“We’re here, aren’t we?” Joshua was the first to notice they had entered Shutka. Mrs. Taylor had given them a big clue. He figured it out by the mounds of trash lining the road. Dogs roamed through the garbage for their lunches. Across the street from the trash piles were three enormous houses.
“I thought the Roma were poor?” Rebecca questioned no one in particular.
“Many are poor, Rebecca,” Mrs. Taylor explained. “But, there are many Roma who live in other countries where they can make more money. They come back to Shutka and build these big homes. Many of them are empty. Because this is the biggest group of Roma in the world, many Roma in other countries have family here and like to come here to hold their celebrations like weddings. They may live in their home for a month each summer or two and that’s all. It impresses others, though, to have a big home, even if they don’t live in it.”
“Seems like a waste of money,” Rebecca decided.
“Well, Rebecca,” Mr. Taylor responded this time. “The Roma don’t live for God the way we do. They spend money on many things that we think are foolish. One of the most important things to them are their celebrations. They spend more money than they have on their parties. But it’s important to them. It makes their lives worth it. That’s why we’re here. To show them there’s something better to live for. God can give their lives importance and meaning.
“When you minister to people, you need to remember where they are coming from. You can’t just tell them it’s silly to spend money on big parties. We need to work within their culture. We need to show them that they have a reason to celebrate in Jesus.”
“Thanks for teaching my grandkids, Dan,” Grandpa Joe said with appreciation. “They are eager to learn from you about the Roma and about missions. I think they’re eager to play with Susanna too. I hope they will be an encouragement to you while we’re here.”
“Guests are always an encouragement to us,” Mrs. Taylor said and smiled at the children. “When we get to tell someone new about the job we are doing here, it reminds us of the importance of the work. It gets us excited to keep going.”
“Then we’re extra glad we’re here,” said Grandma Kay.
The van was moving very slowly now down bumpy roads. There were huge holes in the road making the van dip and bump as it slowly plodded along. Rebecca thought their car was going to be hit as another car squeezed past them on the narrow street. There was no room to pull over to let someone pass. The houses were right up against the street. They splashed through a big puddle. A teenage girl in jeans and a tee shirt was hosing the little cement area next to her home. The water ran out into the street.
“That’s the second woman we’ve seen with a hose,” Rebecca told Joshua. “We should find out why.” Joshua nodded.
“Later we’ll ask,” he added. Rebecca nodded. The van was slowing down. Mr. Taylor pulled the van off the road into the dirt.
“Here’s our stop,” he called to his passengers.
Another huge house stood before them. It was three floors high. There was a fence around it with a cement “yard” in front of the house.
“Don’t get too excited,” Mrs. Taylor commented. “We live on half of the first floor. The rest isn’t ours. We share it with our landlord’s family.”
Mrs. Taylor was the first to the door behind her husband. He opened the door and slipped off his shoes. Mrs. Taylor did the same. “Welcome,” she said and gestured for the rest to enter.
Everyone followed suit and took off their shoes at the door. They walked down a narrow hallway covered with a blue rug. They saw the bathroom on one side of the hall. They walked into the room on the other side. Inside was a dining table, a desk, a couch, coffee table, cabinets and a green rug on the floor.
“Why don’t I give you the full tour now?” Mrs. Taylor sparkled as she began showing her home. The first room was open to the kitchen which was more like a narrow hallway. The house had one more door. “This is Susanna’s room,” Mrs. Taylor said as she came into the room. There was a crib, a bookcase, a box of toys, a wardrobe, a soft chair and another rug. Along two walls were mats. “Those will be your beds,” Mrs. Taylor told Rebecca and Joshua.
“Perfect!” exclaimed Joshua. “It’ll be like camping!”
“Good,” Mrs. Taylor said gently.
Grandma Kay was sitting at the desk when the children came out of the other room. “I’m writing your family an email to let them know we arrived. Why don’t you each write something as well?”
Rebecca let Joshua go first. Joshua wrote about the plane. Rebecca wrote about the Taylors’ house. Rebecca checked their email before she got out of the computer chair. “There’s a message from mom and dad,” she reported. She read it out loud. She clicked on “reply” and wrote, “We love you too,” before clicking on “send.”
Mr. Taylor spoke up. “We’d like to take you for a little walk. We’d like you to meet someone too. You have an invitation to join a party tomorrow. We need to introduce you to the host family. They are neighbors of ours. They are very excited you will be at their celebration.”
“What kind of party is it?” Rebecca asked right away.
“An engagement party,” Mr. Taylor answered. “I don’t think there is anything like it in America. You’ll find out soon enough what it’s like.” Mr. Taylor let out a little laugh.
Mr. Taylor led the way again this time out the door. The group of Americans started walking down the street.
“Rebecca, look!” Joshua tugged on Rebecca’s dress with excitement. “Do you see?”
Rebecca looked ahead down the street. A gaggle of geese were being walked down the street by an elderly man with a long walking stick. The loud honking carried over the other street noises. A car rumbled past. Huge bags of onions were tied to its roof. Music from a stereo blasted from someone’s house.
When the group got to a street crowded with stores, Grandpa Joe asked to go to the exchange office. “That’s the money store,” he told the kids. “I’m going to buy denars, Macedonian money, with my dollars from America.” When he came out of the store, he showed Rebecca and Joshua the money he got. The bills had 10, 50, 100 and 1000 written on them.
“1000!” Joshua shouted.
“Ssh! Don’t tell everyone how much money I got,” Grandpa Joe corrected. “1000 is only the same as twenty dollars anyway.”
They walked on past a small convenient store, a music store and a butcher shop. Mr. Taylor led the others into one of the shops. There was one young man behind a counter. Under the window was a stove. Hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries were cooking. There was little room to stand so Rebecca, Joshua and Grandma Kay went back outside to wait. The men soon returned with a bag of food and drinks.
“We’re going to head back home to eat,” Grandpa Joe directed.
Rebecca and Joshua took in the sights on the walk home. They saw little kids running around in their underwear carrying bottles of water which they dumped out on each other. Mr. Taylor warned the children to stay away from all the stray dogs they saw. They also had to avoid all the puddles in the street.
“Why are the streets always wet?” Rebecca asked Mrs. Taylor, who was pushing Susanna in a stroller.
“They like to keep things really clean,” Mrs. Taylor explained. “They clean in front of their homes with water every day.”
When they had almost reached the Taylors’ home, they were greeted by a neighbor.
“This is the family that is holding the engagement party tomorrow,” Mr. Taylor informed everyone. Rebecca and Joshua shook the woman’s hand. The neighbor kissed Mrs. Taylor on both cheeks.
While walking the rest of the way to the house, Mrs. Taylor told everyone that the neighbors had invited them to the party.
“The party will be tomorrow from four in the afternoon until around midnight,” Mrs. Taylor said. “Your bodies will think that’s ten in the morning until six in the evening. It’s six hours earlier in America than here. Maybe that will help you stay awake for the party. But I don’t think we’ll stay until midnight.”
Rebecca whispered to Joshua to change his watch to read six hours later. It was one in the afternoon in America. They changed their watches to say it was seven in the evening.
Back home they ate their hot dog sandwiches. The hot dogs were on huge buns and had French fries on top of them covered in ketchup and mayonnaise. After Susanna was asleep the kids had a time of prayer with their grandparents and the Taylors. The Taylors went into Susanna’s room to sleep. Grandma Kay and Grandpa Joe slept on the couch which pulled open into a bed. Rebecca and Joshua curled up on the foam mats covered with shiny, smooth material. They went to sleep to the sounds of music and dogs barking.