Reflections from a Summer Intern: Aaron Norris, Part Two

Aaron Norris is a Summer Intern and Assistant at RCE’s Residential Campus in Pecica.

The kids rescued and supported by RCE have been through so much in life that would cause a lot of people to lose faith in humanity. Physical abuse, psychological trauma, hunger, poverty, and abandonment could very well leave them embittered and troubled. Their stories are gutting, and the physical and emotional scars they all bear are deep. Despite all of this, they are all capable of perhaps the most important human emotion: compassion. They are proof that when given love and care, they can overcome their circumstances while making leaps and gains towards living a normal life. While hearing their stories is often harrowing, hearing how far they’ve come is inspiring. 

During my summer internship, I got to know some of these amazing kids. Initially, we spent our time getting acquainted with one another. By the second half, I was able to put this comfort and friendship to use, taking a more active role in their care and development. Because RCE houses so many children, it is important to remember that they are not simply holding on to them until placement. They set goals for each child to help develop and improve their skills, allowing for more active and independent lives. Pending the severity of their existing disabilities, this can be sometimes hard to see. Small victories matter, and improvement is relative to where the child was when they arrived under RCE’s care. The work that I was doing was not developing physical skills, but rather was monitoring and managing them as they assimilated into new environments.

One of RCE’s goals is to move some of the older residents of Amy’s House out to Pecica for a more semi-independent lifestyle. An immediate full move could be too drastic of a change, so I was charged with taking two of the boys to Pecica to stay for two days. The heroes of this two-day excursion from Arad are interesting characters each unto himself. Yosef is a quiet young man with a love for the thrills of a swing set and clean rooms, and who holds an uncanny ability to mimic the bark of a dog (the physical manifestation of his impersonation is not nearly as convincing). While a limited vocabulary sometimes made communication an issue, Peter somehow understands everything he says. I greatly appreciated his ability to help Yosef verbalize his thoughts and help me to understand. Peter is a top-notch translator of the language Yosef, a fantastic worker, and probably more intelligent than I’ll ever truly know. One day, I sat next to him while reading a novel and he began sounding out the words in English.  I didn’t know that he knew any English, much less could read so well. Despite his abilities, his outgoing personality and lack of verbal limitations can be a challenge in social situations. While Peter can learn and be very amusing, he does need constant supervision. These two boys seemed to like Pecica and are especially well behaved when given scheduled activities. Being able to structure their days allowed them to look forward to activities and expend energy throughout the day.  Our two days were largely structured around the consumption of food and the therapeutic listening of music.  The extent to which these boys look out and care for each other is brotherly. They pick up on subtle changes in each other’s behavior and do just about everything together. 

The week spent at the camp with Sorin and Boti was challenging but allowed me to see how funny and responsive these boys can be. Up until we were in the same living area, most of time I spent with them in Pecica was either surfing YouTube videos or watching them perform their independent activities of drawing, tearing up grass, or simply swaying back and forth or side to side. Thus, the transition to doing a lot of activities together was somewhat of a pleasant shock. Boti can produce words, but seldom says anything that is not a repetition of what you said. This can be frustrating when asking him to brush his teeth, because he just tells you to brush your own teeth. However, when asking someone to be quiet, he often takes your side and requests silence. A sweet boy, Boti is very capable of hiking and group activities, but I think prefers to sway in solitude. He maintains a staunch opposition to meat on his plate and is insistent on maintaining his personal hygiene. Before camp he would often flee from me when I approached him without someone else, so it was nice to see and feel him become more comfortable around me. 

