More similar than we are different

Hello this is Ian here. I am just writing to you today to tell you about my experience so far on this trip and at this camp and let me tell you, it’s been amazing. The time spent planning for the camp and meeting Romanian leaders and students was great. When we finally made it to camp we started to hang out and get to know the campers and other leaders better. Yesterday was the first full day of camp and it was filled with laughter, bonding and deep talks in our small groups.

For my group it was very cool when we sat down to have our discussion after the night’s message. We had very deep conversations and it was very cool to see that people all the way across the world from us in Wisconsin have the same questions, doubts, and thoughts as I do. It was also very cool that the guys in my group were willing to open up with those of us they are just starting to know. It was very cool to see the guys in my group open up and be vulnerable and share their deep thoughts and questions/doubts around a bunch of people they don’t know. It is also cool to see the guys able to both laugh and bond, but also be serious and open up. There were several stories that were shared that hit close to home to me and it was cool to be able to connect on a deep level with some of the guys like that and to be able to understand where they are coming from. We’re actually a lot more similar than we are different. Personally the small group time has helped me with my faith and had continued to strengthen and grow my relationship with God. It has helped me to see that other people can get through tough things and still have a strong relationship with the Lord.

Other than the small group time we had a great day filled with fun. We started off the day by having breakfast and a devotional then we broke up into out breakout/English groups. We decorated our notebooks by cutting things that represent us out of magazines. Once we got done with cutting the images and words out of the magazines and put them on the notebooks we shared what they meant to us. It was very fun to see what things represented the others in my group. Then we walked down to the fields where we played some very funny name games and other get to know you activities with all the campers. After that we had lunch and free time and just hung out for a little bit. After all of that we went back to the fields and played different games like Basketball, Soccer (Futbol), Bucketball, and Ultimate Frisbee. We then had an excellent dinner (the food is so good!) and the night talk. The camp theme this year is Mythbusters. We are learning about myths about God and the Bible and finding ways to bust them. It has been a great way to find answers to our own questions and doubts. The myth last night was “Can we trust the Bible to be true or myth?” Tonight is “Was Jesus just a man?” These are great questions that have led to some great discussions so far. Please pray that we continue to see God work through small groups and everything else.

Romanian Camp Flexibility

Andrew and Grace (and Luke’s two cents) here. Since it’s been a day or two, there’s a lot to catch y’all up on. After waking up earlier than we’d normally desire yesterday morning, we loaded up the big bus and several mini-buses and started the long journey to camp. Almost immediately, the campers started sharing their vast number of icebreaking games with us; pretend everybody is ice, and break them. Don’t worry, it’s not quite as ominous as it sounds – no one gets injured in the process. Many of you that have been here before are familiar with the “Who Slapped My Hand?” game, but rest assured there are evidently many other less than imaginative ways to get the entire back of the bus (and beyond) playfully slapping each other. Meanwhile, Luke figured out how to solve a Pyraminx (a Rubik’s cube that isn’t a cube but a pyramid)! We took a rest stop at a park and consumed those famous cheese and salami sandwiches (delicious) while getting to know the campers better. As returners, it was refreshing to have the campers that we’d already created bonds with enthusiastically introduce us to their new friends and make every attempt to involve us. Many new friendships started developing and somehow we got even more excited for camp.

After a relatively slap-free second half of the bus ride (Daniel came back and made sure our new friends & us found more productive ways to connect) we “arrived” at camp and learned that the journey was not quite over… we had to lug our many baggages partway up the mountain (and we are definitely in the mountains!) since the big bus was unable to make it the entire way. The evening was a bit chaotic as we struggled to adjust to the new facilities and catch up with the camp schedule. Many of us had our first dose of “Romanian camp flexibility” as our first evening session responsibilities began right as we arrived and we had to adapt to the ever changing needs of the moment.

In the end, we got done what needed to get done and so began the last part of the evening: small groups. While every small group was different, some members of our team began to feel the full impact of the language barrier as the deeper the conversation got, the translation into English became more sparse. As Americans, one of the hardest transitions on this trip is to learn how to sit back, observe, and pray rather than just sharing our thoughts and opinions. Please pray for us and the campers as the conversations continue to develop throughout the week.

