This story appears in our Summer 2016 Tidings of Hope newsletter. For a free subscription, click here and fill out the form.
At a time when much of the world is crumbling, Alex Ilie is working to build something new: an orphan care movement in post-communist Romania. As the executive director of the Romania Without Orphans Alliance (RWO), Alex wants to see his homeland become “a country where kids are cared for in families, and where every single child spends as little time in the system as possible.”
Alex and his wife, Nati, know a little something about the importance of a family in the life of an abandoned child: they are the parents of four children adopted through our ministry. Alex and Nati adopted their older children, seven-year-old twins, in 2009. Their younger children joined the family two years later, at the ages of 3 and 4.
But it turned out that adopting four children was just the beginning of the Ilies’ orphan care journey. Before long, the couple found themselves recruiting other adoptive families within their church and home village. More than one of our our adoption stories came about because Alex or Nati made a phone call and found a family for a child in need.
In 2014, when it came time to for our newly-founded Romania Without Orphans board to plan its first conference, Alex Ilie’s name came up as a potential speaker. We knew that his biblical view of adoption, along with his personal experience as an adoptive parent, would be invaluable. What we didn’t know is how God would use that speaking engagement to direct Alex’s own life.
“I discovered that the need is much bigger than I could imagine,” Alex remembers of that first conference. “I remember speaking with [Romania Reborn’s] Christian Feavel about some of the things that RWO plans to do in Romania—I was speaking about helping offer support and training to caregivers.” But the RWO board had bigger plans in mind for Alex, and they soon asked him to consider the executive director position. “It was the most logical step for what God wants me to do with my life,” he recalls.
The Movement Grows
In March 2015, Alex began working for RWO full time. Today, the movement is gathering steam: expanding its outreach to families, picking up new partners and staff, and even beginning to forge a working relationship with the Romanian government.
In fact, one of the projects Alex is overseeing came about at the invitation of the child protection department in Bucharest. They’ve asked RWO to put together a publicity campaign called “Get to Know the Children Behind the Statistics,” to air on TV and in showings throughout Romania. The showings will be accompanied by panel discussions on adoption, facilitated by RWO. This is an excellent opportunity not only to promote adoption, but also to show the government that private charities can be good allies in helping children thrive.
RWO has also strengthened its lobbying efforts, working for reforms in the adoption and child welfare laws. Liviu Mihaileanu, an adoptive parent and NGO head based in Bucharest, recently joined the group as coordinator for lobbying and advocacy. While a new law made some needed changes this year,
RWO hopes to see even more movement in the future: streamlining the process to make children adoptable, allowing for private adoptions, and re-opening well-regulated international adoption.
The Church is Key
But Alex Ilie, and other movement leaders, don’t look to the government as the ultimate answer for abandoned children. Instead, they see the Christian church as central to an orphan care revival. Alex says he is working for a day when “Christians are known for being those who care for orphans, and adoption is so natural for them like prayer.”
To that end, RWO recently launched a project called “Romania 1:27,” named for the well-known verse on “true religion” in the book of James. The goal of Romania 1:27 is to challenge and equip local churches to care for the orphans in their communities. A pastor’s meeting this spring was a first step. “We spoke with hundreds of church leaders, and many of them reacted very well,” Alex says. “They confirmed that it is time for Romanian Christians to live the Gospel by adopting and caring for vulnerable children.” A more in-depth pastor’s conference is planned for this fall, should God provide the needed funds.
Another Gospel-centered aspect of RWO’s work is its trauma training for adoptive and foster parents. In a country with very few resources or support networks for caregivers, RWO is sending trained instructors to ten cities. There, they will put on “trauma training workshops” for parents, using curriculum developed by Christian therapists.
Alex says similar workshops have already been impacting people’s lives. “When I visit churches and speak, people come up to me and tell me, ‘Alex, we were praying about this, and RWO is God’s answer to our prayers. We decided to adopt a child.’ Or, ‘We adopted a few years ago, and we were so lonely in that, to the point that we even were not sure if it was the right thing to do. But now we have the confirmation we need.’
