Hi, I'm Tony.

I was working for the Ellenor Foundation, converting Livingstone hospital in Dartford into a palliative care centre. I really enjoyed the challenge, and I had been briefed about Graham so meeting him for the first time I was full of anticipation.

At the end of the project Graham shared his vision for Transylvania. Although I wasn’t sure Transylvania was a real place, I had read Brother Andrew about working behind the iron curtain, and thus the project appealed to me so I offered my services and skills, which Graham immediately rejected as he had someone else lined up to help. However two weeks later the phone rang and it was Graham saying he had changed his mind, if I was still interested, and invited me to join him on a trip to Brasov. I put the phone down fizzing with excitement, but realising I hadn’t the faintest clue about when, how, or what was required.

But we established all of that, and somehow or other the visa came in record time and my local GP offered the necessary jabs for free. So there I am in Heathrow airport, with the gate about to close, no ticket, no visa and no sign of Graham.

At the very last-minute Graham arrives, and we were on our way. We spent a week sharing a bed in Bill and Sylvia Jarrett’s flat. Praying and waiting for the phone to ring. It was nail-biting, but eventually a Hungarian train driver offered a plot of land. It was a lovely timber framed house in a narrow strip in the historic part of town and on a slope of 1 in 20. Hardly ideal. Graham laid a fleece. If it was to be the one, we would be on the plane later that night with the title deeds. Ridiculous. Bound to fail, I could sense the relief in all of us…..but we did. And 101 Piatre Mare, the education centre, came into being.

It was touch and go the whole time. No real brief. No knowledge that the building would be a hospice or that the money would be forthcoming. It also had to be a house, or a library, or something else, just in case the project failed. We were advised locally that it was cheaper to build it and then apply for retrospective consent, a novel concept for me, especially as it turned out to be in an area of National Heritage Significance. But it was approved, with only minor amendments. It happened, and has since breathed new life into that part of town.

We were in a restaurant at Heathrow with Carolyn, Graham and my wife Caroline, heading for the official opening. Our spouses sharing stories of extreme stress and dealing with cross cultural anxiety. Carolyn turned to Graham, and made him promise he would never run another building project in Romania….

Fast forward another two years, and Graham and I are heading to Brasov again. This time to design a new inpatient hospice. We are invited to a Rotary meeting on the top floor of the Aro Palace hotel where Graham is going to make a speech in Romanian asking for their help in finding a new site for an inpaient hospice. As we arrive we are each given a huge glass of Johnny Walker Black Label whiskey….we are located round the table, each with a Romanian interpreter. The chairman says in perfect English that he has invited some guests who he wants to hear before Graham gets on his feet. The first was a local representative from the Ministry of Health who commended Graham’s vision and offered all the support he could. Our hosts interpreted. Then it was someone from the local hospital who got up to say he realised Graham had a site in mind, and he had been told to take a day of his holiday to show Graham the available sites and his choice would be made available to him. Then it was the mayor’s turn, who again commended what Graham had done for his city, and said that he understood they wanted a to build a hospice and a charity shop, and although he didn’t understand what these were, the hospice work could only have been achieved if God was behind it, and if God was behind it, who were the planners to stand in their way! The Romanian Hospice hosts whelped with delight. Grahams planned speech was in tatters. He stood up and spoke in English, while the over excited Romanians started reinterpreting to us English in Romanian.

Tired of listening to nurses trying to translate building terms into English at construction meetings, I decided to try and learn constructional Romanian.

Romanian adventures with Graham have changed my life. It was hugely humbling being part of a team enabling the first palliative care facilities to be established in Brasov, and then Bucharest, and now in Oradea and Serbia. Training for the priesthood in 2000 I knew I needed to engage with Romanian Orthodoxy, and developed my friendship with Father Nicholai Mosoiu. Attempting to learn the language and engage with the food and drink, and after 12 years of seeing only the road between Brasov and Bucharest airport, I also decided to travel around, made a good friend in Brasov who has acted as my guide over the years since, showing me almost every part. My Romanian experiences have been life changing. The hospitality, the friendships, the drawbacks, the patience, the importance of living a life of personal faith has been vital in achieving the outcomes so far. Being a trustee has been the latest iteration, but it is the extraordinary people I have met in Romania whose faith has been honed through communism, which has been the most unexpected aspect of all of this odyssey.