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Feet in two worlds for God's glory

Feet in two worlds for God's glory

Feet in two worlds for God's glory

Australian officers, Majors Leanne and Drew Ruthven, know God has placed them in the Eastern Europe nation of Romania.

By Major Leanne Ruthven

“Why are you here?” asked the young man sitting opposite me in his parents’ house in Romania when I told him I am from Australia. “Most people want to get out of this country,” he said, “not come and live here."

I have often wondered the same thing. How did a girl from a small corps in a small city in Australia end up serving God as an officer in an Eastern European country many people would struggle to find on a map?

When I was young I read a children’s book about a girl who lived in a bush hut, whose baby brother went to sleep in a sling, and who didn’t see the ocean until she was 12. In contrast, I lived in a brick house, my baby brother slept in a sturdy cot, and I spent entire summers at the beach. So this story astounded me; it was my first exposure to a culture other than my own.

Fast forward a number of years, and as a young officer I took part in a tour of Asia with a group of Salvationist musicians. I had the opportunity to lead worship with the assistance of a translator – a new experience for me – and someone in the congregation was heard to say, “That girl should be a missionary”. Neither of these events had a great impact on me at the time, but as I reflect on God’s leading in my life I realise they helped confirm my thinking that service in a different culture was something I seriously needed to consider.

In the early 1990s, my husband Drew and I registered our interest in serving overseas, but it was 15 years before this became a reality. We left Australia for Papua New Guinea in January 2007, taking our 15-year-old son with us. PNG may not have been far from home, but it was a totally different world. I recall opening the drawer of my office desk on my first day at work and finding nothing but a roll of toilet paper and a chart telling me what to do in case of a tsunami. Suddenly my feet were in two very different worlds and, having left two other young adult children in Melbourne, my heart was also in two places.

Since that time, apart from two short terms back in Australia, we have been away from home, having also served at International Headquarters, the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland, and now, since January 2015, in Romania.

Romania is a bit like us because it also has its feet in two worlds. There are modern cities and traditional villages; late-model vehicles and wooden horse-drawn carts; enormous shopping malls and old women selling their meagre goods on the streets. Romania is home to Count Dracula’s Transylvania, glorious painted monasteries and the enormous Palace of Parliament, the second-largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon).

Majors Leanne and Drew Ruthven in Romania - a nation poised for growth with its feet also in two worlds - modern and traditional.

Twenty-seven years after the Christmas Day execution of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife Elena, the country is moving on from its Communist past, yet still there are remnants of a former life: frustrating bureaucracy, a degree of mistrust on the part of some and, occasionally, an unwillingness to show initiative. Some people, like the young man who wanted to know why I came to Romania, have felt the need to search for opportunities abroad. But others, like the young woman working for a hotel chain in the capital Bucharest, tell me of their determination to stay and do their part in building a better society.

Romanians are religious people, with around 81 per cent aligned with the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Army is not well-known, and those who do recognise our red shield have usually seen the Army at work in the USA or other parts of Europe. Some might ask why we are in Romania at all. The answer is because we believe God wants us here. We are bringing “soup, soap and salvation” to those who need the love of Christ.

For example, in Bacău, in the north-east of the country, Lieutenant Nicu Dumitru runs an after-school program for children from impoverished areas. School finishes at lunchtime in Romania, and these children are in danger of being sent by their parents to scrounge at rubbish tips or beg on the streets during the afternoons. So the Army, in conjunction with the local authorities, keeps them at school for as long as possible.

Other initiatives in the country include medical clinics, soup runs, hospital visitation and football teams. A large Norway Grants project funds some of our work, including our second-hand clothing business SALVATtex. This venture is designed to provide work opportunities for our beneficiaries and, in the longer-term, help move our region towards financial sustainability. Four shops have opened in the past year, with more to come. Along with this, Romania enjoys good support from other parts of the Army world.

Our work is growing and the potential is enormous. Soldiers are being enrolled and a number are putting up their hands for officership. Like Salvationists everywhere, our people need to have their feet in two worlds: they are members of society but also citizens of the Kingdom of God, and the challenges of being “in the world but not of it” are very real.

Why am I here? Because I believe this is where God has placed me. Being sure of this doesn’t necessarily make the path smooth, and certainly doesn’t stop me feeling the distance from home. But these are exciting times for the Army in Romania and this is why I live daily with my feet in two worlds and my heart in two places.

Major Leanne is the Regional Commander in Romania.

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