Although tough in many ways, the past 7 weeks in Romania have been a crucially important time for me to assess many issues and plan for the future. Whilst many of us are no doubt constantly asking ‘What will be the future’ – the truth is, none of us know. Actually, we never have known ‘the future’ – it has only ever been in the Hands of God and we generally got on with the ‘today’ as that normally has more than enough to deal with.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we are getting like everyone else now, wondering more about tomorrow, asking questions about the future, so I remind you as one who is certainly tempted all too often to think about the future – It is still in God’s Hands! We don’t know what the future holds, we only know Who holds the future, and that is a great peace and comfort at this time.
In Isaiah 26:3 we read “the Lord will keep in perfect peace all who trust in Him, all whose thoughts are fixed on Him” What we think about, ultimately affects what we do and how we do it. Let’s not spend our time worrying about the future, when there is so much to be done, today! Make plans, but don’t worry!
This is totally how I have felt since getting back to Romania nearly 2 months ago. It was so easy to be thinking about ‘when normality might return’, when Mission Trips might start, will Support be maintained during these difficult days? When I would think to plan a month or two ahead and await better announcements, to then find those announcements never came, or when they did, were worse than the current situation – I decided there was so much to do, we should focus on that, operate within the circumstances as they currently exist, within the resources currently available and when things change, we can review the situation again. I’ve been a lot more at peace since making these decisions and I recommend it for you all.
So, – getting on with what needed to be done, and there were so many things requiring attention after 6 months of the COVID crisis and probably a further 6 months of uncertainty to come. It has been good to get on with making plans and doing the work for today.
I was delighted to have an International Trustees meeting by Zoom last week, that enabled Smiles Trustees in United Kingdom, America and Romania to all be on the same screen for a few hours as we discussed thoughts and plans for the years ahead.
Clearly, after 20+ years of Smiles significant activities here, the situation is very different to the one I first saw 30 years ago, on my first visit to Romania in 1990. Not only because of the work of Smiles, but the country itself has moved on and changed in so many ways. The extreme poverty that was evident everywhere you looked in 1990 is now much harder to find, especially in and around the city. However, many rural communities still suffer that extreme poverty, not so different to what I saw in 1990, despite 30 years of democracy – greater religious freedom and for the past 13 years, members of the European Union. A lot of wealth has come to Romania in many ways, but sadly too many people still live each day, struggling to feed their children!
Equally, I have seen the impact of commercialism and greater wealth, destroy aspects of Romania that I loved 30 years ago, particularly as community and family ties break down, people by the thousands have moved abroad to escape the poverty, leaving behind many who were not able to go, perhaps due to lack of education, ill health or family commitments that kept them in Romania. I have also seen a reduction in people available or interested in ministry. People here are largely working to build their house, buy a car, take family holidays – the limitations of worldly earnings or ‘being successful’ through serving in ministry is evident in our ability to recruit the right people needed for the job.
Without a doubt, there is much to be done here in Romania, even after 30 years of progress economically, politically and greater freedom spiritually.
I believe the work of Smiles moving forward will have a stronger emphasis on Ministry, Outreach and the Gospel and whatever activities we are involved with in the future, the criteria of ‘Ministry Value’ will be high on the evaluation process.
It is true to say, throughout the years of Smiles work, outreach has been a fundamental factor in what we do and how we do it. But it is also true to say, where we originally focused on Family Care, social aspects took priority. Where we focused on the School, education took priority and outreach was included where possible. I strongly feel, and the trustees are in full agreement, that as we develop the Smiles path for future activities, Outreach and the Gospel message will take priority in all we do.
This truth was brought home to me on August 2nd when I attended a Baptismal Service at our Emergency Housing Unit in Mierlau. I saw people who have been helped for many years through our Family Care project, or our Homeless Container Village or more recently, provided a home at the Emergency Housing Unit. Whilst all of these avenues of help and support are totally valid, for the Smiles Foundation, our mission is to first and foremost ‘Share the Gospel Message of God’s Love and Grace for all’. It was thrilling to see people respond to God’s Gift of Grace which they had seen in action through Smiles projects. We are working on developing this ethos for all our projects in the future. Please pray with us for guidance and provision to make this focus a reality.
The Baptismal Service was wonderful, and this month, our Thankful Hearts Video captures greater insight to the testimonies of those baptised and the ministry Pastor Vasile promotes through Smiles.
Whilst we do not anticipate many Mission Trips happening this year, it was wonderful to have 3 friends arrive Saturday for a week to help with our Horticulture Projects. Firstly a new one, through support of a grant from TBF Thompson Trust in Garvagh, we are building two Polytunnels in Tileagd for the residents of TAL and the Gypsy Community to benefit from. Sam Thompson from Warrenpoint will be leading that project while his wife Lynda and friend Anne-Marie are working hard at the Glasshouse, where we just had over 136,000 Christmas bulbs delivered!
It is exciting to have even 3 people here helping us with the work. We have missed so many visitors this summer which looks set to continue, but I firmly believe from March 2021 – people will be able to come back and I pray they will flood back, to see those they have missed and set their hand to the plough, as there is much to do.
Luke is working very hard for which we are extremely grateful. Without the normal help we would have from Mission Guests, Luke is undertaking some huge tasks himself. Painting all the residential rooms at JFL for one! Clearing overgrown gardens in Gepiu for another. Now he is helping with Mission Guests, but next week he’ll be back to painting no doubt. Take a moment to thank God for Luke and encourage him in his service to the Lord. Luke has given us his own report this month, so be sure to take a read.
I was delighted to see the installation work in Dezna start during August and will continue in September. Radiators being installed, especially in the new parts of the building and this month, new heating boilers are being fitted. For sure, Dezna will be ‘Winter Ready’ before winter arrives. Thank you for your support to make this happen. Now pray people will be able to come and enjoy the facility as soon as group meeting restrictions are lifted.
I continue to be humbled by the efforts of so many to meet the financial needs of Smiles during these unprecedented days. Many generous donations and offers of help. Many fund-raising events despite the difficulties faced in raising funds as we might ‘normally’ do. Our long-time supporter and Ambassador in Scotland, Jean Barclay, did incredibly well celebrating her 70th birthday with a 70-mile walk raising over £3,500 ($4,550) with support from friends and family.
Thank you to all those working hard in this way and I do encourage you to take a look at our Events and Fund-raising page on the website to see who is doing what and how you might support them.
We had a fantastic response to our appeal for help with Urgent Supplies last month as we were running dangerously low on essential needs that would normally be brought to us through donations on the Container. We are now sourcing supplies here in Romania and express our huge thanks for your support.
Those still wanting to assist can do so here: https://www.thesmilesfoundation.org/marias-shopping-list/
Maria is very thankful for the support on urgent supplies, and she also appreciates the responses she gets from readers of her Monthly Update. So don’t miss this month.
It is wonderful having so much to share each and every month. I never have to think ‘What am I going to say this month!’ Always plenty on my mind and so many things to give ‘Thanks’ for. You are a great family.
The Smiles Foundation