Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Eyes Have It

It's hard to describe our mission in Moldova.

It's difficult to decide where to begin.

Honestly, I think I was so driven by the process of getting Amy healthy enough for the trip, trying to arrange financing, making sure we could pass muster at the various inspections, and then making sure that Amy and I could contribute when we arrived, that it wasn't until we were back in the states that the emotional aspect of it all hit.

On the bus to the airport in Kentucky yesterday Amy started to sob, when we finally got home I sat on our back porch and wept. We had bottled up our emotions I think as a defense mechanism, as we tried to gradually process the enormity of the situation in this small country.

Moldova has so many slavery, organized crime, drugs...a lost innocence.

The nation's leaders want to get Moldova admitted to the European Union, but there are standards to be met, not the least of which is reducing the population of orphans.

As I've said previously Moldova has some 900 state run orphanages/boarding schools. The current fear is that the "solution" to the problem will be to simply close most of them.

Government thinking really varies very little from country to country.

As to what happens to all those kids, that hasn't been addressed.

The country itself is showing the signs of the old Soviet-style infrastructure collapsing, and foreign investors bringing their money and many bringing their goals of capitalizing on Moldova's misery.

The result is a strange landscape of box-like buildings reminiscent of the old USSR practicality which are degrading rapidly, pock-marked by McDonald's, and casinos, and buildings with more character.

There does not appear to be a middle class. You are either very poor...or you are well off in Moldova. Most of the people we dealt with were very poor.

We spent the bulk of our time working at the oldest orphanage in the country. It normally houses about 600 kids. During our stay about 100 to 125 children ranging in age from about 6 to 17 were there. Many of the children have family members with whom they stay during the holidays, but those families are unable to care for them during the rest of the year. The kids we dealt with were essentially alone.

Many were hardened, most were very loving, and I was assigned to a group of middle school aged boys. It took only a day or so for me to break through to some of the "hard case" kids. The two I grew closest two are named Slavic and Igor

I never fooled myself into thinking I could actually change their lives in any great way, except to plant the let them know they are loved and cared about, and that Amy and I, and all the great people at CERI were trying to find as many ways as possible to help them escape a destiny of despair.

Evangelism quickly took a back seat. Although I, and a couple of other team members, taught a daily "bible study" lesson, usually that turned in to a rather raucous debate about whether God actually cared whether they smoked, drank, cursed...etc...

It was at night, before the kids went to dinner, that I think I made the most progress. We would take the kids back to their dorm rooms and talk, pray a little.

It was humbling.

The first night I huddled down with six or seven of the boys and started talking about how Christ could help them, one older boy entered the room and said quite bluntly,"We already know who God is...Who the "bleep" are you?" The translator was with me that night, and edited out the bleep, but I knew from his inflection what he said...some words transcend language.

It was a good question, which I tried to answer honestly. It's a rare occasion when I can actually use my past to prove a point. I told the boys about Amy and our kids, and my job, and then I mentioned I was orphaned at 14, that I had lived on my own since I was 17, that I had fought the demons of drugs and alcohol my entire life, and that God was the solution I found which truly worked...although it took me a very long time to listen closely enough to hear Him calling me.

I said I knew they were going to make wrong choices, and sometimes were going to have to choose between sinning and surviving...and I told them God would forgive them.

By the end of the week, Igor and Slavic were rarely letting me out of their sight and were dragging me by the hand to show me various aspects of their lives. Most of the time I did not have an interpreter with me, but we seemed to communicate well enough.

The boys begged me to come back this summer, something I won't be able to do, and Amy and I are considering our options about "sponsoring" some of the kids - something I'll likely detail later.

Igor and Slavic ended the week not only with pleas that I send them photos and that I return, but that I send them winter coats. They don't have any. We had given them warm sweaters and other clothing but coats were not in our budget. Amy and I have already decided to quickly buy those two boys warm clothing and get it to them as quickly as possible...the logistics of which I'll figure out in the days ahead.

Making sure items sent to Moldova reach their intended recipients is another problem when a country's best running industry is corruption.

We loved on dozens of kids and in the coming days you will see pictures of many of them, not only from the orphanage where we worked, but also from another orphanage which handles younger kids.

In many of their faces you will see some aspects of joy, and in some you will see hardened hearts.

But if you look closely into the eyes of each of these kids you will see something else...a small glint of hope.