In all of our activities, we serve among 60+ kids per week. We serve with the assumption that God is always doing something before we know it. So, we are sensitive to the children and to God’s action in them, trying to avoid any form of manipulation. A few weeks ago during our Saturday kids’ club, Oana told the children about the life of David. She explained David’s failure in committing adultery with Bathsheba and how he killed her husband Uriah. Then, after David repented, God forgave and restored David. At that moment, one of the 11 year old boys said, “Who? Who forgave David?” Oana repeated that God did. The boy gasped with unbelief. Why would God forgive a man who did such bad things? At first, I was struck by the boy’s shock. He has seen some bad things in his young life, but has not lived in a context of grace. And then I was struck by own reaction. I am so accustomed to Bible stories that I am guilty of domesticating God and failing to see how scandalous God’s grace is. Recently, I read the words of Eugene Peterson: “It is hard to see grace because our whole culture is going in the other direction, saying that if you’re smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems.” The Spirit of God in this young boy awakened me anew to the uncommon, hidden and dangerous grace of God.
I write this update from Lepșa, a village in the Vrancea Mountains, where we hold our annual retreat and summer camp. This week we are meditating on our vision statement: serving Jesus among the most vulnerable. Every morning we have a time of worship and a devotional, followed by 2 hours of solitude. Then we gather to share what God has impressed on us. During our afternoons and evenings, we play games, sleep, celebrate and review some aspects about our ministry like our organizational structure, what we communicate about our ministry, and the five love languages. This year we also celebrated Paul Rase’s 10 years of service with us. It is a joy to have this annual rhythm of withdrawing together to seek God, to enjoy one another, and to be rejuvenated in the midst of nature.
The retreat has been timely after a busy spring. After 13 years, I again became a Servant Team Coordinator. We had a team of two, which spent two months in Romania followed by two months in Moldova. While they were with me, they helped with the games, art and kids’ club, and we read a number of good books: Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, How God Became King, The Open Secret, along with other articles. We really enjoyed having a Servant Team again and are praying for someone to be our Short-term Programs Coordinator, so that we can have them more consistently.
This spring we visited almost all of the evangelical churches in Galati and presented our activities. The children and some of our community members sang some songs. In a few churches, I spoke on Hagar and the vulnerable, Jonah and mission, and foot-washing and intimacy. (The picture on the left was drawn by one of our children as a spoke.)
In March, I led our community in Moldova through a few days of evaluation as they came up with their tactical plan for the coming year. A few weeks later, I returned to Moldova to participate in a conference on Evangelical Mission in an Orthodox Context, where I had the opportunity to present a case study. In April, I led our community in Romania through a tactical planning session. We decided that our major focus for the year is aligning ourselves with our newly formulated mission statement: a better future for vulnerable children through personal development and by partnerships of friends.
In April, we had two friends, Deb and Krystel, visit us from Lifegate Church in Omaha. Deb led us through teachings and discussions on StrengthsFinders, stress management, geneograms, teambuilding and counseling. Krystel talked to us about breaking generational sin. Both of them did personal counseling with our staff. The few days we had together was a rich investment in our community.
We also had some friends – Frank, John and David – visit us from England. They finished up some electrical work in the village Day Center, sanded and painted lockers, and installed a ventilation system in our bathroom. After 12 years, we have leaky pipes, broken faucets, rusty shower basins and rotten door frames and need to completely renovate the bathroom. Because the children that come to the Community Center have no hot water and many have no indoor water, this facility is a major support for them. Having the ventilation system finished is a big start. We need to raise about $2,500 to complete the renovation. Please consider helping us with this investment.
In April, I was invited to a consultation on urban mission in a western city in Romania called Cluj. The conversations revolved around the place of the church in the city and the way the church interacts with the city. This exercise forced everyone to think beyond the walls of their own churches and their own programs. Each was able to see their particular congregation in light of the city – its dynamism, its problems, and its needs.
For Labor Day, we went with the kids to a nearby forest and played games and BBQ-ed. The mother of one of our first-graders is deaf. So, she asked us if she could bring her mom with us. It was a joy to see this lady, who has suffered socially and physically over the years, to be loved and to enjoy herself with us. I was especially encouraged that our first-grader would desire her mom to spend the day with us.
As with past years, we had a feast for Easter, which took place on May 5th on the Orthodox Calendar. With the children, their families and our staff, we had about 60 people. After the singing and the meal, the kids took turns beating a piñata, which eventually gave up its candy.
