Mission trip proves rewarding
Instead of taking their dream European vacation to Ireland like they had always planned, Rich and Rose Nemchik decided to rough it during their first trip to Europe to help others in need.
The Nemchiks of Basehor, Mitch and Nicole Hancock, also of Basehor, Leif and Kim Leaf, Bonner Springs, and Keith Rickard of Lansing, along with 16 other members of the Lenexa Baptist Church, traveled to Romania in June to build a chapel as a part of the Romania Chapel Project.
Don and Joyce McCauley started the Romania Chapel Project in 1995. The organization pairs up an American group with a Romanian congregation to build a chapel, host Vacation Bible School for the children in the village and spread the gospel.
"They've built 89 chapels in parts of rural Romania," Rose said. "This is the fourth year our church has gone to do this. Basically you build the chapel within the week that you're there."
After a long flight from Kansas City to Chicago to Charlotte, N.C. to Munich, Germany, and then Bucharest, Romania, the group boarded a bus and after a few wrong turns, finally arrived at their hotel in Craiova, Romania. Each morning, the group commuted about 30 minutes by bus into the village of Budoiesti, where the chapel was to be built. The Nemchiks and the Leafs said there was a great need for a chapel in the village.
"The people were using a little tiny building to hold services," Kim said. "It was like the smallest garage in the world."
"They sat on little benches and just crowded in there," Rose said. "Body space meant nothing to them."
Rose said people of the Orthodox faith, the primary religion in Romania, believe that a church must have a building to be valid and continue to grow. This is why they continued to crowd into the small building they had.
When the group arrived, part of the new chapel had already been constructed.
"They had the four walls up," Rich said. "Our job was to put the roof on and finish the interior."
"The organization wants to make sure the community that is going to be using the chapel contributes," Rose said. "I remember looking at it and thinking, how are we going to do this in a week?"
The group usually worked about 10-hour days in 95 degree heat to finish the chapel. They packed all the supplies they might need for eight days on the site in suitcases including clothing, food, building supplies and tools. Some of the bags were lost in flight and group members had to share clothes, shoes and food with each other.
The bird flu was also a threat while the missionaries were in Romania. All of the group members brought their bags to the chapel site each day for fear they would be quarantined in the village because of a bird flu outbreak.
While the group was fortunate enough to have a mobile kitchen on the site available for their use, Rose said they were not sure what to expect and planned for the worst.
"We brought pots and pans," she said. "We were told that we could be cooking under a tent. We practiced recipes at home before we left."
Even though all the 1,200 members of the Lenexa Baptist Church could not travel to Romania, each individual helped in his or her own way. Fundraisers and donations allowed the church to contribute $17,000 for the trip. Sunday school classes were divided up into teams and each team was responsible for gathering building supplies, food or items for hygiene kits that were taken to the Romanian children.
The mission team also divided up into separate teams while on site to efficiently build the chapel. Some were in charge of construction, others helped with Sunday school for the village children and some were on cooking duty. The group had to adjust to the different living conditions in the village such as boiling water from a well before drinking it, making do with the limited amount of electricity and making sure all the supplies they had went to use.
"It was very primitive," Kim said. "Very few of the houses had power. We used a generator to build."
"They built a scaffolding to put up the roof," Rose said. "When the roof was finished, they tore down the scaffolding and made pews out of it. Nothing went to waste."
The Nemchiks and the Leafs said the Romanian people and how they lived were the most interesting parts of the trip. All the families were self sufficient, growing everything in gardens and raising animals for food. Rich said most of the people did not own cars and used horse-drawn wagons to get around.
"There was nothing like seeing a woman coming in from the fields at the end of the day who was probably 50, but looked 80 because she had worked all day in the fields her whole life," Rose said. "They are so needy and we have such a surplus. We were all out of our elements."
While the missionaries were intrigued by the way the Romanians lived, the Romanians were also curious about the Americans.
"The people were very interested in Americans being there," Rose said. "They were very friendly and welcoming. They were hungry to learn and hear the word God."
"They were also very appreciative," Rich said. "One guy even invited us to his daughter's wedding."
During the evening, when the group went back to their hotel, they also enjoyed interacting with the people of the town by visiting the city parks. The parks, which are a major social hangout, were always packed full of people talking and singing.
"The best part is always the Romanian people," Kelly Hughes, associate pastor of the church said. "Sharing the love of Christ and the people you get to interact with just kind of steals the show."
When the chapel was complete, the mission team had a dedication ceremony. Hughes said more than 200 people from the seven surrounding villages that will use the chapel showed up for the service. The Romanian people along with the mission team played music, sang, talked about how the trip impacted them and gave short messages during the two-hour service. Kim said the group felt a sense of pride for their work because the chapel will probably be there for people to use for worship for more than 100 years.
"It's always sort of the highlight of the trip," Hughes said about the dedication ceremony. "It wraps everything up in a really wonderful package."
When it was time to start the journey back to the U.S., the group said a regretful goodbye to the interpreters who had helped them communicate with the Romanian people throughout the week, left all of the supplies they had brought with them behind for the village to use and flew to Vienna, Austria for a night.
"It was like night and day," Rich said, comparing their visit to Romania and Vienna. "We stayed in a two star hotel and we thought it was the palace."
The rest of the trip home included cancelled flights, the splitting of the group and an unexpected extra 24 hours away from homes and families, but the Nemchiks and the Leafs agreed that they were just thankful everyone returned home safely and for the experience.
"When you volunteer, you expect the work," Rose said. "One of the hardest parts was the heat and the physical work, but we felt we were doing something worthwhile. Nobody was complaining because how could we complain when we didn't have to live there? We didn't feel like our lives were in danger."
Hughes said the group worked well together to accomplish their goal.
"This was just a great group of people," he said. "They worked hard together, got along together and just had a heart to get a lot done."
Hughes said the church has already decided to go back to Romania in 2007. Even though the location within Romania is still unknown, the Nemchiks and the Leafs said they will most likely be a part of the group again.
"We would go back," Rose said. "We'll continue to go back until the doors close."