Saturday, 8 December 2007

A Letter From Leah #39

Hello again Everyone,
This is an attempt at giving these [monotonous?] updates a bit of a format, and hopefully a pinch of professionalism (since their content is generally anything but professional!)

The Shallows
So, what’s been happening in the life of Leah? Well, I’ve moved… to the library. Expectations are high and deadlines come swiftly this year, so most days as well as nights I can be found in the library which friends and I have affectionately called "The Brooks&Brooks&Leah Library" for the three of us who work there together most often. Somehow the essays, proposals, exegeses, analyses, and presentations keep printing out just in time.

What’s God up to in my heart these days? Lots and lots. God’s using this time of heavy schoolwork as an object lesson (when is He not doing so, after all?) for 1 Cor. 10:31, "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." He’s taken the concept right over—as "whatever you do" might suggest— and I’ve found even my cleaning duty this term (two community bathrooms!) is a chance to do something unto His glory. I suppose it harkens back to my old friend Brother Lawrence (A French monk from the 1500’s) and his "Practicing the Presence of God", as well as a new academic interest Thomas Traherne (an 18th century English mystic) and his "Centuries of Meditation" (both books and their writers come highly recommended by me!). I feel so keenly, as these two knew before me, that the very God of the universe lingers closer to me than my next breath. Surely that fact should influence my perspective of
every aspect of life…

The Deeps
It’s something that I’ve been pondering lately in my clearest moments, a bit breathless with wonder-- that ours is a God who draws near. I’m taking a philosophy course called Religious Experience where we’re studying peoples’ mystical experiences in all the various religions. I’m also taking a course on the Biblical book of Isaiah which may be the most beautiful (and harrowing) Old Testament expression of God’s passion towards His people that I know of. In a time when I’ve been walking down a rather lonely road of some intense personal struggles, I have been confronted again and again with the sheer hugeness of His love, a love so limitless that when I try to wrap my mind around it, I simply get lost there in my foolish little head. No other god, no other spiritual high of any religious experience compares. No other god is big enough to endure hundreds of years of rejection (by the people of Israel whom He wooed with wonder upon wonder) and still stoop in compassion for mankind in the New Testament only to be rejected again and killed. No other god is brave enough to make Himself vulnerable enough to love, and love, and love again a people, a person like me, who cannot possibly be as true to Him as He is to us. Even when the deepest rivers seem to sweep over and through me, He does not let them overcome me… because He walks right alongside, even carrying me in His arms (Isaiah 43:2, 63:9). Our God is the only god who draws that near.

I find the path I walk challenging. I find I don’t naturally suit the climate, don’t have quite the right shoes for the trail, and struggle to maintain my balance on the steep incline. Sometimes I feel overcome by a river of my own insecurities, weaknesses, and inadequacies. The deep, deep answer to all this, a truth that He’s written on my heart and has been rewriting afresh lately in His nearness is simply this: I am His.

I belong to the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, King. The Painter of the skies, the Sculptor of the land, the Setter of the stars, leans down to take my hand. He deems me in my meagerness more precious than words have been invented to describe, and the one He gives me is my only true identity, no matter how everything about life in this broken world will try to convince me different.

This is the defining characteristic of my life: I am His.

Being His endows me with splendour (Isa. 60:9) that I cannot seem to accept. It also gives me purpose I can only endeavor to live out in my blink-of-an-eye existence. It means I am His bond-servant, His hands and feet wherever I can reach and walk, His voice in my little sphere of influence. Incredible incredible responsibility; or perhaps a better description would be that it’s an incredible incredible privilege to belong to the very meaning of life; to Love itself, to Hope, to Joy, to peace, to strength, to glory, and every other defining characteristic of this God who loves in a language so intense I can hardly understand it. To fear anything at all in life seems very silly considering the company…

As Christians it’s very easy to get used to hearing all the stories and applying all the scripture and just getting on with it (especially at Christmas when it’s all around us and so familiar...). This year God’s express concern for my life is shaping out to be that I will actually understand the implications of belonging to Him and live out this truth in my life to the very core. It’s about trust and it translates into issues of self-esteem and confidence. I’m finding it hard to believe Him. I have believed so many false things about myself. This past term the heat has been turned up in such a way that I might all the more easily believe all the falsities. But YHWH God—this God who rescues, delivers, and redeems simply because that is Who He is— will woo us until we know, if we’ll live day to day with our eyes and ears open for Him.

My prayer for you is that you will seek to live with eyes wide open. You will see Him. He promises in Jeremiah to be found by all those who will seek Him with all their hearts. My prayer for my life is the same.

So, may we seek to truly know this Love this Christmas—to know it in such a way that it can seep into every crevice of our lives. He could deserve no less and whether we realize it or not, we could want no more…

Deep, deep Love,
Leah <><

p.s. Expect a more concrete and earthed update about Christmas and break and placement and all soon.

For Those Who Pray:
-- Please be praying that He opens up the doors for the perfect block placement for Jan/Feb and smoothes the road to get me there (finances, travel, accommodation, etc)
-- Please pray as God works in my heart, as it’s had a pretty rough term and He’s set me on a process toward some pretty serious healing there..

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Nice and Newsy

Dear All,

See the picture gallery of life back in England so far here!

Hurray! Second installment of news from England! I won't even comment on how I hope to make this quick because we all know how it ends up anyway by now, don't we? Nonetheless, I will promise to keep mostly to the practicalities and save most insights and passions for another mailing :)

I so love my college.
I cannot believe this is my third year here.I cannot believe how far He's brought me since showing up on the college doorstep an exhausted, frightened, and fragile, 19-year-old chock-full of hopes. As my darling cousin Emily said this summer as we discussed this call to Europe, "I blame it on the books!" He has so carefully drawn me to believe in His bigness-- a bigness that used to only seem to show itself in other peoples' stories. Suddenly I find He's written my life into a big story of His own. And I can only gaze up at Him with eyes wide-open and hold on tightly as He turns the pages!

It is such an incredible blessing to be able to look back and see how I've grown/am growing. And so far, no regrets. Sadnesses, obviously, at missing out on everything back home with the family I do so love. But no regrets. Suddenly Amy Carmichael's words ring true when she wrote, "You will regret nothing when you look back, except lack of faith or fortitude or love. You will never regret having thrown all to the winds in order to follow your Master and Lord." I am so thankful for how carefully He leads...

So, I have reached that mystical third year and somehow find myself a college senior! The classes, though led by the same profs (in England they are called "Tutors") have suddenly taken a huge step up in workload and expectations. I find myself often feeling very intimidated and not quite up to snuff. But also hopeful.

The studies I'm following this semester are:
Religious Experience with Rob Cook-- Analyzing the experiences of other religions and how they fit or don't fit within a Christian outlook. It is so very very interesting but also really demanding and Rob is the ultimate in intimidating academics so... I sort of sit there trembling every Tuesday morning hoping he doesn't ask me for any input! I think I'll quite enjoy writing the essays, though, because it fascinates me.

Isaiah with Derek Foster-- Exegeting the book of Isaiah. Wow... I've always known Isaiah was an incredible book but THIS incredible?? It just illustrates so profoundly the character of our God and that is an awesome thing to behold... For this particular class I must prepare a grand presentation on the theme of Justice and Poverty in Isaiah and I am quivering at the thought, believe me. But also drawn into the word of God and praying for strength and confidence! I despise presenting anything but it's all the more horrible when it's Derek doing the marking because the man is brilliance embodied and he's typically English in that he's keen on being critical!


