Joanne denBoer volunteered on behalf of COAH in Romania for 2 weeks this summer. She reflects on her time there.
“Mama casa! I am going home today to live with mama again!” I could see the immeasurable delight in the eyes of ten-year old Georgiana as she shared this unexpected announcement with me. Children and youth living apart from their parents due to difficult circumstances yearn to hear such good news. Whether truly orphaned or socially orphaned, how blessed it would be if a previously disadvantaged mama or tata is now able to care and provide for the needs of their child. Georgiana’s good news is rare; she is one of the few children in any of the COAH-sponsored children’s home in Romania to return to her family home for good.
It is true, some children and youth return to their family home from time to time, for as short as a few days or as long as the summer break. Many are confronted with the stark reality of the circumstances that brought them to the children’s homes in the first place. The home environment has not changed much since they first left. There is chronic pain in the heart and mind, if not the body. The alcoholic parent is still alcoholic. The impoverished, abusive, and neglectful home environment has not diminished.
One young girl, home for the summer, gouged her leg on a bicycle pedal. Parental ignorance of basic medical care resulted in near amputation. A boy sustained injury from unsupervised and unsafe wood chopping practices. A frostbite scar on the calf of another girl revealed there was insufficient heat during a winter visit home. Stress about family dynamics – shouting, hitting, lack of food – rekindles anxiety. Resentment is real in those children whose family is split up, with some siblings permitted to live in the family home but they are pulled away to live in the children’s home. Yet most children, after a brief stint in the family home, are relieved and happy to return to the COAH-sponsored children’s homes.
Why is that?
The children and youth in Emmaus House (Targu Mures) and Casa Emanuel (Criscior) never worry if food is scarce: they receive three (sometimes ‘thin’) meals a day. They have a comfortable, large home to live in (where it is warm in the winter). Staff care for them with love and humour. Since most children and youth have varying degrees of learning challenges or special needs, they receive educational support from staff or volunteers.
In Emmaus House, the Director knows each child and youth so well (all 45 of them!) that she seeks out special activities and programs to foster their growth, development, and confidence. Many have received medals in wrestling competition – yes, even the slender girls! I asked why the weekly wrestling program was so welcome. Boys at school tried to bully one of the Emmaus girls. “Don’t mess with me,” she warned them. “I have won several wrestling matches.” Other programs include music, dance, gymnastics, and art. And who better to send for groceries than the young man who has many medals as a marathon and half-marathon champion?
More importantly, the spiritual needs of the children and youth receive priority. They attend the local church where some of the older teenagers have done “confirmation” [confession of faith]. At Emanuel Casa, I was welcomed by an impromptu children’s choir, including Jesus Loves Me – in English!
“Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4a) was the focus of one of the daily Bible lessons I was to teach at Emmaus House. Rejoice? Always? Even when faced with heart-wrenching circumstances? Rejoice when you have been removed from the family home, albeit a neglectful one? Rejoice when the children’s home faces the insurmountable financial burden to pay for heat in the winter? Rejoice when the 12-seater van sits on the side of the road because you cannot pay the insurance? Rejoice when your father abandons the family and your mother says she doesn’t want you anymore? Rejoice when your alcoholic father beats your timid mother? How can a 5-year old rejoice when all he and his younger brother and sister have known are daily beatings? How could I, a foreigner who “has it all”, encourage them to rejoice in the Lord always? Only by referring them to the Scriptures which speaks of the sufferings of Paul and Silas in Philippi, whose circumstances drove them to sing praises and to rejoice in the Lord.
Why could these disciples rejoice? Because they knew that Christ Jesus suffered poverty, hunger, abuse, yea, the wrath of God, for them. The suffering Saviour taught these disciples to rejoice in the Lord - always. Surely He can teach the children, youth, and staff to rejoice in Him also!
While “Mama casa” is deeply yearned for, Emanuel Casa and Emmaus House are a welcome haven and indispensable homes for these disadvantaged children and youth.
Since the Lord commands His people to “defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy” (Psalm 82:3), won’t you consider supporting the casa pentru copii?