Through many of my 43 years in full-time Christian ministry, I have often felt the Hand of God on what I was doing, trying to do or dreaming of doing one day. Of course, there have also been times when I wondered if God had left me, as the struggles and challenges would move in on me, causing me to feel alone, but each time I realised God never left me. Maybe I had drifted, or perhaps just felt tired and took my eyes of the goal for a short time, and suddenly you feel in deep waters and can sense fear and worry all around. But, many times I sensed the Power of God moving in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform and I have many memories of coming through those periods with great excitement, as I felt He was doing a new and wonderful thing.
I want you to know, I have truly felt God doing that in recent weeks. In many ways, recent circumstances would have increased stress, worry and uncertainty – but I assure you, although I don’t have all the answers right now on what God is doing in Smiles, I know He is doing something great. And I’m so excited for the days ahead, as He reveals each piece of the jigsaw, that will cause great rejoicing and celebration in hearts and minds of those who care for, pray for, and partner in the work of The Smiles Foundation.
I am reminded as I write this update of a Devotion I often featured on Mission Trips, found in Habakkuk, chapter one, verse 5:
“Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”
I must be honest with you by saying, in recent weeks, several things God has revealed He is doing, have amazed me, and I truly believe He is doing something very special, so special, it would be hard to believe, even if He had told us. But I am so excited as we listen to, follow and explore in faith, all He is doing.
You will probably have seen my mid-month update in September about the changes we have made at the Tileagd Complex and our work with the Gypsy Community through educational support. If you haven’t seen it, take a read. Tileagd After School & Update – mid-September 2020
We are very excited by the opportunity ahead as we seek to support the children through a new After-School programme of activities. Time will tell just how successful it can be, but I do ask you to specifically pray for the work and the children, and their families, and if you can, please support the budget to see this effort fully underwritten and able to function as God leads.
September has been a very busy month preparing for several projects re-opening and then monitoring the arrangements put in place with many ‘new norms’. However, we are delighted to have programs re-starting in Tileagd Nursery, Gepiu Community Centre and Rapa in addition to the new After-School project in the Tileagd Complex. Adi has maintained the Field project during the height of COVID restrictions even after Alina left due to the impact of COVID, and then Alexandra left due to her husband being offered a job in London. It felt a little like ‘one thing after another’ but actually on reflection, it was all very much within what the Lord was planning.
Similarly, the potential impact of closing the formal school at the Tileagd Complex could have led to many negative reactions. Instead, having told the children we are still there to support those in After-School and through a new mid-week Church Club, for those who attend Church on Sunday – we had nearly 60 children in church on Sunday 20th and again on 27th. I was amazed! And thrilled! We have not had so many children in Church for a quite a while. So, we ask for your prayers as we seek to structure the right program for both the After-School and Church Club. But what a great problem to have?!
On Wednesday September 23rd I held my first meeting with the children attending school, and some of their parents, to explain how we can help if we partner together. Again, a great number turned up and I was so encouraged to see kids wanting to work harder for better results.
We agreed they needed School Bags for Books, Pens, Pencils and all the things required for school. We agreed they need lunch when they finish school as no option is provided at school or home! We will do that at the complex and then provide a quiet environment to do homework and finish the afternoon with fun, games and fellowship. All this will start on October 1st. Please pray for the kids and for great results.
We are currently reviewing several major aspects of Smiles Projects and particularly our emphasis and priority going forward on Outreach. Adi is leading the proposals for how Outreach will be structured in the future and how well-established projects known for many years, will be integrated into the new Outreach Work.
Having provided the basis of my strategic review for the decade ahead, agreed and adopted by the Trustees, Adi is now working on the detail which will no doubt require a new team of committed visionaries to work alongside him in all that will constitute the new Outreach Program. Very exciting times indeed, and just as soon as Adi has more of that detail, he will share it with you through one of our monthly updates.
We have of course had our challenges this past month, and one major area of concern was the virus getting into our Salonta facility. Yes, sadly we had 7 staff and 8 residents test positive which saw JFL back in lockdown. Fortunately, the cases were not too severe, although sadly we lost 2 residents but due to Pneumonia and a pre-existing liver condition. Two remain in hospital with less than favourable reports from the doctors on their anticipated recovery. All the staff recovered but two decided the challenges of COVID lockdowns could not be lived with and have subsequently resigned.
