Merry Belated Christmas! Christmas day has once again come and gone, but thankfully the hope, joy, peace and love of Jesus remains in the hearts of those who trust in Him. December has been a full and very fun month! There are so many stories to tell, so many things the Lord has done to show how much He loves me and the children here at Don Orione. I was blessed to go to Budapest (my favorite place in the world) for the first 4 days of December and then took a quick 2 day trip to Brasov, Romania to make arrangements for a training there in January. The remainder of the month was spent with the children at Don Orione preparing for Christmas. Roxana, one of the educators, prepared a play about the birth of Christ with all the children downstairs having a part. She also taught them (and me) Christmas carols. The children made wonderful Christmas crafts and very special cards for their supporters and staff at the Center. Thanks to the generosity of the British School of Bucharest, we were able to take 5 of the children to a local shopping mall to see Christmas decorations and eat at Pizza Hut. The students and staff at British School came to visit and delivered gifts for each child! These gifts were purchased mainly though the generosity of workers at Oracle, a company here in Romania. We also had several birthday celebrations in December. I am also including pictures from Laurentiu's birthday as I forgot to post them in the last update.
This month has been filled with so many blessings. I am truly in awe of what God has done and how He is speaking to so many of my former coworkers, old college friends, church friends and family to come alongside what He is doing here in Romania. Due to the amazing response I received to a Facebook post, each child now has a sponsor for Christmas and their birthday. This allowed each child to receive gifts chosen specifically for them on the day of their "serbare" (Christmas party). A dear friend wrote and wanted to help with purchasing iPads, other friend wrote to help with Christmas gifts for the young adults, others wrote letters of encouragement. A former coworker from my days as a NICU OT contacted me and decided to not only sponsor a child, but also to share my needs with her doTERRA team leader. As a result, their doTERRA team decided to sponsor me in their Pay it Forward event. They raised enough money for me to buy the needed floor mats for the children upstairs. Plus, I will be receiving essential oils to use on the kids! Three days before Christmas I received wonderful news. Due to the vision of my friends Cornel and Ramona Lazurca and the generosity of several Romanians living in England, I received 8 iPads!
I was able to bring Liviu home after the party on the 22nd and he stayed with me until we returned to the Center on Christmas morning for mass. We were invited to spend Christmas Eve with my friend Lili and her family. Christmas Eve was extra special for me as Liviu prayed with Lili and I to ask Jesus to be his Savior! Christmas day was spent at the Center as we only had a few workers scheduled. Magda, Roxana and her husband helped feed the children who are more involved. We then ate Christmas lunch with Alex, Anca, Liviu and Laurentiu (Luminita wasn't there as she is staying with her special friend Denisa). Laurentiu then left with Nina and Anca with Roxanna. After lunch, Liviu's family came for a visit and I took Alex downstairs to play games. It was a quiet Christmas day, but one I will never forget. Now I am going to post way too many pictures~hope your hearts will be filled with much JOY as you look through them.
It was such a treat to visit Budapest in December as the city is beautifully decorated. I was invited to come and stay with one of my former students, Kinga and her family. Kinga has been such an encouragement to me and has a huge heart for the children at Don Orione. She is hoping to come visit before I leave in March. I was also able to visit some other dear friends, Kati and Agi. It was wonderful to catch up with them and also spend some time with Agi's children, Zsofi and Csabi. It has been 4 years since I have seen them! Kinga and I went to a Turkish Bath, explored my favorite places, and meandered through the Christmas Markets.
Thanks to the commitments made by new sponsors, each child's birthday can now be celebrated! This is a dream that I have had for the past 3 years here, so it is exciting to see it become reality. At the end of November, we celebrated Laurentiu's 11th birthday. In the month of December, we celebrated twins Vera and Lucica's 26th birthday and Ioana G's 11th birthday. Ioana's parents came to visit her, so it was extra special! As you can see in the pictures, the children were delighted to have their special day celebrated! My friend Norita, a fellow missionary who spent the last 30 years of her life serving the abandoned and rejected children there, always reminded me to celebrate these children and to let them know "it's good that you were born". Norita passed away last year, but these celebrations in Romania speak of her legacy.
36 hours in Brasov
Back in October, I spoke at an autism conference in Baia Mare. Several other centers in other cities around Romania then contacted me requested for me to do trainings. As much as I love training others. I also know my priority is being at Don Orione. However, the city of Brasov is only a 2 1/2 hour train ride, so I had agreed to do a training there in January. To help prepare for the training, the director of the center there and I agreed for me to come visit the center in December. I had a little free time, so I was able to squeeze in a visit with my good friend and fellow Calvary missionary Rachel Titriga, and then spent a wonderful evening with Adriana and Pete. Rachel and I walked in the city center to see the Christmas Market and ended up experiencing another Romanian December tradition~carolers dressed up as animals. It was both intriguing and disturbing as they represent evil forces that they are trying to rid before the New Year. Adriana introduced me to a new favorite dessert~ matusa cremes. I am so thankful Marius introduced Adriana and I when he was here visiting!
