Friday, March 9, 2018

Love is in the air...

It's so good to be back in Romania! There was lots of love this month...not just because we celebrated Valentine's Day but also because the kids were ready to share their love with me again after being gone on furlough.

Sunday mornings continue to be one of my favorite times with the kids and it was good to get back into the program that Heather and I had initially set of worship music, weekly Bible story review, and then prayer stations. We always have some amazing moments with the kids during this time where they share parts of their story that we have never heard, share how they are truly feeling, or show their trust in and desire for God in unexpected ways.
Life Skills (therapy) sessions and Character Classes continue to go well. Many of the kids are showing improvement both in and out of sessions. It is huge blessing to be able to work with other Heart to Heart staff members who are willing to help enforce boundaries and procedures that help the kids deal with their emotions in a positive way.

While I was in the States I took a training to become a Certified Anger Management Specialist. As part of the training I need to lead several anger management groups over the next six months. I have started two groups at Voluntari, one with four younger kids and one with three older boys. The older boys in particular have really enjoyed the group and have even asked that we continue for "5 months" (their exact words)!
Even though there is still snow on the ground, summer planning is already under way! Heather and I have been meeting weekly with Jen and Jenny to begin talking about curriculum, themes, interns, and teams. It is exciting to have the ball rolling so early in the year and we hope and pray that it will mean a smoother, more enjoyable summer for everyone involved.
Coming up in March...
Character Classes, Life Skills sessions, Sunday morning praise and prayer, Anger Management groups, Youth Groups, and Bible Class will continue throughout March. At the end of March we will be welcoming the CCC and Mission Possible teams. We also have a gathering for the transition graduates planned for later in March.

Giving and Support Information
As many of you probably know, I am planning to extend my stay here in Romania past my initial three year commitment. I pray that you will prayerfully consider supporting my ministry in the years to come. If you are already giving there is no need to "recommit"; simply continue with your monthly giving plan as established. If you would like to begin supporting me, please use the link below to visit Heart to Heart's giving page and start your giving plan today.

God is doing amazing things in and through me here in Romania. I would not be here today without everyone's love and support. Thank you for all that you do! I look forward to continuing to share about my ministry for many years to come.

Prayer Requests/Praises
Praises:
  • I was able to start Anger Management classes at Voluntari.
  • Our Bible teaching programs have gotten back on schedule.
  • Summer planning is already underway and we are already making progress in several areas.
  • Life Skills sessions and Character Classes are continuing to go well and we are continuing to notice progress with several kids.
Prayer Requests:
  • Continue to pray for our kids, especially at Periș, as they are beginning to become more open and willing to share their stories with us. We are seeing lots of really positive changes taking place and pray that the kids, and we as well, will be protected from Satan's attacks. Pray that the kids will continue to seek Christ and that we will be able to provide them with constancy, stability, and a feeling of safety.
  • Pray for times when we as staff can get rest and refueling and that we will stay in a healthy mindset.
  • Pray for summer ministry and that doors will open (or close) as needed to provide our kids with opportunities to meet with God and grow their relationship with Him.
  • Pray that I will continue to make connections with other mental health professionals here in Romania.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Planning, Planning, Planning

Now that fall is right around the corner (hopefully...it's been very hot here in Romania) it's time to start getting ready for our school year programming. The kids started back to school this Monday, the 11th, and we've had a chance to start talking to the teachers and caregivers about our plans.

I will be conducting large group Character Classes at both Voluntari and Periș. In the spring we focused on building emotional intelligence and learning to identify emotions. This fall we will be learning about how to communicate our emotions effectively and how to cope with strong emotions.
Making some handouts for Character Class. I'll give these out to kids who I notice appropriately handling their emotions throughout the week.
One of the things I look forward to most about school year programs is meeting one on one for counseling sessions with kids. This is where we look at issues they are facing and try to process them and develop healthy ways of dealing with the myriad of situations they face. I'll be working with kids who struggle with depression, anxiety, ADHD, adjustment disorder, and host of other issues this fall. I love working with the kids and developing the one on one relationship as well as seeing them grow and learn.
I think I'm going to need a bigger binder for all my resources!
This fall Heather and I will be starting some new Bible classes at the orphanages. We are introducing a Junior Youth Group at both Periș and Voluntari as we have many pre-teens who are entering into an impressionable stage in their lives. We are hoping to provide them with a Biblical knowledge base that will lead them as they enter their teen years.

We are also starting a Bible Class with the youngest kids at Periș. After summer camps this year we felt a strong leading to continue building on what these little ones had begun to learn. Since this was the first year at our summer camps for over half of our littlest kiddos it was also the first time that some of them had been exposed to God's Word in a meaningful way.

