Tuesday, 16 January 2007

ROCKing Romania

Dear All,

I’m sorry it’s taken so very long to get this to you! I arrived in Bucharest on the 10th of January but internet has been hard to come by… SO, this means I have a lot to cover :) I know it’s extremely long, but if you read it it will answer many of your questions that I haven't been able to reply individually about...

(View some pictures here)

Prayer points:
For ROCK (www.rockministries.org)—
that God will continue to bless this work, to provide for this work and the workers, and to guide ROCK on.

For Adoption in Romania —
that International Adoption will be reopened, clean of the corruption that got it shut down in the first place,and that in the meantime, God will move the hearts of the Romanians who are able to adopt their own, especially the hard-to-place gypsy babies and special needs babies

For Foster Families—
That God will bless and uphold the families that are already fostering and raise up for ROCK more able Christian couples to take on and love these precious fatherless.

Welcome to Romania
I stood next to an old gypsy woman on the tram tonight. She was exactly what you’re picturing—a scarf around her salt and pepper hair and tied under her weathered and wrinkled face, a bright red knit jumper over a long gathered black skirt and garish turquoise shoes to complete the picture. She was carrying her things in a plastic grocery bag. I gazed out the window at the strange language on the signs, the hordes of chaotic cars both parked and driving, the manky stray dogs fighting in the empty lots sprinkled with litter and wondered again how I ever got this far from home.

But it’s a happy amazement.

As I write this it has been 2 full days in Romania and I have had my heart stolen by two gypsies and a handsome little Romanian. I have spent 2 days with the babies at the Victor Gomoiu Hospital in Bucharest and already it seems lifetimes—theirs melting into mine, mine melting into theirs.

The sights and smells of the hospital greeted me long before the shining faces of the ROCK babies did yesterday as Nannette Gonzalez, the founder and director of ROCK Ministries led me and two Canadian girls here for 2 weeks up to The Big Room—the main room ROCK works in at the hospital. From the outside the hospital is actually quite a lovely old building, but the inside is quite dingy, quite dirty, rather what you’d picture of an Eastern European hospital. The smell is not repugnant but it’s not pleasant, though I find I get used to it easily enough. I’ll probably never know what makes it.

The Big Room is home to Mario, Dragoş, Petruţa, Emil, Ionuţ, and Aristiţa, and Florica right now.
The Babies
MARIO is a gorgeous blond-haired, blue-eyed, smiley little guy : ) He’s 8 months old and he’s crawling and pulling himself up and into everything. He’s tiny, but he’s developing like any normal baby would which says a lot as when he was brought to the hospital as a two month old he was underweight, sick, and a strange colour. He was found in the sewer, which denotes at least one of his parents was gypsy. Most of the babies abandoned to the hospital are gypsy or special needs kids or both, as in Romania those two categories are the hardest to find willing adoptive families or even foster families for.

DRAGOŞ (pronounced “Draw-go-sh”) is of the second category but we can’t be sure what all this little guy has. He had a surgery this summer to remove cataracts from his eyes which had blinded him but his sight is very vague. He has something like Autism, but not quite that. He’s overall a pretty happy little guy—with light brown hair and brown eyes. He giggles all the time, which makes us all smile.

PETRUŢA (pronounced “Pet-root-sa”) is a sweet 14 month old. Of all the kids, she was the first to give me a smile : ) She’s come a very long way from where she started when she was first brought in unresponsive, unsmiling, un-crying, and she is Nannette’s special favourite (because we all have them!). She is mildly mentally slow and clearly gypsy with those gorgeous dark eyes and black head of hair. Her improvement, as with so many of the babies, is testament to the importance of simple love and nurture in a human life.

EMIL (pronounced “Em-eel”) is a gorgeous, chubby little 8 month old—very well-adjusted and developmentally right on track. The only thing keeping him from a family is his gypsy heritage of which his very self is a billboard from his pitch black hair to his shining black eyes. Handsome, handsome, handsome!

