Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year...a little early

Katie and I would like to say HAPPY NEW YEAR from San Antonio, Texas. We have enjoyed a wonderful Christmas season with our families. We have also been able to visit and share with many people along the way. We are appreciative of the opportunity to spend this time in the States even during a very busy time of ministry in Romania. Thank you for praying for us and for those who are continuing the work while we are here.

As we come to the close of one year and the start of another, we are thankful that God has always provided what we have needed. We are now just $1,500 short of our goal for the start of 2016. Thank you to those who have helped us get to this point. We trust that God will continue to provide for us in the coming weeks. If you are feeling led to give toward our needs or to the work in Romania, you can follow this link.

To all of you and your families, the Crooks wish you a peaceful and blessed 2016!

Love, Paul

Monday, December 7, 2015

Home for a bit

We're so thankful to be back in the States now for our traditional time with our families at Christmas!  Thank you for praying for our safe travel.  It's been non-stop so far, and we expect that to continue, but we are thankful to be here and are looking forward to hopefully seeing many of YOU in the weeks to come!  There may be a bit of silence here on the blog in the next few weeks as we focus on family time, connecting with our supporters, and preparing for a very special Christmas celebrating the Reason for all that we have and all that we do!  Thanks for following along with us!


Monday, November 30, 2015

Who's Who, Take 2

It’s been a few weeks since I shared about a student in our after-school program. Daniel, whom you can read about here, stopped coming for about three weeks. I found out later he had been sick, and then he needed to help his family with some work and they did not allow him to go to school. That happens a lot here. He has since come back and has learned all of his new vocabulary!

This week I want to write about Daria. She is in the 5th grade this year. Daria is another of my most faithful students. In our last attendance promotion, she didn’t miss a single day of school. She has a great attitude and a lot of spirit! Sometimes I have to ask her to give the other students a chance to respond. She knows all of the letters, but she has a hard time putting them together to make words. However, this is already a big improvement from where she was at the beginning of the year. Lately, I have been asking Daria to help some of the other students as they work to master all the letters and sounds of the alphabet. She seems to really thrive with this positive attention! It’s my hope that in the next few months, her ability to read will really take off.

Daniel is next to me on the right and Daria is on the far right
Thank you for keeping up with what’s going on in our life and work in Romania. Thanks also for your prayers as we work to accomplish what God wants for our community.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from the Crooks!

We are so THANKFUL for your love, prayers and support!

Paul and Katie

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reghin Speech Competition

Native English speakers can have somewhat of a celebrity status in schools around Romania. Many times, the students in these schools have only ever heard the English language from native speakers on television or in movies. Katie and I have had several opportunities to speak about holidays or what schools are like in America since we've been here. On November 9th, we had a very special opportunity: we were asked to judge an English speech competition!

I have to admit that I was a little excited to be a judge of something like this! (I was imagining myself among TV talent competitions and their judges!) The competition itself is a Romanian national competition in which there are local, county, and national levels. The Romanian winner actually gets to compete at an international competition and cultural exchange in London. 

We were asked to be judges of the speeches in our city of Reghin. There were students from all three of the high schools in the city. I judged the 11th and 12th grade group, while Katie was with the 9th and 10th graders. Each student gave a prepared speech on the topic of, "Integrity has no need of rules." The speeches were two-and-a-half (for 9th and 10th graders) or five-and-a-half (for 11th and 12th graders) minutes long. After each speech, the audience asked two questions that the speaker had to answer (and be judged on). After hearing all of the speeches, we met to decide on first, second, and third places as well as honorable mentions. We were also able to give feedback to the students about what we observed and how they can work on their speeches for the next level of competition.

Katie and I were very impressed by the abilities of these students. Preparing a speech on integrity would be hard enough in one's first language! These young people were able to put together thought-provoking speeches and answer questions on the spot. Congratulations not just to those who won, but also to all those who participated! Congratulations, also, to the teachers who have worked so hard to prepare these kids for this competition. Not only did they do a great job with public speaking, it's also obvious that they are communicating well in English! Bravo and good luck as you go on to represent Reghin at the regional competition in Targu-Mures!
One of the speakers presents as Katie judges
Sharing feedback with the 11th and 12th graders
Katie sharing her thoughts with the 9th and 10th graders
11th and 12th grade participants and teachers
9th and 10th grade participants and teachers (we are on the far left)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Our Favorite Pecan Pie Substitute

This week, our American friends in the States are preparing for their Thanksgiving feasts.  Meanwhile, all over the world, Americans who work overseas are preparing their lists of favorites and substitute-favorites of traditional foods we love but have to adapt a bit to what our grocery stores can offer :) I thought it would be fun to share one of our very favorite desserts, a take on a Southern Thanksgiving classic: Pecan Pie!

