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!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sensory Play

If you follow me on Facebook you know that a few days ago I made rainbow pasta for my Life Skills (a.k.a. play therapy) kids. I thought it turned out really cool and was excited to see how the kids reacted to it.

I tried it on Monday with several kids and it didn't go over very well. They would pick up a few strands, smell it, move it around in the box, and then ask to play with something else. I figured it was a bust but I kept the box of spaghetti thinking that, since I had spent so much time making it, I could at least try again with another group of kids later that week.

So, on Wednesday, I met with my second set of Life Skills kids. I pulled out the spaghetti and put a few plastic jewels in it hoping to entice the kids to at least look through it for a few minutes. I was skeptical though; at this point the box had been in the trunk of our car for a few days and the spaghetti was moist, sticky, and had the sickly-sweet smell of gluten. Not exactly what I would call enticing.

I set the box out and called in one of the kids who I thought might like it. We started with a worksheet but before I could even get going with it they had spotted the box. Within minutes they were wrist deep in the spaghetti smooshing it around and grabbing it by the fistful. They loved it! After about 10 or 15 minutes the child was ready to move on but it held their attention and helped with some of the other issues we'd been having in sessions.
Child #1, they definitely enjoyed the spaghetti. 
I left the box out for the next child who I also thought might benefit from it and they reacted the exact same way. I tried to start with another activity but they grabbed the box of spaghetti before I could even finish with the introduction. This child was even more into sensory play than the first child. They grabbed the spaghetti, squished it, listened to how it sounded, smelled it, and then began to take it in and out of the box in piles. At that point I wished that I had a plastic mat instead of a cloth one and that the spaghetti wasn't so sticky that it basically became glued to every surface it touched but the point of the session was to allow the child to explore and process on their own. So, I let it happen (and later spent 10 minutes trying to sweep sticky spaghetti off the floor).
Making a huge pile with the spaghetti noodles.
Really wishing I had a plastic mat right about now...
I don't know if the spaghetti box will be sticking around, it's basically a mushy pile of dirty, smelly spaghetti noodles now, but I think some different sensory play activities will be incorporated into sessions for sure.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Life Skills

I'm really excited to announce that I have started my Life Skills groups/classes/meetings at Peris! For the last two and a half weeks I have been meeting with about 10 kids for 30-45 minutes each to help discuss problems they may be having. Some of them are very aggressive, some have trouble expressing their emotions appropriately, some are anxious and depressed, some have trouble sitting still...and I meet with them and work on these issues with them.

In Life Skills we use the sand tray to illustrate things we may be thinking, feeling, or experiencing.

We also use fun sensory objects like rainbow spaghetti to help process sensations.
This is really the work that I love doing. I love seeing kids learn to empower themselves and work through their issues. The kids enjoy it and will come up to me any time I'm at the orphanage and ask when we're going to be meeting together again. There are even kids who stand at the door to our meeting room and ask me every time I poke my head out if they can come meet with me too.

Working with the miniatures is really fun!
I hope to share a little more about my work with the kids. For privacy purposes I can't reveal too much information about the kids that I'm working with or the problems that they're facing but I can let you know how to pray for them.
Processing things about our strengths and weaknesses by using the miniatures and the doll house.
Learning that we can face scary or difficult things by working with the miniatures.
I'm still continuing to help with Character Classes and Youth Group at both Peris and Voluntari. It's nice to have a little break in between Life Skills days. Seeing five kids in just three hours is intense! Especially when they all want to dump out all the toy miniatures and throw sand and rainbow pasta around the room.

Talking about how we can handle some of the issues that we face.
Exploring emotions through play.
Today will be my third session with some of the kids and I'm already starting to see improvements. Pray for me and the kids as we begin to talk about some of challenges they are facing. Also, pray for the attitudes and mentalities of the orphanage staff. It's not an easy task to look after these kids every day and some of them aren't qualified to deal with the problems these kids present with. Pray for continued connections with the kids and that I will have the ability to help them build a safe space for sharing and growing.