Biblical Narrative with Richard Johnson-- Biblical narrative is great because it's basically teaching us to look at the books of the bible as you would any book of literature and as such to see what can be drawn out of it that you might otherwise miss. I loved studying English Lit. at Concordia so this is a particular treat for me! It's amazing to see how the word of God was constructed and laid out only reflects back on His sovereignty all the more...

Each class is a challenge because they always feel over my head-- even after two years of studying theology! But there are two sides to every coin and I have a twisted love/hate relationship with it all :)

Block Placement
I still haven't got one!
I've thought about taking up the offer of a Masters student I met here last year to go and help out a Children's Home in Hoima, Uganda which he was on the board of directors for-- and, who knows, God could still pull it all together-- but I feel somehow that I need to keep looking within Europe. I've spoken with some Italians here at college who are thinking about where they would send me in Italy! And I'm always hot on the trail of some ministry or another in Ireland. Of course, I could do a placement right here in England as well! Any experience within Europe is helpful, I think. Of course there's always Australia, Asia, South America, North America and even Antarctica if that's where He said to go :) So, we'll see. I'm praying, though, because my placement must take place in January and February and those two months will be upon me before I know it with hectic college life!! Any prayers you might offer for direction and for finance for this upcoming mystery placement would be more than greatly appreciated!

Everything Else
I don't know where the days go! But I love it.

I have a beautiful new prayer group-- just three of us; me, and my lovely English friends Amanda (from Sheppey in Kent) and Abbie (Milton Keynes, near London), who just got married this summer to my friend Paul! So far we've met three times but each time has been so full of catching one another up on our heart stories-- accompanied by copious amounts of tears and laughter, of course-- that we've only actually prayed together as a group once! I do miss my fabulous Leticia, Jenny, and Sarah of prayer-triplets-past at these times but feel confident that God wants to do just as much in this new triplet as he did in the past ones!

Two weekends now I've had the GREAT JOY of quick trips to Wales to visit "my Welsh family" in Ruthin!! Beth was a second year student here when I arrived in my first year and between her friendship and my "sisterhood" with her 16 year old daughter, they are a pretty special family to me. Over the summer, Beth graduated college and was married to the lovely Mike, so seeing them again was very very special after so much had happened. Do check out the photos because they are nestled in an outrageously beautiful part of the world.

I also visited a beach in North Devon with some Redcliffe friends last weekend so look out for those photos as well! God is forever using the sea to refresh my soul. For how much I love it it's hard to believe I was born in the very land-locked state of Minnesota :)

Last week was filled up by a WONDERFUL visit from one of my best friends who came back to England for his first time since leaving college after the first year! We had to do all the things we used to in the first year-- talked sitting up on the roof until the wee hours, played lots of Dave-and-Adriaan-4th-Edition-Uno (we even taught our rules to some of the new first years!), visited our lovely Gloucester Cathedral, played some pool (even though we're both pretty rubbish at it, right Adriaan?), worshipped late into the night with the guitar (he's prolific on it) and prayed through our long lists of things we're needing to bring before God together! We also spent a day and most of a night in Wales with our friend Dave who was also in the first year with us and our friend Anne who has a car and loves Wales so was delighted to take us (she even let me drive some of the way :))! I love the fact that one of my best friends in all the world is a Dutchman. How random is that? And he's about 10 feet tall (or so it seems from my meager 5'2") so God must really laugh when he sees us wandering around together in weeks like these :)

I think, though there's ALWAYS a trillion more things to say, I will have to send this out now so I can get back to work! But for those of you who are interested in keeping up with me, I like to get something out to you! Do expect to hear from me on "this side of the pond" again soon :)

Love in Him!
Leah <><

(link to Photo gallery)

"The eternal God is our hiding place;He carries us in His arms."
-- Deut. 33:27

Friday, 14 September 2007

He's still the King of England

Dear All,

(See my summer picture gallery here!)

Here I am back in jolly olde England safe and sound looking out over the same stunning garden from the same antique bedroom window that I've looked out of for the past two years... and, as usual, I love it here! There were a few familiar faces when I arrived and so many warm, welcoming hugs-- My pastor Steve and his wife/my friend Debs were there to pick me up at the bus station! I cannot tell you how much to means to have loved ones there to greet me at the end of the line.

It was harder to leave this time than it has ever been-- even harder than the first year when I came over as a nineteen year old just graduating high school having never seen the place before and knowing not a soul! This will be the final year in my quest after my BA in Applied Theology! For many reasons I wasn't able to purchase a roundtrip ticket back to the States this year and I think the one-way ticket makes my family nervous :) Not that they have ever WANTED me to leave the country (thankfully :)), but in the years past they have never been quite so insistent that I reconsider! I found it torture to say goodbye to each of them-- but especially my nieces. Abby and Emily are so precious to this Auntie heart I can't even begin to describe.

My fondest answer to the "Are you crazy? Why don't you just stay?" remarks has been quite simply, "Take it up with God." (He doesn't seem to mind when I blame it on Him). But this time when someone came back with, "Yeah, but sometimes I don't know how much of it is God and how much of it is Leah" it cut me to the quick. At first I felt hurt. After all this time, that's what you think? I thought. But that night, my heart heavy with goodbyes and cloudy with new doubts, I tore into His Word and begged Him for clarity.

I do not want to do this if it is Leah and not God. It's too hard. Yes, I am living in Europe and befriending people from every nationality, I'm loving on orphans and writing about experiences I've only ever dreamed of-- and it's still not become normal to me. But it has not come without cost. And sometimes even now the cost seems too high to pay (and then I think of the expense of some of the others I've met here who leave behind wives and children on another continent in order to train for ministry, or the young families leaving every possible security to head out for the unknown chasing after a God who is anything but safe, yet o-so-good). Sometimes it all seems quite impossible, but then He keeps on opening the doors on impossible, as well as providing the grace to accomplish whatever it is laid out before me that I would never assume I could do. How do I know this is not a Leah thing? Well... if you know me, you might understand. Leah can't do this. Leah is too close to her family, too shy, too small, too young. But here's the thing, I serve a God who is deeper and wider and higher and bigger than I can even imagine. And that's what He reminded me of that night.

The verses that shone out at me that night before I left the States were in 2 Timothy. Read them and be encouraged as I am!!
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord... but join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life-- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
(2 Timothy 1:7-9)

I believe in a God who works His desires into ours, who gives us the desires of our hearts when we delight ourselves in Him. Sometimes I don't even know what those are (I am so torn between this draw to Europe and the ones I love back home...) but He does. The Lord knows those who are His (2 Tim 2:19).

As I flew over the Atlantic Tuesday night, aching from the seperation from having just left the ones I love so much and who so do not want me to leave, God seemed near in a way I haven't known for a while. As if holding my hand to reassure me (I find, being alone like this, I need alot of that) and show me that He is as much in this this year as He has been in the first two. He's not going to move on without letting me know-- and when He does, I'm going with Him!

So, there remains a draw on my heart to Europe that I still cannot explain, and I am in love with my college and am rather horrified at the thought of it all being over at the end of this school year! I'm praying about what's next for me, knowing I'll need to work for awhile to pay off tuition but thinking the work ought to take place in Europe. But I have a new-found confidence in Who He is and How He is and I know I am His to care for and as such, He'll show the way step-by-step and provide the means to make it happen!

