From Moldova

behind-the-scenes-of-the-2016-jmi-gala

Behind the Scenes of the 2016 JMI Gala

Every year we host the Justice & Mercy International Benefit Gala in order to raise money for all the mission work we do in Moldova, the Amazon and South Africa. It has become one of my favorite weeks of the year. Our National Directors – Alina, and her husband Vlad in Moldova; and Sarah, and her husband Magno in the Amazon – come all the way to the United States to attend and share about the work they do. These people are so special to me personally, and to our whole church family. In addition, we have people come in from Reston Bible Church as well as other JMI partner churches and so many friends from out-of-town who go on mission trips and invest in the work. It has become like a giant Family Reunion! All united in Christ and with a common desire to make a difference in His Name.

The Gala is our biggest fundraising event of the year and there is a lot that goes into making it happen. Our JMI and our Rolling Hills Staff Teams all work hard because we believe in what God has called us to. Along with this, it takes close to 100 volunteers – most of whom go on mission trips and sponsor children through JMI. The fact is, we all sincerely love the people we go to serve. The precious orphan children in Moldova, the pastors in the Amazon, the poor and forgotten in South Africa – they are truly our friends. We love them, and we know what a difference this night can make in their lives.

But, the Gala is also a lot of fun. When you are serving with people you love, united in a cause bigger than yourself and you see God do miracles in people’s lives, of course it’s fun! It is not work, but a calling and a passion.

Here are a few of the behind the scenes fun moments as we prepare for the Gala:

Taking our National Directors out to experience some good old American fun:

img_5392 img_5399 img_5402img_5400

 

Setting up in the auditorium with staff teams and volunteers – it’s all hands on deck

img_3072 img_3081 img_3071

 

Serving with people we love

14480535_10154048972632972_8289249172069063676_o 14500605_10154048973332972_7018553867123374493_o 14470566_10210755290067961_2097720990180822375_n 14435060_10157507517130015_4436330823453532996_o

Praise God for allowing us to be involved in what He is doing in the world. When Christ is transforming lives there is nothing like it! There is no place in the world that I would rather be than serving our God with people I love and seeing lives redeemed for His glory. Thank You, Father! Get involved. Jump in because serving God is awesome! Go on a mission trip, sponsor a child, serve locally, but do something. You will have a great time serving, and God will impact lives through you. We are better together.

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Psalm 84:10

Lastly, here is a message from one of our good friends about giving to JMI:

unspecified-1

Do something today that your future self will thank you for.

We hired a Moldovan Band…

It was graduation night in Moldova. There were 11 students graduating from our Justice & Mercy International Transitional Living program and moving into the Independent Living program. All of these kids grew up in the orphanages throughout Moldova. They never had much of a chance of success – until now. And, this called for a celebration!

In Moldova, the statistics of what happens to kids when they have to leave the orphanages at age 15 or 16 are overwhelming. Sex-trafficking. Organized crime. Suicide. But, through JMI and by God’s grace we are seeing that change. Surrounded by their 12 Moldovan Staff Leaders – house parents, social worker, phycologist, vocational director and more – as well as 31 Americans (our Mission Team from Rolling Hills), and 50 of the other transitional living and independent living students, these 11 graduates received their diplomas.

This marked a huge milestone for them. In the program, they have been discipled in Christ, learned to speak English, received additional education (high school equivalent) and been taught character, self-esteem, work ethic and integrity. These kids are sharp, and they are ready. Most people with any ounce of initiative in Moldova merely leave the country. But these kids are now prepared to change the country.

So, we hired a Moldovan band and we made it a celebration! These graduates are just as smart, talented and gifted as anyone their age in America. The difference – opportunity and someone to believe in them. In the America, many kids have parents who teach them, give them advice and believe they can do anything. In Moldova, these kids don’t have parents, or really anyone who believes in them. In America, our kids have opportunities for college, universities, and well-paying jobs. In Moldova, you need connections to attain more eduction and good jobs are hard to come by. In fact, a decent paying job can range from $100 to $300 a month. A month! Think about trying to live on that.

But, now these kids have three things necessary to succeed: 1. Jesus – they know Christ and He is with them. They know an inner peace, a joy and a purpose in life. 2. An opportunity – because of JMI they have access to universities (we even have one graduate going to med school) and through our vocation director, access to good jobs. 3. Someone to believe in them – because of having a sponsor (an American Christ-follower who has been helping them) and because of our JMI Staff in Moldova, they have people who believe in them. And, if you have someone who believes in you, there is nothing that can stop you!

