Wednesday, September 17, 2008

He's Got A Plan And It's Better Than Mine

Hello friends. I thought perhaps I should say a few words about our trip to Ialoveni. This was my eighth trip to Moldova since June of 2006 and my second as a full time employee of Sweet Sleep. When I stop to think for a moment about eight trips in just a little over two years, I’m honestly a little at a loss for words. Sweet Sleep and our work in Moldova has become such a huge part of my life that it’s hard for me to even think back and remember what my life was like before all of this. I have been witness to many great things over these past couple of years, and I am grateful to God that he has brought me to this place and allowed me to be a part of this amazing ministry.

Every trip to Moldova is different. Each trip we work in a different orphanage with different directors, staff, and kids. And no matter how many times we go and how much we plan in advance, we’re always a little surprised by how things actually work out. This trip was no different in that regard. But, one thing we try to remember is that it doesn’t really matter if things don’t go exactly like we plan them. What matters is that we are there and that we are ready for God to use us that week with those kids.

Those of you who know me know that I am a planner. I like to make a plan and then stick to that plan. Moldova constantly challenges me with respect to my plans, and God is constantly reminding me that it’s not my plan for the week that is really important. On this trip, the big change of plans came when we found out that though the director of the orphanage had asked us for 170 beds, they now only needed 115. It seems that sometime shortly before we arrived another group from England had come and provided some beds. Honestly, I was a little frustrated by this at first, but then I realized that this change of plans meant two things. The first thing it meant was that we would finish early, which in turn meant we had more time to spend with the kids. The first few days of the week we really hadn’t been able to spend very much quality time with the kids in Ialoveni. It was their first week of school, and I think the staff was trying to get them into their routine for the year. That meant the kids were mostly kept busy and away from us until the late afternoon. I was worrying a little about this since we aren’t just there to provide beds. We could buy beds and have them delivered to the orphanages without us being there at all. We go there so that we can share God’s love with the children. So, I was a little worried that the team wasn’t spending enough time with the kids. Finishing the beds early meant that we had a large part of Thursday to really spend time with the kids. The birthday party went great and I think the team was able to effectively communicate God’s love to the kids and staff that day.

The second thing only needing 115 beds in Ialoveni meant for us was that we suddenly had 55 extra beds. This was one of those things you might call a happy accident. I told Jen the news about the extra beds and we quickly decided that they should go to Orhei. If you’ve been keeping up with Sweet Sleep, you know that we started replacing the beds at the Casa de Copii in Orhei in March. Casa de Copii is a home for over 300 mentally and physically disabled boys. We built 135 beds there in March and were making plans for a local church to put the rest of the beds in sometime later this year. I really enjoyed the trip to Orhei in March and was really excited at the idea of going there again to put in 55 more beds. Friday morning we were able to take the team to Orhei and build those 55 beds in just over three hours! Wow! It was great to be back there and to see the friends we had made there in March. My favorite moment there involved a boy named Ion. I had met Ion on our trip in March. He is probably 14 or 15 year old and has severely deformed legs and hands. I met him on our last day in Orhei in March. We were just finishing up the beds we had and he peeked out the door of his room and asked if we were coming in there next to put new beds into the room he shared with 17 other boys. Because of his deformity, he was literally on his knees on the floor, so I bent down and told him I was sorry, but that we didn’t have any more beds for that trip. He looked me in the eyes and very calmly asked me why we had started with other rooms instead of his. There was no accusation or anger in his question, but it still broke my heart. I explained to him that we had put the beds where the director had told us to and that I was sorry he hadn’t gotten a bed this time. Then I did something I never do with kids in Moldova. I made him a promise. This one was easy to make because I knew it would come true. I promised him that we would be back and he would get a new bed. I had thought about Ion several times since that trip, and I wanted so much to be there when he got his bed. As I said, we were talking with a church in Orhei about finishing that project for us, so I didn’t think I would be there when he did get his bed. When we found out we had extra beds in Ialoveni and that we would be putting them into Orhei instead, I thought I just might get that chance. Sure enough, the first room we worked in on that Friday morning was Ion’s room! He was in there walking around on his knees and helping us put the beds in his room. I knelt down again and reminded him of our first meeting. I was so happy to be able to share that moment with him.

As I said in the beginning, every trip is different. Every trip is wonderful, and this one was no exception. God continues to reveal himself in new and wonderful ways through the children we meet in Moldova and the work that he allows us to do. God is good, and his plans are always better than my plans.

“For I know the plans I have for you ,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, September 05, 2008

We Told Those Beds Who Was Boss

Happy Friday Night- It's our last night in Moldova and it's been the best day of all! Earlier this week, we were struggling with the fact that we really hadn't gotten lots of hang out time with the copii and wondering how we were going to remember this past week without little names and faces and stories. Our ever so wise and fearless leader, Jen, reminded me that sometimes God doesn't reveal his plan for us until the very last moment... our job is to trust and wait patiently, and she was right! Because we didn't have extra time with the kids, we had ample time to build beds, meaning we finished a whole day early. So in a completely Moldovan, unexpected-twist, we got to ride up to Orhei this morning and add to the beds that the Kairos team (that came in March) completed half of, at an orphanage for severely handicapped boys. As God would have it, this was the highlight of the week for all of us! We completed 55 beds in just 3 1/2 hours! We were so pumped to get this job done and the boys were such a HUGE help that we literally stormed that school and, in massive style held a bed building vigil of extreme proportions! It was awesome! Then our favorite Moldovan resident named Martin (who will be happy to tell you just how famous he is :) serenaded us with a beautiful song of thanks to God... we laughed, we cried, we hugged, we played in new beds.... it was an outstanding day at the Casa De Copii!

To top it off, we drove to Transnistruea and back just to see the only waterfall in Moldova with a monastery visit and death hike in between... ask someone about that one when we get back :) But little did we know that the day still held surprises when we returned back to the team house! In a perfect alignment of the stars, moon, Moldovan government and the water gnomes, there was a MIHAI sighting! For those of you who know about Jen's elusive sponsor child Mihai, aka the Brad Pitt of Moldova, he came to Chisnau tonight and we got to spend some time with him during dinner this evening! I came around the corner and there he was playing cards with Jen like he'd been there all along! I cried like a baby! It means so much to Jen to get to see him when we can and he represents so much of why we are here... I just loved it!

Other than that, we are packing like mad and getting ready for the airport in the morning! Thank you all so much for your prayers and encouragement! We will see you in Nashville!
God with you... Amy

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ce Mila

You'll quickly discover this is NOT Amy! This is Gloria who can't remember her blogger information.
This has been a very full four days. But very rewarding as well. The children at Ialoveni are so precious! Because these children have grown up with no one making excuses for their disabilities, they are amazingly independent. And overall they are so happy and full of life. It makes me happy just being around them! Don is a little boy whose legs don't work quite right. He limps and uses a cane to get around. Yet he ALWAYS greets us with this BIG smile and is full of chatter. The other day as he was walking across the grass with us, he hit an uneven spot in the ground that caused him to fall down. His cane went sprawling away from him and he lay spread eagled on the ground. But did it phase him? No! In a heartbeat he picked himself up, grabbed his cane, and off he went again talking up a blue streak!
In the mornings while the children are in their classrooms studying, we've been hard at work building beds, transporting them across the courtyard and up the stairs (no handicapped accessible elevators for this place!) The guys are amazing in how much they can carry. They pick up the boards and bed frames one handed, while we struggle to carry them in twos! Then bringing up the linens and making up the beds. We've had several hilarious moments trying to put the comforters in the duvet covers (umm...Donnie and to share?) But then we've had the extreme satisfaction of looking over our work, seeing the cheery bright yellow bed covers with their fluffy pillows and Bible laid against each pillow. And we can just imagine the joy of the children as they walk in their rooms and see the old smelly beds gone and these bright new beds in their place! It makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Lunch break and then we return to work. Marilyn and I have been privileged to do arts and crafts with some of the children in the afternoon. Simple stuff, but the children have worked so intensely doing their very best work on whatever project we give them. They've been so proud of what they've created, wanting us to take their pictures and excitedly showing us what they've done. Bene, bravo!!!
It's very hard looking at these wonderful children with their beautiful smiles and individual personalities, and thinking about what the future holds for them. They are obviously cared for here by their teachers. And these children know more English than any other orphan children I've encountered. They actually study it in school. Yet in a country like Moldova that is so impoverished, you realize that there will be extremely limited opportunities for a child with disabilities. What will their life be like when they're adults?
Yet we know that God created these children in His image and He loves them very much. We hope that our week with them has reminded them of that. They have certainly given us much love and many memories. In 2 Chronicles 14: 11 we read, "O Lord, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O lord our God, for we trust in you alone. It is in your name that we have come. O Lord, you are our God; do not let mere men prevail against you!"
Tired muscles, a few bruises, some sniffles among us, but oh, what a privilege this week has been! How blessed we are to have met these children and learned their names and given them high fives and seen their joy.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Thursday already- time has flown by. The days are passing so quickly because the mornings have been filled with hard work building, and making beds. Then after lunch we have gotten to spend some time with the kids. This has been amazing!

