JMI’s annual Christmas trip to Moldova has become one of the most meaningful weeks in my life. To catch that flight to Chisinau is to leave much of the madness that Christmas has become here in the States and rediscover the essence of the original event, without all the self-serving over-expenditures, commercial hype, and family angst.
If I sound like Mr. Grinch, it’s only because I’ve found something infinitely more worthwhile. I realized it on our first Christmas in Moldova, about seven years ago, when we wrapped gifts for the orphans of Internat 2. As we individually handed our gifts to the children, no one moved a muscle to tear them open. About 100 kids sat in stunned silence on their gymnasium floor, intently focused on their presents. Finally, after much encouragement, they all began to slowly and carefully unwrap their gifts, mindful not to tear the paper. Most of them didn’t even unfold their gifts of clothes, but looked at them and gently slid them back into the Christmas paper. Later we were told they wanted to open them again the following day – Christmas morning! We also were informed that these were the first presents those children had ever received. Even the wrapping paper was a gift to them.
Last year’s trip was memorable in another way. Arriving in Moldova just before New Year’s, we decided to purchase a few fireworks and surprise the children at the Straseni orphanage. As the movie we were showing was concluding, a few of us snuck out the side door and set up our meager display of three fairly large items. I remember being a bit embarassed that we couldn’t afford a more respectable showing, but when the children were directed to the window and we lit off our fireworks, you would have thought it was the grand finale in New York City! And as we gathered our belongings to leave, the Assistant Director profusely thanked us. She remarked that Christmas for these children was always hard because they knew their friends were celebrating with whatever family they had and, when they returned from the holidays, always came back sharing stories of the fun they had. “This year,” she said, “our children without families will have their own stories of joy to share!”
That’s what I love about Christmas in Moldova. In the middle of bitterly cold weather and among young lives that have known only profound bitterness, love, peace and joy can be kindled around the warmth of relationships and our common Savior’s birth!
Like the Magi, we will journey to Moldova again this year to bring our love and gifts and discover the wonder of the real meaning of Christmas. And you’re invited to join us, December 28th-January 5th. Just contact Steve Davis ([email protected]) to get more details!