IMG_5193Therefore, we had to hire a Moldovan band and celebrate. And celebrate we did. We had food, a big JMI cake and lots of Moldovan & Russian traditional dances. Everyone loved it! All the kids were in awe. Most of them have never had a birthday party in their life, much less a huge celebration. We wanted to mark the moment and to let the graduate know that they are valued and celebrated for their hard work. Also, we wanted to set the stage for the ones coming behind them. The American high school seniors on our team said it was better than their prom at home. It really was one of the best nights ever!

I think this is so much like our God. Remember, when the prodigal son came home, what did the Dad do? He threw a party. And, I bet his party was incredible! There was food (fatted calf), and I bet a cake, and I am sure traditional dances – and who knows, maybe even a Moldovan band with a xylophone and a violin. I am sure that this party was better than prom. How awesome that we have a God who gives us His Son, who offers us the opportunity to be adopted into His family, and who believes in us. This should cause us to celebrate! As well as to throw parties for those who, because of His love and grace, now have a hope and a future. You see, we had to hire a Moldovan band!

 

“She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head,And whispered to her neighbor_ %22Winter is dead.”

Changing a Country

My first time to Moldova was in 2003. On that trip, I knew that God had a huge heart for the precious orphan children I met and a huge calling for us, a baby church in Middle Tennessee. I must admit that before that trip, I knew very little about this small country in Eastern Europe. But, it was the statistic that 60% of girls trafficked into prostitution in Eastern Europe come out of this country of 4 million and then meeting some of these vulnerable children that truly grabbed my heart. Not only the girls, but also the boys are in danger of trafficking, organized crime and even suicide. I have returned every year since my first trip and our church, Rolling Hills, has been sending mission teams multiple times a year. By God’s grace, we have had a front-row seat to see Him change an entire country.

Camps for Orphans and Vulnerable Children with Mission Teams

unspecified-1I am writing this on a plane returning home with one of our summer mission teams. From the first year, the prioritization of taking mission teams from Rolling Hills and other churches has been the basic building block. By hosting camps at various orphanages throughout Moldova, we have been able to share the Gospel and to see countless young men and women commit their lives to Christ. Having a spiritual foundation is the essence of a person’s worth and value. Christ has transformed their lives with His love, just as He has for each of us. We have seen God changing Moldova, one life at a time.

Mission teams have also allowed us to connect with children in order to hear their story and see the depth of their need. Through individuals who have served on one of our teams, we have been able to meet physical needs with clothes and food as well as to foster on-going discipleship by connecting Christ-followers in America with these children. This has allowed us to meet pastors in area villages who have helped identify the need. I am so thankful for the hundreds of people who have gone to Moldova to serve – God has used you and continues to use your prayers, love and support. You are a part of God’s bigger story for this country.

Sponsoring Children

After a few years of taking mission teams to serve in Moldova, we quickly realized that we had to do more. These kids were coming to know Christ, and we were able to give food and clothes, but they had long-term needs at the risk of not being met. In 2008, we started a non-profit called Justice & Mercy International. The first role of JMI was to hire a National Director and begin a sponsorship program. This sponsorship program has solidified the connection between an American (sponsor) and a vulnerable child in Moldova. This sponsor becomes a surrogate “parent” to the child providing resources for clothes, food and advice. Through letter writing and connecting a JMI staff member with the child, the child’s future is being impacted. Today almost 400 children are being sponsored through JMI in Moldova.

Different from great organizations like International Justice Mission (IJM) who rescue trafficked children from brothels, we are endeavoring to be on the front end – protecting the children and preventing them from ever having to experience the hurt and tragedy of this abominable situation. And, by God’s grace, it is working. Lives are being saved – spiritually and physically!

Transitional Living Homes

Through JMI, we were able to start a Transitional Living Home for when children outgrow and have to leave the orphanages at age 15 or 16 – their most vulnerable time in life. Today, we have a home for girls (The Grace House) and a home for boys (Boys to Leaders). The Transitional Living program is two to three years of providing a place for the child to live, a mentor (House parent), enrolling in additional school (“college”), teaching them English and spiritual discipleship. We have over 30 girls and boys currently living in our transitional living homes.

Independent Living

unspecified-3After the children graduate from the Transitional Home, they can move into an independent living apartment with others from the program. This allows them to learn how to live in an independent setting with the help of a social worker, vocational director and additional education. We have close 20 boys and girls in independent living apartments. It is exciting to see these kids growing up, exceling in school and attaining jobs in areas of influence – education, local churches and even government jobs.

By God’s grace, it is working!

Last night was an amazing celebration for JMI in Moldova. Our Mission Team shared in a graduation party at the Grace House for 11 graduates of the Transitional Living program. With caps and gowns, the graduates came out onto our stage in the back courtyard. With about 80 people present, we applauded the graduates for their hard work, prayed over them and blessed them. There was not a dry eye in the place. It was incredibly special!

unspecified-2Graduates like Ejor. Ejor grew up in the orphanage in Baltsi. He came to know Christ through one of our Rolling Hills mission teams. He has been in the JMI program for three years, and his English has progressed to the point where he now serves as a translator for JMI. In fact, Ejor leads worship at the Camps that our mission teams host in different orphanages and villages. Kids in Moldova are drawn to Ejor, and God is using him to impact the next generation there.

