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!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Starting Ministry

As some of you may know, here at Heart to Heart we have two ministry "seasons." We have summer ministry which runs primarily through the month of July but often includes several weeks in June and August and our school year ministry which runs the rest of the year (September through June when the kids are in school). We concluded with our summer ministry a few months ago and have been preparing to start our school year ministry over the months of August and September. The kids officially started school on September 12th but it usually takes several weeks to get schedules set and classes in order. We were finally able to get enough of a program set that this week we kicked off school year ministry activities.

On Monday we opened the transition houses. We trekked down to Nenculesti with the boys to help them get settled into their new space. For the boys from Peris this is a big change. They are moving far away from any friends and family they may have to a small farming village. While Peris is not a large city the kids are used to having more conveniences and being able to travel about more easily.

There are three boys from the Peris orphanage that will be in the transition program: Nicu Cociu, Nicu Perghel, and Marian Stefan. Marian Stefan came down to the house on Tuesday as he had to finalize some things at his previous job. There are two boys from Rosiuri de Vede: Sorin and his brother Dani, and one boy from the boys orphanage in Alexandria: Cristi. Please pray for them as they learn to live and work together and experience the joy of being part of the Heart to Heart family.

Dani, Nicu C., Isabela, Nicu P., Cristi, and Sorin
After we had lunch and brief meeting in Nenculesti we took Isabela, who is from Rosiuri, up the girls transition apartment in the city. Isa has waited a long time to join our program and we are excited to have her finally become a part of our family!

Tuesday we began our school year ministry in the orphanages. This year I have taken over leading the large group classes at both Peris and Voluntari. Last year these classes were called Character Classes but this year we have changed them to Life Skills groups. The kids will be learning how to behave appropriately, interact socially, and express their emotions in a healthy way. The two classes that we held yesterday at Voluntari went really well. The kids were attentive and excited and contributed in meaningful ways to the class. I pray that they will continue to learn these valuable skills and grow into the person that God has envisioned for them.

Today (Wednesday) I will start meeting with kids one on one for counseling sessions. I am excited as this year I'm incorporating some groups for our teenagers. I pray that all the kids will be receptive to what I have to share with them and that God's love would pour through me into their lives.

Tomorrow (Thursday) I will run two large Life Skills groups at Peris and Friday I may be able to have some one on one sessions at Voluntari.

This year is looking to be a busy one but I am excited to see how God will move in the lives of our kids! Pray for me as I take on more responsibilities this year and that I will feel confident and comfortable in this position.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Summer Fun

Well, it has certainly been a busy summer here in Romania! I have barely had time to sit down and think since June started. I just released an e-newsletter talking about all that went on but I have so many pictures and experiences to talk about that a blog post was in order.

We started the summer with "pre-school" camp at Voluntari. I say "pre-school" but really these are our kids between pre-K and 1st grade age. Shelley and Natalie, two of our team members, prepared a great camp that played off our larger theme for the summer of "The Circus".
Remus running a clown relay race.
We wanted the kids to see that the world can use magic and allusions to try and distract us from the truth about God.
Sometimes you just need a helping hand!
Making crafts about Noah and the ark.
Our central Bible verse was 1 Corinthians 13:13: "Now these three remain: faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love." Each day we would have skits, object lessons, crafts, and games with the kids.

After "pre-school" camps came day camps. Each day we brought in groups of kids from either Voluntari or Peris to the team house where we continued with the circus theme. We had some special stations for the kids during game time: a trampoline, huge body bumpers for human bumper cars, and a slack line!
Dani trying the slack line.
Making clown cupcakes for snack time.
We had skits from the strong man and the bearded lady that taught about how faith, hope, and love helped characters from the Bible and how to apply these principles in daily life.
Tim on the trampoline.
Daniel getting ready to can never be too prepared!
Andreea taking a dive. This was her first time being at our pool for the summer. Our kids are fearless!
They love to swim but they can still get a little cold as Remus demonstrates.

Following day camps we had teen camps. First, we brought all the girls in from Rosiori, Voluntari, and Peris for a girls camp. Then we had the Voluntari and Rosiori boys together and ended with a camp for the Peris boys. As a special treat we took each camp group to a trampoline park. Everyone had a lot of fun jumping off obstacles, playing dodge ball, and tumbling into the foam pit.
Alina at the trampoline park.
Taking a run on the tumbling mat towards the ball pit. Even the most reluctant kids all got involved by the end of the day!
We also had daily panels where we discussed some serious issues with the kids such as running away, dating and sexual relationships, and developing a personal relationship with Christ. The kids were able to take each discussion seriously and we hope and pray that they were touched by the messages presented.
Human bumper cars during teen camp.
One morning was spent with the boys at the park where we played a human version of foosball!

This summer we had an amazing number of volunteers come out to help. At one point there were 37 people from around North America all living and serving under one roof together! And that's not including all of the regular, full time staff members who are here. Because we had so many helping hands we were able to have play days with the kids at the orphanage who were not involved in camp. Heather and I lead small groups of team members several times each week to share a story, make a craft, and play games with the kids.
"Elephant Golf" during our animal week themed play time.
Making trees out of our hands and discussing how each of us is unique.
It was a good way for the kids to get to spend time with the team members and for everyone to have fun and develop some special relationships.

With the conclusion of camps everyone has had a little bit of time to catch their breath and relax. We had a Canadian intern, Alex, with us until mid-August so we took the time to go sightseeing in Bran at Dracula's Castle.
Bran Castle

We didn't actually go inside the castle since the line was so long but we still did some shopping and sightseeing while we were there!
I was also able to go to the baby hospital for the first time in a long while. It was great to see the little ones there!

In just a few short days I will be leaving for a week of vacation in Greece on the island of Crete. Jen, Jenny, Talitha, Heather, and I have planned a little get away to rest and reset before school starts on the 14th of September. We have already started fall ministry planning and I'm excited to see what God has in store for the coming months!

Sunday, June 5, 2016


So, it has definitely been a hot minute since I last posted but I think the recent event I experienced warrants a break in the blog silence.

Friday I attended my very first Romanian high school graduation ceremony!
Both graduating classes from the technical high school in Branesti.
I have seen 10th grade completion ceremonies before but this was my first time seeing a 12th grade ceremony. There were four boys from Peris who graduated (there was also a girl, Oana, from Peris who graduated the same day but from a different high school).

Marin Dumitru
Marian Pana
Marian Stefan
Ionut Tudor
All our staff are incredibly proud of these boys. They were the first group to get to attend this high school. There were actually nine kids total but these four, plus Oana (who attended the other high school), were the only ones to complete the program and graduate. Peris only goes through 10th grade (and may only go through 8th grade starting soon) and this makes it difficult for the kids to get good jobs. With a 12th grade diploma these kids will have more opportunities open to them.

Marin and Marian Stefan have already signed themselves out of the orphanage (they can do this when they reach the age of 18) and are living with family. Marian Pana and Ionut will go back to the orphanage for the summer. We're hoping that all of these boys will decide to join our transition program in the fall. The transition program will teach them practical life skills to help them live on their own and help them get jobs and places to live.

Continue to pray for these boys as they start out on their own. Also pray that the kids at Peris will continue to have this opportunity open to them. There may be some directior changes at the orphanage soon and we're unsure of what the outcome may be and how it could affect our kids.
Praise God for His continued good work in our kids!