I leave you at that for now. Rest assured more will come as classes start up and things pick up around here. These two days I've just been settling in, helping in the college nursery for the babies of the new students who are in orientation these days, and getting acclimated to the time zone again!

I cannot thank you enough for caring enough to read this. Knowing you're following this silly girl following her extraordinary God is pretty humbling and incredible :) You are blessings and I hold you up before the King as I send this. Be His.

Leah <><

p.s. A link to the Photo Gallery of my lovely summer at home!! The first few you've already been sent but I added on to it all summer so you'll find pics from our family trip to the Rockies, a reunion in Nebraska, the 3 outrageous kids I spent my summer with, some times with friends, another family reunion of sorts, and some of my last few days with the two most beautiful little girls God has ever crafted, a.k.a my nieces :)

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Back to the States Again!

Dear All,

Pictures here of the last few lovely months!

I cannot believe my second year of college has drawn to a close! And I cannot put into words all the growing times it has held. Now I'm on the way back to the States (15 June 2007) for about 10 weeks and very much looking forward to seeing everyone I love there, but very much not looking forward to leaving this home of my heart again and all the ones I love here... Living with your heart stretched across two continents leads to a very strange emotional life, I tell ya!

But God knows what He's doing. I have to remind myself a million times a day and look at the examples He's places all around me of people with that truth branded on their hearts...

There's Claire who last year when we met had no idea why she was studying here and what she would do with it, and now this year has just graduated last weekend and has been offered a position as an assistant pastor in a town on the sea about an hour from here! She's only 22!

Then there's Anne who is one of the most incredible spirits I've ever known-- though she would wonder why I'd think so-- who grew up an MK in Kenya and has worked 11 years in Tanzania and is now working on an MA before she moves back to Africa with CMS. She doesn't know exactly she'll be doing there now, but she knows that's where her heart is.

And Dave who is 21 and has just moved to China for the summer Monday to be employed as a team leader with Open Doors. He doesn't know why or how, really, just that he has hands for the work and a heart for 'the boss', as his coded emails will have to call God when he writes from inside that vast, oppressed country.

Chris and Helen and their 2 year old Hannah and 3 month old Daniel will be headed out to Moldova this autumn. They left their two well-paying jobs in London two years ago to follow God here to Redcliffe not having a clue where He wanted to take them in the long run. He's come through and revealed the next step for them just as He does all of us who seek Him with our lives...

These are just five of my friends out of over a hundred of us training here... He knows what He's doing. And it is such an amazing privilege to be a part of this. Such an amazing privilege for all of us (you included!) as Christians to know that we are a part of a vast plan far beyond our understanding and that we get to play a part in it...

Keep on seeking Him for your part.
Leah <><

* For another life-altering year at Redcliffe full of fabulous people, deep relationships, and fun as well as earth-shattering heart aches and tough lessons

* For God to reveal His next step for my life and for me to trust Him and follow willingly!
* For a good summer (void of broken bones this time, please!) with family and friends that can be a time to rest (despite working hard) and prepare for whatever comes next!

(Photos of awesome people, places, and things!:

Graduation Day Pics!

Hey everybody,

I just wanted to pass along the link to the big graduation weekend!
See some lovely pics of fantastic people I love here.
I'll be seeing you Stateside soon!!

Leah <><

(link to pics:

Saturday, 28 April 2007

English Spring is Beautiful... and BUSY!

(Photo gallery of life since returning to the UK!)

Dear All,

I will try to keep this quick-- no philosophising :) I know how exhausting my emails can be!!

First of all, thank you so much to everyone who has been praying for me and thinking of me and loving me from afar. You are so much more precious than you know...

Quick Updates!!

This term I have a heavy workload at college, I'm afraid! There is a long list of essays and assessments coming due that I have hung here at my desk to keep up my momentum :) Eschatology, Pastoral Care, Living and Working Cross-Culturally, Personal Development, Islam, New Religious Movements, Secularism, and Judges are some of the topics I'm studying and writing about. Sometimes my mind feels full :) But so so privileged to be so. I cannot possibly express how Redcliffe has taught me to look around with open eyes. It has widened my world in and out of the classroom... and I love this college and everyone in it dearly.

That I will stay on top of things and not be eaten up by stress and deadline pressures. That I will approach each class with a high mind and heavenly gaze and see them for the opportunities for growth that they are.

Crazy as college life is, it's about to get crazier :) I've finally finished the mandatory training for my new job in Social Care here in Gloucester (Parallel Options, which facilitates mentally ill and learning disabled adults to live on their own)-- training that had to be drawn out extensively due to studies and placement in Romania-- and I will start taking shifts this month! It is frightening, I must admit (this week in training, I spent two days learning 'Breakaway Techniques' in order to be able to breakaway from an attack without harming the client doing the attacking!!), but I feel confident God has alot to teach me through this new challenge.

I'm also starting this Monday to clean house 2 hours once a week for an old couple down the road.

Prayers: That I will relax into these new positions and be a good worker for both the sweet old couple and the less personal corporation of Parallel Options. That I will be confident and just love. It covers over a multitude of 'sins' as I fumble my way into finding my rythmn and comfortable routine in this terribly new and terribly intimidating challenge...

I hope you'll take a few moments to look through the photo slideshow for a good indication of this :)

I'm continuing to try to seize the moments and love all the life out of 'em :) We were recently on break for Easter and mid-term so I went home with my friend Amanda to her beloved little Isle of Sheppey just off the coast of Kent (the other side of the country from where I live in Gloucestershire). It was so precious to be with a family for Easter-- and a cherished sister, no less! Sheppey is a beautiful, green, vibrant, little island and I had a love affair with the coast!! We had a few days with her family, a few days working with an outreach event on the island, and then I prompty went down with Tonsillitus for a week!! That was dreadful and I wouldn't reccommend it to anybody-- but the rest of the break was marvellous :)

Amanda and I spent one of our last days of break on a day trip to London to celebrate my 21st birthday a few months early as we won't have another chance before I return to the States for the summer (she's away on placement with term). I have never enjoyed London more-- as the pictures may prove :) We simply meandered around this massive city of history and took in a West End show: 'Phantom of the Opera'-- which is one of my favourite musicals of all time and just so happens to be in it's 21st year of playing there in that beautiful elaborate West End theatre-- ever so appropriate :) It was a magical day...

Today I spent in the city of Bath-- about an hour's drive from Gloucester. A friend here at college, Polly, is from Bath and organized a little day out for a small group of us who wanted to go experience it. Her mother happens to be a tour guide so she showed us around and the sun was shining and making the traditional honey-coloured Bath stone look golden :) I've never ever seen another city like Bath in all the world. Check out the pictures-- especially if you've ever read anything by Jane Austen as she wrote Bath into most every book and lived there much of her own life!

As always, college social life-- when I can push studies aside and partake in it :)-- is a joy!! I am learning so much about family, relationships, confidence, vulnerability, love, and myself through interacting with this great big ol' world of a family I live in :)

That I will continue to soak Him up in every varied way and be as much a blessing in all the friendships I have here as they are to me!

And Enough said!
There is forever more to say... I always mean to make it so short :)

The point is, God is good and life is forging onwards. Not to say life is easy. It's hard; it's just a fact. But I figure I'd rather it be hard in England than hard anywhere else right now :)
Updates on Romania I won't go into here but the whole thing remains heavy on my heart and my gypsy babies haunt my dreams. I would love to speak to you about them if you'd like to hear...