The kids quickly warmed up to us. I had an immediate connection with a few girls that latched on right away- they want to walk hand in hand wherever we go- it's cute. These girls are 12 yr old. There is another special little boy that has stolen my heart- Ewan. Ewan is one of those mischievous little boys- everyone else is in class and somehow Ewan is free to roam around and hang out and help us. He's always there. It's great. Today Ewan was around as always, and Dave and I were working on a bed but not working together at the moment. Ewan walks in the room and grabs Dave's hand and pulls him over to me and then picks up the teddy bear in the room and points to the heart- it was so sweet. Apparently he wanted us to work together and wanted to make sure we were not mad at each other- it was sweet. Adorable.

Today was a very neat day. We finished the beds in the morning, went to lunch, and when we returned we got to spend tons of time with kids. I got to work with with the crafts today. We helped the kids put crosses on paper and then decorate them. We did not have a translator most of the time, but I finally went to get my Romanian translator sheet and starting writing Isus Te Ibueste- which means Jesus Loves you. As I wrote that on their crosses- their faces lit up with smiles. This was incredible. It was neat to share this with them.

During our crafts the older girls were taken to hear a sex trafficking talk. This was a time when they talk to the girls about sex trafficking and try to warm them of ways to avoid getting into this. It happens often here. Karla and Amy helped with this and they reported that it went very well. While all of us girls did these events, the boys worked hard on the beds.

The best part of the day came with the birthday party- the birthday party is this special time when we throw the kids a party our last day. A lot of the kids don't even know their birthday and most do not get a birthday celebration so it's a neat opportunity for us to throw them all one It's also a time to remind them of Jesus' love for each of them and how special they are to us. The birthday party was a hit. We had100 kids come- each received a cupcake, party blower, goodies bag, and juice. They scarfed the cupcakes down so fast- it was like the best thing they had gotten in a long time. We asked the kids tonight as they were all seated quietly how many of them had received new beds- every kid in the room shot their hands up and smiled big. Tears welled up in my eyes at this moment as I realized that we got to be a part of something so cool in these kids lives. With as little as they have, we got to bring joy into their hearts even if for a short week. But also knowing that each night they go to bed, they will hopefully remember us and more importantly how much God loves them.

Goodbyes were exchanged after the party. It was a neat time to hug them and receive hugs and kisses from them. Many were so thankful and I had several thank me several times for being there and what we had shared throughout the week. It was sad to leave.

Tomorrow we head to another orphanage to build some of the extra beds we have left- this orphanage is a boys orphanage with mentally and physically challenged boys. Several are confined to their bed. We are so excited- these boys know we're coming and they are anticipating our arrival already the day before.

The verse I have been praying over all week is Ephesians 3:20-21. Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope.

The Lord works in amazing ways- each morning I have prayed that he would accomplish even more than I have thought to pray for. I believe he has. I don't know what Jen had in mind with Sweet Sleep, but I believe he has done infinitely more than she probably imagined- that's just what He does. He is providing so much for so many kids and it is only through Him that we are able to do any of it.

Thanks for praying, we do appreciate it and again tomorrow we ask for prayers as we go out to share God's love with more children who don't receive much love in their lives.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Mission accomplished...almost!

What an amazing week this has been. I know many of you have been reading some of the beautiful stories on the blog. There are obviously way to many to tell you in a blog. God has totally blessed this team and this trip. We have been healthy. We have been united. We have been productive. We have been blessed! You never know what lies ahead when you head off across the sea to sevre. You can be sure to experience some unique circumstances and unforseen situations. Those have been true on this trip. But I have to say that this trip has been extra special, because of the great team that God put together. They have each been so special and amazing. Because of this, we are going to finish a day early with bed building. Again, we have been blessed.

Now a blog from Moldova would not be complete without a mention of the kids. Today was our first day that we were able to spend some quality time with most of them. There have been a couple from time to time that have popped up while we worked, but it wasn't until today that we really were able to connect with most of them. We were able to do crafts, play some games, teach some English, hug some necks, and worship with them. You cannot come here and not be impacted by the life of a child. For me it was with a boy named Vilay. He is probably 11 or 12 and walks with a limp. Vilay is not able to speak, but Vilay's gift does not come through words or works. It comes from a simple smile. You see everytime any of us see him, he is smiling. Always! It hit me so hard today when I stopped and thought about it. No matter what life hands you. No matter what your circumstance. Smile. It speaks louder than words ever will. So wherever you are know that you are blessed and smile!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

These kids amaze me!

One more quick note before we call it a day here in Moldova...

As more kids show up at the orphanage everyday to begin school, we have the pleasure of meeting more and more of them. And they amaze me with the level of energy and enthusiasm with which they help us. I've never seen children who desire to help as much as these children do. They literally run the halls to come help us carry/lift/move things. And once we've completed that task, they run on to help someone else. If there isn't anything that they can immediately help with, they'll stand there beside us with eager eyes, waiting for the next chance to jump into the action. To be honest, I think we've all drawn much needed, additional motivation and energy from just being around these children. Such sweet, unspoiled spirits that simply want to spend time with us and give of themselves...what a concept! And what an inspiration to us! Thanks kids!

Of course, then there is the laughter - most of the time at our expense as they attempt to teach how to say things in Romanian and we absolutely butcher it!?

Last thing...about the "locked in the bathroom" thing mentioned, see, there isn't a handle on the inside, so if one should close the door might find themselves spending a little extra time waiting for rescue. Thank you Marilyn for being my rescuer.

And thank to you all of you for checking in on us and continuing to pray with us and for us. We will need it more and more as our time here draws to a close.


Day 5

Greetings from Moldova,

We had a good day making beds for a total of 53 now so we are about half way there...yeah! However, not without a few mishaps. Amy took a little tumble today and Donnie got overtired so he decided to lock himself in the bathroom...for 20 minutes! I think that was just an excuse to take a cat nap.

We were able to spend some time with the children today doing arts and crafts and recreation which was a lot of fun. I think they especially enjoyed the worship time at the end when we sang Ra cha, cha, si, boom, boom, boom. Some of the clowns in the group (I won't mention any names) mimicked certain animals including, elephant, rabbit, pig and rooster.

Pray that we will all be rested up tomorrow for more bed building!


Monday, September 01, 2008

One more note for LABOR day in Moldova

If you're following this blog, then you know by now how much we labored today on Labor Day - hope you all at home enjoyed your holiday! And you also know that we are being well taken care of and not wanting for anything other than rest.