Most Pecan Pie recipes I've seen call for Karo syrup, but we can't buy that here.  So, I went on a quest to find a recipe using another kind of syrup or honey to hold it all together.  This Pecan Pie Bar recipe is quick and easy and delicious enough to be made year-round!  I'm making some of these today, along with an easy pumpkin-pie substitute, to take to our English classes this week for our Thanksgiving parties :) Enjoy!

Pecan Pie Bars
Originally found at Table for Two


For crust:
2 sticks / 200 g softened butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 2/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt

For topping:
1 stick / 100 g butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp heavy or sweetened whipping cream
2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 175 degrees C.  Line a 9 x 13 in. (or similar size) baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on the sides.  (You'll eventually be lifting the bars out of the pan using the foil)

First, make the crust.  Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy.  Then, add the flour and salt, and mix until crumbles appear.  Pour the crumbles into the baking pan and use your hands to press it all down flat.  Be sure to get it as even as possible, and don't forget the corners!  Bake for 20 minutes.  It will begin to turn golden-brown.

While the crust is baking, put the butter, brown sugar, honey and cream into a saucepan and get it boiling over medium heat.  Only let it simmer for about a minute (I wait to start timing until there are bubbles all the way across the top). Then add the pecans.  Set aside until the crust finishes baking.

When the crust is ready, take it out of the oven and pour the pecan mixture over it.  Spread it out so it covers the crust evenly.  Bake for another 20 minutes and then let it cool!  Don't try to take the bars out until they are completely cool!  When it's time, use the foil to lift the bars out of the pan.  I place the bars on top of a large cutting board and slice them into squares.


PS One of our friends here compared these bars to Snickers bars, which got me thinking... what would happen if I added chocolate somehow??  YUM!!


Friday, November 20, 2015

Mystery Skype

Have you ever heard of a mystery Skype? Several schools that I know of in the United States are participating in this new form of “pen pals”. While the focus is different, in that it isn’t so much focused on a continuous relationship, it is a way of connecting students from different places. The idea is that two teachers arrange a time for their classes to Skype with one another.  The teachers do not provide any information for their students about the other class. The students then ask questions that can be answered with a 'yes' or 'no' in order to determine where the other class is located. Then, there is time to ask questions about what life is like or share other information about the location.

Two weeks ago, we participated in one of these mystery Skype sessions with a class in Summerville, South Carolina. In the days leading up to our call, I talked with our After-School kids about maps and geography. We had some really fun lessons learning about other parts of the world. Our kids were very curious about what life is like in some of the other countries. We also talked about what kinds of questions would help us get to the answer the most quickly. On Friday, we had all of the kids in front of the computer as we talked with a 4th grade class in the States. Each class took turns asking questions of the other group. They were so excited as they got closer and closer to guessing the correct place. Afterwards, it was fun to exchange information about where we live. We even got to walk the computer outside and show those 4th graders the horses, sheep, and chickens that were hanging out outside our building!

A big thanks to Nicole R. for planning this. It was great fun. Our kids couldn’t stop talking about it even into the next week! Below are some pictures I took on the day we had our mystery Skype. The quality is not very good because the internet signal that we were using was coming from my phone and I couldn't get very far away from the computer :) I hope you'll still enjoy seeing the kids.

Some of our girls checking the Atlases
This was our view of Nicole's class on the screen
Our "selfie" as we Skyped from Romania to South Carolina
- Paul

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Stories with Sticks

We had such a great day at our Apalina children's meeting yesterday that we wanted to share all about it with you! First of all, we have to say a big thank you to Orsi, Ildiko and Judit for being such great partners in our work in Apalina. It is great to be involved in the work right alongside our Romanian friends.

A few weeks ago, Katie and I had the opportunity to attend a conference for those who work with children and youth in the church. We left feeling very excited about a few of the resources that we heard about during the weekend. One of these resources is This website has excellent pictures to use in telling Bible stories to children. It's also (as the name tells) FREE! You can download the PowerPoint version of the pictures along with a script (in English, Hungarian or Romanian for most stories) and you have vivid, readymade visuals to accompany your story. We have already used this site several times in our children's meetings!

Yesterday, we were able to use another idea we've been so excited about! I don't know the official name, but I'm calling them story-telling sticks. It's really just four pieces of heavy cardboard cut into equal lengths and attached with brads. You can then use these "sticks" to make many different shapes. We used them to tell the story of the paralyzed man being brought to Jesus by his friends from Mark 2:1-12. With this visual, the kids were much more engaged than if we had simply told them the story! They watched carefully to see what shape I'd make next.  The best part was after I told the story, when we had a couple of the children use the sticks to re-tell the story themselves! Even those who didn't use the sticks were helping tell what happened next because they were better able to remember the story.  And the kids loved using the sticks!

