In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
The next four days would be packed full with shopping for decorations, sorting, and bagging up gifts, decorating, arts and crafts, skits, music, food, fun, and JOY….Christmas JOY!!!!
The first party was planned for the Gypsy village of Sabolcui where the poorest of children and families live in Oradea Romania. Most families live in small one room homes with dirt floors and no bathrooms. The winters are hard and food is scarce.
We had shopped the day before for food, there is no space in the village for us to throw a party with a sit down meal so we were making food packages for each family. We loaded up these packages and all the gifts, crafts, and everything needed for the skits and music…Man were we loaded down! The scene pulling into the village as kids and adults come from everywhere…faces beaming with anticipation. It makes me tear up as I write this…They were beyond excited! This is a picture of the younger ones watching as gifts were unloaded.
The story of Jesus’ birth is told through skit and they learn how gifts were brought to Jesus, but that Jesus himself was the greatest gift ever given and why. Then songs are sung and oh can they sing…they even had a gift for us. They learned a favorite Christmas song in English to sing to us…it was precious! Finally, the moment they had waited for arrives where each child’s name is called out and one by one they come forward to get their wrapped gifts and return to their homes. We split up and were able to go individually to their homes and bring the food and watch the children open their gifts. It was so sweet to see them open gifts that were bought just for them with their own picture on the box…this had never happened before! One by one they would carefully open gifts of toys, hats, scarves, quilts, clothes…it was a Christmas they would not forget…God had sent these special gifts to them from people they did not know, God did love them!
Each child received a handmade quilt, hat and scarf.
Food for the Gypsy Village
The next day came early and this day our focus would be the Foster Care Program and its families. We were able to use a beautiful facility in town where we could have a great party. The food was arranged, the tree decorated with the ornaments each child made, and the skit was performed with such a precious time of prayer that followed
One of the highlights for sure was hearing from these kids who were in safe and loving families each child quoted poems and sang songs for us and their foster parents “beamed” proudly. Then one father stood and spoke to us thanking us for caring for the forgotten and making Christmas Joy a reality for them. He then prayed a blessing on us and that we would use our voices to tell others too about the need for more sponsors to be able to continue bringing orphans into loving homes.
On Friday, was the orphan party…this party is super special. It was very exciting to come in early and decorate the 7 foot tree with the ornaments and paper chain garland “THEY” made just a few days earlier…it was SO beautiful!!! Then we decorated each table and the room to make it festive and bright. We set up the stage for the play and the music we would have. The food and drinks were prepared and soon the kids started to arrive.
Some of the older ones were solemn and stoic at first…they’ve spent most of their lives in institutions and have been hurt and let down so many times…they don’t trust easily. The little ones (and there were WAY too many of them) came in with smiling faces, eyes beaming seeing the tree and all the décor. As the party began to flow, the smiles came more freely and laughter was everywhere. A highlight for me was seeing them all really enjoy the meal and the dessert…they don’t get delicious food like this often and they really loved it.
But the coolest words I heard that night was at the end when a 14 year old orphan (who had been orphaned since 3 yrs. old) came running up with an incredible smile and tears in his eyes after just opening his gifts. He gave me the biggest hug saying, “I know I asked for these things, but I never really believed I would get them”…he’s eyes full of real JOY and a faith that had been renewed…It was priceless!!
Three children parties down, now just one remained…the staff party. This was the party I personally had looked forward to the most. I know that sounds crazy to some of you when you see the kids. But, God had been preparing my heart all year with such a deep love and affection for the staff who serve the needy with little in return. Knowing that we get to come for a couple of days and create lots of excitement and parties, but they work with these kids in sometimes difficult conditions and travel dangerous roads, trying to pick up the pieces of broken lives and help them to find hope in Jesus. Most of our staff make very little, yet they work as unto the Lord getting by the best they can because they love their calling and it really shows!
So, when Saturday morning arrived, as weary as our team was getting by this point, we had a renewed spirit of Joy as we cleaned, decorated, and prepared for the staff party…we could hardly wait to bless and serve them. These were our new best friends…they were so precious to us in every way. We had witnessed their beautiful hearts as they served us and the kids…Now it was their turn to be loved on.
Because we stayed at the House of Joy (the brand new orphan home) it was the perfect place to host this party. Intimate and familiar, none of us wanted to be anywhere else! The fireplace was burning and laughter filled the home as we ate a great meal together. After dinner we began to play games of schrades and then we were led in Christmas carols by the ladies from our children’s hospital program…those girls can sing like angels!
Now the time had come to hand out the gifts. Karen Bucur, the director of PTJM had given the staff the opportunity to share with us any needs or wishes they had months earlier. Now they sat like well-behaved children waiting for their names to be called. Maria, a loving worker in our hospital program (who also grew up as an orphan), was sitting there and when I walked over to her and asked her to come with me because I had something outside for her she jumped up and squealed with delight! All the way outside she did this jumping up and down as a typical 4 year old would do…she is in her 30’s. My eyes were so full of tears I could barely capture a picture of her receiving her very own bike…a yellow beach cruser with flowers all over it and a pretty basket! Her utter JOY was the most beautiful gift I received that day…I’ll never forget it.
Over and over all night we heard from the staff how they had never had a Christmas like this one. How they had such a hard time sending personal request when Karen had asked them to, feeling awkward and embarrassed to ask for their dreams. They told how they never really believed they would receive these items and were moved by what God had done for them. Karen told me NEVER had any other team ever come and blessed their staff in such personal and special ways…loving on them and not just the kids. This was God’s heart…this was HIS Plan. He wanted them to know how high, how wide, how deep and how long was His love for them (Eph 3:16-20).
Pathway to Joy Staff