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.