But did you know that this time, our work here in Moldova, is the result of 2 years of faithful work and prayer!? Neither did we. Jen shared that news with us at supper tonight and it made me view this journey from a new perspective. For me, this proves John 14:13 - "You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, because the work of the Son brings glory to the Father." The seeds of the ministry of Sweet Sleep that is being done in Ialoveni were sown 2 years ago in prayer, asking the Lord to make a way and provide the means and the workers. And here we are now, building beds and spending time with these children just as had been asked in the name of Christ 2 years ago.

And why is it that we are able to be here, doing this work? So that we can bring glory to the Father. That's it! That's all the the motivation we need - so that God may be glorified by these children finding out how much they are loved by Him.

So, please continue to pray as Jesus instructed, in His name, for strength, effectiveness, rest and health - so that we may love these kids and glorify God. Who knows what great things we can all report on in 2 more yearsas we continue to ask it in His name!? I can't wait to see!


I need a bed for myself!

Hello faithful fans of our Moldova journey! We got a late start today but managed to hand crank out a few beds before the end of the day! We could use some extra prayer for health...We are fighting fatigue pretty hard and we've got a few sickies, including me... Jesus kill all the germs and give us rest! Amen.
The kids here are different than any group of kids we've been with before but I know that their special needs make them all the more special to God and to us. Tonight we introduced ourselves during our first "worship" time, and we all got sing "My Bonnie lies over the Ocean" by request from the kids! Random, but funny! We hardly remembered the words! And of course no day would be complete without a rowdy round of Ra Cha Cha Chi Boom Boom Boom... Noah building that ark has nothing on our crazy carpentry skills!!!! Bring on more beds tomorrow! Much love, Amy

Monday in Moldova

Hi everyone, this is Gloria,
We just returned from the orphanage at Ialoveni and we are all bone tired. I don't think any of us will have any trouble sleeping tonight!!
We got quite a few beds assembled. Had to disassemble the old beds. Everything had to be carried down or carried up 6 flights of stairs. Wasn't long before we were all sweating. The girls were the took 2 of us to carry up the mattresses and bed frames...the guys of course had to show off their muscles and they carried them up all by themselves. Some of the kids helped us. And a couple of the workers pitched in too. One lady put us all to shame...she carried one sheet of plywood up all the stairs by herself...the guys could barely do it, and it took 2 of us girls. But I noticed she didn't volunteer to carry anymore after that one! We sure appreciated whatever help we got!
The workers in the orphanage were so nice. One lady told us she had been working in this orphanage since 1960! She said all the children called her "grandma". We asked her when she was going to retire. She laughed and said when someone sent lots of money her way. She makes only $50-60 per month and said she needs to keep working. She cleans in the morning and cares for the children in the evening, sleeping at the orphanage.
We had a short worship service before we left. We planned to sing (I don't know how to spell any of this)
"Rotsi, rotsi, boom, boom, boom" since all the children in Moldova seem to know it and love to sing it loud.....But...this group didn't know we sang it and introduced it to them. Then the workers requested that we sing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean". How random is that!! So we did..and the workers started doing hand motions to it!! Who knew it had hand motions?! So we started improvising and adding motions. There was a group from Great Britain over earlier in the month...guess they taught it to them. We were laughing...some of our group didn't even know it.
Sweet sleep tonight!!
Love you all,

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Augutst 31

Hey everyone, It's Karen! Moldova is beautiful. It's my turn to blog and I'm excited to get to share with all my friends and family and all of those following alongside of us through the blogspot as we experience the way God works through us while we are here. Today went very quickly. The day began with a wonderful breakfast by our cook Lilia. She's an amazing cook and it's a fact none of us will be losing any weight on this mission trip. I only mention this because I know my previous trips I've been on, it's often quite the opposite- you come back much lighter then you left. So, thank you Lord for such a wonderful cook and food you have provided while we are here. We are definitely blessed!

After breakfast we headed to church. We were able to experience a Romanian wedding. It is tradition to have the wedding as part of the church service, so the church service begins normally with the wedding party entry. The church service begins with worship and a sermon and then the wedding service follows. I think we were there for 3 hr. It was neat! However, I would have loved to know what they were saying:)

We ate lunch today at Andy's Pizza. Yes, they have pizza here. It was good. We decided to dine outside and unfortunately were attacked by bees the whole lunch. This proved to be quite entertaining since many of us are afraid of bees. One of the translators was stung too!

We went to the market today which was another neat experience- today in Moldova it is Language Day. It is their celebration of the Romanian language- which is a very big deal here because there is a small split between the Russian and Romanian language and who speaks what. There is a lot of pride with the language and their independence as well. There were lots of vendors, a concert, and many people gathering downtown today. We were able to do some shopping at the market and some other stores in the middle of this celebration.

We visited the orphanage today and prepared the beds for tomorrow. We were able to glue the wooden nickels on the base boards of the beds. Sweet Sleep has made these really neat nickels to glue on the beds for the kids. They are done in Romanian so it's a neat reminder for the kids when they go to bed to be reminded of Sweet Sleep, but more importantly of God's love for them. This actually went very quickly even though we have about 180 beds to make over the week. There were a few kids around, but most of them don't come until tomorrow when school begins. It has been explained to me, because I didn't know - but orphans here are not necessarily without family, but come from families with a variety of problems such as drugs, poverty, prostitution, etc. But since the government shuts the orphanages down over the summer these kids are put into homes by the government with families that are paid to house them for the summer. And there are some kids who are put with family members that they do have.

The rest of the night was spent putting activities, crafts, and other things together for the week. We are all excited about the things we are planning to do with the kids.

Isaiah 55:9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

As we go into the week I pray that we all remember that the Lord has brought us here with a great purpose- he has prepared us with the skills we need and has hand picked each of us to do what we're doing here. I pray that we go in confidence before these kids to pronounce Him. I pray that we remember God is above any of us- his ways are above our ways and He can accomplish anything through us. I pray that the children will see Him through us and that they will experience His love and come to accept him and know him as Savior.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

We've Arrived!

This is Marilyn writing to let you know that our 11-member team has safely arrived in Moldova, along with every piece of luggage. Thank you for your prayers!

After a long but a calm and uneventful series of flights, we are already settled into the mission house, have had our first delicious Moldovan home-cooked meal, and are preparing for our first day of activity. The weather is very cool so it should be perfect for bed-building! Sunday we will attend church in the village where we will work, and we'll try to take a look at the orphanage layout so we will be well prepared for our start on Monday morning. We are all excited about the plans we've made but more excited about the plans that God will be revealing to us each day of our week here. We covet your continuing prayers and look forward to sharing our experiences with you!

In Him,

Friday, August 29, 2008

Our Sweet Sleep Mission Journey Team is on their way to Ialoveni! Please pray for safe travel as they make their way to the other side of the world these next 24 hours. We'll let you know when the team arrives safely in Chisinau. Thank you for walking alongside these volunteers as they share Christ and replace old, broken beds with beautiful new Sweet Sleep beds for 180 physically handicapped boys and girls in Moldova! Check back often for updates and posts from the team.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Team Cookout

Tonight we had our team cookout! It was nice to hang out with team members as we were able to talk more and get to know each other. Our meeting was prior to the cookout and it reminded all of us how quickly the departure date is approaching. Just 3 weeks and we'll be on a plane headed there! We all discussed some fears we had in going to Moldova tonight and it was neat to find scripture to pray over those fears. Mission trips always seem to remind us the mighty works God is capable of doing, and how unknown they are to us- what will God do with us as we go, as we work, as we play with the children? We fear the way he is going to change us through this trip- what will he do to my heart, my life, my plans? It's even quite amazing to fathom how limitless God really is- He can do anything! There is nothing He can't do! I pray that as we go we are open to letting him do whatever it is he wants to do in us, through us, for us. I pray that we will be changed, moved, and possibly gloriously wrecked (as Stuart mentions). If we can be open to allowing him to do that- I believe He will and he wants to do so much!
I look forward to going, to seeing what He is going to do, and I pray that He is preparing us for his incredible works!