For an activity after the story, we went outside and had relay races in which four friends had to carry one of their teammates on a blanket (to mimic the paralytic and his four friends). There was so much laughter that many of the teams couldn't even make it back to the start without having to put their blanket down and regroup! We found this brilliant idea over on Mission Bible Class, another wonderful free resource brought to us by some very hard-working folks down in New Zealand!

We are very thankful to Angus Cleaver and his friends at the Cleaford Trust for sharing these resources with us. Thanks also to those of you who are faithfully praying for us as we share God's love with the children in Romania. Enjoy the photos and video below!

Using the story-telling sticks

Blanket relay races!

Enjoy the laughter and cheers!

- Paul

Friday, November 13, 2015

Unrest in Romania

Whether you catch your news from the evening broadcast or from any major news network online, you may have been following some big news from Romania in the past couple of weeks.  On October 30, a massive fire in a Bucharest nightclub resulted in the deaths of 54 people and well over 100 injured.  There's widespread speculation that the main reason this large club was able to operate and secure permits for this high-attendance event was due to bribery and corruption, likely on several key levels.  Paul and I have been witnesses to bribery and corruption even in our small town in Reghin, and as far back as 2003, large government task forces have been set up to try to 'clean house' in a country fraught with political controversy since the fall of communism in 1989.

Recent protests following the nightclub fire have sprung up not only in Bucharest, where over 35,000 people have taken to the streets, but also in the other major cities of Romania like Cluj and Sibiu.  Following the first night of protests after the fire, our criminally corrupt Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, resigned, as well as two other high-ranking officials tied to the fire.  It's a time of great unrest.

Politics aside, the nightclub fire is a huge tragedy for our country.  While only about 30 people died at the actual fire, the last two weeks have seen the death toll steadily climb as victims succumb to their injuries and the dangerous toxins released by the fire.  The nightclub had no fire sprinklers or evacuation plan, and there was only one exit door unlocked for the more than 400 people to escape through once everyone realized what was happening.  It must have been a terrifying ordeal for all.

Several helpful articles have been published in the wake of all these events.  I invite you to take a closer look at the political turmoil here and to commit to prayer the victims and their families.  Please also pray for wise men and women of integrity to be appointed to lead this nation as it struggles to move forward.

Here's the very informative Wikipedia article about the Colectiv nightclub fire.

Here's a Vox article explaining the Romanian protests.

Here's an article from EUROPP that dives deeper into the resignation of the Prime Minister and what it means for our country.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Catching You Up

We've been keeping busy with lots of tasks, big and small, here in Romania during the last couple of weeks.  Sorry for our short silence!  Here's a peek at what we've been up to:

Children's Ministry Conference, October 16-17
Paul and I had the opportunity to attend a short conference for youth and children's ministry workers just down the road in Targu-Mures.  The presenters for the weekend were Evódia Budai and a team from the UK with the Cleaford Christian Trust.  We had a great time with some old friends and new ones too, and we especially enjoyed the presentation by Angus Cleaver about some fun, new strategies for engaging kids in Bible instruction.  It was so creative!  We're excited to hold our next meeting with the children's workers in our churches to share what we learned.  That will happen later this month. Thank you to the Baptist church in Targu-Mures for hosting this great event!

Evódia Budai sharing about working with teenagers

Angus Cleaver sharing a fun teaching tool for kids

We look a little tired here... but we had just filled up on a delicious dinner! Yum!  

After-School and English Classes Update
The After-school teachers are working hard getting their kids up to speed on grade-level skills and curriculum. This week, Cristina, one of the teachers, has been in the hospital in Targu-Mures following a scare regarding some kind of infection.  Please pray for quick healing for her.  Melinda, our new cook, has been doing a wonderful job feeding the kids, and she's always ready to help Paul with his kids as soon as she's done in the kitchen! She's a woman of many talents!  Paul's still doing a great job teaching his kids (in Romanian!).  This month, there's a special attendance challenge.  For kids who don't miss a single day of after-school, there will be a big reward at the end!  Stay tuned!

A Romanian "Word Wall" at After-school

English classes are still moving along well in Gornesti and Reghin, constantly giving us more and more opportunities for connecting with new people in our community.  There's been a little dip in attendance following the time change (which happened for us one week before it happened in the U.S.).  We've heard people are less likely to go out at night once it gets dark, but we're hoping the early sunset won't keep anyone away for too long!

