My name is Luke Wathen and I am privileged to be taking up my new role within Smiles as a UK Development Ambassador!
This is a dream come true for me as I have felt challenged to contribute more to the amazing work that Smiles does for a long time and I will put every effort into doing the best I can in my new role.
I would like to briefly elaborate on how I came to know about Smiles and how it has become so important in my life. I first heard of it at my home church of Gorsley Baptist in England when the Tileagd Choir visited during one of their tours around the UK. This was nearly thirteen years ago but I can vividly remember the impact of that visit, because despite only being eleven years old and not fully understanding what was going on, I knew that God was introducing me to an organisation and a group of people that I would get to know and work alongside to serve him!
However the events of this process could only happen through God’s planning and in His timing. I would have liked to speed up things a lot but Gods timing is perfect. So it took nine years before I actually visited Romania, August 2011, but that trip, two more two week trips and a year career break all happened when they were supposed too!
Praise God that He is in charge and He has “plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give you hope and a future”, to use part of Jeremiah 29;11.
My plans for my life were pretty mundane. Of course I went through school and into my working life in retail trying to do my best at everything but that plan had no place in it for God. So after a lot of prayer and advice from family, friends and the Lord I came to Romania in April 2016 to volunteer for a year. This has led to an opportunity for me to help Smiles with raising awareness in the UK as well as contributing to the work in Romania within the role of Development Ambassador.
I will go into greater detail about the role and how I can hopefully meet and work alongside you for the benefit of God’s work through Smiles later on but I will now look at a few of the amazing experiences that happened to me over the year from April 2016 to April 2017 that have helped shape the next year ahead.
Deuteronomy 15;11 “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”
That is a clear command from the Lord, we are to help the poor and open our hands to our brothers. Now when you think of poor places and peoples in the world, Romania may not be very high on that list anymore, but it really needs to be! The picture you can see below is from a small gypsy community in Bihor County called Rapa.
They say a picture conveys a thousand words, well this one surely does and the words are all negative, unsurprising in such a desperate setting of horrifically poor conditions.
Smiles started working in Rapa about three years ago and it was immediately obvious that the living conditions had to be improved! So a construction project to build 12 new homes and a hygiene unit there was started, with a church added to the plans as well at a later date. I have worked as part of many teams of mission trippers that dug foundations, mixed cement and laid brickwork for this project over my year in Romania. Many people have opened their hands in monetary terms as well as in terms of working hard!
It was incredibly hard work, especially in thirty eight degree (Celsius) heat, but it has resulted in a relationship with the community that is a blessing beyond compare!
I am known there as Luca now and the kids are always wanting to play and have photos taken, they are wonderful, just wish I had their endless energy levels! This connection is even more amazing to me as it has developed despite a language barrier.
Moreover this happens across the projects, with many people and communities. Whether one visits the Tileagd School, the JFL Complex, the Homeless container village or any of the projects the people are always very welcoming. The fact that people come to see them from thousands of miles away is a blessing to them and they are also a blessing to the visitors, I would encourage and challenge you to come and experience it first hand!
This is a large part of what my role as Development Ambassador will be, sharing my experiences and encouraging others to take the opportunity to make a difference in Romania in a personal way.
During the next year I will be spending seven months in Romania working alongside the staff here and with the groups of wonderful volunteers who come for a Hands On Mission Experience (H.O.M.E). Throughout this time I am looking forward to getting to know many of you who support Smiles so generously.
The other five months of the year I will be travelling around the UK to deliver presentations about my time in Romania during 2016, the things I have done, the people I have met and the amazing rewards it has produced. The exact schedule of my travelling plans is not formulated yet because I want to hear from you!
If you are a current supporter of Smiles, personally or as part of a church or other group and you would like to hear about what is happening in Smiles projects then I would very much like to hear from you with a view to arranging a time for me to visit you and share my presentation with you.
Also if you would like to hear about Smiles work for the first time then please contact me as well, we at Smiles would love to give you any information about us that you would like to know and how you can become involved if you feel you want to!
If you would like to contact me my email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for taking the time to read this brief introduction and I sincerely hope that I will be able to meet and get to know many of you either here in Romania or in the UK.
But above all I hope that we can work together to serve the people of Romania in the Lord’s name. Amen
UK Development Ambassador for the Smiles Foundation