Team picture of cookout!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ialoveni Mission Journey - Spaces Still Available!

We want to let everyone know that we have 3 spots left on our Mission Journey Team to Ialoveni, Moldova, August 29-September 6.

If you are interested in joining this team, please -email

Friday, July 04, 2008

drochia slideshow

better late than never. a little montage of photos from our trip to drochia.


song by shane and shane

Saturday, May 31, 2008

some photos to illustrate the last few blogs

girls in their fairy/wedding/graduation dresses

ninjas leaping thru the air and breaking burning bricks with their appendages

parker being parker and filming some livestock out in a field

miller and sabir

moldova has been very very good to us.


who WOULDN'T want to be here?!?!?

i am continually amazed by the mere opportunity that moldova as a whole presents to people like me and to us as westerners. jen, stewart, parker and i spent the morning interviewing people who have partnered with sweet sleep over the years and i was blown away by some of the things they said. hearing about all that sweet sleep has been able to do, how this ministry has blessed hundreds of orphans, teachers and churches all over moldova...and not just that, but the every growing opportunity to connect with these local churches and orphanages to implement some serious beneficial change in the lives of people here. i mean, it just floors me.
unfortunately, i am unable to post photos at this time, which almost made me not want to blog. but then i decided that anyone who ventures to read this blog HAS to know that even with everything we accomplished this week, and even with all that sweet sleep has done in the past 5 years, there is work to be done here even still. my word of advice to everyone at home is that, unless you have a really good excuse, figure out someway to get involved here. it is one of the best uses of time and resources that i can think of.

i am officially a believer in sweet sleep and moldova.

so yeah...there you go.



Imagine you're an orphan in Drochia and it's your graduation day. You've dressed up big time (a big fairytale ballroom gown if you're a girl), and there's a big ole ceremony in the orphanage courtyard. There are speeches by your teachers and the school director. There are awards given out. A local politician comes and gives a speech too. All pretty standard.
But this is not a bland American graduation, this is a Moldovan Graduation Party!!!
Next comes the dance music - real bass thumping club music. Then some of your classmates try to let off some floating chinese paper lanterns, catching one on fire in the process. Next are the guys from the military who put on a gun show where they all spin their rifles and do steps in unison. Pretty cool. BUT THEN COME THE NINJAS!!!!!!!!!!!
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we had GRADUATION NINJAS!!!!!!!!!
They ran out and performed a series of self defense reenactments, thus providing not just entertainment but real useable knowledge for the crowd. Knowledge like: how to disarm a knife wielding thug, how to beat up a couple of street toughs all by yourself, and how to take away your enemy's AK-47. But the best part of the Ninja Show was the concrete breaking. Each ninja took out a concrete tile and broke it with his head - all in a coreographed routine. Then the final "piece de resistance" - the supreme ninja lit a stack of concrete tiles on fire and smashed them all with his bare hand.
We're not in Kansas anymore...
Seriously, thought, it was a really neat experience. The local news was there. Parents and relatives came. And everyone was dressed to the nines. The graduates performed a nice ballroom dance for us. I even ended up dancing in a big circle with a bunch of people.
At the beginning of the ceremony, I kept telling Parker "This feels like the Godfather". Then they played the Godfather theme on the stereo, and we both freaked out. Not to mention that I had been sounding like Frank Pentangeli all week.
Anyways, I'm sure you can read more about the graduation in the other posts.
Leaving for the last time was hard. I said goodbye to Sabir (who plays the bass drum in the school band) and Alina and Doina. And I said goodbye to lots ofther kids.
240 beds, and a ton of smiles and hugs.
I'd say we did a good job.

The Return of the Ruracs

Since we don't have internet access at the Stepenencos, five of us are at an internet cafe in Chisinau. There is much to catch you up on. While the team went to the graduation ceremony at the oprhanage yesterday, Peter (driver/translator) and I took Mihai and Vasile home. Peter stopped on the way and bought us all cokes and chocolate croissants. The Ruracs loved it. We sang songs (lots of ra-cha-cha), drew pictures, hugged, name it. The highlight of the trip was when we rolled into Obreja Noua (the name of their village), they saw their "father" coming down the road on his bike. They both yelled out, "Tata!" which means "father" in Romanian. They were so excited to see him and told him they had missed them. He seemed genuinely happy to see them as well. I had loaded up the van with some goodies for the family - underwear and socks for the boys, a Romanian bible, chocolates, and other staples (macaroni, rice, beans, and oil), we had to drive to their house. The narrow dirt road was really hard to navigate with the van (remember...we had WALKED up to their house before), so it was a little scary. I made Peter stop at one point so I could pick some flowers for my journal. We finally got to the house and jumped out. I gave them their food and walked Mihai and Vasile to the door. They ran in to put their stuff down, and I stayed outside with Tata George. He gave me a big kiss on the cheek and thanked me for the food. I told him that I was praying for him and his family and to take care of these precious boys. He asked me if they had been good to which I replied, "Of course! They are such good boys." He told me he agreed and said they always help around the house.

I just can't tell you what a gift God gave me this week. I originally signed up for this trip because we were going to Drochia, where Mihai was. Then I found out Mihai was taken by a family. I had mixed emotions. I was glad he was in a family but wondered if this family was a "good" family and would love him. I was also selfishly sad I wouldn't get to see him. So I decided that God had other plans for this week. I hoped to see them, but didn't think much about it. I was going to be content either way. But it turns out I got to spend a whole week with them, and give SO many hugs and kisses. Mihai told me he loved me for the first time (he had always just said it in return to me). He also got to build beds with John Hataway, which was SO fun to watch.

As we pulled away from their house, I was not sad. Nor was Mihai...and I was ok with that. They stood at the gate and waved at us as we made our way down the dirt path. I feel such peace about where he is, and I didn't expect that this trip. I thank God for this precious gift.

What a wonderful week we have had! We had a GREAT team. The weather was perfect. There weren't too many kinks in our plans, which is rare for Moldova. We had tons of quality time with kids - even moreso than when we had camp! We laughed...A LOT. We built 240 beds!!! We got to hug on so many precious children and tell them God loves them. And best of all, we got to leave them with a physical reminder of that - a new bed.

God is up to some cool stuff here in Moldova. I am just so glad He has chosen me to be a part of it. You can be a part of it, too, you know. Come to Moldova. Support Sweet Sleep. Pray for the children. I assure will change your life.

Thank you for your prayers...much love to you!


Parker's last day in Moldova

This is PARKER BRADLEY coming at you from Chisinau. Can you believe the first time I've ever been in an internet cafe is right now in Moldova. I guess this is a Europe thing. What an awesome trip this has been!! So many great things are happening here! God is truly, truly at work here. And how fitting He would choose the poorest country in Europe to do His work best. The kids at Drochia were just amazing in their openness and giving hearts, even though they have so little. To look an abandoned child in the eye and tell them with the confidence that is in Christ that they are worth something and that they matter greatly to God and to others, and then to see their eyes light up in response, giving a sudden hug or taking your hand... Wow. That is what sharing the love of Christ is all about! Thanks for your prayers and for keeping up with us. You should come over here next time!! All blessings to you.

Angel Wings

It's been awhile sinced we blogged, but we have been busy!!!!!