After a little less uninterrupted sleep than some of us had hoped (the guys slept four to a bunk – *double bunk – head to toe!), we awoke to some of the most beautiful fog hugging the tree filled slopes (#mistymountainscold). Our morning was filled with arts and crafts during breakout time (formerly known as English class) where we picked out pictures of things we liked and glued them to the covers of journals. While the rest of the campers headed down to the fields to play more get-to-know-you games, we (Grace and Andrew) hung back to cheer on our small groups as they attempted the obstacle course suspended in the trees. We are about to head out for more large group sports/games right now, but first, some shout-outs:

To Grandma and Grandpa Babler: We are in the mountains at camp in romania, and I bet that it is way prettier than your view! I miss you tons and cant wait to see you soon <3

To Movie Soulmate: Morning babe. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen like a ginger while you’re in San Fran. This morning we sang the Misty Mountains song and I thought about our pool reenactments and that time we went to see Desolation and thought it “wasn’t that bad.” Please inform Nickolas that the Neymar memes have been put to good use. Miss you bae.

To Jo: Hey it’s your birthday! I wish I could be at home with you to celebrate, but don’t worry, I got two bags of Joe this time.

To Ali Mongoose: This is not a shoutout, thanks for the deetz.

To Adeline: You type goodly for a baby.

To America (from David): HELLO DAVID, THIS IS AMERICA.

To Athen-a: there was a dog on the ground eating ice cubes. It was cute and it distracted everyone during team time. THEY DON’T HAVE SPICY CHICKEN.

To David K: We are still waiting for your comments…

To Culvers for having cheese-curds.

~Father Grace and Son Andrew

Stormy & Matiuţ

Hello Friends,

Our fourth day in Romania was yet another great one!

We began our day with another breakfast course of homemade apple juice (from the Ethos Livada/orchard) and different varieties of Romanian corn flakes. After breakfast the American team continued our daily devo and check-ins with leaders. During discussion we decided to share a person, place or event that affected our faith journey, allowing us to connect on a deeper level as a team. We also received letters from home, which helped fight off the homesickness and remind us that there are many people at home praying and watching over our trip. Following our team devo and discussion, Beni, one of the Romanian leaders who works and lives in Ethos, took us to deliver food and introduce us to the families that Ethos supports in Craiova. This experience was challenging for us, as we felt disconnected from the families we were visiting. However; (Rachel Metz; is this the proper use of this semicolon?) because we were with Daniel and Beni who have built daily relationships with these families, we were able to see what Ethos has done and the effects they have had in this community. This experience helped our entire team to better understand what the mission of Ethos is and the problems that face the Craiovan people. We came back and celebrated Lief’s 26th birthday 😉 ;p Lief got an excellent gift in more shoarma, romanian pizza, & souflaki and he graciously shared his pizza with us. We spent the afternoon doing camp prep and tying up any loose ends with our camp teams. This includes the worship team smashing out twelve songs while the “breakout team” was creating some beautiful art and the “program team” organized props (good job to Bria for helping the productivity efficiency). Final preparations for camp while somewhat stressfull, but it also got us excited for the next five days of camp and getting to see it all finally fall into place. After dinner, we ate Lief’s cake and threw a frisbee around. After dinner, we shuffled into vans and went to a concert in Romanescu Park that composed of Romanian worship music and then finished with a surprise treat of vibrant Congolese worship from some Ethos employees from the Congo. Getting to experience Romanian & Congolese worship in the middle of a Romanian public park was unique experience that showed us how vast God is. Then we walked to the park zoo where we watched some storks and geese mingle, a coati and a raccoon fight over a chip, and peacocks chillin on the roof. When we returned to Vieru’s we made 115 salami and cheese sandwiches & were supposed to pack and go to bed, but then we were asked to write this blog hahaha. Go to bed early… yeah right! These next few days will be exciting but challenging for us, so we ask for your thoughts and prayers for us as we start camp.

-Matthew “Garth” Gartland and Luke “Stormy” Stevens


To Megan Smith, Happy Birthday!!!

To Megan Smith – Happy July 28! -Lief

To Paige Gartland and Hannah Metzger, for being the same person.

To Matt, for not knowing how to spell his sister’s married name and using her “old one” instead.

To Jay Sullivan, for his big muscles 😉

To the Stevens Fam, for the updates on the family tournaments, did GMA cannonball this year?

To the Ambassador, the cat hath rejected me 🙁

To Angie Shoe, look both ways before crossing the street.

To Pastor Chris, good luck on the sermon tomorrow.

To Matiuţ (matoots), Garth, & Kyle: Do you know what happened to Matt?