Finally, we are hoping to begin a Sunday morning program with the kids at Periș. We would have a time of singing and prayer and also a time of review of the things they had learned in Bible Class and Youth Group during the week.
Sami and I from earlier in the summer. I'm praying that he will get involved in some of the activities we are starting in the fall.
As I worked through all the ministry plans that I have in mind for the fall I realized that my work here in Romania is only just beginning. I have been encouraged by the growth that I have seen over my first two years here but I am praying to continue it well on into the future. This depends, of course, on a number of factors including continued financial support. I have been abundantly blessed these past two years with amazing supporters and I pray that my support team will stay strong and continue to grow. In addition, I must say that without the prayers of many people around the world I would not have the strength to keep going. The words of encouragement that I receive are what keeps me positive when times are tough. I love serving with Heart to Heart and I love working with our kids. If you would like to join me on this grand adventure, whether through prayer, giving, or even serving on a short term trip, please check out h2hint.org for more information or send me a message here or on Facebook.

Continue to keep Heather, myself, our kids, and our other staff members in your prayers as we enter into this next season of serving!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Summer Catch Up

I know that I am woefully behind on updating the blog. I will try to be better about staying on top of things in the future but, in the meantime, check out the link below to view my summer newsletter to read all about our summer camps.

http://conta.cc/2vEsJ6p

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Building Emotional Intelligence

In Character Classes we have been working on building emotional intelligence for about a month. This means that the kids have been learning about different emotions and what they look like, sound like, and feel like.
Character Class at Voluntari.
Every week I read a story about a different emotion and then the kids complete a page in their "Feelings Files" booklet. So far we have covered happiness, anger, sadness, and fear. We will be learning about embarrassment this coming week.
Learning about anger.
Many of the kids have never stopped to think about the complexities of these different emotions. However, by beginning to think deeper about emotions they are actually beginning to identify their own feelings in various situations. I help this process by starting every class asking each child individually, "How do you feel today?" and "Why?" Of course, I always share how I'm feeling, even if it's not always a good feeling, because I want the kids to see how I identify my emotions and that all emotions are ok.
An example of the kids beginning to identify their emotions. They stated they would feel bad, empty in their stomach, and cold if someone cussed at them. These are sensations we have associated with sadness!
I really like having the opportunity to process with a child who might be feeling upset. I can reassure them that their feeling is valid and that it is ok to feel that way. I can also remind them that feeling upset is not the problem, how they choose to react to their feelings is the most important thing to think about. Last week I had the chance to praise a child for being able to move past a challenging situation and continue on in class without a problem.
Darius working on a picture of a sad monster.
Being able to talk about how they are feeling is so important for our kids. A lot of them express their emotions through anger and violence when they are really feeling sad, lonely, hurt, and confused. When they are able to identify their true feelings then God can really start to work on those parts of their heart.
Learning about sadness.
Please continue to pray that God will open the hearts of the kids to His healing. I am blessed to be a part of this process daily!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Some Play Therapy and Some Snow

Since my last post things have gotten a lot better with ministry. Our team has started praying together regularly for the kids and see improvements not only in our responses to them but their behavior as well. I have noticed so many more good moments with them than bad over the past few weeks. Even when things get a little crazy, there are still more positive moments to remember than challenging ones. And we have seen some really awesome things happening with the kids like remembering unexpected things from our lessons, stunning moments of insight, and consciously choosing to do what's right and not what is easy. Please continue to pray that the Holy Spirit would fill us daily as we work with these kids.


Petruța and I
Character Classes are going well. We are doing a unit on Emotional Intelligence and the kids are exploring what different emotions looks like, sound like, and feel like. So far we have covered happiness and anger. The unit has a detective theme so the kids are creating "Feelings Files" for each emotion we discuss.

I have also been doing individual play therapy sessions with some of the kids. I use games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders to teach about feelings and consequences for our actions. The kids really like the game Boom Boom Balloon where they get to poke a balloon with sticks until it pops. We talk about how the balloon represents us and the sticks represent things that upset us. We then discuss what happens when we don't have healthy coping skills (we "explode" like the balloon) and what we can do to help self-calm in challenging situations (deep breathing, writing, listening to music, praying, etc.). Sometimes I let the kids have free play time where I simply observe what they are doing. It's a lot of fun to see them working out problems in their head or acting out things they have experienced.
Marius free playing with Legos. He has a very vivid imagination. This started as a house and morphed into several other things before he was done.
Since the beginning of February the weather had started to get a little warmer. It was so nice to feel spring just around the corner and to see some of the snow finally starting to melt! However, that didn't last long as just the other day we had 3-4 more inches of snow. At least it didn't interfere with us going to see the kids as they were in the mountains on vacation this week.
Wednesday and Thursday were cold and snowy here!
I'm enjoying having a little break and catching up on things while the kids have been away. Next week we'll be jumping back into our emotions unit and learning about sadness. I'll be working with some of the kids on self-esteem issues, friendship building, and mindfulness in our individual sessions. I will be leading Youth Group in a few weeks as well. Pray for me as I prepare for these activities. Be in prayer for Heather as she is traveling to the States for two weeks of furlough this month and Mariana and I as we run our programing at the orphanage. Also, pray for our staff as we receive teams over the next few months and for the people coming who are serving on those teams.