Well, that brings you up to date with a busy few months. I will end this letter with another lesson that we learned from the children. Each day the kids have a time of prayer. One of the second-graders, after praying for her family and her day, said to God, “…and Father, take care of yourself too.” We have glimpses into the heart of the Father. We pray that we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Yours in Christ,
david and lenut(s)a
Today it is a discotheque called VIP. The building holds a restaurant, a film developer, and a copier, among other stores, but it used to be one of the cinemas in Galati. The art on the front of the building reflects the communist era in which the cinema was constructed.
The communist art is controlled by its geometric shapes. The machinery is manipulated by a human being, which says something of a humanizing vision. But the technology, in its projection of the face of its technician, disfigures the human being. In the projection, humanity is controlled and reduced to geometry.
We are reminded of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image that was reflected in the pool, not realizing that it was only a reflection. Here the woman has constructed her own reflection. She is the center of the piece and is the largest feature. And she gazes at herself as the camera projects her light in every direction.
The question is whether this woman represents the self-enthronement of humanity as in the communist vision or are the echoes of Narcissus and of a flattened out human image a subversive critique of communism?
Developing life-skills is one of our major foci in working for better futures for the vulnerable youth at our Community Center. Although we literally have books filled with different levels of and lessons for life-skills, here is a short list of 30 life-skills and action-steps. We work on these in particular through our cognitive development exercises. While some of them may need some elucidation, most of them are self-explanatory.
|Life-skill: 1. Mental Picture
Action-step: I will consistently make use of my mental picture process
|16. Blur, Break, Recovery
I will be aware of the blur, break, and recovery process related to stress.
|2. Motor Match
I will perfect my motor match so that I can see, hear and move simultaneously.
|17. Stress Behavior
I will take responsibility for inward and outward tendencies under stress.
I will be trust the “warning light” within me.
|18. General to Specific
I will view all things as a whole, and then deal with the specific parts.
I will be aware of the processes involved in every learning experience.
I will be aware of the continuous changes in my environment and adapt.
I will set overall and intermediate goals.
I will evaluate all criticism.
I will deal with all life’s problems and still reach my goals.
I will value what I work for.
I will break any task down into small enough pieces to complete.
I will ask the questions: who, what, where, when, why and how.
I will project success in all my activities.
I will study my environment (work, school, home, etc.) and approach it successfully.
I will note my progress and give myself credit for my success.
I will project enthusiasm by correct use of energy and posture.
I will give and accept praise.
I will frequently ask myself, “Where have I been? Where am I now? Where am I going?”
I will keep trying and I will succeed.
I will play by the rules to succeed.
I will master each step before proceeding to the next.
I will do what is right rather than what is convenient.
I will use stress to enhance my mental picture.
|28. Cause and Effect
Most of what happens to me is the result of my own decisions and actions.
I will take responsibility for my anger, fear, fatigue, etc. in order to achieve success.
I will appreciate others for who they are rather than what they can do for me.
I will always work to a success point before stopping and then enjoy my accomplishment.
I will understand how a person feels by observing his/her actions.
Whenever I teach these skills, I always discover deficiencies in my own skills for life. What about you? Are these skills you have and practice in your life?
As we traversed the celebrations of Christmas and entered into a new year, the people of Galati were given reason to lament.
New Year’s parties are usually times of delight and of hope for the new, the possibility of change, and the expectation of something better. Sadly, Galati enters the New Year with a loss and with a change for the worse. On January 1st, the Association “Nova 2002” is closing its doors.
“Nova 2002” is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2002 to help vulnerable young mothers and their infants. They established an Emergency Center, which cared for infants that were abandoned or at-risk of parental abandonment. (http://www.stiriong.ro/detaliu-csc/vrs/IDcsc/4092) “Nova 2002” specifically targeted underage mothers.
Although the number of underage mothers (ages 12-18) continues to grow, Galati is now in a worse position as we enter 2013 than we were in 2012.
Of course, “Nova 2002” could not resolve all the cases of vulnerable infants and young mothers. There are over a hundred each year. But the organization did provide care, counseling, education and support to many of them. They created a solid methodology and an efficient administration, and they offered rich experience and expertise. And they did this at great personal cost. The staff of “Nova 2002” did not have high salaries. They worked out of a personal desire to help little babies have a better start to life.
The major reason why “Nova 2002” shut down is the lack of support from the local government authorities. As with almost all non-profit organizations, “Nova 2002” struggled to raise funds. They successfully covered their budget through donations from outside the country and from within Galati. But the majority of their budget was covered by public funds allocated through the Galati council.