Hello friends,

Bria here with what we did yesterday. In the beginning of the day we had good breakfast, and had some productive time in our teams for camp. Later we went to Auchan to gather team supplies for camp (everything from tennis balls, ice cream toppings & nylon stockings to biscuits/cookies, giant jars of pickles, & empty cardboard boxes – and all it has a specific purpose!). The explanation of our annual Auchan trip must be prefaced by explaining the nature of the store. Auchan is essentially the “Big Tasty” version of Costco. Our carts overflowed as we stocked up on Joe and other delicious Romanian snacks for camp and long bus rides. As we returned from our Auchan trip we were suddenly caught in a torrential downpour! We all crammed into the Vieru’s living room as we waited for the rain to pass. Once the skies cleared up we headed up to the Ethos school yard to meet the campers and play some games. We did the “head bop name game” and every one of us had a chance to meet every one of the campers- it was so great to meet all of them. We laughed a lot and had a ton of fun. Then we went outside and played the Romanian game “Energy.” It’s a crazy mix between trenchball & an intense game of tag. The campers loved the game and we look forward to playing it a lot more at camp! We then said goodbye to all the campers for a couple days. We are all looking forward to getting on the bus and up to camp tomorrow am!

Julian and Cade tagging in, after spending time with the Romanian campers and leaders we went down to the city center to enjoy schwarma/”Shoarma” to spend more time with the leader team (American team + Open Roads leaders – over 40 of us!) and was really a great connecting point for all of us. It was great to be able to build relationships. We were both nervous that getting to know Romanians would be a struggle for us, but through our first real conversation with Romanian leaders our fears were diminished. Being in Romania for the first time we were both having a hard time trying to make meaningful connections when there are already so many connections made by the returning team members. I guess that part may just be Cade but either way that worry isn’t as big as it previously was as we are all really connecting and making good connections now.

One of the best parts of the day for both of us was being able to get to know one of the Romanian leaders (David) better. We were able to bond over TV shows, movies, video games, and cars. Especially being first timers, it was a great way for us to get closer to the leaders along and to get to know them better. We look forward to having another friendly face and to get to know him and other leaders better. Later that night after going downtown, another favorite moment for all the guy students and a few Romanian leaders. We spent time at Benny’s house and just sat and talked with the guys and hung out with Lavi as well, we may or may not have woken up Benny’s dad. We went to bed late, but with new friends and experiences.

We ask you guys to pray for us and the team that we make even deeper connections throughout our team, and most especially with the Romanian campers and leaders. And as always, good health, good sleep, and good times.


To Movie Soulmate <3: Stay away from intersections, remember what Nick said about efficiency. Work on those calves up the hills and bring me a rock. Tell Ian I bought him a gift. Stay away from the vegan life, you know what’s good for you. Tom Riddle’s diary is safe. Night babe.

To Kip…wait no

To Craig Gartland: I hope Peter Sagan won/wins a couple more stages of the tour while I’m away.

To Rachel Metzger (from Leah): I’ve decided that I do want to know who wins the Bachelorette when it comes out so let me know J Love you!

To Amy Sullivan: How’s the air conditioning feeling in your car?

To the Snyder Fam: I miss you guys so much!! Love you <3 Give Ruby hugs and kisses for me, and grill her about that Witness Protection thing… XD

To Anja Hartmann: I miss you!! I love you <3 Snuggle Cassi for me

To Angie, Jim, Britney, and James Markhardt: Mom and Dad I miss you guys! Britney: How’s the dullard? I miss you lots!! James: I miss you lots bud, cuddle Luna for me!

To Angie Xu from Brianna: no problem, we’ll take it out of your paycheck. 😉

Shoutout to Angie Ipsen: We hope you are healing and feeling better! We miss you! And this year we really have have kept up the tradition: #prayforAngie J

Shoutout to Ray: It’s true: the journey is long – but goes quick! Jimmy taught us the dance moves. So good. We miss you.

Shoutout to Franny: Igor is looking healthy! -Noah

Special request for Rachel Metzger (❤️, Leah):

Hum Hum

Hello everyone! Leah here, with an actual update from our first full day in Romania. As many of you know, this is my first year going on the Romania trip. Last year, reading the blog, many things went over my head because I had never experienced Romania first hand, so to catch you all up, I am going to share some things I have learned about this country in the short time that I have been here:

  • Soup always comes before lunch but is never the actual lunch, so you have to make sure to save room for the main course.
  • The McDonalds’ here have a meal here called the “Big Tasty” which is basically just a bigger and tastier Big Mac.
  • The sound dogs make is not “woof” or “bark”, but “hum hum”.
  • The toilets have two buttons for flushing: one big button, one small (I bet you can figure out the rest yourself).
  • The people here are absolutely amazing.

