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,