It’s a long old way to Barot. By Thursday evening, when the last of our delegation arrives at 7 pm at the Bucharest airport, our group has been traveling for more than 24 hours and across many miles. Our fatigue is real, but it is buoyed by the excitement of meeting our partners. As I wait what feels like the longest last 15 minutes for my luggage to come onto the conveyor belt, the doors to the airport reception open. And there, to my delight, is a huge group of Transylvanians with signs “WELCOME SUMMIT!” For the second that the doors are open, they see Ellie, Ian and me; a cheer erupts as they jump up and down waving. Then, the doors close. Almost there. Two seconds later, someone else walks through the doors. Cheers erupt again! It’s very touching. Tears come to my eyes. Everyone should arrive to such an entourage of love.
It’s then that I realize – once again – how much we have built in the last two years.
Our 2012 delegation to Barot was composed of twelve people (6 youth, 5 adults, 1 minister), and it was an experiment in community building. The minister of our partner church, Alpar Kiss, invited us to visit to Barot for our 20th anniversary. However, instead of touring Transylvania, he encouraged us to stay the entire week in Barot with host families. It’s a reminder that we are partners, not tourists, requiring a different kind of presence.
I often think how poorly that experiment could have gone. Crossing language, cultural and religious boundaries is not often easy. Not to mention just the grumpiness of travel, of not being in one’s comfort zone. But the youths’ energy and openness was contagious and inspiring. Within two days, friendships were quickly forming.
Two years and three trips later, our partnership now has relationships that feel like family. There is a strong core of us who have participated every year in the summer pilgrimages. It is bolstered by technology during the year that allows us to text and Skype one another regularly. At the same time, the circle is growing wider. Every year there are new youth and adults who join on both sides of the partnership. As one of our college freshman, Carter, said this week, “It’s amazing I’ve only known these people ten days. It feels like we’ve been friends since birth.”
After our airport arrival, we still have a long bus journey to go before arriving in Barot. The drive from Bucharest to Barot is four hours. There is often traffic as there is only one (gorgeous) two-lane road through the Carpathian Mountains. The road also often gets very bumpy; the headlights spy several foxes on the road. Mike says, “I’m done sitting in metal tubes.”
We stop for a 9:30 pm dinner at a Romanian restaurant. Halfway through dinner, the power goes out. It’s not uncommon. It’s suddenly pitch black. All of us (whose phone batteries have not yet died) pull out our flashlight apps. Suddenly, we are eating a dinner by candle light! As we exit the restaurant, the expansive sky filled with stars requires us to gape. The darkness was a gift. And a reminder that the journey has begun.