By David Faust
The 1989 overthrow of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu unmasked a humanitarian crisis of orphaned children in Romania. Today, there are still an estimated 58,000 orphans in Romania, but organizations like Remember the Children (RtC) are giving many of these children the opportunity to grow up in loving families.
Andy Baker, RtC’s executive director, is a member of East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, where his wife, Gerri, serves on the church staff. Andy has traveled to Romania frequently over the last 26 years, building partnerships with churches and nonprofit organizations. The pandemic prevented the Bakers from traveling to Romania for two years, but during the last week of April, they made the trip along with five volunteers from Maryland, Tennessee, and Indiana, including my wife, Candy, and me. Our goal was to encourage Romanian Christians who have been assisting the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have flooded into their country since the war began in late February.
RAYS OF LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
We heard heart-wrenching stories about child abuse, sex trafficking, and the horrors of war . . . and we met healthy adopted children who are growing up in loving families. We saw refugees being fed, clothed, and housed in Jesus’ name . . . and we heard about kids who panicked when they heard an airplane overhead, for it reminded them of the bombs falling back in Ukraine. We took milk and candy to a group of mothers whose children have special needs. They escaped from Ukraine on a train.
The president of Eastern European Bible College, Marius Ban, showed us the school’s chapel, now filled with mattresses where refugees sleep. RtC bought toiletries and medicine for the adults and toys for the kids who are staying there for now. One of the refugees we met at the college was a 25-year-old mother who is battling breast cancer. She couldn’t get her scheduled surgery because the hospital in Ukraine is now for military use only, so the Romanian Christians are arranging for her to have the operation in their country at no cost.
We visited a camp where another group of refugees have been staying for the last two months; the camp is supported by RtC. Members of a local church have provided them food every day, and we brought clothes and medicine to share as well.
Sergei, a believer who fled from Ukraine with his family of five, served as our translator. He told me, “75 percent of the refugees here are not believers. Please tell them the gospel.” Using John 3:16 as my text, I told them about God’s love and assured them that Christians throughout the world are praying for them. Later in the week, we took the moms and kids to a local mall where RtC bought them new shoes and treated them to ice cream.
Anna, one of the mothers, showed us a photo of her family’s home near Kyiv. The photo shows an unexploded Russian missile sticking out of the ground three feet from her house. Another missile hit and killed her brother-in-law, she said. He was 34.
‘I AM NOT A HERO’
A minister named Mihai and his wife, Dana, invited us to their home for Easter dinner. We feasted on homemade meatballs, schnitzel, chicken soup, cabbage rolls, and wild boar while they described the challenges they have been facing.
When the war started in February, refugees began pouring over the border into Romania. Some stayed one day; others stayed longer. Church members opened their homes. Mihai estimates that in the first six weeks of the war, his 140-member church (assisted by funding from RtC) cared for more than 5,000 refugees. He has personally brought truckloads of food across the border into Ukraine.
“We pray that God will stop this war,” Mihai said, “but for now, we go with food and tell them, ‘Jesus put in our hearts the desire to help you.’”
“I am not a hero,” Mihai insisted. “I have just known God a long time. He takes care of me and my family, and we share what we have.”
Mihai and his family partner with Remember the Children to operate a home for orphans called House of Hope. The kids there laughed with us on the playground and sang us a song in English: “Lord, Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary.”
WHAT WE LEARNED
Three lessons were reinforced to us during our trip to Romania.
The impact of community engagement. One of the Romanian ministers told us, “The church is a mini-aid organization in any location where it is present.” Another said, “We are just doing what Jesus said to do—loving our neighbors and caring for the hungry and thirsty.”
Before we flew back to the United States, we had to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test, and we got our tests done in an aging hospital. A few years ago, volunteers from RtC and a local church painted and renovated 30 rooms in the hospital. The grateful hospital administrator told Andy Baker, “No charge for the COVID test for your American friends.”
The importance of appreciating what we have. “One day,” a refugee told us, “we seemed to have everything, and the next day we had to leave it all behind.” A university professor who had lived on a farm told us, “Ukrainians know how to farm, and we know how to fight.” But for now, her family has left their property behind.
“God’s power remains the same,” Mihai said, “but our perspective has changed. The pandemic and the war have made us appreciate God’s blessings more—gathering to sing, preach, pray, serve, and be at peace.”
The universal language of encouragement. The problems we witnessed in Romania seemed overwhelming. Yet, we saw many bright spots: weary but cheerful Romanian believers who greeted us warmly . . . healthy adopted children growing up with loving families . . . churches putting God’s love into practice. They all thanked us for coming and asked their American brothers and sisters to pray for them. Marius, the Bible college president, put it this way: “The light in you rekindles the light in us.”
For more information about Remember the Children, go to www.remember-the-children.org.
David Faust serves as the associate minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Ind. He also writes the Application column that is part of our weekly Lookout-branded Bible curriculum.