Sorin is a funny character. He towers over me and often stares blankly as though trying to contemplate why I’m not feeding him. In Pecica he loves to swing to new heights, meticulously cut the grass by hand, communicate through artwork, and watch YouTube videos of fireworks, lightening, and construction vehicles at work. At camp he enjoyed the arts and crafts but was far more physically active than I had seen him before. As his size and stature challenged the integrity of the swing set, he took to soccer, long walks, and even a hike; it was refreshing to see him excited to take advantage of the open space. These two young men are very sweet but will never be able to live independently. The help they get from RCE allows them a semblance of a normal life, and it is not squandered. Built on companionship and childish mischief, their friendship is innocent and pure. The biggest pleasure of getting to know them over the course of the week was to see the relationship they have with each other; when shown compassion, they respond with love and care.  

Immediately after camp, there was one day where I got very sick. Starting at 2:30 in the morning, my body decided that whatever was inside of it had to go. While oscillating between the positions of supine on the couch and crouched around a porcelain bowl for the next 24 hours, I had a couple visitors. Manu came up once to check on me, check my temperature, and wish me well; he really understood that I was not in a good place. Ghitsa came up twice to the room. The first time we talked for a bit and I explained how I was sick without understanding much of what he said in response. I then had to keep him from stealing the ice cream out of the upstairs freezer, so wondered if he had ulterior motives all along. Six hours later he returned. This encounter was far shorter, he didn’t really ask me many questions, nor did he show the freezer any attention. We exchanged greetings, and as I lay down he put his hand on my stomach and began talking in his often-indecipherable rapid speech, at the end of which he said, “Amen.” He then walked away without another word. These boys knew the whole time that I would eventually be leaving but chose to care for someone they recognized was sick. Their genuine concern for others that they really don’t know very well and knew would be leaving in a short time is inspiring. 

 Aaron with a team from Fourth Presbyterian Church during RCE's Summer Camp in July.

Aaron with a team from Fourth Presbyterian Church during RCE's Summer Camp in July.

The final week I spent in Romania was as a cabin leader at the camp for children supported by the Caring Project, but with a focus on sixteen-year-old Ionut and ten-year-old Trian. The majority of the kids at camp are not afflicted by physiological impairment, but rather suffer from poverty and traumatic life circumstances. Because Ionut and Trian are so high functioning, they benefit from social interaction with other kids who do not have such special needs. When he’s not out fighting crime, Ionut stays at Amy’s House, although his issues are not as limiting as his cohabitants. He is completely capable of conversation, work, and school, but has issues controlling his emotions. He showed us his report card, and in the past year or two he has showed tremendous development. He is excelling in most of his classes, and the progress that he has been making with RCE is undeniable. Regardless, he would not be able to go to camp alone; his emotional scars are havens for anger and grief and he is still learning to control them. 

Trian is a ten-year-old blessed with too much energy. I realized early on that I would not be able to keep up with him, but it was best to keep him within ear shot. The child never stops moving, loves to meet new people, and bounces from visitor to visitor. Although his excessive energy can make him difficult to handle, he is learning about discipline and rules with RCE. Seeing him interact and make friends with other kids who do not live with the same limitations gives me hope that he will be able to find placement. During camp, the boys proved that they can make friends and do the things that normal kids can do with each other when given the love and support they need. Knowing that RCE is making all this possible makes me proud to be affiliated with their work, and I look forward to doing so in the future. 

Reflections from a Summer Intern: Miller Carbaugh

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Miller Carbaugh is a Summer Intern with RCE. She begins her senior year at Baylor University this fall.

In 2014, I traveled to Romania for the first time to get a hands-on glimpse of what RCE really does and how it functions day by day.  Little did I know that four years later I would have the privilege to spend two months in the same incredible and merciful place.  Spending time alongside the staff and children of RCE daily provided me with a much deeper understanding of both the challenges and successes of the ministry. I was able to participate in multiple camps and building projects, observe class in Sunshine School, go on outings with the children, and much more.  God has clearly placed each and every person there for a reason to fulfill His purpose in their lives.  Being able to see the staff in action in all the different facets of the organization made me realize how broadly RCE reaches.  They help over 250 poor families, place children in loving and God-fearing homes, provide dignity and normalcy to the lives of disabled and abandoned children, educate children, counsel and guide adoptive families, and so much more.  