Gornesti English class

Crook House Church
We are really blessed to have several different churches here to call 'home.'  Each week, we attend 3-5 church services (Sundays as well as evening meetings during the week), and they are either held in Hungarian or Romanian.  So, even though we don't have a shortage of church meetings, it's also very special to get to worship and learn in our 'heart' language, our native language of English.  In order to be able to do this, Paul and I really enjoy putting together a little mini 'house church' with just the two of us!  We usually sing some songs, pray, and listen to an English sermon on the internet.  Not only do we get to experience English worship, prayer and teaching this way, we also get to have that time to grow together spiritually and to come to God together in a really intimate way.  We're blessed by it every time we get the chance.

Music is so important to us during this 'church' time, and in the last couple of weeks, we have been really encouraged by finding some new English worship music to listen to, thanks to a sweet friend from one of the UK groups that visited us this summer (shout-out to Beth!  Hi!  And thank you!!!).  She sent along some recommendations that have made a huge impact on Paul and me, reenergizing us and getting us really excited about worship again.  Here are a couple of our favorites!

You Make Me Brave - Bethel

It Is Well - Bethel

Prayers for Health
For the last 11 months, I've struggled with some severe back pain, especially at night when I'd like to be sleeping! I finally saw a doctor back in June to try to get some answers, and since then we've spent some significant time traveling to doctor's appointments, pharmacies, x-rays, tests, massage therapy, and, most recently, to physical therapy.  We've been really blessed with great doctor's-office experiences, and I'm thankful for my husband who has been such a huge help with translating and making sure I get wherever I need to be.  He's been an amazing support, always willing to do whatever is needed.  I'm so grateful for him!  Currently, I'm driving to Targu-Mures twice a week for physical therapy when Paul is at After-school.  Please pray for safe travel for me (two-hour round trip  drive each time) and for continued improvement with my back pain.  It's been quite a ride, but I'm starting to see some relief!

Phew!  That's a lot to take in!  Thanks for praying for us and for keeping up with our blog.  We love sharing our life with you, and we hope you can see the many ways God's working and moving to grow his community of believers here in Romania.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Who's who in the after school

For a while now I’ve wanted to start something new on our blog. I want to write about each of my students in the after school program in Apalina so that you will get to know them better. I hope that through this, you will feel even more a part of what’s going on here in Romania.

First up is my most faithful student, Daniel. He is in the eighth grade, and until this year hasn’t come regularly to our after school. I knew him, of course, but I honestly thought he would be one to just drop out once the year really started. I was wrong! He has only missed one day since the start of school this year. Just as a reminder, the group I work with is students who have the hardest time with reading, writing, and basic math. It may be surprising to think that there are students in the eighth grade who struggle with this, but Daniel is not the only one. From the beginning, he was already one of the stronger readers in the group, but that said, he still struggled. He knows the alphabet, but he doesn’t know how to use what he knows to help him read. Since the start of the year, he has improved to the point where he is now helping me teach other students in the class. Sometimes I have to tell him not to answer because he is so much faster than the other students now. He has made great improvements, and mainly because he wanted to. That is one of the biggest battles here. Many of the children have decided (either because they were told or because of many failures) that they cannot be successful no matter how hard they try. With Daniel, that is being proven wrong!

Someone recently mentioned to me that it must be so hard to do what I’m doing. My response was that it is hard, but the rewards are great. When I see a student like Daniel achieve success after success, it makes it all worth it!

Stay tuned for more updates about the students in my class and for a picture of Daniel.

- Paul

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Very Special Visitors

Paul and I had the privilege of hosting my parents here in Romania last week!  They came all the way from Texas, USA to be with us and to see the world in which we live.  We had a fantastic visit, and Paul and I treasured every moment we got to spend with my parents!  My dad, a budding amateur photographer, took so many great pictures of Reghin, Targu-Mures, Sighisoara, and places in between, and we're happy to have some great photo memories to share with all of you!

My parents out at dinner at our favorite restaurant in Ernei

The town hall and cultural palace in Targu-Mures

Medieval town of Sighisoara

Birthplace of Vlad Dracul ("Dracula") in Sighisoara

Outside Reghin church on Sunday morning

Our little church in Reghin

Reghin Mayor's office and central city park

English poster up in the center of town!

Our church in Apalina

English classes in Gornesti and Reghin are going well!  We have about 10 students in Reghin, and a whopping 20-25 in Gornesti!  As always, it's been great getting to know some new faces in the community as well as to get to spend some more time with church members who are also coming to the classes.  We've even got several children joining us!  Here's a quick photo I snagged last night in Reghin:

Thank you again to my parents for being a big blessing to us on their visit!  And thank you to all of you for following along with us on this blog and in prayer.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Once a teacher...

...always a teacher.