In 2012 the Galati council allocated 1.7 million lei (about USD 530,000). Of that sum 1,027,000 lei (about USD 320,000) was allocated to six foundations affiliated with the Romanian Orthodox Church, while the rest was designated to another 10 NGOs. “Nova 2002” received 79,000 lei (about USD 25,000). (For the specifics see: http://www.viata-libera.ro/politica-administratie/26604-pentru-nefericitii-galatiului-asistenta-sociala-de-17-milioane-de-lei).
In October, the newly elected Mayor breached the contract made with “Nova 2002” and most of the other non-religiously affiliated NGOs by blocking the promised funds. While the Mayor, Marius Stan, refused to respond to the official requests for an explanation, he did state to the press that local NGOs claim to help the needy but are really just siphoning money for themselves. (For the full statement, see: http://www.viata-libera.ro/politica-administratie/34660-galati-viata-libera-politic-bani-sifonati-asistenta-sociala-fundatii).
Although the Mayor did release the money shortly before Christmas, he failed to respond to requests by the local NGOs for a response to their requests for local funds through law 34 for the year of 2013 and for the Mayor’s objectives for social assistance during his mandate.
Although “Nova 2002” desired to continue to help infants and vulnerable mothers, the instability of the local government forced them to close down. This is a loss to all of Galati. We lose beneficial infrastructure. We lose an organization that we developed by the contributions of the local citizenry. And, what is worse, some of our most needy compatriots are now more vulnerable than before.
As all of this happened around the joys of Christmas, I was reminded of the laments of the first Christmas. The government pursued a policy of infanticide. And the tears of the people were described as the wailing and loud lamentation of Israel’s mother: Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be consoled, because they are no more.
While our local government is not actively pursuing the annihilation of the children, its practices are actively hurting them. And so, we too lament.
A little over a year ago, we received Sara* into our program at the Valley Community Center. She is now 8 years old and in the second grade. An only child, Sara lives with her parents, who are unofficially married, in the home of her paternal grandmother. Their home is in a neighborhood that is cut off from the rest of the city by the railways. Still, the family is fortunate to have electricity and running water.
Just last year Sara’s father was released from prison, where he had served a 3 year sentence for theft. Those three years were very difficult for Sara’s mother, who had never been to school, had no job, and was trying to care for Sara all by herself. Although her parents are now together, they are still unemployed and work odd-jobs when they manage to find them. From time to time, they receive some financial help from a brother who is working abroad. Otherwise, their only consistent income is Sara’s school stipend, which amounts to about $22 per month.
One morning, a few weeks into this school year, Sara told her mother that she wanted to bring some money to the Community Center to give to the poor. Sara’s mother protested, asking, “What? Do you think we are rich?” Sara replied, “Yes, we have a house. There are other people that live on the street.” Since then, all of our second grade children decided to save half of their milk money every day in order to give to those in need.
One day, Bobby, another one of our second graders, took out his money to put in the donation box, while Sara registered the money in the notebook. It seemed that Bobby was struggling to live up to his commitment to be generous. Still, he put his money in the box. Lenutsa noticed this and praised Bobby for his sacrifice. But words were not enough for Bobby. He quickly turned to Lenutsa and asked, “Yes, but what about you?”
The generosity, the sacrifice and the initiative of these children have challenged us. These kids live in dilapidated houses. Some of them are squatting in parts of abandoned buildings. Most have no running water or electricity. And yet they notice others with greater needs than their own. What is more, they want to help them.
Every day on their way from school to the Community Center, the children pass by a family that is living in make-shift tents. The family was evacuated from their home after it was re-privatized and returned to its pre-communist owner. But since the family has nowhere else to go, they have set up camp in an open lot. Last week, the children took their collection of funds and decided together that they would help this family.
As they gathered the money and were preparing to go, Sara’s dad arrived early at the Center to pick her up. As Sara got her backpack and left to go home, she started to sob. Although her father is a pretty tough guy, he stopped to ask her what was wrong, but Sara was crying too hard to talk. So, he asked Lenutsa, and she explained what they had been planning. Sara’s father smiled and said he would wait.
Sara’s tears quickly dried, and the kids walked together to visit the homeless family. Sara was the spokesperson and asked them if there was a way that they could help. The grandmother, with weathered and wrinkled skin, said, “No one has asked us what we need or how they could help us.” Sara and her classmates took their money and bought some bread, cheese and cold-cuts. To protect the dignity of the family, Sara and Lenutsa returned by themselves to discretely give them the groceries.
This is a sample of the lessons of generosity that we are being taught by those living in scarcity. A child challenges the assumption that gift-giving is the privilege of the powerful and that the needy are objects of our philanthropy. Sara and her classmates show us that sacrifice and a shared commitment can become a profound gift that meets desperate needs and touches neglected hearts.
*Names have been changed to protect their identities.
