Friday, February 27, 2015

What is Worship?

This is a question I have been asking a lot lately.  One definition that I like states that worship is "the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity." The definition is short, but it really gets to the point of what worship is all about...God!  But I still have questions.  How do we do this in the church?  What happens when we don't feel something during "worship" times?  

I was just reading the story of Jesus healing the man who was born blind in John 9.  This is one of my favorite stories for many reasons, especially when the once-blind man takes on the church leaders for a second time in John 9:24-34.  When the man encounters Jesus a second time, we read that Jesus spoke with him and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man.  The man said yes and worshiped Jesus because of who He was.  The man had already received his sight long before the act of worship. This act of worship wasn't about receiving something there in that moment.  The man was giving reverence and adoration to Jesus because of Jesus's identity as the Son of God!

So often our own worship experience is about what we receive or how we feel, not about what we give.  I am guilty of this. Just this morning, as I was running, I was listening to music and found myself so thankful for what I was receiving through the message in the music.  My next thought was thanksgiving to God, but what about worship?  Was my thanksgiving really worship?  What if I hadn't received anything through listening to the song?  Would I still have given thanks to God? Would my run have been worship in any way?  These questions extend to our "worship services" in the church as well.
Part of the worship team in Apalina
Each week I work with the worship teams in a few of our churches.  We practice new songs in preparation for upcoming services and we pray together.  We also talk about what it means to lead people in worshiping God.  This kind of discussion is something that I want to do more of.  I want us to check ourselves and make sure that our worship time is about God and not just about us or what we receive or how we feel.  

I also want to remember that different people worship God in different ways.  Some people worship through prayer.  Others express worship through reading scripture, while still others find it easiest to worship through the songs that we sing.  Whatever the method, it is important that the church works to offer everyone a chance to express reverence and adoration toward God.  Please pray for me and for our worship teams as we work on making the worship time in our churches a time of giving back to God!


A big gift from Eastern European Mission

As promised, I'd like to tell you a little story about a mom, her daughter, and one amazing organization called Eastern European Mission (EEM).

The year was 1977.  Becky Sweeney (Harding '77) was traveling on a six-week summer trip through Europe with a group from Harding University, visiting several European missionaries along the way.  As a part of their stop in Vienna, they visited the church of Christ there.  In those days, an office inside the church building housed a secretive printing press used by Eastern European Mission for printing Bibles in the languages of the Communist Bloc countries.  Since transporting religious materials was strictly forbidden in those countries, the Bibles were smuggled across the borders.  Vienna was the perfect gateway city between Western and Eastern Europe. Here are a few photos from those days:

Church of Christ building in Vienna, 1977

Information outside the church building

Missionaries with the printing press!

Group of Harding students (Becky is second from left on the front row)

Fast forward to 2004.  Becky Sweeney has married Craig and has become Becky Sweeney McClung. She's now the wonderful mother of two teenage kids, Paul and Katie.  The family is traveling through Austria, Italy and Switzerland as a part of Craig's business travel.  They stop over in Vienna for several days, including a full weekend.  On Sunday, they worship with the church of Christ in Vienna, which has since moved to a larger building.  That building still houses the EEM European headquarters and that very same printing press from 1977!  The McClungs worship with the church and enjoy meeting some of the folks who work with EEM.  By this time, the Iron Curtain has been down for about 15 years, but EEM still prints and provides Bibles in 20 languages to countries in the former Communist Bloc.

Vienna Church of Christ building, 2004

Fast forward once again to 2015.  Katie McClung has married Paul and has become Katie McClung Crook.  (Don't get the Pauls confused... one's a brother and one's a husband!)  Paul and Katie now live and work as missionaries in a former Communist Bloc country - Romania!  As a part of their passion to bring hope and joy through Christ to the people in their area, they seek Bibles and materials from, yep, you guessed it! - Eastern European Mission!  They contact Anne Boyd, CEO of God's Children, who coordinates Bible distribution through EEM in Romania.  And one cold, windy February day, they make the 4-hour drive south to Sfante Gheorghe and meet up with Zak and Aleece Kelley, recent graduates of Harding University (what a world!). Zak and Aleece have traveled to Romania to meet with Anne to discuss their future plans for moving to Romania to work with God's Children.  Aleece's home church in Florida has supported EEM for years!  Together, they drive to the EEM warehouse and pick up 250 Bibles and Biblical guides for Paul and Katie to take back with them to Reghin.  What an incredible gift - to receive Bibles printed in the languages of the people we work with, free of charge!  And to think, for our family it all started way back in 1977.... 

Church of Christ building in Sfante Gheorghe, Romania, 2015

EEM materials

Husband Paul and me with Bibles and Guides!

EEM materials in our car and ready to go!