Graduates like Elijah. Eli grew up in the orphanage at Internat 2. This was our first orphanage in 2003, and we served at this Camp for 9 years in a row. I have watched Eli grow up. I met him when he was 8. He told me at graduation, “You were the first man who ever said he was proud of me.” These kids, just like all of us, simply need someone to believe in them. Eli was also one of our translators for the week and leading other kids to Christ.

unspecifiedAt the graduation that night, Elena and Ion came to visit. Elena was one of our first girls in the Grace House in 2010. Since she graduated from the program herself, she has gone on to marry Ion (a godly man) and just completed her Masters in education. Next month, Elena and Ion are the leaders of a Camp at their Moldovan church for 125 children in their community.

After the graduation, we had a big celebration. We had a Moldovan band, and all 80 of us danced traditional Moldovan dances. We had a cake to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the NGO status of JMI’s work in Moldova. I stood looking around at everyone laughing and having so much joy, and thought, “Only God.” Only God can change an orphan’s life and only God can change a country.

We certainly have a long way to go, but we take motivation from the fact that Moldova used to be known for sending orphan and vulnerable children into the sex slave trade, and now we are seeing Christ transform these young lives so that this country will be known for sending missionaries for Christ. Through the leadership of these young followers of Christ who are now getting jobs in education, business and government, and volunteering in their local churches, with American mission teams in orphanages and sponsoring vulnerable children themselves, we are seeing a new Moldova emerging – one with a hope and a future. God is changing this country, and we all have a part to play in His bigger story for this country. Get involved and join in what God is doing. Don’t miss it – God is changing a country!

 

IMG_4027

Lena from Moldova

I first met Lena in an orphanage in Moldova about 7 years ago. We had two mission teams from church—one that served in the Falesti orphanage and the other in an orphanage in the capital city of Chisinau (which was the one I served with). This was our third year serving in these orphanages, each time leading a week-long camp for the children there. One day, I drove to Falesti (three hours North of Chisinau) to see our team and meet the kids I had heard so much about. This was when I first met Lena. She was young, happy, smart, athletic and funny. She was always wearing a smile. There were so many wonderful children, but there was something about Lena.

5x_bsG66gwGZae-PUcr9TP3_MDO1CxMcMaF_sqsWjg4The following year, our team noticed Lena walking with a slight limp. When asking her teachers, the answers were vague, basically just that she was hurting. She had been to a few Moldovan doctors, but they could not identify the problem. The following year, Lena was having a hard time getting around at all. Her health was deteriorating, and no one seemed to have any answers.

On our next visit, our team brought along a wheelchair. Although it was a blessing, it was still difficult to get around as Moldova is not really a handicap-accesible place. The camp was outside and the terrain, rugged. There were no ramps into dorm rooms or the cafeteria. The orphanage also had no ramps or places to make wheelchairs easily maneuverable.

We were not going to give up! The following year, our team brought a more rugged, durable wheelchair, but at this point the greater concern was for Lena’s health. We knew there had to be answers, but the reality was that they did not have the technology or medical professionals in Moldova to truly help Lena. If she stayed in Moldova, Lena, being an orphan, would have spent her life in an adult institution.

swkflUS0ith4uQ4wrVvPsyChX55Ycug38TlljHat560Alva Duke, a member of our church who had been serving at the orphanage each year, was determined not to let this be Lena’s fate. She had fallen in love with this sweet girl and had been praying for her since they first met. She was the one who made sure Lena had a wheelchair in the first place. In the U.S., Alva headed up a non-profit for children with disabilities, which she had started about fifteen years prior. It is amazing how God made sure these two would meet. Of all the places in the world and all the people in the world—He knew. He was making a divine connection and taking care of His precious child.

Alva and her husband, Mark, made a decision to begin the process of bringing Lena to the U.S. This would not be an easy process and would take no less than a miracle, dealing with an orphan and the Moldovan government, but they knew Lena’s life was hanging in the balance.

By God’s grace, Alva and Mark were able to bring her here about three years ago. They took her to meet with a few specialists at Vanderbilt University Hospital, who were able to help slow down the degenerative muscle loss that she was experiencing. Although she still uses her wheelchair, she is able to navigate much better here and her condition has stabilized.

Today, Lena is thriving. She is active in church and high school, always surrounded by friends. She is fluent in English and is still wearing her beautiful smile. Lena loves God and is thankful for her new opportunity at life, knowing that God has an amazing plan for her.

