Dear Prayer Partners & Supporters of the Romanian Children’s Homes-
As Jerry and I drove through the gate of the Home of Hope children’s home in Braila, Romania, this visit, we passed into a magical world. From the beaming face of little Claudiu who opened the gate for us, to the happy swarm of children that ran from all directions to hug us and help carry our luggage into the cozy room that would be our home for the next week, we were welcomed like returning family. Summer is a wonderful time in Romania! The children are freed from school and are delighted to spend every waking moment outside enjoying their endless play.
But the primary reason for choosing to visit Romania these particular weeks in July was because of Cristina & Alex’s wedding. From the moment we heard of their plans last year, Jerry and I have been determined to be present at their wedding. Having seen Cristina, one of our first children to come to Home of Hope, grow from a quiet, pretty but very shy little girl into a beautiful, confident and very determined young lady, we were happy to witness this beginning of a new chapter in her life. Jerry and I have known Alex too and have watched him change as well from an active little boy to a headstrong teenager to a mature and kind-hearted young man.
They will make a very balanced couple, Alex & Cristina, one easy-going and friendly, and the other determined and thoughtful. The pleasure of being a part of Cristina & Alex’s wedding rose to an even higher level, however, when Jerry received an email right before we left for Romania asking him “to lead Cristina to the altar on her wedding day, and “to be on her side on that special day for this little girl that grew up in no time.”
When that special day came it was very emotional for Jerry to stand in the church foyer watching Alex as he waited for his bride and as the 3 brides maids, all dressed in bright green, followed by the flower girl and ring bearer, moved slowly down the aisle, until it was time for him to offer Cristina, in her flowing white gown and veil, his arm and gently lead her down the aisle to her groom, pausing to lift her veil over her head, softly kiss both cheeks, solemnly shake Alex’s hand, and say, “We love you both,” before coming to stand beside me. I knew Jerry would cry that day, (he cries watching a Hallmark commercial) but I found myself crying too–and I’m sure there were many others as well. But these were happy tears!
Both the wedding and the reception were traditional for a Baptist Romanian wedding. The wedding, similar to an American wedding, but the reception, somewhat different. Lasting about 6 hours, the reception was mostly a 4-course meal interspersed with singing, games, and a tradition of stealing the bride and negotiating her return. But I think you will understand Romania’s obsession with soccer when I tell you that throughout the reception there was a television suspended from the ceiling in a corner of the room tuned to the soccer finals in Brazil, and throughout the evening most everyone had one eye on the festivities and one eye on the soccer game. (I’ll be honest, many had two!)
The evening ended with a recent wedding tradition–the launching of colored paper lanterns. What a beautiful picture of the beginning of a new life together to watch the sky fill with small glowing colorful lanterns that would slowly lift, rise, and then sail off into the distance. Finally, Jerry and I joined the line of guests as we said our goodbyes and hugged Cristina & Alex, thanking them for the privilege of being a part of their special day.
Throughout the rest of our visit in Romania I continued to remember the scripture verse that Cristina & Alex had displayed on the screen over their heads in their wedding service in the church: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3 Those words really resonate as true for Jerry and me as well! Little did we know almost 20 years ago that the Lord would allow us to go to Romania, to meet and grow to love some of His people there, and to be witnesses as He build 2 children’s homes and began to move in the lives of children there.
This visit especially seemed to be a time of new beginnings. In addition to Cristina & Alex’s wedding, we witnessed 4 of our Home of Hope children from Mariana & Vasile’s family giving their testimonies in church as they prepared to be baptized the following week, and celebrated with 2 Home of Hope children as they passed their baccalaureate exams and prepared to take their exams to enter the university, as well as with 4 children who have completed university and are now hoping to find good jobs.
The last week in Romania we spent at the Bethel Home children’s home in Giurgiu, Romania. Unlike Home of Hope, where there are 49 children living in 4 families in 4 houses, Bethel Home is just one family with 9 children–of these children, 2 are young adults, 2 are teenagers, and the rest are young children. The staff at Bethel Home are more like family too–grandparents, parents, and older sisters who love and train the children. When Jerry and I visit we live in a small guest room in the home and join with the family as they go about their daily lives. I think you will know our Bethel Home children a little better when I tell you that one day while we were visiting little Marian came home with a large plastic bag filled with jars of strawberry jam which were made and given to him by a neighbor that admires how well behaved our children are.
Being at Bethel Home in summer time is really our favorite time to visit. Life takes on a slower pace. We sleep late, have breakfast together, and head for the backyard where we sit under the cherry tree watching the children wrestle with their new black puppy, West, or while they take turns running up and down on their scooter, skateboard or roller blades, or while they kick a soccer ball back and forth to each other in the green grass. The children at both Bethel Home and Home of Hope will also enjoy a number of camps this summer, some hosted by visiting teams from Canada and America, and some in the mountains a day’s drive from their homes. Most of the families will enjoy a few days at the Black Sea as well, playing in the sea, sun, and sand. From June 15 to September 15 is an idyllic time for the children in Romania.
But it is also a very busy time for the farmers. The weather has been perfect in Romania this spring and summer and the fields that we pass as we travel up and down the highways are lined with wheat, corn, and sunflowers. Tractors zip up and down the fields harvesting the wheat; the corn is just beginning to develop its lacy tassel; but it is the glorious sunflowers that steal the show! We never tire of seeing their small golden faces, standing sentinel-like, lined up in endless rows all the way to the horizon. Sun worshipers, they face us on one side of the road, and stand with their backs to us on the other side. It is a sight that I associate with Romania, and I am always disappointed when our trip doesn’t coincide with the sunflowers in all their splendor.
One day we drove with our friends, Lori & Dora Erbatu and Marius & Geta Radulescu, to spend a day at the Black Sea in Bulgaria which is just a few hours from Giurgiu. As we returned to the Bethel Home in the evening, the sun was sinking lower in the sky, softening the light on the mountains and rolling countryside. The sunflowers, having basked in the hot sun all day, took on a luminous glow until I could almost believe that even after darkness fell they would continue to light our way, their golden lights lining both side of the highway like a luminaria at Christmas time. After all, we were traveling in a magical land!
With much love to our beloved family in America from your grateful family in Romania-
Jerry & Kendrick McCandless