Monday, June 19, 2006

Weekend at Camp Living Water

I had a great opportunity this weekend to work alongside 2 missionary families in the Romanian hill country. Let me first introduce the Mather and Deweerd families:

Scott and Noemi DeWeerd are on the left. Steve Mather is hugging daughter McKenna (age 9) in the center. Cami Mather is on the far right seated next daughter Renee. The Mathers have two other children, both teenagers who were not at camp. The DeWeers, married in 2004 do not currently have kids.

Steve and Cami Mather have been in Romania since 2000 ministering to the orphan children in Bucharest. Steve gave up a 10 year career and good salary as a manufacturing engineer before coming to Romania. Cami has a biology degree and was a science teacher. Like most missionary families, Steve and Cami now rely on the Lord to provide financial support from partner churches and individuals in the states to live and minister here.

"Land of the Orphans"

One of the saddest facts about the country of Romania is the 50,000+ (estimates vary) number of institutionalized children. To a large extent, the cause of this problem points back to the 40 years of a Godless communist dictatorship and the de-valueing of human life that went along with it. The dictator Nicholai Ceausescu wanted large families and it wasn't because he liked children. He wanted legions of workers to serve the "state".

While Ceausescu was "urging" large families, he was spending around 70% (and maybe more) of the Romanian GNP (gross national product) constructing large luxiorious buildings and other monuments to himself. To pay for these adventures, he exported most of the Romanian homegrown food supply which lead to shortages and starvation. It's easy to see why it only took two days to try, convict and shoot this guy following the 1989 revolution.

As a result of these wonderful social policies and the lack of any strong spiritual presence from the church, many parents who were struggling to make ends meet decided "If the state wants kids so bad, they can have ours right now and provide the care we can't afford", and gave them up as orphans.

Stepping Forward

The ministry the Mathers and DeWeerds have formed is called Stepping Forward (click the link to find our more about them and their ministry). Their slogan "Inspiring kids to see their potential...motivating them to reach it" pretty much sums up what their ministry is about. Most of their time is spent with the children in the orphanages and hospitals of Bucharest. The worker to child ratio in the orphanages and hospitals is horrible. Without people like the Mathers and DeWeerds, most of these kids would get very little attention.

This year, they acquired some land and have broken ground on a summer camp in the hill country east of the Carpatians Mountains. The land is situated in a beautiful valley in an area known for minerals, timber and of course, superior wine. In fact, according to Wikipedia, 11% of the county is covered by vineyards.

Friday - The Ride up.

Ok, on Friday I picked up Noemi in Bucharest and began the drive up. We talked pretty much the whole 4+ hours about various subjects and it was pretty cool. Scott, Cami, and the girls had gone up earlier in the week, while poor Steve had been at camp for 2 full weeks. He had to stay back to watch all their tools, tents, and lumber until the storge container they needed badly arrived.

Noemi and I met the truck with the container in Panciu, a small town about 6 miles from the camp. At this point, it was finally settling in that this place was WAY out there. Noemi confirmed it when, after we left the paved road miles behind, she told me we had to drive through a creek to get there! Oh well, I was driving my rental, so I wasn't afraid.

Crossing the Creek

With the big truck following us, we finally reached the creek crossing. At this point, Noemi was kind enough to let me know that this was the 1st crossing! We actually had to do it twice. We stopped at the creek to see how high it was. We were concerned because there had been some rain earlier in the week. The truck driver was more concerned than we were, and Noemi had to really do some arm twisting to get his courage up. It was nice having Noemi there, since she is the only Romanian in the group. I'll let the photos tell the story.

Noemi was really worried about the driver. I told her not to worry, since all guys like a challenge. I was proven correct when I looked at the driver as he came across - he had a big smile on his face. My multi-purpose sedan did pretty good too.

Container falls down - goes boom.

We arrived at camp around suppertime. I got to meet everyone and then we got down to business. We needed to get the container off the truck before dark. If you look at the truck really close, you will notice there is no crane on it to lift off the container. Instead, we devised a plan to slide it off. We tied the container to a tree while the driver drove off! (heh, we're in the mission field - you do what you gotta do). It almost worked. The container got caught up and tipped over sideways. Now what? The container was too heavy for us to tip back over, so we called it a night. Steve had seen several logging tractors going back-n-forth and was hoping to flag one down for help on Saturday. After supper, a pretty good thunderstorm (Jutton camping curse) came up and shortened our fellowship time.

Saturday morning - Dogged again

Scott was the first up on Saturday. Right away he noticed the lid of the meat cooler was not closed tightly. Yep, 300 km away from Bucharest they still have stray dogs. Not only did the strays eat every bit of our raw meat, they did it without tipping over the cooler!

So, Steve headed into town to get some more food, while the rest of us kept busy working on this bridge:

The bridge was built by one of the volunteer teams from the states. I worked on the rock pad in front as well as the steps going down to the stream on the left side of the bridge. Meanwhile, the others sanded and stained the bridge itself. As you can see, it looks great. The Romanian villagers have spent alot of time looking at the bridge. Noemi said they didn't know Americans could build things that well - funny!

Romanian Hospitality and more

Well, the tipped over storage container only sat half the day on Saturday before the teams' prayers were answered. Near midday, a tractor came rumbling down the road. Noemi flagged the guy down, and he was more than happy to take time to help. Not only did he turn the container over, but he hauled it up the hill 150 yards to the place where Steve really wanted it.

We would get more help later in the day also. After the tractor left, Steve and I started hauling the lumber up to the container one by one. It would have taken several hours (assuming we didn't give out), but another guy who had a horse and wagon offered to help us with the wood.

We were also visited by a couple of brothers who own land next to the camp. There were really friendly and brought several gifts with them including coffee, candy for the kids, and of course, top quality wine that they are very proud of here. According to Steve, who had been at camp for two weeks, he had several locals visit him and they nearly always brought some kind of gift.

Saturday Supper and Fellowship

We had a great time Saturday night. First of all, we had the best porc I've ever had. Steve's earlier trip into town to replace our meat was a resounding success! Scott grilled the porc perfectly. We played a fun card game called 9 innings, and of course, roasted marshmellows and made smores.

Sunday breakfast and departure.

Here's a picture of Cami cooking breakfast over the open fire. Steve and Cami are top notch campers:

All the cooking was done over the open fire. On Sunday morning Cami fixed pancakes and fried eggs. Cami is muli-talented. Not only does she cook, tend to hurt kids, sand and paint bridges; but she can run a chainsaw too! (actually so can Noemi). Yeah, I'm impressed!

After breakfast, Steve and I loaded the last bit of lumber into the container while everyone else finished the stain on the bridge. We then broke down camp. I think Steve was ready to head back to "civilization" for a little while. They have another team from the states coming in couple of weeks to get ready for.

I hope you enjoyed my account of this weekend in the Romanian woods. I have been blessed to work with missionaries before, and it has been encouraging everytime. This past weekend was no exception.