Thursday, 25 June 2020

Spring 2020 Update (Covid-19 Lockdown Edition)

Hi friends!

We realize it's been several months since we last sent an update - we apologize for the silence...it was hard to know exactly what to share with all of you. These last several months have been pretty challenging for us (more on that in a minute), but we hope you enjoy reading all about what we've been up to in the last 6 months or so and about how we've been managing life here in Romania post-Covid-19.



Ministry Update:

As we're sure you already know, Covid-19 exploded worldwide in late February and Romania was no exception. The Romanian government began implementing safety measures at the beginning of March, including closing schools, and by mid-March the whole country was on a military lockdown until mid-May. Citizens were prohibited from leaving their homes other than for essential reasons and couldn't leave home at all without a legal declaration document. Between the two of us we left PdF only 3 times during those two months and our children didn't leave at all. Romania's reaction to the virus was quite strict and understandably so; the health care system here is not equipped to handle a large influx of cases and hospitalizations and it's still very overburdened. As we write this Romania has currently had over 24,000 Covid-19 cases and just over 1500 deaths, which means that the spread of the virus here has been slower than in many other countries thanks to the severe restrictions. Because of the lockdown we were able to stay safely at home, here at PdF with the other staff members and live a relatively "normal" life, going outside daily and enjoying living in the mountains. We have been SO thankful to be living here in rural Romania during this crazy time and that we weren't cooped up in a small apartment somewhere like so many Romanians were. 


Because of the lockdown and the ban on non-essential travel across the globe PdF was forced to cancel several main programs including the Spring Mission Bible School and several of the summer camps for kids and teens. The staff team here at PdF has also struggled greatly under the burden of the lockdown and restrictions (more on that in a moment). 

It became clear to us quite quickly that there was a chance we'd have to cancel the Spring Mission Bible School as many of the students come from North America, but as soon as Romania closed its borders to European countries it was clear we'd have to shut things down completely. 

But it wasn’t all bad! In an attempt to help out and encourage the students who had signed up to the 2020 semester, I (Jerry) sent them copies of lasts year’s lectures, hoping to give them something to do while in lockdown. Several of the students enthusiastically thanked me for the files and it was at that moment that I thought “why don’t we do an online version of the Mission Bible School?” It made perfect sense because we already had teachers lined up who could teach, students were stuck in their homes, and I also had time on my hands! We advertised the program online, expecting maybe 10 or 15 students but we ended up receiving 40 applications for the course! In the end we had 36 students who attended from all over the world: Romania, Germany, USA, Canada, Switzerland, England, Hungary, Albania, and even Columbia! It was an amazing time!



We weren’t sure how the program would actually go, knowing that nothing could replace the personal face-to-face connections that make Bible School so meaningful. But God answered our prayers in this area in a BIG way as the program was a HUGE blessing for all the students who attended, and for the leaders as well. The students experienced deep fellowship with one another and learned a lot from God’s word. Each day started with an icebreaker game (to help break the awkwardness of being on Zoom), followed by a student or staff devotional, live worship, 2 live lectures, and small group sessions to finish the day.  We even had a "spirit week" during the last week: most colourful shirt, stripes, favourite hat and sunglasses, and formal wear for the final night.  The students were so enthusiastic about the program and we are praying about the possibility of launching another online semester this Fall.


Chrissie was also a leader in the Online Mission Bible School so for 4 weeks of the lockdown period our evenings were spent on separate computers with Jerry upstairs in his office and Chrissie downstairs at the kitchen table on Zoom with the students. Chrissie really enjoyed leading a girls' prayer and share group and leading a discussion group too. 


To productively use some of the down-time created by cancelled programs, the PdF staff ended up concentrating a lot of time and energy on the ongoing construction projects that we have here at the centre, namely the new guest house/dormitory building and the children’s playground project. 




As many of you know, I (Jerry) was a journeyman carpenter in my former life so it was strange to be back on the tools after basically not touching them for almost 4 years! It was as though I had a secret power that I forgot I had! Some of the staff members seemed to be quite surprised at how much I was able to do.  




I (Jerry) also had the privilege of attending my first European Director’s Conference with Torchbearers International. It is an event held each year for the Directors and Bible School Principals - this year 's conference was supposed to be at the Torchbearers Centre in Albania but because of travel restrictions it was moved online. Even though it wasn’t possible to be in-person with all representatives from the other European centres it was still an encouraging time to connect with principals from other Bible Schools around Europe. A highlight for me (Jerry) was that one of my prayer partners for the week was Peter Reid, the general director of Torchbearers International and one of my favourite Bible teachers from when I was a student. 