“So,” Alex concludes, “when I see people from different spheres of society answering our message, I see God’s hand starting a movement in Romania.”
A Picture of the Gospel
And for Alex Ilie, God is central to the work of Romania Without Orphans. He speaks powerfully about how his own experience as an adoptive parent deepened his understanding of the Gospel.
“I would say that adoption saved me and not the other way around,” he says. “I do not know how that sounds, but the first thing that comes to my mind is how much my life became richer, deeper in the Lord. How profoundly I undertood His love and the way He loves me. I think this is the reason that everything else is nothing.
“I would say it is about living the Gospel,” he concludes. “God adopted me, and I am doing what I am doing inspired by Him and through His power.”
This July, our matching gift fundraiser will benefit Romania Without Orphans, helping with projects like the video campaign, lobbying, pastor conference, and trauma training.
We often talk about the ways your support helps abandoned children, but this ministry is a blessing to the giver as well. Romania Reborn board member Jeanne Domenech recently shared her personal thoughts on this:
When you’ve been walking along life’s road with Christ (it’s been 40 years for this pilgrim this year) you witness many surprises. Some are sorrowful, others shock-worthy, perhaps exciting. But my favorite kind occur, when after patient and persistent prayer, God bursts in, bringing His joyous answer.
I had the privilege last fall of participating in just such a moment.
Back in 2005, while visiting Romania for the first time, Jayme Metzgar and I spent several days at Hope House, meeting the children, in particular two twins, a boy and a girl. about 4 years old. They were beautiful children, but for whatever reason they waited for a long time to be adopted. After that brief visit, their little faces were emblazoned on my mind’s eye.
GOD knew the plan He had for them, and for their adoptive parents.
As they waited I had the privilege of praying for them, so you can imagine my JOY when, ten years later, in November 2015 at the Romania Without Orphans Summit in Cluj, Romania, I saw them in person again, as lovely, poised, confident 14-year-olds.
As I listened to the interpreter tell their parents’ story and watched the joy on their faces, I found myself weeping tears of joy, simply because I was given the opportunity to SEE and KNOW that my little prayers had played a part in this beautiful miracle of a family knit together by God’s hand. What an unexpected witness to God’s economy of blessing! We give, but we come to see the GREAT GIVER in Action!
I was condemned to a hellish orphanage at age two. Today I’m a musician, wife, and mother. This is my story.
by Ramona Dudas
I was born in the dark age when Communism was at large in Romania. By unfortunate circumstances, the lady who delivered me left the hospital without revealing her identity. I do not know what were her reasons to leave me. All I know is that as the years passed, I learned to forgive her. I tried to imagine that her reasons were serious ones, and also I decided to respect her choice of keeping me alive.
Unfortunately, there is missing information in regards to my first three years of life. I found out that they moved me from one hospital to another until I was over two years old. I had no legal identity, meaning I had no rights. But even if I had had a name or identity during the black age when I was born, the abandoned children did not have rights at all and they were placed in children’s homes and subjected to all kinds of abuses. Maybe for the reason that I had no identity or because of somebody’s decision, I was diagnosed as ”IRRECOVERABLE” and sent to Cighid children’s home in Bihor County. It was more like a concentration camp or green mile, where according to my recent research, a strong child would live up to six months or a year, and after that, the child was buried in the nearby cemetery. I will won’t speak about the details or what it meant to survive there, but anyone interested can search on the internet (see video below).
Even though I was sentenced to an early death, there was a God who had a different plan for me. Now the question is, why did He choose me, when others died without being mourned and known by anyone? Still, I thank God for the gift of life.