IMG_4027

This past Sunday, myself and Chase Baker, our Student Pastor, had the joy of baptizing Lena in Christ. She is truly a miracle. God is transforming her life spiritually and physically and I can not wait to see what more He has in store for her.

I will be forever grateful for Alva & Mark lifting this precious girl up in Jesus’ name. They are two of the most godly fellow-servants of Christ, and I love them both. I am forever grateful for Lena’s joy, bravery and hope. She inspires me, and I can clearly see how God truly has His hand on her life. And, I am forever grateful to a God who sees the broken and hurting, and redeems and restores. He has transformed Lena’s life (and mine in the process), and is not through yet.

God is still working miracles, and He is inviting you and me to join in.

IMG_3073

Moldova – A Journey of Change

“A long obedience in the same direction.” – Eugene Peterson

IMG_3073

I am writing this post on the plane home from Chisinau, Moldova. We have been flying all day/night, so I am a little tired, but even more grateful. This was my 15th time to serve our God in this precious country of Moldova. When I boarded my first flight to Moldova in 2003, I could have never dreamed what God would do in this country, in His church and in my life in just 12 years. Through these years, so much has changed…

So much has changed in Moldova:

Returning from my first trip, I bought a painting in the art market. We were flying Air Moldova – an unmarked white plane simply with black numbers on it. We were dropped off in Germany on the tarmac by the FedEx and UPS planes. Once we made it inside the terminal, I realized I left my painting, so I ran to the closest ticket counter and asked a Lufthansa agent if she could call Air Moldova. Her response was, “Air Moldova, yuk!” I believe her statement summed up her attitude, as well as so many others’, about this small country between Romania and the Ukraine.

IMG_2945Back then, and still even today, Moldova was known for human trafficking. This poor country, with such beautiful children, is pillaged by evil people bent on personal gain. Even writing about it breaks my heart. It elicits emotions of anger, sympathy and prayer. The reason for much of it is the huge orphan population. True orphans, as well as social orphans, fill the country. Poverty (this is the smallest and poorest country in the former Soviet Union), extreme alcoholism and corruption all play a part, and the result is beautiful children that are left with no hope and no future.

The first year we served at a Camp outside of Chisinau where orphan children would go during the summer. The facilities were dilapidated and the children slept two to a single bed. I can still remember being there in the early years and fighting back tears. Most kids only had one shirt, one pair of pants and one pair of flip-flops. Many went barefoot throughout the day. Yet, they were beautiful, hopeful, longing for love and in desperate need to know that God, and someone else, cared about them.

IMG_3030Fast forward to today. While there are still thousands of orphans, the conditions have changed so much. Through more government involvement, American Christian Teams coming and the church of Moldova engaging, there has been a dramatic difference. Moldova is being transformed from the inside out. Many orphans are being clothed and cared for with clothes and better facilities. It is great to see kids wearing Rolling Hills t-shirts (and so many other English words) and having shoes on their feet. You can truly see a physical, as well as a spiritual difference.

There is still so much more work to do, but you can surely see a difference being made in orphanages as well as in the entire country. There is some new construction happening and more evidence that change is possible. Overall, I believe we are starting to see “Hope.” Before, smiles were few and far between. Now, we see kids laughing, playing and dreaming. Through JMI, Justice & Mercy International, I truly believe that Moldova is being transformed. There is a new generation that knows Jesus and has amazing potential. There is a generation that is starting to dream and to engage. I pray, and believe, that instead of being a country of human trafficking, Moldova will one day be a country of sending missionaries.

So much has changed in His church at Rolling Hills:

The first time I went to Moldova, we had about 100 people at Rolling Hills Community Church. We started with 15 people about 9 months earlier, and on our first mission team to Moldova we took 18 people. Little did I know that God would use that trip (and then sending teams at least twice a year from that point forward) to set the DNA of His church to be serving others.

Currently, I am sitting on the plane near some recent high school graduates from church who went to Moldova for the first time. They have heard so much about Moldova from church, and they were already sponsoring two children with the Student Ministry through JMI. Through the years, they have been on local and national mission trips developing a passion for what is close to God’s heart. They are so excited and ready to serve. Because of the commitment of the church to the work in Moldova, God is raising up a generation that loves orphans and the poor.

In Leviticus 23:22, God tells His people to make caring for the poor a priority when they come into the Promised Land. Then, He judges His people with the prophets for forgetting about the poor and the fatherless. “Learn to do right…defend the cause of the fatherless…” Isaiah 1:17. When Jesus comes, He tells everyone that “God has anointed Him to preach good news to the poor, bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and announce the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4. In addition, James 1:27 tells us, “The kind of religion that God our Father sees as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress…” God’s call for His church is to be about the least, the last and the lost. We have watched God grow this heart here at Rolling Hills Community Church through caring for the orphans in Moldova.