**Big Prayer Need/Advice Need!!!**

One final, rather large, prayer-request-slash-can-anyone-give-me-any-advice? I'm looking forward to getting back to the States this summer and spending time with my family and meeting my new baby niece-- Miss Emily Faith! But this does pose a problem in the sense that I don't have transport while I'm back from about the 15th of June to the end of August. It wouldn't make sense to take out a loan to get a car for the few months I'll be back but it makes me nervous because I will have to be working (I'll also be pleased to hear of any employers any of you might like to put me in contact with!) and... life in general in rural MN kind of demands you have a car! Do you by any chance know of anyone not using a car for the summer and who would be willing to loan it/rent it to a mission student on a sort of furlough for 2 and a half months?

PLEASE will you pray that God opens up some good job opportunities and provides a vehicle! I know these two things are nothing to Him in light of his power and provision-- and certainly other missionaries get these things worked out for them all the time, but they seem like huge obstacles to me from where I sit!!

Thank you, lovely people!! For reading this, for caring, for PRAYING!!!, and for loving :)
Leah <><

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
-- Anne Frank

p.s. Photo gallery of life since returning to the UK! There is NOTHING like an English springtime....

Interesting links: -- --

Monday, 19 March 2007

FINALLY, an update from England!

"More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of."-- Tennyson

Dear all,

I'm sorry this update has been so long in coming! I have returned to England. In fact, somehow-- I really don't know how-- it will have been a month this Thursday since leaving Romania.... in body, anyway.

Classes have picked right back up and the weeks pass by ever so quickly. I'm still in training for my job in social care here in Gloucester working with vulnerable adults. I still have reams of essays staring me in the face every waking moment :) But, somehow they'll all get done in time-- they always do.

Leaving Romania was... strange. So so so so so hard to leave my babies. But somehow my goodbye with the country itself did not seem final. So, I await His move.

In regards to the urgent prayer email I sent out just a few days before I left-- we ended up complying with their demands. Kari (the young missionary from CA) was blessed with more financial support that month than she necessarily needed (and she's coming to the end of her time there) so she was able to buy the Romanian ROCK workers the uniforms they would need but couldn't afford. We did have to move all the cupboards with our supplies out into the hallway but we were still able to lock them under the condition that the head-nurse had a spare key. So far as I know, nothing has yet been stolen! They started taking inventory of all the diapers and things each night just to be sure... Things did seem to reach a plateau, thank the Lord! So thank you so much for all your prayers...

As far as my babies go, would you believe one of our boys was adopted a few weeks after I left??!! He was declared unadoptable for the first 9 months of his life because he didn't have a birth certificate but one day the hospital social worker walked in and said his case was being opened for emergency adoption!! He has now been moved into foster care for a month as the adoption process begins. They hope he'll be with his adoptive parents in a few weeks' time, even though the adoption will take at least a year to go through... This is so tremendously hopeful! There is so much hopelessness in that nation, so many cases that remain unopened or hindered somehow which means so many children left forgotten without a future... For one to go through successfully is a very encouraging thing for all to see...

Of course, Mario was the one blond-haired, blue-eyed baby. The average Romanian has an ingrown disdain for gypsies so if he had black hair and eyes he mightn't have been snatched up so quickly...

Florica and Emil remain the babies of my heart with their raven black curls and snapping black eyes and God uses this ache to move me to intercede for Romania in all its discord...

God taught me more about life than I may ever know in those 6 intense weeks. I want to thank you all with my whole heart for your support for my time there-- for your generosity in finance and prayers!! I wish I could describe my gratitude in words...

I really wish for every one of us to follow Him into our own varied Romanias-- our own intense experience of brushing up against His vastly beautiful broken heart and reaching out to stroke it even while being wrapped up within it and peering at the world from inside its hold... I don't believe we have to go anywhere for this. I think He brings it to us if we're willing. May we run out to meet Him!

It is possible to change the world.
And you are loved.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for caring!!
Leah <><

"For the Lord your God is the God of Gods and Lord of Lords, the great God, mighty and awesome... He defends the cause of the fatherless." -- Deuteronomy 10:18

Monday, 19 February 2007

Urgent Prayer Needed

Buna ziua Everybody,

I want to write and beg for your urgent prayers for ROCK right now. The hospital has been acting strangely about our work there since about last Thursday, out of the blue, but today was a full on battle as the hospital director waltzed in firing her ridiculous new rules that defy all logic as well as all heart. First it was our clothes. For some odd reason that ROCK has never encountered in the past 10 years it's been working at this hospital, they decided we need to wear white shoes, white trousers/skirt and a medical smock. It doesn't make any sense, really, but alright, so that's not a big deal... unless you're one of the Romanian workers who fights to feed your family on your wages as it is and haven't the luxury of being able to buy a uniform-- and ROCK pays well compared to most Romanian jobs! And what for? Only the babies ever see us and they could care less what we're wearing under our smocks...

Then suddenly after 10 years, they decided teams of volunteers shouldn't be here-- the day before a team of 4 ladies from New York who have been planning for and preparing for this trip for the past 11 months arrived in Bucharest... They're at the hospital now but it's touch-n-go... (They are so lovely with such hearts for Him and they have clearly been appointed as the team to be here for "such a time as this".)

Then, one day they came into the room and declared that we can no longer lock our cupboards. No buts about it, just don't do it. But, you see, if ever anything goes without being locked up, it is stolen in the night. Sometimes the nurses even steal the diapers we leave for them to change the babies with during the night when we're not there-- diapers that the hospital should rightfully be supplying but we do as we've taken on all the babies left abandoned to this hospital. How much more would they like to get their hands on all the American toys and clothes and vitamins and shoes and such that each team fundraises to bring for the babies?!

Then today was the clincher. It was only Carmen (a sweet Romanian worker) and I left on shift when the director, a sour-faced doctor, and the headnurse came in speaking authoritatively to Carmen. The director wanted everything out of the room except for the babies (and their cribs, obviously, because they seem to think the one ought to be attached to the other) and the workers in the properly-coloured clothes. And no more than TWO of us at a time. They demanded that we move the two huge floor-to-ceiling cupboards full of diapers and clothes and sheets and towels and vitamins and bathing things and physical therapy things and shoes and other such necessities out into the hall. NOW. And that everything else in the room that's not kept under lock and key-- like the baby swing, the two walkers, two entertainment centres, two high chairs, etc, be taken from the hospital premises.

We were floored. Carmen panicked and I fell into silent prayers over my Florica's head.

ROCK's guidelines ensure that we treat the hospital staff with respect and don't cause a ruckus. But this is just heartless and illogical! They simply do not care about the abandoned babies. The doctor who covers this wing, and obviously considers herself 'upper-class', doesn't even touch the babies when she comes in, except for Mario. Wanna know why? The rest of the babies look gypsy. Mario is the only blond-haired, blue-eyed baby. And he's the only child I've ever seen her touch. I've spent 6 weeks here.

Anyway, things are all unsettled and everyone's walking on eggshells. Please pray that He intervenes on the behalf of these babies!! And that we are the picture of His love to the hospital staff throughout the conflicts...