Glimmers of Hope
Right after I turned three years old, in 1990, the horrors from Cighid were discovered. The place was shut down, and the children who survived the green mile were brought to hospitals, especially the Infant Neuro Psychiatry hospital in Oradea. This was how I got settled in the department of Dr. Monica Platon, a neuropsychiatrist. The most important thing that brought the change of my destiny was that Dr. Platon gave permission to volunteers to come work with the children she was responsible for.
At a little over 3 years old, I weighed around 10-12 pounds and refused to swallow any food. I would only lay on my back and fix my eyes on the ceiling without any ability to move. That was when I was found by Corina, the lady through whom God changed my destiny. In those times, Corina was a young girl, 19 years old, who came to volunteer with the children in the hospital. Corina stood by me, talking to me and comforting me by stroking my head with her hand.
So, the long and difficult journey to my recovery started from here. Slowly, with some mashed biscuits on my tongue, I started accepting food from Corina’s hand. She brought me secret, home-cooked food because the hospital food was lacking vitamins and was never enough. Little by little, I gained strength and was able to rise, sit up, then stand on my feet to the surprise and joy of Corina. She was daily caring and practicing with me for hours. Dr. Platon was also overjoyed at my progress. She finally yielded to Corina’s pleading, and decided to give me special permission to visit Corina’s home.
In that time, Corina was living with her parents and her eight brothers and sisters, the youngest being two years older than me. After the two days I spent at Corina’s home where everything was new, clean, different, and nice, Corina had to take me back to the hospital. I started desperately to cry. The next weekend I again went home with Corina, with the signed permission slip. This time, Corina decided to risk herself and not to take me back to the hospital again.
In those times, foster care was something new, and nobody had any idea how to do it. Finally, after one year of countless signed permission slips, with the willingness of Dr. Monica Platon and through a delegation from the child protection department, I was sucessfully placed in foster care in the Caba family. This family, Corina’s family, gave me a new identity, a birth certificate, and a brand new life.
The Chains Begin to Break
At the age of 5 years, after one year in the Caba family surrounded with love, safety, everybody’s attention, and a lot of good and healthy food, my progress was huge. Mom and Papa Caba, Corina’s parents, loving accepted me in their family and treated me as if I was their own child. Simona, Manuela, Lidia, Benjamin, Sami, Dani, Alin and Andrew, all surrounded me with a lot of affection, just as their youngest sister, and I learned to trust and feel protected and secure. When Corina took me to Dr. Platon for checkups, she was always amazed by my obvious progress.
I have to re-emphasize that at three years and three months, when the hard work started with me, my stage was like a newborn baby. The only achievements I had were the trauma and the wounds that required healing. At almost five years, I was walking very well, I had no more need of diapers, and I was eating by myself. I was trying to speak, but I could not pronounce clear words. However, I understood everything I was told and when Corina used to read me bedtime stories, I already knew what the next page was about. I had a special attraction to music. I loved listening to it and I used to sing in my language. When night came, I wouldn’t fall asleep without Corina, because she had to put her hand on my cheek until I would fall into a deep sleep. There were often times during the night when I woke up so scared, screaming as I watched an unseen terror. I would only calm down when Corina woke me up, comforted me, and put her hand on my cheek again so I could fall into a deep sleep.
Corina wanted to take me to kindergarten, but she was very worried about my inability to speak. Every night after I’d fall asleep, Corina used to pray for my healing with her hand laid on my head. One night, after she prayed for about an hour, she had a vision. She saw my brain trapped by a black hand with big sharp nails that was keeping it in the darkness. This picture persisted as Corina was praying, and she kept saying: “Oh, Lord, I will not stand up from my knees until you take aside this black hand!” After a few minutes, as she continued to pray, she saw a hand full of bright, shining light descend and remove every finger, one by one, of the hand that kept my brain captive. The next day when I woke up, I spoke clearly for the first time, not only a word, but a whole sentence: “Mom, I want to eat.” After that, my progress tripled. I remember even now what the prayers of Pastor Caba, Corina’s father, did for me. He was always there to pray for me and encourage me.