As one of the many highlights of this trip, Sweet Sleep invited one of our previous translators, Olessa, to come and talk to the girls 5th grade and up, about how to prevent human trafficking out of Moldova, which is a HUGE problem here. Olessa now works for an NGO here called OSCE, and I can't believe how well the anti-trafficking training session went over with our 40 girls. Olessa made her talk fascinating to the girls and engaged them in some great conversations about their future plans in life. She helped them to think for themselves about the kind of women, mothers, leaders they might someday be and gave them some basic tools to make that future a reality. Olessa blessed us with her experience and her knowledge! We can't wait for people like her to keep changing Moldova, one child at a time :)

Our last day of camp was a special graduation ceremony for the Seniors (ninth grade is the highest grade for orphans here). We arrived in the morning to find the entire orphange transformed in their nicest clothes including some Cinderella-esk dresses for the senior girls. It all unfolded much like an American high school ceremony would, with awards given for academics and there were many speeches, which was all fine and dandy in the hot sun for two hours UNTIL.... 12 Ninjas unloaded from a truck and crashed the party. And by ninja, I mean NINJA. Like samari sword, black head to toe and neck snapping their way through what turned out to be a "gift" performance to the seniors by the Moldovan Special Forces Unit. Uh, it was unbelievable and also SO bizarre. "Congratulations orphans, here are some ninjas." This just goes to show you that you really never know what might happen on a trip to Moldova. Come see for yourself!

I have to say, this trip I bonded with one particular trouble maker, (read here, the new love of my life) Sergio who is 13 and a kick in the pants. After learning my name, he followed me around for three days repeating it over and over and over. By the third day, he never left my side. It's odd, but we actually had our best times without a translator present. We bonded over frisbee, hand slap games, singing songs and teaching each other Romanian/English. On the last day he asked me if I would be back and I sadly told him no, we wouldn't come back to his orphanage. He smiled and said to me "Don't cry Amy. I have Jesus in my heart and I will see you in heaven."

From the mouth of a babe. Okay, well if I wasn't already crying, I was after that. As we drove away, he called my name again and made the sign of angels wings and winked at me. See you in heaven Sergio. Praise God.

It's been a wonderful wonderful wonderful trip and I can't wait to come back. God has blessed us so greatly with health, safety, wonderful hardworking translators, great weather and an awesome team. All praise belongs to Him.

Much love, Amy

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sabir the Great

So I have a new friend named Sabir. He's about 8 or 9 years old and he comes looking for me every day as soon as we arrive. My voice is starting to return to normal, but for most of the week it's sounded like Frank Pentangeli from the Godfather. So I've been telling Sabir all about Italian recipes and complaining about the Rosato brothers; of course, he has no idea what I'm saying - he just likes the way I talk. Then he tries to do the same thing.
I also have another friend named Alina. She and I spent about an hour taking pictures this afternoon. Alina would see something interesting, run to it, take a picture, and run back to show me. Then we'd repeat the process over, and over, and over, and over, and...
And then there's Doina. I think she just likes me for my cool sunglasses and snazzy camera.
It's funny how certian orphans stick with you all week. There's no real rhyme or reason to it - it's like they decide you're going to be their "person" for the week and that's that. Next thing you know, you have a permanent, orphan-shaped appendage that was somehow attached to your body without your consent. I can think to past trips to Moldova and names start popping up in my mind: Artur, Vasile, Pasha. Sabir, Alina, Doina.
What really starts cooking my brain is when, amidst the chaos at the orphanage, I stop to consider that God probably chose to pair those particular orphans with me this week. That's when my attitude changes from annoyance to appreciation. From frustration that Doina has asked me 37 times to drink my water, to realizing that she just wants share in an experience with me.
So tomorrow, when we're trying to squeeze as much as we can out of our half day at the orphanage, I'll do my best to forget my "self" and give, give, give to these orphans. And when Sabir asks me 15 times to make a happy face and give him a hug, it will be a privilege.

orphans are my favorite

jen and i were walking around in a village outside of drochia the other day when we came across this little scene....

random bed in the middle of a field. made me feel like a scene out of a really surreal movie, or like a dream that one would have where one received some sort of vision or deep insight. anyway, it was appropriate to our mission at hand, we felt.

i have more photos on my photography blog if you care to see them. don't have enough internet juice to post photos on both blogs every night. gotta love me some dial-up....

p.s. hey roomies, i'm bringing home about 240 orphans. hope you don't mind....

Jully Fuish!

I'm a little late in the blogging game on this trip but I have a full appreciation for the saying better late than never! so I'm just gonna jump on in with some stories!

First: The AWESOME Birthday Party-
From now on I want to have all of my birthday parties here! While the boys were finishing up building the last few beds the girls went into the cafeteria to decorate. We had Nemo stuff for the boys and Princess stuff for the girls! They were so cute when they found where we had all gone and found out about the first only a handfull of kids were around so not many knew, but news travels at the speed of light in Moldova! in no time all of the kids knew and were fighting over who got to peek through the window at what all of us Americans were doing.

About 30 minutes later everything was ready and the kids came in through the tunnel formed by all of us with the exception of a few "Too cool for school" big kids and with the addition with a number of teachers who were more excited than the kids! I have the lipstick marks on my cheeks to prove that! Their excitement for something that I take for granted more often than I can even recall was so refreshing! (by thу way Moldovan chocolate pies are delicious!)

Second: Jelly Fish-
I'm sure that you are wondering why in the world the title of my blog is jelly fish...well get ready because you are about to find out! Monday, the first day, I was all excited about teaching the kids "cinci" (high five) but someone beat me o it so i had to com up with something else to impress the kids so after a little while of pondering idea after idea of what could set me apart from the rest of the group, I came up with the brilliant (ifI do say so myself) idea of Jelly Fish. So I went up to the first kid I saw and just grabbed his hand which by the look on his face seemed to be a bit out of the ordinary to him but that was ok because I couldn't understand anything he was saying about me anyways. So I had his hand and just made up a simple little handshake and then at the end I let go and made my hand look like a jelly fish and said jelly fish. He just stared at me blankly so I said "spoonya jelly fish" now what came out of his mouth sounded more like jully fuish so we practiced but it didn't really help much so i just told him good job and he went on his way. Now this didn't seem very successful so I wen to a group of kids and did it again and the same result with a little more enthusiasm came about so I made it a point to go up to every kid I saw and did the jully fuish. The next day my name was jully fuish but that was ok with me! at least I sort of made a difference!

I am so glad that I was able to and called to come back to Moldova again this summer and meet so many amazing kids and have such a great team! I am so blessed to be here and won't ever forget that! Thanks to everyone for all of the prayers that have blessed this team and all of the encouragement that we have all recieved this week from you!
Thanks For Reading! -Kelsey Drennan

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

La Biblia

Hello family and friends,

This is my first go at blogging for the trip. Today was a special day for several reasons, the first being that I received a letter from a girl named Diana (pronounced Dee-anna). I met her yesturday along with Adela and Tonya. Diana wrote me a letter thanking our team for the beds and asking for a copy of the pictures we took together. I had to ask Mya, one of our translators, to translate it into English. I was able to writе her back and I am expecting another letter tomorrow.

Besides the wonderful friends I made, I was able to help distribute Bibles to all of the children. This was exciting because we were able to really talk to them about the gospel and show them how to look up passages of scripture. I loved watching my team members faces as they were also sharing with the children because they knew that the message we were sharing was life changing. Our God never fails and will never leave them. I overheard Amy saying that she had the children read Jeremiah 29:11 in their new Bibles after showing them were it was. It is amazing to know that God has a plan for each one of those children's lives. I showed several girls my favorite Bible verse, Galations 2:20 and told them that this is the verse that I try to live by every day, giving all the glory to God. All in all it was a great day and I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for tomorrow!


