David Gal-Chis
David Gal-Chis
Romania 2015
VIEW FINAL REPORT
Ciao! My name is David and I am just another 19 year old who has been incredibly and undeservedly blessed. An immigrant from Romania, I will be returning to my hometown Oradea to work with the Charis Foundation to improve the lives of the local community. Read More About David →

The End. And Now Our Story Begins…

Beautiful. Awe-inspiring. Wonderful. Great. It’s just a wonderful, beautiful life. You see hard times, you see good times. You see problems and you see blessings. You see failures and you see victories. Even with people, you see their good side and their bad. You see your good qualities and have a gignormous spotlight pointed at all of your shortcomings. I don’t even know what to say about it, to express how I feel and how it was. I’m just very satisfied, really joyful, thankful, content, at peace about it all. It was all really good. And that’s how it should have been. I loved it for the bad times as much as the good times. I learned a lot about balance in life and I feel like I have matured a lot on this trip, become a lot more discerning on this trip, hopefull become wiser on this trip. I didn’t feel like a different person when I arrived, while I was there, when I left, when I arrived again in Tennessee. Same ole’ me. But I do think that I might have learned some stuff and done some good along the way, and that is just so so valuable, my having living for others and for God just made it all so worth it. And as I look at the sky tonight, and see the clouds, I remember the beauty that I witnessed there. And as I spend time with my people here again, I remember the relationships formed and the lives touched, including my own. Because of this trip, I have felt more pain and more joy than I even could have without it: and it was all worth it. And it wasn’t that the joy was worth it because of the pain: both were worth it, in and of themselves. They are both beautiful, in their time. And it’s satisfying because the end is better than the beginning. And it’s full because I not only enjoyed my life, but I also gave of my joy. And it’s purposeful because it is not for me, it’s for others, because it is for God. I’m just really amazed at it all. Thanks Lumos for all of it. It was stupefyingly super-duper.

Well, I suppose that I should tell you how it all ended and how everything went down. There were tears. There were lots of hugs. There were well-wishes and exchanges of contact information. There was closure. And there were a few more events that were out of the ordinary.

The first of which was another camp! Yay camps! This one was with Caminul Felix at Barajul Lesu. I went together with their family and it was a splendid time!

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We had the wonderful experience of enjoying Nature’s bounty by picking wild berries every day...

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Went on nature hikes...

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Saw a local waterfall...

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Had campfires every night where we told stories, sang songs, played games and looked at the extremely large number of visible stars...

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Ate scrumpdiliumpcious food...

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Searched for the local fresh-water lobsters in the streams and swam in the crystal mountain rivers...

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Played games with the kids like soccer, volleyball, Frisbee, lacrosse, Catan, chess, and the list goes on...

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(The fellas actually really liked chess, which, of course, brought great joy to my heart, hahaha. :) )

And enjoyed the full beauty of my wondrous homeland...

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One of the kids had even brought an English assignment that he wanted me to help him with. As a nerd, it touched my heart. As a teacher, it brought me joy. As a mentor, it encouraged me. As a friend, it again touched my heart, because I know why he brought it. It’s in the little things that you sometimes notice a lot. We definitely had a wonderful time together, just being silly and having a lot of fun together, but what I think that I loved the most was the conversations that I was able to have with them, talking about who they are, what is going on in their lives, what happened in their past, and how they see themselves and their future. A lot of these kids don’t really have someone that they open up to, someone who pours into their lives who wants what is best for them. I remember when I first started to open up to people: it was huge. It completely changed the course of my life and brought about several of the most marked changes that have ever happened in my life. To think that I might be able to be that for these kids is just really humbling. It’s kind of interesting and kind of weird at the same time: that with all that I’ve invested, I have no idea what kind or how great of an impact I had on them, and will never know. But hey, that’s relationships. That’s life. And it’s good. But saying goodbye was still really hard.

Here we are all together one last time before I left, right after I gave them their presents.

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Whew. Get emotional thinking about it. Huzzah for picture overload! But hey, this is kind of my last post, so why not!

Then I had to say goodbye to my Tileagd kids, which wasn’t any easier at all. But it was a great last session! We sang tons of songs, English and Romanian, I heard each of them play what they had learned on the mandolin, and then I gave them each their presents: tons of candy and gum and books! In fact, I built them a mini-library! So, I looked around the country for good bilingual story books in English and Romanian(really hard to find and really expensive when you do), to help them learn to read better, even if I’m not there, creating a whole system of leveling up in difficulties, using books with tons of pictures, explanations, especially Disney themed ones or classic stories. Not all the children were at that last session, so I organized a way for each of them to get their candy and gum, even if they weren’t there, but with the books, it was a different story. I wanted all of the children to benefit from these books. They were receiving these as a group. And all of the children were totally fine with that. We set up a system of checking the books out and have all of the books in the classroom where we held our lessons every session. As I mentioned, I bought the books in such a way for them to be stories that interested them, both when it comes to age, but also as a progression, that as they read through them, they steadily gain a better understanding of the English language, so much so as to be able to read even at a more advanced level. I gave them the books, and then we had STORY TIME!!!! I love story time! :) I showed them how they could go and work through these together, and helped them read it out loud in English and Romanian, pointing out important concepts, rules of pronunciation, and so on. It was wonderful. We read a couple of them. Then, of course, we went outside and played some soccer, because not-America. It was a great end to a great time.  After that and some other assorted games, it was done. I said my goodbyes and I straddled off to hitchhike my way back to Oradea. Oh yeah, by the way, did I mention that in Romania, hitchhiking is not only legal, but a large portion of the population’s main method of travel (outside of the ole OnFoote)? Yeah. I did it many times. And I didn’t even need a hitchhiker’s thumb. Skill. It was exciting. In fact, some people give hitchhikers rides as a job. That is the extensiveness of this mode of transportation. It’s great. Hitchhiked off into the sunset. Modern Eastern European Western. Yes. Funness is wonderful. But anyways, pictures!!!

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(Yep, that road is our soccer field! And we are playing in flip-flops, because the intensity of the champion life is even greater that way.)

And then of course, I can’t forget my last visit to the Charis Center, the ole hallowed home base.

I looked over some of our final work there before I left, and as the grapes began to ripen in the vineyard I said goodbye to my peeps from the hood...

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Especially my man Daniel: it was wonderful getting to know him, getting to pour into each other’s lives, working along him, teaching him, and having him teach me. I loved it and I’m going to miss that guy.

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I got my certificate from the bossman...

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Gave back my borrowed, faithful, tough bicycle which I rode to the Charis Center, 24 km every day that I went there...

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I went atop Oradea’s Town Hall to see my city one last time...

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I felt with the crying rock...

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Said my farewells to the old Tricolor, that great 16th century symbol of republicanism, freedom, and revolution...

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The birds were flying overhead as I walked out of the Town Hall...

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I left that world behind and set my course for the New World...

Thank you all so much for reading my blog, and thank you Lumos for believing in this vision and helping to make all of this possible.

What else is there to say? The world. But I think that I included most of the major, pertinent highlights.

I did my best. God does the rest.

It’s really wonderful.

That time is done, and a new time has begun.

And it was a beautiful day...

Grace and peace,

Yours truly,

~David Gal-Chiş

 

A Certain State of Mind

So it’s that time again. I am again pondering my life. Good old melancholic romantic me. Thinking about meaning and life and endings and purpose and impact and legacy and the future and everything. Good stuff. And it’s wonderful because I really need my alone time where I think about life and big things and decisions and perspective, where I really get introspective by myself and examine myself. The past school year was rough going when it came to that, really picking up towards the second semester and the end of the year. Thus this summer was just beautiful, because I was able to have a lot of time to think and be alone and rest. Everything else is usually there anyways, but sometimes I have to put forth a lot of effort for those three things. And now that I finally get the chance to do those things, it is refreshing and relieving beyond what I can describe, and I find myself doing it almost constantly, probably making up for the extreme lack of it that I was previously faced with. You know you are a Romantic personality type when your aunt asks you after an hour or two of conversation and walking through the city if all I think about is life and deep ideas and the future. And in a sense, it’s true.

