But tragically, many children like Lorelai are locked away in institutions
by Jayme Metzgar
Last Friday, the TV show “Romania’s Got Talent” featured a performance that has since gone viral all over the world. Fourteen-year-old Lorelai Moşneguţu, who was born without arms, sings and plays the piano with her feet in a performance that brings the whole room to tears. It is a moving example of the power of the human spirit to overcome obstacles.
But Lorelai’s backstory is even more remarkable. Asked about her parents by the judges, Lorelai replies that “Mama Vio” is there with her. Intrigued, the judges inquire why she calls her mother “Mama Vio.” Lorelai explains that she was abandoned at birth, and that she has been living with Mama Vio in placement since she was a baby. The judges then ask for Mama Vio to come out on stage and be recognized, before finally listening to Lorelai sing. Her stunning, joyful performance shows the difference a family can make in the life of an abandoned child, especially one with special needs.
What would happen to baby Lorelai today?
What many people may not realize is that in Romania today, an abandoned child like Lorelai would be at much higher risk for long-term institutionalization than a child without disabilities. Romanian law forbids abandoned children under age two from being placed in institutions, preferring that they go to foster families. However, the law makes an exception for children with handicaps. As a result, many babies with even minor physical deformities are placed into special needs institutions, where lack of love and individual care often give rise to long-term mental, physical, and emotional damage.
In our experience over two decades of working with abandoned children, this consigning of handicapped babies to a loveless fate happens far too often. In a child welfare system that is already failing to find families even for healthy children, it’s convenient to find a reason to place children in institutions. But this is neither an acceptable nor a humane solution.
Here at Romania Reborn, our privately-funded Romanian social workers have worked to save children with disabilities from this fate, placing them into families. We would love to see family-based care become a priority throughout Romania, through legal reforms and increased partnerships with NGOs like ours. Unfortunately, Romanian child welfare authorities often view NGOs with suspicion rather than treating them as partners.
It’s time to let Romania’s compassion show
In watching the video of Lorelai’s performance, it is clear that Romanians are compassionate, warm, and accepting people. Most Romanians do not realize how their government is handling the cases of children just like this one. Many beautiful souls like Lorelai are missing from Romanian society, because they are locked away in institutions that are unworthy of the Romanian people.
As Romania rightfully celebrates this young girl’s inspiring performance, it should also renew its commitment to the welfare of children with disabilities. It would be wonderful to see more Romanian families follow “Mama Vio’s” example in giving a home to a disabled child. Every child deserves, needs, and belongs in a family.
When I first became the Executive Director of Romania Reborn almost ten years ago, we went through some big changes: new name, new website, new database, and more. The changes were necessary for this ministry to grow deeper and stronger. Today, Romania Reborn no longer resembles the ministry of a decade ago; it has been transformed. But this isn’t surprising, since transformation is what we are all about.
On my recent trip to Romania, two-year-old “Sylvia” and I had a wonderful conversation about the things important to a toddler, namely food. As she sat in my lap, I was amazed at how much she had grown in the year since I had last visited her family. A few years ago, I was privileged to observe and photograph the moment Sylvia was placed into the welcoming arms of her new parents. She wasn’t old enough to understand how love had transformed her life, but I knew her future was forever changed. As I held a talkative and lively Sylvia, I rejoiced for this little girl and her family, because her adoption would be complete within the next few months. Her beautiful eyes tell of the transforming power of a parent’s love.
As I think back over these last ten years, I am amazed at how God has not only allowed me to help change the lives of hundreds of children, but has taken me on my own journey of transformation. I cringe, and laugh, when I think back on my first public presentation of our ministry. Gathering checks and inputting them into the computer seemed overwhelming in the beginning. But God walked every step with me, always showing me that He was the One who sustained this ministry, not me. And just when I became comfortable and confident in my life and work, God decided to bring an unexpected surprise into my life.
In August of 2015, as I began my three-month stay in Romania, I attended the wedding of Corina Caba’s sister. She was marrying her fellow missionary after serving with him in Africa for many years. The groom was from Brazil, and a few of his family and friends were able to travel to attend this important event. Throughout the nine-hour wedding and reception (yes, it was a very long day), one of the groom’s friends from Brazil kept seeking me out to speak with me. He knew some English and wanted to share the photos of his trips to America. Of course, I was clueless to his true intent until Corina kindly laughed at me and told me that this man was definitely interested in me. This was so unexpected and outside of anything I had even considered for my life, but God kept whispering to me to be open to this man, Joir Lino da Silva. Before the wedding had ended, I promised to email Joir and see how God would lead us as we pursued a relationship. Only God could write a story where a woman from America and a man from Brazil meet at a wedding in Romania.
The last year and a half has been an unbelievable journey as we corresponded, prayed, opened our hearts, fell in love, and knew that marriage was God’s will for our lives. It hasn’t been easy, but it has drawn me closer to the Lord in ways I couldn’t have imagined: the transforming power of a godly man’s love.
From the beginning, I realized that this change in my life would also bring change to Romania Reborn. We had already begun to discuss the need for another part-time employee to handle the workload, but my engagement forced us to really pray for God’s guidance. I quickly knew that I would need to move to Brazil, but I would continue working part-time as Executive Director. However, it was imperative that we hire someone as Assistant Director to be on the ground here in Virginia.
God has truly led us each step of the way as we sought a person with a heart for the Lord and for the ministry. He answered and brought Natalie Daratony to us in a very short time without advertising. Again, God showed us that this was His ministry and He would provide.
Natalie has been a huge blessing, jumping in and quickly learning all that she can about the work, even traveling to Romania with me in October. She has brought a fresh perspective and new gifts to the team, which I know God will use to once again grow and transform this ministry. It will be exciting to see what God has planned as we begin this new chapter of Romania Reborn.
Even with all of these changes, the vision for our ministry has not changed: transforming lives of abandoned children. From the very beginning, this is what God has called us to do. There are more children still waiting for a forever family, so we pray we will grow deeper and stronger through the changes in order to better help each child God places in our care. I pray your life too will be changed as you join with us in sharing the transforming power of God’s love with these precious children.
Romania Reborn is pleased to announce the addition of a new full-time staff member: Assistant Director Natalie Daratony. Natalie, who arrives this month, will assist Executive Director Christian Feavel in running the daily operations of the ministry.
“If God wants me to use the love He has poured into me to love Romanian orphans, then that is what I will do!” is Natalie’s heartbeat in joining the Romania Reborn staff team. She is full of excitement for each coming day as she learns and grows in this new opportunity. Natalie is a graduate of Liberty University and has a heart for the neglected and the outcast. Her passion to give a voice to the voiceless and a place of rest to the restless has led her to many ministry opportunities, both nationally and internationally. Her greatest endeavor in life is to learn to love the people around her with the richness of love God has given her.
As Natalie arrives, Christian is preparing to scale back to part-time hours in preparation for her upcoming wedding and married life. (She met her soon-to-be husband in Romania, and it’s quite a story. Look for more on this in an upcoming newsletter!) Despite Christian’s many imminent life changes, we’re thankful that she will be staying on part-time as Executive Director, lending her years of ministry expertise on both sides of the Atlantic.
“When Christian first arrived ten years ago, she built the infrastructure necessary to take us to the next level as an organization,” says RR president Jayme Metzgar. “She’s grown Romania Reborn to the place where we needed additional staff, and we can’t wait to see how God uses Natalie’s unique gifts to continue strengthening the ministry.”
One of Natalie’s first assignments will be to travel with Christian to Romania during the month of October. Please remember them in prayer, and be ready to hear more from Natalie in the coming months!
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!