Greetings to you at this unprecedented time of anxiety and concern for our world and its people – particularly our close family and friends. The past 31 days has established a most extraordinary month. I started my March Update with the thought to …. “always expect the ‘unexpected”! I can assure you I never expected the events that have unfolded these past 4 weeks – seeing our lives disrupted and then ‘put on hold’ to the extent they have been. Wherever we call home, events of recent weeks have affected us all.
A month ago, I was gearing up for a major visit to America, with numerous presentations, meetings and opportunities for lunch or a coffee and a chat across many States where Smiles enjoys great support from friends over many years. Concerns were building in early March concerning travel but believing God had prepared the way for my trip, I felt ‘unless I was stopped’ from travelling, I should go as planned.
As I embarked on the 20-hour trip from Leeds, England to Columbus OH, a lot was happening! Travel restrictions were being increased, the term ‘lockdown’ was being introduced and within hours of arriving in the States – President Trump announced the UK was being added to the list of banned countries for travelling to America!
At the same time, my inbox was filling with new messages of unprecedented decisions to prevent churches from meeting for worship, offices were closing, fund-raising events being cancelled, people were staying at home and it seemed anything more than a ‘virtual meeting’ was increasingly unlikely. So, within 12 hours of finishing the 20-hour journey to America, I was making plans to return – seeing all but the first day of presentations cancelled, getting myself back to Europe seemed most important, before more serious travel limitations came into place.
That was one ‘unexpected plan’ I had not expected! – and as with any such circumstances, I returned home looking for the lessons and direction God was giving through the whole experience.
Within hours of getting home, e-mails and calls began from those planning a Mission Trip over the next few weeks. Questions of – What will happen? Will it be cancelled? What’s happening with the Projects in Romania?
All the questions that felt impossible to answer with any degree of certainty. In fact, just about every situation that was being questioned had no certainty or guarantee for anyone – leaving everyone in a state of limbo and very concerned about so many different issues.
As I felt so many unanswerable questions were being asked along with understandable concerns arising in Romania between our staff and beneficiaries – I was thankful once again for the assurance and security we can know through our Lord Jesus Christ. The words of Apostle Paul came clear into my mind – “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT)
Once again, we needed to call on our faith to carry us through uncertain times. Once again, I needed to have a lesson in patience – when I wanted to know all the end scenarios now, I needed to wait – knowing in His time and in His perfect way, all would be revealed and fulfilled for His Glory and we needed to take the ‘opportunity’ rather than the ‘fear’.
Not easy for sure, but I believe if we follow the Lord’s leading, stay close to Him and avoid the temptation to panic – we will see answers to all our questions and find solutions to all the challenges being presented. The challenges are quite severe, and I have every belief they will continue for the coming weeks.
I know you are concerned for the impact on Smiles, our staff and projects in Romania. I am grateful for the many messages I have received from you asking, ‘how we are’ and assuring us of your prayers and concern. I truly believe NOW is the time we must come together to pray for the needs and focus on what each of us can do to protect the vulnerable and ensure the future can be as effective as the past in meeting need and sharing the Gospel of Christ, especially while there is so much hopelessness and bad news all around us.
In the past 2 weeks, many Mission Trips have been put in doubt for the next 3 months. At this stage, none of us know when travel restrictions will be lifted, or when we will once again be able to make the journey to Romania to help our team there, who are battling on the front-line. What I do know is that Smiles is facing the risk of losing £34,000/$44,000 in the immediate future, from our critically important Mission Trip Programme.
Also, in the past 2 weeks, more than £31,000/$40,000 worth of ordered flowers from our Sminro Glasshouse have been cancelled by shops and supermarkets in Romania, as shops close and people’s attention moves away from flowers for the immediate future.
We have sadly been informed by some donors their need to cancel monthly support in preparation of their own financial challenges anticipated in the coming weeks.
All at a time when, as often happens during emergencies, we as a charitable mission organisation are being asked to help more people than we normally do, as so many families in Romania come under extreme pressure with losing work and unable to buy food with significant price increases on top of everything else.
And yet, just as I face these immense challenges, God reassures with great blessings from His people who have big hearts for the work of Smiles. In just the past few days, a gift of £3,000/$3,900 was received from a doctor in England. A £1,000/$1,300 gift received from a lady in Scotland. Maria called me from Romania to say an unpaid account going back nearly 2 years, was hopefully paying us over £4,000/$5,200 in the next 30 days. I was quickly reminded, our God has many ways of fulfilling His Plan and Purpose. We should never doubt He will deliver!
It would be wrong for me to undermine the seriousness of the challenges we face and it will take a concerted effort by us all to ensure Smiles is able to do its job during these difficult days, as well as ensuring we are still there once we come through the other side and the dust settles. I know you will help us if you can.
I am told by Maria that demand for our help in Romania has significantly increased. Families are calling for help with food. Oradea City officials are calling us to help feed the Homeless, who are less able to ‘spread out’ in the city and therefore many more have gravitated to our Container Village. Whereas, we generally saw around 15 attending our luncheons, provided 3 times a week, now we are getting 50-60 attending, and the City Hall are asking if we can do 5 days a week, or more! People are asking if elderly and vulnerable folk can come to our residential centres? We have very few beds available and caring for them is very expensive. We need help to meet all these demands.