I often think about the impact God is having in children and students in Moldova: hundreds of kids now being sponsored through JMI, thousands of orphans having been touched through camps and ministries, transitional living homes and more. But, it is also amazing to think about the generational impact as literally hundreds, if not thousands, of students from the U.S. here at Rolling Hills who are now passionate about what God is passionate about. Think about what God can do through these students.

Maybe the country that is really being impacted is our own.

So much has changed in me:IMG_3071

I am not the same. Moldova has changed me. By God’s grace, I grew up in a great church that instilled in me a heart for missions. But, Moldova has made it personal. Going each year, communicating with my sponsored children and developing friends in this country has brought the orphan to my every day life. Baptizing young adults in lakes, giving a bride away and looking into the face of hundreds of precious children as we give them food to eat in Moldova has brought me closer to the heart of Christ.

This morning in my personal prayer time, I was reading from our “Daily Step” passage in Luke 12. Jesus is teaching when a man yells out, “Lord, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus responds, “Who made me judge or arbitrator between you.” Then, He uses the opportunity to teach about what really matters. Jesus says, “Life does not consist in possessions.” Which is so true – but definitely not how I tend to live in the U.S. And, He concludes by calling us to be “rich toward God.” I have witnessed first hand that it is only God who can change a life (not money or possessions), and there is joy when you live life for what truly matters. You can’t come back to the States and live the same way once you have been to Moldova. As Mother Teresa said, “You see Christ in the face of the poor.”

When God gives you a call, stick with it.

  • A long obedience in your marriage. Serve your spouse, and invest in a great marriage!
  • A long obedience to your children. Raise great kids who love Jesus and go into the world to make a difference for Christ!
  • A long obedience to your church. Don’t bounce around; stay faithful and see the long-term impact as you serve and love.
  • And, above all, a long obedience to the poor. Going, giving, praying – God wants to use you for His glory all the days of your life.

IMG_3072

Who knows how your life will be changed and what God will do through you for His glory.

But, you have to get on the plane and keep following Christ.

Jazgul

I cannot recall the first time I actually met Jazgul. In my mind, it seems I have always know her. Every trip to Moldova, she is there. This quiet, unassuming, smart and kind girl who personifies the heart of Jesus. From the orphanage to the Grace House (our Transitional Living Home), Jazgul is simply a part of our extended family in this country we love.

Jazgulphoto3

While I cannot recall first meeting Jazgul, I do remember the first time I heard her story. Jazgul’s story is heart-wrenching. When she was very young, her dad abandoned her and her sisters. After this, her mom tried to sell her and sisters, but at the train station she found that she was 10 lei short (about $3) for the train ticket. After this, she starved them until, by God’s grace, someone found out and they were able to go to the orphanage. Each time she has shares her story with a team or an individual, her voice quietens and her head falls.

Jazgul then shares how she would lay in bed at night in the orphanage and wonder what would happen to her. Children in Moldova have to leave the orphanage after 9th grade (about 15 to 16 years old). This is why the statistics are staggering about girls trafficked into prostitution, boys in organized crime and suicide. Little did Jazgul know that a Sovereign God was looking out for her, and He was raising up help for her in the form of a young woman from America.

When Ingrid first went to Moldova, many years ago, there was an instant connection with Jazgul. Ingrid had recently graduated college. She was actively involved in church at Rolling Hills, and went on this mission trips to Moldova not knowing what to expect. After meeting Jazgul, she immediately knew God brought them together. Jazgul needed a sponsor, so Ingrid called her parents and asked if they would help her do it.

It has been such a joy to watch their relationship blossom over the years. Ingrid, and her parents, sponsored Jazgul when she was in the orphanage. They then helped her apply and be accepted into the Grace House. They stepped up their sponsorship each year for her stay there. Once in the Grace House, Jazgul had a great place to live, and she heard the Gospel clearly. Jazgul gave her life to Christ, and she has never been the same. After two years in the Transitional Living program, Jazgul became one of the associate leaders of the program and began discipling the other girls in the faith. Jazgul also learned English and, this past summer, she led the other Transitional Living boys and girls as they went back into the orphanages to share the love of Christ.

Jazgulphoto2

While Jazgul was faithfully serving there, Ingrid, and her now wonderful husband Dustin, were spending time raising money and filing out paperwork for Jazgul to come to the States to study. Jazgul passed her test, and she was accepted into Lipscomb University, where she has now started classes! When she arrived in the States a few weeks ago, she couldn’t believe it was really happening. She said, “All those nights in the orphanage, who would have ever believed I would one day be studying in America.”

