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Sarena Lorona’s home life was difficult. At an early age as she was exposed to things that no child should know. From the age of 10 until the age of 23 she used alcohol and drugs to numb her pain. “I can remember going to Grandma’s church at age 7… I prayed the prayer that day… I knew I believed in God, but I had no real understanding of Him…”
Sarena’s parents died young and she was left alone and desperate, looking for love in all the wrong places. Trying to pull her life together she moved from the deep South to New York. “I can remember this one night… I was in my room… my anger and bitterness was overwhelming… I literally started yelling at God and pleading with Him to tell me why my life was so hard… then it was the most incredible thing… the most peaceful thing… suddenly I experienced Jesus embracing me, hugging me…it was the first time I could ever remember feeling safe or protected…”
Sarena then started to attend church and bible studies and her faith began to flourish. Shortly after, God impressed upon her heart to move to San Diego.
Matt Lorona was raised in a Christian home. He remembers attending Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego and listening to Pastor Miles McPherson teach the Bible in the evenings. “When Rock Church started at San Diego State my parents went. And they have been at Rock Church ever since…”
Though Matt had been exposed to the scriptures and believed God was real, his walk was apathetic. “It was always something I believed I would dive into when I was an adult… I still had other things to do while I was young…” Life became a downward spiral for him after high school. “I didn’t have much of a direction… I was wasting time… I didn’t know what my purpose was or what I should pursue…People must have been praying for me because I was lifted up out of my apathy…”
Matt felt strangely drawn to start attending church by himself and his faith became his own. He started serving at Pebble Pathway at Rock Church's children’s ministry. God then called him to attend a christian discipleship school where he grew even more.
He also started serving at Rock Church's homeless ministry where he met a lady from New York named Serena.
“He was a wonderful friend to me…” remembers Sarena.
Their friendship blossomed and eventually Matt had the influence to help convince Serena to attend the same discipleship school he was attending. She agreed. “It changed my life… gave me direction… I cannot understate the benefits of presenting myself to God at that time and growing in the knowledge of Him at this capacity…”
The students at this school embarked on something called the Love Out Loud Tour. It was an opportunity for them to live out their faith on the streets of America over a three-week period. It involved buses, sleeping bags, church visits and outreaches, both planned and unplanned. Their particular tour headed north through Oregon and Washington in late November.
“I remember there was this solo day in Sacramento. The leadership gave us about four hours to go spend time with God in an exceptionally large park. I had a very intense moment with the Lord… I had felt myself being drawn more towards Matt as husband material, but immediately surrendered it to Jesus…I didn’t want to get distracted...” Then the Lord spoke to Sarena's heart, “You are going to marry him and he knows it…”
Sarena remembers heading back to the buses and running into Matt. “He asked me how my time was… at that moment it was the craziest question for me… I wasn’t sure how to respond…” As Sarena continued to surrender the thought of marrying Matt to the Lord she felt freed up to be pursued, to let it unfold. “I was learning to trust God and not to strive…”
Upon graduating the discipleship school, Serena moved to Arizona to live with a family of four to help them through a very difficult time. “It was an opportunity to be Christ to this family and literally be His hands and feet to them…”
Her friendship with Matt continued and one day Matt called to ask her a question.
“I remember telling her on the phone…’Look, I know you are going to think I am crazy… but I need to ask you a question… will you marry me…’ “
God had already prepared Sarena’s heart and she accepted. From the beginning of their friendship Matt had known she was the one. They wed later that year and planted themselves in San Diego to work and do ministry.
“I had never had a heart for missions, nor did I ever think I was the type of material to do that kind of stuff. David Platt’s book, Radical, changed all that…” recalls Sarena.
A year and half into their marriage they found out they were pregnant with a precious little girl named Kylie. Matt recalls, “Though our hearts were starting to burn for missions work, we thought having Kylie would be the event to put that off a few years…but that was not the case…”
“I remember coming home one day and asking Matt, if he could move anywhere to do missions work, where would he go? He nonchalantly mentioned, ‘maybe Romania’… I had never really thought of that… I had to go look on a map to even know where it was… ”
Neither Matt nor Sarena had ever been to Romania, but strangely enough, three months later, Impact195, the ministry they both had been serving at, planned a short-term trip there. While that initial trip was a short-term trip, the field operations coordinator at Impact195 asked Matt & Sarena later that month if they would consider being the leaders of the team planning to move out there long-term.
“We started praying about it and talking about it…” Matt recalls. “It was a tough decision at first because life was so comfortable in America. We had a newborn. We were adjusting to being married and being parents and we were serving in a dynamic ministry already. Plus our friends had blessed us by furnishing our entire apartment with incredible high end furniture while they had planned to be gone for an extended overseas stay…we had the giant flat screen TV and everything…”
“Yeah… and then our friends returned home from abroad early…” Sarena giggles. “At first they asked to have a few things back to re-furnish their home…and then they realized the space they were living in could fit so much more… so they asked us if they could pick up more of their stuff…they literally took everything except the kitchen table…”
One night shortly after while sitting on the floor of their living room, they realized having no furniture was of God. Smiling, Matt remembers, “This was His way of moving us along to Romania…” Matt & Sarena gave the landlord notice of their departure, they moved in with Matt’s parents for three months and off they flew with their new team to Romania.
“The first six months were hard…we didn’t know our team super well… we were newly assembled and there were a lot of growing pains… but looking back we wouldn’t have changed a thing. Our team is definitely a family.”