Also, would you please hold my little man Emil up before the Father? His mother's come back for him today after 5 months complete absense. The ROCK workers assume it's because the authorities discovered that she'd abandoned her baby and so withheld her welfare check or something equivelent. Meaning... the most perfect baby boy I've ever known is about to be thrust into a family that doesn't want him, can't afford to clothe and feed him, and won't show him the love he's now flourishing in with us. The thought of my little boy going hungry, or being achingly cold in the night, or missing his once daily baths, let alone the whole host of other abuses that routinely occur in loveless homes... I would have adopted that boy in a moment if given the chance. I've prayed over him for weeks now and I know that God will hover near to his life, but I so want better than this for him-- he is my special boy, my "son", the ROCK workers call him :)Please, please, please will you pray for him? My heart is breaking at the moment...

The enemy is having a hay-day with ROCK right now. In so many ways. Please, please, please, will you pull on the armour with me and cover us in prayer? I would be more grateful than I will ever have words to say... I wish I knew better how to beg. We're just trying to get as much prayer over this thing as we possibly can as soon as we possibly can...

Thank you so much!
Leah <><

p.s. I leave Romania on Thursday. I hardly know how to go about doing it... I will be in touch next from the UK, which will seem a very different place to a very different girl...

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Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Romania ROCKing Me

Hello Everyone!

You are past due an update : ) But beware, it is LONG (oh, come on, you expected it to be!!). I’ve labeled various topics in bold so skip through and find what you want to read about...

I have been in Romania for nearly 3 weeks now.
I'm standing in tired and broken awe.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, they say, so view mine here. I add new ones most every day so skip to the back if you’ve seen the ones at the beginning.

The Babies:
He continues to ravish my heart through my babies : ) But it is a beautiful ache…
I’ve seen both Carlos and Alex go home, would you believe? My boys : ) You’d think that would be the happiest of occasions but it’s hard to be glad when you don’t know what they’re going home to. How great could it be if they were left here for weeks at a time in the first place? And Carlos, they tell me, has been here before in his 4 short months of life, and he was in rough shape.

The most obvious mark of this was his refusal to meet anyone’s eyes. Kari, the young missionary with ROCK from CA says that it’s a natural reaction to being left on his own in his crib all the time. He wasn't in the Big Room, but Kari would help me keep dibs on wherever he was in the hospital so I could spend time with him when there were enough people with the babies in the Big Room. I was delighted to see him improve, to have him meeting my eyes as I played with him, and to see his leg muscles gaining strength as I got him moving around in different positions rather than just laying on his back in the crib. It amazes me how little it takes to make such a difference in these babies. All it was for Carlos was a bit of loving attention…

Alex was a bit of a mystery to all of us. He was such a well-adjusted 5 month old, even if he was a bit skinny. His body would feel obviously stiff after being left in his crib for too long, but his face would light up when anyone came near and there were no telltale signs of detachment with him at all. I fell in love with this baby : ) He grew very sick while here too and was suffering with a high fever—and still when I’d get away to his room to cuddle him he would smile and be so lovely despite obvious extreme discomfort… That weekend I was thinking about him all the time—spending Sat, Sun, and Mon. away from the hospital for various reason. Tuesday morning, I couldn’t wait to get up to see my little guy! Only to find when I got there, that his family had come for him over the weekend, while he was ill, and taken him home… wherever that is. I want to believe that he has a loving home because of his open personality…

This whole situation is so humbling because I discover the depths of my own inability. Sure, I can love the babies for a few weeks, and I know that love and positive attention means everything to their little developing souls no matter how short a time, but it is only a few weeks, in the end and we are powerless over what happens next. This realization goes to glorify the place of prayer, putting it into its profoundly rightful place. The babies teach me my own dependence on Him, as well as His aching love for this broken world. They are wonderful teachers…

Yesterday we went out on our break. When we came back into the Big Room, there was another baby occupying a once empty crib. We each peeked in at it in turn, curiously. Then the rest of the girls went to the other side of the room to take their break, have their snacks, etc. I tentatively sat down in a rocker next to the crib, quietly watching this baby. It was dressed in ill-fitting clothes, wrapped in a dirty blanket. It had a pacifier which one of the nurses had given it from our ROCK stash. It was impossible to know whether it was a boy or a girl. I thought it looked about 5 or 6 months old, dreadfully skinny. It’s eyes met mine, and I smiled. It smiled back : ) Slowly, carefully, almost sneakily, it started to sort of feebly toss and turn its way toward my end of the crib. I didn’t even realize until there it was, close enough to reach out and touch. So I tentatively reached my hand in through the bars and rubbed a single finger across its hand, cracked with dry skin. It smiled and reached for me :) And the rest is history.

After Break Laura, one of the Romanian ROCK workers (and one of my favourite of the people I’m working with, I must say ) declared the new baby her own and set about giving HER (we were all surprised at this pronouncement as even the nurses had thought she was a boy) a bath, some proper clothing, and some food. Her little body was so painfully skinny as she bathed her, her little head looking so awkward on that itty bitty frail body and her tummy distended and rotund sticking out from spindly arms and legs. The doctors examined her, told us her name was Elena (so pretty), and that she was 11 months old (shock/horror!) and had come from the sewers… When we fed Elena she cried and cried whenever the spoon would be taken away for a millisecond. The nurses had to draw blood for some blood tests and couldn’t get a vein in her arm so drew the blood from her forehead--- which is appalling. So much trauma for this little one and yet her smile is still so bright and so willing to shine (as the pictures will testify:)).

(The Big Room)
The ROCK “usuals” right now are all still doing well :) It’s amazing to hear the stories of what each of them were like when they first came in and to see them now– each one so improved and happy...

8 month old Emil (the one I pretty much refer to as “Handsome”) they tell me was sickly skinny and ill when he arrived 4 months ago, constantly unhappy and hopeless-looking. If you look through the photos today you’ll find that he is the picture of health– really chubby and so so so perpetually happy and loud! I love that cuddly guy :) 8 month old Mario’s story is similar– he was too tiny, he was sick and greenish in colour, he’d come from the sewers, now he’s the most clever and advanced baby in the programme and smiles brightly and affectionately at the drop of a hat :) 14 month old Petruta was detached and unresponsive when she came in, now she cries when we leave (which is what we aim for in this situation, as backward as that may sound, because it’s a sign of healthy attachment to carers!). 7 month old Florica, as you know, is perfection (she’s my baby). She’s bright and happy and beautiful. Her only set-back is that she hasn’t had the activity of average babies with families and her muscles need strengthening, but that doesn’t take much, just someone willing to play with her in ways that get her using all the muscles she doesn’t use when just lying on her back in her crib. Already in my three weeks here I’ve seen her start to sit up far better and even start to hold herself up on her legs (with me holding her, of course, but she wasn’t standing on them at all when I first got here!). Year and a half old Dragos has some conditions that will keep him from catching up to his age group developmentally, but he’s a riot. He’s adapted to orphan life by finding creative ways to make noises with his mouth and hands and often he’ll break into laughter for no apparent reason at all– he’s just that delighted :) Lifting him into my arms, his body feels floppy like a little doll, but once he’s up there, he wraps his arms around my neck and gives the most precious hugs :) 6 month old Aristita suffers much from her deformities in trying to breathe, but she rests easier in my arms which means long hours of just straight-up cuddling for this little girl :) She had a doctor tell us yesterday that they can do surgery on her toes when she’s a year and a half and on her fingers when she’s five to separate her webbed appendages. I’m not sure what they can do about her sinuses. Aristita’s easy as long as she’s getting enough cuddles and she loves to feel the skin of my hands, arms, or neck... and 8 year old Ionut is still a sad tale as his condition and care doesn’t seem to allow for improvements but only deterioration. He and 4 year old Mariana, who lives across the way where Carlos and Alex stayed, are both suffering from Cerebral Palsy in various forms and it’s very difficult. I remember feeling shocked when one of the girls showing us around my first day here admitted sadly, “these days I’m just praying they’ll die so they won’t suffer anymore” but as I spend more time with them and see their sad routines play out, I can’t help but wonder if that’s the appropriate prayer. Why stick around here like this when they could be with their Healer, healthy and whole and happy? I have to believe He knows perfectly well what He’s doing and I’m learning to pray for and want His will over these little ones...

