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

Friday, August 7, 2015

VBS in Apalina with LCC

It's been one full summer here in the Reghin area!  After a great week at Harghita with four folks from Leesburg Community Church (LCC), five fresh faces joined us on Saturday, July 25 for a week of vacation Bible school (VBS) in Apalina: Tracey Z., Caitlin Z., Rachel Z., Alyssa S. and Alyssa B. These five were all veterans of mission trips to Romania, so they got to reconnect with many of the children, women and men they'd seen on previous trips.

During the week of July 27-31, each morning we had a women's gathering in Apalina.  Tracey led the meetings with prayer, sharing wisdom about how we speak to God and to each other, and with great questions that invited the women to share and respond.  Each day, more and more women joined us, eager for the chance to feel seen and heard.  Adel T. and Adel N. did a great job translating and facilitating the meetings.  We also had the chance to do women's meetings in Reghin, Gornesti and Glodeni as the week went on.  Thank you, Tracey, for loving and serving the women in our area!

Here's a group photo in Apalina after one of the women's meetings

Tracey with Judit, a church member in Apalina

Each afternoon, it was all-hands-on-deck at VBS in Apalina!  With over 200 kids rotating among six stations, we had our hands very full!  As our ministry in Apalina continues to expand to the Romanian-speaking street, our children's ministry is growing there, too, so we had children speaking a variety of languages - Hungarian, Romanian and Gypsy!  Alyssa B. and her team of volunteers in Virginia did a great job planning each station and activity, and the children's leaders and youth from some of our other communities came to Apalina to help lead, supervise, translate, and support.  Because we had such a robust team of local leaders and Americans, the week was smooth and fun for the kids.  Several young men like Csabi and Zoli from Gornesti did an outstanding job leading outside games and rotating with the kids.  Zozo did a fantastic job teaching Bible memory verses to a group of largely illiterate children.  The American workers brought lots of energy and ideas as well as smiles and hugs for our kids.  What a great week!

Jason speaking to the kids in Apalina

Lots and lots of the beautiful and special children we get to work with!

Adel N. translation at the crafts rotation

Szidi from Gornesti doing a great job teaching the English station

Coloring at the English station

Having a great time together!

In addition to running women's meetings and VBS, the team visited nightly church meetings throughout the area.  After one of these meetings, Paul and I were happy to get to host them in our tiny apartment one night for coffee and dessert!  We think we broke our record for highest attendance, and we loved every second of it!

On the last night of VBS, the church members from the Gornesti church cooked an enormous pot of genuine Hungarian goulash for the American team and the youth from Gornesti who served so tirelessly throughout the week.  We stuffed ourselves on steaming-hot goulash, fresh bread, crisp and cool veggie salad, and delicious cozonac cakes.  The grand finale was a huge Ligretto tournament!

Perfect goulash in every way!

The Zoetis and Stilley girls


We want to say one more big thank-you to LCC for being such a special part of our summer.  Thank you for sacrificing to come and work alongside us, encouraging us and building up those we work with.  Paul and I feel refreshed and thankful to be partners with you in the work God is doing here in Romania.  (Thank you also to Luis R. for letting me use some of your great photos from the week!)

This week, we've rested a little bit, but we've also spent lots of time gearing up for our new and continued fall ministries.  Tonight, Paul and Attila will travel to Cluj to pick up a team from Bath, England who will be with us the next two weeks for more VBS, women's meetings and church meetings.  We've got two baptism services coming up as well! There's lots more summer ahead!  Thank you for praying for us!


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Camp Harghita 2015

Happy August, friends!  It's hard to believe how fast the summer is rolling by!

Last week, July 19-25, Leesburg Community Church (LCC) in Leesburg, Virginia sponsored our camp for youth from Reghin, Apalina, Gornesti, Glodeni, Targu-Mures, Cluj, Gheorgheni, and many other villages in between.  We hosted about 160 people, including youth and leaders, for this year's sports camp.  Four members of LCC came to run this camp with us: Jason and Melissa B., Oscar A., and Luis R.  Jason and Melissa have been with us in Romania many times before, but it was Oscar's and Luis's first trip!

Our campsite is located in Harghita county, the most Hungarian-populated county in Romania!  Since Paul and I both feel more comfortable speaking Hungarian than Romanian, it was fun for us to be able to go into stores and banks and be able to speak Hungarian freely!  This beautiful county is home to the majestic Eastern Carpathian mountains, and we enjoyed cool mornings and warm summer afternoons all week.

The theme for the week was Image-Bearers, and we learned about what it means that God created us in His image.  Many youth responded to the message of the Gospel, and we are praying now for the best ways to encourage them and help them continue to grow spiritually.  The leaders of the camp came from our local churches: men and women who gave their time and energy to invest in the youth of our area and to pass along their knowledge and wisdom.  It was a blessing to watch and experience.   Now, sit back, relax and enjoy these photos as they walk you through our week at Harghita!

Our week was spent at Harghita Christian Camp, which is owned and operated by the Hungarian Baptist Convention of Romania.

Throughout the week, members of the U.S. team shared testimonies, sermons and songs with the campers.  Each night, the campers also shared testimonies and songs.  It was a great week to learn from each other what God has taught us.  Though our lives can be very different, God's power is the same!  Here's a photo of Luis sharing his testimony about growing up in New York City, being arrested and serving time in prison, and experiencing God's grace and redemption.

The campers were split into 10 teams for small group discussion as well as team competition.  At the end of the week, a winning team was announced that achieved the highest all-around score in sports, team games in the morning, and memorizing Bible verses.  Here are the teams outside on the playing field on Tuesday morning, getting ready for a team relay game.  Check out our beautiful surroundings!

Here are some of our Apalina guys enjoying breakfast together.  There's no shortage of personality in this group!!

Here is Jason preaching and Attila translating for him in a morning meeting.

Paul and I were happy to serve alongside a fantastic LCC team.  Here's Paul helping Jason to explain one of the team games.

Here are two teams competing in volleyball, as we did each afternoon.

In the afternoons, teams rotated among soccer, volleyball, and crafts.  One of the crafts we did was creating a pinball maze!  Here's my team, Team 10, and our completed maze.  You're also looking at the champion team for 2015!!  Yes!!!  We had a great leader, Rebeka from Gheorgheni, and you'll see a couple of familiar faces there, too: Emi from Peris and Isti from Gornesti!

All in all, we had a fantastic week at Harghita.  We did have a few hiccups - but what would camp be without unexpected challenges?!  On Friday night, Paul and I drove Jason and Melissa to the emergency room after Jason took a knee to his forehead during a soccer game.  As I previously mentioned, we were in a predominantly Hungarian-speaking region, so we were very glad even the staff at the hospital spoke Hungarian!  Paul helped Jason get all stitched up, and we were back at camp in no time!

Thank you, LCC, for sponsoring our week of camp, for praying for us, and for sending wonderful team members to lead and support this youth camp!  This past week, more members of LCC joined us for a week of women's ministry and VBS in Apalina.  Stay tuned for a wrap-up of our week!