If you’ve not heard about the first Christmas I ever spent in Moldova (about 2002 as I recall), you probably can’t imagine why it has become such a staple mission trip for JMI.
At the time, we were only working with two orphanages – Internat 2 in the capital city of Chisinau and the one in the town of Falesti.
Most of the children (there were about 750 of them in an orphanage built for 350 at Internat 2) would be “farmed out” for the holidays to any family who would take them. Those who were left – maybe 100 kids – had absolutely nothing to do. There were no decorations, no gifts, no activities and few, if any, visitors. The orphanage dormitories were bleak and cold.
On that first Christmas, my team and I gathered the children in the school gym on the second floor and provided blankets for them to sit on. As with every winter trip since, we sang, did craft projects, played and told the story of Jesus’ birth.
Unbeknownst to the kids, we had a single wrapped gift for each of them. At the conclusion of our program, we brought our gifts into the room and presented them to each child.
I was expecting pandemonium. It didn’t happen. The kids just looked at their presents. Not a single one made a move to open them. Had we done something wrong? Was there a communication problem?
“Why aren’t they opening their packages?” I asked my translator. “Tell them to go ahead and open them now.”
After a little more encouragement, the children began to gently peel back the tape, careful not to tear the wrapping paper.
The lack of reckless exuberance in opening their gifts began to feel disappointing for me. “Why are they being so careful?” I inquired impatiently. “Our kids would have ripped them to shreds by now.”
“Tomorrow is the Orthodox Christmas,” I was told. “Most of these kids have never received a gift before. They want to be able to open them again tomorrow morning. They consider even the wrapping paper to be a gift.”
My education about Moldovan orphans deepened when I came to learn that these particular children felt completely left behind as they watched their friends leave the orphanage to celebrate Christmas with family members. That’s when I determined that I would always bring a group to Moldova at Christmas. For those with no family, we would be family to them. When their friends returned to the orphanage for the semester with their stories of fun, I wanted “our kids” to have their own stories of shared love, comforting food and special gifts.
Since that time, the children have come to expect us. They aren’t so careful with their gifts, but they are much more expressive with their smiles, hugs and laughter. I like to think that our teams incarnate the love of Jesus and demonstrate the inclusiveness and breadth of God’s family. It is, without question, one of the best things I experience each year.
We are forming our team for Dec. 27 – Jan. 3rd right now. Those who sign up and pay their $500 deposits before Oct. 10th can lock in to a $2500 cost (it goes up to $2700 thereafter).
I never know everything to expect, but I can tell you that there is a child in Moldova who will fit perfectly into your hug. We’d love to have you join us! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Founding Director, JMI