Each child that RCE receives as their own is a child of God, created in His image and loved equally, and RCE demonstrates this through their work.  Many children are non-verbal and severely disabled.  Sometimes it is easier to shy away from these kids because they may look intimidating or initially not look “fun” to spend time with. But getting to know all the kids was one of my favorite parts because they taught me the incredible importance of love and dignity.  

 Gruia with his teacher at Sunshine School

Gruia with his teacher at Sunshine School

One child who particularly made an impact on me was Gruia, a non-verbal, mentally disabled and abandoned young man.  He usually moves very slowly and rarely changes his expression, as he is severely handicapped and unable to really communicate in most ways.  He loves to swing on the playground and hold a plastic bottle in his hand everywhere he goes.  It is difficult to get a reaction out of him, and if you are successful, it is very slow.  At the beginning of the summer I spent a few days in his classroom at Sunshine School and instantly grew fond of him.  I saw him often throughout the summer and spent time with him camp, but never interacted personally with him for an extended time.  On my last night in Romania, I went to say goodbye to the kids from Darius Houses and Gruia was outside on a walk with a few others.  I walked towards them to say goodbye and Gruia stood there staring at me as I said goodbye to him.  He slowly moved his arms and came closer and gave me a hug without me prompting him to do so.  He let go and then smiled at me and my heart melted.  I realized this small moment was the perfect way to end my time in Romania. 

All summer I had been learning the ways RCE loves these children and how much love these children are able to show in their own ways.  I truly understood what it meant for these kids to be provided with dignity and to be shown Christ’s love and mercy.  Through RCE, this abandoned boy is given dignity and treated as God’s creation, and in this moment, I witnessed the fruit of this care.  Christ loves them unconditionally and teaches us to do the same, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or how they behave. Each child is a beating heart and even though they were abandoned by their earthly parents, Christ never abandoned them.  RCE is not just an organization, it is rather a group of God’s servants who were placed in Arad to do His work and to show His mercy.  It is a testament to what God calls all of us to do.  Something one of the staff said this summer stuck with me—he said, “we try to teach these children the Gospel and pray they will know Jesus as their own.  They were given a difficult life on this earth, but we know ultimately they will be perfected with Christ in heaven.”  

Reflections from a Summer Intern: Aaron Norris

Aaron Norris is a Summer Intern and Assistant at RCE’s Residential Campus in Pecica.

This morning the team from Fourth Presbyterian left after a week of dedicated and tireless work, and the Sunshine School where we slept already smells better. While I had met and/or heard of some of them prior to their arrival, it was nice to get to know the new faces. Their immediate arrival was somewhat turbulent, however after coordinating various delayed flights, everyone arrived safe and sound. The plot thickened when certain members were separated from their luggage for half of the week, but everyone arrived safely and in good spirits. The group was always there for each other and willing to provide support when it was needed. I was impressed by the quality of work and character that everyone displayed. 

 Aaron and a team from Fourth Presbyterian Church work on the Alexi family home.

Aaron and a team from Fourth Presbyterian Church work on the Alexi family home.

Over the last two weeks, it’s been a privilege to garner a more complete idea of the services that Romanian Christian Enterprises provides and the people they help. Hearing the stories of the children and families that RCE assists is heartbreaking, but knowing that they can overcome those situations to get to where they are is both amazing and inspirational. To say that these people are in need is an understatement; it is difficult to fathom how they survive in the conditions where some of them live and raise their families. While it may be hard for some to think that everyone receiving aid is a victim of circumstance, RCE does not punish families and parents for decisions that may have contributed to their issues; they try to help as much as they can. Poverty and isolation inflict pain and suffering on families that don’t have the necessary education, resources, and assistance available to combat their problems. When pushed to desperation, people can make compromises to satisfy immediate needs, but by doing so, create more serious issues down the road. The judicious discernment that I witness daily when deciding who and how to help is anything but easy. However, RCE creates personalized solutions based on the needs and problems of each family, and focuses on training people to transition into sustainable lifestyles, avoid dependency, and mitigate the chance for returning to crisis situations. Because no two families or children have an identical set of issues, the team is regularly growing and coming up with new solutions. Their ability to adapt and be flexible with plans and situations is essential in the success that they garner, and everyone who I have worked with here is extremely dedicated and constantly working to help in whatever way they can. 