But as with any crisis, it provides a precious opportunity for the Church to respond as Christ would. The Smiles Foundation in Romania is an extension of you and your church. This is an opportunity for us to respond with Christ like hearts, eyes and ears – meeting the urgent need of the impoverished people in Romania.
I must also consider our staff. Some have had very worrying times. More than two weeks ago now, the Romanian Government announced closure of Schools, Nurseries and public gatherings. At that point our Tileagd School and Nursery closed, our After-School programmes in Gepiu and Rapa closed. Our churches could not meet, and they do not have the option of ‘streaming’!! Many of our staff had nothing to do – no option to work with projects closed – and inevitably, they worry about their own support as the Romanian Government is currently only offering benefits to those dismissed or made redundant.
No Government support is forthcoming at this stage to Smiles for our 100+ staff if they stay employed. We appreciate our staff enormously and many of our supporters who know the team personally, would not want to see them go. Smiles has committed to ensure 100% salary payments for March, regardless of whether they have been working or not these past weeks. We are reviewing the situation constantly, but in committing to pay for March, we have given ourselves a month, to see what we can do for April.
Some of the problems created need to be clearly stated, or we might not think of them in quite the seriousness that exists. We are probably not in their situation, so important for me to explain that children now not attending our school, nursery or after-school programmes, are probably not getting a hot meal every day. That was a welcomed special feature for them attending our facility!
Maybe staff who are not now teaching kids in school could be involved in preparing and delivering packed food for the children each day – but that requires money for supplies and additional transport costs to consider these type of special arrangements, even though, without any doubt, they are greatly needed.
Our ability to continue supporting the team in Romania, really depends on the support we receive from you in the coming days and weeks. In that respect, I am asking you to consider options available to us all, to express support for the team and the projects in Romania.
1. Most important of all – unless absolutely necessary, please do not cancel your donations – but keep your monthly support in place for Smiles.
2. If you are able to give a special gift to see us through these challenging times and allow us to plan additional services for the most vulnerable – mail or call us with your gift, designated ‘COVID RESPONSE GIFT’ so we know how to allocate it – not to general funds, but specifically to support special efforts to retain staff and provide services and care during this crisis.
Donate with card or PayPal £ Donate with card or Paypal $
3. Maybe an additional gift is not possible, but perhaps you could help with a Cash Loan to Smiles which will help bridge the shortfall in our income from cancelled Mission Trips, lost Sales from the Glasshouse or cancelled fund-raising events and monthly support. Loans could be repaid once things improve later in the year.
4. If you were scheduled for a Mission Trip that looks like it won’t be possible due to travel restrictions, please don’t ‘cancel’ – but get in touch with us to reschedule your trip. We are anticipating a plan to open our Mission Centre the entire second half of the year to ensure we can welcome as many guests and supporters as possible once the various restrictions are lifted.
A couple of further important issues for me to reiterate and emphasis for you.
Firstly, there are enormous needs to meet in Romania. There always are, but in the current circumstances, the problems are even more evident. Families need help with many aspects of daily life. Children not in school need help with some food where families can’t provide it. Many elderly, either living alone, or as is often the case, living with younger generations in the same house, are now under pressure to move or find support and many are looking to our Residential facilities for help.
We have an opportunity to respond here with a wonderful display of God’s Love for the people. Please help us do the work of the church on your behalf here in Romania.
Secondly, many work projects that were lined up ready for Mission Teams to help us with, are now ‘on hold’. The work is not going to go away! It will all need to be done, and a lot more, once we can all move around more easily – but we will need you to help. We will need even more people than were already booked, to help us catch up on the lost ground in the second half of this year.
We will all have spent far too much time confined to our homes. Other plans to attend major events, festivals, even our holidays may all have been cancelled. Please remember ‘You can come to Smiles’ if not now, just as soon as constraints are relaxed. The entire Smiles team will be waiting for you. Praying for you. Trusting you will respond in every way possible to ensure the Work can continue and people will know they are not forgotten, but hugely loved – both by us and most importantly, by God Himself.
So, in these extraordinarily challenging times – I encourage you to remember Smiles in your Prayers and through your Support. We are ready and able to do the work if you can help provide the resources. I will endeavour to be available to update you more on how the situation develops in Romania over the coming days and weeks. If you have any specific questions, please do not hesitate to write to me personally.
My e-mail is: email@example.com
Don’t forget to take a read of the thoughts from Maria and Luke this month, as well as enjoying the ‘Thankful Hearts Video’ Adi has put together for us.
Finally, don’t forget, as Job reminds us, and he knew a few problems in his time: ‘People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire.’ (Job 5:7 NLT); But Jesus said: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me” (John 14:1 NLT)
Life is filled with trouble. It often seems once we have one problem resolved, three more take its place! While there are reasons to be troubled, there is a greater reason not to be: We know Jesus. He said to His disciples, “Trust in God, and trust also in me”. We are His disciples – so let’s be sure we trust 100% in Him.
God bless you all at this time. Thank you for partnering with Smiles to make a difference in this world. Stay Safe, Stay Home, Stay Close to Jesus!
Sincere blessings for all you do.
Chief Executive to The Smiles Foundation