I hope you’re enjoying summer as much as I am. I’m loving the slower and more relaxed pace. I’m realizing I’ve needed it. For this July edition of our newsletter, I thought I’d tell you about a trip to Moldova I just took with Justice and Mercy International. Some of you who are familiar with me know I work with JMI in the Amazon (I wrote a little book about it called Wherever The River Runs), but I’ve also made three trips to Moldova with JMI. In case you’re wondering, Moldova is a small country that sits between Romania and Ukraine, roughly the size of Maryland. I only mention this geographical tidbit because before I had friends who regularly went there, I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of it.
I was a very small part of helping put on vacation bible school in a village that managed to turn out 150 of the cutest clamoring kids nipping at your heels for crayons and more plăcintăs (a Moldovan pastry), chirping in Romanian and occasionally a phrase or two in Russian. Yes, chaos is the word you’re rummaging for.
So, why VBS in Moldova, you ask?
Gosh, I’m so glad you brought this up.
Moldova has a grossly high percentage of girls who are sex trafficked out of the country, a high suicide rate for boys, and an enormously alarming orphan population. To combat this terrifying reality, JMI helps orphans and vulnerable children through its child sponsorship program. Many of these children we’re able to identify through our yearly camps. One of my greatest privileges of the year is sharing the Gospel with these children through Scripture and through all the ways a game, a skit, and a plastic cup of orange Fanta says “I love you.” But summer camps are just the beginning.
When these children turn 16, whether in or out of the orphanages, many have nowhere to go. And if they do have a place to go, the scenario is usually horrifying. I’ve heard these kids’ stories firsthand and they’re too gruesome for me to write about here. But here’s the hope. Here’s why I love VBS in Moldova. Because JMI has two homes—one for girls called Grace House and one for boys called Boys to Leaders—that house 15 teenagers respectively for anywhere from two to three years. This isn’t just about shelter, this is about a home. These girls and boys are welcomed into a family where they learn life skills, flourish in school, receive counseling, go to church, get discipled, and learn about the love of Jesus through His Word. The transformation of these kids is nothing short of miraculous. As my friend Steve likes to say, I’d put these kids up against any kids in the world.
Now, for the moment of my trip that impacted me the most. The little girl on the right in the picture above was in my bible study group. Her name is Nastea (I changed her name). My friend Brittany and I asked her the question, if she could go anywhere in the world where would she go? Without hesitation she said, “Moscow”.
“Why Moscow”? I asked.
“Because that’s where my mom lives.”
Nastea hadn’t seen her mother in almost a year and she doesn’t know who her father is. This would be a pretty bleak story except for the girl on the left. Her name is Alla (you can watch her story here). Alla grew up in an orphanage. She intimately knows Nastea’s plight, her void, her aching loneliness. Alla also spent several weeks at vacation bible school during the summer, which is how JMI connected with her. When she was just sixteen and being thrust out of the orphanage, JMI reached out to her and she entered the Grace House. And all of life changed. She met Christ, received love, and is blooming like the cutest red headed bud you ever saw. For the past three years she’s been serving with us at the very camps she grew up in.
When Nastea told Alla and me how much she missed her mom, how she didn’t know when she was coming back, and how all the others kids have moms and dads, I turned to Alla and whispered, “this one is yours”.
I don’t know exactly what Alla said to Nastea because it was all in Romanian. But when I took two steps back to snap this picture, I realized I understood everything I needed to know. This is how the good news of the Gospel spreads. When Jesus rescues our life and we go and tell about it, and someone like Alla hears the news, she then in turn finds another little one on whose shoulders she places both her hands, and in a language I can’t begin to speak to a child whose story I can’t begin to understand, she says, “God loves you.”
And that’s why I do VBS in Moldova.
For more information about Justice and Mercy International, you can visit www.justiceandmercy.org.