Monday 30 November 2020

Fall 2020 Update (We're in Canada!)

Hey friends!

Surprise! We're in Canada! If you don't follow us on social media you might not know that we took a last-minute opportunity to travel to Canada for 3 months this fall. In this update we'll share all about the summer at Pdf, the Ascent Adventure Bible School that took place in August and September, and what we've been up to since we've been in Canada.

But first, Tuesday December 1st is Giving Tuesday #givingtuesday! It's a global generosity movement that encourages people to give generously to transform their communities and the world through giving to local and overseas non-profit organizations. If you'd like to find out more about our Giving Tuesday opportunity, please CLICK HERE for our Canadian page, and CLICK HERE for our American page. 

Ministry Update

Despite the quickly spreading virus in Romania and the high numbers of cases at the end of the spring season, the Romanian government ended the lockdown and imposed restrictions to limit the spread of the virus as the economy re-opened. The ministry team decided to go ahead with several of the summer programs in a limited manner and capacity, because many of the restrictions prevented us from running the programs normally. 

The participants ate their meals outdoors in the covered Foisor building and the Bible studies and teaching times were done mainly outdoors as well. There were efforts made to minimize contact between the participants (although this was very difficult!) and activities like sports and hikes were done in smaller groups with extra precautions. 

Generally speaking, the Romanian participants were very relaxed about Covid and all the restrictions, which made it difficult for the PdF staff to enforce the rules. The Romanian culture is a very social one - Romanians love their hugs and handshakes and don't always give a lot of personal space during an in-person conversation...these are things we normally love about the Romanian culture but during a pandemic it makes it very hard to avoid close contact and follow the health guidelines. 

This summer Jerry was a leader in the Max Bike mountain biking program for Romanians as well as the Bible School Principal for ASCENT, the adventure Bible School for international students.

The Max Bike program went very well. The weather was good and participants were kept safe throughout the program. And best of all the Word of God was preached by Jerry and Ebbe, encouraging participants in their walk with Jesus.

With all the travel restrictions we were not sure that the ASCENT program would run this year. We had 7 students signed up for the program, but 4 of them were from Canada. A month or so before the start date Romania decided to allow Canadian travellers into the country with no quarantine required which meant the students were able to attend! During the first two weeks of the program we were quite cautious and required the students to keep distance from each other, stay in tents and remain outdoors even for meals, and keep distance from the staff. It was a weird and different start to a Bible School than any of us were used to, but thankfully the students were cooperative and understanding given the current circumstances. 

During the first week of Ascent we found out that 2 visiting volunteers to Pdf tested positive for Covid-19 when they crossed the border into Germany on their way home from PdF. They had exposed almost all of the staff (except our family and one other family) to the virus, but the leadership decided to continue with the programs planned for the following weeks in spite of this. Thankfully, nobody at Pdf had symptoms and as far as we know none of the staff caught the virus from these volunteers. These were very, very difficult weeks for us. 

Because our family had been taking extra precautions knowing that we were preparing for the beginning of Ascent, Jerry had not been exposed and Ascent was able to continue with even stricter measures that kept the students completely separate from the rest of the PdF staff and volunteers during the 14-day period after those positive tests. The students were troopers and persevered through this tricky stage of the program, and we are so thankful for this. Each week the program had a different focus which saw the students biking, rock climbing, hiking, camping, and caving, and the program wrapped up with an extended 36-hour solo time in the woods. Throughout the program we also taught on a variety of different subjects from the Bible including, leadership, the parables of Jesus, fear, etc. Students seemed to have a great time and connected with each other very well.

2 of the girls from Canada who attended Ascent weren't Christians and had never been to church before, so this was a very stretching experience for them. It was amazing to see how God worked in their lives through the program as they read God's word every day, sang worship songs in praise to the Lord every morning, listened to lectures, and learned about what it means to trust God in challenging situations. We are continuing to pray for these 2 students, that God would continue this work He began in them at PdF!

Looking ahead, Jerry is excited to be scheduled to lead the first ever snowboarders camp in January! He has trained several snowboard instructors for this and is excited about how God is using snowboarding as a ministry tool to Romanians involved in the snowboard culture. At this point we're not sure that the program will actually run because of the climbing cases of COVID in Romania, and we're praying that God would give the PdF leadership wisdom in making decisions about the upcoming Winter Ski Camp programs, and that they would be committed to following the laws and recommendations of the Romanian Health Authorities. 

The Spring Mission Bible School is also scheduled to run this Spring From March 28 until June 12. So far we have several students interested in attending (many from Canada again!) but our current problem is with securing teachers to come teach from abroad with all the travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in place. We’ve already had a few teachers back out due to Covid travel issues and we are looking for replacements. Jerry is also in the process of developing two lecture series of his own for Bible School but he's finding it a really challenging task. The lecture series topics are The Book of John and Jesus the Missionary. Please pray for him as he spends these 3 months in Canada on study and lecture preparation. 