We are praying about the upcoming planned programs in summer and fall and asking God for wisdom as we walk in obedience to the current laws and restrictions in place by the government and health officials. Since we won't be coming back to Canada for a visit this summer like we had originally planned (our flights have been cancelled and international travel for Canadians in Europe is still very difficult, if not impossible) Jerry is scheduled to help lead the Max Bike Mountain Bike Camp for adults in July, the Outdoor Challenge Camp for adults in August, and he'll be the Bible School Principal for the 5-week Adventure Bible School called Ascent that is scheduled to begin on August 17. 

Although the Romanian summer programs are already almost at capacity, the registration for Ascent is more tricky because some of the students signed up are North American. Although travel is now allowed with some restrictions for European citizens around Europe, Canadians and Americans are not currently allowed to travel in Europe so this may affect the Ascent program. 

The government here has lifted many of the restrictions that were in place but since there has been a large increase in Covid-19 cases since the lockdown ended (especially in the county of Brasov where we live) there are still many restrictions in place that affect PdF and our ability to hold camps and host guests. Staying here in Romania during this season has been a very challenging road for us to walk; we are a multi-cultural staff team with very different ideas regarding health and safety and very different approaches to situations like this one. There have been hurt feelings, frustrating moments, and many disagreements, which isn't surprising. Now that programs have started up again we expect more conflicts and challenging situations will arise, and we'd appreciate your prayers for us and for the whole staff team here at Pdf to walk in unity.

Family Update:

This season of Covid-19 has had both positive and negative effects on us as a family. We really appreciate your continued support and prayers as we have decided to remain across the ocean during the pandemic instead of heading back to Canada as many overseas missionaries have done. Every situation is different and we felt called to stay here in Romania instead of returning to Canada for many reasons- and we're glad we did despite the challenges we've faced. 

The most positive thing has been all the time we've had to spend together. Jerry has never been home so much in the last 4 years and we have thoroughly enjoyed spending time together, going on hikes, working in the garden, and watching old shows together on the laptop in the evening (Jerry introduced the girls to his old Survivor Man DVDs and Crocodile Hunter videos, which they both really enjoy). We've been eating all 3 meals a day together as a family at home which almost NEVER happens during the spring time because of the Bible School.  







A few days before the lockdown the girls had their very first Ballet recital in Brasov. They worked so hard learning the choreography to several dances for their Ballet Studio's production of Cinderella. They had the added challenge of learning the dances in Romanian, which was difficult for them. But they did so well and had a blast! 



Since the girls have been home from school for the months of March, April, May and June this put a lot of added stress on Chrissie. The girls' class met on Zoom each morning for one hour and then the girls had several hours of school work to complete every day. Unfortunately there wasn't much flexibility in the program so this became a big burden for us  - we're thrilled that school is out for the summer, although it's been announced that school may continue online in September for the kids, depending on how the summer goes with Covid-19 cases in Romania and depending on what the restrictions are for schools.




One positive now-or-never project we decided to take on this spring was the formation of a garden. Up until now we've been far too busy every spring to even think about starting a garden, but with the down-time that the lockdown created for us we decided to go for it. It was one of those projects that snowballed a bit, starting with digging up a small 8-foot patch, then extending it another 6 feet, then realizing a greenhouse would be necessary because of the weather and growing season here (which required a foundation), leading then to the installation of a fence to protect everything from the wild animals that roam the property. 








It was quite a project for us to take on but ultimately we’ve been so blessed to have a family project to focus on during this season. It’s been really exciting to see our plants growing, especially in the greenhouse! And the girls are SO thrilled with their white picket fence - it was a special request from Eden and although it was a TON of work, it turned out really well!


We're growing lots of tomatoes and salad, kale (with seeds from Canada), sunflowers, cabbage, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplants, chives, beans, carrots and lots of herbs in pots in the greenhouse. We also hope to plant beets and broccoli once the seedlings are big enough. If you're into gardening, especially if you have experience gardening in a more humid climate than Winnipeg, please send us all your best tips!


The negative effects of this crazy season have definitely come from the struggles within the PdF staff team. Because we are the only permanent staff members from North America we’ve often come up against a lack of understanding and support for our views and convictions.. Decisions are being made that we haven't been very comfortable with and don't exactly line up with our personal convictions regarding healthy and safety, morality, and biblical principles. Some of these issues were pre-existing and we were already aware of them, but this Covid-19 season has really brought these issues to the forefront and we are seeking God on how to best navigate them in truth and love.   