God provided them with a large beautiful home on a piece of land that was big enough to comfortably accommodate everyone on their team. “This was a good thing…” recalls Sarena. “we got to live together with our team… the antique furniture, paintings and chandeliers in the home were a nice bonus…”
“Yeah”, recalls Matt. “Most of team grew up in broken homes… so literally being together twenty-four-seven, starting nearly every morning with worship and devotion together has been healing for them… living together has helped us model what it looks like to be a husband and wife with a child and God has used it to restore a lot of the brokenness in our team members.”
Getting established and building relationships in Romania has been a slow process. “Sometimes you feel like you are trudging through mud… we quickly came to realize we were dealing with a lot of hard hearts, a lot of hurt hearts here… but in some ways it’s neat… you gain such insight into Christ’s character and some of the difficulties He walked through on the earth… Romania is a very religious country with 82% of it’s population practicing Romanian Orthodox… there are elements of Catholicism in it and some very questionable doctrine…there are a lot of rules, legalism and zero grace… a lot of that thinking was influenced by communism as it was the only religion allowed to exist during those times… there is a heaviness here… people don’t smile or even look at you in passing… Romanians were one of the last people to be free of communism in the ‘90s and you can tell…”
Matt & Sarena quickly realized the sovereignty of God in bringing them to Romania as new parents. “You definitely need to build trust here… bringing our newborn sent a loud message to those we came to serve… she’s an amazing bridge to people’s hearts…”
Last May, Sarena got very sick. “I was literally in bed for two months… I was on a whole variety of medications but nothing was working… I was finally diagnosed with a bacterial infection in addition to having two painful cysts on my ovaries… it was a very dark time for me and my recovery took about 2 1/2 months… but I hung in there. I knew our adversary was trying to convince me to leave, but I didn’t give in…”
Weathering through the seasons in Romania is also an intense experience. “In the winters you get a lot of snow. It gets really cold. Pretty much October through May is 30 degrees or lower. The people dress warm and stay inside. The sun comes up at 9am and goes down at 4pm… In the summer it gets warm… the sun comes up at 4am and goes down at 11pm… it’s wild…”
Spring and summer mean it’s garden time for the Romanian people. “Everyone in Romania grows stuff… even if you live in an apartment, everyone has a piece of land that they farm. In our backyard we’ve planted corn, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, peas, radishes and onions… we even have goats and chickens… on the weekends that’s what the Romanian people do…they work on the land… it’s a great time to build relationships…”
Typical weeks of ministry in Romania keep their plates very full. Matt explains, “Mondays are our Sabbaths… our refueling for the week… Tuesdays we start with team devotionals and then head out to lead church, Bible studies and children’s ministry in a local Gypsy village. That night we host a worship night too. Wednesdays we do outreach in the city… the girls usually play their guitars, drawing a crowd and we get to engage them… Thursday and Friday we head to a different Gypsy village to love on the people there… Saturday it’s back to the city and Sunday we head to church and host a kid’s program and two adult services in the evenings… last summer we hosted a summer day camp for village children…we hung out with them and taught them Bible stories…”
“And I love Sundays…” recalls Sarena. “Every Sunday I cook a big meal for thirteen and we break bread together…”
God has been helping the Romanian team adapt and has been stirring up musical talents for the ministry. Matt explains, “One of our team members, Amy, had never played the guitar…. She taught herself, and taught herself worship songs in Romanian. She is now leading worship and teaching other Romanians how to play worship songs in their own language… Matt played the piano when he was young, but was a bit rusty… he’s now writing songs… even Sean busted out his bagpipes and played during a baptism at a church!”
Sarena has watched Matt grow in his gift of teaching and leadership too. “Matt went from teaching Bible studies in the states one day a week, to now six to seven times a week… sometimes with being a Dad he doesn’t get a ton of time to sleep or to study… but some profound things come out of his mouth while teaching…”
“Yeah…” Matt recalls. “I would walk into some teaching sessions feeling like I didn’t have anything great to share and then as I would start teaching, all of these incredible insights would surface… it blew me away every time. It was supernatural and something God wanted to teach specifically to specific groups of people through me at that time…”
Their time there has definitely been spirit-led. “One of the churches we serve closely with went through a traumatic church split two years ago…and God told that pastor He was sending people to help him… he had no idea it would be us... serving with this church has opened up a ton of doors for us within the Romanian communities, doors that we believe would have taken years to open if we were trying to do it on our own...”
“We are on the edge of history in the Romanian Church… this new generation is the first not to have been under the heavy hand of communism. They are smart and free and submitting themselves to religious rules formerly used by communism to control and oppress the people is very unappealing to them… they are open to learning about real discipleship, about the adventures in knowing Jesus and taking Him at His word… they are transitioning from hopelessness to a people with transparent hearts…”
Matt & Sarena just recently found out they are pregnant again with baby number two and they sense God is going to be birthing something new in their ministry as well. “We have sensed there is a new season coming and we want to grab God’s heart and follow Him in whatever direction He shows us… we want to be a part of what He’s doing and we feel like He is preparing us for an increase in some capacity in the ministry…”
When asked how they could be prayed for, Matt & Sarena humbly replied, “well, pray first for this new Romanian generation. Pray for their hearts… they watch a lot of American television and access to Coca Cola is easy for them. Their parents were lucky if they saw a Coke can by the age of fifteen…my point is that there is a lot of materialism starting to pull at them…pray God would use their new liberties and access to resources to draw them towards Himself… pray God would bring revival in this generation and use them to minister back to their parents…pray also for the Gypsy villages… so many families live with domestic violence and alcoholism and it’s brutal on the human spirit… pray for miracles there when we minister to them weekly… pray also for our health… Sarena experienced food poisoning ten times in the last year… pray for a healthy pregnancy and delivery as we entrust ourselves to the Romanian healthcare system, ultimately God… Pray God would bless this child and use it to build even more trust with those we came to bring the love of Christ to…”