Planning for the Spring Bible School presents extra challenges this year because many of the program elements will be difficult to do safely and in keeping with the Health Authorities' regulations. The Cultural Encounter and the Mission Outreach will both need to be re-designed in order to keep the students and staff safe and to follow the Health Authorities' Guidelines. Jerry is currently working on a policy document together with the PdF leadership for the upcoming Bible Schools (rules and guidelines for staff and students so the program runs safely). This is a huge challenge because our perspective differs from the PdF leadership's perspective on Covid-related safety guidelines. Please pray for us as we navigate this. 

We are also planning to launch a new Fall Bible School semester. Up until now we have just been running Spring and Summer Bible School semesters but the PdF leadership has decided to launch a new semester this coming Fall (2021). Jerry is to lead the program and be the Principal. The idea is for PdF to have a year long study option for students who may be seeking this. It is planned that the Fall semester will be a more fundamental program while the Spring semester a more in depth missions-focused one. Please pray that students would be attracted to the program as well as the required support staff and teachers, and that God would prepare us all for the launch of this new program, as He wills it.

Family Update

Since the lockdown ended in the spring things have been tough for our family in Romania. In June Chrissie began having symptoms of vertigo and after a pretty scary episode and an exam by an Ear Nose and Throat specialist and a Neurologist (both of which happened in just days...thanks to the private health care available in Romania!) she was diagnosed with Vestibular Neuritis in her right ear. Chrissie has some damage in her right inner ear that's thankfully repairable, but requires her to be on anti-vertigo medication for a few months to repair the damage. 

Because of the swelling in her ear, Chrissie ended up with a few nasty infections during the summer, in her parotid gland and in one of her tonsils. This meant a lot of visits to the private hospital in the city, but we're so thankful for the good care she received. She is now on the mend, and has both her ENT doctor's and Neurologist's personal cell phone numbers! She may need to have her tonsils removed in the future to help with these issues.

The chaos of the summer with the threat of Covid looming over us more than once was very hard on us. We have been continually frustrated by the struggles on the staff team at Pdf and with the decisions the PdF leadership is making regarding health and safety measures at the centre to protect the staff and participants. We wrote in our last update letter in June that decisions were being made that we aren't comfortable with and that don't line up with our convictions in the area of safety, morality and biblical principles. We still feel this way, and we continue to struggle to know exactly how God is asking us to respond in this situation. 

Despite the stress of the summer, there were several highlights too. We were able to get away for 4 days to the Danube Delta in Eastern Romania where the Danube River meets the Black Sea. It was a short time of refreshment for us, and we got to celebrate Canada day on the beach and swim in the sea together. 

At the beginning of July Mary Ionescu moved in with our family for the summer. We've introduced Mary to you before - she's the daughter of the family we lived with in Bucharest when we first arrived in Romania. She often stays with our family on her school breaks and she moved in with us again for the summer to help with the kids. We're so grateful for her help and her friendship! She's truly become a part of our family.

The girls always have a blast with Mary and they enjoyed swimming in the PdF pond almost every day this summer! They did lots of reading together, went on hikes, and rode bikes. It was a great summer for the kids.

Our friend Ana Ghiran also moved in for the summer - she's a former Bible School student from PdF's first Spring Bible School back in 2017 and she's also become a member of our family. She helped Chrissie in the kitchen for the summer, creating new recipes for Chrissie's food blog, and acting as a nurse when Chrissie was sick with her ear issues (Ana is in her final year of Nursing School in the city of Cluj in Romania). Living so far away from family, it's amazing to have Mary and Ana living with us from time to time, acting as aunties to our girls and joining in our family activities. It has been very special for Chrissie to be able to disciple both Mary and Ana over the last 4 years, encourage them in their faith, and mentor them during these formative years of their lives. 

We also went on several hikes as a family this summer, and enjoyed lots of campfires in our yard. 

We celebrated Miriam's 8th birthday at the end of July with a small, outdoor gathering with a few of the PdF staff kids. It was a cool, cloudy day but we celebrated with a water fight anyway, since that was Miriam's wish for the day. The kids all had a blast, and it was a very special day for Miriam!

We continued to enjoy our garden through the summer and all the fresh vegetables we picked almost daily. It was a fun project to have and the kids loved caring for the plants, watering them every day and watching the zucchini grow and the tomatoes become bright red, pulling all the carrots and eating all the fresh chives and green onions. 

One of Chrissie's summer highlights was having fresh flowers on the table all summer long. Our little flower garden that we planted in the spring blew us away! We had so many beautiful roses, tons of lavender and other flowers that the girls enjoyed picking for Mama every day. 

When mid-September hit it was time to begin school again but because of the Covid-related restrictions in Romania our girls' school remained closed and the girls began another year of homeschooling. As we've said before this isn't exactly what we'd have chosen for the girls, but given the current situation we respect the decision made by the girls' school administrators to keep the school closed and we certainly appreciate the support the girls receive from their teacher weekly on Zoom. 

