A letter from Liz Searles in Romania
MORE THAN HUGS!
Serving in Tulcea, Romania, full-time since July, I have been called and commissioned to:
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless;
and plead the widow's cause” (Isaiah 1:17).
Before July I was getting oriented to new ministry and was speaking in U.S. churches. Offering the Sunday children’s message, I would ask: “What do kids (you) need most?” The quickest responses were: “Candy!” or “Presents!” Soon, however, we’d hear: “Love!” or “Hugs!” or “Someone to take care of them!” Love, hugs, and “someone to watch over me.” Children the world over reach for relationship before needs such as safe water, nutritious food, clothing, or shelter.
“Noroc” means “God bless” in Romanian, and the acronym NOROC stands for “New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children,” a global mission partner of Presbyterian World Mission. Not everyone inside our circle of blessing is an orphan. Abandoned, abused, traumatized or at-risk children also seek light and nurture after being planted in the harsh soil of Romanian state institutions. Food, clothing, and shelter—they receive these to a minimum standard.
Do institutions offer love, hugs, and “someone to watch over me”? Or dependable and safe adults in relationship to help kids learn how to trust again, love again, laugh again, and feel safe again? Not often. That’s where “Big-Hearted Grannies” come in. NOROC’s Grannies—older women scraping by on small fixed government pensions—help ground a child’s life. Grannies relate five or six days a week with about 10 children. Granny love, hugs, and vigilant care may transform the life of a child of trauma who has lost it all.
Grannies sometimes have the joy of seeing children blossom in their care. For example, one newly arrived 4-year-old did not speak, laugh or sing. As weeks became months, her silence and withdrawal deepened. Granny Fanica made the child a priority, with daily face-to-face talking in a loving, personal and humorous way. Her constant, dependable, safe, loving attention wrought a transformation. After a few months, the 4-year-old began to talk. Now she chatters, laughs and sings like—well, like a normal 4-year-old! Miraculous, indeed!
More than hugs: Grannies intervene when there is bullying, take kids to the hospital when other staff cannot leave the premises, and devote time for play, for learning, and for quiet listening and responding. Often Grannies keep in contact long after a child has left the institution. They are at the front line addressing root causes of poverty, keeping children safe in a culture of violence, and sharing in work and word the love of Jesus Christ.
Do Grannies help kids become school- and relationship-ready? Absolutely. Do they themselves experience the rewards of meaningful work and relationship? Of course they do. Grannies—kids—NOROC—Grannies—kids—NOROC: that circle of care and safety surrounds each child and each Granny, too.
Do Grannies transform a hopeless situation? Yes. Do they get paid? Yes, but not enough: their small stipend puts meat on the table twice a week but doesn’t cover the monthly heating bill. Grannies have big hearts but small pocketbooks. Paying and resourcing Grannies is a high NOROC priority.
Partnered with the PC(USA) and Presbyterian Women, NOROC participates in their mission—your mission. Institutionalized and at-risk children benefit, and aging women on the brink of deep poverty benefit. NOROC’s hope is that each child will experience and bear witness to the love and justice of Jesus Christ, will gain the confidence and skills to stay out of trafficking and poverty, and will go on to support themselves, build healthy, redeemed relationships, and forge circles of care and safety in their adult communities.
That is the hope. Now for the reality: the cost of forging this circle of caring has skyrocketed. As Romania’s economy grows, NOROC’s commitment to the Grannies must rise too. What they receive does not cover a month of their heating bill in winter, for example. In 2014 NOROC will step out in faith to offer the “Big-Hearted Grannies” a raise—the first in 15 years—from about $65 per month to $95 per month for four hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week and 51 weeks a year.
Love, hugs and someone on watch. NOROC’s circle of care and safety is forged with big hearts outside of Romania, too: PC(USA) entities and Presbyterian Women, congregations, and many, many individuals. Thank you to each of you who has stepped out in faith “to visit orphans and widows in trouble” (James 1:27). Thank you for your part in bringing “NOROC” to more than 10 Tulcea County institutions and more than 400 children and adults. Pray with us that the circle of care and protection you have helped forge will not be broken in 2014. You keep the circle strong when you commit financially to Presbyterian World Mission ministry.
There are two ways to contribute to God’s ongoing mission partnership in Romania:
1) You can give to my sending and ongoing support via ECO E200499 (see the "Give" link below)
2) You can give to “Big Hearted Grannies” via ECO E051603.
Sharing what we have with the Grannies and children of our partner NOROC, we step out in the faith of the psalmist who wrote:Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation (Psalm 68:5, ESV). Step out in faith with us, won’t you?
Thank you for your gifts of prayer, time, talent and treasure!
Leaning (and depending) into 2014 !!
(and the nearly 50 Grannies, tutors, psychologists, speech therapists, small group leaders and other "friends" whose lives show forth "NOROC"—God's blessing)
“NOROC”—in the name of Jesus Christ
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 317
Read more about Liz Searles' ministry