However, there can be certain pitfalls to this that I have to watch out for. Together with my introspective nature, I also tend to want to know the reason for everything, to know why I believe what I believe, to look for a logical understanding of everything and anything, as well as the answer to the question why. Many times this is a wonderful thing and I think that it is useful for anyone to know these things or at least to desire to. However, it can lead to much doubt, insecurity, and even depression if I can’t remember the reasons why I do things and I have invested a lot to do them anyways. That is because I wish to take the best course of action and to redeem my time, energy, and in the long run, my life, by the grace of God having lived in a way that is as good as can be. It’s so easy though, to think about things and feel insignificant, to think about things and feel small, to think about things and feel as if you aren’t good enough and your work wasn’t good enough, to think about things and not see tangible results and become depressed, to think about things and be discouraged, to think about things and just become broken and paralyzed due to doubt and fear and discouragement and depression and even pride, whatever form of insecurity that may manifest itself through, creating an illusion that is not true and is not reality. And I have had to struggle through all of that. Thank God that He encourages me and comforts me and that my identity is secure in Him, but also that He allows me to see the fruit of my work every now and then, just enough to keep moving forward with all energy and vigor and to show me that this is the good work that I need to be doing right now.

For people that go and do the sort of work that I have been doing this summer, where you go to help, to serve a purpose, working with people and serving them to improve their lives, it’s easy to get down because it’s draining to really invest in people and if you don’t have someone pouring into you, you’ll get burned out. Many people don’t realize that those helping need someone to help them too, but it’s true. Some days the kids like you, some days the kids aren’t very responsive. Some days the kids are nice and friendly to each other, other days they want to fight each other. Some days construction is going well, other days the machinery breaks down or you spend several hours attempting to do something in the best way possible, only to realize that it’s not possible. Some days you can teach more English, some days you have to teach more music or play with them outside. Some days the children are excited and other days the children easily get bored. And it might be due to the weather and how it affects them in no-AC land, or how the weather affects them because they might have to stay inside all day because it’s raining. It might be due to family problems or situations that I am just not aware of, even though I tend to know quite a bit about their lives. It might be because of how much, or rather, how little, they ate last night or that morning. They might have just had a bad day.

When something goes wrong though, it’s so easy to internalize everything, especially if you are trying to be receptive to their input and reactions and trying to understand how to do things in the future. There, of course, are some obvious issues with that. First off, it’s unfair to you. I mean, maybe C and L want to fight because you decided to go and practice numbers before animal words that day or because you decided to play English games with them, but really, probably not. Most likely it’s because their parents were gone on a trip for the past two days and they have had to be cooped up inside because of the rain. If an old machine with a known history of problems breaks down on you, it’s probably not your fault. Matter of fact, it just overheated and it still works as unfaithfully as always. If the kids get bored really quickly and aren’t paying very good attention, it’s probably not because you took breaks or taught useful phrases or learned an English song: it’s probably because it’s really hot outside and they are just drained. If you are hoeing the ground so that a new foundation can be poured and your hoe breaks, it’s probably not because you shouldn’t work so hard: it’s just a very old tool and very tough ground. It may seem silly, but if you don’t ask the right questions at the right time, you can internalize most everything wrong going on around you that you have had any sort of impact on. Then, it keeps you from doing your best work, being yourself, and really giving all of yourself because you are tied up in fears and worries and depression and stress and feelings of unworthiness and doubt and second-guessing games and so on. It’s just really a bad state of mind and it seems reasonable until you ask the right questions, because sometimes, there is a grain of truth in there and there is something that might be improved. However, it is really handling it badly to go down those roads. Emotions are not bad, but how they are handled definitely can be. And that’s a struggle too. Sometimes there is the temptation not to feel anything, especially as a guy, because guys are supposed to be “tough” and “strong” which somewhere along the line became “numb” and “unfeeling.” But love is full of feeling, and if I am to love these kids and the people around me and if I am to form relationships with them that are healthy and beneficial to both parties, then I can’t cut off all emotional connections and pretend that I don’t feel as a defense mechanism. It’s counter-productive. The solution is just a matter of facing the problems and properly dealing with them as they come. And the danger of not doing so is rather large. This goes beyond just personal ruminations and not getting into funks, this plays into every conversation I have, every time I get before the kids and teach, my attitude towards everything, and the impact of the work being done.

However, I’m in a good state of mind. Yay! :) I had some low moments when I was working through everything, but now, I am able to see some of the fruit of my work, and looking back, I know that it was all worth it and that it all made a difference, which is really where one should be at the end of a trip like this. I have about a week and a half remaining in Romania during which time I’ll be at a camp with the Caminul Felix kids for about a week and saying my goodbyes to the Tileagd kids and my people at Charis for the rest of it. Then I am on the road again, on my way back to sweet Tennessee! I fly out the morning of August 13 from Budapest, Hungary. I hit up Dusseldorf and NJ on my way back. And it’s an interesting feeling. I’m not sad to go because I know that my work here will be done and I have done the best that I could. Sure, I’ll miss seeing the people that I met, though we’ll be keeping in touch, and I’ll miss all my family from Romania, but I have no regrets and no reason to be down. It has been a wonderful experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life and I have been honored with the opportunity to do some good. No reason to feel down there. I enjoyed every moment of it, and looking even at the harder moments, I can say that it was good. Pretty spectacular actually and more than worth all of the trouble.

But of course, there are always the good times, which shouldn’t be forgotten and obviously should be photographed and posted on Lumos blogs such as this one. :) So, time to catch the world up on the local goings-on. Be prepared for lots of pictures. :) One day, we went with the Caminul Felix kids and did some simple farming outside the city. We shelled peas, picked some weird sour cherries that are really popular here in Romania, neatened up one of the gardens, and played English games on the car ride to and fro. Fun it was.

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I also helped out at another Charis camp, and this time, underprivileged kids from Tileagd made it too! (Ahem, my kids. *wink, wink*) Also a wonderful time! Lots of games, lessons, songs (where I was “forced” to play the piano), the grand outdoors, and FOOD. Truly lovely.

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And...another camp working with kids! So many camps! Whew! Love it. Makes me feel young again. Good stuff. Well, what can I say, another splendid camp with splendid kids who really needed the love. The activities were similar to those in the camps I had been a leader in thus far. I was hooked up with this camp through Caminul Felix. It took place in Valea Draganului, which really, is where every camp that ever happens in the whole world should take place. It was gorgeous. Yes, I cried. Beautiful views...

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Beautiful trails...

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Beautiful overlooks...

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Free food that literally tastes like candy...

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Epic campfires, complete with camp songs and guitar accompaniment (yay!)...

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And of course, lot of wonderful adorable children!! (Because what’s a camp without them?)

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Hitting up the construction zone again: and it hits back. 8| Buyah. Anyways, just some classic stuff: cutting some grass the old-fashioned way (yes, it’s a scythe [a.k.a –reaper], hehehe), because the little electric mower is not doing too swell and can’t reach anyways, and I need to get at where the mounds of dirt are so I can level them out for the neighbors who’ll use their big douimahicki to cut the large areas of grass for the camp coming along. That was also the day I overheated the little electric mover. It was a great day. You just feel like a new man once you cut some grass with a scythe and walk around with that thing. It’s a sunny day and you look like the personification of death. And you are wearing an Alaska cap. It’s just fantastic. Try it sometime.

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Digging, cutting, chugging. Oh, and the foundation was poured for the outside edges of the covered structure where I broke my hoe trying to break ground. Also, we’ve been working on a new bathroom for the kids when they are outside, and things are starting to shape up.

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And that’s some of the stuff that is going on with me. Another week or so, saying my goodbyes, and the passing of a season. It’s all very symbolic. :) I love this sort of stuff because I’m a literary geek. You might have guessed that already. Anyways, I’m still working hard, facing issues as they come, and loving people. And that’s something that will go on even after the trip. And I think that that is what this trip is all about: what remains. Some things you experience and then you pass by. Other things you experience purify and remove. But great things remain with you: that’s what ends up defining who you are and who you will become. And isn’t that what counts in the end anyways?