At the age of six years, when the time came for the school entry test, Mama Caba and Corina decided that I would not be a student at just any school, but at the Arts High School with a focus on piano. I got a good grade for the musical skills test, because as Mama Caba discovered, I had perfect musical hearing. However, the psychology test was not as good as expected, which means that my IQ resulted in a 65, a coefficient of intelligence that indicates serious mental retardation. So, the doctor and the psychologist said that there was never going to be a chance for me to succeed at learning in a normal school, let alone as a piano student in the Arts High School. But Corina and Mama Caba said, “No way, Ramona will study piano at the High School of Arts, because she is very talented and loves music.”
When I started school, four years of hard work were awaiting me. After a long day at school, I had another 4 hours of homework and piano exercises with Mama Caba. Every other day, I had to do my physical exercises to recover my mobility. I also had swimming lessons. This whole journey was pretty difficult, but when I was tested again at the end of the 4th grade, my IQ was around 100.
Adoption, Forgiveness, and Miracles
The time passed, and little by little I discovered the story of my life. Because I was dark-skinned, I had to face a lot of prejudice, whether in school or the community. When I turned 10 years old, my adoption was finally legalized, and my official name became RAMONA CABA, a name I proudly received. Corina Caba became my legal mother.
To adopt a child in those times was something new in our Romanian society, but to have adopted a dark-skinned child was inconceivable for the many people. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of prejudice toward dark-skinned children in Romania, especially the Roma children. But I want to tell these children that we all are equal in God’s eyes, we are His creation, and not even the color, not even the intelligence or the outfit will make someone more special, valuable, or important. The wise king Solomon said in the book of Proverbs: “What is desirable in a man is his kindness”, and this kindness is not inherited by us, but learned from those who display it to us. Show the child goodness so he learns to be good.
I am saying all these things because I had to face all the bullying and the challenges from other people, just because I was dark-skinned. Still, I have learned to forgive and answer kindly to these challenges because I have always been surrounded with love and kindness at home. I was accepted, loved, and protected, and this helped me pass over it all.
When I started 5th grade, I had no need of help with my homework. In the 7th grade, I received an award for a national music competition for piano. I graduated High School with almost an A, and I did excellent at the graduation exams. I say none of these things to praise myself or anybody else. All the glory, honor and praise belongs to our God, the King of Kings who not only plucked me out of the darkness and spared me from death, but also healed my brain, my mind, heart and soul.
From the children who were brought to Oradea from Cighid in 1990, a large number could not be saved; they died. Those who lived have serious mental and physical damages. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors have told me, “From a scientific point of view, your evolution is something unbelievable and contradicts all that medicine says. Humanly speaking: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.” As Dr. Monica Platon concluded, “You are a true miracle, my dear Ramona!”
What else can I say about me? After I graduated high school, I went to the university, continued my piano studies, and married Emil Dudas in 2009. In 2013, April 26th, the Lord gave me the greatest privilege to become a mother when He blessed us with our beloved and precious son, Simeon. He is a brilliant child, healthy and perfect from all points of view, just like every good and perfect gift that comes from above. I pray that God helps me be a good wife and mommy, and that my life glorifies Him so that I may spread His goodness and light with which He healed me and touched my life.
When I look behind, I see no sad story because of the trauma or suffering which has marked me. What has really molded my life and my character was the way God saved me from it all. His victory over all of this and the miracles He performed has put its mark on me. These have made me what I am—and what I will be when He accomplishes all He started in me. I see the way God has saved me and has given me a new meaning of life, a brand new identity and a hope and light-filled future.
I will end my testimony with a special verse from the Bible, Jeremiah 29:11. It says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I pray this will encourage everyone who needs to be redeemed, healed, and restored. For I am a living witness that there is no man or child that is irrecoverable, and there is no one who cannot be restored by God. He works through His people who are ready to become His outstretched hands, so they can uplift those in need.
