Church of the Ascension has a companion relationship with the British charity organisation "Children in Distress" (CiD), that was founded in the year 1990. CiD addresses the plight of children, often orphans, with HIV or other incurable or terminal diseases in the Eastern European country of Romania. We support three institutions in Romania, financially as well as physically by visiting them once a year: St. Christopher's in Curtea de Arges, St. Laurence's in Cernavoda and St. Margaret's in Bucharest.
Rev. Steve Smith has written down the experiences of our group that travelled to Romania this past summer:
“In early August 2015 nine members of our church spent ten days at three different institutions run by Children in Distress (CiD) in Romania. What an amazing experience. It was my third trip with CiD. My first trip was with a small group from our church community who traveled in August 2014 to discern whether CiD might be an appropriate mission partner in God's call for us to serve and live with the people of Romania. Our exploratory group was so impressed with CiD's mission of care and love for children and young people that we returned to Munich convinced that God was calling us to CiD. I returned in September 2014 for the 25th anniversary tour, when our decision to partner with CiD was confirmed. These impressions of call to mutual sharing of God's love were resoundingly confirmed in our first full-fledged mission and service trip in August.
We were eight adults of various ages and one teen. We spent three days with Valentina Zaharia, the executive director of CiD, learning about Romanian culture, religion, history and politics by visiting Sibiu and Brasov. This was an excellent immersion; Vali is passionate, patient, wise and incredibly well-organized. She deserves a Nobel prize!
We then traveled to Curtea de Arges, where we spent two full days with the children of St. Christopher's. We were ably guided by Florina and her daughter Dariana.
On day 1 we picked up about 25 children at St. Christopher's and took them to the big city, Potesti. We let the kids plan the day. They wanted to go to McDonalds for lunch, and while not the favorite choice of our mission group, we happily went and enjoyed Happy Meals. Each Happy Meal included a toy, and whether it was coincidence or the Holy Spirit, the toy with each meal was a Minion, from the film “Minions”, that we had planned to watch afterwards. The kids were mesmerized by the film. They laughed and shouted throughout. Even though the film was in Romanian, our group was able to follow the story. It was such a pleasure to see how happy the kids were to see the film and to hear their rave reviews. Afterward we went to a playground and played for about an hour and also ate ice creams.
Day 2 we spent at St. Christopher's. We took the kids on a hike, played football, and we taught them the U.S. game of dodge ball and how to use hoola-hoops. One of our members also taught English to some of the children. Florina and her team prepared an amazing lunch of Mamaliga and Sarmale for our group and all of the children. It was heartbreaking when the kids went home. They said “We will see you tomorrow!” and we sadly had to say, “No, we need to visit other people tomorrow.” But we promised we would be back.
From Curtea de Arges we traveled to Cernavoda, where we spent three days with the young people who live at St. Laurence's.
On the first day, when we unloaded from our van, the residents greeted us warmly with hugs and kisses. They remembered those of us who had visited the year before. I was amazed when Olivia said to me “December 31.” I did not follow what she was trying to communicate. Then she repeated “December 31. Your birthday. You told me last year.” I could not believe it! With great pride the residents showed us their homes and bedrooms and the garden. It is wonderful how Olympia, who runs the facility, and her staff instill self-sufficiency and communal care in the young people. We ended our afternoon playing a ball game whereby we learned each others' names.
The next day we together painted the common room outside Olympia's office. It was such fun! We got more paint on ourselves than on the walls. We got rather giddy with the painting, and eventually painted each others' faces and had an impromptu dance party. Olympia showed me another room she said needed to be painted. We purchased the supplies, but Olympia told me that “now that you have shown the kids how to paint, they want to paint the room themselves and show you what they have done when you come back.” Wonderful. That is what mission partnership is all about. Sharing work and laughter and dance and looking with expectation to the next time together.
The third day we traveled to Constanta on the Black Sea. The journey took quite some time on a fairly slow train and then a bus and a long walk. We told the youth that we wanted to take them to lunch and asked where they wanted to go. McDonalds!! The McDonalds was in a mall, and the kids held our hands as we walked through. They showed us things in the shop windows, and when we ate lunch they set up tables in the middle of the mall's food court. After lunch we went to the beach at the Black Sea. Some of us sat on beach lounges, and some of us went into the ocean. A highlight was watching Ionella stand on the hands underwater of our parishioner Ian and kept having him throw her up into the air and land in the water. She was so excited and kept saying to us “watch, watch. Watch what I can do.” She jumped over and over. Another highlight was Daniel, who motioned that he wanted me to teach him to swim with his head underwater. He climbed on my back and imitated my arm and leg movements as I swam in the water. Right before we left, he motioned that he wanted to try it alone. He swam for a few seconds with his head under the water, then he jumped up with the biggest smile I think I may have ever seen. When we dropped the kids off that night, there were tears in many eyes on both sides as we said good-bye.
The final day of our trip was spent in Bucharest at St. Margaret's. The visit was very moving for our group, as we met the children and sat by the beds of those who cannot move or respond. Again, there were smiles and tears. Everyone fell in love with Rafael and Darius, and there was a new baby, Stefan, whom several of us took turns holding. He was so sweet. Florian got some books and tried teaching some of us Romanian by pointing to pictures and saying the corresponding Romania word. We ended the afternoon at Marie's restaurant for a name-day party for the always generous and gracious restauranteur Marie and adorable little Marie from St. Christopher's. About six of the most mobile kids joined the party, along with their nurses. Saying good-bye to the kids at the restaurant before we left for the airport was another moving experience.
We are grateful that God led us to CiD, and that we have found such a wonderfully caring and inspiring partner. The staff and the young people at St. Christopher's, St. Laurence's and St. Margaret's have left an indelible imprint in our hearts. We already are planning our next trip for May 2016!"