For several years now, I have been invited by a fellow missionary, Dawn Elenbaas, to come to Timisoara to do some trainings on sensory processing and developmental stimulation. Dawn works in one of the State Orphanages and has a great relationship with the local Child Protection. Unfortunately, the timing never worked out, that is until this July. It was wonderful to finally meet Dawn in person. She has such a beautiful heart and the way she loves on the children at the orphanage really encouraged me. Because of her faithful service and integrity, and of course God's grace, I was given access to visit the orphanage and work with Dawn. It has been 4 years since I last entered a State-run orphanage and to be honest, it wasn't easy. Seeing the conditions of these children broke my heart. Yes, things are better than when I entered my first orphanage 15 years ago, but still some fundamental issues remain, such as limited caregivers, lack of space and limited stimulation. Dawn does her best to take some of the children out into the community. While I was there, we took 4 of the children to the zoo and then to dinner at McDonald's. Because of stringent laws, I cannot post pictures of the children's faces.
I was also asked to do a day-long training at an orphanage in Lugoj, a city about an hour outside of Timisoara. There were about 20 people in attendance, ranging from therapists to psychologists to educators. Overall, I think it went really well. As always, I began the training by sharing Psalm 139, thus setting the stage for all to hear that we have a Creator who knit us in our mother's womb; we are fearfully and wonderfully made! My prayer is that at least 1 or 2 of the staff with catch the vision and begin delivering child-focused intervention.
Timisoara is a lovely and important city, historically speaking. It was here in December 1989 that the first street protests occurred, leading up to the Romanian Revolution. I had a few hours to explore the city on my last day. I loved all the bright colored buildings, such as difference from Bucharest!
Oradea: Home Sweet Home
After 4 days in Timisoara, it was finally time to go to Oradea! Oradea is my "home" here in Romania. It was the city where I did my first missions trip back in 1999 and it remains a place very close to my heart. I can't really explain it, but I felt a sense of peace and deep, deep contentment when the train stopped and I saw the sign: Oradea. Making it even sweeter was seeing my cherished friend/"sister" Ramona waiting for me at the platform. Although my primary reason for coming was to do trainings/supervision at Pyramid Learning Center (a day center for children with Autism and other developmental delays), I was blessed with getting to spend a few days with my Romanian families, The Feher/Lazurca/Ille clan, the Fagadar's, and the Vari/Dorog's. In addition, I was able to meet up for a few hours with my dear friends Dora and Monika. I was able to finally meet my newest Romanian "nephew" Filip (born in June) as well as Monika's sweet daughter Miriam (she was born right after I left last summer).
As much as I savored each moment with my friends and "family" in Oradea, I was equally excited to come and partner with Pyramid Learning Center. This day center just opened last March and is already making a huge impact on the lives of several children and their families. Their director, Ioana, is a very bright, passionate and motivated psychologist/special educator. She is also a fellow believer who truly radiates Christ's love. Lili, my close friend and co-laborer at Don Orione, is partnering with this center and thus "convinced" me that we needed to spend a week in Oradea. No that I needed much convincing to go "home" :) At the time, Lili was 8 months pregnant, but still insisted on joining me and even served as my translator for the trainings! We spent much of the week working alongside the staff, providing feedback, making suggestions and modeling treatment techniques. We then did a 2 day training on sensory processing. Around 30 people were in attendance, including therapists, psychologists, teachers, university students and even a few parents.
The day before I flew back to Bucharest, I was given another special gift: a visit to Loredana's family. My good friend and fellow missionary, Randy Bullock called me and insisted we carry on our annual tradition of driving to Astileu to visit Loredana's family. We were joined by Randy's summer intern, Cody as well as 2 of his Romanian assistants, Rebeca and Adelina. It will be 10 years in October since Loredana passed away and somehow God has chosen for me/us to keep this bond with her family. We had a great time playing with the youngest child, Simina and also enjoyed a sweet time of fellowship and prayer. But it was also a painful time. Leanora, Loredana's mom, confided in us that Lavinia, her 14 year old daughter, tried to commit suicide this past September. I was so sad not to see Lavinia. When Loredana passed away, she was a little 4 year old child. She would pray for me to come visit and was always so full of joy. It pains me to see how hard life has been for this family and how they have tried so hard to escape living in a gypsy community, only to see their dreams shattered. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers, especially that Leanora would hold on to Jesus.
As we headed back to Oradea, we were given yet another gift: Sunflowers! Most of the sunflowers were already dried up due to the extreme weather, but we came across a beautiful field and stopped for yet another annual tradition.
