A deep desire lingers in my heart that you might be able to know and see and understand what it is that keeps calling me back (to Romania). Please, take a few minutes. Read these thoughts and stories. Look at the pictures.
There are hundreds of Roma Gypsy villages in Transylvania. These ones are known as the poorest of all Roma villages. They are tucked away out of sight of the beautiful towns and Romanian villages in the hills of the Carpathians in central Romania. They are full of beautiful, but suffering people of all ages, struggling just to survive another day. Some are a little better off in that they attend school and have a father that has found work. Others are literally starving, caked in mud and riddled with disease and sickness. These people are oppressed. Most local governments turn a blind eye.
I am going to share about one village in particular: Seleus (Sell-eh-oosh). Situated about twenty minutes outside Sighisoara, Seleus is in two parts; the main section, and the hill. The muddy hill is where most of the Roma Gypsies live, in shacks made of plastic, sticks, mud. The ground is perpetual mud littered with garbage and covered with feces. The children run around with bare feet (only some have shoes). Stray dogs overwhelm the village, barking and biting.
It is heartbreaking when you ask a child "When was the last time you have eaten?". The answer is usually measured in days, not hours. The women normally have many children, not just one or two. The babies are born into suffering. It is a hopeless cycle. How can the mother provide for her new baby when she cannot provide for the five, six, seven children she already has - let alone herself? Many times the mother will choose the children she already has over the new baby. In this case, is it wrong? Is it merciful?
It is commonplace for a woman to have had multiple illegal abortions. Contraceptives are frowned upon by the local churches. These church leaders are the ones that make decisions sitting round a table. They are not the ones going out and seeing the despair with their own eyes. It is devastating and a difficult burden to bear for the workers that serve in these villages; the ones that see babies born and see babies die.
The winter months are especially challenging for these families. Imagine this: a one room shack for a home, no electricity, no running water, dirt floors. The sun goes down early and it gets dark quickly. Sitting for hours in there without light. Building a fire on the floor to keep warm that creates a small amount of light. No ventilation so the air is thick and smoky. Little ones trying desperately to keep warm and burning themselves in the fire. Imagine not having a warm cup of tea or bowl of soup. Now the fire has burnt a hole in the plastic roof. The fumes are intoxicating. The babies have soiled themselves and are wet and cold. The air outside is freezing cold and the wind starts up. Suddenly, it begins to snow. Now there is snow falling through the hole in the roof created by the fire that was built to keep warm. Huddle together to keep warm and fall asleep on an empty stomach. Waking up shivering and trembling. Another day. Wondering what you're going to eat...wondering if you are going to eat.
The winter in Romania holds a very special place in my heart. After seeing how these people fare in that weather, every time it snows, I think of them. There is no way those images can be forgotten.
Another significant aspect of serving in the winter is this: Christmas shoeboxes. The shoeboxes are covered in Christmas paper and filled with hygiene, school, and clothing items, as well as a special toy. They are packed into a semi truck and driven to Transylvania all the way from the UK. It is unloaded into the storehouse and the house in Laslea. The boxes are sorted into age and gender groups (i.e. Girl 3-4, Boy 9-10 etc.). Some of the boxes are filled with much extra, so they are taken apart so that we can fill even more boxes. The bar soap is taken out of its wrapper, as well as the toothbrush, and the toothpaste is taken out of its box. Tags are removed from items containing them. Then the boxes are closed with a rubber band and labeled with the gender and age.
A sample box would include:
1 bar soap
1 small notebook
1 bundle of pens/pencils
1 pair of underwear
1 pair of socks
1 knitted winter hat
1 pair of gloves OR 1 knitted scarf
1 hair comb
1 toy OR special item
Several hair ties and clips (Girls Only)
(There are some items that differ depending on the age and gender of the child.)
(The day the electricity was out, we packed shoeboxes by candlelight.)
There were well over 3,000 shoeboxes made and hand-distributed. They are taken to the nearby schools and villages. It is incredible to see the children open their one-and-only Christmas gift. To see them excited about bar soap and toothbrushes is truly humbling.