With reduced staff and residents, we have currently suspended operations in JFL 2, (the disability centre) moving everyone to the main facility for ease of servicing all the needs. Whilst that is disappointing on one hand, it does provide a crucially important opportunity to use JFL 2 as an isolation facility. With JFL 1 full – having JFL 2 for isolation will be extremely beneficial and may prove critically important to avoid a second outbreak in the centre.
It has certainly been a difficult time, but we are thankful no such outbreaks have occurred in ECO or TAL. Actually, both are currently full with residents and the staff are doing an excellent job in managing and servicing the facilities.
A disappointment for Smiles and our Residential facilities this past month was the decision from Georgi Lazau not to return to work after maternity-leave. We have known for a while Georgi was unlikely to return, but in September she confirmed she wanted to ‘take the opportunity to be totally involved with Sarah’s life’. None of us can complain with such a desire and we wish Georgi, Florin and Sarah, God’s blessing for the future.
September was extra productive due to our first, and probably only, three visitors for 2020 on Mission. Sam Thompson helped us construct two Polytunnels in Tileagd that had been supported by TBF Thompson Trust. We look forward to the potential from these Polytunnels when TAL residents and the Gypsy Community help to grow much needed fruit and vegetables in the coming year.
While Sam helped in Tileagd, Lynda and Anne-Marie worked tirelessly every day at the Glasshouse, managing to plant 111,000 bulbs during their six days. These will be sold in December to help support the Smiles Mission budget. As you will fully understand, this year has brought immense pressure on the Smiles Budget and we are working hard to maintain as much of our intended programme as we can, despite reduced income and higher costs faced here in Romania.
We are grateful with the response to Maria’s ‘Shopping List’ featured a month ago, which has now also been picked up by our Northern Ireland supporters.
Development Ambassador, Adrian Pogue, has challenged supporters to make a special donation of £100 ($130) hoping to have 90 people respond, to ensure supplies can be purchased in Romania until the next Container can head out, anticipated to be March/April 2021 at the earliest.
If you would like to help with this special appeal to cover urgent supplies from October ’20 – March ’21 call the office to make a donation by card or go on-line here.
As a continuing impact of the COVID-19 crisis, Smiles has now had to cancel all remaining Mission Trips scheduled for 2020. The first year since 2001 that no Mission Teams were able to come, but in the hope and belief that 2021 will be different, we are already lining up a full and exciting schedule of trips.
We start with the Gardening Trip from March 27th – April 10th. Then we have a Team from Indiana USA booked April 18th – 24th followed by Ladies Week April 24th – May 1st.
The Construction Week is now booked for May 8th – 15th and other Special Weeks are scheduled for Students, and Young Families. It is going to be a busy but wonderful year, so don’t leave it too long before expressing your interest in a trip or getting your Church, School or Community booked in. Call Dawn at the office or check the website: Mission Trip 2021 Dates
As always, a tremendous amount of news to share and ask for your prayers over and your continued practical support. Back in June, I hosted our first ever ‘Smiles Open House’ which was well supported and greatly enjoyed.
With so much now happening in Smiles and yet no mission teams able to visit, I am holding another Smiles Open House scheduled for this Saturday – October 3rd.
To make it possible for all supporters to join, I am setting the time as follows:
UK – 5pm BST / USA – 12noon EST / 11am CST / 9am PST – Romania 7pm EET
I will be joined by Trustees, Staff and special guests from Romania, so please plan to join us and hear all the news at the same time as seeing faces you’ve missed this year due to the restrictions we are all having to live with. If you are less familiar with Zoom and require help with any set up, call Dawn at the Smiles office and you’ll be all ready for Saturday. I look forward to seeing you. Send me your e-mail request to join, so I can get the Zoom invitation to you ready for Saturday. To join the Smiles Open House, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, Adi has done a super job this month producing our ‘Thankful Hearts Video’ which is from Tileagd. Most appropriate as we start a new era in Tileagd supporting the children. Maria also reflects on the changes and possibilities in her October report. Don’t miss either of these special features.
To conclude, during these difficult times, I have really appreciated your continued love and support for the work being done here in Romania. Please do keep in touch and I pray you know God’s blessings in your life.
Chief Executive to The Smiles Foundation