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Pastor Joel Tillis, Missions Trip to Romania
Rachel: What was the food like over in Romania?
Pastor Tillis: [laughs] They had a lot of stuffed peppers; a lot of soup and bread; the soup was almost like a chicken-rice soup; not a lot of chicken; a lot of rice.
The stuffed peppers were good; they ate a lot of sausage; a lot of salami; a lot of bread. It was a lot more bland than some of the American food, I think, because we’re used to running to Taco Bell and get spicy food; but it’s just kind of your basic staple food, but, I mean it was good, it was just really, really bland.
What was neat was there were grapes everywhere; every house, just about, every home has some kind of vineyard; some kind of little vine of grapes and so everywhere you would go, you could just grab a handful of grapes and eat the grapes; the grapes were delicious over there.
[I] hope that kind of answers the question. It wasn’t that romantic! [laughs] But it was good! It was just bland.
Rachel: Was there ever a point where you felt in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation?
Pastor Tillis: I don’t think I ever felt in danger. I felt uncomfortable on occasion with the differences in culture; but [never in danger].
The only time I would feel any sense of danger would be driving. [Their] driving laws are different than ours. Maybe they’re the same, just enforced differently. The speed limit means very little to them; stoplights mean very little [to them]. There were several occasions where I felt for sure we were going to be in a head-on collision or in a wreck.
[That was the time I felt the] most danger or uncomfortable was when I was riding in a car because the pastor that we were with for that country was a horrible driver [chuckles] and the roads were smaller; just, just very dangerous. But that’s about the only time, really.
Rachel: What was the most heartbreaking thing you saw over there that we may not see as much here or may not be as aware of here in America?
Pastor Tillis: [long pause] Spiritually, I think it would be the darkness and the domination of the [Greek] Orthodox Church over people's lives. It was deeply sad to see people having to buy icons [idols] and light candles and genuflect and bow and worry and grovel at the foot of the church there in Romania, hoping that their loved ones would make it to Heaven if they said enough prayers; hoping their loved ones would be okay if they lit enough candles.
It was horrible to see homes and schools in squalor and the Eastern Orthodox churches beautiful, ornate and wealthy. And so, I think the darkness there, [the] superstition was awful; [it] was sad that they had to live that way.
And I think that's part of what true (and I emphasize, emphasize the word) true Christianity, [it] brings freedom; but false Christianity brings...slavery; slavery of the mind; slavery of the heart; and that's very sad to see that over there.
I think the other thing, in more of a practical sense, is the number of orphans; the number of unwanted children. Well, it's very heartbreaking because in our church we have couples that are not able to have children and would love to; and I think about people around the nation that would love to have children and are incapable. I think about my wife and I since her battle with [breast] cancer; there's probably not a week that goes by when we don't, in some way or another, wish that we could have another child. And yet, you go over [to Romania] and there's just thousands and thousands of unwanted children; abandoned children. (And we see the same thing here in America.)
So I think those are probably the two saddest things, to me, that maybe don’t make the news but definitely shape that country in a negative way.
Rachel: Were there any cultural barriers you encountered?
Pastor Tillis: Yeah. I think, probably the biggest cultural barrier is how reserved they are; they’re very quiet people; very reserved; Americans are not. Americans are loud; boisterous; [we] tell you what we’re thinking; [Romanians] are not.
So I think that, probably, just the volume and openness of life was the biggest cultural difference. I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just how reserved they are. [It’s] very hard to tell what they’re really thinking; where they really are because they’re gonna be reserved. And I think some of it is [that] they don’t want to be offensive; [Americans] don’t mind being offensive; we want it our way, right away, you know?
But I think that’s probably one of the biggest cultural barriers, outside of the language, that I experienced.
Rachel: What were the Romanians perceptions of Americans?
Pastor Tillis: Ooh. Well, that’s hard for me to answer again because I’m limited to the location [of] where I was. I stress that because in Bucharest, they have more access to TV, more access to reading material; it’s a bigger city; they’re probably going to have a different view, where we were.
Out in the woods, the villages, the country-sides where we were I think the general perception is that we’re very wealthy; all Americans are very wealthy; even poor Americans are very wealthy compared to them. So, I think that that was one of their perceptions.
I also think there is a perception of sort of a John Wayne-cavalier type attitude with Americans; that we’ve got the world by the tail.
I think there’s also a perception that we’re arrogant, which I don’t think is true, but they see it that way; they see it as us being arrogant and maybe condescending.
But I think perceiving us as being rich; having the world by the tail; being arrogant.
And then some of the younger people, I think, perceived us as everybody being like they see on TV. You know, they see Hannah Montana and that’s real life to them; they see how people dress on the [music] videos, the MTV, and they think that everybody dresses that way in America.
