In 2014, our team was gathered in the dining room of a Romanian church, and the room was buzzing. The 25 children from House of Hope ran around us, tugging on us, eager to play. One girl in particular— Gabriela*— caught my eye. Her dark hair and dark eyes made her the spitting image of my niece, therefore I was instantly drawn to her.
I approached her and said ‘hi’ in Romanian. She stared at me, turned, and ran away.
I was confused.
A few minutes later, I tried to approach her again, and the same thing happened. Gabriela took one look at me and ran away to play by herself.
I observed her for a few minutes, and I noticed that she didn’t want to interact with the adults or the other kids, she simply wanted to be in the comfort of her own space. She rarely smiled, but kept a serious demeanor on her face. She was reserved and quiet, content with playing alone.
Withdrawing from others is a common pattern for children who have been orphaned. They don’t know who to trust, therefore they protect themselves by being alone. However, I soon learned that even the most difficult of situations can be healed with love, family, and the hope of Christ!
This summer, when I visited the House of Hope kids, I was expecting Gabriela to act the same way towards me. Of course I wanted to snuggle and play with her, but I was ready to respect her space and let her be by herself.
When I first arrived at the house, I greeted each kid with a hug. When I saw Gabriela, I hesitated, expecting her to avoid me as she had done in the past. Instead, she looked at me, flashed a huge smile, and gave me a big hug! My heart was overjoyed and my mouth hung open in amazement. She approached me! She smiled at me! She hugged me! I was flabbergasted, so much so that I yelled to Andy, the president of Remember the Children, “Gabriela hugged me! Gabriela hugged me! This is a big stinkin’ deal!” Obviously, something amazing was happening in the heart of this sweet girl.
As I spent the rest of the day with House of Hope, I saw Gabriela flourishing. She ran around the yard with a smile permanently plastered across her face, eager to play with anyone who was available. She jumped on the trampoline, begged for piggy back rides, and chased me around the yard. I was most impressed by the way she was interacting with the people around her. Strangers were friends, her brothers and sisters were her closest pals, and in every situation, she radiated love. She had been transformed!
The change I’ve seen in Gabriela reminds me of Psalm 68:5-6, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.” This is exactly what God has done in her. He is Gabriela’s perfect, loving, Heavenly Father. He put her in a family at House of Hope. He set her free and gave her joy!
Gabriela’s story is one of many in House of Hope; it’s incredible to see how much a loving, Godly family can transform the life of a child. The kids are healing and thriving because they have parents who love them, brothers and sisters who care about them, and a relationship with Christ that changes their hearts. They no longer withdraw from social situations, they now thrive in them. They are no longer afraid, they now radiate love. They no longer are downcast, they now constantly laugh and play.
House of Hope is transforming the lives of Romanian children, and Gabriela is a beautiful example! She is definitely not the same girl I was drawn to in 2014; she’s now a child full of hope.
*Name was changed for protection.