În comunitatea Cuvântul Întrupat din România, am stabilit o paradigmă nouă, adică, o mentalitatea pe care o încercăm să realizăm. Necesită multă strădanie, dar lucrăm ca s-o implementăm. Aceasta este Nouă Paradigmă:
The Word Made Flesh community has traditionally set aside two days per month, the 1st and the 15th, to pray and fast for those who are vulnerable and in poverty, for our communities, and for the church.
This coming month on October 1st, we are setting the day aside to pray specifically for the Word Made Flesh communities. We are moving through profound transitions, and we are facing significant challenges.
We invite you to join us on this day of prayer. As we are able, we will post prayer points on our website www.wordmadeflesh.org. Here are a few for our community in Romania:
– Our week of camp
– Our summer Discovery Team
– The 20 new kids in our Centers
– Our daily bread (we are able to serve about 50 meals per day)
– For the increasing involvement of the parents in the lives of their children
– Our community, friendships and mutual support
– The ways in which we see God working in the small ways in and beyond our community
– The enthusiasm and joy that the children bring
– Sensitivity to follow the movement of the Spirit
– The emotional healing of the children
– The physical healing of one of our boys who will have an operation on his lower intestine
– Wisdom and creativity to overcome our financial deficit
– We are launching a club for at-risk teens in our neighborhood. We are praying that the teens will acquire life-skills and positive values and that they come to the Lord and become part of the local congregation.
I know that this post is late. I realized that I sent it out via email but forgot to post it here. This was from August:
We are in the middle of a hot summer – and I am fully enjoying it! If you know me, you know that I struggle with anything below freezing, so I try and soak up the heat to get me through the cold winter.
Our summer is also full of fun activities with the kids. During the school year, our activities revolve around the school schedules and their school work, but our major focus with the kids is not education but their personal formation. So, during the summer we are able to do more Bible studies and book studies, worship, therapeutic play, mentoring and discussions about skills they need for life. It’s a packed schedule, but it’s a lot of fun. We also have more time to play together: Settlers and Ticket-to-Ride, volleyball, and swimming. We were blessed to have some new friends, Nicholas and Autumn Morgenstern, do art and dance activities with the kids.
At the beginning of the summer, we received two first-grade girls into the Community Center. It is always a delight to see their excitement and the way that they experience things for the first time. We had wanted to receive another little first-grader as well, but the girl’s father decided to take her on a trip to France. For most kids that would be an exciting summer vacation, but for this little girl it most likely meant begging. Little beautiful girls are put on the street corners to ask strangers for money. And it can be quite lucrative. We are praying that this girl returns to Galati in time to start school. And we are hoping to receive her into our Community Center, where we can work to prevent child trafficking and forced begging.
In June, we had a team of 12 come from George Fox University. We spent a week in Moldova and two weeks in Romania. The team did a lot to help us clean the Center, move furniture, cut down trees, rebuild fences. Member of the team also shared their testimonies with our youth, which was impactful. Of course, the team also did lots of fun activities with the kids. We really were encouraged and supported by them during our weeks together.
At the end of the summer, we are organizing our 12th annual camp. It will be a week when we can get out of the city and spend a full seven days together. Besides the archery, hiking and horseback riding, the kids will have 3 full meals a day and their own beds to sleep in. It costs us about $200 per child for the week. If you are interested in contributing to camp, please let me know.
The last weekend of June, Lenutsa and I went to England – unfortunately, it wasn’t for the Olympics. Last October I finished up a MA course that I did through London School of Theology, and the graduation ceremony was held in June. It was a nice way to celebrate the achievement and to meet some of the other students and faculty. After the graduation, we visited some of our friends in Wolverhampton, where we spoke in some churches and small groups, and played in a golf fundraiser. As I hit a wapping 9 on the last hole (par 3), I was glad I could make everyone else feel better about their game. All in all, it was a jolly time.
We are now in the U.S., in Omaha for most of August. We had the privilege of meeting with friends at Winterset Community Church in Iowa. It was our first time there, and we were blessed by their welcome and worship. We will participate in the missions conference at Lifegate Church in Omaha. And we also hope to be with our friends at Emmanuel Fellowship before we depart. It is overwhelming and encouraging to be able to connect with those that have been praying for us and supporting us over the years and also to build new relationships that we pray will develop over the coming years.
As our ministry among the poor in Romania and our broader region of Africa and Europe continues to grow, we are looking for others to partner with us. Since I have been living and serving in Romania for more than 15 years, building new relationships with potential supporters has been a challenge. But this is essential if we are to continue to flourish. Please pray about partnering with us or in building partnerships for us.