No, Thank You -12-

china(continuation)

When we got back to the hotel, it was pretty late. We were tired and decided to get ready for bed, instead of going to see the city. After making sure that we would not leave, the interpreter went and gave the news to the communist agents who were waiting in their car. It was interesting that they didn’t come to make acquaintance yet. I was pretty sure they knew we were aware about who they were, but for now they were keeping the distance.

 

We went up the stairs and our van left. The car with the two communists was still there. It was with no doubt that the receptionists and the hotel personnel had to keep an eye on us and report our every move to the secret police. That was all right. When we found ourselves without the interpreter, I told my two friends that we were watched everywhere and listened in our rooms.

 

Next morning at breakfast in the hotel, there was almost the same opulence and diversity of food we experienced in our first hotel in China. The restaurant was filled with men. That was unusual. They were in suits, eating alone or in small groups of two or three, and I assumed they were in some sort of leadership at their work place. They slept in the hotel because their family lived far away, and as every person in charge, they had to be government’s reliable agents. By the time we finished our meal and prayed for the day, the big room emptied and there were only us left behind.

 

At the appointed time we went outside. Our van was already there. When I got in the vehicle, I was amazed. The back of it was stacked with boxes full of Bibles in Chinese. My heart jolted with such a sweet and humbling joy to see our treasure there. The driver greeted us and started the car. Since there were no seatbelts, my friends and I went to the back of the car and, touching the precious load, we prayed over them. “Lord, use them to bring salvation and hope to the people.” When we got back to our seats, the white car with the agents was right behind us.

 

We were passing by fields with crops; most of them were with corn. Groups of peasants worked the huge lots of common vegetable common gardens. Because everything there was in common, as it used to be in Romania under Ceausescu. In the villages, people didn’t have their own land. They had a small portion of ground around their house to plant vegetables and fruit trees. The communists took my grandparents’ land by force in the early ’60s. Then my grandparents and their neighbors had to work the land, and all the crops went to the government. They were left with nothing. The wages were so low that they barely could survive. I remembered that, and every communist country followed the same pattern. Everything belonged to the government, specifically to a few great leaders of the communist party. The people were treated as slaves.

 

A few folks around the world contacted me via Internet. They kept holding to their argument that socialism was the best for a society because everything belonged to the people and so every person’s need was covered by the common care. Sadly, they who never lived in a communist country really believed that the government was like a big daddy that looked for their individuals. The slogan, “Everything belongs to the people” was a grotesque lie. Everything, all goods belonged to a few. I gave them examples of our life when, in our freezing apartment, I had to change the diapers on my babies under the blanket. My children wore their boots in the house. Getting milk was a real struggle every morning, and for so many times we couldn’t buy it, because the store would get a small quantity and the line of the men and women in the snow or rain at 5AM was too long. In communism you cannot think ahead and make plans to grow and enjoy life. Our plans were who, my husband or I, would go and stay in the line for meat, eggs, or bread the next day. We needed to choose. We didn’t have passports because we were not supposed to go abroad. We were watched and listened all the time, and even among our closest family members, friends, neighbors and work colleagues there were secret police informers. For a small amount of money or some sort of privilege, people would spy on one another. And then people disappeared.

-to be continued-

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No, Thank You -11-

china(continuation)
From the bookstore, we walked up the stairs where somebody was cooking. It wasn’t something out of the ordinary for me to see people cooking at church. Most of the protestant churches in Romania had a full kitchen in their buildings. A few more ladies welcomed us and we were invited to sit at a table. “It is our pleasure to offer you dinner,” the pastor said.
I knew the food was scarce in China, but these sweet ladies had put together a feast in our behalf. We were thankful and humbled by so much sacrifice.

We shared about how we became Christians and connected immediately when they heard about me being born in a communist country. Nobody asked me how I immigrated to America. I knew that was a forbidden subject. They talked about their husbands being far away working on construction sites. They saw each other twice or three times a year, when the government gave them short vacations for particular national celebrations. The wives worked in the city and took care of the child, and of the parents of both sides.
There was no retirement in China. Elderly people who couldn’t work anymore had to be sustained by their only child.