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Even when plans change here, there is always something to do. Fortunately, spending time with the children is always beneficial. Without establishing familiarity with a lot of the special needs children we work with, it is difficult to communicate and understand what they are trying to convey. Sometimes it is like learning a whole new language in addition to learning a whole new language (Romanian), but they appreciate it and is necessary for situations when there is nobody around to translate. It is exciting to see the development of RCE from when I was here four years ago, and how it is continuing to develop right before my eyes. The next couple of weeks will have plenty in store and I am excited to be a part of the evolution of the work. Each day I spend getting to know the workers, children, and families reinforces the reason that I came here, and it is immensely gratifying to be able to serve with RCE.

 

Reflections from a Summer Intern: Joshua Wallace

RCE Summer Intern Joshua Wallace grew up in Chile as the son of missionary parents. He graduated in May from The University of Virginia with a degree in Kinesiology and will continue on to complete his Master’s Degree.

During my time in Romania, I had the opportunity to work alongside other interns, Miller Carbaugh and Aaron Norris, and also with a short-term team from Trinity Christian School in Virginia.  I spent my time working with and seeing different aspects of the ministry including helping Cipri and Natalia (RCE physical therapists) perform final evaluations on some of the children regarding their physical therapy progress as well as visiting families with special needs children. We moved furniture, brought food and diapers, and visited the family for whom Fourth Presbyterian's team will construct a new house, since a storm destroyed their old one. 

As I learned through these visits, RCE also provides loan assistance to families who may need a new home, a new tractor, or want to start their own businesses, and allows them to pay the loan back without interest. It was incredible to see how the ministry is able to help in so many different circumstances; one can see the fingerprints of RCE all over the city and county of Arad, Romania. Ovi also took us to visit one of the poorest (if not the poorest) areas in Arad that the city originally designated as a trash dump zone. It is now inhabited by families who build homes out of whatever scraps they may find. I honestly had never seen poverty quite like it. It was truly humbling and provided perspective that I will always keep in mind.

I spent the bulk of my free time with one of the boys at Pecica named Alex, who has muscular dystrophy. Having this terrible disease unfortunately means that he does not have many years left to live, but it truly was a blessing to spend time with him and bond over our love of sports-- just in time for the World Cup! Miller and I also were able to visit a family with disabled twin daughters, one of which Cipri fitted with an assisted postural device.

On my last days on the job, I tagged along on two more visits to families with disabled daughters and attended the end of year celebration for Sunshine School. It was heartwarming to see the children perform songs, say Bible verses, and recite poems while observing the excitement in their eyes for Summer. I also observed Natalia work with a 4-year-old named Reuben who showed great progress by being able to lift his head, and occasionally his chest, off of the therapy table. 

My internship experience was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I came to Romania not exactly sure what to expect. I have been on mission trips and service projects my entire life given my parent's work in Chile, but this had a much larger impact on me being my first experience like this on my own and away from my parents. Not only was I able to gain valuable physical therapy experience, spend time with the blessed children of RCE, and serve the Lord in a foreign country, but I was also blessed with the opportunity to work alongside some of the most incredible, loving, and service-oriented people I have ever met. Being in such great company has undoubtedly changed me as a person, given me new perspective, and opened my eyes to the work God is doing in other countries. I will always have a soft spot for Romania after this trip and I fully intend to return one day. Thank you, Ovi and all the other staff members of RCE, for allowing me to work alongside you and be a part of the incredible ministry you are doing. God bless you and you will be in my prayers. 

