We call it “Christmas in Moldova,” and we’ve been doing it since before Justice and Mercy International was even conceived.
Every year we put out the call for a group of volunteers who are willing to forego a week of their very valuable vacation and family time to travel thousands of miles to celebrate the birth of Jesus with orphans, social orphans and the poor.
This year, as we were waiting to clear Moldovan Customs, another young man in line of about 21 years old overheard some of our group talking. As it turned out, he was an English-speaking Moldovan who was absolutely dumbfounded as to why Americans or anyone else would come to the country he was more than happy to have escaped in previous years. (This he stated to us in no uncertain terms, laced with a few indelicate expletives).
Frankly, we were equally dumbfounded by his disdain for his home country, the place many of us consider our second home…the place where we, in some mysterious way, feel closer to God and the people we were created to be…the place where we encounter the Christ ourselves among His precious, eager and beloved ragamuffin children.
Christmas in Moldova is the closest thing I know to a pilgrimage. Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Moldova was once known as the breadbasket of Russia. Jesus was born to and among peasants, his birth announced to lowly, anonymous shepherds. Likewise, the Moldovan children we serve are in the peasant class, many of whom tended their family’s flocks themselves. Wise men came from afar to honor the birth of a king. So we come, expectantly in search of the Savior who assures us He resides within each and every child.
We always bring gifts, for He is honored when we honor His children. We play games because there is healing in joy, and joy is in short supply in Moldova. We do crafts, a thin reminder of the creativity behind the Master’s handiwork on display in the beautiful, ruddy faces surrounding us. Our transitional living kids sing songs of worship and praise, worthy of this sacred birthday. They compose and enact skits that speak to children metaphorically as stories with meaning they will retain beyond that day. We tell the greatest story ever told to punctuate the reason for our being there. And we pass out fruit and candy as a sacrificial gift in the hopes that all will taste and see that the Lord is good!
This year we celebrated Jesus in 8 villages, serving 757 children. I don’t think any of us would trade our week for anything happening in the U.S. Not for the malls. Not for the sporting events. Certainly not for the emptiness that is so endemic to our holiday expectations.
But there is one reason above all others that we love our Christmas in Moldova. Perhaps it will sound overly romanticized and dramatic to those who’ve never experienced it themselves, but “veterans” to Moldova know what I’m talking about: to create and catch the smile of a child who has virtually nothing else to give, is to be kissed by God. The hole that exists in your soul begins to be mended. You are graced. The reason behind your life begins to become clear.
If you want that. If you need that. Make your plans to join us next year!
-Steve Davis, Founding Director
For more information about mission trips please contact Kari Bidwell at kari.bidwell@justiceandmercy.