Wednesday 12 May 2021

Winter/Spring Update 2021

 Hi friends!

When we last sent an update newsletter we were in Canada - time flies, as they say, and we've been back in Romania now for 4 months and we have so much to tell you! In this update we'll be sharing all about the winter ministry season and about the beginning of the 2021 Spring Mission Bible School!

Ministry Update

When we arrived at home in Romania after our 3 months in Canada last fall Jerry hit the ground running immediately. He hadn't even gotten over his jet lag when he led the Snowboard Instructor Training weekend for the 2021 PdF snowboard instructors. He had some new instructors to train and some of the old instructors joined in as well. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and training!

In preparation for the winter ministry season, the PdF leadership implemented new Covid protocols based on the guidelines of the Romanian health authorities. This meant that mask wearing became mandatory indoors for staff and participants, there were guidelines implemented for the dining room, PdF hosted fewer participants in each camp so proper occupancy in the conference hall could be maintained, and staff were required to exercise more caution in their interactions with one another. 

We are very thankful for these protocols and it was very freeing to be able to serve the Romanian Ski Camp participants safely and in a way that's in line with the health regulations. We are very thankful Romania's Covid restrictions aren't so limiting and that PdF is still able to operate and host camps and programs, even if it is at a lowered capacity and with some safety protocols. 

This winter PdF hosted its first ever Snowboard Camp - most Ski Camps host a combination of skiers and snowboarders, and some are just for skiers. The Snowboard Camp took place in January and it was a HUGE success! The mask-wearing and other safety measures made things a little more difficult than usual, but it didn't detract from the experience. Jerry was the leader of the camp and there were 6 other instructors who served together with him. It was a highlight of the winter season for Jerry!

Jerry also served as a snowboard instructor for two more Ski Camps this winter, one for teenagers and one for adults. Winter is always one of our favourite ministry seasons here at Pdf because Jerry gets to work alongside his colleagues (the other instructors in the camps) and interact with so many Romanian youth and young adults, some of whom return year after year for the camps. He's built a good relationship with some of the snowboarders over the last 5 winters, which we are so thankful for.

This winter never seemed to end - we had huge dumps of snow in April, which extended the ski season even further. Pdf actually added two more ski camps to the lineup of programs this winter because there was so much snow! Skiing in March and April was not only possible, it was some of the best skiing we've seen in our years here!

One very difficult part of the winter was an accident that took place in one of the camps. One of Jerry's students named Oana fell while snowboarding through the forest and was badly injured by a branch in a freak accident. She was rushed to the hospital in critical condition after being brought down the mountain by Salvamont (mountain rescue squad) and underwent 4 surgeries over the last few months. Of course this was a very difficult experience for Oana and her family, as well as for Jerry and the other PdF instructors. We praise God that He healed Oana and that she'll make a complete recovery. 

The winter season is a busy one for Jerry because of all the administrative work required for Bible School. Jerry is responsible for all the registration for students, processing applications, working out details for payments and deposits, and answering the endless questions that come from students and their parents. This year there was an added workload thanks to the Covid travel restrictions, but after Raluca (one of the PdF office staff) contacted the Romanian Border Police we were able to get an official letter from the Border Police stating that students from the United States and Canada could enter Romania to come to Bible School! It was a miracle from God - no doubt about it!

We were overjoyed that God seemed to be making a way for students to come from overseas and there were still many students interested in coming. So with a LOT of prayer, additional red tape and paperwork galore we waited as patiently as we could to see if the students from the US and Canada would be allowed onto the plane and if they'd make it through the multiple border crossings to get here. And praise the Lord - every single student AND Josie, the Canadian RA made it through and we were able to begin the Spring Mission Bible School at the end of March with 10 students!! 2 from Romania, 1 from the United States, 3 from Germany, 1 from the UK, and 3 from Canada. We have 5 female students and 5 male students this year, and it's a great group!

It's been a really great first 5 weeks of Bible School, despite the challenges of running the Bible School during a pandemic. This area of Romania has had a weekday curfew of 10pm and a weekend curfew of 8pm for the entire Bible School, which made doing activities off campus a challenge. For the first 5 weeks of Bible School the students and staff have also been required to wear masks when indoors together which made building relationships more of a challenge, but now that the weather is finally getting warmer and restrictions have relaxed a bit we hope it will be easier to make connections. 

