"Agape Church in Timisoara, Romania, pastored by Isaac Matei, hosted a national worship conference from 5 to 9 November, and had invited Graham Kendrick to lead the worship and to teach at the conference. One of the areas they had identified as needing input on was children's and all-age worship, so I was honoured to be part of the team of 11 that went from the UK - Graham Kendrick, Phil Sheldrake (admin), Richard Swan (keys), Paul Kimber (bass), Phil Crabbe (drums), Nick & Trish Parran-Smith (brass), Vel Thomson (vocals), Mark Trigg (PA), Simon Parkin (guitar) and myself.
Still emerging from the shadow of communism after the famous revolution of 1989, Romania is a beautiful country, and the people very warm, friendly and hospitable. There are, of course, many orphans (around 180,000 still in national orphanages) and as with all countries of the world, the hope of the nation is always in its children. There are many wonderful ministries to orphans, but the need is still vast.
There were hundreds of attendees to the conference from all over the country, and the hunger of the delegates to learn and to seek to serve God in worship was really very impressive. Having been at many worship conferences in the UK where the attitude of musicians and worship leaders can tend towards the "cooler than thou" syndrome, the humility and fervour of the Romanians was a real challenge.
Graham led the team and the event with great passion and vision, and it was a huge inspiration to me. I've known Graham for around 15 years, and always learn something from being with him and observing him in ministry - he has a determination to give his very best in every situation, and to hear from God afresh each time he leads, rather than relying on tried and tested routines.
The band were all fantastic, and as well as leading the worship with Graham, they were all involved in taking workshops for instrumentalists and singers, which were very well received. The combination of practical and spiritual teaching throughout the event was very powerful - people were hungry to learn more about the "tools of the trade", as well as how to move in the power of the Spirit.
Graham was very keen to encourage songwriters to write more indigenous Romanian worship songs. As with many nations, there is perhaps an over-dependance on translations of English songs from the US, UK and Australia. He also emphasised the need to take the best of the Romanian musical heritage, alongside the desire to be contemporary. Richard Swan, keyboard player in the band, borrowed an accordion and played that often, which seemed to be a real eye-opener to many people, to discover that a somewhat scorned "folk instrument" could be used very powerfully in modern worship, alongside an electric guitar and drum kit!
One tremendously powerful time of worship included an act of reconciliation between a gypsy worship leader (who had the most fantastic voice and anointing!) and other Romanians - there is a history of mistrust and antagonism, and so the see the desire to repent and be reconciled was incredibly moving (it's the first time in a long time that I've cried in worship, and I think it did me good!)
On the Saturday night, there was a large worship concert in the (as yet unfinished) main auditorium of the church, and around 1,000 people came. As well as worship led by Graham and the band, there were songs by local worship leaders, and a powerful drama telling the story of "A man named Jesus", led by a team from the USA, using local actors and dancers, which communicated the gospel very powerfully. Phil and Vel from the band gave their testimonies, which were brilliant.
My involvement was to take workshops on writing songs for children, and leading all-age worship, and the response from those attending was very warm and enthusiastic. There are relatively few Romanian children's worship songs, so I wanted to encourage the delegates to consider writing themselves, and we wrote a song together as part of one of the sessions, which went down a storm. I particularly enjoyed working on the team with Phil Sheldrake, who is a very talented musician and worship leader himself, and is part of my home church (Catford Community Church) as well as being Graham's personal assistant.
For the Sunday morning service at Agape, I led a time of all-age worship, and the children seemed to enjoy the Romanian translations of a couple of FW songs. Trish and Vel were brilliant leading the actions - I wish I could take them with me on the FW Roadshows!
A friend from the UK, Alison, is living and working in Romania, and she came to the conference and was a huge help with translations for a number of songs.
We were delighted to receive a CD, "Light of my soul", from a local writer, Mihaela Drumof, and we hope to be able to start selling her CD next year from our online shop to raise funds for their ministry to children and teenagers. Also, our very good friends Ella and John Havell from Smile Puppet Ministry will be visiting Romania again next May and we'll have details soon of how to pray for and support them.
There is a complete gallery of all the photos I took on the trip here (hey, it justified the new digital camera anyway!)