Over the last couple of months, I heard and read lots about Bethesda, and during that time felt God put the mission on my heart more and more. So I was super happy to be able to join the March trip to see for myself what God is doing through Bethesda in Romania-Moldavia.
Our flight from Bergamo was a bit delayed so Giacomo, Orazio, Federica and I didn’t arrive at Iași, which was covered in snow with more falling, until after midnight. We’d hired a car and arrived at the farm, also covered in snow, in the early hours of the morning. Nicu and Mihaela’s daughter Crina welcomed us and showed us to our rooms, and we went straight to bed to rest up before a busy day with the kids on the Saturday. It was a slow start in the morning because of our late night, but it was great to be met with hugs from Nicu, Mihaela and Crina, as well as the smell of coffee, when we walked into the kitchen. We were also met by the kids, the five older ones sitting in a line on the sofa and little Patri in Mihaela’s arms. It was great to meet them having heard and read lots about them! They were only a bit shy at first but were soon playing with us. Then it was time for “Ora Felice”. Nicu drove round the surrounding villages to pick up the kids and bring them to the farm. He had to do two trips in the car because a replacement van hasn’t been found yet (please continue praying about this!). There were fewer kids this Saturday than usual because the snow had made some of the country roads impassable. Once all the kids were gathered in the hall at the farm, we kicked off by singing some songs of praise to God, with Orazio on guitar and Giacomo on tambourine. I was surprised by how enthusiastic the kids were about singing, and by how well they knew the words to the songs. It was great to see, and hear! I also wasn’t expecting to be singing “Ten Thousand Reasons” in Romanian, but by the end of our short stay I’d know the words off by heart! Mihaela then led a short Bible study in Romanian before Crina came in to give us the news we’d been waiting for – the pizza was ready! The kids were incredibly patient as they waited for the “waiters” to come round with their slice, and nobody said “no” to seconds. Orazio led a game and the kids enjoyed running around, with even Patri getting involved. Fede and I got involved too and were on opposing teams, and may have got a bit competitive… Sadly it was then time for Nicu to start bringing the kids back to their homes, while those remaining kicked a football about. Later that afternoon, while Giacomo and Orazio went to the shop to buy everything for the food packages, Fede and I taught the five kids some Italian, with Mihaela translating.
Hearing them repeat “siamo una famiglia” (we’re a family) over and over made me so happy and thankful to God, given that this little family had only recently been reunited with big bro Luigi! When Giacomo and Orazio returned, we soon assembled the food packages – many hands make light work as they say – and loaded them into the cars to give out the next day. For dinner, Mihaela had made “ciorbă de perişoare”, delicious Romanian meatball soup. To my surprise, she then pulled two roast chickens out of the oven! After dinner, Orazio led a short Bible study, with Mihaela again translating. I had Ionela on my lap and it was difficult to keep her still, she only wanted to play, especially when I made the mistake of using the Bible app on my phone – the kids were only interested in the games though! But I was surprised by the older ones’ knowledge of the Bible, and pray that this knowledge will soon turn into faith. We got up on time on Sunday and drove to Negrești for morning worship at the small evangelical church there. We sang songs in English, Italian and Romanian, before the minister, Vasile, gave a short Bible devotional in Romanian, which I have to admit I didn’t follow much (or even anything…) of! We then drove to the small village of Pădureni. The trip was interesting to say the least! We soon left the tarmacked roads that had been cleared of snow behind and were on bumpy roads covered in snow and ice – apparently it was -8°C outside. About halfway to Pădureni, we got a call from Nicu, who was behind us with Vasile and Vasile’s wife Mia – they’d got stuck! So when we got to Pădureni, Giacomo jumped back in our 4×4 hire car to go back and rescue them. Meanwhile, the rest of us went into the church, where lots of kids and their mums were waiting in the warmth. To my surprise, there was only one man in the church, but then we’d seen a few men at the “bar” in the street… Again, we sang Romanian songs, with one of the boys a
natural on the tambourine. We were also treated to a solo by one of the girls, which was beautiful and moving. After a Bible message from Orazio, it was time to give out the food packages, as well as some sweets for the kids. Their smiles were just amazing! On the way back, I was deep in thought about what I’d seen in Pădureni – poverty that I’d been told about but still wasn’t fully prepared for, kids with beautiful smiles but a look in their eyes that gave away a hard life, welcoming and thankful mums with the same look in their eyes, no dads bar one – I felt humbled and thankful for the work that Bethesda is able to do here, and pray that this work would be able to carry on and the people here would know God’s love. That evening, Vasile, Mia and two of their daughters were coming for dinner, so in the afternoon the guys got the BBQ fired up while Fede taught the kids some more Italian. This time, we covered emotions, rooms in the house and places outside the house, with the kids showing off their acting skills. Though they had a good time, it was sad for Fede and I to hear the first emotions they came up with – “pauroso” (scary), “triste” (sad) and “vergognoso” (shameful) – again giving away their past. We were happy when Luigi then came up with “amato” (loved), and it was clear to see during our short stay that that’s exactly what they are now by Nicu, Mihaela and Crina. After another Bible study for the kids, it was time for the BBQd meat feast – sooo delicious! It was almost silent around the dinner table as the 16 of us tucked in, and it was great to spend time with others involved with Bethesda. On Monday morning the kids went off to their various schools – they’re still a bit behind but we’re sure they’ll get there given more time – while the four of us went for a wander round Vaslui.
When we got back, we rolled our sleeves up and got on with some cleaning – the store room for the bits and pieces for the food packages in particular got a good scrubbing, as well as the hall used for Ora Felice. Next on our list of jobs was sorting the clothes that had been donated by friends in Italy that had arrived just that day – having now seen a bit of what life in this part of Romania-Moldavia is like, I know these clothes will be put to good use! We made the most of our last afternoon with the kids as Fede and I played lots of games with them – we were tired out from the running around by the end! This was also the afternoon that Giacomo and Orazio, together with Nicu and Mihaela, sat down with each of the kids for a chat. On the whole, their behaviour since arriving at the farm in December, and Luigi’s since arriving last month, hasn’t been great and it’s been hard for Nicu and Mihaela, particularly with Luigi. The chats were difficult but seemed to go well. It’s sad that their behaviour is this way because of their upbringing, or lack of it, but we hope that they’ll come to see the rules set by the Stroi family as for their benefit and that they’ll become more loving, respectful kids. After the last Italian lesson, Bible study and dinner (at least for this trip), we sang some last songs together. The kids were delighted when Orazio got the guitar out and let them do some strumming – I think he’s promised to do a guitar lesson for these aspiring Eric Claptons next time! It was sad to say goodbye to the kids as they went off to school on Tuesday morning, with big hugs all round – I’d got quite attached to them over the long weekend! When Nicu got back from doing the school run, he and Mihaela were “interviewed” by Orazio as Giacomo filmed (coming soon!). Their passion for serving God through Bethesda was clear, as was how hard it had been for them since the kids arrived. But their prayer
for them is the same as ours – that they would come to put their trust in Jesus, and know God’s love for themselves. Of course we’re still praying about the ongoing legal processes that will decide where the kids will stay long-term – please join us in this! Nicu and Mihaela finished their “interview” by expressing their gratitude to all those who support Bethesda, be it materially or spiritually. After a last cup of coffee, it was time to say goodbye to Nicu, Mihaela and Patri too, and head back to our very different lives back in Milano! Thanks for reading this far and for your continued prayers and support, God bless! Renée Schalks