Sometimes people think, “The needs are so overwhelming, I can’t make a difference.” You are right, the needs are overwhelming. The fact is, we cannot do everything, but we can all do something. This is life-change. This is Jesus working to redeem and to restore for His glory. I remember hearing Andy Stanley once say, “Do for one what you would like to do for everyone.” In whom are you investing? I am so thankful for Ingrid, and I stand in awe of a God who loves so well through those who are willing.

Two summers ago when Elena, the girl Lisa and I sponsor, got married, Jazgul was her maid of honor. This past summer, Jazgul was on my team and led worship at our Camp in Carpeni. I have watched Jazgul grow up, and God has an incredible plan for her life. She is so special to me, and I know she is a miracle from God. This note arrived in the mail just the other day.

Jazgulphoto1

Jazgulphoto4

We can’t do everything, but we can all do something!

If you would like to sponsor a child, visit justiceandmercy.org. For only $40 a month, you can make the difference in the life of a child just like Jazgul. God used Ingrid, and God wants to use each of us. Thank you for investing in loving the broken and forgotten of the world. Lives are being saved both physically and spiritually for His glory!

Multiplying Ministry

“You all are making a big difference,” said our Moldovan van driver. Boris has been our van driver ever since we started coming to Moldova about eleven years ago. He has served with us in the orphanages, learned English, and watched the ministry through the years. Boris served in the Russian army. He loves Jesus, he is a husband, a father, and a partner in ministry. He has had a front-row seat for impact on the orphan and vulnerable children of his country.

As a church, we have been serving in Moldova since our first year as a church plant – eleven years ago. Six years ago, we began a non-profit, Justice and Mercy International, in order to do a greater work in Moldova, the Amazon, South Africa and other places in the world. Yet, when we began this work, we all had very little idea of what God would truly accomplish for His glory.

One of the greatest miracles of JMI is the Transitional Living program. Last year, by God’s grace we were able to purchase a house in the capital of Moldova that we use as a Transitional Living Home for girls. It is a huge, beautiful home that is immeasurably more than we could have ever dreamed or imagined. In addition, we have a home for boys as well.

Children in the orphanages have to leave at age 15 or 16. They “graduate,” but they have nowhere to go. This is when girls are most vulnerable to be trafficked. The statistics are both staggering and heart-breaking. In addition, the boys are just as vulnerable. Many end up in organized crime, prison or committing suicide. This is where JMI does its greatest work. Children that are sponsored are assisted by our staff team of social workers, psychologists, social assistants to enroll in further schooling (high school), trade school, apprenticeships, and jobs. In addition, many can apply to be a part of the Transitional Living program.

Today, JMI (Justice and Mercy International) has work in eleven different orphanages in Moldova. Over 300+ orphan and vulnerable children are being sponsored, and almost 40 children are a part of our Transitional Living program and Graduate sponsorships. In the Transitional Living Home, students enter into a two-year program. They are disciple in Christ, enrolled in school, taught English and prepared for leadership.

This week, the impact of the Transitional Living was incredibly evident. Over the past three years of the program, these young leaders accompany our teams to lead Camps at the orphanages and the villages. This week, we had a group of the Transitional Living kids with us, and they were amazing! They led the singing part of the worship times and the dramas, shared their testimonies, helped in Bible Study, and assisted in crafts, music, recreation and life-skills. They were incredible! Their passion for the Lord was contagious, and the kids took to them with unbelievable joy. God worked in them and through them in a mighty way.photo3

Next week, our Transitional Living guys and girls are leading their first-ever Camp in a village. They have planned the worship times, the dramas, the Bible Studies, the crafts, and every other aspect. They are hosting, leading and making it happen. They have been trained for three years and now they are doing it. Wow!

This is what is so exciting to me. This is multiplying the ministry and seeing lives transformed in the process. These are the future leaders of the Moldova. The future pastors, teachers, JMI Moldovan staff team members, government officials and more. It is awesome to see what God is doing.

As Jazgul, one of our Transitional Living girls, who was just accepted into Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee said to our group on the last night, “I would have never dreamed when I laid in the orphanage in my 9th grade year knowing that I had to leave and had nowhere to go that God would bring me to Grace House allow me to meet Jesus and you all and now go to study in the States. God is so good to me.” Yes!

photo4

photo7

Our JMI Sponsored Child

Sponsoring an orphan changes lives – the life of the precious child being sponsored, and the one who does the sponsoring. After the girl we sponsored with JMI graduated from the Grace House and, by God’s grace, married an amazing godly man, Lisa and I wanted to sponsor another child. We knew we would continue to help Elena, our previous sponsored child, for a few years to aid in the transition of being married and renting an apartment.

We have sponsored Daniella in Moldova for over a year, but I had never met her. We send e-mails to Daniella through our JMI Sponsorship Director, and I know she is being taken care of with food and clothes. Daniella is 6 years-old. It is obvious that she has something wrong with one eye. She seems to be able to see, but one eye is severely cross-eyed. Since we were doing Camp with children in her village this year, I was really excited about serving in her village and meeting her for the first time.