The City:
10-step instructions for taking a city bus in Bucharest:
1.) Don't stand at the bus stop, but out in the street in front of it in a great crowd of people.
2.) Try to be near the front of the crowd, but resist being trampled by them...
3.) When the bus comes, crowd in close to the door so that the people getting off have to fight for their right to leave the bus. This is vital.
4.) Take a deep breath and plunge in, but don't expect to find a seat-- you'll only be disappointed.
5.) Go right on up the aisle as close to the strangers next to you as is bodily possible. You can either choose to put yourself that close to them, or the people coming in behind you will shove you in that close, so you might as well uphold your own dignity.
6.) Forget all distant dreams of personal space and squish in CLOSER. The doors must close, afterall.
7.) Don't worry about having a pole to hold on to. The pressure of all the bodies on the bus being squashed together is sure to keep you on your feet as the bus swerves and careens down the road. And don't be offended if various parts of your body are touched rather rudely by random strangers, they aren't doing it on purpose.
8.) Do not attempt to take a deep breath. I repeat, DO NOT attempt to take a deep breath. It will not be pleasant should you succeed. Oh, and don't look up or you'll land your face directly into the armpit of the man holding onto the pole beside you. You have been warned.
9.) As the bus approaches your stop, start pushing and jabbing your elbows into people as required to worm your way through the tightly packed space so you end up somewhere near the door. Don't forget to throw in a few, "scuzati ma!"'s for good measure.
10.) Check to be sure all your personal belongings are intact as you jump out quickly, avoiding any oncoming traffic and a head-on collision with the next round of people attempting to get on the bus!

Gotta love public transportation, but I have never ever experienced anything like this until Romania!! I assure you, it is not for the faint of heart : ) My most usual mode of transportation here is the Tram— around 45 minutes to the hospital and 45 minutes back each day—and it’s not much better, though generally riding it doesn’t involve morphing into a sardine : ) I like the tram for the venue it is to observe people. All kinds ride the tram. The businessmen with their sour looks and ‘I’ve gotta be somewhere important” airs, the legless beggars scooting up and down the length of the train on their backsides shouting out in their pleas for all to hear, the groups of glamourous teenagers stewing in their insecurities and trumpeting it so loudly by how they dress, the beautiful old ladies dressed in mismatched layers and big heavy boots, shawls worn over their heads and tied under their chins (I find the elderly faces here very beautiful, very full. They tell stories without a spoken word). I wonder what each of these are thinking, what they are living for, what their agendas for the day are… We all ride side by side with nary a word spoken, broken person next to broken person, walled off, as if unaware, as if uncaring. It makes me a little sad. Romania is frustrating because I keep on wanting to talk with people, to ask them their stories, to look into their eyes and let them know I'm listening. I hate the rude way I feel when someone speaks to me and I have to smile apologetically and mutter, "Nu vorbesc Romaneste." I can attempt little bitty phrases like, "Cum te cheama?" but people don't answer simply, by the book. They go off into heaven knows what while I'm left, yet again, shaking my head and smiling apologetically.

My favourite thing about the tram is when we pass a church (Othodox) and the whole car (pretty much) starts frantically crossing themselves 3 times over. I remember the first time this happened and everyone all around me was doing it and how strange it seemed, how bewildering : ) I don’t know why it’s done, but then, I doubt that even they understand why they do it. Because it’s always been done and will always be done, I suppose.

Living on my Own:
Having the apartment to myself is so far, so good. I love how independent it feels to finish up my day, take the tram home, climb the miles of stairs key in hand, and unlock the door to my own place. I turn on the music and experiment with cooking (don't laugh-- I'm not that bad) and throw the laundry in and all manner of ‘a place of your own’ type things :) So far the grumpy neighbour hasn’t been seen or heard of (thank the Lord!), and every grocery or necessities shopping excursion He’s provided for– either some stranger who speaks English has come forward right when I need them, or I’ve been able to make out with my few words of Romanian and lots of hand motions, pointing, etc.... Language barriers make life so interesting :)

And God Thoughts:
I’m half-way through this particular endeavor of 6 week to follow wherever He leads and I am already forever changed. I feel as if I am catching glimpses of His heart in new depths and I think what I’m discovering the most deeply is how much love hurts, but what a delightful pain it is to bear. And that it almost should hurt, it ought to be giving something of myself to experience it, because that’s what Christ-shaped love is.

And oh, how He has a tender place for the fatherless. And the widows. And the strangers. The Old testament is replete with the laws that ensured God's people would care for these three categories. They even had to leave crops purposely in their fields for these to gather for themselves. In the New Testament, one of my favourite verses, James declares that the only religion that God accepts is to care for the orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (they both are naturally easier said than done).

It occurs to me so strongly lately that this has to be a matter of entering in to someone's pain. There has to be an involvement, an interaction, an empathy. God is God; He might have saved the world by waving His finger if He so chose. But His heart is completely relational and He became flesh and moved right in, knowing that He designed our hearts in the image of His and that we are completely relational as well. Shouldn't this then be our model? To enter into the suffering and wrap our arms around it, holding the wound to slow the bleeding until Heaven comes down to set everything to right?

I wonder if we can possibly expect to be Jesus to anyone if we're not willing to meet them right where they're at and enter into whatever their suffering might be.... the amazing thing about Him is that... He infuses it with beauty when done in His Spirit. And sure it hurts, sure it's inconvenient and there are sacrifices, and sure it means vulnerability and it means looking outside of yourself and your cushy little world and self-schemas. And there is pain in that... but how beautiful the pain is... how worth it all.

He's making me believe that prayer is where the real work is done, and we avoid it because it's such hard work and we are lazy. True prayer is all submission. True prayer leaves no room for our own glory, and His Son's character is wrought in us as we struggle on our knees...

If there’s anything else Romania’s teaching me it’s that I want to livebreatheeatsleep on my knees. That is where I can lose myself in Him. That is where it happens, that is how it works. No amount of effort on my part, no amount of statements of want, no amount of trying to do better, be better. The passion is born bowing at His feet. And then we can go out from there to touch the world with His hands...

Each year He's bringing me deeper into the aches and hurts of this world. Each day I'm looking into the eyes of these babies, walking past children begging on the streets, explaining that I don't speak Romanian to the legless man calling out to me on the corner. And even outside of the poverty, the ache is real and true and deep. In Christian friends who "have it all together". In Marriages that seem perfect. In ministries that are great on vision and action, short on hours spent humbled in His presence submitting to His perfect will. In me.