The student group is really wonderful - everyone gets along great, they all REALLY want to be here, and they're all eager to learn and grow and experience God. We're so thankful for this group of students.

The two RAs (Christina from Romania, and Josie from Canada) work with the students every day, eat meals with them, and participate in all aspects of the program as leaders. Chrissie is also helping with the Bible School as much as possible, leading the girls prayer and share group & Bible study, helping with leading worship, serving as a student mentor and as the "house mom". 

The students have already completed their first of 3 Bible School "Challenge" weeks - they spent the Cultural Encounter week in small remote villages in central Romania interacting with the locals and completing challenges to learn more about the area, the culture, and the history. They made their way to the village of Archita (pronounced ar-kita) where our family, the RAs and Ebbe (PdF's director) were waiting for them. Jerry and Ebbe both led a team of students for the Cultural Encounter challenge and Chrissie cooked for the leaders and the students at the centre in Archita where the leaders stayed, in the compound of the Fortified Church.

The students have also begun local outreaches in a few different villages nearby. Some students are running after school programs at orphanages and others are doing street ministry in Rasnov with our friends' church plant Izvorul Vietii in Rasnov. On the students' first day of outreach two people gave their lives to the Lord on the street! 

In addition to all the activities, outreaches and challenges, the students have enjoyed a few weeks of lectures. So far they've learned about Missions with Ebbe (PdF Director), had a week of Ministry Tools and training with Florin (PdF's Assistant Director), learned about Discipleship with Dave and Jorge (missionaries from American and Brazil who work in Bucharest), learned about Apologetics with Maurice (an American missionary pastor from the nearby community of Codlea), and studied the book of Ephesians with Frank Cirone via Zoom (Frank is on staff with Torchbearers International in Colorado).

Jerry will begin his first lecture series Jesus the Missionary (about the life and ministry of Jesus) in less than two weeks, so please pray for him as he prepares for this week of lectures. 

During this season we have been able to serve at church on worship team for Easter Sunday and we also participated in a Young Adults event at our church where we were interviewed on the topic of Christ-Centred Relationships. It was a fun evening getting to share all about how God brought us together and how He has worked in our marriage over the last 16 years!

We were also inspired to host a Relationship Night for the Bible School students and the PdF volunteers last weekend and it was a big hit! 3 couples - Ebbe and Elke, our friends Doug and Camelia from Rasnov, and us - served as a panel and answered questions the students submitted about Christ-centred marriage and relationships. Josie, the RA from Canada, hosted the evening and it was a lot of fun.

Currently the Bible School students are away in Mangalia (near Constanta, at the Black Sea) for the Mission Outreach week of the program. Florin and Tihi (2 PdF staff) are leading this mission trip while Jerry stays behind to study and work on his Bible School lecture series that begins next week. Please pray for the students as they serve the local church in the community of Mangalia and bring the message of Jesus' love and forgiveness to the local people on the streets and on the beach there. 

Family Update

After being in Canada for 3 months last fall, arriving back in Romania felt like a breath of fresh air. We dodged a quarantine restriction that went into effect one hour after we landed in Bucharest for arrivals from Canada, so we were able to enter into normal life here right after we returned home without a quarantine. The Covid restrictions here aren't as intense as Manitoba's were in November and December, so for us that meant no more lockdown, no more major restrictions on who we could see and when, and open stores, malls and businesses (albeit with reduced capacity). 

We have been able to see some friends here (mainly outdoors) and thanks to the mild weather we've been able to be outside a lot  - the girls continue to enjoy playing outside with the other staff children here at PdF.

We are so thankful that we've stayed very healthy since returning home to Romania and haven't contracted Covid-19. We did come down with a mild cold in February and got our first Covid tests at the Spitalul de Boli Infectioase (Infectious Diseases Hospital), but thankfully the results were negative!

Since this winter seemed to go on forever we decided to make the best of it and go skiing/snowboarding as often as possible. The girls have finally learned to ski and snowboard well enough that we're not stuck on the bunny hill all day, and we had at least 11 ski days as a family this year! 