The first day at the Camp, I realized that Daniella was not there. Alina found out from some of the other kids that Daniella was staying with her grandmother in a remote village for the summer. The orphanage closes each summer for two months. The kids go to be with any relative possible, teacher or foster family that will take them. The government pays a modest $1 a day for whoever will take them in for the two months while they do repairs and maintenance to the orphanage.

Alina, our National Director, found out where the village was located…we were on a mission to find our girl. After Camp on the second day, Boris, our driver and friend, drove us to the village. Along the way, we passed many horses and buggies, ducks, geese, sheep, goats, and even had to wait as a herd of unsupervised cows decided to cross the road. We drove as far as we could but because the roads were so bad, we had to walk. Boris, our van driver and friend, Alina, our JMI National Director in Moldova, and I were on a mission. We walked washed out roads looking for this little girl’s grandmother’s home. We knocked on random gates and asked people if they knew where this 6 year-old was living. We were determined to find Daniella.

Finally, we come upon a house with a woman and some kids sitting on the porch. Alina asked the woman if they knew the girl. There was a little boy who responded he did, and his mom told him to go with us and show us the way. We followed this young boy until we came to the gate behind which was a scene I will never forget.

We peered over the fence and into the yard. There were ducks and geese everywhere alongside chickens. There was a dog chained up and barking. There were a few plants growing and a broken down outhouse. The little boy yelled for the grandmother and here she came – traditional Moldovan dress, head covered with a scarf and appearing to be in late 50’s, but looking much older. Alina told her who we were, and that I was Daniella’s sponsor and she lit up. She welcomed us and pulled the piece of wire from the fence post in order to open the gate and let us in. She called out who we were, and a ten or twelve year-old boy came out of the house, but he was soon passed by a running Daniella.

photo1When Danilla saw us, she stopped. She hid behind her grandmother. She would peer around at us with her one good eye and her one cross-eye. The grandmother invited us into the home. It was unlike I had ever seen. No electricity or running water (we had left the van by a well that I am assuming the entire village uses). We sat on a bed in a room that was only wide enough for two twin beds. There was another room, about the same size with a table, which was the kitchen (no stove or refrigerator), and another bed. The grandmother said she and Daniella slept together and Gheroge slept on the other.

As we talked, Daniella warmed up. She climbed into Alina’s lap and just wanted to be held. The grandmother shared how her husband died of cancer 14 years ago, and she was alone. I asked about Daniella’s mom, and she began to cry. She said that the mom had gone to Moscow after Daniella was born (we wonder if she was trafficked as she looked for work). She came back about two years ago. She was home for a week, and then they found her hung. Gheroge found her. There has never been a dad in the picture, so the grandmother said she is alone trying to take care of these kids. They live at the orphanage, but in the summers they are hers. She wept and we wept. Daniella held on tighter.

They brought out a few pictures to show us – one of Daniella’s mom standing by herself and then one of Daniella’s mom in a casket taken at her funeral. Daniella crawled into my lap and still held on to one of Alina’s hands. We asked if we could pray, and there in that little house we felt the Presence of God surround us as we prayed for this grandmother and these two precious children.

By this time, it was getting late. We had the van, and the team needed to be picked up from dinner. We went outside and took a few pictures. Daniella would not let me put her down. She did not want us to go. We walked to the gate, and I tried handing her back to her grandmother. She said, “No.” Then, she told her grandmother that she wanted to go with us. The grandmother looked at us as if to say, “Will you please take her?” In my heart, I was saying “Yes. We will take her.” But, I knew we couldn’t. Adoption, if it was even open in Moldova, would take years not minutes. By this time, Alina is crying and I am as well. I tried again to hand her back to her grandmother, and Daniella held on tighter. Finally, I pulled her off of me and the grandmother held on to her. We walked out the gate as Daniella screamed in Romanian, “Please. I want to go with you. Please let me go!” We walked away with tears streaming down our faces.

As difficult as it was to leave Daniella, I am so thankful for the JMI sponsorship. Because of this, I know this young girl, her brother (who is also being sponsored by a JMI sponsor at our church), and this grandmother will have food and clothes. I know that we will be able to talk with her and keep up with her whereabouts. I know that she will have the potential of being in the JMI Transitional Living program after she has to leave the orphanage. But, I know, most of all, that our God has a hope and a future for her, and He has called me, and my family, to be a part of His redemptive plan for her life.

photoSponsoring an orphan child does change lives. There are so many orphans and vulnerable children, like Daniella, who are in need. Together, we can make a difference. I encourage you to get involved. I pray that everyone reading this will sponsor a child somewhere in the world. There are many Daniella’s that are calling out for help, and there is a loving God that longs for all of us to be a part of His redemptive story.

