Yesterday, I had the opportunity to worship in Romania for the first time. I don’t make a point of talking about my religion generally; I believe the best way to live one’s beliefs is through meaningful actions, rather than words. But I came to Romania to learn how to be unselfish, to learn what it’s like to truly have problems, not just American ones. So I want to talk about the people I’ve met who showed me charity, and goodness, the kind I hope to have someday.
Romania is a very devout country. When I pass the gold-tinted facades of the Eastern and Russian Orthodox churches-Sfânta Nicolae, Metropolitan Cathedral, and others, people are filing inside to worship, their hands moving silently in the sign of the cross. They show respect to Orthodox priests crossing the street.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I went into the tidy, three-story building the small number of Mormon people in Iaşi attend. I knew there would be very few, but I didn’t know what they would be like. Maybe they worshiped differently than I was used to. Maybe I would make a mistake or say something offensive in my broken Romanian.
But as soon as I walked to the end of the front row of cushioned chairs, a well-dressed older woman moved her purse over and patted the seat next to her, smiling. She introduced herself as Lidia. “Încântata,” I said in return. “Mă numesc Kuniko.”
“Frumos-beautiful,” she responded, and it was about then that I realized that God can be found anywhere, even in Romania. This woman didn’t know me, but she made me feel a little more comfortable in a place where I know nothing and no one.
And today, I met another woman who quietly, unobtrusively, taught me about love and service. Her name is Teodora, or Teo for short, the chief psychologist at the orphanage I’ll be working at. Not only does she work all day tending to the children, she goes home at night to a sick elderly mother whom she is primary caregiver to. She was recently asked to be the director of the orphanage when her boss stepped down, but she told us in her flawless English: “I don’t want to do that. I’d rather work with the kids. I love that.”
She took us all around the city, ten of us strung out in a line behind her like little ducks, and patiently ordered ten train tickets to our specifications so we could go on our very first trip. She smoothed our worries and answered our questions. She even helped correct my Romanian. She said, “I’m at your disposal.”
I have delusions of grandeur, sure. I want to do and be and have and see so many things. Sometimes it makes me feel like my spirit is bursting, and I’m pretty sure it gives everyone who knows me whiplash. But what I want most is to be someone whose strength others can count on, like my mother. I want to be a leader, like my father. And I want to help others feel that they’re okay, that they matter, like Lidia and Teo. Religion isn’t about telling someone else how to improve; it’s about focusing on improving yourself by serving others. I’ve been shown that this week in abundance.