The thing that has amazed me the most while being here is the hospitality of all of those who have welcomed us into their homes, church, and lives. Every person I have encountered has gone out of his or her way to make me feel comfortable and loved. Although it is overwhelming to meet dozens of new people, with names that are not very familiar to us, it is a good kind of overwhelming. One that brings hope for strong relationships and joy through the laughter we share. I know it might sound cheesy, but laughter does sound the same in every language (unlike dogs barking).

Last night we had a bonfire with the Romanian leadership team. As we sat around the fire, Dan asked people to share what the relationship between Blackhawk and Open Roads has meant to them, in honor of our ten-year anniversary. Although I am new to this experience and can’t fully grasp how people have been impacted by it all, it sparked excitement in me. I know that everyone experiences this trip differently and that fact scared me coming into the trip. I heard from many people about the phenomenal relationships they have built and their urge to return year after year, and I wondered if I would experience that myself. But each moment that I am here, that fear melts away a bit more.

One of the coolest moments that I have experienced so far was both at the midweek church service and the evening bonfire when we sang songs in both Romanian and English at the same time. To some it might have sounded like a jumble of sounds and words, but even with different languages, the intentions of everyone were the same; lifting their voices to worship God. It gave me chills every time.

We ask that you pray for us to continue having moments like these that encourage us, but also challenge us to grow in our relationship with God and others. Please pray that we are able to build relationships despite the language barrier. And finally, pray that even though all of us will experience this trip differently, that we would be able to see our worth on this team and make the most of each moment.

Shout out to Nikki: yesterday there was a cat and I meowed at it and it came to me and it is now my friend.

Shout out to Malcolm Buisch: Sorry it’s one day late, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Shout out to Nicky for having a whole lotta swag

Shout out to Jay: Love you bro <3

Shout out to Movie Soulmate: Morning babe

Shout out to Mom Metzger for the two kinds of Dramamine that I will use on the NEXT bus ride 😉

Shout out to Bria’s mom: She remembered her retainer!/Shoutout to Kip’s mom: He did not…

Shout out to Ali Pollard: We appreciate your extensive comments. However, the leaders have not yet performed the Ziggy Challenge :/

Shout out to the Hershbergers for lending us Hawaiian shirts. They have gone to good use.

Full day, full hearts

This is Lief. One of my roles on this trip is making sure we have people are writing about their experiences via the blog. We do this in order to process what God is doing in our hearts and keep our support network at home (all of you!!!) in the loop so you can be part of this too… and it is clearly also a place for some silly shenanigans – particularly via the shoutout & comments sections. I need to confess to you tonight that while we started out pretty strong on the blog front, I dropped the ball and everyone went back to bed before I asked someone to write up a blog entry for today. I think it’s actually a good indication about what our first day in Craiova was like – we had a full day. I won’t say much now as I really need to hit the ole hay and I’ll have some students post about it in the morning so you can check that out on Friday. I will say this though: students slept great on Wednesday night (thank you for your prayers), everyone woke up healthy (thank you for your prayers), and from breakfast to 10:45pm the team kept up a great pace (thank you for your prayers -please keep them coming!). There was lots and lots of meeting new people – the coming together of the American team and the Romanian leaders. There was camp planning and everyone jumped right in as if they’ve done this a million times. We had an unexpected visit to the midweek prayer & worship service at the Ethos church where we got to share in the worship service (with just a bit of short notice! Thank you for your prayers!). And a night of laughter, games, worship and stories of God’s goodness around the campfire. Let’s just say that when we finished in prayer at the campfire – we were ready for some rest, but are hearts were full. And tomorrow is likely more of the same. I can’t finish the post without saying how truly remarkable these students are. Parents/grandparents – you have much to be proud of in your kids (this goes for parents of the leaders too!). They are flexible, patient, humble, teachable, and ready for anything. I am so excited to see how God chooses to challenge and encourage this team through each individual who is a part of it. Don’t worry all you Romania team alumni – you were/are also remarkable – and you are also missed – by our team and by the Romanians. It is an honor to serve and have served with such a great group of people – and on behalf of all of us, just as great an honor to get to be part of such a special community here in Romania – as Hannah said last night, they are family to one another – and they let us be a part of it too! God is so good.