Bucharest Christmas Market
Much to my delight, Bucharest's city center was transformed into a lovely and festive area for the holidays. The Christmas Market at University Square was splendid! I visited twice, first with my friend Rodica, one of the caregivers on the children's unit and then with Esthera and Denisa, two of the workers in our Day Center for Autism.
Christmas Activities at in the Classrooms
The children had a busy month making cards and Christmas presents for their supporters and staff. Roxana had each child in her class choose who they wanted to make cards for and then helped them write messages in each card. It was so fun to see their personalities shine as they dictated to her what they wanted to say. Luminita's messages were very specific and quite entertaining. In the card she made me, she asked if I had a broom at my apartment (she loves to clean) and asked me to come to the Center dressed nicely in the morning! Roxana taught them about advent and prepared them for Christmas by reading passages from the Bible. The children also practiced learning Christmas carols and playing instruments. We also did rehearsals almost every day for their Christmas play. Luminita was cast as Maria (Mary) and Laurentiu was Iosif (Joseph). Every child in our programs downstairs was given a role, from wise men and magi, to an angel who brought the good news and the innkeeper with no room in the inn.
Decorating My Christmas Tree
Liviu came home with me for a night to decorate my/our Christmas tree. I say "our tree" because I promised to take him home for Christmas as his mom said she couldn't manage him at home this year. Our friend Esthera joined us and graciously took these pictures. Liviu did a great job and was able to place several of the butterflies in the tree all by himself.
British School of Bucharest
Hannah, one of the teachers at the British School, organizes the volunteer program and brings students every Monday to visit and interact with our children. A few months ago we talked about trying to do outings/field trips with some of our children. The British School director gave the thumbs up, allowing some of their children to miss school and also offered to provide transportation for our children and staff! Our first outing was to Baneasa shopping mall. The children enjoyed seeing the Christmas decorations, visiting the pet store and eating at Pizza Hut. Later the same day, the students returned to the Center to pass out gifts to all the children. Hannah's partner works at Oracle and she shared with him about the children. He in turn got his coworkers involved in sponsoring gifts. Their generosity was much appreciated and we look forward to them coming for a visit in the near future. Thanks Hannah, The British School of Bucharest and Oracle for bringing Christmas cheer to our children!
Christmas Party (Serbare)
December 22nd was a very emotional day for us. After more than a month of rehearsals, the children presented their Christmas play to family, friends and staff. They did an amazing job and we were so proud of each of them! Ioana G's sister came, Alex's sister came, Bruno's father came. and Laurentiu's teacher came. The children were delighted to also have Don Roberto, Ciprian, Elena and some of the other staff attend. After the play, the children received the gifts purchased by money given by their sponsors. Words can not describe the joy, but I think many of the pictures do! I also received the cards the children made for me~my favorite gifts for sure!
Christmas with Liviu
After the Christmas Party. Liviu came home with me for 4 days. We spent the first 2 days at my apartment and then went to my friend Lili and her family. Liviu was so excited to get to play with Beniamin and meet baby Alessia. Christmas Eve was beautiful. Alex and Cornel led us in singing carols and we ate delicious traditional Christmas foods, including salata de boeuf (similar to a potato salad but with other vegetables and meat added) and sarmale (cabbage rolls). Lili made them with chicken especially for me. Before bed, Liviu started asking me a lot of questions about what does the word Savior mean, why did Jesus come, die and then raise from the dead? I asked Lili to explain more as my Romanian is still limited. After a lengthy discussion. Lili asked Liviu if he wanted to ask Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. He said yes and then prayed to accept Jesus! This made Christmas Eve even more special for all of us. Christmas morning we woke up and gave the boys a few gifts before Liviu and I returned to the Center for Christmas Mass. Lili and Alex bought Liviu his adorable outfit. I missed being in my church, but the service was beautiful, especially because it was for our children, young adults and elderly residents!
After Christmas service, the children were given some sweets and fruits by Santa (a creepy looking one, don't you think?). We then went upstairs to feed the children lunch. After we fed the more involved children, Magda, Roxana, her husband Bogdan, the 3 caregivers and I sat down for our meal with Alex, Anca, Laurentiu and Liviu. We all decided it was so much nicer to eat this way, like a family. The children were all excited about having delicious and special food, but Alex's whole face lit up when I told him there was sarmale AND lasagna~his two favorites! After lunch, Liviu's mom and siblings came for a visit. He was so happy because all morning he kept saying he didn't think she would come. Please pray for his mom (Vera) to come more often and to see the beauty in her child. The rest of the day was spent playing games with Liviu and Alex. Liviu's siblings joined Alex for a lively game of CandyLand which Alex enjoyed immensely!
Thank you to everyone who has prayed, supported and encouraged me, the children and my coworkers this Christmas Season. Know you are making HUGE differences in these children's lives. Thank you also to everyone for helping me to dream BIG and to remember we serve a God who is able and willing to lavish good gifts on those who put their trust in Him. As we move into this New Year, I pray we all remember the greatest gift has already been given~ Jesus Christ!
La Multi Ani~Happy New Year from Romania!