Many children in Moldova never experience the wonder and anticipation associated with Christmas. The excitement we feel as we look forward to a holiday feast of our favorite foods is an unfamiliar feeling to them. The thrill of counting down the days until we open wrapped presents filled with all the wonderful gifts we asked for, is lost on the child caught up in the daily grind of etching out a life in extreme poverty. However, each December Justice and Mercy International offers the excitement and thrill of Christmas to hundreds of vulnerable children living in Moldova.
Thirteen Americans joined around twenty Moldovan’s for a week of singing, games, crafts, skits and gift-giving with nearly a thousand children scattered in villages throughout Moldova. We laughed and cried at each village we visited as we shared about the real meaning of Christmas, the only true and lasting hope that God gave the world, His Son Jesus.
Each village visit was primarily led by students who live in one of four transitional living homes operated by JMI. These students sang their hearts out, acted in skits, played games and handed out boxes of oranges, bananas and snickers bars. Two of those students were Andrei and his brother Denis.
I first met Andrei in April 2019 when he had recently joined our Boys2Leaders home in Balti, northern Moldova. His father died when Andrei was a young boy, leaving his mother to care for two young boys. When she got sick and died of cancer, Andrei and his brother were all alone… true orphans. JMI accepted Andrei into our program just weeks prior to my visit. He was barely talking and could not look you in the eyes. He suffered through unbearable grief and depression. My heart was broken for Andrei, and as we prepared to leave I held his face with my hands as I told him God was walking closely with him and God was his only comfort.
When I arrived for our annual Christmas in Moldova trip, Andrei’s face was the first one I saw when I came through customs. His smile was the best greeting I received. I hugged his neck as he told me in his broken English, “Here. My brother. Denis,” and standing beside him was Denis, one of the newest residents in our Boys2Leaders home in Balti. Needless to say, the Andrei I first met in April, was now this smiling and friendly young man.
Throughout the week I watched Andrei and Denis as they ministered to the children and interacted with the US team. Given all these two younger brothers had gone through, I was amazed how they quietly and gently served others. They had been transformed by the power of God, the love of God’s people and through the incredible work of JMI.
After an incredible week of serving, we arrived at the airport to begin our journey home. I hugged and said goodbye to each person, until I came to Andrei and Denis. I looked at both of them… two brothers… true orphans… and as I hugged both their necks, I knew these two brothers had found a home… a family… with JMI, but also, with me. – Chris Hardy, Director of Programs & Church Partnerships