After meeting with this lady pastor for a few days, I asked her what would be the best way for us to help her and her church, if that would be possible after our departure. “We need a soup kitchen for elderly people. Our church serves a meal of rice every day to a small number of sick and old church members, but the need is great. It is so hard to see many of our brothers and sisters going to bed hungry. We try and use our own money to keep them from starving, but the burden is too heavy.”
That was a terrible situation. At least in communist Romania the government paid a small retirement to everybody who worked in a factory. The peasants were disadvantaged and received about $3 per month, yes, $3 per month after they retired, but they lived with family members and most of their modest basic needs were covered.
To be old in China was getting ready to die from starvation.
Then the pastor continued. “Ah, if we could open homes for elderly where they would have a clean bed and three meals every day, that would be a miracle.” I knew she put herself at risk when she opened her heart about such subject. Because the government was already right and took care of its own. That was the slogan. But the reality was this, if you were old or sick and couldn’t work for the society anymore, you were discarded.

Our hearts ached.
While still in the building, we needed to visit the restrooms. They were on the third floor and we followed a lady who carried a bucket of water. “The running water doesn’t work. It never worked,” she timidly said, and was translated by our interpreter. The woman opened a door to a long room with many stalls, maybe eight. Clean and old. We used the restroom and managed to scarcely flush it with water from the bucket.

“Do you have a youth ministry?” one of us asked before leaving. The ladies looked at each other and let the pastor answer. “No. Our government doesn’t encourage children and young people to come to church.”

We were ready to leave and knowing that we would visit their church during next assembly. Outside, the two men waiting for us were still smoking.
-to be continued-

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No, Thank You -10-

china(continuation)
It was convenient that we had a van available and didn’t rely on the public transportation. Although, we were ready to do whatever would have taken to fulfill our mission.
I walked out of the hotel a few minutes early. The heat made me gasp for air for a moment. Not far down the street there was a bus station, and people were waiting. A few of them were sitting on the pavement. I walked up and down the sidewalk by our hotel to see firs hand this area of the city.
It was interesting that, from my perspective, all the people looked alike. Of course I knew who was a woman and who was a man, but that was it.

Years ago I remembered there was a celebration at one of the Romanian churches in my new home, California. I asked a couple of American friends to take me there. They gave me a ride and we all went to the big room where the guests were. When one of these friends stepped inside and looked around the room, he turned to me and said, “Here are many Rodicas.” I didn’t understand what he was talking about. “Why are you saying that?” I asked. His answer surprised me. “Because all these Romanian ladies look like you.”

On a side of that bus station there were two-three people selling vegetables on a paper on the ground. The few men there were smoking. One young woman was eating a chicken foot.
I went back to the hotel and met with our small team on the steps outside. The white car with the two communist agents was there, with the windows rolled down. They knew our schedule in detail and kept closely in touch with our interpreter on the phone. They were doing their job, we were doing ours.

The van pulled in and we got in, wiping off the sweat. I assumed that the driver was appointed by the local communist leaders, as a back-up for what was going on. The authorities kept an eye on us through the interpreter, the driver and the communists from the white car, and the driver had to watch the interpreter. The fact that we couldn’t speak Chinese and the other three couldn’t speak English must have been a relief for the government since it was forbidden to maintain personal contact with our Chinese brothers and sisters.

It was a short ride for about 10 minutes, and we stopped in front of a big edifice that reminded me of my high school’s or of a college building here in the US. Three ladies were waiting us in front of it. The moment I stepped out the car and I saw them smiling and coming to greet us with open arms, I felt an incredible love for them. We fell in each other’s arms and we found ourselves weeping from joy. I don’t exaggerate when I say that the immediate connection between us was supernatural. Arm in arm, we walked inside the building, while the two men from the white car took a seat on the low fence, and lit their cigarettes.
In the beginning I thought they would shadow us everywhere, but I was surprised to see them waiting for us on that little patio. Then I understood that there was at least one person in the group of the church leaders we were going to meet who was the government’s informer.

I looked at the pastor while she walked a step ahead. A woman in her forties with a short hair and a tired smile. Simple and silky, the green short sleeve dress went down over her knees, and I could tell that was a special outfit. The sandals, brown and square, were made of plastic. She showed us the way to the room next to the hall and stretched her arm. “This is our Christian bookstore,” the interpreter translated her words. Then she continued, “Every church in our city has a nice bookstore. People can buy Christian books here.” We found out later that the books were very expensive, and people bought food instead of books.
-to be continued-

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No, Thank You -9-

china(continuation)
Those first days in China I couldn’t spot the government agents following us. They were well trained to do their job. But they were at the printing house and in the hotel in plain sight. I was sure we were watched and followed day and night. China couldn’t afford to lose control over those who came to their country.
We didn’t have secrets. Our declared purpose to give out Bibles to Chinese people from churches was in our mind as well. We were there to love on everyone who crossed our path, with no words, but with all our hearts. We were there to pray and ask God for his blessing and help for the men, women and children around us.