Hungarian publications of the Newcomer's Guide to the Bible being distributed at a church leadership training - Gornesti, Romania, 2015

The leaders loved the books, especially the maps and charts.  We're hoping to receive even more of these guides in Fall 2015!

A valuable tool

We can't wait for the chance to distribute the Hungarian and Romanian children's Bibles we received, too!  A big, big "Thank you!" to Eastern European Mission, Anne Boyd, and Zak and Aleece Kelley!  We are blessed by all of you!  You can read the Kelleys' account of these events at their blog here, and you can visit EEM's fantastic website here!


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Our first Valentine's Day...and other news!

Happy weekend everyone!  Can you believe it's already the last week of February?  We can't!  And yet, the snow is melting, the temperature's rising, and we are daring to imagine that Spring is coming!

We have had a packed week!  It was so packed that I can't even fit it all into one post!  You'll have to stay tuned for more details... :)

Last weekend, on Valentine's Day, we began a bi-weekly meeting for women in Apalina.  We have many ideas like this one, but our issue is always finding a time to make them happen.  Since there are leadership trainings every other weekend in Apalina, we decided to use the alternate Saturdays for a meeting with the women.  Our first meeting brought somewhere between 40-50 women!  We began the afternoon in prayer, and then Adel shared a message about the love of God and what it gives us power to do.  We served snacks, and then we split into two discussion groups.  One discussion group was in Romanian, and the other group was in Hungarian.  The women are so open and ask incredibly honest questions, and I'm inspired by their vulnerability.  We're looking forward to next weekend's installment!

Hungarian group led by Adél T.

Romanian group led by Adél N.

Paul and I finally celebrated our very first Valentine's Day together!  We spent it quietly at home.  Paul grilled steaks in the dark on our balcony in 20-degree temperatures (true love!), we pulled the couch out into a giant bed, and we caught up on Scandal and Project Runway All-Stars.  Our parents sent us Valentine's Day cards that arrived before Valentine's Day (Thank you, Romanian postal service!), and Paul's parents even bought us a Carrabba's gift card that will be waiting for us in South Carolina in December for a never-too-late Valentine's Day date :)

Sorry for the shadows, but here's my grilled steak with gorgonzola steak butter, grilled squash, and Greek macaroni and cheese!  I praise God daily that my husband can cook (and he's not allergic to a sink full of dirty dishes, either!  Hallelujah.)

On Thursday, we had a wonderful opportunity to meet with a young couple from the States who are planning to move to Romania sometime in the next year and a half.  Zac and Aleece live in Searcy, Arkansas, and they feel called to relocate to Sfântu Gheorghe, a larger town than Reghin about 3.5 hours away.  Not only was their company a total breath of fresh air, Paul and I were encouraged and excited about their enthusiasm and vision for the future.  We're thrilled at the idea that in the future we might have each other to support and encourage, just a few hours apart.  As we talked, Paul and I shared some of what we've learned about living overseas, raising support, budgeting, and generally surviving Romania.  This was great for us, and we hope it was helpful for them, too!  Even though Paul and I have already been in some difficult circumstances and have learned some hard lessons, we have the chance to pass on our new knowledge, and that's a big blessing for us.  We can see how those difficulties had a purpose, thanks to our constant, ever-vigilant, doesn't-waste-anything Redeemer God.  Zac and Aleece also helped us receive free Bibles and materials from Eastern European Missions (EEM), but that's a story for another post!

This next part is big.  Really big!!

Last week, I posted our need for 10 scholarships for the AMEC Children's Ministry Conference.  I am so happy and overwhelmed with gratitude for your response!  We are now fully funded to be able to take all 10 children's workers to the conference!  THANK YOU!!!!!!  I can't wait to share about our trip to Sibiu on March 13-14.  You have encouraged me and increased my faith.  Thank you for your love for us, for your faithfulness to the One who calls us, and for your generosity to His children.  May you be blessed, big time!!!

And now, for something completely different:

As this new week begins, we're praying for an extra dose of strength and energy.  The past week was packed to the brim, and this weekend it's been one event after another.  We've been reading and researching a lot about overseas living, especially serving overseas in ministry, and we're doing better at understanding why we feel so tired sometimes.  Paul calls it "cultural stress."  It's not stress like we normally think of it: the adrenaline rush that comes from an overbooked schedule or an impossible-but-nonnegotiable deadline at work.  It's more like an underlying current, a silent leak, a constant flow of sometimes barely-noticeable extra pressure; extra expectations; extra explanations, misunderstandings, and re-explanations; extra demands and disappointments.  We're learning to be extra nice to ourselves and to give ourselves time and space to rest and receive.  But when the schedule just doesn't allow that for the foreseeable next (x)-number-of-days, we need extra grace and extra prayers.  (And extra chocolate?  Does it work that way?)  Thank You, Lord, for caring for us and for carrying us.  Amen.