I think this is definitely true of me. Katie once asked me if I could start over and choose any career, what would I choose. I didn't even really have to think about it, telling her that I would still choose teaching. I have found that excitement again this year. I'm working with a group of children in grades 5-8. I have about 9 who are faithful to come each day, but there are 24 names on my list. These children are all struggling with learning to read and write. There are some who know how to write their name, and others who do not. Many of them actually struggle with letter and number recognition. It has been an interesting task deciding what exactly I can do with them in two hours each day.

We started off the year learning the alphabet. We still have a ways to go with this, but they are making progress. I've had them practicing writing their names and other important words to them. I wrote some very easy, predictive text books with good picture support to help them gain confidence in their reading abilities. I also looked up a list of high-frequency words in English and translated this to use as the list of high frequency words for our classroom. Last week we had our first ten words, and by the end of the week, they were able to recall what the words were without the help of sounding out the individual letter.

On that note, here's a interesting fact about Romanian. It's a phonetic language. This means that what you see is what you say...always.* Oh, that English were more like that! I can't imagine how much easier it would have been to teach children in the States to read if English were more phonetic.

Besides all of these words, I've also been teaching some basic math skills. These children are so far behind that even single-digit addition and subtraction are too difficult for them. We've been working on visual strategies to help them gain an understanding of the concepts of addition and subtraction. They are getting better and better each day.

Most of these kids have had few successes in school. They have been told by their teachers and their peers that they "can't" or "don't know how to" read, write, or do anything in school. One of the boys told me this week that he had never read before. Another boy, after reading one of the predictive books, proudly announced, "I did it!" It's my hope that they will continue to have these feelings of success.


*I guess saying "always" is setting myself up for all sorts of people telling me that there are exceptions. My reply to this is that there are far more exceptions in English! :)

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Little Hungarian Lesson

Happy Fall, y'all!!

We've been back to school here in Romania for the last two weeks, and we've had a great time restarting English classes and all of our other year-round ministry activities that took a break in the summer months.  The weather's turned cold and grey, and with the wind blowing and leaves changing, it really feels like fall.  Last week, I got to celebrate my birthday in Romania for the second year in a row!  Paul did an incredible job making me feel special, bringing home fresh flowers and preparing an unforgettable Greek birthday feast for two.  This past weekend, we were excitedly preparing for some very special guests: my parents!  They will arrive this week, and it's their first ever trip to Romania since I've been traveling here for the last 8 years. We absolutely cannot wait!

In the spirit of getting back to school, I thought we'd do something a little different this week.  I want to share a little language lesson with all of you!  For our Hungarian friends in Romania and Hungary, this will be your chance to correct me if I'm wrong about something :) For our English-speaking friends in other parts of the world, here's a little taste of what Paul and I have experienced while learning Hungarian (thanks to Orsi for this amazing graphic!):

And while we've got you laughing, here's the very first thing I was told about the Hungarian language by a Hungarian friend I met in 2008: "Did you know Hungarian is the language of heaven?  Because it takes an eternity to learn!" At the time, I wasn't able to appreciate just how true this little joke has turned out to be!

Hungarian is not a latin language like Romanian is (along with Spanish, French, Italian, etc.).  It's not a Slavic language like Russian, Czech or Polish.  It's not an Indo-European language at all, instead belonging to the Uralic family of languages (like Finnish and Estonian).  Practically speaking, this basically means that we, as American English-speakers, don't see or hear familiar words or parts of words almost at all in Hungarian, except for some of the most modern words or words that are actually taken from English/popular culture.  Want to see what I mean??  Take a look at some of these Hungarian basics:


Jó napot - "Yo nah-poht" Good day
Jó reggelt - "Yo reh-gelt" Good morning
Jó estét - "Yo esh-tate" Good evening
Jó éjszakát - "Yo ay-sa-kaht" Goodnight

Szia - "See-yah" Hi
Viszontlátásra - "Vee-sont-laa-taash-rah" Goodbye

Hogy vagy? - "Hoydge-vahdge" How are you?
Jól vagyok - "Yol vahdge-yoke" I'm well

The Basics

Igen - "ee-gen" (g like in "gate") Yes
Nem - "nehm" No

Köszönöm - "Køsønøm" (Click here for pronunciation) Thank you
Szívesen - "See-vesh-en" You're welcome

The numbers

1  egy
2  kettő
3  három
4  négy
5  öt
6  hat
7  hét
8  nyolc
9  kilenc
10  tíz

Phrases we find ourselves saying a lot

Finom - Delicious!
Nem tudom - I don't know
Americaiak vagyunk, de itt Romániában lakunk. - We are American, but we live here in Romania.
Isten áldjon meg - God bless you (How we greet older people in our churches)
Békeséget - Peace (How we greet church friends in Apalina)

Ok, I think that's enough for now!  Is your head spinning yet??  We're not kidding when we say Hungarian is not an easy language, but Paul and I have both grown to love it.  We've even found that our Hungarian is starting to rub off on our English a little bit!  Lately I've been accidentally constructing sentences in English using Hungarian structures (For example, in English the other day I said "Understand!" instead of "I understand!" because "I understand" in Hungarian is just one word, "Értem.").  While I know I still have a long way to go before I feel like I've mastered this language, all of the hard works pays off when we're communicating better and better with our students, friends and loved ones in their own language.