And that’s especially true in the country sides, where we were; not so much in the large cities; but in the villages and hamlet’s and smaller areas, what they see on TV they think is an accurate representation of American life and it’s really not, but that’s what they think.
Rachel: What was your goal going to Romania and did you accomplish it?
Pastor Tillis: Yes. My number one goal was to experience the trip, as vague as that sounds. I had never been out of the country; I had never been on a missions trip before; never encountered another culture like that. And so, for me, it was doing the trip and experiencing it, and I was more interested in taking in than I was giving out. And, so, I think, that goal was accomplished.
I was also interested in being changed by the trip. I didn’t want it to be like a trip to Disney World, where you go, spend the day, get the t-shirt, come home and it really doesn’t mean a lot to you at the end of the day; I wanted [this trip to Romania] to be something that was profoundly influential on my life. And the thing is, I don’t think you can make something like that happen; it just has to happen and it did for me; I think it did. I don’t know how influential; I’m still kind of processing that part.
But I know that I’ve not been the same. It influenced me a lot to see the children, the churches, the people.
And then I did want to minister to people the freeing, liberating Gospel; not the kind that holds people under their thumb and tells them what to do and where to go and how to act, what to give and when to stand and all of the religious stuff. [I] can’t stand religion; but I did want to go and share with them the liberating truth of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ and I think that we did accomplish that; how much? I don’t know. But I think we did accomplish that.
So, I think the last goal of the four goals…was to be an example to my people. I think you [pastors] lead from the front and if you’re going to tell someone, “Dig a ditch”, you ought to be the first one with a shovel in your hand; and if we’re going to talk about world missions, and having a world-wide vision of burden, then I should be on the front-lines.
So, yeah, I think it did accomplish the goals that I had set forward and I think that was a blessing.
Rachel: Would you ever think of going back?
Pastor Tillis: Absolutely. I think if I went back, I would have to have a different set of goals and I think if I went back to the same area I would have to have some different objectives that I want to accomplish.
But I definitely intend to go on more missionary trips; if the opportunity arose, I would definitely go again; if I could get the right goals in place that I think would be appropriate, [then] I would definitely go again; it was worth it to me.
Rachel: Do you have anything you would like to share with the readers at Teen Ink, about the trip itself or about your beliefs?
Pastor Tillis: Well, I think that [there was] one thing that came out to me and I think that if there’s one thing…what was interesting is that true Christianity, true love of God and love of your fellow man based on the Bible is transcendent anywhere. Once you get past the language and once you get past the cultural barriers and once you get past all the dynamics that come into play between two men standing on the street from diametrically different backgrounds and two different parts of the world; the unifying factor is Jesus Christ; love of God and love of fellow man.
I don’t care where you are: in the heart of Africa; the rainforests of Brazil; in the streets of America; or on the side of a hill in Romania, it’s transcendent; it’s universal; truth is a universal, unifying factor.
So, that was one of the neatest things to me is that I could be in a total different part of the world and still be able to communicate and still be able to find a common ground; not over politics; not over economics or social class; but over a love for our Creator and love for our fellow man. And that was an amazing thing to me. The Gospel was amazing to me that it was transcendent.
Rachel: I have two bonus questions if you don’t mind answering [them].
Pastor Tillis: Sure.
Rachel: This morning I told the kids in the library [at our churches’ school] that if they had any questions, I would ask them for [them]. I got two [questions].
This one is from Anna (I believe you know her [laughs]): Were there any books in Romania you could read, besides the ones you brought with you?
Pastor Tillis: No. I was in a bookstore and there were some books that I recognized; Peter Pan was one; and I can’t remember [but] there were one or two others. But they were all in Romanian and so I couldn’t read them, so I’m glad that I did take the books that I had so that I had something to read.
But I could recognize the books in the bookstore! Some of them I could recognize, like Peter Pan and a couple of the …
Snow White was the other one (and the Seven Dwarfs)! Simply because I could see the picture; I couldn’t read the writing but I could see Snow White and I could see the seven dwarfs and was able to piece that with the language together.
But no, I couldn’t read any of the books. The language appeared to me to be very difficult, even though it is Latin based, I believe; a Latin based language, it was still very hard to pick up.
Rachel: And then this one is from Patrick: Did you buy any souvenirs for anyone?
Pastor Tillis: Yes, I did. I bought a keychain, a coffee cup, a sweater, a scarf (because it was cold) and another little keychain and I was given some honey; authentic, wild Romanian honey that I managed to get through customs [laughs]; and then I bought a little car in Washington, a little Matchbox car for Sam. And that was it; that was all I could fit; I was filled to the brim.
Rachel: Okay, well, thank you!
Pastor Tillis: Is that it?
Pastor Tillis: Hey, thank you. I appreciate it. Those were good questions, I like those!
Pastor Tillis plans on forming a missions team to return to Romania hopefully in the year of 2011 and I plan to be on that team, God willing.