Grace and peace! :)

~David Gal-Chiş

A New Perspective on Giving

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This is kind of a rare thing for me, for me to start off with a picture. But I really felt that it was necessary. When I see this picture and these kids, I just kind of die on the inside and cry tears of joy on the outside. It’s a weird feeling, but then again, I’m somewhat new to realizing that it’s ok for a guy to have feelings, so, you know, it’s fine, whatever. If you’ve been keeping up, these are my Tileagd kids again. Great bunch. A little rowdy this last session, but that’s how kids get when they are cooped up inside due to the CANICULA!!! Oh, the horror!!  So the Romanian language has a word for a day of extreme heat, meant to convey feelings of fear, worry, and despair. Note the resemblance to Caligula and Dracula. Definitely on purpose. But I laugh in the face of danger, and the kids and I went for a walk to the nearby creek. We played Telephone with English words and expressions, Hide and Go Seek, and a game that’s called “Ţară, ţară, vrem ostaşi” which translated means “Country, Country, We Want Soldiers” which is pretty much another fun game to wear kids out. Whew! Then we walked back singing some classic Romanian children’s songs and English nursery rhymes. The neighbors gave us some funny looks, but it seemed like they enjoyed it. :) Then we went back to work with the kids! Some more music, some more English, when they get bored of one, switch to the other. Works every time. We started the lessons much earlier though, at least two hours before the games, in which time we did English and music. However this was a special day. My day had started much earlier. This day was special because of more than just the time I was able to spend with the kids. That morning, I had gone shopping together with Shonye, a Romi man that had volunteered many times to help Charis and was my connection to Tileagd, as well as the man who organized all of the children to come whenever we had sessions. After some classic, hardcore price-hunting, we filled the trunk and the backseat with food. Why? This is an interesting time of year for the poor. It’s after the sowing and before the reaping. And the weather tends to the extreme, which is hard for the non-airconditioned world. In America, we give an alert and say to stay inside. In non-America poor-people-land, they respond that inside is outside when you have curtains for doors and leave the windows open that at least the air might circulate.

But we weren’t just giving to any Romi poor. We were giving to the working poor who were in sincere need. Those with a new perspective on life. Classic Romi colony lifestyle? If (big if) the dad works, then usually as soon he gets his hands on some cash, he drinks it all, gambles it away, and then comes home to a hungry family drunk and well...anyways. If the dad doesn’t work, then the methods vary but the results are the same. I won’t bother to show you the condition of their houses/huts/shanties. There are some families where this doesn’t happen, where the dads have changed their lifestyle and as a result, everything else changes as well. This usually happens because of a change of medium due to converting to some evangelical form of Christianity, but I say this because so far, I have seen a grand total of zero cases of this happening any other way, that is, short of the younger generation leaving and the family tree being changed that way. But never a change in the parents. Which is interesting because it really has brought to life the truth that if someone really wants to do some good, then when someone gives, when someone helps, they need to do so in a holistic way, considering the whole person and the whole situation. My old Bosnian buddy Sanjin always used say to me, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for life.” And that’s so true. If someone is to give tangible help, that will only be useful and beneficial in certain situations. The intangible, however, is what is most important. And just like anyone who knows anything about rehab, overcoming addiction, ghetto culture, and so on knows, one of the most important factors for long-term change is a change in the medium. That’s why at a graduation of TSU’s that I attended, a state-funded public university, they sang black people gospel church music. That’s why the city of Oradea has a part of the budget apportioned specifically to the furthering of religion and religious activities. Because these people are in those situations and know what life is like, and know how that change in the medium can help people with self-destructive lifestyles and unhealthy mediums come out of those situations because they have seen it first-hand. Like I have now.

It’s so interesting: my perspective on giving has developed so much. Now I know what situations the beggars in Romania come from. I know what every action of mine towards them will further or affect. I know their lifestyle because I have worked among them and have seen the truth of their situation. I have seen the half-blind or handicapped children (oftentimes intentionally maimed) begging as well as the healthy mother with five kids as well as the man whose condition is as dilapidated as his life. I have seen people selling flowers only to steal something off the table when people aren’t looking. And now I know the truth of the situations that I have seen. As Solomon says, “For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Now I know where giving is helpful to the person and where it is detrimental by furthering an unhealthy lifestyle. Now I can discern just by the style of dress of the beggar and the way that they speak and what they ask for and the way that they ask it and what they answer to my occasional questions what I should do in the situation, because now I’ve seen both sides, or all of the several sides of the issue, and my love has been tempered by truth and my truth by love.

I was eating in the center with some Romanian acquaintances from Oradea one day together with some members of my family from the area and a beggar came to our table. Being the oldest guy, as my uncle had not yet arrived, I had to decide how to deal with the situation. I surely would not have let the ladies give if anyone was to, but if I didn’t give him money or if I decided to give something else, everyone would have followed my lead, because I culturally had the most authority to speak for us if I chose to speak. So, as our food had not come yet and I now have an extremely strict policy that I don’t give money to beggars (especially for people like the beggar that came), when he came by everyone fell silent and I very firmly told him that I don’t give money to beggars. Once, twice, thrice, four times, and he finally left. The Romanians remained silent about it because they understood better how things worked, but a Romanian-American girl there expressed how she wouldn’t have been able to do that. That’s one side of the coin: flatly, coldly refusing because you understand that your money will only hurt them. However, that too is balanced by the other side of the coin, which is what happened on the day of my most recent session in Tileagd. We bought basic staple foods and ingredients for families with a new perspective on life who had already begun to live a new lifestyle. Those where the fathers no longer drank or did drugs, where the fathers worked, where the fathers no longer beat their families, but fed their families and tried to give themselves and their families a better life. Those where the families tried as hard as they could, but things were still difficult, because as reformed Romi, most of them have no education, and the GED-like programs that used to be offered for them are no longer available, so they work on a day-job basis, day-jobs, especially for those without a diploma in a trade, which are oftentimes seasonal in nature, with summers and winters being harder seasons, due the scarcity of nonagrarian day-jobs near where they live. Construction? Who has money to build? You’re in the country. Who needs to build? Mothers working? Who is going to take care of the kids? Daycare is nonexistent in the areas where they live and they couldn’t afford it anyways. Grandparents take care of the kids? Most of the families live in third-world conditions: if the grandparents make it, yes, that is a very happy condition. Drive somewhere else? Who has the money for a car? For gas? And if so, considering the pay-check, is it even worth it?  And a bike? For many of these people, a bike costs about two-month’s salary. For the ones who need it, well...I think you get the picture. So, we helped those who helped themselves as best they could, but still didn’t have enough to not go hungry. And it was special indeed.

Maybe from the pictures you won’t be able to tell their joy and gratitude, but if you knew them and were there and understood Romanian culture, you would have easily been able to tell what was going on inside. Notice that none of the dads are there. Yep, you guessed it: working. Also, take note that the people in all of these pictures are wearing some of their best clothes. Also note: culturally, in Romania, people oftentimes don’t smile a whole lot in pictures, especially official pictures, and you sometimes have to catch them off-guard to do so because of a word-play on the word serious. Being serious is generally considered to be a good thing, but being un-serious is bad because the connotations of the word are very negative, oftentimes used as an insult, to describe someone who cheated you or wronged you and so on. And of course, the aversion to being un-serious is so great, that people tend towards the opposite. It is an interesting example of how language affects a culture. In fact, when I went to go and make my Romanian passport, the people told me not to smile in the picture. Why? Because I didn’t want to appear to be “un-serious.” I think it’s pretty hilarious. But anyways, I thought that I should mention that so that you all can better understand the pictures. So, I decided to add more pictures this time around because people have been asking for more pictures. So, here you go! This first picture is of when we laid all of the food out to get it ready to be packed, in the house of the person who was driving me around to give all of the food out.

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This girl’s mother died, and she sleeps on this bed. Imagine how those cracks keep in the heat during the winter, heat out during the summer, and what effect the curtain over the door has. Yes, the floor is dirt.

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Typical Romanians drying their clothes outside. In this house, there are actually five families who live there. But what I love about this picture, that I think shows the true state of things, is the two little boys here. To each child, I gave a lollipop and two Romanian biscuit dessert things that have chocolate or cream inside of them, some of the least expensive ones too, and they are both running to show their mom. Running. Because they got some cheap biscuit cream dessert thing. I just don’t think people reading this realize how rare stuff like this is for them. I have been bringing the Tileagd kids candy, and I asked them when the last time they ate a piece of candy was, and they said that they couldn’t remember. These are the families with a new perspective, keep in mind, which are doing way, way better than most Romi families, that “way better” being oftentimes still going hungry. I definitely teared up at this picture, especially since I know the children.