Szép napot! (Have a nice day!)


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Whew...what a week!!!

As you saw in last week's blog, this week was the start of all of our yearly programs here in Romania. We hit the ground running Monday morning and didn't really slow down all week. Let me just dive in and share some of the moments from the week.

After a busy Monday with meetings and planning for the year, our after-school program started with students on Tuesday. We had 53 children take the beginning-of-the-year placement test! That's a record! By Wednesday afternoon, we had the children divided into groups based on ability, and we started going over rules, expectations, and procedures all together. We also spent some time with our own groups getting to know the students better. Claudiu and Cristina are back as teachers this year and they have a middle level group and advanced group, respectively. I have 24 students on my class list (although the most I had in one day was 20). My students are all in the 5th-8th grade and do not know how to read and write. There are some in this group that do not know how to write their own name. I have a big task ahead of me, but I'm excited about the challenge. It's also been a great opportunity to use some of the ideas and skills from my teaching life in the States. I've already done running records of reading (a common type of assessment in the States) with many of the children, and we are using strategies that I learned in the States to talk about the letters, the sounds they make, and how to read and write them. I'll write more on all of this another time...for now there's still so much to talk about.

Tuesday and Wednesday were also big days for the start of our English programs. We are starting new groups in another village (Gornesti) this year. Tuesday night, Katie and I were able to talk with those interested and administer a placement test. It was fun to talk to people about their interest in learning our language even though it's not the language of their country! We repeated this meeting and assessment on Wednesday night with a group of new students in Reghin. This week Katie will start teaching lessons to beginners and advanced speakers in both communities.

In addition to all of this, we were starting children's meetings, taxiing people, and preparing for church meetings on Sunday, while also readjusting to our school-year schedules and routines. We are both exhausted, but we are optimistic about the coming weeks and months of these programs.

Just another note, last week a 15-year-old boy died in Apalina when he walked under a high voltage electric line with his fishing pole. This is a boy who occasionally attended our after-school program two years ago. His death was a big shock to the Apalina community. It has also been an eye-opener for me that we need to talk more about general safety in our program. Please be in prayer for us and the community as we deal with this tragedy. Since this boy's death last Thursday, another person has already died in the same spot, bringing the total number of victims of this particular electric line to 9.  You can imagine our frustration and concern about this.

As always, thank you for your support and prayers for us as we work here in Romania.

Love, Paul
Cristina and her group
Claudiu's group as they share their writing assignment
Paul's group working hard on their first assignment of the day
Working on reading and writing
Paul with a part of his group

Monday, September 14, 2015

Back to School

Paul and I have returned from our beautiful honeymoon/one-year-anniversary vacation in Greece!  It was an incredible trip to a truly amazing place.  We have almost 800 pictures to prove it!  One of my side projects this year is going to be attempting to recreate some of the delicious and very, very fresh Greek food dishes we tried and loved!  First step: start growing some oregano on our balcony!

At the Parthenon (Athens, Greece)

Today marks the first day of the 2015-2016 school year here in Romania!  The after-school program in Apalina is starting up again, along with most of our other year-round ministries like English classes, children's ministry, and worship team training and practice.  Tomorrow night, we'll have an introduction meeting for English classes in a new village!  We're excited to start classes in Gornesti as an outreach ministry for the congregation there.  On Wednesday, we'll start back English classes in Reghin.  At After-school, we've hired a friend from the Gornesti church to cook lunch every day for the kids, so Paul will be free to do what he does best: teach!

Last week, we spent several days preparing for the new year.  We held meetings with the leaders of the children's ministries in our area as well as with the teachers in the after-school program.  We prayed, planned and dreamed with them about the opportunities God will give us during this year to reach out to the children and youth in our four main towns and villages.  We shopped, cleaned, organized and brainstormed, and now we are ready to go!

Here are some prayer requests you can keep in mind for us as the fall progresses.  Please pray for:

  • Hearts and lives that were touched this summer through the many camps that were held
  • New church members in Apalina and Gornesti as they grow in their faith
  • The new school year and the start of After-School, English classes, and children's meetings
  • New workers to come alongside us in this very busy ministry
  • The current workers here to be strengthened and encouraged
We'd love to hear from you if you enjoy reading these updates and keeping up with us in your prayers.  Any word from our supporters and encouragers is a big blessing to us!  We treasure notes and emails in our hearts for days and weeks after we receive them.  They really do make a difference!  Thank you for caring for us!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Summer 2015 Newsletter

In case you missed it, you can check out our summer newsletter here!  

