...thanks to Nicole we had Tastefully Simple dips. Too bad we won't be able to have more for a while! :)

Christmas games...wrapping presents in teams

Another Christmas game: Who can make the best Santa Claus with shaving cream? I thought this was really close!

Christmas Service in Apalina

Christmas Caroling in Apalina

Christmas Eve concert in Gornesti: with Zozo and Isti

Christmas Eve concert in Gornesti: with Zozo and Attila

The new candlelight tradition in Gornesti! :)

Shoebox delivery in Peris