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Several families also live in this “house.” Many times the families are separated by only a wall or a curtain.

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Haha. Kid don’t even care about the picture. LOLLIPOP.

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Shirtless, shoeless, pretty typical of these people. Note that for several of these families I didn’t take pictures inside because I didn’t want to shame the families. Imagine that most of the families have rugs on the walls due to a lack of insulation in their houses or simply due to the state of the walls/planks.

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We saw the needs, and addressed them appropriately. And I too was blessed by it.

So, shopping, teaching, giving. It was a great day. :) Just another day in my Lumos project. Also, in case anyone was wondering, I am doing fantastically splendiforous! Just continuing to have a wonderful time here with the kids, helping out with Charis, going into the community and so on. It’s pretty great. :) I’m thoroughly enjoying it and learning a lot from it. But yeah! Life! :) Life with a new perspective. Sobering, but cool. And good. Very good indeed.

~David Gal-Chis

People Warm Up Eventually

The heat. The sweltering heat. It’s everywhere. You can’t escape it. You can’t abate it. You can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist. Combined with the epidemic lack of AC in this country, you have a bit of a problem on your hands. Especially now that the grand days of summer have finally arrived in Romania. It’s morning: it’s hot. It’s night: it’s hot. It’s midday, and you realize that you grew up for most of your youth in a place where you never were able to fully understand what it means to really sweat. It’s unlike anything that I’ve ever known. Summer has different definitions in different parts of the world. It’s a completely different way of life. If your brain doesn’t overheat immediately and your body gets accustomed to temperature, you’ll probably live, but it’ll be a different kind of pleasant than you might be used to. The people here have windows and doors that open two ways by design: one for people and the other for the air to circulate. There are even different positions for the knobs: it’s great. But it’s a beautiful land. I still can’t get over how beautiful Romania is. It just requires the inhabitants to be drenched several times a day, whether by nature or by design. It’s a wonderful thing. I actually have grown to enjoy it. Sometimes it’s unbearable, but if it’s always hot, you get over yourself eventually. It’s a good feeling.

However, what is heat? What people call heat is the jiggling of tiny particles. The more they are moving, the “hotter” something is considered to be. The less they are moving, the “colder” something is considered to be. And what needs to happen for this heat to move from one object to another? Contact, a connection. So what happens when a hot object and a cold object come into contact with each other? The hot object cools off and the cold object warms up until they both reach the same temperature. (I actually used to be the mascot for my middle school at certain events. The rule of thumb was that you have to be at least two times as excited as you want the audience to be. The same rule applies here, because that’s just how energy transfer works.) But if the hot object and the cold object reach the same temperature, then the cold object will not experience another raise in temperature until the other object touching it becomes warm again, at a temperature greater than that of the previously cold object. However, for the temperature change to continue to occur in the cold object, there must be some outside force that continues to heat up the hot object, without which the hot object would soon become useless towards any further temperature change.

Some of you may think that I am weird for making a science metaphor, or a nerd, or just plain goofy, and you may be right on all counts, but I’m ok with that, because this metaphor is literally my life here in Romania and one of the huge things that I am getting to experience. And not just as a description of the lovely weather, though it surely provides an attractive insight into it for those scientifically minded. No, this is one of the great truths that I need to keep in mind to be able to stay in a place where I can continue to pour out into the children, to pour out love, and patience, and forgiveness, and mercy, and kindness, and goodness, and encouragement, and joy, and balance, and wisdom, and helpfulness, and responsibility, and the desire to learn, and the desire to not waste their lives, and respect, and thoughtfulness, and everything else that I can in efforts to help them grow and mature into learned whole mature well-rounded people. I can’t pretend to fill the roles in these people’s lives that they lack, but I can help them, as best I can, continue to grow and develop in spite of the difficulties and struggles that they have experienced in life. Sometimes that means creating a new role in these people’s lives that can help them in a way that none of the others have so far. Sometimes that means working to help the people gain a healthy perspective on life. But the point is having someone that is pouring out into them. However, one of the most important things, which is necessary for this to occur but often forgotten, is that the hot object continue to get heated. In this scenario everyone that does work of a similar nature to mine represents the heated object and the people that we are working with are the cold object. I have made the connection, and now I must give, but also receive. To continue to heat up the cold object, the other object must have a source of energy. I find that in Jesus. Everything that I am comes from that. All of those good characteristics that I am trying to pour out into these kids come from that and that serves as my constant source of love, joy, peace, etc. It’s really great too, because it’s always constant and always refreshing and always invigorating so through that the work that I do is able to be the best that it can be. And I so love the way that the children have responded to the way that I treat them, and relate to them, and express how I love them.

With the Romi (gypsy) children in Tileagd that I am working with, that is made especially clear. Many of them come from environments where love is not really present and there aren’t really a lot of people which make time for them, which care about them, which pour out into them. Oftentimes that is very evident. However, the respect with which they treat me is something that totally caught me off guard. I mean, I knew about the general respect with which students culturally show teachers in Romania, with the usual title Domn Profesor translating to Lord Professor or Sir Professor or Mister Professor, but this was definitely more than that. Sure, they called me the usual titles of respect, which I didn’t really expect, but as early as the first few meetings, I noticed that these kids were oftentimes wearing their best clothes to these meetings, and I knew what their best clothes were, because I saw what the people in the community looked like. But even beyond that, pretty soon, I very rarely had to even say much to keep order in the classroom. The kids kept each other in order and tried to keep each other paying attention and making sure that they weren’t being disrespectful. Some of the children that I am working with that come from way better environments come nowhere near that level of respect. The closest thing that I have ever seen to the way that these children have reacted to me is how, in the movies, children from the ghetto respond to that one teacher that really cares about them and invests in them and changes their life, you’ve seen those, right? But with these kids, it’s even more than that, because not only am I not paid for this, and they have never had anyone take the time to invest in them like this, but I’m also trying to be their friend, to form that weird balance between peer and friend and teacher and help them as best I can. But it’s just so humbling to think that I might be that person in their lives that impacts them in that way. Whew. It’s a little bit overwhelming. And I’m just so thankful for all of it, from this opportunity, to these people, to Charis, of course to Lumos, and just all of it. I’m constantly astounded by it all. My capacity to wonder has definitely grown on this trip. The threshold has gone down, but the capacity has gone up, which I think is the way that it should be.

But yeah, WHOOHOO, awesome kids! Loving my time in Tileagd! We are learning English both indoors and out. Every time I go, we have English lessons inside, teaching them vocabulary, grammar rules, common phrases, and such, then we have music lessons, beginning with teaching them classic simple Romanian songs. Soon, we are going to learn the English versions of them and hopefully soon we will get to songs that are purely in English. It’s really interesting though, because there is such a wide range of ages, so I have to really individualize every child’s education, while trying to keep everyone involved. So, sometimes, the older children are reviewing some English that they have learned in the past, and sometimes they are learning the basic grammar concepts and phrases that they never knew before. It’s also always fun, because you can’t just do boring simple words with the little kids. The boys want to know how to say leopard and tiger and the girls want to know how to say flower and butterfly and lipstick. Sometimes useful, sometimes fun, but you have to combine both to keep the kids interested and involved. But yes! It’s a great time, and then after the music lessons, we oftentimes go outside and I have the children tell me to teach them how to say everything that they want to say. Why? Because those English words that they see or think of when outside are probably the ones that they will tend to use the most. Of course, there is always the one kid who asks how to say universe or math, so the children get a good range of words in. But it’s also a good method because the kids not only get time to remember the word while in the environment, thus sealing the memory better, but they also get to learn the words that they are interested in saying, that they do and will say, thus they learn way more words that end up being used more and thus remembered even better. Also, we do a lot of review together, because repetition is key to remembering the words: whether that be through use, reminding, or making connections because of the environment. But it’s a great time, and I really love my time with them! In fact, I can hardly wait to get back! :)

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Until the next fantastic time!! :)

~David Gal-Chis

The Meaningless is Meaningful

Looking at what I’ve written so far, I’ve realized that, while I have covered big life concepts while talking about everything, I haven’t covered very well how I am doing and what I am learning throughout all of this. That is, I have written a lot about the work that I am doing, but I haven’t yet been able to cover very well how I am maturing as a person. Thus, if this is to be a true travel blog, I must also cover how I am growing! In short, like a sprout. In long, like the way that I like to write. I say we take the long route, because it’s more fun.