You can always view current or earlier newsletters by clicking on the links in the right-hand sidebar section below called Newsletter Archive (scroll down past the Blog Archive section).

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Thanks for keeping up with the Crooks!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One year together in Romania

I can't believe what I'm about to write! Katie and I have been in Romania together for a year! There are moments when it seems that it has gone by so quickly, and then other moments it seems like we have been here much longer. No matter how it feels, one year ago today we arrived back in Reghin!

This year has been full of great new experiences, challenging lessons, and growth in love. I have learned what it means to truly love another person while also learning what it means to be loved. Experiencing life so closely with another person has added richness to my view of the world. I have been challenged in the realization that I'm not nearly as together as I thought I was. I remember thinking that this whole marriage thing would be so exciting that any challenges would simply be conquered by the fact that we were together. While I'm happy to say that we are loving being together, this does not always make everything simple. Life can be hard no matter where you are. It can be especially hard when you are facing new circumstances all around you.

After one year together, with all the joys and challenges, we have so much to celebrate!  In fact, we have never had the chance to formally celebrate our honeymoon!  So tomorrow we are finally leaving for Greece to do just that! Greece is a place we have both always wanted to visit, and now we get to do it together. This is the thought I want to end on...togetherness. We are learning to live our life together, no matter what's going on around us. For this reason, I'm so grateful to wake up each morning next to my love. I can't wait to live this next year with you, Katie!


Monday, August 24, 2015

Late-Summer Ice Cream Recipes

Paul and I have spent a lot of the summer away from home, whether we were staying overnight at sleep-away camps or sleeping at home but being gone for most of the daylight hours.  That meant we had to settle for a lot less time in the kitchen!  Cooking together has always been something we've enjoyed, but in the last three months, about 95% of our meals have been away from home!  However, in the last two weeks, we decided that even if we don't have the time or opportunity to make a hearty home-cooked meal together every day, at least we can try to make a few treats here and there!

The temperatures have been in the mid-90s, and our fourth-floor corner apartment doesn't have an A/C, so when it's hot outside AND inside, who really wants to fire up their gas-heated oven?  Not us! Instead, we dusted off our ice cream maker and put it to work!  Below you'll find the two delicious ice cream recipes we've been enjoying lately.  They're both extremely easy and the ingredients are simple and inexpensive.  If you ever wonder what we eat here in Romania... here's your chance to find out :)

Fresh Mint Ice Cream (Recipe from Joe and Cindy Crook)

1 cup whole milk
2 1/2 cups packed fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups of whipping cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (we usually half this, and we've even omitted it with good results!)
1 1/2 cup chopped peppermint patties or chocolate-mint candy (like Andes or After-Eight)

1. In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, bring the milk just to a boil. Remove from heat and add the mint leaves.  Let steep for 20-30 minutes. Strain and discard the mint leaves after steeping.

2. Add the sugar and salt to the steeped milk/mint mixture.  Use a hand mixer on low speed or whisk to combine until the sugar is dissolved.  Stir in the whipping cream and vanilla.  Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight.

3. Turn on the ice cream maker and pour the mixture into the frozen freezer bowl.  Let mix until thickened, about 20 minutes or according to manufacturer's instructions.  Five minutes before the mixing is complete, add the chopped candy. The ice cream will have a soft creamy texture.  If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours.  Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

We have doubled and tripled this recipe with great success!  You just have to re-freeze the ice cream machine's freezer bowl between batches.  This recipe is hugely popular among our friends here!

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks and Biscoff Bits (adapted from this recipe)

We might have gone a little overboard with this one, but talk about delicious!!!

For raspberry swirl:

12 oz. fresh or frozen raspberries

1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)

For cheesecake ice cream:

8 oz. cream cheese

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

2 cups half and half
 (I can't buy this here, so I used 1 1/2 cups whole milk and 1/2 cup whipping cream)
Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

About 1/2 cup chocolate chunks
About 1/2 cup crushed Biscoff cookies (or graham crackers)

1. Place the raspberries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Let sit until the raspberries release some of their juices. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Let cream cheese soften slightly and beat with an electric mixer. Slowly add the sweetened condensed milk, while beating on low speed. Add the half and half, beating on lowest speed. Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Cover the bowl and chill for about an hour, or until very cold.

3. Turn on the ice cream maker and pour the mixture into the frozen freezer bowl.  Let mix until thickened, about 20 minutes or according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-proof container. Fold in the chocolate pieces and Biscoff crumbs.  Remove the raspberries from the fridge. Pour the raspberries and any juice over the ice cream. Use the back of a wooden spoon or a blunt knife to swirl the raspberries throughout the ice cream. Cover tightly and freeze for 2-3 hours until firm.

