I am so very thankful for the answered prayers we continue to experience as our Heavenly Father leads us through these challenging times into a better and more fulfilling future.
Whilst the past year has been tough in so many ways, there is true light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, the Light of Christ is always with us, always has been and always will be – He lights our path and encourages us forward. But I also see light at the end of the COVID-tunnel. Whilst we are not quite where we would like to be at this very moment, progress is being made day by day and I have no doubt we will experience a little more ‘normal’ during the course of this year.
Naturally we are all asking the question ‘When?’ Sometimes it feels it is ‘just around the corner’ but other times the messages we are given clearly state, no one knows for sure quite ‘when’. The recent headline that caught my eye was ‘Government Minister advises against booking an overseas holiday’ – the minister went on to say, ‘it was unlikely that overseas holidays would be possible in the summer. They may be possible but would depend on COVID-data nearer the time’.
I have a very exciting announcement to make in this newsletter, so be sure to stick with me through to the end. But first, let me briefly catch up on other issues this past month and for the days ahead.
February, although short, was a very busy month and very enjoyable with so much interaction through Zoom with so many of our Smiles Family. The focus on our new Outreach Pillar was wonderful and the four Cookery presentations, one each Saturday of the month, were great successes. I am very thankful to the 4 host chefs, Meda, Jean, Mitzi and Joye for their commitment and effort and of course to Luke for coming up with the idea and handling so much of the preparation work. More of that is in Luke’s report this month, so don’t miss his update.
We also enjoyed another monthly Prayer gathering on February 22nd and I am delighted with the numbers who take time to join us for this important event each month. The March gathering is a little earlier in the month, scheduled for Monday, March 15th. I’d love for you to join us so let me know and I’ll ensure you are sent the Zoom ID. If you have been at a previous Prayer Gathering, you will be included in the invites automatically. If you don’t receive your invite by Sunday March 14th, let me or Dawn know, and we’ll get it sorted.
Adi was sharing about the Outreach Pillar in each of the February Cooking Presentations. He is excited about the developments and new opportunities. Keep in touch with Adi’s updates and see further news from him this month. Special Gifts received in February for the Outreach work amounted to nearly £12,000 / $16,000 which is wonderful. It’s 27% of the total extra budget we are praying for this year to enable Adi to progress with the Outreach plans. Please keep praying and keep supporting so the Outreach development can continue.
Maria also had a busy month with Nursery and After-School in Tileagd back at it full-time. She also led a couple of great ‘Staff Days’ at the Glasshouse, helping Simona and the team in Arpasel cope with one of the biggest months of the year for preparing plants and bulbs for shipment to our customers. Maria is also excited about my grand announcement today, so be sure to see Maria’s report as soon as you can.
Perhaps without further delay, I should move on to that announcement, explaining what led to this exciting decision and how we plan to execute it. There have been many frustrations and concerns with the COVID-pandemic these past 12-15 months. One huge issue for Smiles has been NO MISSION TRIP TEAMS. 2020 for the first year since 2001 when no Teams came to Romania with Smiles, working to share the Love of God with the people we serve in Bihor and Arad Counties.
I remember back in March last year as the crisis was taking hold saying – “OK the spring trips are not possible, but by summer we’ll be up and running”. Then, in the summer, I said “OK the summer doesn’t look possible, but surely by September we can have teams again”. Then I said the same for Christmas and indeed March, April, May this year.
We now know nothing was possible in 2020 and as of today, even March, April and May of 2021 are looking increasingly unlikely. In the UK, we do not anticipate any International Travel for leisure (or Mission Trips), until the end of May and that means we can prepare with some confidence for trips in June this year. I fully accept the ‘return to normal’ should not be rushed. Going ‘in and out’ of lockdown several times has been damaging enough. I pray that sufficient thought and planning has now been put into decisions that we will have ‘one-way’ traffic from here on. Moving progressively towards a safe and maintainable ‘normal’ by June 2021 and beyond.
So, my position has moved a little in trying to cope with and manage the current restrictions and the impact on the Smiles Foundation. I’m no longer ‘sitting tight’ waiting for things to change. Instead, we are ready here in Romania ‘when they change’. We will be ready to welcome people back to minister alongside us ‘when they can’ but meanwhile, we are planning something positive, exciting and what I believe many of Smiles family will want – Virtual Mission Trips! If you can’t plan to come in person, you can plan to join the spirit of ministering together ‘virtually’. It may not be the perfect solution, but it is a whole lot better than just keep waiting and not knowing … when! So as we face postponing again our Trips scheduled in March, April and May – we have the perfect solution instead!
I know we have done a lot of ‘virtual stuff’ this past year, but this will not just be a meeting. Our Virtual Mission Trips will be engaging, exciting, challenging and inspiring. My effort will be to make the trip, if not ‘hands-on’ certainly ‘heart and head on’ and an experience that will be encouraging and uplifting for those participating as well as for the team on the ground in Romania who are missing the personal fellowship and friendship of those who want to serve alongside us in Mission.
So, with accepting our scheduled trips in March, April and May cannot go ahead – we are now planning the Virtual Trips, which WILL go ahead, and I hope you will consider joining us.
We are initially planning 3 virtual trips. Two mid-week trips and one long-weekend.
March 22nd – 26th (Monday to Friday)
5 days of 1½ hour a day programme including fellowship.
6pm GMT/1pm EST
April 23rd – 26th (Friday to Monday)
4 days – Friday & Monday , 6pm GMT/1pm EST
1 ½ hour a day programme including fellowship.
Saturday & Sunday
2 x 1½ hour each day: 12noon & 4pm GMT/7am & 11am EST
May 24th – 28th (Monday to Friday)
5 days of 1½ hour a day programme including fellowship.
6pm GMT/1pm EST
Each session will include a different Smiles Project, with explanation how it works. There will be live and recorded involvement with the Project on the field, whether families, the homeless, after-school, camps, residential and even the glasshouse! And you will be able to engage with team leaders, staff and beneficiaries. A time for Q & A will be scheduled every session. If you sign up but can’t make every session, we will provide some helpful ‘catch-up’ video for you.
We will limit the numbers involved, so as to ensure greater engagement by the on-line visiting Team with the Smiles Team and Beneficiaries here in Romania. We will be working hard to ensure a top-notch experience and I’m confident we will have a great time which will be greatly appreciated and enjoyed in the absence of being able to come together ‘in person’ – but if you haven’t been before on a Smiles Mission Trip, I am confident our Virtual experience will more than ‘wet your appetite’ for the Hands-On version and you’ll be booking to come as soon as the travel options return and pandemic restrictions are lifted. Numbers will be limited, so I encourage you to book early for your preferred trip. If in doubt book all 3!
I am asking for a minimum £100/$150 donation for each trip attended which can include a couple or family using one Zoom connection. There is no flight to book, no medical insurance or quarantine to worry about, you don’t even need to use a week of your holiday allowance!
All proceeds from those attending the Virtual Trips will go to the new Smiles Missions Pillar for Maria’s work in Education, Emergency Housing and Medical needs.
I think it will be a wonderful experience. Within the 5 days there will be up to 9 hours of fellowship, learning and encouraging others through your Virtual Mission Trip Experience. Trust me, it will be great. Sign up as soon as possible to not miss out. E-mail me from this link to secure your place and then we’ll be in touch further with all the details.
Thank you for your continued interest and support in Smiles and I look forward to seeing you soon, hopefully on one of the Smiles Virtual Mission Trips or the Hands-on option later in the year.
God bless you all.
Chief Executive to
The Smiles Foundation