Before really starting, I think it is important to reiterate that the amount that I have learned and grown already, if it were to all be written down, would probably fill a big book with big pages, tiny margins, and even tinnier font. Actually, it would probably fill a 32 volume encyclopedia, especially the way that I write. Sadly, I’m pretty much the only person I know who reads encyclopedias for fun. I mean, I’m OK with that: that just means that there are more weird people out there that I haven’t met yet, which brings an anticipation and excitement to life that paints it in color. In color, like every single building in Europe. In fact, I have seen more clash here than in a medieval war zone and a jousting match combined. Color mania. I see now why Europeans stereotypically wear loud colors: that’s what they know. Those are the colors which painted their childhood and later their adult world. But style as well though. More people dress like hipsters here than at Belmont, which I thought was pretty impressive. I walked into the mall, and the merchandise was all on the Bruin Incoming Freshman Checklist of things to wear. The style was duly noted and appreciated. Speaking of style however, let’s check out the buildings though. The architecture speaks to me, especially after studying many of its themes with the illustrious Dr. Byrne at Belmont. I have formed so many opinions on it and seen so many beautiful and unique structures that I’m not even going to try to cover it. But there is something very interesting which can be seen in a lot of the buildings right now: they are literally falling apart. In Romania, the most popular building style is plastering. For those of who are lost, think the texture, feel, and look of the White House. It’s probably different from your house because Americans aren’t about that life. Well, in Romania, most everything is plastered up. Only the really modern buildings usually are not. That helps to give it it’s old, European feel, but it also means that after a certain period of time, the walls start chunking off if not well preserved, leading to warning signs and nets on some of the buildings. „Watch out for falling pieces of WALL!” Really puts a spring in your step and the fear of God in your heart when you walk in front of a church like that. But it’s not just some of the churches: it’s a large percentage of the buildings. That was one of the things that surprised me the most when coming here. I knew the food, the language, the culture to a large extent, the way that people are here, most of the rules, social and otherwise, and so on and so forth, but when coming from the well-manicured, glassy glory of modern American architecture to the depth and weight and history of classical European structures, I was surprised that so many of the buildings, even in the middle of the city, were not well preserved and thus things looked old and torn down sometimes. The problem comes from the fact that the Romania is still recovering from communism. Believe it or not, communism is an architectural style here, and outside of the Romanian Parliament building in Bucuresti, it pretty much is strongly disliked by all. “That building looks really communist” is actually considered to be a technical term by many. There is a certain heavy style to it that your eyes can pick out after a period of time. Something else I’ve picked out though, is the mentality of many people here during this recovery period. Things aren’t going super-great. People have to cut a budget. Where do they cut it? Not the electric bill or water bill: maintenance. And thus we have not-America.

Welcome to the rest of the world. I have realized since coming to Romania that I have had a lot of preconceived notions about life in general. There were just so many things that I took for granted growing up in America. I can’t begin to count the things that are different simply because it’s not America. If you look at an upcoming sentence ask why, the answer is “It’s not America.” I had to pay a tax to go to the bathroom and pay extra if I wanted toilet paper. If it’s not curvy, it’s not a road. Built like a Jeep matters in Romania. People are good drivers here, probably because they are required to pay attention here. People don’t nod or say hi to each other as they walk past each other, maybe just because it isn’t the American South. Everyone walks, bikes, or uses public transportation. There is doing something in real-time and then there is doing it in Romanian time. And Romanian time includes calling four friends about it, making seven connections, not planning anything, asking people for directions along the way, stopping to see family along the way, making sandwiches for the road, buying water because oftentimes the AC depends upon your ability to roll down the window and water fountains are not necessary in public spaces, packing vegetables, bringing a present when you go, and being chill about your community-centered way of life and the adventure which is every day. Roads, buildings, stores, and pretty much anything doesn’t need a big and loud label and sign. The roads aren’t necessarily planned before or together with the buildings, even on new constructions. If you want to live somewhere that has a paved, drivably wide road to it, you have to pay extra. Water fountains should be modeled after Old Faithful. The metric system (expected that one). Government and religion together are not taboo (Oradea has a part of the taxes paid budgeted to go to the furthering of religion and religious activities). There doesn’t have to be a toilet, for the toilet to be a toilet (some of you will understand what I mean). When there is a toilet, it can be as small as economy permits. Girls and guys don’t have to wash their hands in separate areas. Sparkling water should cost as much as normal water, and if you ask for water, you need to specify if you desire non-sparkling water. Things written in English don’t have to be written correctly grammatically. Romanian subtitles. No need for a dryer if you have a balcony. You don’t buy phones on phone plans, because phone plans are rare, because people use SIM cards to keep track of their minutes and they are charged based on the minutes used. So, put away your iPhone because you might be either foreign or rich or way too concerned about your image if you have one, because buying an iPhone outright is more expensive than you would think. People can usually tell when someone is foreign. You might have to pay someone a bit extra to do something right. Large percentages of people buy food at public markets. You know everyone at the market on a first-name basis. The sidewalk was meant to serve as the parking lot, actually. There might be a roundabout instead of a spotlight because it is better for European traffic. 4-way stops are no fun: pick another number if possible. If you can’t walk, you take public transportation. If you can’t take public transportation, you’ll bike or phone the family. If the family can’t take you, you phone a friend. If your friends can’t take you, you’ll call to see if anyone you know knows anyone they know that is going there during a certain time period. If that doesn’t work out, you probably won’t go. You might take the train instead of driving from one city to the next. There are anti-begging signs put up by the city. Every city probably has a statue in honor of Romulus and Remus. You might be up-to-date with the current politics of the area by the time you arrive where you are staying, coming from the airport. State-funded, under-funded orphanages. Your country still has a living king who has a heir and the country is yet seriously considering becoming a monarchy and not staying a democratic state. You might not have ever heard of 73% of the car companies whose products just drove past you. If McDonalds has a classic Romanian food Mcified on their menu... If you pay 25 cents for a desert two times bigger and ten times better than what you might find at Panera... If people have never before heard anything negative said about Obama, but can quote great American scandals off the top of their head... If people know the exchange rate for five different currencies off the top of their head... If you find out that people got the history wrong for the Bran (Dracula’s) Castle because historians think that Vlad (Dracula) Tepes probably didn’t even live there and definitely didn’t have any significant impact on the history of the fortress... If people make jokes about Americans only knowing one language... I mean, I’m 100% sure that no one reading this that has only lived in America all of their life can even being to imagine what life is like in not-America. It’s-not-America is a reason for things when you are not in America.

Turns out, America is not the norm in this world. It comes as a shock to some, and although it wasn’t a shock to me, because I expected it, I’ve pretty much rethought my whole life through the lens of not-America and I’ve grown a lot because of that. I have listed what may seem like a lot of superficial things there, but because I’m the kind of person who never goes out of deep thought/analysis mode, I can say that the way that I see the world has truly been changed and that I have seen the reality behind what I before took on belief. More than that, I have had to live the reality behind my belief and prove it every day. I used to believe that the meaningless is meaningful when it comes to relationships. Now, I’ve seen it, that the little things, maybe even the irrelevant things, make the biggest difference to people. Spending time with them, having fun with them, joking around, just doing life with someone is huge. I’ve seen it with children; I’ve seen it with adults. I used to believe that working hard and doing your best, especially having a good attitude about it, results in people respecting you and liking you, but I’ve never seen that before like I did doing manual labor here in Romania with the fellas. I worked with one guy one day, and he wasn’t even necessarily that open of a guy, but by the end of the day, we were buds, just doing construction work together. I used to believe that people who were in need were thankful when they received help. Now I’ve seen it like never before. I used to believe that systematic racism could be overcome. I never had that problem in America. But now, I’ve seen it happen. I used to believe that most of the problems that children have are directly associated with their desire to be loved. I’ve never seen it before like I have now. I used to believe that the material wasn’t necessary for happiness. Easy to say when your entire country is among the richest ten percent of the world’s population. Now, I’ve seen that first hand, now I’ve lived that. I used to think that family was more important than anything else in this world. Now, being with them all, I’ve seen that in a way that I never have before. I used to believe that hearing people out was 100% more important than speaking, but after some of the things that I have heard just listening here in Romania, I now have felt the truth in that. I used to think that being the servant, you would become the leader. I have never seen that like I have serving people here in Romania; the way that people respond and the respect given is shocking. I used to believe that people are the same everywhere. Now I know. I used to believe that children are the same everywhere and in every situation in life. Now I know. I used to believe that not feeling like my opinion was needed was good. Then, I talk to old people and realize they have their needs and desires too, I see myself in their place, I realize what old people are like, I realize more fully what old age is like, and I grow to have compassion and love towards them to an extent that I never have before, and now I know. I used to believe that being vulnerable first in relationships was hugely important. Now I know. I used to believe that respecting the culture was huge. Now I know. I used to believe that I could learn a lot from children. Now I know.