Sweet aroma

Hello everyone,
We have had another wonderful day. Meghann, thank you for your sweet reply. We miss you and C.J. remembered you:) He asked Kelsey where her sister was.
Amiee, Andre has been such a blessing to us on our trip. He has opened up so much more as the week has gone by. He is downstairs now playing train dominoes and phase 10, so I will tell him what you said.
Today I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 2:14 "But thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place."
On Sunday when we visted the church they had a beautiful flower garden. There were mostly older people in the congregation, their 10 or so youth were on a mission trip in a nearby village. An older gentlemen sang a beautiful song something about a priceless pearl. No one interpretted for us during the song, so we only had his beautiful voice and contenance to go by. What a blessing. He sang acapella and every note sounded of trust in God. As we were leaving the church, another elderly man presented our team with a bouquet of the most beautiful peonies that we are still enjoying at the team house.
Then, another reminder of God's fragrance came yesterday when two teenagers jumped from behind me and presented me with a bouquet of jasmine. It smelled wonderful and we all shareв it in our hair.
These people are so loving and giving. Of all ages, the director, the teachers who appear at least 50 and above, are all so appreciative of what we are doing for them and the children. They come up to us and kiss us and talk very fast in Romanian expecting us to understand. Again, we just know from the expressions on their faces, their gestures, and the sweetness of their voices what they are trying to say. We are the first Americans some of them have met. They don't wait for a translater to help, they just converse. I smile and say DA alot!!!!
Today was a bit tiring as we had the farthest to carry all the bed parts. The children were actually not as helpful today. I think they are worn out to. Don't get me wrong, they are still very appreciative. But, school is ending for them on Friday and they all will leave the orphange until Sept. so you can tell they want to spend time with their friends saying goodbye, etc. So the bed building went a bit slower. But this amazing team of ours got over 50 done again today.

More people will blog about the wonderful time of handing out Bibles, our English lessons, and craft today. I will say that Sean and John and Galena put together a wonderful series of English lesson that the kids of all ages were so eager to learn. It went great and they definitely have learned alot. We saw them take their handouts in thу yard to share and practice with their friends.
I'll just close by saying that God is blessing our efforts. His love is fragrant and contagious. I pray that we are a "fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved" Thank you for your prayers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Double Double This This

Hello everyone,
First let me say a big happy birthday to my mom in Upton, KY. Today is her 81st birthday. I love you, Mom. You're the best. I have been mindful of you all day as I have had so many hugs and kisses from kids who have not have the love and joy you have given me all my life. I'll see you soon!!
I have read all the blogs so far and want to add just a couple thoughts from our days so far.
As said, travel went amaingly well. We even ate at a McDonald's in the Frankfort airport. Seems like they are everywhere, even in Moldova. When we landed in Moldova, we had the two hour drive to where we are staying in Balti. It was approaching dusk and I was so tired but didn't want to miss a thing on the drive. We left the capital city of Chisnau and the hustle and bustle of traffic there and soon were in the country side with mostly two lane roads with ruts (picture St. John roads but worse only these are all flat roads.) God provided the most beautiful sunset, huge big orange ball of fire, that we drove toward as it set. It reminded me of a beauitful sunset Leon and I shared in Sedona. Laborers were leaving their fields for the day, walking their cows home and women and men all carrying hoes, picks, sickles, etc.
There is a different rhythm to this country. The fields are beautiful and the people go about their work diligently. There are acres and acres of sunflower fields and vineyards. It is early spring here and the crops are a foot high at best. I so enjoy our drive each morning and evening to our village of Drochia (about 30+ minutes) because the tree lined roads and fields are so peaceful. And, I am always looking for the horse drawn carts loaded with their results from the days work. The people are always already at work hoeing in the fields by 8:00 as we drive out and then again in the evening at 6 are still at it and/or finishing. Women in skirts, headscarfs, sto ckings, etc. This morning I say a young women pulling a hand plow while the older woman was behind her guiding it straight. I have seen a few tractors, too.
Okay, now for the great part, the kids at the orphanage. They are filled with so much love and eager to learn whatever English they can. I've asked and many of these kids have never seen Americans, but the French have been here.
We carry our bed parts: headboards, footboards, side rails, thick particle board for the foam mattresses to lie on, the foam mattresses, and bedding from the cafeteria area across the dirt rocky, yard to the dorms. We began on the third floor and worked our way down. The team is amazingly organized and after the kids caught the hang of what we were doing, it was even easier today. I would round the corner with parts, and they would take them from me and head upstairs. I must say I was extremely thankful today for that. Last night I was so tired, I literally put my adidas workout pants on backwards! That won't surprise a couple of you a bit.
Today was fun. The kids are trying to learn more English. Today I got a group around and we counted in English over and over. They loved that. And, Kelsey taught them a hand game: double double this this, double double that that, etc. That has been a great game We haven't pulled out the dot to dot yet as we have been so busy building the beds. Today, we finally had time to do a little crafts: pony bead necklaces and color sheets.
One last thing. The kids are so excited about their beds, that they took out more of their old beds yesterday than we had time to replace. I think the director found them a place to sleep for the night. I asked the kids who had beds last night how they slept and they said great with huge smiles, grins, and hugs. One boy told me they didn't make noise.
It seems what little we give of ourselves: this or that, God is literally doubling. We are getting so much done under His power. Thank you for youк prayers. Kelsey aтв I are having sucha wonderful time, even better than last year and that's saying alot.
Much Love,

Beds on Fire....

That's right my friends, after another day of hard work and beautiful weather, we smogged up the atmosphere with a total of 131 smoking matresses. We still have a few to go but I can't tell you the joy it brought me to see those stinking, rotten, digusting, smelly, and just plain wrong piles of bedding in a smoldering heap. Injustice burning. It felt like permanent freedom for each of those kids. The director of the orphanage told us the beds were over 50 years old. Goodbye and good ridance.... I couldn't wait to spread the news to the rest of the team that our precious and so dear copi would never ever sleep in them again! ANd for that, we give all the praise to God!

I swear these kids get smarter and cuter and more huggable each time I come here.
While we were making the pretty pink beds today, one girl around 10 or so started crying in frustration because she couldn't get her bedspread to look right inside of her duvet cover. After making it right we snuggled in her new bed together with her head on my shoulder... she hasn't left my side since! More to come... Sweet sleep tonight.... Eimy ( how they spelll my name here)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Is This Really My Job?

I had to blog today because today was my first day of building beds as a Sweet Sleep employee. Woo hoo! I came on this trip to pretty much be in charge of the bed building part of it, and today I ended up pretty much in charge of everything since Jen was gone allllllll day long hunting down a Rurac with Emily and СJ (see Emily’s blog below for the play-by-play on that little adventure). I don’t mean to sound like I’m the great bed building expert and I spent the day telling everyone what to do. We have a great team and they don’t need that from me. But still, it was exciting for me to be left on my own as the guy from Sweet Sleep and to really start to feel like this is what I do. Overall, we had a really good day of building beds and I know that with this team, the rest will go smoothly as well.

I also met three very sweet teenage girls named Alina, Elena, and Vica. They helped us build the beds for their room and proudly showed me things their sponsors had sent them. I’ve said to may people before that I feel very strongly that men need to come on these trips and provide, at least for a week, the kind of male influence and guidance that they so rarely get in their lives. I believe this is true for both the boys and the girls, and today I was reminded of that as I spent time with Alina, Elena, and Vica. So many of the girls here end up tricked or trapped into sex trafficking and they need to know that a man can and should love and respect them for who they are, not for what they can do with their bodies. I hope to be able to impart at least some of that to them this week.

That’s it for me tonight. And as always, I want to thank D’Ann and my boys for supporting me in this work. I know it’s hard on all of you for me to be away, and couldn’t do this without you.


Operation: Rescue a Rurac

When we got to the orphanage this morning, Jen approached me and said, "How much do you love me?”

“Uhhh…a lot…duh. Why?”

“Because you’re coming with me and CJ. We’re going to go find a restaurant for lunch, put our order in, and then go pick up a Rurac.”

It took a second for that to sink in.

“What?! Are you serious?!”

“I’m totally serious.”

I gave her a big hug but I still wouldn’t let myself too excited.

(For those of you who don’t know me, Mihai Rurac is a boy I have known, loved dearly, and sponsored for three years now)

So off we went down the bumpy road to Falesti. Our first stop was the Social Assistant (aka – gatekeeper of Mihai). Luckily Emilie (don’t you love her already?) was a really nice lady and extremely helpful. After about 30 minutes, 20 phone calls, and for me a trip to the bathroom that was a very bad idea, we headed to the orphanage in Falesti to pick up a social worker who would take us to…are you ready for this? Mihai’s new house!!

