Skyler and Ronella Daniel leave in early September for a 1-2 year assignment in Bucharest, Romania through Student.Go. They will be serving alongside CBF field personnel Ralph and Tammy Stocks with Project Ruth.
“Oh my sweet Carolina, what compels me to go? Oh my sweet disposition, may you one day carry me home…”
So sings Ryan Adams in his song, “Oh my Sweet Carolina”.
I was driving to the store yesterday when that recording filled up my grey, 4-cylinder hatchback and caused me to reflect on everything I hold dear about my homeland.
I’ve lived all my life between Kentucky, Tennessee and now North Carolina. I love the mountains of these lands, her rocks that crop up, her rivers that swirl around you seemingly everywhere you look. I love the bluegrass music and microbrewed beer, southern accents and the small scale cities that dot the landscape. I love free refills of Coke. I love being near siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and most of all, nieces and nephews. “Oh the sweetest winds they blow across the South”, sings Adams, with his rustic, Carolinian accent, and yes, these winds truly are sweet to me. I’m moving to Romania in just a few weeks and I’m going to miss this place.
What compels me to go?
As I’m listening, I receive a message from my mom about some girls in Knoxville, talking about how they were rescued from sex trafficking in Romania… how they’re raising money for an organization to save more girls from that same horror.
I imagine myself getting my hands around the neck of the sick people that would do that to those girls. I imagine myself kicking down the door to rescue those girls from a sweltering, dark, brothel. My foot is a little heavier on the gas pedal. The cruel injustice of someone turning desperate girls into sex slaves transforms the barometric pressure in my car and I’m filled with self-righteous anger.
What compels me to go?
My mind races to connect dots and I see a line starting at the Ruth School. There, little, innocent girls come to school… little, impoverished, racially stratified, hopeless girls come to school, with one small chance at an education and a decent job as an adult. The line leaves Ruth School, swings out, and returns to the Naomi Center, where Roma women are taught and enabled to create products through sewing, for an honest days work to make a living. The line then bursts forward, racing out to the countryside of Romania to a poor Roma church, 200 miles northeast. The pastor there is receiving an education from the Gypsy Smith Training School, and for that he’s a better pastor, and for that he’s better at bringing hope to his community, and for that, his community is better empowered to protect their children from the godlessness of being sold to men with more power than their wounded hearts know how to handle.
And then three lines slowly are drawn from each of those entities back to me. Because I will be fueling those ministries, serving through them. I will be ministering to the little girls, administering that pastor’s training, helping that Center empower those women.
And I am compelled to go.
Later that evening, Ronella and I sit atop Pilot Mountain just North of Winston Salem. As the sun sets, Ronella’s tears stream down her cheek. Ronella is heartbroken because she is leaving her dream job at a special needs high school. This past year, she woke up every morning, literally excited to go to work… sad when she had to miss work, happy when Monday morning came. Ronella was ecstatically in love with each of her students, she was an excellent teacher, and others around her relayed that to her on a periodic basis. Ronella has fallen in love with Winston Salem… its diversity of people and politics, its respect for God’s creation and the arts… the friends she has made.
With a choked voice, she reflects on the words of a coworker earlier that day, “those babies in Romania are lucky to have you”.
And that is why she is compelled to go.
It is time to fall in love with new children, who cannot find their way. Forgotten, crippled orphans. Children with unique challenges at Ruth School. They need her help, and so Hope patiently awaits Ronella’s unique presence, longing to whisk children once pushed aside to the margins, into the center of God’s redeeming compassion.
So let the winds blow us where the air is not so sweet. Let us discover love in a new place, amongst new streets and new mountains. Let us lean on the One who is much braver and stronger than ourselves, and yes, whatever and wherever “home” is, may we one day be carried to that place, compelled not to go, but to be, as God would have us be, in that place.
May God continue to guide these two scared and sinful sojourners as we try to help build a Kingdom we can only now taste, for a King we can only now trust by faith.