Bethel Days – Michael

Soon after experiencing God’s love and forgiveness to me, I decided I would really like to share this wonderful gift and experience. I felt so free and happy to know Jesus in this way. I figured since God had so changed my life and filled me with His purpose and love, that I was interested in learning more of the Bible and how to effectively share the Gospel with others. So I began to meet with fellow Jesus followers at church on Thursday evenings to learn how to do this.

The group I joined went out to visit those who had come to visit the church – we wanted to see if we could pray for them or help out in some way. That part was relatively easy, but talking to complete strangers about my new found love for Jesus, how do I do that? I wondered. I would later realize that this became a very important stepping-stone for me to hear God’s call to full-time ministry, but at the time it was a scary proposition.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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The CROSS & My Journey to It…

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Life is a series of journeys, some important and others not so. The journey I was about to begin, just 2 weeks short of my 22nd birthday, would change my life forever. I would come to love someone who had loved me for a long time, yet I didn’t realize it.

I was raised in a devoutly religious home — we attended church each weekend and kept the holy days faithfully. Like many, my thinking concerning God was typical; “God exists, and you should do what’s good and right and hopefully you will go to heaven when you die.” Although my understanding of God was limited, as I look back upon it now, I am thankful that I was given a foundation to believe in God. I can see the many ways that people invested in my life. I was unaware of their efforts, and God’s working through various situations, that would bring me to the place of my life-changing encounter with the Cross.

There is an experience that I can recall from my grade school years that I would say was my closest brush with the Holy Spirit. It was eighth grade and for religion class, prior to our Confirmation, we were invited on a “Retreat Weekend.” Father Hagman was going to conduct the weekend and I attended. All I really remember about it is that something spiritual happened that I had never experienced before, but I didn’t know what it was. So, it was forgotten. . . until much later in my life.

The next time that I can recall anyone talking seriously to me about God, a personal relationship with Him, or the Bible, was after high school. I met a young woman, my age, named Janice from a small nearby town. We had each enrolled at the local technical college immediately after our graduation. As I got to know Jan more, I really liked her. We became fast friends and ended up going together on a trip to Florida as a graduation gift to ourselves. During one of our outings Jan brought up the subject of the end of the world, Jesus Christ’s return, and something called the Tribulation. I didn’t know what she was talking about. The most I knew was that in church each weekend we said in our creed that “Christ shall return to judge the living and the dead.” But what that looked like, I didn’t have a clue. When my new friend started talking about it as though it was really going to happen, I didn’t know what to make of that. But I liked Jan and so I listened.

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My life went on after finishing school at MATC, obtaining a certificate as a Ward Clerk, and beginning work at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield, Wisconsin, my hometown. My heart was unsettled though, and I wanted to find some adventure or meaning in life beyond what I knew.  In the fall of 1980, I moved to Milwaukee to begin working at a brand-new hospital that was going to be on the cutting edge of technology and the future trend for hospitals. This interested me, and my ambition to move and begin life in a big city with new opportunities thrilled me. So I packed up all my belongings into a 15 foot rented trailer, my Dad helped get it hooked on to my 1976 Maroon Buick Regal, and away I went into a new and exciting future!

SMALL TOWN GIRL—Be careful in the Big City!

There really were several reasons I wanted to move to Milwaukee. My cousin, Tina, would always make Milwaukee sound so, well, exciting!  She wanted me to move there so we could get an apartment together. But the bigger reason I wanted to move was that I had been dating someone in the radio industry, who worked for several years in my hometown and his job had taken him to Milwaukee, and I wanted to be closer to him. Well, it turned out that within a month of my moving there he got a better job in Rockford, Illinois, and moved there. I was still glad to have moved south, as then I was only one-and-a-half-hour drive from him, instead of three. I was excited to embrace life in the big city and all the adventures that it held for me.

I had always been an achiever-type of person so in my work at the hospital I was quickly moved into a supervisory position on the p.m. shift. There was a problem in that I did not have the degree this position required. My supervisor, Jean, who was a great encouragement to me, said the hospital would pay my way through school to get the degree. So I enrolled the next semester at UW-Milwaukee in Business Administration.

