(Editor’s note: Melissa Melvin is a member of Saunemin UMC and has made several trips to Romania. She has cerebral palsy and walks with the aid of two canes).
Abandoned, abused, forgotten, neglected, malnourished and unwanted.
These are the themes the run through the life stories of more than 160,000 children living on the streets, in the sewers, and in hundreds of placement centers throughout the small, poor, spiritually dark country of Romania.
For so many of these children hope is not existent. Daily these children fight for their most basic needs to be met. Street children live in packs, scrounge for food in neighborhood dumpsters, and take shelter in open sewers. Children left to the care of the state live in overcrowded institutions, are clothed inadequately, and come away from the dinner table still feeling the pains of hunger as they are fed measly portions of bread, water, salami and cabbage.
Not only are these children deprived of these most basic needs of survival but, more importantly, they are deprived and starving for attention, acceptance and love. As a result of their failure to thrive, these children grow into adults who don't know how to give and receive love, or how to become productive, responsible members of society. With 100,000 new cases of abandonment in Romania each year, this cycle of hopelessness seems endless.
But, amidst the darkness and despair embers of hope are burning. As faithful followers of Christ embrace God's call to care for orphans, impacting the life of one child at a time, this cycle of abandonment, abuse and neglect can be broken. I have seen this first hand as, through the prayerful, and financial support of family, friends and the local church.
I have had the privilege of traveling to Romania on several occasions to serve these children in a wide variety of settings: providing basic care to infants left abandoned in hospitals, and reaching out to children and youth attending day programs, summer camps, and vacation bible schools.
While all of these experiences have been rewarding, perhaps none have been more challenging, or valuable than my most recent experience, coming alongside a missionary family spending 6 weeks home schooling a set of Romanian twins whom they are in the process of adopting.
Having been abandoned from birth, and having spent the first 5 years of their lives in a children's home, Joey and Gina knew nothing of what it meant to have a healthy relationship with anyone before coming to live with this family. It took them many months to learn how to play nicely with their 4 other brothers. Coming from an environment where rules were virtually not existent, they struggle with boundaries, manners and obedience.
Academically the children, now almost 6 years old, are at about the level as their 3 year-old brother.
Days with the twins are often long and hard. But, seeing them grow, and mature, and knowing that they are safe, warm, well fed, and unconditionally loved has made everyday worth the effort. What a privilege it is to be the voice, hands, and feet of our Lord in the lives of these children.