One hundred trips across the Atlantic to Romania

Just finished my 100th trip to Romania. During the first 50 trips, Romanians usually greeted me as if I was an overdue dinner guest by saying “my grandpa promised that one day the Americans will come”.

But now the reaction is different.   I am asked “Why do you love Romania so much?”


The simple answer is that I love standing on the hills, with a breeze in my face, and looking out at the endless horizon of green hills and small farms.

Don, Mom & Dad

I love the humility of Romanians.


I love the struggle for human dignity in Romania, promised by the Constitution, but denied by the Government.



Above all, my 100 trips are about people.   People that have made me a better person.  Romanians’ have a saying – “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are”.  My Romanian friends are the people I aspire to be.

On my first visit in 2003 I met a friend who was tortured in Communism and freely forgave his prison guards.


For years I slept in an orphanage and was moved by an orphan girl that never smiled. In her blank stare I heard the words “I saw the face of God on a little orphan girl on the other side of the world …what are you going to do now?”


I spent years watching two brothers grow up.   They taught me that joy does not come from the world around you, but rather from the spirit inside you.



I befriended a man that had faith and courage so strong, that every Sunday he wheeled himself 3 kilometers to church down a busy road with no sidewalk (even in heavy rain). We built a church together, even though I could never speak to him.


1st day

I discovered that wisdom and identity comes the simple places.

Aurel and Csabi

There is core group of friends that have been with me from the beginning.   Their homes have been my home.  We have set our sights on impossible dreams.   We have suffered through illness and death.  No matter the obstacles, joy has always been at the heart of our work.


Quitting has never been an option for us (although it is always a temptation in Romania)

marateam And we still celebrate every small victory


In 2010 I met a leader that reminded me that real change comes slowly and quietly from the most unexpected places.





And I met a friend who is every thing I was not.   He is an artist. He prefers to read and think, more than talk.  Over the years he taught me that everything is grace. Everything I have is more than I deserve.  And only when we appreciate all the little things in life do we begin to grasp the bigger picture.


He has traveled the world, more by foot, than plane. I pleaded to join him on a five week trek through Krygyzstan, but he quietly smiled and promised to send me a photo.   He keeps his promises.


He suggested the best way to decide if we really like each other is get completely bored with one another in the middle of nowhere.   I accepted the challenge and we spent long weekends at his little hut in the mountains.


As our friendship grew, he built a loft in his closet – which also served as his office.  From my bed, I can look down at his quiet sanctuary of creation.


In my typical American brashness, I suggested we do something to change the country.   He responded by writing a book and publishing just one copy – for me.  He wanted me to know the evil we needed to overcome.


He explained the mental trauma of communism through the experience of watching his home get bulldozed and living in a block.   These photos with his mother are in the exact same spot -his childhood backyard and later, a communist block.


In the end, we became best friends.  When we formed RomaniaOne he told me “Donny boy – Ours must be a Revolution of Grace.  It is the only way forward in Romania.”



My most memorable moment over the past 12 years was on a Sunday afternoon in a village so forgotten, it does not appear on Google Maps. We stumbled upon a barbeque in an orchard.


For three hours my translator was a young girl that reminded me of my 10 year old daughter.  I wanted this girl to have the same opportunities as my daughter, so I asked for her contact information.


Our final goodbye was captured in a photo. To my left is a woman I will never forget.  She was so sweet; I hugged her and said, “I love you.”


She quickly replied “We will know if you love us ….  if you come back.”

She was right. Love hopes, love protects, love trusts and above all, love perseveres.  It never quits. This is the love that never fails.   I will never know her name, but her loving eyes and gentle words are with me always.


If I learned one thing as a venture capitalist, it is that the first decade in any new endeavor is about learning.   Profound impact begins in the second decade.

After 100 trips, I feel like I am just getting started.