It was while attending the university that my life took a dramatic turn. I had moved to Milwaukee in 1980, following my interest in the young man I was dating. Because he was a disc-jockey, he was always on the move climbing the success ladder to somewhere else. We became engaged and planned our wedding for September 1981. Jeff had big plans for our wedding! Because of his job he had access to bands that most people couldn’t afford to hire. The Booze Brothers (a take-off of the Blues Brothers who were popular, especially on Saturday Night Live) were big in Milwaukee at the time, so they said they would “play” at our wedding. We secured the Rozellville dance hall near my hometown.  But during the months leading up to this grand event, we both realized something was wrong. I wasn’t sure this was really the right path for me. Questions began to arise. Did I really want to be a tag-along on his career life? How faithful would he be as a husband? I also began seeing things happen “backstage” that troubled me. Jeff would promote through the radio station upcoming concerts and then bring select friends backstage after the concert. I began to seriously consider if this was really the kind of life I wanted.

Thankfully, an event occurred in June, three months before the wedding that sealed it and made me realize this relationship was not a good move. I returned the beautiful diamond ring, shoved my wedding dress into my cedar chest, and with disgrace faced my family and told them the wedding was off. Anyone, especially when you are 21 years old and think you have it all figured out, who breaks off an engagement goes through terrible turmoil. I was wondering, Now what will people think? What should I do? What is the purpose of my life anyway?

That summer of 1981 is the time God caused me to stop and think about life, it’s real meaning, relationships, God Himself, and how it all works together. It was a confusing time for me. I kept busy working at the hospital and going to school. I decided to pour myself into a career and really climb the ladder myself. To escape the feelings I was going through, I would go to movies — they allowed me to forget about my life for two hours while living out someone else’s problems: a thwarted love story, love regained, whatever.  But this too left me as empty as I was before. I wanted a relationship, a deeply fulfilling one, but now I really wondered if that was even possible. I had invested three years into my relationship with Jeff and how wasted that time seemed to me now.

It was Labor Day weekend, 1981, the month of my planned wedding, that friends from work noticed my indifferent attitude toward life and asked me to join them for a gathering on Monday, the holiday.  I was hesitant, thinking they might be trying to line me up with someone. I wasn’t interested in having a knife put into my heart again, but I reluctantly agreed to go along.

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Monday arrived and I met them at the Milwaukee Lakefront for our gathering. It was there that I met Dale. Determined not to enter another relationship, I did not appear very interested in him; however, he was nice, funny, and seemed quite interested in me. And there was something about him that attracted me besides his fun and outgoing personality, nice physical build (he was there training for the fall speed-skating season), and overall friendly way. Within a short period of time, he told me that church was an important part of his life — but not the kind of church I was accustomed to. This interested me. He said he had recently moved from Texas to Milwaukee and mentioned a church he was attending. He started telling me things that came directly from the Bible, which seemed unusual to me, for I had not met anyone (other than my friend Jan from technical school) who could speak with real knowledge about the Bible. I was interested in finding out more of what Dale had to say about God, especially after my summer of searching. Discovering this about Dale, piqued my interest in him more than the thought of beginning another relationship did.

I learned that Dale was originally from Plattsburgh, New York and that he was a speed-skater desiring to earn a spot on the US National Speed Skating Team. The year before we met, the Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, New York, near his home. He had gone to Texas to work for his brother-in-law, George, for the summer and had come now to West Allis, Wisconsin, to begin fall training for the winter season.

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In 1980, Eric Heiden had won five gold medals in speed skating in Lake Placid and Dale would say, “I may never make the Olympic team, but I am one of the guys who makes Eric look so fast.” Dale enjoyed skating and his mother supported him through his later high school years taking him to competitions around the state. Now he was in Wisconsin, training, and working to survive.  The making of an Olympic athlete takes much commitment and dedication. Having the funds, and having wealthy parents, certainly helps.  Dale had a lot of drive and dedication, but wealthy parents to fund his dream was not his lot. However, he actually did very well in spite of all the obstacles he faced.

After seeing Dale on a few occasions, he invited me to come to his church so I could hear first-hand about God, the Bible, and get further explanation of the things he had been telling me. This was a bit scary for someone raised in the Catholic Church. I had been instructed by my parents, from childhood, that we were not to become involved with Protestants and their religion — it was not an option. Based upon my perceptions, I was hesitant to go, yet Dale seemed to possess some kind of relationship with God that I did not have and I wanted to know more about it. “Questioning minds want to know,” and I simply could not accept that being born into a Catholic home should keep me from finding out what he possessed, that I did not when it came to knowing God. I had been on a search all summer for real meaning in my life after breaking up with my fiancée; now I had met someone who seemed to be able to tell me how he had found what I was looking for, and I decided I needed to check into it.