IONUŢ (pronounced “Yawn-oots”) is a really tough case. He is 8 years old but no taller than about a 3 year old child and much, much skinnier. He has cerebral palsy and his body grows stiffer by the day. I am still struggling with the CP kids… I am very unconfident with them…

ARISTIŢA (pronounced “Air-ees-teet-sa”) is another tough case that I’ve hardly ventured into yet. She’s about 6 months old and profoundly deformed from her head to her little webbed hands and feet and she’s achingly skinny. I’m praying for the grace to look at these kids and not cringe in pain. I feel very immature…

FLORICA (pronounced “flor-ee-ka”) was the first baby to crawl into my heart and refuse to leave. She is the most stunningly beautiful baby I have ever seen (alongside my niece Abby, of course!) and I call her Princess because everything about her is princess-like. She’s thoroughly gypsy—and I’ve discovered I have an affinity for gypsy babies. Her dark-as-night eyes meet mine and she smiles a dainty princess smile. Her raven-black hair is a halo of perfect wispy curls. She giggles with infectious baby laughter whenever I kiss her daintily round cheek and nuzzle her neck. She is perfection packaged in a tiny baby girl. She is seven months old but her physical development is a few months behind so she seems much younger in how snuggly and cuddly she is— which I love. I hate laying her down in her crib at night and knowing that no one will be there for her in the night if she cries. Today I imagined smuggling her out of the country, her beautiful gypsy eyes hungrily taking in the world from outside the four walls of that hospital. Her Romanian name would be Florica but her English name would be Noelle and I would call her Ella and she would know what love is. I want her…

But she would have to learn to live with two brothers because I’ve also fallen in love with two little guys from across the grounds. On our first day we were shown around the various rooms ROCK works in, The Big Room being the main ROCK room. From the start I was especially drawn to a tiny, smelly, hot and humid room in a smaller building outside the main hospital because it is home to 4 ROCK babies who seem to get so much less attention and cuddle time than the others. As the day went on I asked numerous times about that room and tried to quietly assert my aching heart for the babies left lying in their hot cribs over there until finally Kari, a 23 year old missionary girl from CA who’s been here for nearly 2 years and will return home in April, asked if I’d like to go over there with her. I was dying to get to those babies. Not that the Big Room babies aren’t just as important, but all the ROCK workers were in the Big Room—they had all the attention they needed at that time.

So we tripped quietly down the stairs, across the hospital grounds, and up to the small, boiling hot room (hot because the heating is gov’t regulated so we can’t control it. We can periodically open windows but Romanians believe that open windows give people colds so they keep shutting them… even though the babies are physically sweating in their cribs). There I was greeted by the eager smile of beauty itself in the face of one of the most precious little guys I will ever know.
ALEX is a five month old gypsy baby about the size of a skinny 3 month old with huge black eyes that shine out his innocence unaffected by his circumstances and wispy black curls like my Florica’s. That first day no one seemed to know his name as he’s only been here about a week (a week is long enough to find out a baby’s name, if you ask me…) and they told us he was called Marion but we found out later it’s Alex. Alex loves bathtime and kisses and cuddles. He is a clever baby and hardly seems institutionalized except for how stiff his little body can get for lying in his crib all day and all night. Nannette says he probably won’t be here long and that most likely his parents are just leaving him here for a time, like a day care service. I want to steal him away as he’s stolen my heart away…

Also in the small sweltering room with Alex are Marion, a 2 year old autistic boy with blue eyes and blond hair and a great big smile, and Mariana, a 4 year old lovey with cerebral palsy which has so distorted her skinny little limbs that she cannot bend… I struggle very much with the CP babies, but God’s using Mariana to introduce me gently to the difficult nature of the condition. She can’t communicate but she seems to relax a little when I sing softly to her, stroking her silky black hair soft as a newborn kitten.

My third baby I will be smuggling home in about 5 weeks is a round little 4 month old named Carlos.

CARLOS is the only of “my” 3 babies that isn’t gypsy, but beautiful nonetheless, with slight brown curls with a subtle hint of red. He’s in the hospital sick with a cough that wracks his whole rotund little body and he yearns to be held, feeling insecure left in his big crib all alone. His big dark hazel eyes are clouded over with unhappiness and worry too big for a tiny 4 month old child and all I want to do is cuddle and kiss and rock away all his pain. He, like Mariana, likes to be sung to so whenever I find myself alone in that stuffy little room I sing lullaby upon lullaby, unafraid of my beautiful little audience of 4, until he falls asleep in my arms and I can lay him down to give Alex some cuddle time.

I think my main ministry these 6 weeks will be to that little half-forgotten room of treasures untold, cuddling babies and stroking soft heads while praying they’ll know and love the Lord all their lives and that courageous Romanian men and women of God will rise up to give these little ones homes.