The Romanian winters are a dream for us Canadians who are used to unbearably cold winter days - so when the weather hovers between minus 1 and minus 5 degrees Celsius, we can't complain. The March and April snow on the mountain was perfect for skiing and snowboarding, and these skiing days were by far some of the most fun we've ever had as a family.  

We even got to go skiing with several of the Bible School students during the first week of Bible School on the students' free day! It was fun riding with them and some of the PdF staff and volunteers too.

The Covid vaccination program in Romania began at the end of 2020 and our friends who are nurses and doctors were fully vaccinated in December & January. In February the vaccinations opened up to the elderly, immunocompromised people, teachers, etc. and we were able to get on a vaccine waiting list in March when Jerry's job at PdF made us eligible. As of mid-April both of us were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine (both shots).

Being in full time ministry means interacting with people isn't optional - our struggle throughout this entire pandemic has been balancing the desire to be obedient to God (Romans 13) and follow the government restrictions with integrity while still stepping out in faith and doing what God called us here to do. We've acted with some caution, mainly because we didn't want to spread the virus to other staff or participants or catch it ourselves and not be able to serve.

We continue to be impressed with Romania's vaccination program; the vaccination rate in the city of Bucharest is already 40% and Brasov's is approximately 30% (nation wide rate is around 31%). The infection rate across the country continues to fall lower every day, despite the Easter celebrations that took place about two weeks ago (there's no lockdown here, so citizens are free to socialize in each others' homes), and if these trends continue there will be even more restrictions dropped on June 1st. Life feels pretty normal for us here other than having to wear a mask now and then, so we're very thankful.

We realize there are many strong opinions about Covid and the vaccine among our colleagues, friends, and supporters and so we feel it is important to say - our decision to take the vaccine was not influenced much by either side of the argument. Rather, our choice was based on the fact that we're eager to get on with the work of the Gospel, to get on with ministry, to remove ourselves from the 'Covid equation' as it were, to see restrictions lifted here in Romania (it's already beginning to happen!!), and to see God's ministry here at PdF flourish and grow as people learn to walk with Jesus. Our cause is not a political one, and our hope isn't in a vaccine, it's in Jesus. 

One continued challenge of the pandemic is our girls' school situation. The school Miriam and Eden attend closed down in March 2020 and it hasn't opened up again since then. This has to do with many factors, connected with the lack of physical space in the school building as well as the school staff's personal views on mask-wearing. It isn't likely that the school will open again until Romania lifts the mask mandate for schools or until the school procures a new building, and there's no telling when that will be. 

There aren't many other good options for school for the girls, aside from one in the city of Brasov that currently doesn't have any open places for our girls, so we're at a crossroads. For now we're homeschooling using the curriculum from the girls' current school and the girls' teacher is supporting us a little bit over Zoom. The girls see their classmates for an outdoor activity day about once a month where the students go on hikes and play outdoor games. 

The girls also haven't been able to attend ballet classes since March 2020 when the pandemic restrictions closed extra-curricular activities for children. We look forward to the day we can take them to ballet lessons again. 

Thankfully, Mary Ionescu moved in with us in February and she's been a HUGE help to Chrissie and the girls. Mary helps Miriam and Eden with their schoolwork several days a week and she helps Chrissie around the house so Chrissie can work and serve at PdF with the Bible School. Mary plans to attend university in the city of Cluj next year. 

Our friend Ana Ghiran also comes to stay with us every now and then on her university breaks and the girls LOVE it when she comes. Both Mary and Ana lived with us for the summer in 2020, and they've become a part of our family. 

Our family always enjoys the Bible School season, although it isn't without its challenges. Jerry works a LOT and is always on his phone sending messages, answering emails, communicating with the RAs, students, and teachers, and working out program details. This year he's been able to take at least one day off every week for the first 5 weeks of the program, which is a first for our family. It's been nice to have him around a little bit more this year, and we're SO grateful for Christina and Josie (the RAs) who really know how to get things done!

Our whole family usually attends the Cultural Encounter in Archita so Chrissie can cook meals for the leaders and students, and so we made our way to Archita for a week in April. It's a beautiful village with an evangelical fortified church that first dates back to around 1100 AD. It's so peaceful within the walls of the fortified church and the Cultural Encounter always feels like a little escape for our family. 