- Katie

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reading and Writing in Apalina

We are excited to report that we have started reading and writing classes for adults in Apalina! These classes have been a need for a long time. Since so many young people drop out of school very early, a high percentage of adults in Apalina are illiterate.  However, as the church grows and the new members desire to mature in their faith, they feel a particularly strong need to be able to read the Bible for themselves.  Reading and writing are also necessary skills for these people to be able to live and thrive independently of outside help.  For these reasons and many others, we have hoped for a long time to be able to find the time and resources to be able to offer reading and writing classes.

Our friend Lucian from Reghin, a Romanian pastor and elementary school teacher, is now coming to Apalina on Mondays and Thursdays to work with about 20 adult students.  They bring great enthusiasm to the task, and we're hopeful that soon these students will see the fruit of their labor.  I admire them for being so determined to learn to read, no matter how late in life they may be.  Please pray that the students will stay encouraged about their work, that Lucian will have wisdom in using the best methods for learning, and that our community and church will be blessed by all of their efforts!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Call for Children's Ministry Sponsors!

One of the most exciting things I get to be a part of here in Romania is the growth and development of six children's ministries in the villages surrounding Reghin.  I've had the opportunity to come alongside our workers and help equip them as they serve our kids.  Last fall, we created a 4-year curriculum plan, and I've been gradually purchasing teaching materials from Child Evangelism Fellowship (or AMEC in Romanian), an international children's ministry organization who has an office in Romania!  We love their colorful materials and helpful publications, and we're so thankful to have them as a resource!

This March, AMEC will be holding a children's ministry conference here in Romania!  The conference will be held in Sibiu, about a 2.5-hour drive from Reghin.  Our children's workers have never had the opportunity to attend a conference for children's ministry, and none of us have never received any kind of formal children's ministry training! Now, we have the chance to meet other children's workers from all over the country, to worship together, to be encouraged, and to hear teaching about the various aspects of our work, including relationships with kids, parents, and the church.  The theme for the conference is Aim for Excellence, which is exactly what we seek to do in our ministry here in Mures county!  We are currently praying for sponsors who will help to make it possible for our children's ministry leaders to attend this exciting event!  For transportation, lodging for one night, two meals and registration for the conference, it will cost about $40 for each of our 10 leaders.  Would you consider sponsoring someone on our team?

One of Paul's and my core values as we serve here in Romania is to dedicate ourselves to discipleship.  Not only that, but as we disciple the teachers of our children, we are taking part in one of the most important responsibilities we could possibly have:

"We will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and mighty wonders." Psalm 78:4

Please consider partnering with us as we seek to bring our children's workers to this exciting conference opportunity.  You can send your gift of sponsorship through the Teleios website (click here) or by clicking on the Give tab above.  Please indicate that your gift is for the children's ministry conference in Romania!  Thank you for your partnership!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

English Classes Begin!

It has been a great week here!  School has been on a break between fall and spring terms, so we weren't exactly on our routines this week, but we had so many great opportunities to catch up on some other ministry work that we don't always have time for!  Over the Christmas holidays, our ministry was inundated with donations from Hungary, Holland and England.  Paul and I missed the official shoebox distribution just before Christmas, but there are still many donations to sort and distribute.  This week, we tackled several large boxes of hand-knit winter hats, sweaters, scarves, and leg warmers that we received in a shipment from England.  It was a joy to be able to sort through them and to distribute them to the children's ministry leaders in each of our 6 children's ministries.  Paul and I got to distribute them ourselves to the Hungarian-speaking kids in Apalina.  We're so grateful for those people who made it possible for the kids to take home some new winter gear just in time for a fresh snow last night.

Speaking of the children in Apalina, we're back in the swing of things with our weekly children's meeting there! Paul is walking the kids through stories of the Old Testament.  Things got a little behind with the holidays and such, so in order to try to catch up to our curriculum plan, he told the whole story of Joseph yesterday!  The kids were great and they listened intently.  I love watching Paul with the kids.  We have one little boy, Denis, who prefers not to stay sitting in his chair, and he proves to be quite a distraction to the other kids.  Well, Paul found a great solution for Denis yesterday!  Paul just hoisted him up on his shoulders!  That child stayed put and you better believe the kids were glued to Paul for the rest of the lesson!  For our craft, we made patchwork colored coats to represent the gift Joseph's father gave to him.

