I trust you are keeping safe and well, managing the continued restrictions to the best of your ability. I was not sure if a mid-month update would be needed, as I was hoping we might have moved a little closer to normality than we are at currently. However, I totally appreciate the need to proceed with caution, so as to protect life and our important values in freedom, which involves doing what is right for others, not just ourselves.
As I waited somewhat on the edge of my chair to hear the UK Prime Minister’s guidance on the next phase out of the COVID-19 lockdown, I must confess to being a tad disappointed that the steps were to be ‘so small’ and the warning that progress would be slow and cautious, to put it mildly. As those of you who know me well – Slow is not my natural way and I confess that sometimes even ‘Caution’ will be risked a little to ‘get things done’!
I am learning many lessons during this crisis, but I am learning few things greater than Patience. Again, perhaps not one of my greatest attributes as I’ve always been eager to see things done as swiftly as possible. I guess I’ve always felt ‘Why wait for a good thing to happen … get on and make it happen!’ Sometimes we want to find the ‘short cut’ and at whatever cost – to Get it Done! But this is not always the right approach. I was reading Hebrews, chapter 6 recently – and truly challenged to take time, avoid becoming ‘lazy’ (during lockdown) but practise Faith and Patience, so as to inherit ‘what has been promised’.
11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Hebrews 6:11-12 (NIV)
Therefore, even with a little frustration on taking such small and slow steps forward, I was thankful once again for the wisdom of God’s Word in remaining diligent to the end and we will experience all that has been promised.
Without a doubt, as for many of us in different situations, overseeing the work of Smiles these past two months have been the most difficult I recall in our 20+ year history. Initially those challenges involved our work schedule and ability to ‘do our job’.
I recall the extreme difficulties of being in America as the scale of the crisis was unfolding with travel being limited and flight cancellations being increased and announced by the minute. With managing to get back to England, I was physically closer to the epicentre of our work in Romania, but still too far away to be ‘hands-on’ in the way I like to lead and manage.
As an accountant, I could all too quickly anticipate the financial pressures we could face with increasing restrictions placed upon us all. Perhaps most concerning of all – was the uncertainty of the future. The HOW, the WHEN, the WHERE questions of seeing an end to this crisis. I quickly realised everyone knew so little about anything concerning this pandemic, that finally we might all realise, ONLY GOD IS IN CONTROL.
My philosophy in ministry has always been – I’m to do everything I possibly can to fulfil the Call, the Vision, the Ministry I’ve been given – and as that will never be ‘enough’ I rely on God for the rest and in particular, the miraculous touch that can only come from the Hands of our Lord Jesus.
At the beginning of April, in the midst of this current crisis, I reminded myself of this philosophy held now for 43 years in full-time ministry. So – I would continue to do ‘all I could’ and rely totally on God for the rest. I have found it to be a great philosophy over the years and in the past 2 months, a saviour in every way – because that is what Jesus does – SAVES!.
The provision of God through this crisis has been miraculous, in every aspect of the Smiles Foundation. The financial support that was offered by His people has been humbling and overwhelming and without a doubt, averted a crisis that could have shaken the foundations of the ministry. Naturally, as each month goes by, maintaining the work that has a monthly budget of £134,000 ($174,000) gets potentially more challenging but we remain focused and determined to do as the Lord guides in these unprecedented and uncertain times.
The activity of people in a lockdown, has shown inactivity or laziness is not in the vocabulary of Smiles staff or volunteers. The staff in Romania and United Kingdom have remained alert on the front line of ensuring the ministry can continue. Some having to take on somewhat ‘different’ roles so as to see the work fulfilled, but everyone has done what was necessary and I am immensely proud of them all and honoured to lead them in this ministry.
As many will know, the demands on our Residential Centres have been immense and I truly admire the commitment our team has shown to ‘meeting the need’. Some of the pictures I saw reminded me more of front-line in ICU than a care home – but in reality, the difference is not so great, as both are working to protect and save life.
