It was December 2013 when I first encountered the village of Santandrei in Romania. A common Roma gypsy community on the outskirts of the town it was there that I would discover what “being relational” could truly mean. I have always stressed the importance in child sponsorship as not being as much about the dollars but rather the hope that can be brought just by writing, communicating and showing that you care. We arrived in that village to bring coats and food bags to the community. It was everything you would expect from a village of “outsiders”. Luckily the chief of community, Nelu, was there to help keep things under control. My first impression of Nelu was that he was respected by the community and even if he wasn’t people listened to him. Danny is the local Romanian pastor who has been working in that village to bring the love of Jesus to the people. He is a light in a dark area. He told us that the local churches were fine with him bringing the gospel to the gypsies but they just didn’t “want those people in their churches”. That is the most vivid memory I have of that trip- those words broke my heart. Seriously what part of the gospel speaks of shutting a door?
I have been back to the village 5-6 times since that first village and have begun to see changes especially in Nelu. Often, he stood to the side watching unless he was needed to keep things organized. Over the years he has invited Andy and Danny into his home for coffee and to listen to their words. As a construction worker, he began to show pride in his home and creating upgrades that are certainly not typical in a Roma village. Danny makes weekly visits to the community to spread the word and deliver food bags, school supplies, and other items which sponsorship dollars help support.
It was within the past year that we heard Nelu had attended a revival and decided to accept Christ as his personal savior. Talk about a WIN! Here was the leader of the community deciding to make a decision that could be an example for everyone. He has changed his lifestyle and wants to make a difference in the village for Jesus. He has told Andy that he trusted Remember the Children and Danny because it was always “about the children”. This June he asked Andy over coffee why Andy had “never invited him to church?” Wow- that brought home a point and was quickly resolved. I was blessed to be in Romania on June 4th when Nelu got on the bus with us (and his daughter) and went to Impact Church. He worshipped and was welcomed. I noticed a difference this summer as he was very engaging with the team and hugged us as we were leaving. It just goes to show that taking the time to be intentional and relational can be life changing. Danny’s weekly visits, Andy’s coffee chats and Remember the Children’s ministry to the children made a difference. I have seen it firsthand and know that God has been glorified.
As a postscript Andy made sure that Nelu now has a Romanian Bible to read and study with. I can’t wait to return in December and see my “brother in Christ.”