A man in a running suit smiles and shakes my hand as I approach the church. Inside I'm toppled with hugs from five orphan girls who've decided they want to worship with us regularly, not just as special guests. They're excited to tell me we're singing in church today. I'm caught off-guard and unprepared, trying not to panic as my old battle with musical stage fright heats up once again.
I read over some verses in James, praying for God to somehow make me able to play the songs the girls want in the key they need without the capo I didn't bring. I borrow a guitar from the song leader and am pleased to find that he does have a capo, although I've never seen him use it. Praise God. We sing two songs and the church joins us, beautiful in their sincerity, expressing the joy of salvation through a song that's now tired and outdated in America. It's a simple one, just the basics of the Gospel set to music, and we like it a lot here.
A guest preacher from America talks about the importance of making ourselves available to God with whatever abilities He's given us, a lesson that I've learned repeatedly during my time in Romania, and I thank God for helping me be obedient. It's not always easy to be available, but it's not something I've ever regretted. Sometime toward the end, several little boys come in, and I expect them to make noise in the absence of their Sunday School teachers. To my surprise, they sit still and listen through the rest of the service.
After the message, we observe "communion" or "The Lord's Supper" or "masa" in Romanian, which literally means "the meal." Those who will participate stand up while the pastor reads a Bible verse about bread representing the body of Christ, and we each eat a small square of white bread. Then he reads about wine representing Christ's blood, and we each take a small plastic cup. One of the orphan girls, sitting down along with any others in the congregation who haven't been baptized, asks me what's in the cup. I tell her it's usually wine, but this time I'm not sure. It tastes disgusting, and I tell the snickering girls that something representing the blood of Jesus shed for our sins probably shouldn't be enjoyable, anyway. My friend's grandmother tells me later how in the old days, church members would take turns making "must," a homemade new wine that everyone drank "cu mare dragoste," with great love. I offer everyone in my row a stick of Wrigely's spearment gum.
After the service, I go to praise the boys for sitting so quietly and ask them what they learned. Nothing. I praise them anyway, because sitting that still is big progress, and they even came to church clean -- well, all except one. The smallest one runs to give me a hug, and I gently prevent him from burying his filthy face in my skirt by cupping his chin and asking his name. Alexandru. After a few minutes, while the grown-ups are still standing around the door, he comes to me again. I realize that in the last year I've never seen him clean and am suddenly curious about what his face looks like under all that dirt. The newly-completed church building is a landmark in the neighborhood because it has clean bathrooms, and will soon be the site of public showers and a laundry facility for washing bed linens, along with a soup kitchen for small children and the elderly. I take my new friend by the hand and lead him to the bathroom. He watches in the mirror while I wash his mouth with a wet paper towel, and I make a big deal of how handsome he is with a clean face. He really is a good-looking kid. He wants to wash his hands, too, so we have a quick lesson. Wet them first, put a little soap, get it all over your hands, wash it all off. He keeps staring at himself in the mirror.
We go outside where the other kids are playing, and I tell two of them to come back next Sunday and tell me one cool thing they did during the week, trying to keep them out of the road while cars are leaving. I say goodbye to the music leader's wife, who's also a teacher, and then to a little girl who's in one of my classes at school. Goodbye to the taxi driver, goodbye to the clean little boys, and goodbye to the lady who's feeding them the leftover bread from the service. Nothing is wasted. Everyone is smiling.
Just another Sunday at Bread of Life Church.