I agreed to go with Dale to his church. I told him, “I’ll go to Mass first, so it counts, and then with you to your church.” So it was sometime in mid-September that I entered the doors of Bethel Tabernacle Assembly of God in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. I was warmly welcomed by the folks in the foyer and sat attentively listening to what the pastor said. After the service, many people came to greet me and introduce themselves.  Being 21 years old, I noticed quite a few young people my age there and Dale introduced me to some of them. I remember telling him I wanted to leave, likely sooner than he or his friends wanted me to. I was feeling uncomfortable; they all seemed to be so connected! And I began to wonder, “Why are these people being so friendly to me?” I remembered hearing things in the past about cults and how people need to be careful when meeting someone they don’t know well and going to some kind of meeting with them. “They will lure you in by being friendly… so be careful!”   Next, I thought, “Well, I really don’t know Dale very well, only have talked with him a few weeks, how do I know what I could be getting into here?”

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I did talk to Dale about my thoughts and he said, “Well, I can understand what you’re feeling, so you should read the Bible for yourself, then you will know what is right.”  I told him I wasn’t sure about this, and whether I could go back again or not. By the end of the next work week, all I kept thinking about was this church and what was being said about God. I was torn — I didn’t want to go back, I was afraid, yet I wanted to! Dale suggested we go on Sunday night; it would be more laid back and we could just leave right away if I wanted to. I agreed. Again I sat, giving attention to every word Pastor Johnson said. I was nervous though. I had thought I was a very good person, but he was saying some things that made it seem like I really didn’t know God in a real and personal way. That bothered me.

Feeling loyal to my parents and our faith, I felt it needful to go and talk with the parish priest at St. Rita’s where I had been attending for some time. I’d ask him about some of the things I was hearing and wanted to see what he would have to say. In the end, he had little to say. I felt detached, let down. My perception was that I should continue to conform and obey the Holy Roman Catholic Church and its teachings and not worry about all these questions.

I continued to go with Dale to church and some young women my age befriended me, along with the music pastor, Darryl, and his wife, Linda. They were very nice and fun! They invited us over to their house for a meal. Linda was a great cook. It was nice getting to know them and I started to feel like they were genuine and I could trust them. This caused me to want to come back to the church, and so for two months I listened and questioned. I did get a Bible and started to try and read it on my own. There were a few popular verses that Dale or someone wrote down for me, John 3:16 being one of them.  I also remember that John 10:10 was important — telling me about Jesus’ plan for my life versus Satan’s. Satan wanted to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus wanted to give me life and that abundantly! That’s what I was looking for! I knew it now.

The Cross

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On a Sunday evening in mid-November 1981, I came to the place where I knew I needed to make a decision. I had to reckon with what Christ did on the cross, not for others, but for me personally. I knew intellectually He was the Savior of the “world” who I had heard about all my life, but He was not yet my Lord and Savior. I was a sinner in need of His forgiveness for my sin. Once I began to grasp my position before God as utterly lost apart from Christ’s sacrifice, I knew the only way to gain right standing with God was by humbling myself and accepting salvation His way. Jesus was to become my King! He was to be given control of my life and I was to surrender all of myself to Him. I was ready.

It was difficult for me to step out of the pew and walk down to the front where someone was going to pray with me to accept Christ and begin this new journey. I was fighting so many things inside — my past, my pride, my religion, my sin — but oh how I wanted to be free. They told me that who the Son sets free is free indeed and I wanted that! My apprehension was soon replaced with newfound freedom from sin, confirmed by acceptance and love from God.

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This was a complete turning point in my life! I truly was made into a new person that night. I became born again! Even though some of my old ways took time to change, in my heart I knew that I belonged to Jesus. This was thrilling to me — I had finally found the relationship I had been searching for.