Emerson once wrote: "Infancy is the perpetual Messiah, which comes into the arms of fallen men, and pleads with them to return to paradise." These lovely babies, continued expressions of His hope, being abandoned and mistreated are only a tiny fraction in an itty-bitty corner of a world cringing and cramping with the symptoms of separation from its life-giver. My placement here has only been added proof of my own smallness– but deepened faith in His bigness... In light of the hurting and need, I am, and anything I can do is, nothing. I want to change this world that is ever-overwhelmingly too big and too problem-riddled for me to make any sort of mark. So I’m learning my place is to submit to prayer in a whole new way, to actively pursue intercession and adoration and constant connection with the King in my thoughts in ways I haven't before. Nothing else I will ever do can matter without that."'You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed'.... All the work of the kingdom of God begins with simply being with Jesus. If it doesn't start there, it doesn't start at all" (Ben Patterson). He’s using Romania to remind me how real a battle we are in. He's calling me to some nights of isolation before Him, surrounded by angels waging wars. This world is too broken not to painstakingly wrap it all in my arms and hold it up before Him. It is yet another lesson in His strength being made perfect in my weakness.

"The earth is filled with Your love, O Lord" (Psalm 119:64). May we unlock it and pour it out until all may see and feel and know Him. May we bathe in its flow ourselves and then go out and splash it on everyone we see-- His hands, His feet... Life is too short to act as if even one day doesn’t matter...

He is not safe, but HE is so good. And Love is Who He is.
Know Him,
Leah <><

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Tuesday, 16 January 2007

ROCKing Romania

Dear All,

I’m sorry it’s taken so very long to get this to you! I arrived in Bucharest on the 10th of January but internet has been hard to come by… SO, this means I have a lot to cover :) I know it’s extremely long, but if you read it it will answer many of your questions that I haven't been able to reply individually about...

(View some pictures here)

Prayer points:
For ROCK (—
that God will continue to bless this work, to provide for this work and the workers, and to guide ROCK on.

For Adoption in Romania —
that International Adoption will be reopened, clean of the corruption that got it shut down in the first place,and that in the meantime, God will move the hearts of the Romanians who are able to adopt their own, especially the hard-to-place gypsy babies and special needs babies

For Foster Families—
That God will bless and uphold the families that are already fostering and raise up for ROCK more able Christian couples to take on and love these precious fatherless.

Welcome to Romania
I stood next to an old gypsy woman on the tram tonight. She was exactly what you’re picturing—a scarf around her salt and pepper hair and tied under her weathered and wrinkled face, a bright red knit jumper over a long gathered black skirt and garish turquoise shoes to complete the picture. She was carrying her things in a plastic grocery bag. I gazed out the window at the strange language on the signs, the hordes of chaotic cars both parked and driving, the manky stray dogs fighting in the empty lots sprinkled with litter and wondered again how I ever got this far from home.

But it’s a happy amazement.

As I write this it has been 2 full days in Romania and I have had my heart stolen by two gypsies and a handsome little Romanian. I have spent 2 days with the babies at the Victor Gomoiu Hospital in Bucharest and already it seems lifetimes—theirs melting into mine, mine melting into theirs.

The sights and smells of the hospital greeted me long before the shining faces of the ROCK babies did yesterday as Nannette Gonzalez, the founder and director of ROCK Ministries led me and two Canadian girls here for 2 weeks up to The Big Room—the main room ROCK works in at the hospital. From the outside the hospital is actually quite a lovely old building, but the inside is quite dingy, quite dirty, rather what you’d picture of an Eastern European hospital. The smell is not repugnant but it’s not pleasant, though I find I get used to it easily enough. I’ll probably never know what makes it.

The Big Room is home to Mario, Dragoş, Petruţa, Emil, Ionuţ, and Aristiţa, and Florica right now.
The Babies
MARIO is a gorgeous blond-haired, blue-eyed, smiley little guy : ) He’s 8 months old and he’s crawling and pulling himself up and into everything. He’s tiny, but he’s developing like any normal baby would which says a lot as when he was brought to the hospital as a two month old he was underweight, sick, and a strange colour. He was found in the sewer, which denotes at least one of his parents was gypsy. Most of the babies abandoned to the hospital are gypsy or special needs kids or both, as in Romania those two categories are the hardest to find willing adoptive families or even foster families for.

DRAGOŞ (pronounced “Draw-go-sh”) is of the second category but we can’t be sure what all this little guy has. He had a surgery this summer to remove cataracts from his eyes which had blinded him but his sight is very vague. He has something like Autism, but not quite that. He’s overall a pretty happy little guy—with light brown hair and brown eyes. He giggles all the time, which makes us all smile.

PETRUŢA (pronounced “Pet-root-sa”) is a sweet 14 month old. Of all the kids, she was the first to give me a smile : ) She’s come a very long way from where she started when she was first brought in unresponsive, unsmiling, un-crying, and she is Nannette’s special favourite (because we all have them!). She is mildly mentally slow and clearly gypsy with those gorgeous dark eyes and black head of hair. Her improvement, as with so many of the babies, is testament to the importance of simple love and nurture in a human life.

EMIL (pronounced “Em-eel”) is a gorgeous, chubby little 8 month old—very well-adjusted and developmentally right on track. The only thing keeping him from a family is his gypsy heritage of which his very self is a billboard from his pitch black hair to his shining black eyes. Handsome, handsome, handsome!

IONUŢ (pronounced “Yawn-oots”) is a really tough case. He is 8 years old but no taller than about a 3 year old child and much, much skinnier. He has cerebral palsy and his body grows stiffer by the day. I am still struggling with the CP kids… I am very unconfident with them…

ARISTIŢA (pronounced “Air-ees-teet-sa”) is another tough case that I’ve hardly ventured into yet. She’s about 6 months old and profoundly deformed from her head to her little webbed hands and feet and she’s achingly skinny. I’m praying for the grace to look at these kids and not cringe in pain. I feel very immature…

FLORICA (pronounced “flor-ee-ka”) was the first baby to crawl into my heart and refuse to leave. She is the most stunningly beautiful baby I have ever seen (alongside my niece Abby, of course!) and I call her Princess because everything about her is princess-like. She’s thoroughly gypsy—and I’ve discovered I have an affinity for gypsy babies. Her dark-as-night eyes meet mine and she smiles a dainty princess smile. Her raven-black hair is a halo of perfect wispy curls. She giggles with infectious baby laughter whenever I kiss her daintily round cheek and nuzzle her neck. She is perfection packaged in a tiny baby girl. She is seven months old but her physical development is a few months behind so she seems much younger in how snuggly and cuddly she is— which I love. I hate laying her down in her crib at night and knowing that no one will be there for her in the night if she cries. Today I imagined smuggling her out of the country, her beautiful gypsy eyes hungrily taking in the world from outside the four walls of that hospital. Her Romanian name would be Florica but her English name would be Noelle and I would call her Ella and she would know what love is. I want her…

But she would have to learn to live with two brothers because I’ve also fallen in love with two little guys from across the grounds. On our first day we were shown around the various rooms ROCK works in, The Big Room being the main ROCK room. From the start I was especially drawn to a tiny, smelly, hot and humid room in a smaller building outside the main hospital because it is home to 4 ROCK babies who seem to get so much less attention and cuddle time than the others. As the day went on I asked numerous times about that room and tried to quietly assert my aching heart for the babies left lying in their hot cribs over there until finally Kari, a 23 year old missionary girl from CA who’s been here for nearly 2 years and will return home in April, asked if I’d like to go over there with her. I was dying to get to those babies. Not that the Big Room babies aren’t just as important, but all the ROCK workers were in the Big Room—they had all the attention they needed at that time.

