Greetings from England, where, as of today, I am still in lock-down after returning from America on March 16th! Since then, I have seen four flights I was booked on for Romania, cancelled! I now have my fifth flight booked for Wednesday, June 3rd and wait to see if I manage it this time. Still we have lots of news, but be sure you get to the end, as within this update is another First for Smiles you might want to be part of!!
Before going further with our regular updates, I wanted to pause and acknowledge the sad passing of our dear friend and incredible Smiles Supporter – Carol Woodward. Carol has been battling life with cancer and has certainly been through the hardest of experiences this life can throw at us. Carol deeply missed her best friend and husband, Smiles former Trustee and Educational Advisor, Stephen Woodward. I spoke extensively with Carol earlier in May listening to her reminisce so many stories she and Stephen enjoyed from our early days of establishing Smiles together. She was so bright and happy on the phone recalling those days nearly 20 years ago. She told me she was ready to meet her Lord and knew it would not be long. Now she is free from pain and reunited in Glory with Stephen. Our thanks are given for her life and our prayers lifted up for their family.
As I have mentioned several times in recent communications, the Lord is certainly teaching me a lot about patience! I sincerely pray this flight on Wednesday will not be cancelled.
I have now been away from Romania for nearly 3 months. This is the longest spell for many years. Even when I had hip replacement surgeries in 2017 and 2018 – I was back in Romania quicker than 3 months. COVID-19 has a lot more to answer for, but I am thankful to see progress being made around the world to understand the virus better and attempts to positively overcome it, gaining ground day by day. God has blessed us immensely with great scientists and doctors who are pioneering treatments and vaccines against this disease. Let no one forget where such ability comes from, our Creator and Redeemer, to whom we must remain focused during such difficult and uncertain times.
At this precise moment of writing my update, I received a message saying my Flight for June 3rd is cancelled! I was so disappointed, as I was instantly aware of the challenges being faced in Romania and managing those challenges at a distance, is a further challenge in itself.
However, there was also a strange peace that I felt over the cancellation and immediately, this verse from the Gospel of John, came to mind: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27) NIV
This verse holds so much truth and wisdom, and once again in the midst of this crisis with pressures looming all around, I have discovered the ‘Peace that passes all understanding’ that helps us through that which ‘troubles’ and causes ‘fear’ – basically because we ‘don’t understand’. In such times, God’s Word is indeed our greatest treasure and resource for persevering.
So, for a fifth time, my efforts to return to Romania have proved impossible. Indeed, this causes all sorts of challenges, some of them quite extreme, hence the need to stay aware of God’s power and authority over all things. I sincerely trust I will be able to return soon, but not now for at least another 2 weeks, meanwhile I do all I can from my computer and phone, relying on my team in Romania to provide the ‘face’ of Smiles to our staff and beneficiaries.
It has of course been a very difficult period, with so much disruption to our proposed programme. Having various projects closed has concerned us over the impact for those we seek to help, especially in School, Nursery and the After-school programmes. Our Churches have been closed and virtually no one from our congregations has the benefit of producing or watching streamlined services from Tileagd and Rapa!
Our Dezna Outreach Centre has also been closed, unable to plan for Camps that were due to start this month. And of course, no Mission Trips thus far this entire year has been devastating. As we try to maintain staff and facilities until the crisis is finally over, it has all proved a very difficult process and financially we are feeling the pain.
We were very concerned when, 2 months ago, shops cancelled orders from our Glasshouse, contracts were on hold – even our Herb seedlings could not be flown in from Israel. Everything felt so serious.
In the past couple of weeks, some things got worse and a few things got better. Thank you for your support and prayers during this difficult time.
On the bad side, projects involving Education remain closed and it has been announced will not re-open until September. We are waiting to hear if the same will apply to Dezna Camps. If so, it will be such a shame, as we had an amazing number of enquiries for Dezna, this year.