So many beliefs and so much faith have been required, but now my faith has become sight, proved in my very experience, which is a beautiful thing. I have a worldview and an understanding of the world based on all of this, but I was wearing third-culture-kid glasses, and Romanian glasses have proved simply to throw a different tone upon everything, increasing the color and definition in which I see that worldview. It’s like zooming in on the details and learning to appreciate every one of them after taking a broad view and understanding the detail’s place within the greater structure. There is an increased depth and I am truly getting to understand what I believe, who I am, and what the world is like much, much more. Maybe my observations have seemed chaotic and maybe my choices of the numerous beliefs which I have seen shown in reality have seemed at random, but each one of them represents a story that impacted my life, that helped me to understand myself and the world around me better. I’m simply choosing to point out a few large strokes and overarching themes that play a important role in the masterpiece being painted on my heart. The purpose of all of this may not be immediately evident, but it is just so that you can see me as I am, with small numbers of large paragraphs, seemingly random observations, and threads of deep thought woven into it. There are some experiences that are not very easily packaged, categorized, and organized and my trip is one of those. What may seem meaningless if viewed from the detail perspective becomes incredibly meaningful when viewed from afar.

Such as the camp that the Charis Center hosted for the orphans at Caminul Felix on Saturday. I worked for a good part of the week on the most central structure of the whole camp, whether as a blacksmith, a painter, or just a regular construction worker, which was the open-air roofed structure that you’ll see in the pictures. Doing construction work is not extremely glorious and may not seem like it is huge. Holding a camp for children may not seem like a big deal or like it would have a big impact on the children. Some might be tempted to wonder what the point is, but I guarantee if you ask those orphan children what the highlight of their summer was, they’ll excitedly overwhelm you in their cute Romanian telling you about this camp. An adult might view this part of my project and wonder what the point of the camp is if the kids aren’t learning more English or „doing something useful” whereas a child would view this as the best thing ever. I get the best job ever: doing both, because of the beautiful balance which causes the meaningless to become meaningful. It was so amazing though, getting to see my work with the children at Caminul Felix come together with my work at the Center in a way that further both of their missions, and consequently, mine as well. That’s what my project is all about: helping the whole person, not just the brain or just the heart, because last time I checked, you need both of them. That’s how I’m learning to see: with both my head and my heart, and it just floors me. Talk about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. So, you people love pictures right? PICTURES!!!!!!!!!

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Until next time! :)

~David Gal-Chis

The Common is Extraordinary

Spider webs. Yep. Spider webs. Why spider webs? Because spider webs are pretty much awesome. The thought that something as simple and common and ordinary as a spider web could actually be really impressive probably wouldn’t strike someone who didn’t know much about the subject unless they were accustomed to looking upon life in wonder, but it’s true. And I just happen to think that it is really cool, so you’re pretty much about to hear why Marvel decided to make Spiderman a thing. First off, the tensile strength (amount of stress the object can take before breaking) of the dragline(main-line) silk of a spider web is comparable to high-grade alloy steel and is about half as strong as Kevlar, which you’ve probably heard of because of its use in body armor. Also, due to its very low density, a given weight of spider silk is about five times as strong as the same weight of steel. These silks are also extremely ductile, with some able to stretch up to five times their relaxed length without breaking and the combination of such strength and ductility gives it a toughness which equals that of commercial polyaramid filaments, a.k.a. the benchmarks of modern polymer fiber technology. All brought to you by the itsy bitsy spider which crawled up the water spout.

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What’s really funny to me about all of this is that I was never one of those boys who was all about things that are stereotypically considered gross, disgusting, and creepy. I just didn’t really see the appeal or the point, so I left well enough alone. However, there is something worth noting here: maybe it might not seem like a big deal, maybe it might not seem noteworthy or impactful, and in fact may appear very ordinary and simple, but when you take a closer look, when you understand on a deeper level what is going on and why, a change in perspective takes place, and what once might have seemed common becomes extraordinary.

Matter of fact, that is pretty much the story of my life. If you had seen me as a child, you would have thought that I was just some poor Romanian boy with not much hope of a future. However, people invested in me along the way; people were willing to take a closer look at who I was and see in someone common something extraordinary. That’s pretty much why I am here and why I do what I do. This same vision is the foundation of Charis, which is why, today, I feel like you need to hear a little bit more about the people working backstage. So, as you well know, Charis has been around for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t always in the form that you see it today. In its beginnings, it was a farm. Mr. Dani Ciupe and a partner who passed soon after the completion of the project together started this as an orphanage. It was funded by a larger organization for a few years and then was able to stand on its feet and went forward from there. The project, in its original form, took in orphan boys that were thrown under the bus by the system in Romania and tried to raise them in a family structure, with the Ciupe family adopting the boys as a part of their family and raising them as such. Besides the immense benefits of such an environment for a growing child, they were also taught many useful skills growing up on a farm and being put in charge of many tasks around. These ranged from farming, to building, to trade, to cooking, to maintenance, and so on and so forth. All of that, together with the rest of those skills which would be learned just by being part of a family was huge for them, giving them a chance at life where they had none. The Charis Foundation had a farm of several acres, with a large assortment of plants and spices, with many animals (at one time even 250 pigs), and took in about 25 orphans at a time.

That was when crisis hit, and as a spider web stretches and yet holds when the winds change and blow upon its thin but sturdy strands, and as a spider web curves to take a different shape in a different direction, so Charis took a different course. A law was passed in Romania that changed the rules for the adoption and care of orphans. These rules were so prohibitive and costly that the Foundation simply couldn’t afford any longer to take care of the orphans without going deeply into debt and closing their doors. Thus, to finish well what they started, they took the newly imposed costs and raised the children until they all finished the program, but then officially declared that part of the program defunct. Yet that wasn’t the whole of the problem. Romania gained its independence in 1989. Charis began in 1991. However, soon after Charis’s formation and solidification, a new crisis hit Romanian farmers: the supermarket. Not that that would necessarily be a problem in and of itself, especially considering that the supermarkets oftentimes buy local produce, but there is also a sort of mafia involved in these sorts of these things in many places in the world, and it just so happens that the Charis Foundation’s small farm wasn’t in on it. There was no way that they could compete with industrialized farming and the system, so long story short, they also partially shut down the farm, keeping only those parts of the farm that were self-sustaining, or that incurred very small costs. So, their initial plan had taken some hard hits, but they didn’t give up and had also made some very important connections on their way.

Thus, they modified their vision to turn the farm into a recreational center, camp site, wedding spot, and classroom. The granary and storage room was remodeled and converted into rooms for camp-goers and a kitchen. Part of the land was turned into a volleyball and basketball court and a children’s play area. What was previously a greenhouse is being converted into an indoor multi-purpose room and another greenhouse was cut in half and is being turned into a covered parking lot. Part of the indoor space was also used for different adult classes over a period of time and used as a cafeteria. An ingenious idea was using the rustic appeal of the area and the property for weddings and having all of the costs which were paid to the Charis Foundation go to support the different projects that the Foundation now is involved in, which can be found in more detail on their website. These projects are all results of the many connections that they made both in their farm days, but also since, as they morphed into a response team for whatever problems may arise in the community and thus became my connection makers while here in Oradea. I tell you all of this background so that when I tell you in the future of all of the work that I do at the center, whether that be construction, maintenance, or camps and events, you may understand the important role that all of that plays and its place within the bigger picture.

Thus far while at the Center, the team has taken care of certain things already. 1) Plastering. It just so happens that everything on the great continent of Europe is plastered, because that is what you do. Due to the fact that the Charis Center is also on the great continent of Europe, it is plastered. However, it was plastered 20+ years ago, so the plaster wasn’t holding up very well. Thus, we replastered the entire house.