Our team gathered together for the last time before splitting into groups, and we prayed.
When the three of us and the interpreter got in our van, we took the road to the North. I heard that we would stay in a big city from where we would go on day trips every day to distribute the Bibles to both large and small churches.
Then I saw a white nice car following us. I kept looking through the back window to see if they were the communist agents appointed to watch us in that region. They tailgated us the whole ride, two men in that car. After about an hour, our interpreter smiled at me and nodded his head.
“They will be with us for the next days. Don’t worry.”
I wasn’t worried.

All the way to our destination, I admired those drivers who knew how to keep everybody safe in such a confused traffic. With no traffic lights in most of the cities, and such diverse kind of vehicles, riding worn out cars and motorcycles, it was a daily miracle that we didn’t crush into anybody. People would go to work riding 3-4 individuals sitting on improvised extensions on their bikes. Sometimes a man would carry pieces of furniture piled up in a dangerous way in the back of his motorbike. Little children were transported in plastic buckets dangling on the handle of a motorcycle. They carried stacks of vegetables, boxes, pigs, goats, fire wood, practically, anything.

It took us a few hours until we got to our new location. The dust, heat and poverty were at home there. I saw people selling fruit, vegetables and cooked rice from a paper placed directly on the sidewalk. There were no beggars. The governments didn’t allow it. I remembered Ceausescu gave a law in Romania that people found begging or not working, not being in school, retired, or sick were taken to jail.

Our van stopped in front of a nice hotel. We unloaded our few personal things and checked in. Our real mission has began.
The interpreter was our leader now. He was in charge to take us places, help with our conversations with the locals, keep us safe. He was a Christian and also the man of the government, andI I knew he had to give an up-date about us to the secret police every night when we went to bed.

We left our bags in our rooms and went to have lunch together. That afternoon we were meeting one of the pastors in that overpopulated cities and making acquaintance with a few of the church’s board members. When i heard that the pastor was a woman, I marveled.
“The leaders of the church are only women as well,” the interpreter said enjoying to see my confusion.
“What about the men?” I asked. “What’s wrong with them?”
“The men are far away, working on building sites.”
I continued to marvel. Maybe that was a small church with a few members, I thought. But it wasn’t. They were at least one thousand people.
-to be continued-

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Toddler’s Agenda

Crying-Toddler-Funny-Reason“Pooped!”

The emergency shout mobilizes the entire house. Somebody has to run and wipe out his bum.  Otherwise…

Daddy saves the day.

Clean bottom and clean hands will keep the walls and the floor clean as well. He is hungry.  Why would people take the jar with mayonnaise out of his hands? When a toddler needs to eat right away, a toddler needs to eat right away.

Coffee. He sees it on the edge of the counter. By the time he stretches his arms to get it, it’s gone. Far towards the window, where he can not reach without a chair. The people in this house don’t love him. He screams, but immediately sees grandma’s glasses on the couch. He likes those glasses.

Mommy picks him up and gives him a kiss .

“You are such a good boy! Are you ready for your breakfast?” Before he can answer, he finds himself strapped down in his high chair. And the glasses had vanished. That’s not fair.

“Pancakes and yogurt?”

He loves his life.

***

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No, Thank You -8-

china(continuation)
As our first day in China started with unexpectedly losing one of our team members, we needed our hearts and minds to be healed. How could we encourage others when we were so down? Healing takes time and that we didn’t have there.
Wounded and shaking, we continued our journey, trusting God and His word that says, “When I am weak, he is strong n me.”

Once again we realized that we were not heroes riding white horses to grandiosely help people in need. We were a group of feeble people, available to be used as messengers of the Good News.

When we came down from the city wall’s ruins, we met the group who prayed and worked with us behind the scene. The way they ministered to us, their love and compassion, started to restore our souls. We wept and they wept with us and comforted us.
There was a lot to do and we needed to go. A big van was waiting for us in the parking lot and we headed towards to the printing house. That was where we had to pick up the Bibles we had bought.