So we tripped quietly down the stairs, across the hospital grounds, and up to the small, boiling hot room (hot because the heating is gov’t regulated so we can’t control it. We can periodically open windows but Romanians believe that open windows give people colds so they keep shutting them… even though the babies are physically sweating in their cribs). There I was greeted by the eager smile of beauty itself in the face of one of the most precious little guys I will ever know.
ALEX is a five month old gypsy baby about the size of a skinny 3 month old with huge black eyes that shine out his innocence unaffected by his circumstances and wispy black curls like my Florica’s. That first day no one seemed to know his name as he’s only been here about a week (a week is long enough to find out a baby’s name, if you ask me…) and they told us he was called Marion but we found out later it’s Alex. Alex loves bathtime and kisses and cuddles. He is a clever baby and hardly seems institutionalized except for how stiff his little body can get for lying in his crib all day and all night. Nannette says he probably won’t be here long and that most likely his parents are just leaving him here for a time, like a day care service. I want to steal him away as he’s stolen my heart away…

Also in the small sweltering room with Alex are Marion, a 2 year old autistic boy with blue eyes and blond hair and a great big smile, and Mariana, a 4 year old lovey with cerebral palsy which has so distorted her skinny little limbs that she cannot bend… I struggle very much with the CP babies, but God’s using Mariana to introduce me gently to the difficult nature of the condition. She can’t communicate but she seems to relax a little when I sing softly to her, stroking her silky black hair soft as a newborn kitten.

My third baby I will be smuggling home in about 5 weeks is a round little 4 month old named Carlos.

CARLOS is the only of “my” 3 babies that isn’t gypsy, but beautiful nonetheless, with slight brown curls with a subtle hint of red. He’s in the hospital sick with a cough that wracks his whole rotund little body and he yearns to be held, feeling insecure left in his big crib all alone. His big dark hazel eyes are clouded over with unhappiness and worry too big for a tiny 4 month old child and all I want to do is cuddle and kiss and rock away all his pain. He, like Mariana, likes to be sung to so whenever I find myself alone in that stuffy little room I sing lullaby upon lullaby, unafraid of my beautiful little audience of 4, until he falls asleep in my arms and I can lay him down to give Alex some cuddle time.

I think my main ministry these 6 weeks will be to that little half-forgotten room of treasures untold, cuddling babies and stroking soft heads while praying they’ll know and love the Lord all their lives and that courageous Romanian men and women of God will rise up to give these little ones homes.

My House Here
When Nannette and Gabi (a ROCK worker who does the driving) brought us to the team apartment where I would be spending my next 6 weeks my stomach may have turned a bit, but I wouldn’t have admitted it. We drove past block after block of identically rundown apartment buildings, remnants from communist days that only passed away 18 years ago in 1989. “Block 151” my building is called, and it’s spray-painted on the concrete wall outside the door. I don’t know how to describe it except for dirty. 4 flights of dirty stairs up a terrible smelling corridor, passed a door Nann pointed to and whispered, “the neighbour from hell” as he routinely calls the police on Nann should anyone roll their suitcase across the floor or anything like that (even though we hadn’t made a peep of sound, he stormed up here last night and shouted angrily in Romanian which is rather intimidating—especially since Nann went back to the States the other day and me and the Canadian girls would be on our own if it weren’t for Kari staying over that night!), and we came to number 77—the heavenly number :)

And opening the door to this apartment after experiencing the streets outside and the stairs coming up was like heaven. It is a lovely apartment—even for American standards! And I have a fabulous room with a humongous bed (too big for me!) and a sun-porch of my own! I leave the porch door open to let in the breeze and the sun and hear the foreign shouts of children playing in the streets below. The Canadian girls, Julie and Alanna, will be here until the 24th and then I’ll be on my own for 3 weeks before another team comes in so I’m thankful it’s so comfortable—well, except for the disgruntled neighbour, but I’ll be as quiet as a church-mouse and avoid him at all costs.

The Romanian People
The Romanian people thus far puzzle me because some seem so very warm— even strangers.

Our first day venturing out on our own without a translater, Julie, Alanna, and I were stopped at the gates of the hospital by an old security guard babbling on in Romanian. “Sorry… English?” I said hesitantly. Next thing I knew, he was hugging me and walking me to the gate under his arm with a chuckle and more Romanian babble!

Our first night walking home from the hospital Julie, Alanna and I were told by some bums on a corner that we are the most beautiful girls in Bucharest (or so Nann translated) :)
The nurses at the hospital seem mostly friendly, though too busy to love the babies, and the other ROCK workers are incredibly warm and lovely. The Romanian people seem to reach out and touch shockingly more often than the reserved English would, and I appreciate that.

But clerks in stores seem reluctant to smile (in fact, most people seem so), men we pass on the street stare at women boldly (which is slightly uncomfortable!), and one day some teenage boys on the tram, when they heard us speaking English, came and stood next to us and spoke in perfect English “I hate you” and then giggled to themselves adolescently as they got off at their stop!

I am excited to get out there and interact with the people more, though without the bridge of a common language it’s bound to be a difficult interaction. Still, these people hold the key to understanding this culture and I can’t wait to unlock and push back the door to peek in as far as I can. I can feel my heart growing attached to this place already, to its people, its plight, and even its lovely language—which is actually, they say, quite close to Italian and Spanish.

Palms held against the Wound
Please pray for continued confidence for me. Sometimes I stop to think what I’m doing—this shy, smalltown, country girl, standing on a smelly tram packed in like sardines in the middle of this foreign city filled with over 2 million strangers whom I can’t communicate with and who care nothing for me and probably wish I wasn’t in their country, and I feel overwhelmingly intimidated and small.

Lately God’s laid the verse in 1 John on my heart that says, “perfect love casts out all fear,” because it’s not just the city of long faces that is intimidating, but the gravity of the work at the hospital, the special needs babies that I sometimes fear to even touch for it looks so painful, and the constant facing up to the fact that I am not adequate for such a task as this. But that’s where Love comes in. His perfect love is adequate. His perfect love is big enough to wrap around all this pain and all the insecurities of all these aching hearts in Bucharest , in Romania , in the world, and drive away the fear that keeps us aware of our own lack. My only task is to love Him and receive His love so that I can love the ones I see around me with the love of His that flows through me.

It’s, as Donald Miller wrote in the incredible book Blue like Jazz, “as if something was broken in the world and we were supposed to hold our palms against the wound.”

I want for you strength and discernment regarding the particular wound you’re meant to hold your hands against…
Ever His,
Leah <><

p.s. I will be adding photos to the slideshow routinely so keep checking the link if you're interested!

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Netherlands, Scotland, Wales, England Yesterday-- Romania Tomorrow!

"Begin where we will, God is there first."--A.W. Tozer, A Divine Conquest

Hello Everyone and Happy New Year!

I just wanted to send a quick email to share links to pictures if you're interested (Wonderful Christmas in the Netherlands here, and Fantastic New Year's with my Mom, Dad, and little brother visiting the UK here!)...

And also to bid you farewell as I head out to Romania tomorrow-- leaving here in the night to make my flight in the morning! Thank you so much to everyone who has prayed and given. You are answers to prayers from a God who acts in ways we cannot fathom and loves to depths we cannot reach with imaginations stretched taut...

I'll be living in Romania from January 10th to February 22nd 2007.

As I prepare to depart I find that God is bathing my heart in much peace about going and I know it is due to many prayers. Thank you, thank you, thank you and please keep it up. I will be writing with firsthand observations of Romania and the babies soon!

Much love to you all.
Leah <><

"More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of."--Tennyson
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