My House Here
When Nannette and Gabi (a ROCK worker who does the driving) brought us to the team apartment where I would be spending my next 6 weeks my stomach may have turned a bit, but I wouldn’t have admitted it. We drove past block after block of identically rundown apartment buildings, remnants from communist days that only passed away 18 years ago in 1989. “Block 151” my building is called, and it’s spray-painted on the concrete wall outside the door. I don’t know how to describe it except for dirty. 4 flights of dirty stairs up a terrible smelling corridor, passed a door Nann pointed to and whispered, “the neighbour from hell” as he routinely calls the police on Nann should anyone roll their suitcase across the floor or anything like that (even though we hadn’t made a peep of sound, he stormed up here last night and shouted angrily in Romanian which is rather intimidating—especially since Nann went back to the States the other day and me and the Canadian girls would be on our own if it weren’t for Kari staying over that night!), and we came to number 77—the heavenly number :)

And opening the door to this apartment after experiencing the streets outside and the stairs coming up was like heaven. It is a lovely apartment—even for American standards! And I have a fabulous room with a humongous bed (too big for me!) and a sun-porch of my own! I leave the porch door open to let in the breeze and the sun and hear the foreign shouts of children playing in the streets below. The Canadian girls, Julie and Alanna, will be here until the 24th and then I’ll be on my own for 3 weeks before another team comes in so I’m thankful it’s so comfortable—well, except for the disgruntled neighbour, but I’ll be as quiet as a church-mouse and avoid him at all costs.

The Romanian People
The Romanian people thus far puzzle me because some seem so very warm— even strangers.

Our first day venturing out on our own without a translater, Julie, Alanna, and I were stopped at the gates of the hospital by an old security guard babbling on in Romanian. “Sorry… English?” I said hesitantly. Next thing I knew, he was hugging me and walking me to the gate under his arm with a chuckle and more Romanian babble!

Our first night walking home from the hospital Julie, Alanna and I were told by some bums on a corner that we are the most beautiful girls in Bucharest (or so Nann translated) :)
The nurses at the hospital seem mostly friendly, though too busy to love the babies, and the other ROCK workers are incredibly warm and lovely. The Romanian people seem to reach out and touch shockingly more often than the reserved English would, and I appreciate that.

But clerks in stores seem reluctant to smile (in fact, most people seem so), men we pass on the street stare at women boldly (which is slightly uncomfortable!), and one day some teenage boys on the tram, when they heard us speaking English, came and stood next to us and spoke in perfect English “I hate you” and then giggled to themselves adolescently as they got off at their stop!

I am excited to get out there and interact with the people more, though without the bridge of a common language it’s bound to be a difficult interaction. Still, these people hold the key to understanding this culture and I can’t wait to unlock and push back the door to peek in as far as I can. I can feel my heart growing attached to this place already, to its people, its plight, and even its lovely language—which is actually, they say, quite close to Italian and Spanish.

Palms held against the Wound
Please pray for continued confidence for me. Sometimes I stop to think what I’m doing—this shy, smalltown, country girl, standing on a smelly tram packed in like sardines in the middle of this foreign city filled with over 2 million strangers whom I can’t communicate with and who care nothing for me and probably wish I wasn’t in their country, and I feel overwhelmingly intimidated and small.

Lately God’s laid the verse in 1 John on my heart that says, “perfect love casts out all fear,” because it’s not just the city of long faces that is intimidating, but the gravity of the work at the hospital, the special needs babies that I sometimes fear to even touch for it looks so painful, and the constant facing up to the fact that I am not adequate for such a task as this. But that’s where Love comes in. His perfect love is adequate. His perfect love is big enough to wrap around all this pain and all the insecurities of all these aching hearts in Bucharest , in Romania , in the world, and drive away the fear that keeps us aware of our own lack. My only task is to love Him and receive His love so that I can love the ones I see around me with the love of His that flows through me.

It’s, as Donald Miller wrote in the incredible book Blue like Jazz, “as if something was broken in the world and we were supposed to hold our palms against the wound.”

I want for you strength and discernment regarding the particular wound you’re meant to hold your hands against…
Ever His,
Leah <><

p.s. I will be adding photos to the slideshow routinely so keep checking the link if you're interested!

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