Ramona Dudas is the daughter of our ministry director, Corina Caba. Her story inspired Corina to a life of ministry among abandoned children, and hundreds more have been saved. To support our ongoing work to place abandoned children in families, click here.
During the first week of November, most of the leadership and staff of Romania Reborn will be on the ground in Romania. Executive director Christian Feavel (who has been in the country since August) will be joined by five of Romania Reborn’s board members, in our first-ever board trip to Romania.
While many of us have traveled to Romania separately, we have never been there as a group—and a re-connection between our American and Romanian leadership is long overdue. We plan to visit foster and adoptive families, get to know Romanian staff, hold meetings with the new Romanian board of directors, and attend the Romania Without Orphans conference.
We’d value your prayers for us:
1. For safety and health in travel
2. For effectiveness in ministry
3. For unity and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit among the Romanian and American leadership
4. For God’s continued guidance of our ministry as we make decisions
As always, we’re grateful to you, our supporters, who make all of this work on behalf of abandoned children possible. We’ll strive to represent you well in Romania!
Early this year, we told you about our four-step plan to make a lasting impact on Romania by building an “orphan care culture.”
But before we can build something new, we have to shore up the foundation—literally. Back in 1998, our first project as an organization was constructing an orphanage building in Oradea, Romania. This building (called Hope House) was completed in 2000, and it’s been the headquarters of our Romanian ministry ever since. But that ministry looks different today than it did 15 years ago—and so does the building.
Hope House in the early days, full of kids!
In the early days, we had 16 children living at Hope House at any given time, while we worked to find them families. Today, we’re working on more children’s cases than ever before (36 as of this writing). But rather than living at Hope House itself, our children all live with their soon-to-be families. This arrangement became necessary due to changes in Romanian law, but it’s also an overall better environment for the children. Although Hope House was a beautiful and well-run children’s home, a loving family is always superior to an institution.
So what happened to the Hope House building? Well, it’s still in use as an office for our staff. But to be perfectly blunt, it’s seen better days. After years of hard wear as a home for abandoned children, Hope House is in dire need of both renovation and refurbishing as a real headquarters for our expanding ministry.
Hope House today is showing its wear and needs to be refurbished for a new purpose.
For years, we’ve been praying that God would supply the funds needed to renovate Hope House. A refurbished headquarters would allow us to hold counseling sessions on-site; host training workshops for parents (like the recent one featured here on our Facebook); and supply office space and equipment for additional staff as the ministry grows.
Recently, God answered our prayers in a clear and humbling way. On June 18, our board was scheduled to meet by phone conference to discuss the increasingly-urgent renovation need. Just as the meeting was set to begin, an unexpected text message came through to a board member’s phone from an anonymous donor, pledging a $35,000 matching gift for our annual July fundraiser. This generous donor promised to match every dollar we raise in regular giving during July, up to $35,000. If the entire goal is reached, the matching gift will be just the amount needed to fully fund the renovation. (Needless to say, our scheduled board meeting became a time of prayer and praise instead!)
This pledge means that our July Giving Challenge has added significance this year. Every dollar you give this July will serve a double purpose: first funding our regular work, and second securing a gift to renovate our ministry headquarters. You could think of it as a way to impact Romania both now (through the life of a child) and in the future (through the building from which we hope to launch an orphan care movement.)
But we’ll need some help to get there. In past years, our July goal has always been $20,000. We’ve occasionally overshot that goal by a little, but $35,000 is by far our highest July goal to date. This is a big goal, but we serve a big God—a God who sees the sparrows and certainly cares for the many Romanian children still waiting for families.
So if God is leading you to help this July, there are quite a few ways you could get involved:
1. Our “Summer Sales” effort is a fun way to get your family and community in on fundraising.
2. If you live in the greater DC area, our benefit concert on July 17 is another great opportunity.
3. Of course, the simplest way is just to give a donation of any amount. Remember, every gift this month will be doubled by a matching gift donor—and, we trust, multiplied even further by our gracious and mighty God. To Him be the glory!