I’ve slept in past my alarm. My gas tank needs filled up. I get stuck behind that car that’s driving 10 mph under the speed limit. I show up late to the staff meeting. My life couldn’t get any worse. This is the height of inconvenience in our daily lives, and some days it feels like the end of the world…
Let’s choose a different scenario. You live in a 2-room apartment with your mother and 5 siblings, or your grandmother and 8 siblings, or with your dad who burns your skin with cigarettes. Maybe your parents send you out to cheat and steal and beat you if you refuse, or maybe you’re just living on the streets after your mother promised to return for you 3 years ago. Details aside, you’d love to have a change of clothes even if they’re too small, or something to eat for dinner, even if it’s cold.
One memory keeps you going, one week out of a whole year that you know you’ll have a bed to sleep on and 3 meals a day, and there will be people who care about you, who tell you you’re valued and loved and important.
That week is camp week in Romania.
If you think the kids are the only ones who look forward to camp week then you are dead wrong. There’s a level of relationship reached when you live, sleep, and eat on the same premises as the campers you’re ministering to. Despite the language barrier, you learn about their families, their interests, who likes to play volleyball and who doesn’t like tomatoes. You know that one child has been stealing out of a counselor’s suitcase because her father instructed her to. You know that one teen has immediately been labeled “the trouble kid” just because his brother is serving a life sentence for murder. They all have a desperate need to be loved, and for someone to tell them that they are special and have worth. That’s what makes the difference between “the trouble kid” and the boy who will make sure you never have to clean up your own place setting at dinner, or serve yourself your own food. That boy who is the breadwinner for his family at age 12? He’s told by the boy he sits next to every day during lesson team that when he inherits his father’s company, he will never want for a job in his life.
A few years ago, I had the audacity to have “a bad day” at camp. None of the craft lessons went my way, I was overtired and stressed, and could see the terrible end of the trip looming just a few days into the future. First-world problems. I handle stress by crying about it, and then moving on with my life as soon as appropriate, based on how dramatic I gauge the problem to be. My dinner companions, all 10-year-old girls, could tell I was upset and hatched a plan to cheer me up. “We have a surprise for you!” they told me, dragging me into their cabin with my eyes closed. Waiting for the grand reveal, they turned on the lights with a great “Surpriză!” From the drab ceiling tiles in their tiny cabin they had hung every craft they had made with me that week, from tissue paper flowers to paper chains to cotton ball sheep. Every corner of their room reminded them that their Father provides for their needs, frees them from their bonds of sin, and lays down His life as their Good Shepherd. I knew that the stories I was telling them would not be easily forgotten. My problems began to seem unimportant by comparison.
There’s nothing special about Romanian kids that makes them easier to love, or different in any way from the children I see every day. I wish I had a miraculous transformation story to tell about them, of how their lives turned out all right in the end. But I can’t see their end from where I am. I just keep going back year after year to make sure that these kids know that they are loved and valued and worth it, to me and to Jesus.
Careena has 2 loves: animals and travel. Her day job is at a veterinary hospital, and for 1 month out of the year she goes to Romania with Global Encounters, trying to see how many other countries she can check off her bucket list along the way.