Mission Trips have also been disappointing news. Travel restrictions were extended but now have the possibility of re-opening on June 16th. As a result, a further 6 mission teams cancelled – blocking out the calendar until July 4th. We will continue to monitor the situation very carefully in the prayerful hope our Teams scheduled for later in July will be able to come and with great enthusiasm – kick start the 2020 Mission Trips, that I hope will then be busy until Christmas!!
One project Mission Teams help us with is the Glasshouse, and we have certainly missed our visitors there. As shops began to open in May, we saw our orders begin to rise and thankfully the plants and flowers had been kept healthy during the lockdown. The pressure now was getting thousands of plants prepared and moved out. With no Mission Teams to help, we resorted to a well-tested formula in Smiles when help is needed – Smiles Staff Day!
We’ve done it many times before, especially when getting projects ready to open. Tileagd Complex 14 years ago, JFL 10 years ago, Dezna last year – yes, many days when staff would change their regular post for something completely different – and last week, a great number did the same to help the Glasshouse.
Directors, Accountants, Social Workers, Project personnel – all headed to Arpasel for a hard day in the glasshouse. But what a great day they had and achieved tremendous results. Check out this video that was captured during the day and the thoughts of our Sminro Project Manager – Simona Tosity.
The tremendous efforts of staff and your generous support since this pandemic started has helped the ministry to continue functioning to the best of our ability and God has steered us through the challenges with great comfort and assurance. We are thankful for that. Now the situation will get more difficult, as easing of restrictions is much slower than was first hoped and clarity over Mission Trips starting is far from obvious. We continue to secure as much as we can, but changes are necessary to ensure future sustainability, and it depends significantly on continued financial support being received and how many Mission Trips will be scheduled between now and Christmas.
I simply ask you to keep the ministry of Smiles in your prayers and continue supporting as you are able. Please continue to make plans for your Mission Trip to Romania as soon as possible. Together, in God’s timing, we will come through this crisis and once again enjoy the activities of Mission to Romania, serving God, through the Smiles Foundation.
Some projects are all too aware we are missing our visitors. The Joint Facility of Love in Salonta is one such project. But neither staff nor residents forget us as this month’s Thankful Hearts video shows. Enjoy a beautiful heart felt ‘thank-you’ from JFL.
Through out the past two months, we have endeavoured to keep contact with you as much as possible. I trust the mid-month updates have also helped with providing additional information. We have also done some very special events which have helped engage you all with the Smiles effort for support.
The Virtual Worship Service launched on Smiles Prayer Day (May 3rd) received a wonderful response and has now had over 520 separate viewings. This is so encouraging. Thank you all. You can still watch if you missed it, or watch again 🙂
The Cycle Challenge launched by Luke in late April, which Dawn and I got involved with, also received a staggering response. To date, including Gift Aid, over £10,400 ($13,600) was raised which is hugely humbling and again, our sincere thanks to you all for your amazing support.
The Song Competition didn’t get so much take up, but I understand this was more of a ‘specialist’ area. Although the competition closed on May 25th, I would encourage any of you who worked, or still work, on a song but didn’t get it submitted by the initial deadline – go ahead and finish it, then send it to: email@example.com. I look forward to reviewing all the options created. Thank you to those of you who ‘had a go’.
Now we have another first! On Saturday June 6th we are planning a ‘Smiles Family Open House’. Virtually, of course. But a get together designed to see each other on the screen and catch up on recent weeks and then our plans for the future. Our likely topics of update and discussion will be:
Smiles during the COVID-19 crisis / Project Updates in Romania / Mission Trip Plans / What have we learnt?
There will be a Q & A time throughout the time together.
Getting involved will be Trustees, staff from Romania, Dawn, Luke and hopefully many of you, the supporters who make the Smiles Family what it is. I will be honoured to Host the Session and simply ask you to confirm by e-mail your desire to be involved and I will send you a Zoom Invitation Link by Friday (June 5th).
Our time together will begin at 5pm GMT – 12noon US East Coast / 9am US West Coast and 7pm in Romania. I look forward to receiving your ‘RSVP’ to our Invitation. Apply now to firstname.lastname@example.org
God bless you and your family. Thank you for partnering with us to make a real difference in this world.