Upon my arrival the next morning to the place where I left my friend and her two children, I saw distraught faces and spats of blood everywhere on the white walls. What happened? I thought. Soon the story unfolded of the miserable night of torment between this destitute family and their invaders – mosquitoes!
Everywhere I looked, life was hard. This reality was to become more personal to me through my new friend, a woman my age, named Clementa.
Such Good Bread
One of the things that most foreigners love about Romania is their good crusty bread. What we would pay $3.-4. a loaf for in the United States would cost about thirty cents there, and it was baked fresh each morning.
Early on, during my stay with the children, we walked past a store in our village and they said, “Naan-cee, bune piane aici”, meaning there’s good bread here. At first glance, I wasn’t sure by the looks of the building if it was a government welfare-type bread store or if the public could purchase there, but the children reassured me that their aunts and uncles bought bread there, so I went in. Inside, the plaster was cracked; missing pieces had fallen to the floor and had been swept up in a haphazard way, but the bread was so good! I soon learned not to look so much at the structure housing the product, but to follow suit of the locals and simply enjoy what was available. I also learned to take my own bag along to the store to place the bread in, as one usually wasn’t provided. People simply slung the loaf under their arm and headed off. My habit of making a weekly trip to the grocery store in the U.S. didn’t work well here. I found myself going daily for fresh bread. With five of us to feed, bread was one of our beloved staples; and Uncle Costica provided eggs for us from his farm.
After several months of living with our children’s relatives, Dale returned from the U.S. and secured a house for the children and me. It was an upper flat on Aleea Strand across from a large park. The place was very nice by Romanian standards. It did have a refrigerator; however, it was an apartment sized under-the-counter type, so space was limited and the freezer was constantly icing up. While I had many adjustments to make to this type of living, the children enjoyed it in many ways. They felt it was like playing house and they made an adventure out of every day. I suppose this helped me to view it in that way too. I would wake up each day and pray, “Okay, Lord whatever you have for me today, help me at every turn.” Life was so different for me here, yet God helped me see His Hand in it all.
We lived in the village of Itcani, which was a short bus ride from the major city of Suceava. Located in the northeast region of Romania and bordered by Moldova and Ukraine, Itcani has many beautiful sights. This region formerly known as Moldovia was home to Stephen the Great, ruler and protector of this area from 1457 to 1504. Now, living in post-communist Romania, and while enjoying its beauty, I slowly came to realize why its emotional landscape appeared as it did—gloomy.
I learned that in 1966, the communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, issued Decree 770 attempting to create a large nation of people for himself. He was selfishly motivated and used abortion in a different way than we in the West would. We implemented it as a means to decrease the population of undesirable children; he restricted it — not for godly reasons but rather to increase the population. He forbade abortion for all women unless they were over forty years old, or were already caring for four children. He banned all forms of contraception, completely. Ceausescu was looking to create a new nation of people, not unlike Adolph Hitler. By 1969, the country had a million babies more than the previous average. It was said that thousands of kindergartens were built overnight. Farmlands were confiscated and used collectively as farms for the government. People were warehoused into cities, living all together in huge concrete apartment buildings. Then, at the close of 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were assassinated by their own people on Christmas Day. This revolution brought Romania into a period of rebuilding as a free nation. But this was now a nation with poverty, and so many children (more than 100,000) were unwanted or born to families that simply did not have the means to care for them. The question then was, “What do we do with all of these orphaned children?” I now understand much more of Romania’s history which explains the poor living conditions and the large number of orphaned children. (For further information, go to Isador Ruckel’s article with video links or the History Channel’s Ceausescu’s Kids.)
There seemed to be sadness everywhere I looked in Romania. Most often it was my English that gave me away as being an American; even if I did not speak, the absence of lines in my face, soft uncracked hands, and optimistic spirit indicated that I was a foreigner. Many of the women my age looked 10 to 15 years older than me, simply because of the hard life they lived. My new friend, Clementa, was one of them.
One day, early in my stay, we went to the bank and saw a boy that looked familiar to me because of his crossed eyes; it was Silvu. He and his sister, Andreea, had been living at the Hand of Help Orphanage when we were visiting there the previous year. They were now living with their mother, Clementa, and life for them was difficult. Because Silvu recognized our children, he came over to greet us. Silvu was an unforgettable boy.
Upon meeting his mother, Clementa, I immediately saw the pain in her eyes. Here she was — forty years old, yet looking very old with the strain of life heavy upon her. Amazingly, she was bilingual. She began to tell me her story. After listening to her, I told her that I deeply cared and wanted to be of help, somehow, and promised that I would come to see her later that week.
We met up, again, a few days later and she invited me to her apartment. Clementa was desperately in need of a job, but could not find one. She had spent nearly all she had to get the necessary surgery for Silvu’s eyes. Thankfully, his situation was much improved, but in order to get the money needed for the surgery, she had to sell the house they had inherited from her parents. Now they were renting a borrowed apartment for $60.00 per month. She said they were desperate; they didn’t have the money to pay the rent, and she thought they might be put out on the street very soon. They already had turned over all their furniture to the bank. They had prayed that morning before going to the bank, that God would help them — and miraculously, God had caused them to run into us.
I was able to give her some money, but she needed a job and other necessities. Clementa, well aware of the religious-social climate between us said to me, “I’m sorry, I am Orthodox”, as she received the money I gave her. Realizing that we were not Orthodox, she felt a need to apologize for receiving from us. As repentants (Pocăinţă) — those who believe in baptism after a person receives Christ as their Savior — there was an unwritten religious wall between us, which was well known in Romania. I told her not to worry and that she could trust in a Good Heavenly Father for her future.
Clementa had prepared a wonderful little lunch for us, and as we talked about her situation, I began to share with her the Good News of gaining a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father through the sacrifice that Jesus Christ had made for us. She cried a lot. I told her that God will hear her prayers and that she could come to Him directly. I further explained the Old Covenant requiring priests as mediators compared to the direct access believers now have under the New Covenant through Jesus Christ as our sacrificial mediator, providing us access to God, our Father.
We continued, discussing what it meant to be born again, from the book of John, Chapter 3, and the wonder and privilege to have our sins forgiven and to enter into a living relationship with Him! She wanted this and so we prayed for her to repent of trusting in men and she sought forgiveness of her sin directly from God. When we finished talking she was overjoyed, her face shown as if she was a wealthy princess of a King. She said, “You are my sister now!” “Yes, that’s right, we are a part of the same family…” I replied. Clementa and I continued our friendship during much of my time there.
When, finally, she did lose her borrowed apartment, our children’s uncle, Costica, allowed them to live in a house he had built that was not fully finished. They were simply glad to have a roof over their heads at night.
I returned the next morning and upon arrival, I saw blood spats all over the walls! Wondering what had happened, Clementa began to excitedly apologize. She said the mosquitoes were biting them all night and they had gotten little sleep, remaining awake most of the night killing the blood-sucking pests. I told her we’d go to the fabric store and buy some underskirt netting to thumbtack to the windows. And so we did.
It was a hot muggy day. Upon our return, she began to wash the walls and thumbtacked the fabric to the window frames. I knew about this process first-hand as I had to do the same thing to the place the children and I were living in. If we were ever going to open the windows at night to get some cool air in, we needed some sort of screen to keep the bugs out.
Clementa and I spent some months together visiting and meeting up to see each other at church. Her life grew busy trying to find work each day and mine was busy in my own way of simply learning how to live in this land, halfway around the world, awaiting the day when we could all go home to America.
(Photo credit: Pixabay)