Of course the homeschooling has had the biggest impact on Chrissie, since she's responsible for the girls' schooling every day. But we're all adjusting to this new lifestyle and choosing to focus on the good: we've been able to slow our life down a little bit, the girls have a lot more time for playing outside and doing creative activities around the house, we've saved money that we'd normally spend on gas driving the kids to and from school every day, and we've focused on strengthening our relationships with one another as they've evolved from just parent-child to teacher-student relationships.

Once the ASCENT program ended in mid-September we saw a window of time for us to finally get back to Canada! We had credit with the airline from our cancelled flight in July (due to Covid) so we made a last minute decision to re-book and leave as soon as we could. It was a much needed trip for us after the stress of the spring and summer, and we flew to Winnipeg on October 5th - it was the smoothest, easiest transcontinental trip we've ever taken!!

The airports were ghost towns and the flights were less than half full. We even received a complimentary upgrade to Business Class on our long-haul flight from Frankfurt to Toronto because Air Canada was doing their best to keep passengers as far apart from each other as possible. It was a huge blessing to have extra space, footrests, reclining seats and big TVs! As for wearing a mask for 24+ hours straight? It actually wasn't as hard as we thought it would be!

When we arrived in Canada we quarantined for 14 days at Chrissie's parents' house in rural Manitoba (they moved out so we could quarantine alone), which meant we could be outside as much as we wanted without leaving the property or breaking quarantine laws. We had some beautiful weather and we actually really enjoyed these 14-days of rest.

Our friend Cole from Riverwood even delivered Tim Hortons on our first day of quarantine! He must have known how much we missed it!

Since our quarantine ended the Manitoba government has increased the Covid-related restrictions, which means we haven't been able to see many friends or extended family members. Thankfully, we're getting lots of quality time with Chrissie's parents since we're living with them for our time in Canada. The girls have so enjoyed re-connecting with their grandparents and they were able to play with their cousins outside for a few weeks before the most recent restrictions which limit socialization with anyone outside of your household. 

Thankfully we were able to visit Chrissie's 95-year-old grandma when we were fresh out of quarantine. It was a lovely visit, and we're so thankful we got to see her in a way that didn't compromise her safety. 

It's been difficult for us to be back in Canada and not have the ability to meet with the friends and family we've missed so dearly, but we're trusting that God knows we need rest, solitude, and quiet work & study time.

We've enjoyed fishing on the banks of the Red River, going on walks and bike rides, having campfires, and getting dressed up for Halloween.

We also took the opportunity to help the girls observe their first ever Remembrance Day in Canada.

And of course we've continued with homeschooling, and it's been nice to have Grandma as a teacher every now and then.

When we decided to come to Canada this fall our plan was to go back to Romania at the beginning of January for the beginning of the Ski/Snowboard camp season. At the moment we are unsure as to whether or not that would be wise or even possible, given the Covid situation in Romania and the current restrictions both there and here in Canada. Our flights home to Romania have been cancelled or changed over 20 times since we arrived in Canada. Please pray for us to have wisdom and guidance from the Lord in this regard. We will keep you posted!

Prayer Requests:

Please join us in thanking God for:

  1. a safe and successful summer ministry season.  All the summer programs and camps went fairly smoothly and we are thankful nobody got seriously injured or sick, and that there were no Covid outbreaks in any of the camps! Many young people were encouraged in their faith and some heard the word of God for the first time.
  2. a safe and successful ASCENT program. We're thankful for every student who came, and for the positive, uplifting, and challenging experience it was for both students and staff.
  3. the improvements we've experienced in our marriage and family connection through this Covid season and the time we've been able to set aside for counselling since being back in Canada. 
  4. 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 entire year. 
  5. His financial provision. We have had our immediate needs met each month, even during the economic instability of this time, and we're so thankful to God for His provision. 
  6. The ability to fly to Canada this fall so we can see our family and have a season of rest.
  7. the fact that there are many students who have applied and been accepted for the Spring Mission Bible School in 2021!
  8. The progress that's being made on the new Guest Lodge building at PdF! Construction on the second wing is well underway.

Please join us in praying for:

  1. 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 2021 ministry season too.
  2. God to prepare the new Fall Bible School program we plan to start in 2021. 
  3. The upcoming Snowboard camp and Ski/Snowboard camp season at PdF. For safety and provision, and time for preparation. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Continued health and protection from Covid-19 and other sickness and injury.
  8. Safety. Please pray for safety for Jerry, the staff, and participants for the upcoming ski camp season. Please also pray for protection and safety for Chrissie and the girls as they go about their winter activities.
  9. Open Borders between Europe and North America in God's timing, so students and staff from Canada and the US can come to Torchbearer Centres throughout the world for Bible School. 
  10. 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.
  11. Staff relationships at PdF; we continue to struggle with some cross-cultural relationships at PdF. 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, especially during this Covid season.
  12. Wisdom for the PdF leadership as they navigate delivering programs this year (2021) amid many restrictions and safety concerns. That they would be led by God and demonstrate care for their staff.
  13. God to bring more North American staff to PdF, or staff from other cultures to round out the team.

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