There was a big difference between life in the city and life in the village in Romania. Being in the city quickly became my comfort zone. We had running water (even if it was usually cold), cleaner conditions, and an atmosphere that approached my way of life back home. It was easy for me to stay in the city. If God had opened the door for a ministry position inside the city, I probably would never have ventured out into the village.
But God directed me to the village and gave me a heart for a youth group. My feelings of inadequacy were great. I was working with the youth alongside another seminary student. He went to the village every Saturday to minister to the youth. And he made it clear that I could accompany him whenever I wanted to. At that point, I swallowed hard and made a conscious decision to live in the village whenever I could, even if the conditions were better in the city. To truly break through to the youth, I would need to have familiarity and strong relationships on my side. So I decided that even if there were no specific “ministry” function for me to accomplish on Friday night, I would still go just to be with the youth. The same would be for Saturday and Sunday. From that point on, I lived in the village every weekend.
This was a big decision that changed the way I had approached ministry. Up to his point, I had understood ministry solely in terms of “doing something,” whether speaking at the Friday night Bible study, holding a Saturday study with the teens, or preaching on Sundays. What I had come to understand was that the ministry of doing something was not to going to have the same effect if I was not with the youth. My being there directly affected all that I did there.
The only way that I would break down the barriers and the walls would be to be with the youth, to spend quality time with them, one-on-one and with them as a group, so that as we got to know each other, I could more effectively minister.
Being with the youth made a major difference in my ministry outlook. God began to teach me to rely on Him, and not on things that provided me comfort. I made great progress in the language and was able to build strong friendships with the youth. Just weeks later, I felt like the barriers were collapsing and that I was breaking through the culture.
Being willing to live among the people made a huge difference in both the way I saw them and the way they saw me. I was no longer a youth worker who parachuted in once a week to hold a Bible study. I was one of them, living where they live, walking where they walk, eating what they eat, working out in the garden where they work. This was a turning point, both for me and my work in the village.