SPIRITUAL REALITY – Light vs. Dark

The Saturday night following this change in me, I had a riveting experience that has remained clear in my mind even now, over three decades later. I mentioned earlier that my ex-fiancée, whom I still was keeping in contact with, would get special concert tickets because of his work. Weeks before my meeting at the Cross, my friends at the hospital had asked if I could get all of us tickets to the Jethro Tull concert coming to Milwaukee the weekend before Thanksgiving — so I did. Since I had gotten the tickets, I was the one who had coordinated the evening. We all rode together downtown for the concert. After what had happened in my life on the previous Sunday night, I really did not want to go; besides, I didn’t like Jethro Tull! The band was too hard-rock for me, I preferred “ top 40” songs — romantic stuff about lovers breaking up and then getting together again, James Taylor, Carley Simon, those types of songs. But, I figured I had promised them, so we went.

My friends were all excited as we entered the auditorium, but I was feeling very out of place — almost sick inside. Soon the pre-concert music started and I felt even sicker. Then the main act, the rock group “Jethro Tull,” performed. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. But I did learn something very valuable that night that has been a help and guide to me ever since.

Music is spiritual; songs are born in the soul. Singers who move their listeners toward God in worship are able to do so because their soul is connected to Christ. Conversely, those who sing simply from the human level demonstrate their soul as well — it may feel good, but it is empty in the end. Today I understand that more than ever.

At one point during the concert, a drum solo occurred and as I looked around me at the chanting crowd, arms lifted in “praise,” I saw into the spirit realm. I now knew for certain, in my heart, that there truly is a spirit realm and what happened to me on that Sunday night was a very real event. There was a spiritual transaction that had taken place when I was in Dale’s church, inside my heart! While the concert all seemed like a slow-motion movie playing out before me, I knew deep inside that I had been changed forever — that I could never go back or be comfortable in this kind of environment again. And I was glad!

I endured the remainder of the concert, and oh how I wished I had driven alone so I could have left, but I couldn’t. In the end, everyone but me was excited and pumped up. Now it was time to “go out” somewhere, have a few drinks and enjoy the rest of the evening. I was again feeling like a “party-pooper” in my heart. Yeah! I thought — this is real! What happened to me last Sunday is not a figment of my imagination… I have been changed!” I told my friends I wasn’t feeling well and really wanted to just go home. So they complied and we drove back to the suburbs and headed our separate ways.

Photo Crdiet: Pixabay

Orphans

So many orphans

Early during the week, Virginia, the director of the orphanage, took us to a government orphanage to meet the director and some of the children. She brought donations of clothing, baby formula, and other items as gifts.  This was a sad and stirring occasion; in several rooms, there were children of various ages from birth to about age 5 that were in the custody of the state.

This was an odd situation for us; we felt grief as we were looking at the babies and children much like the way you would select a puppy from a litter.  It didn’t feel right, and yet all of these children needed a home.  The worker would hand us a child to hold and then through an interpreter tell the name and explain the situation.  It was heartbreaking to think this was someone’s child and I was holding him or her as though they were mine to keep, or not!   We had so many mixed emotions and could see later why the “system” has boundaries to avoid this type of interaction.

Some of the children were held in legal limbo, in a sense.  The law allowed that if the biological mother came to see the child within a 6 month period, they could not legally label the child abandoned and place them for adoption.  Such was the case with Loredana.  Dale fell in love with her immediately but was soon informed that she was unavailable.  Her eyes, her face, epitomized a beautiful little girl who so needed a Mom and Dad.  We wept as we left.

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We made the most of our mornings spending time with the children or staff at Hand of Help.  There were a few around, however, that could manage enough English to converse.  We especially liked the staff nurse, Florica, who tended to matters with the children.  Florica was a beaming, beautiful single woman who loved the Lord and the children — it was obvious in her manner with them and us.  She would become an important person to us before our time was finished there.

As our week further progressed, four children began to emerge as special to us, three actually, two sisters and their brother.  The youngest child, a girl, was kept with the preschool children and so we did not see her until some time later.  Dale began to take interest in this sibling group and soon wanted to know their story.  Upon inquiry, he was reminded by the director that we were not to look at any of these children as candidates for adoption as they were off limits and not available for adoption.

She went on to explain that none of the children at Hand of Help were available for adoption.  The system only allowed for those children in public/government institutions to be adopted.  She mentioned that many of the children at HOH were not true orphans, meaning without parents; but rather the parents were in unfortunate situations where they were unable to provide for their children, and had left them with her for care until they were able to take them back again.