It was right after the Romanian Revolution in 1989 when the modest two story building that used to be our church, was transformed into a printing house. A few Christian business men from Switzerland came and recruited five or six Romanians from our church to take them to their country and train them as printers. My husband was one of them and after he came back, that gave me the chance to go and visit his new workplace anytime. Christian books and magazines printed in a former communist country started to fill up the rooms and then to take on the roads to the bookstores in every city.
It was such a feeling of liberation to not look over your shoulder when you had a Christian book in your hand. Several Christian magazines recruited me to write for them, and our publications reached Republic of Moldavia, Austria and other places in Europe with Romanian speakers. It was such a great victory of freedom of speech.

A group of Chinese officials gave us a tour of a large, amazing factory, a place using the most modern printing technology. A few workers were taking care of a great production of books. I understood that everybody there had to put many hours before our coming just to show us the best of the best. As I recollect, the entire typography was printing only books in English. At least during our visit. The huge rolls of paper were transformed in Bibles under our eyes. It was so impressive to see the Word of God published in Chinese language that I started to weep. We strolled hall after hall, took tens of pictures and couldn’t stop marveling. I saw great satisfaction and pride on the Chinese leaders’s faces. All their effort was bringing the fruit they worked for. Americans admired them.

That day triggered memories of Ceausescu’s visits in factories, at the common agricultural farms and everywhere he went. There was absolutely forbidden to present something as good as 99%. The leaders and the communist administration of the factories, schools, hospitals, and shops had to show extravagance to a ridiculous point. Everything had to show abundance and prosperity.
On a late day of autumn, Ceausescu was riding in an official car and passed by an apple orchard. He saw that the trees didn’t have fruit, since the fruit was already picked. He verbalized his displeasure. “Under our communist leadership, all the orchards should be full of fruit.” Nobody had the courage to tell him that the apples were in the store rooms. During his stop for lunch, his staff sent an urgent word to the orchard farm managers ahead to do something about that. So, the communists from that region gathered soldiers, students and people from the villages for a grandiose project. They brought apples in trailers and had the people tie them up in the trees by the road. Ceausescu was very pleased to see that orchards under his command were full of fruit.

We went back to the city almost at dinner time and took a short stop to the hotel to take a shower and get dressed for dinner. In a couple of days we were to be split in groups of two or three and, accompanied by an interpreter, to be sent somewhere in the vast China. We were to distribute the Bibles to churches. The excitement took over our mourning. The mission we came for started to take shape and we were grateful.
-to be continued-

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No, Thank You -7-

china(continuation)
We, in the lobby, didn’t know what happened, but we were worried. We prayed together for several times while sitting on the floor and waiting. When one of our leaders came to get his sweet wife to go back to Sandy’s room together, we knew. Nobody said a word, but we knew she was gone.
Most of Americans are not emotional the way us Romanians, with Italian blood, are. But as we walked to the elevators to gather in one of the rooms, streams of tears went down on our cheeks.
There were many legal things involved at such a tragedy in a foreign country, and we stayed together, prayed, sang and read God’s promises from the Bible. Little by little, the Lord started to work peace in our devastated hearts.
Strange and painful as it was, we knew that was Sandy’s time to go. She lived a life of faith in God, overcoming struggles and unfulfilled dreams. She wanted to be a wife and a mother, but that didn’t happen. When we celebrated her life after coming back to the US, everything was set up for a wedding. She was the bride of Christ.

A few hours later, after giving his statement to the Chinese authorities, the leader of our trip came where we stayed and prayed with us. It was tremendously hard to think that we were there to bring joy and hope. Going to the airport and suspending our mission was out of discussion. We had to move on. A little later, we were on a bus to see the historical wall of that city, up on a hill.
We walked alone the path through the ruins, stopping from time to time to take in the fresh air.
Life was fragile. Now we were there, and next moment we could be gone. We were not in charge of our years, but the Father. Our days were counted and known before we were born. We believed that statement from the Bible. We were here on earth for a short time, to bring glory to God through our lives.

It was a miracle that under those circumstances, we went on and continued our journey in China with joy. Yes, we cried and mourned, we had questions without answers, we felt discouraged and worthless, but we fought those battles in our hearts and didn’t let go of hope.

When we went back to the city, we had our first meeting with a small group of Christians who were part of our mission. They knew things we didn’t know and were not supposed to know. But I knew most of them. Because when it was about a communist government, the life of their people, the facade versus reality, ways of being watched, followed and listened because you were Christian, my brain was alerted.
“You were assigned government agents to be with you everywhere you go every day. They are interested to keep you as far as possible from the people here, to make no personal connection, and when you go back to the US, to have no further contact with them. Don’t take their names, addresses, phone numbers or emails.”

That was so sad.

-to be continued-

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