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2) Painting + Derusting. Outside of the necessary repaint of the entire house once everything was replastered, we also painted the structure of the greenhouse turned indoor multipurpose area, the structure of the parking lot, and the structure which holds up the grapevines. However, when I say that I painted all of that, it wasn’t just painting for the sake of things looking pretty: it was also a sort of maintenance. Due to the dependence of the Foundation on volunteers and the lack of volunteerism up until about two years ago when a law passed declaring volunteerism legal and recognizable in any and every setting, this is all very much needed because many things have been put on the backburner for a long time because of the lack of volunteers to take care of everything. Thus, the paint that I am using a lot of times is not just normal paint, but a special paint that is made to eat away the rust, thus cleaning the metal and taking care of how the structure looks. 3) Weeding, especially the gardens and sports courts. 4) Preparing siding. This not only means the painting of the siding, but also the sizing and placing of the same.

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5) Some of the roof, especially where some shingles have blown off in storms. 6) Caulking and rubber sealant, especially at the windows, because it has a tendency to freeze over the winter and crack. And so on and so forth. There is always a lot of work to do whenever I go to the Charis Center to help out.

Towards the beginning of the trip, I have been going there to the Center to help out a lot more, not just because they need help in getting the place ready for the summer and all of its activities, but also because the connection with the different groups of children was slow in solidifying. When working with people here in Romania, it’s just a simple fact of life that their timing is different than yours and you have to respect that. As they say in Romania, „vai de tine” or ”Woe unto you” if you don’t understand that. But its great and I’m really happy with how things are progressing. I’m getting to build relationships with the children both at Sinmartin and Tileagd, and things are just going really well. By the way, for those who knew something about my project, due to difficulties traveling to Ineu several times a week, the Foundation changed their minds and thought that it would be better to send me to Caminul Felix at Sinmartin, simply due to the fact that it is more accessible and there is also the same large need of help present.

I have also been doing lessons with Daniel, an orphan boy that went through Charis’s program before it went defunct, who is living on the property and is working on building his house there.

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Every day that we work, we talk about how to say things in English, from the tools of his trade, to colors and objects, to phrases, to phrasing, and thus strengthen his ability to speak English at the same time that we are working on building and maintaining the structure, both of the building, but also of the relationship, all one little part at the time, just like how a web is built: slowly but surely. And surely, the fitting parallels between the pace of Romanian society and the nature of the relationships that it is built on are rather incredible, but hey, I would much rather be the tortoise than the hare, because of the great good of slow perseverance with people in showing love and how to live. Also, because he won, but that’s more of a side note really, because with people, it’s not about winning or losing in the same sense: it’s about showing love and persevering in it. And in that sense you win if you are the tortoise. In that sense you win if you are the spider. In that sense you win if you are willing to take the time to invest in people, to see the bigger picture in the mundane and the extraordinary in the common. And that’s what I’m here to do. So, though I may be weeding and plastering, or though I may be teaching children in a one-on-one setting, everything is tied to everything else and all of it is necessary for any of it to be possible. A spider web is not really a spider web without all of the strands, and often the way that everything comes together can get complicated and involve a lot of connections, but it is beautiful.

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And that’s what’s really extraordinary, the whole, whether we are talking about people or projects or organizations or relationships, whatever it may be, because although the individual qualities are crucial, in the end, how everything works together towards a common purpose shows the value in a way that maybe isn’t obvious unless you take a closer look, a closer look which shows that the common is extraordinary.

 

~David Gal-Chiş

Caminul Felix

So, I’ve been feeling under the weather for the past few days here. The great thing about feeling under the weather though, is that you gain a new appreciation for things that you might not have noticed before. You don’t notice how nice it is to breathe without something holding you back. You don’t notice how nice it is to just chill or do things without being in pain. You don’t really realize how great it is to simply be whole and complete. But also, you gain a new appreciation for a smile when someone is feeling that way, the understanding that something has been touched that goes beyond the surface and the general “feeling bad” that is going on. You gain a new understanding of the meaningfulness of any show of love because when things are going bad for someone, that’s, a lot of times, when you are able to see who the person really is. But here’s the thing: I may have been feeling bad here for a few days, but are there are some people who suffer from more than just some sickness and whose deficiency goes far deeper than mine. There are some people who can’t breathe because they are being choked by memories, by their past, by loss, by insecurity, by instability. There are some people who can’t just chill or do things without being in pain, whether they have tried to numb themselves to it or tried to fix it by other means, because the issue is too fundamental. I have seen a lot of people like this: clarification – I have seen a lot of orphans like this. And until there is someone who pours into their lives to fill the gaps where something has been missing, that’s how things stay.

As I have looked at life, I have seen that pretty much every problem that a child has can be traced back to the family, specifically the parents. Every person needs love, and every child needs a family. State-run orphanages in Romania provide neither. I would tell you about some of the things that happen there and some of the stories of children who have been there but I don’t know if you would believe me. Let me put it the way that Mrs. Ciupe once stated it. Now, the Ciupe family has taken in many many orphans as a part of their family through the program over the years, and knows exactly the struggles of these children and what goes on there. She said, “The children that come out of there, aren’t normal kids.” However, there was something else to her statement: “but the kids that come out of Caminul Felix are.” What is Caminul Felix? Caminul Felix is a privately-run orphanage in Sinmartin funded by charity, an orphanage that Charis just happens to be connected with. The way that they operate is based on the family unit with the participating families living in a village-style community. So, two parents, with children or without, adopt several orphan children as their own, and raise them until they get older and leave. Each family has their own house and there are several such houses on the grounds. However, this process of adding new children to the family and raising them cycles for each family, with new children coming in for every one of those that leave, thus allowing as many children as possible to be a part of this program. Caminul Felix is also one of the orphanages that I will working with during my stay here in Romania! YAY!

I will be working specifically in Village 1 (Sinmartin), in House 1, with the lovely family of Loredana and Ovidiu Csoka. I will integrate myself into that family and be a tutor for the children there, working with them on their homework and lessons that they get when they go to school, whether that be English, Math, Romanian, Writing, History, helping them master the material. I will work to form relationships with the children individually, spending time with them, talking with them, encouraging them, playing with them, teaching them, and truly showing interest and investing in their lives. So, really, I’m not just being a tutor: I’m being a mentor and I’m being a friend through my capacity as a tutor. And here they are! :)

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You may not think that ten children would be a handful, but you would be wrong. In fact, the first day that I went there, I might have been just a little bit overwhelmed, but that’s ok. I wasn’t sure exactly how everything was going to function, how I was going to go about the things that I was doing, where I would be most useful and helpful and needed the most, and things of that nature, but everything worked out so perfectly, it could have been a crossword puzzle. The children all have taken really well to me and it’s actually kind of funny how all of them want to do their homework with me and play with me and have me show them how to play mandolin and show me their pet chicken or fish all at the same time. It’s very humbling, but at the same time, it’s also exhilarating and extremely hilarious. Maybe it’s just because I love children, but I can’t even express to you how sweet they are, how open they are to love and be loved, how much they just want a friend, the way that they smile and light up when you give them some attention and encouragement, and how much hope I have for the future of these children. I just love everything about what I am doing right now so much, it’s spectacular. It’s also really cool (and hilarious of course, because everything about children is just really funny and silly and great) for me to see the kids, who unreservedly, unabashedly, and unequivocally do not like school, get excited about homework and the things that they are learning because they get to do it with me and I’m so honored that I get to cultivate this friendship with them and help them in life through that. It might have made me cry several times privately already, but that too is ok. [sniffle, sniffle] Distract focus: and here are some of the kids and me working on homework together: Romanian, Writing, and Math in the first one and English, Math, and History in the second one.