The 30 minute drive took us to a small village outside Falesti. The village was actually not far at all, but the roads were SSSOOOO bumpy that it took forever. We eventually reached roads impassable by car, so we got out on foot and followed a muddy path to the house. Although it wasn’t all mud, because some horses had left some welcome presents for us along the way…if you know what I mean.

My heart was pounding, and I could hardly believe what was happening. Not only was I going to get to see Mihai…I was going to get to meet his new family!

We walked through the gate, and I immediately recognized one of the girls (this family took in Lena and Tania - sisters - and Mihai and Vasile - brothers - from the Falesti orphanage). It didn’t take too long before a Rurac came flying around the corner screaming, “EMILY!! EMILY!!” Oh my stars…it was my boy. :) That was one of the best hugs I’ve ever gotten!

I met his mother, Angela, and father, George. I watched Mihai pick strawberries. I saw their garden and their chicken coop. I went in their house and saw where little Mihai lays his head down every night. I saw the table where they have meals together. I heard him call Angela “Mama.” I watched him eat a home cooked meal.

I saw a happy family.

And as if one Rurac isn’t enough, Vasile came home from school (he had stayed later than Mihai because of some test or something…I never quite figured that out) and that made two Ruracs! Angela and George agreed to Mihai and Vasile come back with us to Drochia. So they packed their bags, we took a family photo on the steps, and piled in the van for the bumpy ride back to Drochia. By the time we got back, most of the bed-building was finished for the day. I felt bad having missed that, but it was worth it to get to see my boy.

And may I just say how beautiful the beds are?! The linens are the prettiest I’ve seen so far. I really wish you could see them for yourself. Pictures never do justice.

We finally capped off the day with an impromptu worship time with the kids, complete with ra-cha-cha.

We are really looking forward to the rest of the week and what joys lie ahead.

Thank you for your prayers…they mean more than you know.

This is PARKER BRADLEY again blogging for the second time in my life. We had great time today building beds and working with all the kids in the orphanage. It was crazy! They were haulin' the old beds out while we were bringin' the new ones in. The boys were especially proud of their new beds and celebrated with a colossal pillow fight and the girls hugged every sheet, pillow and blanket. They were so happy! The director of the orphanage and her team were speechless for a time at how well the beds looked and the at the overall excitement of the kids. Today was a great start to the week, but we were dead tired at the end of it. 54 beds total, 186 to go! Keep us in your prayers!!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday in Moldova

Today was a beautiful Sunday here in sunny (and pleasantly cool) Moldova. We began the day with an excellent home cooked breakfast and then loaded up the buses (technically vans, I think--I'm not really sure where the line of distinction should be drawn there).

Our destination was our partner church in Drochia. This was my (by the way, this is John, in case you were wondering) first time in a church service in Moldova, which is fitting given that it's my first time in Moldova.

The service was similar to what we have at home, but slightly reorganized and substantially extended. If there had been an official order of service, it would've gone something like this:
1) Singing
2) Welcome/Introduction
3) Singing
4) Introduction from our team to the church
5) Singing
6) Sermon #1
7) Singing
8) Singing (this time led by our team)
9) Singing (specifically for the 70+ crowd)
10) Sermon #2
11) Song/Offering
12) Closing

Note that there were additional 'mini-sermons' built in to this schedule that I can't fully classify due to my lack of Russian fluency. Also note that except for items 4 & 8, the above were all in Russian (ok, or maybe some Romanian as well). Thankfully, our translators were sitting with us; so we did our best to pay attention to both the preacher and the translators.

Despite the differences of format and language, the love of the people in the church was definitely visible for us. They welcomed us with open arms and prayed for us and our mission this week. Additionally, they spoke and prayed about how our work this week would be visible to the greater community--showing many people the love of God through our work (a prayer echoed by this team).

After church, we decided to go to a great little local spot for lunch. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn't really have a desire to serve us. This seemed a little odd, and seemed moreso when the next restaurant refused as well. I'm fairly sure we all took showers and had on clean clothes, so I'm not sure what the problem was.

Having given up on having lunch in Drochia, we returned to Balti and ate at Andy's Pizza. (In case you were wondering, Andy wasn't there--apparently Andy doesn't own Andy's Pizza anymore.) The food and fellowship was great. (If you're in the area, the Rancho pizza--hold the mushrooms--is a good choice. I'd also recommend the potato balls. Imagine fried round bits of potato--yum!)

Finally, we returned to the team house for some rest and preparation for our work this week. We closed out the evening by having dinner at another restaurant (accepted on the first try, this time) and then returning to the team house to fellowship and then head to bed.

I think that today set up the rest of the week very well: the team is working very well together and the people we've met so far are amazing in their willingness to welcome and serve.

God is definitely here (not that that fact was ever in question) and I know He's going to be using us this week. Thanks to all of you for all of your prayers both in preparation for this trip and while we're over here.

To paraphrase one of our translators, saying that God has a plan here is like saying wet water.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

This is PARKER BRADLEY writing under Emily's name beacause to sign in is so slow here. Whew! We made it!! 24 hours of airplanes, airports and bumpy bus rides, and we are here. Everyone is pooped, but the energy is still there somewhere and everyone is talking about the upcoming week. We start bed building in earnest on Monday, so I'll blog later on those events. Right now, I'm going to bed! Thanks for your prayers!!

Safe and Sound

Yes, it's true...we're here in Balti at the team house. We're stinky and tired, but we're are all of our bags! Praise God for that. There's really not much to type yet, so we'll type more later. I mainly just wanted to let everyone know we're here, we're safe, and we're healthy. So thank you for your prayers. And may I just say it is always good to be back in Moldova. It is SO green here...just gorgeous. Ok, off to clean up and head to bed. Nopta Buna!!



PS - Happy Birthday to Duncan and Hadley tomorrow!!!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Preparing For DROCHIA

My last experience with Drochia came in February 2007. In preparing for the March 2007 trip to Falesti, we found out that some of the Falesti kids had been sent up to Drochia. Having heard rumors and stories about this particular orphanage, we wanted to do our best to convince the orphanage director in Falesti to get those kids moved back. So we used the promise of new beds as a bargaining chip: if the director would arrange for the children to be moved back to Falesti, we would build new beds for all of them. We were able to get most of them moved back, but some remained in Drochia...

So here I am a year later, preparing to go to the one orphanage about which I've heard so many bad things. Having been to Moldova four times before, I know what to expect in the way of travel fatigue, culture shock, different food, orphan living conditions, etc. But the big uncertainty of this trip for me is what this orphanage in Drochia will be like.

Will the director and staff be receptive to us?
Will the orphanage look (and smell) like all the others I've seen in Moldova, or will this one be different?
Will the local volunteers be willing to work with us, and will they be willing to commit to ongoing ministry at this orphanage?
Will our team work well together, and will we accomplish our goals?
And most importantly, will we be willing to go as God leads, according to His purpose and His plan?

I have no doubts about our team's ability to shine a light into the lives of the children living in Drochia, but for some reason I've been particularly burdened about the staff at this orphanage. I pray that we as individuals and collectively as a team will influence their lives as well. Lord, prepare us to be ready to share the joy of Christ with whomever and wherever You give us an opportunity.

I'll be lone team member not coming from Nashville - instead, I'll be flying out of Portland, Oregon. So to the rest of the team I say: enjoy the Packing Party, prepare as much as you can, and then realize once that plane leaves the ground, you are no longer in control - and that's the way God wants it.

I'll see y'all in Chicago.

