In the winter of 2011, my friends and I were on a missions outreach through southeast Europe. This is a story about what we saw God do while we were in Romania visiting orphanages.
Almost our entire team of twenty-six had gotten sick from the drinking water while we were in Romania. This fact made our three hour ride to the first orphanage a very uncomfortable one. We were unsure of what impact we would have on the children, but we felt privileged to be allowed into a state run facility, thanks to our friends and contacts from Crown (a YWAM ministry that does adoption placement and family support in Romania). Our three vans circled through a few side streets and came to an iron gate with tall concrete rectangles jutting into the cloudy sky behind. There was snow on the ground, and even though it was mid-day, we saw no children playing outside.
Our team met with the necessary officials and we moved into what would be home for the next three days. In the past, the orphanages in Romania were infamous, even garnering international attention, and in 1991 William Snyder received a Pullitzer prize for his shocking and revealing photos of subhuman living conditions. We felt the history of the place and the immense cold and sadness that used to dwell there, but we also saw that God had intended the scandalous journalism of the early nineties to spur people into action. The concrete rooms we slept in have been renovated since those dark days, giving them the appearance of the usual hostel or hotel, but the discerning person can still feel the depravity of the place’s history underneath.
In the morning our team would meet to pray and worship, then the rest of the day would be spent playing with the children in another wing of the orphanage. We played cards, made paintings, and talked with them the best that we could. One evening some members of the team put on a puppet show based on the book of Jonah, which the orphans loved.
I met a young boy named Răzvan. He was probably only ten or so, but acted more like sixteen. His demeanor was typical of orphaned boys, instantly trying to find who was above and who was below on the social ladder upon meeting me. I allowed him to take the higher rung on the ladder and he began to lead me around the wing of the orphanage where he lived. He showed me his room, pointing out all of the things he had acquired that I’m sure are difficult to come by for someone stuck in the orphanage system. He asked me if I had a cellphone and I told him that I didn’t have one right now, which put a strained and confused expression on his face. He showed me his phone and all the ringtones he had downloaded.
We were having lots of fun with all of the children we had met and we saw God’s love being poured out, but as the end of our time at the orphanage came nearer, the team became increasingly unsettled.
There was a growing fear within our group that when we left the orphanage, we would perceive that more harm was done than good. It seemed inevitable that our leaving would reinforce the abandonment issues and insecurities of the people to whom we so desperately wanted to give hope, peace, and love. Would our time have been for not? I wasn’t sure whether or not this was the case anymore than my friends.
The day of our departure came with all of these feelings and thoughts bearing their full weight down upon us. My friend Daniella and I decided to take one last prayer walk around the complex before we left. Daniella and I were just as confused and unsettled as the rest of our team. We walked the perimeter and asked God for His presence to dwell there, that He would seal all of the things He had given during our time there, that He would protect those precious children and give them a hope and a future. When we reached the back side of the complex Răzvan met us. He asked us what we were doing and when we told him that we were praying for the orphanage he asked if he could walk with us. We said yes, obviously, and as we walked God and I started to dialogue about Răzvan.
I cried out to God,”How will Răzvan be after we leave? What from our time here will be lasting? Have we helped at all, God? How can we have done anything if we’ve been here only three days and we are leaving just like everyone else that has ever been involved with these orphans?” I heard back in all my confusion and despair,”I will stay with them. You may be leaving, but I will stay with them. I do not leave or forsake them. Every word you speak to them and over them, every prayer on their behalf, that stays with them.” Then I felt the overwhelming need to pray for Răzvan. We were alone in a second story hallway connecting two different sections of the orphanage, with long windows showing the inner courtyard. Interrupting silence, I asked Răzvan if we could pray for him. He said yes almost as though he was waiting for someone to ask, though nervously. I was longing for God to irrevocably touch him, so I poured out everything I could in that moment. I found myself simply saying what God wanted to say to Răzvan instead of thinking. As we prayed I felt God’s Father heart descend on Răzvan and he started weeping. When we said “amen” he wiped away the stream of tears flowing down his face and we continued walking down the hall.
Our vans pulled away and drove down the road to the next orphanage, a small place on the outskirts of town with far less children. When we got there I set about praying over as many children as I could get my hands on (which isn’t difficult, by the way). If two of the children were fighting or one was crying I would touch his shoulder and pray. Immediately, the tears would stop, the fighting would stop, and they would just look up at me with a confused but peaceful stare, wondering what it was they were feeling, and what it was I was saying. They took turns getting airplane rides on my shoulders where I would careen down the halls and make whooshing noises and laugh with them. I realize now that those may have been their first moments of feeling the lifting presence of a father, but I also know that those moments will not be their last. As I deliver each child to the bed and quilt that served as our pretend airport, I know and feel that One with much bigger wings than I will come and give these children flight.
All my fears were gone. God would stay with the orphans. Yes, our time was short, and in fact was meant to be short, but God had no limit of time, of love, or of anything. He would watch after and rock to sleep those hundreds of children long after we were gone. I needed to know that, and I don’t think I could have endured to do ministry any longer if I didn’t know for certain that God’s faithfulness went far beyond mine. After all, if I care so much, then how much more does the perfect, all loving Heavenly Father care? His faithfulness, His presence, go far beyond.