We celebrated Eden's 7th birthday in April with an outdoor party. We roasted hot dogs, had a piƱata, and Jerry took the older kids on a little mountain bike ride. It was a really fun day celebrating Eden and since her birthday was after our second vaccination shots we felt a lot more relaxed (some of our friends are vaccinated too), but we still kept the gathering as Covid-friendly as possible. 

Because Romanians celebrate Orthodox Easter we celebrated Easter a few weeks ago with the Bible School students. We enjoyed a Romanian feast for our Easter Dinner at PdF and we led worship at church in Brasov and again for the evening service at PdF with the Bible School students. 

Now that Spring is finally here we're excited to be getting started with our garden. We started our seedlings in the house in February and transitioned them to the greenhouse while there was still snow on the ground. But they're doing well and we're excited to grow lots of our own food this summer. We're very thankful for the slow spring season we experienced last year during the height of the pandemic - it was then that we finally had the time to build our garden and fence and so far our gardening experience has been much easier this year since everything is already built!

Jerry enjoys gardening very much and uses the garden as a way to unwind and recharge after his long work days, and as a way to connect with the kids as he involves them in gardening tasks. He's learning about the no-dig method for gardening and we're looking forward to harvesting and enjoying fresh veggies all summer long!

If you have any no-dig gardening tips, Jerry is all ears!

Since the warm weather is finally here we're excited to put away our skis and snowboards and start hiking and mountain biking together as a family. We went on our first family bike ride of the year last weekend and it was so relaxing and fun! The views were amazing and it's so nice to be able to leave straight from our house and head into the forest on our bikes.

We look forward to updating you again soon and we pray you are all doing well and continuing to serve the Lord despite the pandemic restrictions. As Paul said to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 6), "Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. May God's grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ."

We appreciate your friendship, support, and prayers more than you know!

Prayer Requests:

Please join us in thanking God for:

  1. Oana's complete recovery! God is SO good and we praise Him for healing Oana's body completely after her snowboarding accident in February at the ski camp.
  2. a safe and successful winter ministry season.  All the ski camps went fairly smoothly and there were no Covid outbreaks among the staff or at any of the camps. Praise God for this!
  3. a safe and successful beginning for the Spring Mission Bible School. We're so thankful all the students could come and so far everyone has been healthy. 
  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, as well as the opportunity to take the Covid vaccine. 
  5. His financial provision. We have our immediate needs met each month, even during the economic instability of the pandemic, and we're so thankful to God for His provision. 
  6. our time in Canada this fall. It was a season of rest and family time for us, and we're so thankful. 
  7. the progress that's being made on the new Guest Lodge building at PdF! Construction on the second wing is in progress.
  8. our church here in Brasov, Biserica Baptista Metanoia; we're so thankful for our church family here, for their friendship and support, especially Pastor Cristi and his wife Simona. 

Please join us in praying for:

  1. Jerry's upcoming week of lectures - for him to trust God and rely on Him as he plans and prepares, for peace and for God to speak through him as he teaches.
  2. God to send the right students to register for the upcoming Fall Bible School 2021.
  3. God to prepare the new Fall Bible School program that's planned to start in September 2021. 
  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. Our girls' school situation; that their school would open again and they'd be able to attend school with their peers and friends. OR that God would provide an alternative.
  8. Continued health and protection from Covid-19 and other sickness and injury.
  9. Safety. Please pray for safety for Jerry, the staff, participants and students for all the PdF programs.
  10. 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. 
  11. Chrissie's health. It's planned for Chrissie to undergo day-surgery in May to fix a deviated septum with a possible second surgery to remove her tonsils sometime in the summer. Her Ear Nose and Throat Specialist believes these surgeries will help solve her vertigo and sinus inflammation problems.
  12. Staff 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, being considerate of one another. Also, for healing in places where there has been hurt, and for wisdom for us to know how to manage difficult interpersonal conflicts and challenging issues over cultural barriers, especially during this Covid season.
  13. Wisdom for the PdF leadership as they navigate delivering programs amid many restrictions and safety concerns. That they would be led by God and continue demonstrating care for the PdF staff.
  14. God to bring another Bible School staff member to the team. We are praying for God to provide a person to take all the Registration and other administrative duties off Jerry's plate for the Spring and Fall Bible Schools as well as the ASCENT Adventure Bible School program. 

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