Friday, April 04, 2008

the end of the road...

i think i speak for the whole team when i say this week has flown by. this trip has totally blown my expectations in every way. 6 months ago, i'd never heard of moldova. today i am in love with it.
since we finished the beds at casa de copii so quickly, we have had the last few days to spend at internat #2 with a few of the kids that people from our team have built relationships with over the years. it was fabulous to finally see the place i had heard so much about. somewhere along the way i found myself attached to the sweetest 10-year-old, freckle-faced, red-headed boy named Eugen. we barely left each other's side for 2 days straight.
we snatched up several of the internat kids, including eugen, and took them to a local "retirement home" type place. it was such a dark, damp and depressing place.
basically, these elderly people were sent to this place to live out the rest of their days and die. so sad! so we went with the kids to pass out bananas and cookies and let them know that God loves them. the kids got really into it. we have spent the last few days pouring into them in so many ways, so it was amazing to see these kids give of themselves so freely to these elderly people who are even less fortunate. i couldn't understand a word said, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that we were making some people's day.

trying to write this blog is like trying to pull stubborn molars out of the deep recesses of the gums waaaay in the back of your mouth. a combination of exhaustion, emotion and a general lack of words worthy of the experience makes it a really difficult story to tell. i am thankful for the ability to photograph all that i have seen here as a means of communicating the beauty of this place. i pray that God uses my photos to touch the hearts of those who can come behind me and continue the work to make a difference here in moldova.

the moral of the story is, my heart is in pieces--in a good way. i've fallen in love, and come out a better person for it.
AND!! i have begun the process of sponsoring the best kid ever!
i never thought i would be so moved...i just might have to come back here. and God willing, sooner than later.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

La Revedere "Casa de Copii"

Today we said good-bye to our friends at Casa de Copii. It was a day full of pain, beauty, tears and peace.
This was our day in Orhei...

We started our day by sharing with other team members how we had seen God move and work in their lives this week. What a great way to start our day - encouraging each other. After the hour drive to Orhei, we prepared for a "Birthday Party." Now I know it might seem a bit cheesy to say we ended our week with a birthday party for the kids, but let me tell you more. We hung banners, posters, put on some kids music and got ready for more than 250 kids to join us for our party. We had to have two parties to get everyone in the auditorium - or sala festiva. :) Such a happy name - it was screaming for a party. This is the room we built the beds in - a room the teacher's said is never used. That was really sad, but we brought this room back to life this morning.

As the children filed in, we gave them bananas and cookies. Some could open and eat their "birthday presents." Some had to have help from teachers or friends. I've never seen such helpful people than the kids that live at Casa de Copii - kids wheeling their friends around, leading them into the room, even carrying friends out of their wheelchairs and helping them find a place to sit. Our team helped, too and soon bananas were squishing and flying and smiles were growing and growing. It was amazing.

Lauren then shared with the kids why we had come to build beds - not just to provide new beds, but to share with them how much we love them, their local church right down the road "Good News" Baptist Church loves them, and how much God loves them more than they could ever imagine - although I know some of the have a better grasp on this than I do.

Then I shared with the kids why we were having a birthday party - that since we were headed back to America, we wouldn't get to be with them on each of their birthdays and we wanted to celebrate with them. They looked confused. I explained that God had created each of them and that each one of them was special, thus each of their birthdays was special. Their eyes brightened. Imagine this birthday party with hundreds of handicapped boys who may have never had anyone celebrate them or the day they were born - the day God brought them into this world. It was beautiful. We sang Happy Birthday in English, then our translators sang in Romanian. Teachers throughout the morning continuously thanked us for the beds and for our work, as did the kids and young me that call this place home.

After this, we delivered yogurt to the boys who were immobile - the hundred or so kids who are confined to their beds or bed-wheelchairs. This pretty much terrified me. But Sam really wanted to see a little boy he connected with this week, Lilian, who was 5 years old and probably only weighed 25 pounds. He has a beautiful smile and lights up when you ask his name and he barely mumbles out "liyan." Every bite of yogurt Sam fed him made the little buddy beam with joy. Then it was time for a sad good-bye and on to bring more yogurt to kids. As team members filed off to different rooms, it was down to Sam and me again with Anton, our translator. We were being led to a place called "Isolator."

It was a dark hallway with white doors that reminded me of a concentration camp. When we got to the first room, we could see a couple of boys peeking out of their beds. A nurse called us in and we began to feed the boys. I didn't think we would actually be the ones feeding them... I was so nervous! We asked them their names, but they couldn't speak. The nurse spoke for them. She told us she didn't know their ages but that they were paralyzed. She pulled the sheet down to expose their shriveled legs curled underneath them, which made them quite uncomfortable. But I faced my fear head on and began to feed yogurt to this little boy. He could barely swallow so I let the yogurt fall off the spoon into his mouth. He ate every bite with as much of a grin as he could muster. The nurse asked to help sam to speed up the obviously difficult time for us, but he politely said "no" and continued spending time with his boy and feeding him his peach yogurt. On the way out, we asked if the boys were there for a short time or always there. The nurse told our translator that they were there because they would die soon. I wanted to be sad, and I really wanted to cry, but I was instead filled with hope for these children that would soon run into the arms of Jesus - coming to him as little children - literally - and receiving their new bodies in Heaven. No more pain. No tears. No trouble swallowing... Just eternity with their loving Father.

We prayed before we left this place, giving up these children to the Lord. A couple of the older boys joined us -- it was a great time praying with them. We cried and hugged them and knew we could not promise we'd see them again, but knew God would take care of them and be with them. And while we were only able to build half of the beds needed for these boys this week, thanks to the amazing volunteers from the church in Orhei, these boys will hopefully receive their beds sooner than we are able to return. They volunteered excitedly this morning to mobilize their church to build the rest of the beds needed as soon as possible.

Our afternoon was in sharp contrast to our week, as we visited the children at Chisinau's Internat #2. These are fully functioning children, dressed pretty well, smiling, playing, studying, waving. The lives of these children look drastically different because of the work of so many friends over the last few years. While the contrast was great, many who had never been to this orphanage made new friends quickly. When we first arrived, we were treated to one of the most amazing things I've seen in Moldova - listening to the orphanage band practice for their upcoming concert. :) The boys proudly played a song and it was fantastic. A little boy sang to the music, looking at his words then danced to the music. The director apologized for the music - it was their first time through. But it was amazing. They then played a Moldovan wedding fanfare, that their teacher wrote, and it was fantastic. I had a couple of tearful moments thinking about the amazingly gifted man that has given his life to teach music to these boys and the amazingly talented orphans sitting in this room. One of the boys pointed out the empty chair where Dennis, our newly adopted son, used to sit and play. I wanted so badly to take that chair home. I miss Dennis so much this week and while I've had an amazing experience, I miss Dennis and my wife, Emily, since I've experienced so much of this place with them.

I realized as we prayed tonight after dinner that all of my expectations were blown away this week. I did not expect to be moved, I did not expect to push myself to work harder, move beds faster, make "hospital corners" on beds for these boys (and to make my wife proud!), and to find myself loving these boys who couldn't make a sentence in romanian, more less english, just as much as my son and my friends in Chisinau. So I hugged kids in wheel chairs, took pictures with "little buddies" and loved this last day like never before.

I am reminded today just how much a bed can change the life of a child. Look at the pictures Hannah has taken on this trip and see the joy, the comfort and the peace these children have found in their new beds. When I sat on the bed with a boy who hadn't smiled all week I thought - this isn't going to work. He won't even look at me. I rubbed his arm and just sat with him. A teacher helped me take his shoes off and helped me help him lie down. When he put his head on his new pillow and slid under his covers, he smiled, turned his head, and was drifting off to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. Sweet sleep has arrived for these boys, many for the first time.

Thank you for praying for us. We are excited to be coming home to share with you all that we have experienced (although I'm sure you're thinking I couldn't have possibly left anything out!).
This trip could not have been possible without your prayers, our friends at Kairos who raised every dollar for the beds for these boys, and our church partners at Brentwood Baptist and "Good News" Baptist Church in Orhei.

May God bless each of you and show you a glimpse of who He is and what He is doing in this country today.

Noapte Buna, (Good Night) :)

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Matthew 19:13-15