As always, thank you for your prayers and support!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

When God Lets You Know It's Going to be Ok

Being a missionary in a foreign field can be challenging. We all have days that make us want to throw up our hands and scream but adding in cultural differences, language barriers, and physical separation from family and loved ones can make the struggle very real very quick.

Yesterday was one of those days that was a challenge for me. Let me explain that one thing I am praying for this year is to be reminded that each of these kids is dealing with demons. And some of those demons are very large and very scary. By praying that I will remember what these kids are dealing with I am also praying that I will have patience when dealing with them. I find myself sometimes getting frustrated with the kids when they act out because I so quickly forget that they are dealing with massive amounts of trauma and hurt. Well, you know that you should never pray for patience, right? Because to get more patience you have to have your patience tested. Yesterday there were a lot of things testing my patience, the lovely children I work with being one of those things. As it turns out, yesterday was a real struggle for my co-workers too so we packed it up and headed out much earlier than any of us had anticipated.

The whole way home I was thinking to myself and praying. I was thankful that I had not gone completely nut-so on the kids (I only raised my voice once and it was more of a loud talking voice than a yell). But I was also frustrated by so many other things. And I wasn't sure if I was handling any of it right. I prayed that God would take away my feelings of frustration. I was eventually able to simmer down after I arrived home and engaged myself with some non-work related items.

Fast forward to today.

I'm unpacking my therapy bags from yesterday to repack them for the classes that I had to lead today when I came across this:

It was a drawing from one of the girls at the orphanage. I remembered her giving it to me and saying a quick thank you but not really looking at it. In the heart it reads "I love you" and "I love you lots" and at the bottom it says "I love you, Melissa." The girl who gave this to me is one of our hard kids. She curses like a sailor and sneers more often than she smiles. But somewhere in the last six months she has decided that we (meaning my co-workers and I) are ok. I especially feel a special connection to her. Maybe because I like the tough kids. They're usually some of the sweetest kids if you can manage to break through the tough exterior.

Seeing this simple message made me stop in my tracks. It was as if God had reached out to me in that moment and said, "It's going to be ok." And I realized it is. Tomorrow may suck, the day after it my be rough too, but one day things will be a little less sucky and a little less rough. The kids are never going to all act like little angels (I'd actually be afraid they were on drugs if that happened) and there will still be challenges that are bigger than us that we won't be able to overcome without some serious inside help. But things are changing. The kids are getting better. Maybe in tiny increments that are nearly impossible to see. But they are. And even when they misbehave and lash out at us because they have hurts they can't handle they know that we love them and that we can be the stability they need in their lives.

So, if tomorrow sucks I'll just look at this picture again and think, "It's going to be ok."

P.S. Today was much better and hardly sucked at all.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Happy New Year!

Wow! It's hard to believe that 2017 is here! It seems my last post was in October when we were just starting our school year ministry. And now ministry is well underway and we are on the other side of the Christmas holidays. One of my goals for this year is to update the blog a little more than once a quarter. I would say that I would like to update it 3-4 times a month but I figure starting out small is probably better so... at least twice a quarter I will try and update the blog 😜

I was Stateside for furlough throughout the month of December and came back to Romania the day after Christmas along with members of our Holiday Team. The next week or so was a blur as I re-adjusted to the time change and the weather and jumped right in to helping with the team. We delivered Christmas gifts, read stories, did crafts, and spent time just hanging out with the kids each day.
Petruta getting her Christmas gift.

Alexandra and Darius with Marian Stefan (from our boys transition program) checking out their Christmas gifts.

Reading a story at Tancabesti, the severe special needs orphanage.

Vlad, Elena, and Lucia working on crafts.

Lucra with her craft, a winter hat!
On New Year's Eve we had a party for everyone who had graduated from the Heart to Heart transition program. This is one of the big "family" events that we do throughout the year. This year we invited AlphaOmega, a church that many of the graduates and staff attend, to join us. There was good food, games, dancing, and, of course, plenty of fireworks.
After the Holiday Team left we've had a few days to regroup before jumping back in to seeing the kids. There was lots of snow over the weekend and the temperatures have been quite cold. I've had some firsts over the past few days including shoveling out the driveway and driving on snow!
After the first snowfall. We got about a foot of snow over the course of 24 hours.
Today was our first day seeing the kids without the rest of the team in tow. It was just a short visit because currently 2/3 of our household are fighting off the plague (or maybe just the flu). The kids will start school on Wednesday and we will start introducing spring programing on Thursday. There is more snow in the forecast for the rest of this week though so that could impact our schedule.

Pray for the health of me and my roommates and also that the kids will be receptive to our spring programs. We are looking forward to being back on a normal schedule with our kids and to what God will do through us during 2017.
Sweet Ana, she has the best smile!