Classroom management

I've gotten a little out of order, because the most exciting part of our week was back on Wednesday!  After 6 months of planning and waiting and after several weeks of trying to secure a nice location, we finally held our first English classes on Wednesday night at a cultural hall in the center of town in Reghin.  Not only did we see most of the prospective students we met back in November, we also were surprised and happy to receive several new students as well!  Our first class at 5 p.m., the beginner class, was a packed house!  I loved every minute of getting to know our new students - mostly women and a few couples in their 40s-50s - and I can't wait for our next class this coming week.  Our advanced class at 6:30 is a little smaller, but I'm excited for the opportunities we will have to grow their knowledge and conversation skills in a more intimate environment.  We're hoping to start having our students into our home for dinner and coffee soon, too!

Some of the beginner group

They weren't too shy to answer aloud on the first night!  I love it!

Some of the advanced class

Another big part of Paul's and my week has been a 7-day Paleo diet challenge!  We weren't doing it to lose weight, but we really to see if we were able to make it a week without sugar, dairy or grains!  It has been a huge challenge!  I have more of an appreciation now for all of the alternative ingredients available in the U.S., like almond flour or coconut milk.  We had a hard time figuring out what was ok to eat!  However, Paul helped out by planning a date for us on Thursday night to a restaurant where they serve beef steak!!  We practically licked our plates clean :) We have been impressed by how good we've felt, although it's been a struggle to stay satiated.  Anyway, we've learned some fun things and we hope to incorporate some of what we've learned back into our regular diet (that will definitely include CHEESE! :) ).

This was our grocery cart on Monday morning: so many fruits and vegetables!  And our first experience with leeks!

This weekend is another installment of the Winter Leadership Training in Gornesti and Apalina. This coming week, we'll have evangelistic meetings every night in Apalina.  So many people in our area are hungry to hear the gospel, and we expect a packed house every night.  Please pray for these meetings, that many will hear the gospel, that their hearts will be opened, and that we will be faithful in discipleship to any new believers that God raises this week.

Thank you for following along with us!  We love hearing from you!


Sunday, February 1, 2015

To snow or not to snow...and other bits from our week

Before I begin telling you about the week's events,  I wanted to share something that Katie and I have recently found funny.  When we arrived back in Romania in early January, there had been a lot of snow and cold weather.  We were able to enjoy a few days of the snow, but soon after, the temperatures began to warm up and the snow just became yucky ice and mud.  We check the weather each day in order to see what the "projected temperature" is going to be, and we are always looking to see if there will be more snow.  It's become a joke to us that each time we check, the snow is always forecast for "next week" or "tomorrow", but we haven't seen a bit of that snow.  Well, today, there was no chance of snow...and you know snowed!  It only lasted about 15 minutes, but we just couldn't believe it.  Now we're hoping that some of the snow "next week" will really happen!

Ok, sorry to start off side-tracked already.  There were some really exciting things that happened this week.  As a part of our winter Bible training, I have two groups of "students" that I am working with 
in a mentor/discipleship relationship.  One of our goals with these groups is to serve together during the year.  On Sunday, I was able to take my group from Apalina to share in the village home church in Filpisu Mic.  It was so great to see these two guys sharing and being a part of the ministry there.  We sang together, shared testimonies, and enjoyed the fellowship with the two dear ladies in that church.  I think those ladies were really excited to have some special guests, too.  During the ride to and from Filpisu Mic, there was also a great conversation about the Bible.  The kinds of questions that these guys are asking really shows how much their faith means to them.  They want to know and understand everything! It was a great reminder to me that we need to always strive to be this way...always wanting to know more...craving knowledge and understanding from God.

Most recent photo from a church service in Apalina
I want to mention another big event that happened this week, even though Katie and I were not directly involved.  On Monday afternoon, Attila took a group of 13 men from our church in Apalina to minister in another church during their week of evangelism services.  This was the first time that many of these men had gone out to serve in another church.  We are so excited to see their enthusiasm for serving, and we're proud of one of the first 'mission trips' our church members have taken!  It's a big step forward in discipleship.

As for other ministry news, we are finally starting English classes!  Katie has been ready for some time now, but we have had some trouble finding a place to have the classes.  This week we were finally able to confirm a location and time that will work.  We will begin on Wednesday evening at 5:00 and we'll have two classes (a beginner class and an advanced class).  It was such an encouragement to call everyone and hear how excited they were about our classes.  We are praying that it will be a good time of making connections and sharing with our community here in Reghin.

After-school is on a break this week for the mid-term.  On Friday, I had a meeting with the teachers to talk about the second half of the year.  I think we all needed a little reminder about why we do what we do.  It was good to talk with them about their ideas for how we can better reach the kids of Apalina. I'm looking forward to going back to school in a week!

I think I'll just end with an update on the weather.  Since I started writing this entry (yesterday evening), we've had a good deal more snow!  I know, I know...I can't believe it,  But it turns out that this time, the weather on my phone was right!