Hi, my name is Candace, and I want to tell you a story about the time I almost got stuck in Europe during a worldwide pandemic. The month was March, and the year was 2020. Almost twelve months ago I left with a team of nine and we set out to serve our friends in Cernavoda, Romania. My church has a long-standing relationship with the Wells and Pop, families who serve with Nightingales and pastor Betel Baptist Church, respectfully. All our preparations had been made. The schedule was set. We practiced basic phrases in Romanian on Duolingo for weeks in anticipation of our first Romanian conversations! Each day we planned to visit schools in the town to provide education and awareness on numerous topics. We planned skits and presentations about social media use, bullying, and how to treat others. Our team was prepped and ready to engage the youth of Cernavoda! Little did our team, know what was to come.
After two days of travel, we finally arrived on European ground! The team anxiously prepared to reach both public and private schools in the area. We planned for the team to split up and teach both special needs and general education populations which helped us cover more ground while we served. Then, the beginning of the coronavirus entered the scene. It was expected, yet so unpredicted. Schools were shut down. Fear and uncertainty crept into the thoughts of once well-organized citizens. Instantly, a week’s worth of preparation was unable to be executed! Amidst the pandemic, the team crafted an entirely new schedule to serve the Cernavoda community amidst a national disaster. We brainstormed innovative ideas.
New plans were crafted to intentionally serve the girls from Nightingales and the surrounding neighbourhood. Space was created to serve the girls who work at the coffee shop as well as families with special needs. Care packages were put together to serve families at home due to the coronavirus. Impromptu art projects, like painting canvases, were organized to occupy children who were not in school. Ben and Luiza were quick on their feet; they communicated with a partnering school and came up with a day camp that would serve the special needs population and their parents in the area. In less than forty-eight hours our team planned, prepared, and produced a fully functioning one-day camp for over forty people. Crazy, right? It was incredibly beautiful to watch the day unfold. Every team member had an essential role that matched their unique gifting. Todd, Horia, and Patty took the role of the servant. Their job was to host parents and meet their emotional, physical, and coffee-related needs all morning. They lifted children up and downstairs and provided a therapeutic painting outlet for each parent as their child was taken care of. Alexys and Lindsay utilized their coffee-making experience and talents to be baristas and mentors to the young women in the Nightingales’ program. Their teamwork and wisdom taught the girls how to interact in the workplace and how to make some amazing coffee. The children were split into two rooms, the older and younger room. Jade, Mitchell, and Luiza were destined to host the older students through mask crafts, group games, and a snack break. The younger children were supported and served by Spencer, Annie, Ben, and I; parachute games, painting, and bubbles entertained the children for hours. Callie utilized her gifts in leadership by remaining the liaison between all the serving parties.
It was incredible to witness the unique giftings of every person on the team. Moreover, seeing the children light up with joy was the most valuable gift of all. I got to help my new wheelchair-bound friend paint with blue and yellow sponges for thirty minutes. She got paint everywhere: her hair, her eyes, and her hands! She loved every minute of it. Her mother was given a chance to sit down and smile at her daughter enjoying small moments. She laughed as she counted eggs hidden in straw and giggled as she bounced on a trampoline, possibly for the first time. Every small instance felt like a million years of joy to be able to serve children who may otherwise be considered “less than others.
As we served those children during a raging pandemic, joy bloomed. Amidst our trials and shattered plans, a week of true unplanned service emerged. Regardless of the instant change that the year 2020 brought us all, we can still glean hope and wisdom from the wreckage and destruction. Focusing on serving others must be the mission. We ought to keep loving others; it can be where purpose and calling meet. Even though our team may have almost gotten stuck in Europe, we would have been stuck accomplishing a mission bigger than ourselves. I am forever grateful for the week of unplanned chaos and change. My week in Romania taught me to put others first, hold my hands open for new challenges, and if you are ever stuck in Europe, make sure you have some paint with blue and yellow sponges lying around.