7 Comments, RSS

  1. Magda October 26, 2015 @ 5:34 pm

    It is the most impressive love declaration I have ever heard for my country, Romania, and for my people. I am so gratefull you have been able to sense and capture, in so magnific words and photos, the spirit and the struggle of these silent people. My husband and I will be very honored if, during your next trip here, in Romania, we should meet and talk for a while. Thank you for this touching story and visit us again, soon!

  2. Mack Ogren October 26, 2015 @ 8:14 pm

    Don, I am reminded of Matt. 25:40 where Jesus said that as you have done to the least of these, you have done it unto me. Thank you for answering the call. You are making a difference. I hope that I can assist you in that in the future.

  3. Rick Lothrop October 26, 2015 @ 10:45 pm

    My dear cousin Don,

    Your story, your venture, your plight, your love inspires me to be a better person. In this day and age, the battle of forces rages on. You my friend, my cousin, my blood, fight the good fight. Your experience in Romania is incredible. I’m at awe. The courage, dedication, resource, and above all love, to accomplish what you have so far is amazing. As you have witnessed, we in America have it easy and take things for granted. Thank you for the reminder of the bigger picture. We/I often miss opportunities to share our feelings and let the ones we love, know that they are loved. And you, Don Lothrop, are loved. Loved from afar, without your knowledge. Now, you know. If I can ever be of service, just let me know.
    With sincerity and lots of love, Rick

  4. John Handelsman October 27, 2015 @ 12:26 pm

    Don – it has been so much fun to observe you on this journey, if even from afar; your willingness to “go” as you are led by the Spirit through the people of Romania and receive grace and truth that can be passed along to others. I hope I can also “taste and see” some of this soon.

  5. dave peterson October 28, 2015 @ 4:50 am

    Rabbi – I remember the day you publicly declared your sense of calling to leadership within the ranks of US Government. The declaration had a sense of calling from deep within that I never questioned – it had a sense of destiny and authenticity that was undeniable.

    Over this decade I find it delightfully inspired that your calling has been fleshed out in real time with real people with a real God. From your direct connections to the people and earthly powers of our national systems to the real and eternal power of the people of God in Romania. God has led you on a most powerful journey – a journey of personal transformation. You are a different man than I met twelve years ago. Different in the way you see the world and different in the way you experience the people God places within your path. Thanks be to God for his faithful work in our hearts!

    Thank you for taking such a journey – and for learning. You’re a good Rabbi because you love to learn and are gracious about how you freely offer the gift of learning to everyone around you – without demanding it. Thank you for allowing God to take you to places you honestly never asked to go – but when direction emerged, you said ‘yes’.

    As your friend I am very grateful for your example. I find that serving in my small place in the world has not made me as gracious or insightful or as loving as your decade, but we all accept our callings as they arrive and we serve them to the best of our abilities and gifting. God will be the ultimately judge of it all.

    Thank you for inspiring me – for making me cry (for unknown reasons) – for placing desire in my heart for the unknown adventures God has for all of us. I deeply rejoice with you, friend, and am looking forward to watching what God has in store for your next decade. For all of it I am deeply grateful and give thanks to our loving heavenly Father for you. The peace of Christ to you……

  6. Voicu Bojan October 28, 2015 @ 7:47 pm

    Great radiography of your inner, intricate journey, Don. A gradual revelation. A kind of slow food. It’s flattering for us all to see you giving so much attention to such an imperfect little country situated at the very edge of civilized world. But it’s your story and at least myself, I am happy to be part of it.

    Remember our favorite book, right? Here is a nice quote from our favorite character. According to Pilon, all the half told things you’ve mentioned above now must be filled by us, the hearers.

    “The story was gradually taking shape. Pilon liked it this way. It ruined a story to have it all come out quickly. The good story lay in half-told things which must be filled in out of the hearer’s own experience.” (John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat)

    The story goes on. See you soon back home. /us

  7. Andrei Tinca May 15, 2016 @ 4:26 am

    Thank you Don!


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