Dordt College News

Sharing Love With Abandoned Children

December 11, 2007

by Jeanne Visser
reprinted w/permission from Sioux County Index Reporter

‘Going to camp’ took on a whole new meaning for Megan Vander Esch, a sophomore elementary education major from Hull, Iowa, when she traveled to Eastern Europe in August to teach children about the love of God.

Vander Esch spent a week at Camp Living Water, which is nestled in the foothills of the Carpathians Mountains about three hours north of Bucharest, Romania. While she was at the camp, Vander Esch gave up many things we take for granted, such as indoor plumbing and running water, a bed and convenient food. In return, she was blessed by the attention and love of abandoned children.

Vander Esch traveled to Romania through a ministry called Stepping Forward Romania (SFR). It was founded in 2005 in order to reach out to the abandoned children living in government care centers in Romania. Through consistent weekly visits, discipling, and a summer camp program, ministry workers teach the kids about God’s love for them. Ministry workers desire to be living examples of the love Christ has for each one of the kids.

Most of the children living at the orphanage in Bucharest are referred to as abandoned. Their parents are too poor to care for them and drop them at the orphanage, or the children were living on the street and are brought to the orphanage.“Either way, these children cannot be adopted because the parents haven’t signed away their rights,” explained Vander Esch. “I saw many siblings at the orphanage. But they are fed well and go to school.”

Before Vander Esch got on the plane for Bucharest, on Aug. 9, she spent time collecting donations for kids in the orphanage. Because of poverty, the kids needed everything from toiletry items to school supplies. She also collected cake mixes, craft supplies and small toys for boys and girls. Eventually four 70 gallon tubs filled with supplies were put on the plane.

Arriving in Bucharest, Vander Esch went to the orphanage and was swarmed by kids. “It was pretty overwhelming,” she recalled. “They were all talking and wanted me to take their picture; and the candy I’d brought along that day was gone in seconds.”

The orphanage houses children ages six through 18. It is funded by the Romanian government, which allows Stepping Forward to work in the orphanage, helping kids and discreetly sharing the message of God’s love.

The majority of Vander Esch’s time in Romania was spent helping to chaperone kids at Camp Living Water, which was developed by SFR. “About 40 boys and girls, ages 6 to 14 went to camp,” she said. “At the camp the adults could speak more openly about faith in Jesus Christ. Although we slept in tents with giggling little girls, cooked all our food on an open fire and used outhouses, I had a lot of fun.”

The kids and adults were divided into ‘tribes’ and competed against each other in various games. They also earned points for good behavior and lost points for bad behavior. At the end of camp they used their points to purchase some of the items brought to camp from Iowa. “The girls loved getting shower gel and shampoo, and all the kids liked brushing their teeth down by the stream,” said Vander Esch. “These kids really have nothing. Many of them went arrived at camp with only one extra shirt and no jacket or long pants for the cool evenings. Luckily we brought extras along for them.”

Everyone at the camp also listened to speakers talking about the God they can trust, who will always love them. Although there was a language barrier, Vander Esch discovered a universal language. “All the kids wanted some attention,” she said. “Hugs also say a lot. By the end of the week, the kids had picked up a few English words and I learned a few Romanian.”

Sadly, she also witnessed kids fighting with each other and older kids stealing possessions from the younger ones. But that just gave her a stronger desire to help the children. “I want to go back again next summer and stay for a month,” said Vander Esch. “I really like working with kids. The kids at the orphanage have so little and I’ve been given so much. I want to share with them.”

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