Monday, January 25, 2016

I'm Back

I didn't make any big announcements about it but for the last two weeks I have been in the States on a brief furlough. Because my visit was so short I decided to keep it on the down low and focus on trying to see family.

Visiting my grandmother and grandfather.
I was able to celebrate Christmas with my family and spend a week with my nephew (who just turned 1) and sister-in-law.
Dinner with some of my family.
I also did some "housekeeping" type things like going to the dentist and taking a continuing education class.
My nephew reading his Romanian children's Bible that I got him for his birthday.
It was truly a blessing to be able to go back to the States for a visit. Typically we have to wait a whole year before we get any furlough but, because I came in July and the summer is our busiest time of year, I probably wouldn't have gotten to come home for almost 18 months. Thankfully I have a very understanding boss who allowed me to have a short little visit with my family.
My mom, me, and my aunt Becky at the University of Georgia gymnastics meet in Athens, GA.
I arrived back here in Romania earlier today and have been unpacking and trying to get my body adjusted back to this time zone. I took a nap earlier today which typically would be a big no-no but I kept it short and during a time when I would normally nap anyways.
Lounging with my parents' dog, Luke. I miss having a pet!
Tomorrow I jump into planning for play therapy sessions and helping with Character Classes and Youth Group again!
Me and my dad at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

This is my life now...

I have come to accept the fact that winter looks a lot different for me now than it did when I was living in the States.
This was the weather report from Sunday here in Romania.
While it's been in the 10's and 20's (Fahrenheit) all week here in Romania, it's been in the 40's and 50's in Georgia. It's making packing for a two week visit rather hard.

Also, just because there is snow on the ground doesn't mean that I get a day off. Instead, we shovel a path out to the car, dig out the trusty old Opal (a type of car made here in Europe), and pray that we don't hit a patch of ice on the way to the orphanage. So far, so good.
A serene picture of the front corner of our house. There is actually a driveway under there somewhere and you can see how deep the snow is on the steps and around the landing where Talitha cleared it. We had about 5-6 inches total.
One thing I haven't gotten used to (and may never) is the kids thinking it is great fun to throw handfuls of snow in your face. They are quick and quiet with their attacks and don't seem to understand why having freezing cold, dirty snow melting all over your face, hair, and clothes isn't a great idea.

Having a true winter is going to take some getting used to for this Southern girl but at least I have a good radiator in my room, lots of warm blankets, snow boots, and wool socks.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Bring on 2016!

So, I realize that for the entire month of December I was MIA from my blog. I don't know what to say except that December was this weird vortex of craziness that I may never emerge from...but I mean that in a good way.
My girl Denisa and I.
A lot went down in December...I finished my language lessons, I learned to drive standard, I moved 1.5 times (it's kind of hard to explain...), I helped deliver a lot of Christmas presents, I taught Youth Group in Romanian, I celebrated Christmas...and that's just the quick and dirty summary. I suggest we just start anew with January and I'll try to be a better blogger.
Love to see Daniel in a happy, none-tantrum-throwing mood.
Right now I'm in a really good head space. I love my job. I love Romania. I love the kids. I'm excited about 2016. This will be the year I finally get down to my ideal weight (and stay there), find love, blog more, and learn to enjoy cleaning house (ok, so my goals are a little lofty...maybe really lofty...). Ok, so if none of those things happen I'll still be fine. But seriously, I've felt really good the last few weeks even though I have been insanely busy. Actually insane doesn't begin to cover it but that's the best word I could come up with for the moment (this is what lack a lack of sufficient, quality sleep will do to a person).
Robi looking quite grown up with his Christmas presents.
Right now we are in the midst of hosting our Holiday Team. We've done some orphanage visits, handed out some gifts, and today we had a little "spectacol" ("show") where the kids danced and did skits. I was in my happy place this afternoon riding in the back of the van with some of the girls from the orphanage piled on top of me, holding my hands, and napping on my shoulder. I've had some awesome moments of just holding kids in my arms lately and there's nothing I love more than just snuggling with a kid.
Marian and I.
I hope that your 2016 started with you being in a good head space too. I'm praying that it continues and that this new year holds more kid snuggles and full hearts. And maybe a little more sleep.