The staff are also given gifts; ladies and men's bags. These are filled with small toiletries like shampoo and lotion.
Some schools are in better condition than others. This has to do with the individual villages and the staff who run each school.
In the wintertime, there are also food parcels and aid parcels that are made up for the Roma Gypsy villages. The parcels are filled with items donated and brought over from the UK. The food parcels contain things like: bags of oats, pasta, rice, cans of soup and beans, a tub of margarine, tea bags, beef stock cubes, ramen noodles, and other items. The aid parcels are filled with hats, scarves, and gloves, for each family member of each household. Along with a baby blanket and baby items for those with newborns. It is also filled with a notebook, pens, pencils, crayons, a coloring book, a wash cloth, a bar of soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.
Inside the storehouse. Filled with bags and boxes of donated items.
Gideon helping to find more hats, scarves, and gloves in the storehouse.
Families receiving parcels.
(These specific photos are from when they were measured and given shoes as well.)
Feeding programs are executed within certain villages. To prepare, pasta and spaghetti sauce is cooked along with hotdogs. The hotdogs are cut up and added to the pasta and sauce. Five large pressure cookers are filled to the brim. Seven loaves of bread are cut into pieces and put into four large trays. Four more loaves of bread are brought to be cut up later on. The pasta is dished up into empty yogurt containers with plastic spoons. A bread knife, cutting board, and two black sharpies are brought along.
The back of the van is packed and driven to the village.
We walk around the homes and tell them "Mancare!" and "Macaroni!". The children come running. We line them up shortest to tallest in two lines; one for girls, and one for boys. One person in front of each line has a black sharpie. The back of the van is opened up where two people sit to fill more yogurt containers with pasta and cut more bread.
The children are one-by-one marked on the hand with sharpie, and passed on to get a container of pasta and two pieces of bread. This carries on until every child has received, then the elderly and the mothers can receive. After that, anyone can receive and the children can get in line for seconds. Picture about 300 containers gone in a matter of minutes!
heading up the hill
In addition, a potato program has been implemented. Sacks of potatoes are taken to the village where each family can come to receive and it is recorded into a book.
I just love Gypsy Grammas!
As you have noticed, the homes are not in the best shape. Some workers went out and did some repairs on doors and roofs.
A duplex style home was built at the bottom of the yard in Laslea. The mayor will not allow a permanent dwelling, so this is the first temporary home that has been constructed. It does not have a stove or insulation, so only time will tell how it will fare through the winter.
Gideon wanted to help Dada build
Thank you for your time as you have read the stories and seen the photos. If you have encouraged us in this work, we thank you. If you have supported us, please know that we could not have completed any of this without you. We appreciate you greatly.
We know that as a family we will continue to serve the Roma Gypsies in Romania. Please pray that we might have wisdom in how to do this in a greater measure in the years to come. Some of you know that Tim is going back to school in January so it seems as though Romania is going to be put on the back burner, but we would like wisdom on how we can still serve.
Please also pray for the workers who live there and serve there year-round.
Norman and Linda Patterson, Gary and Annie Lester, David Maguire, and many others.
Please pray that these babies being born into this life would survive by God's grace.
Pray that the local government would allow for proper homes to be built for these people.
Pray that money would come in where it is needed.
Pray that workers would continue to go and serve.
Pray that they (Roma Gypsies) would come to know the Lord and that He would bless them abundantly during these harsh winter months.
It is difficult to understand why some struggle and suffer, yet we live in abundance. Is it just a matter of fate? We were born here, they were born there. I never want to take for granted, the "stroke of luck" being born in the West. It seems as though it is a reason to help others less that are in need. This Christmas season, you don't have to travel thousands of miles away to a third world country, but please do something for someone less fortunate.
There are countless stories and many more photos that can be shared. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you would like to hear more. We hope and pray you and your families are happy and healthy this holiday season and have a lovely Christmas.
*All photos taken by Sarah Hamill, Kelsey Mathew, Maria Horta, and Timothy Mathew