Our Field Project Team although limited in being able to work as normal, have still gone beyond the call of duty to ensure the most vulnerable were provided for at their greatest moment of need. Deliveries continue throughout the lockdown to ensure Children are eating and Families receive their groceries. Possibly as important, were the words of encouragement offered with each visit and for the beneficiaries – knowing they were not forgotten is a value impossible to put a price on!
In the Glasshouse – extra effort was required to keep a higher stock of flowers looking healthy and attractive – so that when Garden Centres and Shops wanted the flowers, as they do now, we had supplies to fulfil orders. In anticipation of high demand for our Herbs, Cornel Hava needed to maintain weekly journeys to Budapest to collect seedlings being flown in from Israel. Over 100,000 plants in the past month! He also had to ensure smaller than usual deliveries were delivered on demand. Meaning more trips each week, but whatever the hour of the day, Cornel was delivering. Perhaps Maria was less thrilled being left at home more than expected looking after the 2 boys – but Maria has discovered how much ‘management’ can be done by phone. As if we were ever in any doubt!!
The Romanian Management Team have done a phenomenal job of keeping everything moving during such challenging times. Maria involved with every aspect of Smiles Life by whatever means possible. Sometimes having to transport Residential Staff to and from shifts at 6 o’clock in the morning. As some of you will know, not the favourite time of day for Maria!
Simona has been under lockdown when managing the Joint Facility of Love, whilst continuing to manage the Glasshouse by phone. When all the staff changed shift, allowing those who had been in JFL for 14 days to go home, Simona was straight back to hands-on at the Glasshouse, helping staff there to plant, organise and sell the product.
Adi has also done a marvellous job, not only being present at the Cihei HQ – on call for the emergencies and questions that inevitably arise – but also taking many hours to deal with the technical challenges of putting together something like our Prayer Day Virtual Worship Service, which I believe was a wonderful production on such a special occasion. I was thrilled so many viewed the Service, nearly 500 individual viewings, and so many wonderful responses and comments afterwards.
Thank you all for sharing in that experience and most of all, for continuing to pray for the work, the staff and those we serve on a daily basis. (if you missed it, click the above link to watch)
I was also humbled by the support Luke, Dawn and I received through our Cycle Challenge. When Luke first told me what he was proposing to do, I thought ‘great idea, good on you’ it would be fantastic if we could raise £3,000 ($3,900) for the Kids Feeding programme while school, nursery and after-school projects are closed. I’m not so sure what I thought when it was suggested Dawn and I join in – but so many people supported us beyond belief and I think it is absolutely amazing that over £7,500 ($9,750) was raised between the three of us. Not bad for administrators!!
Then of course, others got involved, including Peppa Pig (aka Lynda Donaldson) cycling 100 miles and raising over £1,000 ($1,300). We are so thankful to all who participated in any way to make the Cycle Challenge such a success.
As of writing, Luke has ‘virtually’ arrived in Vienna and has 345 miles to go before arriving ‘virtually’ in Cihei. To encourage him for the final ‘sprint’ please consider sponsoring him during these final days. www.justgiving.com/fundraising/luke-wathen1
We continue to sadly miss our Mission Trip teams, especially the staff in Romania who value so much the encouragement and support our Mission teams give. Although precise details are limited at present, we anticipate trips will be fully possible from July 1st, 2020. We sincerely hope so and continue to watch and listen to every announcement to be sure we don’t miss a beat when it comes to opening up the Mission Centre once again. We pray you will be able to join us in Romania from July 1st when we will have a full programme available until Christmas. As I have said before, if you are not already booked, start planning your trip now, while flights are still cheap, and we have availability!
I trust I have covered all the important aspects of our mid-month update. Hopefully we will see even greater easing of the restrictions in the coming weeks and a mid-June update won’t be necessary, but rest assured we’ll be back with full news and update by June 1st for your continued interest, support and prayers.
God bless you all as we seek to do His Will.
Chief Executive to
The Smiles Foundation