I spent the month of February with my daughter and sister on a mission trip in Romania. One of the places we spent a fair bit of time was a charming venue called the International Café; a coffee house where young adults come for language lessons, games or movies nights, and cultural presentations.
When they heard we were coming, those that run the coffee house ministry asked if we would organize a Canada Culture night. Along with sharing reflections we were told how much people would appreciate some type of snack; one that would be identified as Canadian. So we filled every available nook in our suitcases with a supply of dried Saskatoon berries, maple-leaf shaped cookies, and the ingredients needed to make batches of a Canadian treasure--puffed wheat cake. Deciding what to talk about took more time. From landscapes to politics to entertainment we wondered what would be best to share.
Even though we were standing mere blocks from the shore of the Black Sea, pictures of Canada's natural beauty elicited many appreciative comments, as did our information about our history and government, actors and athletes, landmarks and fun facts, in a room filled with people from Romania, the United States, Brazil, South Korea, Scotland and Syria.
We were asked to do the presentation again a week later, this time to a group of youth. We made more puffed wheat cake, got berries and cookies ready to serve up but I couldn't help but wonder how we might keep their attention through a translated presentation. But not only did they listen, they listened so attentively their questions afterward were insightful and fascinating. They were fully engaged with what we had to say and talked enthusiastically about points of comparison and contrast with their country.
I thought back to an interaction my husband and I had with a young adult when we were in Romania twenty years earlier, 10 years after the revolution. It was a hard conversation because he saw little to be hopeful about and it was clear our realities were very different, based in large part on the country in which we were born. Or was there more?
This year I had a really interesting conversation with a young man from the youth group; 16-years old, very likeable, and a deep thinker who sees limits to his future unless he is able to remove himself from his neighborhood and his city. His ethnicity puts him at a disadvantage, at least that is his perception, but he has ideas that he hopes will offer greater opportunities not just for himself, but for others in his community as well. He's willing to put the work in and believes his country can be better as a result.
I thought about a man we'd met earlier in the month in a different city. He was 15 when the revolution took place so he has lived through many transitions. He remembers the past, experienced the growing pains of a new political and economic system, knew what he was capable of, and is optimistic about the future. He is well educated, a husband and father, and speaks with passion promoting the country he loves. I wish the two of them could have met. The older one would have been encouraged by the young man's drive, and the younger would have been inspired to keep striving knowing what was possible.
Standing on the shore of the Black Sea or the riverbank of the South Saskatchewan stirred similar feelings. Beautiful landscapes to care for, good people with talent and vision contributing to the community, and important goals for each nation. But it requires effort to make it happen.
Speaking in another part of the world about the country we were from was a unique privilege; and the difficulty in selecting from a long list of things to talk about was a reminder of the breadth of what Canada is from sea to sea to sea. It gave me renewed appreciation for all this nation has to offer. But even beyond that is the realization that what makes the country great is that it gives most of us a chance to offer something in return. That's my outlook.