Fifteen years ago this month God brought me to Romania through some rather strange circumstances. Little did I know at that time that my life would be changed forever. Like most, I had never heard of Romania, let alone know where it was located. I had no idea what to expect. What I discovered was a humble, loving, accepting, and welcoming group of people. I discovered my second home.
Life often stands in the way of our journey. My life is no different. The last 15 years have come and gone with many journeys to Romania. Romania is now a piece of my DNA, a fabric of who I am. My Facebook timeline is flooded with Romanians from years past. The walls of our house are covered with the memories of Romania. The pages of our journals are filled with life altering stories and experiences.
This March marked another significant milestone in our journey. It was the first time Kacee and I returned to Romania together after living in Romania some seven years back. It was also the first time we brought our children to Romania. Much to the chagrin of friends and family we set out on a journey with our four-year old son and six-year old daughter. Some felt we were crazy for taking them half way around the world. Many feared it was the wrong decision. I will admit there were times leading up to our trip that I questioned if the timing was appropriate. It might have been a bit early, but when is the right time? Why wait until the world says they are “old enough” to go on their first mission trip? Why make them wait to experience what has had such a lasting impact on our lives? How else can our children pray for the nations if they have never seen the nations? How can we read Acts 1:8 to them without modeling Acts 1:8? We want our kids to know Romania is not a map on the wall; it is a place, a place that has changed our lives. A place we love. A place they will love. A place they do love!
So we set out on our ten-day journey to Eastern Europe. The kids were marvelous. They absorbed each and every moment. We began with a few days in Budapest to get our sea legs under us. What a joy it was to see their faces as they observed such a historic place. After a brief break at the park and some time to play with a few Hungarian children we knew we had made the right decision. It didn’t take our kids long to realize kids are kids, regardless of what language they speak. They like to play at the park, watch cartoons (even if they are in a different language), and order Happy Meals at McDonalds!
Romania was where reality set in for all of us. It did not take our kids long to realize that life in a Romanian village was obviously nothing like life in a Budapest hotel! The first home we visited was the home of a 93 year-old lady that had found refuge in Romania years ago. Upon arrival no one would accept her but a Roma family. Several years later she was living with a group that took up Witch Craft. Still to this day she finds herself labeled a witch. Now she lives alone in a one-room house with half the roof missing.
Next we visited a family of 11. I was further convinced bringing the children was the right decision the second Nicoleta came running and embraced Brynlee. Kacee and I had ministered to Nicoleta and her family for the past eight years. What a joy it was to see Nicoleta returning the love we had so often given her. The children we came to love so long ago had slowly grown up, and now they were welcoming our children with open arms.
I can go on and on about the homes we visited. One home had 17 children. Another home had a single father caring for his small children because his wife abandoned them. Then there was the home with the livestock living in the house with the kids forced to care for themselves because their parents were “out” again. We met families that offered us their only meal for the day in an effort to be good guests. One after another they all welcomed us in their homes and thanked us for our gifts.
But the most precious sight was watching my daughter tie the new shoes of a little girl that had never seen new shoes. And it broke my heart watching my son bow his head in prayer while sitting on the porch of a Romanian home. These are the memories that will last. Only God knows if our children will remember this trip years from now. Like their parents, I’m certain they will live their lives in-between trips to Romania. The memories will gather on the shelf along with awards from school and activities. One thing however is certain; Romania is now a fabric of their DNA.
Words cannot capture emotion. They cannot capture heartache. You cannot smell, taste or feel words. A two dimensional picture cannot capture need or hopelessness. A visual image can burn into our brain; however, and remain for a lifetime.
I still recall the first time Ovidiu and Adina took us to NEVRINCEA. We weaved our way down unpaved roads before walking a half-mile down a semi-trail to a house of some sort. I would not totally consider it a house, but rather just a place of residence. Within this home was a large family, maybe too large at the time to even keep count. There were kids of all ages. The younger children were roaming around half (at best) clothed. The children did not have on shoes and you could not discern the boys from girls. The mother told us she could not afford shampoo so it was just easier to shave all their heads.
The home was falling down on all four sides. It may have had two rooms but I only remember one. Within this room was a stove to both warm and to cook. There were two beds, one on each side of the room. I asked myself where all these kids even slept. I later discovered that many of the children spent the week in a children’s home in an effort to receive food, care, and some semblance of an education. My heart was broken.
Looking back now, it is easy to see that God used this little village home to start a movement. You could see the movement in Ovidiu and Adina, a movement to care for the least of these right under their nose. He used this village home to stir Kacee and I into getting involved in village ministry. We returned to this home and village several more times during our residence in Romania. Often we would just visit. Many times we would bring clothes, groceries, and aid. The summer before we moved home we had our first VBS in this little village.
God moved use home, but he continued His work in this village through many friends. Now we find ourselves coming full circle. This year marks the fourth year of Red Page Ministries. A ministry formed out of response to the needs in rural Romania. A ministry formed out of response to the heart break that resulted from this small village home. A ministry formed to work along side Ovidiu and Adina as they worked to share the gospel in rural Romania. And this week marks the first mission trip for my entire family of four. As many have reminded us the past few months, it was a stretch to take a four year old and a six year old on a mission trip. It wasn’t however, without reason. It definitely wasn’t without prompting, both by our children and the Holy Spirit.
I knew the second Nicoleta came running and embraced my children that we had made the right choice. The children we came to love so long ago had slowly grown up, and now they were loving on our children. My kids took to this small village family just like we did seven years ago. Sure they took note of the ever pressing needs in their home, but they saw their new friends as Jesus did; as children. Children they could play with. Children just like them. They weren’t poor Romanian kids. They were not girls with short shaved heads. They were not kids in need of a bath, new clothes, and shoes. They were simply kids and they were their new friends.
We left that small village home in tears. Kacee and I were in tears because we had seen our friends again and our hearts still broke for their continued needs. We learned they were now a family of eleven. The oldest daughter was now starting her own family, of sorts. We were crushed to see that another generation was starting and that the cycle of poverty appeared to continue on. We remembered the story of how the mother of these children grew-up in the orphanage. Her kids now came and went from the orphanage on a weekly basis. One could not help but wonder if the conditions in the orphanage were not better than the conditions in this modest home. And now the oldest child was continuing the family. And without intervention and a miracle, this child, too would not know a life without poverty.
Our kids, on the other hand, were brought to tears because they truly just wanted to stay and play with their new friends! Oh to see the world through the eyes of a child.
Jon Hogg is President and Founder of Red Page Ministries.
Romania has my heart. I have been here for about 24 hours and I already know it. I love everything about this place. The people are amazing and incredibly welcoming. This morning at church, a hug took the place of a handshake and even though I couldn’t totally understand everything that was going on, I felt so happy. We explored after lunch and walked down to the lake. The beauty of this place is incredible! Surrounded by mountains on both sides, and a lake down the road, it screams of God’s astounding work.
At night church, two girls sang Amazing Grace in Romanian and it sounded wonderful! Everyone has been so welcoming and friendly. I know I came here to do mission work, but I feel as if I have already gotten so much more from them than I can give from the people here and God has already placed so much on my heart! I’m super excited about what will come tomorrow and the rest of the week here!
Brittney Russo is a Junior at Texas Tech and a member of First Baptist Church of Lubbock