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Between tutoring, music, playing soccer, pets, talking, and trying to organize everything so as to spend time with each child, I have been pretty busy, which is really wonderful, because I came here to help people and show them love, and that’s what I’m getting to do. So, this is all 100% spectacular!!! :)

There is so much to cover, even without going into excruciating detail, and I will try to cover as much of my work as I can as I go. However, I’m sure many of you were earnestly desiring to hear about jet lag and my ability to adapt and survive in life, so here goes. I went to sleep the first night with approximately zero problems getting to sleep, slept eight hours, and woke up the next morning feeling like 407 RON. I then proceeded to find out that people are the same everywhere in the world, just as I suspected, and continued living life and having a wonderful time with it. As I am doing right now. As you should be doing too, because life is too short to do otherwise. So, I swung by the city of Cluj this past weekend visiting my uncle Florin and we hit up the Festival of Lights from whence cometh this gloriously awesome-sauce candelabra.

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Really, it was only fitting considering life. And Lumos. And the pursuit of lightening up the world with hope and love. And yes, as usual, that was on purpose. So, with that: grace and peace all you Lumos peoples!! :)

~David Gal-Chiş

 

P.S. Charis has a new website that they launched this week! HOORAH! http://www.charisfoundationromania.org/

P.P.S. Caminul Felix has a website that was not launched this week but that is still really cool and you should check it out! HUZZAH! http://caminulfelix.org/

To Leave, Yet to Be Right at Home

WHOOHOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To think, soon, I’ll be headed off on a plane headed for a place that I call my home, but that I don’t really remember all that well. It’s been eight or nine years since I was last in Oradea. I’m sure a lot will have changed, that I will see a lot of new things, and probably a lot of old things and be surprised by the change. But I’m soooo excited for it!! Everyone tells me that it will be a huge transition, warns of culture shock and all the rest of it, but I’m not sure that I buy that. People are people wherever in the world they may reside and whatever way that they may think about life; which really serves well to lead me to my next point, namely, that people being people, they still have struggles, hardships, and need someone who will unconditionally love them, care about them, and sacrifice for them. I do too. Everyone does. That’s what home is.

That is why I find it so important to really start at home when it comes to giving and helping, and expand out from there, because really, if I go and help elsewhere without first taking care of the home front, then I am neglecting my greatest and most important responsibility that I, in fact, am meant to take care of and know to take care of better than anyone else. I have been blessed with many opportunities to lead and serve in Tennessee, from activities with my church or nearby churches, to those through school organizations or even that I have personally organized, and I have taken them because I realize that my primary responsibility is to love those around me, realized through the love that my God has first shown me. Some may think that this idea of responsibility is one that conveys burden, but that is a narrow, incomplete view of the grandeur of such a thing. There is also the idea of love, when that which one ought to do is performed not by obligation, but due to convictions grounded in the depths of man’s soul, an idea which contains within the fullest realization of propriety and morality in understanding that obligation by command is only the failure of obligation by love, the understanding that honoring commands in joy is truly the highest honor man can gain, making the desire to love written on my fiery coal of a heart shine forth as the brilliant manifestation of everything I should strive for. And that was a long sentence.

Confession: in writing, there are two things I like to do: 1) Write really long sentences and 2) Not paragraph. Yes, paragraph should be verb. I just have this theory that combining a lot of ideas into one sentence helps to convey a fullness and depth ensuing from the lack of any separation except for possibly breathing and moments of deep thought as one processes several things at once and so makes really fantabulous connections. I believe this theory. I also really want you to understand my trip as understand my life, and thus my trip as I experience it, and I can tell you: I don’t live in paragraphs. There is not a neat, nice, clean stop—ok guys, I walked into Starbucks, new paragraph—no. I walk into Starbucks pondering the wonder of the cool breeze, the destiny of man, what in the world that lady has in her hair, the new topic covered in Physics course, and everything in life, consecutively, of course. There is a beautiful mesh and continuum that is really a fuller understanding of the nature of the art of loving what you have been given and being content in life. I also understand, however, that people like paragraphs. I also realize, hurt my heart though it may, that not everyone loves British literature as much as I do, and thus not everyone likes long sentences either. I know, shocker. It’ll pass, with time. Drink some tea. One thing that you might notice if you <3 English grammar is also that I like to have fun with words as well as English grammar. Call it artistic license. Call it humor. Call it a fullness of expression in the careful, thoughtful transmission of the wee emotions to properly convey the complexity of the experience. I will probably agree with you on all counts. In fact, in efforts to even further agree with the collective experience of the ages, I will probably go back and paragraph.

Truly though, I hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing this. I hope that you enjoy the heights of depth and the depths of the heights of my joy because what you read, and how you read it, and the way in which you understand how I have written this, will help you understand my journey. I have writing and pictures. Yet in these forms is an ocean of feelings, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, people, places, things, wonder, awe, respect, joy, love, and so many other things that I could never express to you if I had a million years to communicate with the express purpose of bringing you along with me. I also don’t want to overwhelm you too much. If I overwhelm you a little bit, that’s ok, because I am kind of overwhelmed as well by all of it, so you feel me. But check this, all of you wonderful Lumos people who in your kindness have condescended so to grace my blog: I know that you all get tired of reading and processing too, and you all have lives outside of this thread in the Internet world of flying photons, so I will probably, most likely, possibly, probably try to keep these at legible lengths. I really am, for your sakes. You know, most professors have a class dedicated to introducing the class, so consider that we are getting on the same page in today’s session on how to light up the world. By the way, smiles help. And I like puns. Beside the point, although we are talking about life.

I just thought that I should try to explain myself a little bit so you don’t feel like you are being thrown over the deep end, landing in the kiddie section and hurting yourself. I want you to feel like you are being thrown in the deep end with the full knowledge of how to swim so that you can truly experience the wonder of the light as it refracts off the surface and penetrates the medium while immersing yourself in the refreshing coolness of life. When I say things on this blog, I want you, reader, to understand that every word has had an immense amount of thought placed in its writing, and oftentimes is a metaphor for life. I also want you to understand that, excepting this past sentence, whenever I write things, especially those things about myself or related to me, I almost always am imagining it, not simply enunciated dramatically (and seriously: without sarcasm), but also in an accent as I am writing it. Just pick several: British, French, German, Italian, Russian, Southern, North African male, Indian, African-American lady, and many more—just make sure to have fun when you do it. One may disagree, but I think I am doing a better job of explaining the depths of myself in the depths of my joy and enthusiasm through this methodology of expression. It just spans cultures, sort of like what I am going to be doing here in Romania.

By knowing the Romanian language and culture, I will be able to love people in a way that they understand it, teach them English in a way that they comprehend it, help people in a way that they need it, and thus be of greatest use here where I am. Whether helping the orphan boy Daniel who lives at the Charis Foundation Center in Santion, Romania by helping him build a house for himself while teaching him English and just being his friend, by teaching English and music to children in an orphanage in Sanmartin and forming relationships with them over a period of 3 months, doing a similar work with a group of Romi children in Tileagd, assisting at one private nursing home in Dumbrava where one family takes care of 160 elderly in four houses by charity, the nursing home oftentimes being populated by residents kicked out of the state-run nursing homes because the state couldn’t afford to take care of them, and so on and so forth. There is a need here. For several years now I have taken care of needs at home in America, in Tennesse, where I grew up, but now I feel led to move on to my next home, and help there as well, because everyone needs love.

I don’t know what may lie ahead of me, though I’ve grown up on stories of place. It’s like I’m a dwarf from the Hobbit, looking towards the Misty Mountains, thinking deep deep deep thoughts of what hidden treasures may lie on the other side of this great mound of Earth. In fact, I am.

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Call it pre-travel travel, traveling to traveled places from a long time ago in a land far far away. Call it leaving home, only to go home. I will be with my family in America as well as in Romania. I will get to give and help and serve and love people in Romania just as I did in America and thus I will get to give back to my people from the motherland as well. Really, I’ll still be home because my home has always been where my heart is and my heart is everywhere, with several focal points, of course, but still everywhere because where I can live out love is somewhere that I’d want to be and somewhere where I’d belong. I’m home, going home, and waiting to go home. Riddle me that. I’m not even sure how to express this, I’m just so excited, so enthused, so happy and thankful and grateful to be where I am right now as well as for this wonderful opportunity, thanks to Lumos, to love people.

So, subtle tribute to them,

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and I am really looking forward to having you join me on this experience of a lifetime and hearing your thoughts as I overwhelm you with weird metaphors, abstract references, overly long sentences, and everything in life. Why? Because I find that the best things in life tend to be slightly overwhelming if you think about it a little. And this is pretty great. :) So, grace and peace to you all, and here I come!!!

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~David Gal-Chiş