An AVI regular commenter asked about the train trip in Romania to pick up our two new sons, now almost nine years ago. It is a sentimentalist’s story, with few moments of dramatic interest, but the whole suffused with poignancy. I realised it would be hard to describe. It would likely be told better with the filmmaker’s technique of flashbacks. An enormous number of earlier moments were contained in each moment of that relatively short trip. Our American sons were not with us on the trip, yet they would figure prominently in many of the incidents that would appear in retrospect.
Riding on an ancient train, with all instructions written in faded Romanian, Hungarian, Russian, French, and Italian, overnight across areas of Romania I had not been before, sleeping poorly, up many times in the night to have a cigarette and look out into the dark. We would stop at occasional stations, islands of dim light with signs in a strange language, all looking like some black-and-white spy film from the 1950’s. Much of Romania still looked like the 1950’s then. For good reason. Tracy slept fitfully in the lower bunk. I don’t remember what I thought about, other than the odd, depersonalised observation of ourselves, as if looking down on the train from the sky: Here are two American people riding in the night through an almost-forbidden country, out to pick up two teenage Romanian boys who barely know us, to take them away from everything they know. Yes, it does have a certain romantic atmosphere to it when I describe it like that, but like Sam and Frodo, one finds that adventures look quite different to the people in them.
In particular, it is a good illustration that our feelings or impressions about things are not a good indicator of whether things are coincidence or providence. In the entire leadup to the first thought of adopting the boys, nothing seemed to be pointing in that direction. Within a few months of their arrival here in NH, it seemed as if they had always been our children but had gotten mistakenly rerouted to Romania for their early years. In neither case is the seeming evidence of anything.
To go back nearer the beginning. Evangelicals go on mission trips, preferably foreign. That’s what we do, but I had zero interest. “We’ve got a group going to Ecuador.” Yeah, fine. “We’re going to build a school in Oaxaca.” Good. Do you need money? I felt a touch guilty about not having any desire to go, but it hardly kept me up nights. Can I go on mission trips to like, Scotland, or Denmark? None of these other places interest me. Trouble is, mission trips to Scotland or Denmark involve doing street pantomimes. With high school kids. Can I get back to you on that?
When the Iron Curtain disappeared, I found I had a mild interest in those places I never thought I’d be allowed into. This was general, not only wondering what was happening to the churches there, but the economy, the government, the culture. I now know there were mission trips heading there even then, but one had to seek them out, and I was content to be more of a limpet, taking what drifted my way. Our church sent a team to Croatia. Teeny interest. The denomination had a trip going to Providenya, Russia; I sent for information, but the trip was cancelled due to lack of interest.
I am reminded that Dr. Peter Lucaciu came to preach at our church in 1996, telling us about his orphanage and medical clinic in Romania. I have a vague memory of that – mostly that his accent was hard to listen to, and he wasn’t that interesting. Perhaps something stuck in my mind that I am not aware of. In the summer of 1997, I started preparing to go to the small city of Beius in 1998. Because that’s what evangelicals do. They go on mission trips to far places.