Until tomorrow – Noapte Buna,


Eyes Open

Sleeping with eyes open. Suitcase malfunctions. Car sickness. Not sleeping at all. These are all things that have been experienced by members of our team in the past 24+ hours of traveling. Long travel days can easily make you question just how “worth it” a missions trip is. Do we really have such a significant purpose in Romania that it is worth the time, money, energy, and intense jet lag to come across the world for two weeks? I think it’s safe to say these doubts were all put to rest as we exited the Henri Coanda International Airport in Bucharest this afternoon and were greeted by about fifteen Romanian leaders. The hugs from old team members and long-awaited introductions of new ones made the marathon day of travel seem like a small price to pay for such sweet moments. During the bus ride and dinner stop, our relationship with the Romanian leadership team seemed to pick back up right where we left it last summer. When we arrived in Craiova, our friends surprised us with a big ten year anniversary cake to celebrate the decade of partnership that we share together. After cake, it was straight to bed for everyone for a much-needed night of rest. (I’m staying up late to write this, so don’t try to correct my grammar, Mom.)

Just being at Ethos has triggered an unexpected wave of emotion for me. A few things are different. Kids are bigger. Little Kevin is sitting next to me right now and I swear he has grown four inches since last summer. But mostly, it’s the same old Ethos community that we already know and love. The same familiar faces who so graciously host us year in and year out. As I sit and write from Daniel and Dana’s living room, I can’t help but feel like I am home, surrounded by family. From this perspective, our purpose for this trip feels so clear to me: to create a mirror image of God’s family in heaven. We do this by the way we eat together, laugh together, ride hot busses together, worship together and do life together. These relationships we are developing are so deeply rooted in the love of Christ that even a year of time has not been able to shake them. Family is developed not in a place where everyone necessarily “fits in” perfectly, but in a community where everyone knows that they belong. And it is already so clear to see that each member of this team, American and Romanian, belong here. Those who are part of the Open Roads family belong – and they welcome us into their family. I truly believe that these relationships we have here in Craiova are exactly the kind that Jesus had. They are noticeably different in a way that is so simple but so powerful. After reuniting with so many people, I can’t even wipe the smile of my face. What we have here is special. And as we head into the next days, I cannot wait to see how our heavenly family grows. But for now, please just pray for some GOOD SLEEP!

With a joyful heart,


It’s too late for shout-outs but…KATRINA…Irina wants her Lei back

Update: Sponsored by McDonald’s

So apparently “McToast” is a thing here, as are sugar packets containing tiny pills of concentrated sugar (these are pretty great). Other than crashing the Frankfurt airport McDonald’s seating area, not much has happened. Some of us went to look for the “open-air deck,” but “open-air” turned out to mean “smoking,” so our foray into fresh air for the first time in what feels like forever left something to be desired.

The actual 8-ish hour plane ride? It was a plane ride. Some people slept. Others didn’t. But we’ve arrived safely and are looking forward to the next leg of our travels.

Shoutout to oreos for being the best breakfast food

And just like that, we’re off to Bucharest!

Nothing Crazy… Yet

Suh dudes. Grace and Noah coming to you live from the airport! Thankfully the day has been pretty uneventful, starting with a great sendoff full of long hugs and lots of excitement. On the way down, the energy we had was poured into our Taylor Swift jam session, and then contributed to our new ways to keep “Little Lion Man” family friendly. After a quick stop at the Oasis to fuel up, we continued the bus ride, a little less energetic than the first leg (probably due to mini food comas). Upon arrival, our squad took to the check-in and thankfully the airline let everyone keep their carry-ons! We quickly made our way through security and have set to making friendship bracelets, playing euchre, taking walks (moving walkways are very entertaining), and solving Rubik’s Cubes (Andrew just beat his 4X4 record by 2 seconds!). The general feel is excitement, with a little spread of uncertainty, as we step onto the plane and into an entirely different culture. Please keep us in your prayers as we are met with a long day of travel and an introduction to Romania. Pray for safety, strength, energy, and for a sense of peace during travel that can often feel chaotic and unnerving. Thanks for reading and tracking what we are up to! Keep checking for more updates as we continue on this journey, and man, the journey is long.

And now to Kirstin, for a haiku.

Ode to the moving walkway at the bottom of the ORD:

Neon-lit gliding
If they didn’t yet know we’re
kids, they sure do now

To Mama P: Don’t worry mom, I’m making sure to blog!
To Ray and Franny: SING WITH ME NOW!
To Jo: Hope you’re finding cool ways to keep yourself occupied without me to read you Harry Potter picture books.
To Movie Soulmate: Your Horcrux lives.
To Katrina: The string is being put to good use!

Thanks for reading!
– Grace and Noah