The original recipe was for raspberry cheesecake ice cream, but who doesn't love a little touch of chocolate, too?  And if we're going to add chocolate, why not throw in some Biscoff cookies to remind us of the crunch of a graham cracker crust?  The result is decadent, for sure!  Enjoy!!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Baptisms in Apalina and Gornesti

It's a very joyful privilege to be able to share that we have celebrated the baptisms of 14 new believers in our area in the last two weeks.  These new Christians heard the Gospel several months ago, believed it, repented and have spent months studying more about God and what it means to follow Him.  They have given their lives to Christ and desire to become part of our church family!  As we read in John 6, no one comes to faith in Jesus unless God the Father draws them, so we rejoice in God's powerful work in their hearts and lives!  13 new believers were baptized in Apalina on August 16 and one new believer was baptized in Gornesti on August 23.

Here are the 13 new believers in Apalina (wearing white) with Attila and Sandor, a church member in Gornesti

Izolda, the new believer in Gornesti with Attila and Miklos, her father-in-law and a pastor near Brasov

In Apalina, we had a large baptism event on the afternoon of Sunday the 16th.  The church was packed from wall to wall and dozens of people were standing just outside.  Joe P. from the visiting English group preached a powerful message while Adel N. translated, Zozo and Miklos from Sarmasag led the music, and Paul and I even got to sing a song, as the other English team members did too.  It was a special afternoon, and many visitors heard the gospel for the first time.  Izolda's baptism in Gornesti was a part of the regular morning worship service, but there were some visitors there as well who expressed a desire to learn more about Jesus and to follow him!

Joe preaching

Paul playing the piano and singing along with me and Zozo playing the guitar

Please pray for these new disciples as they continue to learn and grow in their faith.  Please pray they will be a light in their communities!  Please also pray that we, along with Attila, Adel and the other leaders in our churches, will have wisdom to help lead them and that God will continue to work in the hearts of those in our communities of influence, drawing them to Him through faith and repentance.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Nearing the End!

I can't believe that we have entered our final week of summer camps in Romania! It seems like only yesterday we were writing about the busy summer ahead. Now, as I think back on it all, I'm surprised by how quickly it has passed. I'm also thankful for the strength that God has given us to complete the tasks He has called us to.

After a few days off between teams last week, we headed back to the airport on Friday and Tuesday evenings to pick up Ross E. and his team of 16 from England. Ross has visited Reghin many times, and he always brings an energetic team of college students and young adults with him. This year is no different. There are several team members who have been to Romania in the past – some of them have served with us as many as five times!

In the mornings last week, Ross' wife Allayne led meetings for the women in Apalina. She and some of the girls on the team did a great job teaching about prayer. They also had a great time doing some fun crafts and activities like sewing and painting fingernails with the ladies at the end of each meeting. The others on the team spent time with the children outside while the ladies were inside. The number of children grew each day, starting with six on Monday and growing to over 30 by Friday.

Allayne (left) and Sara P. (right) speaking to the women in Apalina as Adel N. translates (center)

Matt A., Joe and John supervising the kids during the women's meeting

Each afternoon, we had Bible Club in Apalina. The theme of the week was "Jesus is our Rescuer." Each day started with a puppet show interweaved with creative dramas to tell the Bible story and theme for each day. It was great to see the wonder on the children's faces as they watched the stories acted out! After the story, there were games, crafts, and Bible verses to learn. The team did a great job of engaging the kids in each of the activities!

Some of the team dramatizing Jesus calming the storm

Boys making boat crafts

Outside of the ministry opportunities of the week, we also enjoyed spending some time with this team. They have been a big encouragement to us as we continue in our work here. We've had a great time laughing and singing together.  We broke our previous record for the most people in our apartment at one time when we had 11 of the team over for coffee, tea, and dessert. On Saturday morning, we took some of the team members swimming at the Reghin pool. That night we had a Great British Bake-off viewing party on the “big screen” – using a projector in our apartment!

Hosting the group in our apartment for coffee and dessert

The English team singing a song in Peris

Lots of personality in this group!

We thank God for the people that He has called to be a part of the ministry in Reghin this summer. What an encouragement to see others come alongside the work that we live and breathe each day. We also thank God for the many faithful prayer partners that have helped "pray us through" the summer. The team from England will be with us through the weekend, and then Katie and I will finally head off to Greece for our long-awaited honeymoon.

Just a quick request for prayer: out of 15 team members, 12 are currently ill with some type of stomach virus.  Please pray for quick recovery for them and for those of us who are healthy as we try to carry on with the week’s already-scheduled events.

- Paul