Sincerely, 

Josh 

 

The Sunshine School Ringers

Linda Gyrsting Elkan is a freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, Matthew and their disabled son Jack, whose adoption from Latvia was inspired by their trip to Romania with RCE.

    “The principal is here! We can start.”  The small classroom in Arad, Romania, crowded with chattering teachers and aides, suddenly became quiet.  A visiting camera crew started filming.  All eyes and lenses were focused on eight disabled schoolchildren.  Some of them were orphans abandoned to horrible state institutions and rescued by RCE; some were local neighborhood kids with disabilities that made access to local public education impossible.
    I faced the children standing before me in a semi-circle, one seated in his wheelchair, each clasping a hand chime.  They looked slightly terrified, but ready to play.  Smiling reassuringly, I pointed to a series of bold numbers I had written on large half sheets of cardboard resting on a music stand.  Slowly, sweetly, sublimely, the children played, ringing out the unmistakable strains of Silent Night, a tune that crossed the cultural borders effortlessly.
    As the music filled the room, I thought back to my home church, Fourth Presbyterian in Bethesda, Maryland, where it all began.  Listening to the enthusiastic exhortations of a visiting pastor during a Missions Emphasis Week, I remembered a dream I once had of becoming a foreign missionary.  But I quickly concluded that with three small children and a husband committed to legal work investigating fraud on the US commodities markets, it was unlikely God was asking me to leave my home and become a foreign missionary.  Wistfully, I admitted there were some aspirations I would probably never achieve, but surely there was work I could do right in Bethesda.  Wandering around a few Sundays later, I noticed a room full of disabled adults having a special Sunday school hour with a few dedicated volunteers.  When their lesson finished, I introduced myself and asked if they would like some music in the class.  With instructions from a video I discovered, I learned to re-write hymns using symbols familiar to my students so that without any musical training whatsoever they were able to play recognizable pieces.  The Special Blessings Hand Chimes choir was born, and was soon invited to play twice a year in the sanctuary as well as for occasional special events.
    Six years later, in the spring of 2008, I sat in church amazed to see a young woman, Nicoleta, who had been rescued by RCE, adopted, enrolled in school and now brought to Fourth Church to help raise awareness of God’s work at RCE.  This young girl, once abandoned, with legs crippled from botched surgeries, discovered by RCE workers tied to a crib in a psychiatric institution, stood in front of our huge congregation playing her flute.  The notes, halting yet clearly the melody of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, shattered all erroneous preconceptions I had had about the limitations of the disabled orphans of Romania.
    I approached Mary Ann Bell, founder of RCE, about bringing hand chimes to the Sunshine School and we eagerly planned a trip for the fall.  There was even a set of chimes in Arad, a gift from Fourth Church years earlier.  
    We decided to make it a family missions trip.  My daughter and I worked all week at the school, showing the teachers how to transform a hymn into cardboard sheets suitable for the children to follow and rehearsing with the students, while my husband and sons worked in the Poverty Prevention Program, cleaning and building a fence around the yard of a local poor family.  When my fourteen year old son, still fuming that we hadn’t yet bought him a cell phone, blurted out, “Dad, my bedroom is bigger than their whole house!” we knew the trip had been a life-changing blessing to our whole family.
    My thoughts returned to the eager little faces of the children before me.  As the last note rang out, the room erupted in applause, with hearty congratulations to the children and hugs all around.  The proud smiles on the children’s faces unleashed enough power to revitalize any weary worker laboring to educate, care for, love and maybe even adopt one of these fragile little souls.  I smiled too thinking that maybe I was a foreign missionary after all, even if only for a week.  “Hast thou not seen how all thy longings have been granted in what he ordaineth?”  Praise  to the Lord.

 

 

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