Because of the lockdown the church we attend in Brasov was forced to have services online through Zoom since the beginning of March. Recently, since some of the restrictions have lifted, churches have been able to meet outdoors as long as the attendees practice social distancing and wear masks when they're closer together than 1.5 meters so Pdf has been hosting local churches, including ours, for weekend services in the big tent (with open sides).  It has been such a blessing to be able to help our church connect again and host them at PdF. Jerry has led worship for the the first two services (Chrissie helped lead once), and then Jerry helped with translating the sermon into English for the PdF volunteers who've been attending the services. 





We hope that our church can continue to come and meet here at PdF and that PdF can continue to support the churches in the Brasov area in this way.

We aren't able to travel to Canada this summer as originally planned because of all the travel restrictions, which has been a disappointment for all of us. We are hoping to be able to recover the cost of the flights we'd booked and come back to Canada for a visit as soon as we're able to travel safely again. In the meantime, we'll be staying here at PdF through the summer and fall ministry seasons.

Prayer Requests:

Please join us in thanking God for:

  1. the improvements we've experienced in our marriage and family connection through this Covid season and the time we've been able to spend together. 
  2. our health and safety. We're so thankful for God's protection from Covid-19 so far, and for protection from other sicknesses and injuries this year.
  3. His financial provision. We have had our immediate needs met each month, even during the financial instability of the lockdown and we are so thankful He continues to sustain us each day.
  4. the lowering of restrictions that make it possible for PdF to run modified programs this summer!
  5. Open borders in the EU which enables volunteer staff to come from Germany for the summer and 2020-2021 ministry year. 
  6. the fact that there are already several students who have applied and been accepted for the Spring Mission Bible School in 2021!
  7. Two Romanian one-year volunteers who will join the staff team for the 2020-2021 year!
  8. Amelia (from the US) and Sylvia (from Germany), 2 new staff members who have joined the staff team this spring!


Please join us in praying for:

  1. God's continued blessing on our marriage and family; that we would continue growing closer as a couple and making time to nurture our marriage even in the midst of full time ministry.
  2. Our children; that God would continue drawing them closer to Himself every day, that they would learn how to love God in the way He calls them as children, and that they would love each other in a way that pleases the Lord each day.
  3. Our girls' language learning; that they would continue to grow in their Romanian language skills and have great courage in using the Romanian words and phrases they know. That they would continue understanding more and more of the Romanian language being spoken around them.
  4. Continued health and protection from Covid-19 and other sickness and injury.
  5. Safety. Please pray for safety for Jerry all summer as he helps lead programs on the mountain, and safety for all the guests and participants. Please also pray for protection and safety for Chrissie and the girls as they go about their activities this summer.
  6. Open Borders between Europe and North America. We aren't able to travel back to Canada until the borders are open for non-essential travel (we can't leave Romania at all until this happens), and prospective students for the 2021 Spring Bible School can't attend if non-essential travel isn't permitted. 
  7. The Students from the Online Mission Bible School, that God would continue working in their lives.
  8. Jerry's seasonal allergies. That they wouldn't be so bad this summer and get in the way of his work.
  9. Chrissie's health. She continues to struggle with issues related to hormones (she has PCOS) almost every day, affecting her sleep, energy, and general health. She also has had a recent issue with her right inner ear causing symptoms of vertigo.
  10. Staff relationships at PdF; we are struggling with some cross-cultural relationships here at PdF and it's continuing to take a toll on us. Please pray for peace among the staff, for heaps and heaps of understanding and love despite the cultural differences, and for us all to learn to serve one another better. Also, for wisdom for us to know how to manage difficult interpersonal conflicts and challenging issues over cultural barriers.
  11. Wisdom for the PdF leadership as they navigate delivering programs amid many restrictions and safety concerns. That they would be led by God and act ethically.
  12. God to send the right students and the right number of students to the Spring Mission Bible School in 2021, and that God would prepare us for the upcoming 2020-2021 ministry season too.
  13. God to bring more North American staff to PdF, or staff from other cultures to round out the team. It's difficult for us to be the only North Americans among many Germans and many Romanians, and to rarely be understood well by anyone because of our culture. 

If you'd like to join our Facebook Group for more regular updates, request to join HERE


If you'd like to become a member of our Prayer Network and receive more regular prayer requests via email or Facebook Messenger, please send Jerry an email (jerry.baker@pdf.ro). 


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