Below is an article I wrote for Hand of Help, a ministry that reaches out to the poor and hurting in northern Romania, after visiting the orphanage in Botosani last week. If you want to support a ministry that is literally changing lives, head over here to make a donation:
Visiting the Hand of Help orphanage in Botosani is a very dangerous thing. You can’t visit and leave unchanged.
My wife and I packed up our four kids and moved to Bucharest, Romania, as missionaries almost four years ago. We didn’t have any real plan other than we felt God was calling us to plant a church in the city, so we went about meeting people, learning the language, getting to know the city, doing evangelism, anything we could think of.
One of the first people we met was Daniel Boldea, who overheard me speaking English at an electronics store and wandered over to introduce himself. He told us about the Hand of Help orphanage and suggested we pay a visit sometime.
“Wow,” I told him, “the orphanage sounds really great. Maybe we’ll visit next month.”
Well that was almost four years ago, and we finally made it up for a visit last week.
The focus of our ministry in Romania is planting a church in Bucharest, which means we spend most of our time serving in this crowded, dusty, fast-moving city, but once in a while, we just need to escape and breathe some fresh country air.
A couple weeks ago, we did just that. We booked a cabin in the mountains, hopped in the van, and drove all day to spend a week in the countryside. Afterward, we finally took Daniel up on his offer to visit the orphanage, since it was only a few hours from our destination in the mountains.
As we were driving toward Botosani, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Years ago, I had visited an orphanage in Haiti that made my heart sick. The children were thin, covered in dirt, and barely clothed. Many were obviously malnourished, others clearly suffering from sickness. There were not enough beds for all the children, so many bodies shared one mattress, and what beds they did have were filthy and covered in mold. A missionary friend explained that those running the orphanage kept most of the donations to care for themselves. She surmised the ministry was merely a convenient way for the administrators to make some money from donors whose heartstrings were pulled by the poverty they saw.
Seeing the children at the orphanage in Haiti broke my heart. The poverty, the starvation, the sickness… and the uncaring cruelty of administrators who would allow these children to live like animals. One young boy told me he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. I tried to encourage him that anything is possible with God, but in my heart I knew he would never be a doctor. With caretakers like he had, I didn’t even know if he would live to adulthood.
Would the Hand of Help orphanage be the same? Would we be brought to tears by the poverty and hopelessness?
Or maybe it would be like Annie, bedraggled children scrubbing floors and singing “The sun’ll come out… tomorrow…” under Miss Hannigan’s dreadful gaze. Would the children of Hand of Help have a similar hard-knock life?
The answer to both questions is the same. No. You will not find sad children suffering from disease, sleeping four to a mattress, not sure where their next meal will come from. You will not find broken, hardened children hoping to escape the harsh cruelties of orphanage life.
Hand of Help is a place of hope, a place where children in dire circumstances, rejected and abandoned by their families, can find a family that really cares for them. It’s a place where children who would grow up to be prostitutes, beggars, and thieves really can instead become doctors, teachers, pastors, or anything else they dream of.
If you visit the Hand of Help orphanage, the first thing you’ll notice are the smiles. The kids are smiling, the staff is smiling, the leaders are smiling… everyone is smiling. This is a place of joy.
As we pulled into the grounds, instantly we were surrounded by kids. They weren’t asking for candy or hoping for sweets. They just wanted to greet us, to talk to us, to meet the visitors. One young girl pulled out some snacks and shared them with our family, then another one gave us a whole bag for ourselves. When we tried to refuse it, she wouldn’t let us give it back to her.
We spent three nights at the orphanage, we got to know some of the kids, we heard stories from Mircea about God’s miraculous provision and lives that have been rescued, we met a pastor who grew up at Hand of Help, and we saw a place we can support with all our hearts.
I can’t recommend this ministry enough. Everything they’re doing is done really well. The building is clean and in good repair, the children are all clean, healthy, and clothed normally, everyone has a bed to sleep in, the rooms are not overcrowded, the food is healthy, fresh, and abundant, the older children all cheerfully help in the daily running of the orphanage, the workers are obviously caring and loving…
“When the children are in school, we want our children to look the same as every other child,” Mircea told us, before quickly correcting himself. “No, we want them to look the best.” And why not? These are children of the King. Why should they be neglected, these who’ve already been thrown into circumstances harder than any of us will ever face? Why should they suffer not just the loss of their families but also their dignity and respect?
It’s obvious everyone at the orphanage feels the same way. They want to give their kids the best they can so they can have a chance at a normal life.
Don’t misunderstand me. When I say the kids have “the best,” I don’t mean anyone is living in luxury. You won’t see designer jeans, smartphones, big screen TVs, or palaces built for kings here. But you will see lots of happy, healthy, smiling kids who have everything they need for a normal life.
When we left the orphanage, I promised Mircea we would recommend the ministry to everyone we knew, and that as God blessed us, we would gladly pass on the blessing and support the work financially.
“Prayer,” he told us, “that is what we need the most. Just pray for us, and God will provide everything.”
Well that’s a sneaky thing to say, because when you start praying for something, before too long God tells you to act.
This morning, we got on the Hand of Help website to begin sponsoring one of the orphans we met. His name is Nicolae. I didn’t know his background when we met him at the orphanage. All I knew was that he was the smiling teenager who busily served in the kitchen, set up our meals, visited our table to make sure all the food tasted good, and advised us to eat more slowly so we can better enjoy the food.
I wish we had enough money to support him for all his needs, and other children too, but we don’t, so we figured out how we could at least do something, because we can’t just sit here and do nothing anymore.
Like I said, visiting the Hand of Help orphanage is a very dangerous thing.