In spite of their cautionary warning, Dale felt something special toward this sibling group.  Anca, the eldest, was very thin and small, yet assumed a very confident and somewhat bold manner for her size.  She was hanging around Dale a lot and acting a bit like she had done this before with visitors.  Her sister, Carmen, was a bit more reserved, even shy, yet she did not want to be left out of any fun.  And then there was Andre, the boy.  I say “the boy” because Dale knew that when we located the children we were hoping to adopt, there had to be a boy.

Dale and I had been married 17 years at this point and once we decided to adopt children, we agreed that we wanted to have at least two children join our family immediately; therefore, a group of siblings seemed perfect.  My prayer was to raise whomever we adopted to be servants in God’s Kingdom.

We had fun days with the children.  Soon many “personalities” emerged out of the bunch and we began learning who they were, why they were here, and their story.  This was with the help of some of the older teen workers who knew English, as well as Florica, the nurse.  When Gene observed us asking questions about the children, he would throw in a quick reminder that Virginia said we could not adopt any of the children at her orphanage.

Our Meeting at Buffy’s

After our state-run orphanage visit, we were becoming anxious about Virginia actually helping us meet someone who could possibly help us understand the whole adoption process.  Our first question was, could we adopt children directly without the whole US agency system involved, and number two, would it be possible to locate two children while we were there that were available for adoption.

At the beginning of the following week Virginia said we could meet an attorney she knew who was involved with adoptions.  It took two days of trying to meet at a specified time, to actually secure an appointment with Virginia to do this.  We would go to her restaurant, Buffy’s Pizza, sit there an hour or so waiting for her to show up and after a while, we would finally leave.  The second day she showed up.  We ate pizza and spoke with her attorney friend, Mr. Brinza.  He did not sound optimistic but suggested we go see an agency that could possibly do something for us.  So, after we finished eating, we left to meet someone else in an office some distance away.  The people at the agency gave us a snapshot version of the adoption procedures within the country. After receiving the information they gave us, the possibilities looked slim in attempting to move forward in the unconventional way we had hoped we could.

We could tell by the end of the visit in that distant office, that a rift had come between us and those who had invited us to Hand of Help because of Dale’s persistence concerning the Filip children.  Dale, however, was determined not to leave there without asking them specifically about the adoption procedure concerning these particular children. The day before our scheduled meeting, Dale had said to me that he thought God was leading us to adopt this sibling group. When Virginia heard Dale mentioning the Filip children again she did not want to discuss it at all, but rather moved the discussion back to the adoption of one of the abandoned children that were in the Romanian Adoption Committees (RAC’s) system.  During Dale’s persistent discussion with the person at this office, he asked what the costs would be for four children.  They said it would be about $40,000 to cover the fees.  That figure alone made it seem impossible!  We left their office feeling very discouraged; however, that was nothing in comparison to the feelings we were about to experience.

After much discussion in Romanian, someone from that office agreed to take us to another village about an hour or so away.  As we traveled on we continued to converse with the person we had collected at the office we were leaving.  Since that person also served as an interpreter we were able to ask more questions.  As we traveled we were informed about the place we were headed to in Siret.  It had become an infamous institution through the undercover work of a news agency from America.

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Romania! Here we come

Our First trip to Romania January 11, 1999

The excitement was building as Dale and I prepared for our trip to Romania. Which items to take along for the children at the orphanage was the topic of discussion for weeks. We were told by Gene, our friend heading up the trip, that they can use just about anything. He did mention a few particulars the orphanage director asked us to bring, but other than that we were pretty much on our own. This was our first trip of this sort where we’d actually stay with the one hundred children at Hand of Help Orphanage. Our church had supported the orphanage for some time and we had a general idea of what they needed, we just had difficulty figuring out what was worth taking in a suitcase versus buying once we got there. Our friend wasn’t given to minute details, he just knew that once we got there everything would work out fine! As they say to just about everything in Romania, “No problem”. Well, that phrase took on a whole new meaning to us once the plane landed at Otopeni Airport in Bucharest.

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Choices…

International

girl-1897411__480Dale and I both have always had a heart for world missions and much of our visionary travels internationally up to this point had been through missions magazines, listening to guest missionaries in church and in our prayers.  So, after our adoption discussion with the social worker, we felt that making ourselves available to whatever kind of adoption God had in store for us was a good idea.

Continue reading full chapter: Domestic vs. International