For more information on sponsoring an orphan or vulnerable child in Moldova, please go to the Justice & Mercy International website at www.justiceandmercy.org.

The Blind will See…

At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He went into Nazareth, where He had grown up, and on the Sabbath day He went to the synagogue. Jesus found the place in Isaiah where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus began His teaching by saying to them, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” I feel like this is what Christ is doing today among us!

From a previous blog post, I shared with you about a precious orphan girl from Moldova named Maria. A family at church, Steve & Lynn Hendrich, met Maria last year on our mission trip to Moldova. Maria is not only an orphan, but she is blind. Steve & Lynn, knew God had a plan for Maria, so along with Paul & Donna Selman, they were able to bring Maria to the States to meet with Dr. Ming Wang. Yesterday, Maria had surgery, and I am so excited to share with you the fulfillment of God’s promise…

All glory to our great God! Our God is moving in such a powerful way here, and we are truly seeing God do miracles. Thank You, Father, for Maria and for allowing us to share in Your goodness and grace!

Maria

Last summer, Steve and Lynn felt God’s call to go on a mission trip. Steve, who is an attorney with a corporation, and Lynn, who is a teacher, had been active partners at Rolling Hills but had never been on a mission trip. At that time, they had a junior and senior in high school at home and thought, “We could take them on a cruise for their senior year, but, what if we took them on a mission trip in order to give them a greater perspective about life and God’s work in the world?” (I love this!). So, they headed to maria1aMoldova with the whole family for a mission trip that would change their lives and the life of a precious orphan girl named Maria.

The first day at the orphanage camp, Lynn noticed Maria sitting on a bench by herself. Lynn said “hello,” but Maria never looked up. The day was filled with games, music, Bible Study and more. Maria never left her bench. As we were leaving, Lynn said, “I will see you tomorrow. Look for me.” Again, Maria never looked up.

maria2a

That night, Lynn could not get Maria off her mind – God kept Maria on Lynn’s heart. The next day Lynn found Maria and said, “I’m back!” (So many people never come back for these precious children, so Lynn wanted Maria to know that she was back.) Lynn said, “Did you look for me?” At this point, Maria looked up. Immediately Lynn could tell there was something wrong with her eyes. Maria was legally blind. This is why she didn’t play or participate.

For the next three days, Lynn and Maria were inseparable. Kacey, Lynn’s junior in high school daughter, was right there as well. By Lynn and Kacey’s side, Maria began to participate. She sang, did the limbo and joined in the Bible Study. Lynn knew that God had brought their lives together and that she had to help Maria.

Leaving was the hardest part. Lynn promised Maria that she would come back, but Maria did not want to let go of her. Lynn cried the whole way back to the United States. She prayed and asked God how she could help and what He was calling her to do.

Back in the States, Steve and Lynn shared with the church one Sunday Morning about their experience. They showed a picture of Maria, and people were moved to help. After the service, Paul and Donna came up and said, “Can we help? We know Dr. Ming Wang, and we would love to make a connection.” Dr. Ming Wang is a famous Nashville optomologist. He is one of the leading optometrists in the country and is also a strong believer in Christ Jesus. The Dr. Ming Wang foundation helps underprivileged children as well as sends Bibles into China. This had God written all over it. Paul and Donna made the connection, and Dr. Wang agreed to see Maria. He even featured Maria at the Ming Wang Ball.

For the past year, our National Director in Moldova, Alina, has been working to help bring Maria to the States. They have been yelled at and laughed at, but they never gave up. Maria’s future in Moldova meant a special needs orphanage that was really no future at all. After all the red-tape, there was one final interview for the visa for Maria. When Alina took Maria, she just prayed that God would do a miracle. As they sat down with the official he said, “I am sorry, but we do not have the final signed paper. We cannot approve this.” While he was telling them this, someone walked up to him with a Fed-Ex package. He opened it, and it was the final signed page that they needed. Only God!

Alina and Maria boarded a plane, and arrived in the United States just two days before the JMI Gala on October 8th. At the Gala, Steve and Lynn were able to introduce Maria to everyone at the Gala and church. God spoke through Lynn as she shared the story of Maria as Maria looked up and smiled. She is here! Her life will never be the same.

Maria’s story is not finished yet. We are still waiting on scheduling with Dr. Wang. We will have to pray and see if Dr. Wang can even help Maria. There are still many unknowns but for now, Maria is here. She is safe. She is loved. She has a hope and a future. All because God never gives up on us and because some of God’s people were willing to forgo a cruise in order to serve the least, the last, the lost.

God is still writing Maria’s story, just like He is still writing each of ours. Hold on to Jesus because He can, and will, do immeasurably more than all we can ever ask or imagine. Only God.