Bucharest Part 1: Randy's Visit
Thankfully I was able to fly from Oradea to Bucharest, making the journey a mere 1 hour flight instead of 12+ hours by train. The downside was having to be to the airport at 4:45 a.m. As soon as I landed in Bucharest, I headed to my appointment at the immigration office to turn in all my paperwork for my Romanian Visa. After more than a month of filling out forms, going to the notary, paying taxes, purchasing private insurance and consulting with a government official, I am happy to say all my forms were completed. I am scheduled to return on August 29th to pick up my visa. Amazing timing as my 90 day tourist visa expires on August 30th!
The very same day I returned to Bucharest, my good friends Randy Bullock and Adelina Ghirau, along with Rebeca Marze and Randy's summer intern, Cody Hudler, took a train from Oradea to come serve with me here at Don Orione Center for 5 days. We have been talking about this trip for years, so when Randy said they were coming, it was a great and wonderful surprise! I am thankful for Adelina's insistence in making this happen. Randy and his team played with the children, shared bible stories, taught the new songs, dressed as clowns and blew balloons for both the elderly and the children. Cine regele jungele~Who is the king of the jungle~ became the favorite and most requested song of the week! They were also here to help celebrate Ana and Ioana's 9th Birthday.
In our free time, the team wanted to visit Muzeu Satului (The Village Museum). Although I had just been here with an Italian team, I happily gave Randy and his team a guided tour of my favorite spot in Bucharest. I know Romania is not all about village life, but I do think this museum beautifully displays the tradiitonal way of living here in Romania.
Bucharest Part II: Marius Comes to Visit
The same day that Randy's team was returning to Oradea, my good friend Marius Lazau arrived in Bucharest. Marius was one of my translators on my first missions trip to Romania (Oradea) in 1999. We connected right away and have stayed close friends over the past 15 years. He has been the most faithful person in calling me, especially when I am in Romania. Marius has lived in the USA for the past 12+ years and this was his first trip back to Romania. He was coming back to finally receive his permanent visa for the USA and also to surprise his family. We were so excited to realize we would finally be able to reunite, especially since I am now living so close to Bucharest. It was really quite fun showing him around Bucharest, especially considering it was the American giving the Romanian tours around Centru Vechi, Piata Revolutiei, etc.
Brasov: Visiting Marius and the Hagiu Family
Marius invited me to come visit Brasov as he was staying there for a week before heading to Oradea. This was a perfect excuse to spend a little more time with him and also pay a long overdue visit to my dear friends, Nicu and Silvana Hagiu along with their children Naomi and Leo.
Saturday, Marius and I explored the old city center, with him now acting as the tour guide which was a nice surprise. I finally got to see Rope Street (Strada Sforii), which is the narrowest street in Romania and the 3rd most narrow in Europe. We were then invited to go to Bran Castle with his friends Adriana and Pete.
On Sunday morning, I headed to Sacele, a town outside of Brasov, to meet up with the Hagiu's. Nicu and Silvana relocated from Sancraiu to Sacele this past March. They are now working with a charity called FAST, which works with the poor and at risk, mainly roma (gypsy) children and youth. I was able to attend church service (which was translated, a nice bonus) and then spent the day catching up with Silvana. My soul really needed this visit. It was so good to just talk, laugh, pray, listen/sing worship songs and of course eat! On Monday, I needed to head back into Brasov to explore places to take the children when we come for our vacation/"camp". Naomi (Nicu and Silvana's daughter) will be helping me with the children, so she decided to join me for the afternoon and then saw me off to the train station. I really loved spending time with Naomi and can't wait to see her again in a week!
Return to Bucharest: Birthday Celebrations
This week we celebrated Luminita's 8th Birthday and Robert's 17th Birthday. Lumi loved her cake and was so aware it was her birthday. I love seeing how much the staff is enjoying celebrating each of the children's lives!
This coming week....
While I was in Brasov, one of our children, Adi Ene passed away. This has been so difficult to endure, especially because of all the politics involved with preparing his funeral. He is technically a ward of the State, so we are hoping to have an answer tomorrow on where/when he will be buried so we can attend. Please pray for the staff and children.
Next Sunday, Ioana (the kinetotherapist) and I are taking 3 of the children, Liviu, Laurentiu and Alexandru, to Brasov for 4 days. We are excited to take the children to this beautiful city and also expose them to some new adventures, including taking the train!
And now I will finally close this update. I will leave you with a verse from the chapter of scripture (Isaiah 43) that He uses over and over to remind me of my very existence. I pray it will be an encouragement for you as well:
"But now thus says the Lord, who created you O Jacob, and He who formed you O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. " ( Isaiah 43:1, NKJV)