My wife Jessica and I were the typical American family. We have two young boys, a dog, and a schedule that constantly keeps us moving. We are active church members who also volunteer our time in the music and children’s ministry. This was our “comfort zone”. It wasn’t until late summer 2010 that all this began to change. God had begun to speak to my heart to do more…but what? Shortly thereafter a good friend had asked me to participate on a backpacking missions trip to Nicaragua in June. The idea of an adventure of this sort was enticing, especially for someone like me who loved photography. So I agreed. That was my “I am doing something more” moment. A couple of weeks went by and I began to question my motives for this trip. Was this about me, and my internal desire for adventure or was this truly what God wanted me to do? This reflective soul searching caused me to dig deeper into what other plans God had in mind.
In recent months, our church had started a sermon series entitled “Compelled” which highlighted the many missions opportunities through our church. Within that same time frame, Jessica and I attended a fundraising dinner for an organization called “The Global Orphan Project”. It was these two series of events that sparked my desire to help with this catastrophic orphan problem in our world…but where? Though Haiti was the focus of our church at that time, I did not feel that it was where I was meant to go. I began to search the Internet for hours into the night, and it was then that I stumbled across an article about human trafficking in Moldova. I had heard of Moldova before through a work colleague that had adopted his daughter from there, but never really knew anything about the country. I was so moved by the article that I felt the need to reach out to the author to get more information. It was through her as well as my work colleague, that I had found Steve Davis with Justice and Mercy International. Not by any happenstance, but JMI was located right here near my home in middle Tennessee as a ministry through Rolling Hills Community Church. This was clearly where God wanted both Jessica and I, as all the pieces including funding, fell seamlessly into place. That is another story for another day.
The trip was set! We were so excited about going, not knowing really what to expect or how God would use us. Our mission…to conduct a VBS for Orphans at a camp in Falesti, Moldova. As the trip drew closer, I began to ask God to prepare my heart for whatever he had in store. Jessica and I had attended several planning meetings that helped us get a picture of how camp operated and each of our roles on this team of 13. I went into this with no expectations, but what happened over that week was more than I could have ever imagined. The first day was spent sightseeing two monasteries in this breathtaking remote countryside, and then returning to our team house to prepare for the first day of camp.
The next morning, we loaded up our vans and headed out to the orphan camp, which was about 30-45 minutes from our team house. Upon arrival, we saw 26 precious children frantically trying to get ready for us. They were sweeping the semi/paved dirt common area with brooms made of branches and picking up the dirt with their hands in attempts to make their “home” for the summer as presentable as they possibly could. They were so excited to have us there. Many of the members on our team had been before and it was touching to watch the reunions of those children whom they had not seen for some time. I noticed a young girl standing off by herself while the others were reuniting. I gave her a quick wink and she replied with a huge smile. It was in that moment that the bond between us began to form.
Her name is Valea. Seven years old, with a smile that would melt any heart. She always seemed cheerful, yet I could tell she longed for her family. Her story is typical for most “orphan” children in Moldova in that her mom abandoned her to an orphanage to go to Moscow to work. Though she has a father listed on her birth certificate, it is not for certain that his DNA is even present. The mother’s lifestyle produced 3 additional children all with different fathers. Valea had an older brother that had died around age 15, a sister age 12, and a younger brother age 5. I am told the younger brother is living with his real father in Moscow. Valea does not remember the day when her mother dropped she and her sister off, but holds on to a hope that she will return for them. Sadly, this is rarely the case. When I met Valea, her older sister was not at the camp. We had been told that her sister had begun beating Valea in the head in attempts to take her life and was admitted to a mental hospital. Even through this, Valea spoke highly of her sister as if to somehow hold on to what little family she had left.
I guess it was my fatherly instincts, but something inside me immediately clicked. I felt overwhelmingly compelled to take care of this child as if one of my own. She was so full of life and joy that I wanted to make sure I could do everything possible to let her know she was loved. Each day at camp was more precious than before. Every morning, I would long for the moment to get to see her and be embraced with a welcoming hug. But I wasn’t the only one; Jessica also found the charm of this innocent child irresistible. As the days past, we found ourselves asking questions about Valea and how we could help. Without question, we were committed to being a part of her life forever. Our first step…SPONSORSHIP! This is where we can provide financial support to meet her needs. Most, if not all the other kids at this camp already had sponsors. Our relationship with Valea was no accident; she needed us.
During that week, we learned that Valea’s sister would be re-united with her on July 20th. The fear that she would attempt to hurt Valea again is ever on my mind. I have to trust that she is in God’s hands and his protection will be upon her. Towards the end of the week, we had the opportunity to get some small gifts for Valea. We purchased some much-needed clothes and shoes as well as a small stuffed animal. The look on her face when we gave them to her was priceless. As if to solidify that we loved her and wanted to take care of her. Her loving hug and soft spoken “Multumesc” (thank you) is something I will never forget. The last few hours with Valea seemed to tick away faster than I was prepared for. It was hard to imagine a day in my life without her, and I could clearly picture her as part of our family. As we loaded the vans, Valea and I met for one last hug goodbye. It was all I could do to keep my emotions checked. As she looked into my eyes, I knew she understood. Our last hug seemed to be with all the strength this little girl could muster; as if never wanting to let go. With glassy eyes I whispered, “La revedere Valea” (Goodbye).
The van ride back was a long one for both Jessica and I. We never intended to become so attached to a child that we felt empty without her. The possibility of adopting Valea was looming on my mind. Would she want that…is it even possible? The question remained, what does God want us to do? I had to resolve that I would walk through whatever doors open for us, and will accept those that are closed. If adoption is our next step, then that is the road we will begin traveling. Settling back into the “Comfort Zone” was not an option.
When I arrived home, I immediately began researching adoption in Moldova. My search revealed that it would not be an easy road. Moldova recently changed its adoption laws. If Valea was to even become available, she must remain on the list for 6 months before even becoming available for adoption internationally. During those 6 months she could be adopted in country. Then the waiting time frame changed from 6 months to one year. They could also extend the time “in-country” that the adoptive parents must stay (up to one month). All these seemed like insurmountable obstacles, yet I have a peace that God is leading.
I have been back for 5 days now, and still feel a piece of my heart is in Moldova. I think about how God has blessed us with a beautiful home, and yet those children are living in impoverished conditions with no parents to tuck them in at night. I was glad see my two incredible boys! Their “Welcome Home” banner and hugs were the icing on the cake. They were excited to hear all about our travels and Valea. I spent the next day editing photos and putting together a small video to remember our trip. My son Ben was so proud to show the video to his small group at church and re-tell our story…as if he had been there himself!
I returned from Moldova with a new outlook on life, and I am looking forward to the next opportunity to return. Our journey is not over yet; we will begin traveling that long road not knowing how it will end. No matter the outcome, Valea will always have a special place in our hearts. Not a moment goes by that I do not think about her…even in my dreams.
Author: Jeff Lowry
Follow Valea’s Story at https://valeasstory.blogspot.com/