Photo by Tony Cece

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sunday, July 6, 2014

     After a good night’s rest at the Star Inn Budapest, we enjoyed a breakfast buffet of long coffee, lox, multigrain breads, assorted pastries, jams, fresh sour cherries, and yogurts. After the bus was loaded, we departed for Vienna at 10:00am. The rolling landscape through Hungary and Austria was beautiful. We passed fields of sunflowers, wheat, and corn and patches of forest. Wind turbines and clusters of red tile roofed houses dotted the land.

     Dr. Keyes led us in a devotion on the ride to honor the Sabbath. He read from John 1. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was a not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
He encouraged us to consider ways that the light of God was reflected to us and/or through us
in our work in Romania. Amy spoke of the importance of authenticity. The true light is best reflected when we live lives consistent with what is true for us on our own journeys. Cheryl expressed gratitude for the prayer and financial support that made the trip possible. Christi shared her experience of God’s peace and sovereignty. She was reminded that God is in control and brings purpose and meaning to life. Lastly, Sarah reflected on a theme she has been studying in Galatians. We see God now only in part. She was impressed by the vastness of God as she witnessed how other people in very different cultures know him. God is revealing himself to us on this trip in ways that help us know and reflect the light.

     We arrived in Vienna mid-afternoon and were free to explore the city on our own for the rest of the day. Small groups of us rode bikes along the Danube, attended a film festival, explored museums, attended the opera, dined in Viennese cafés, and soaked up the rich history and culture of the magnificent city. Today we moved an hour closer to Eastern Standard Time, switched our currency to Euros, and experienced a modern Western city. Although we are slowly transitioning back to our lives in the US, the people and work we experienced back in Romania remains a part of us.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Saturday, July 5, 2014

This morning we departed from the Smiles Foundation after exchanging sincere goodbyes. When united by the love of Christ and the joy of serving in His name, strangers become family. The past two weeks of working alongside the Smiles staff and interns created a bond between their team and ours. We share a common desire for people to know God and to know His love for them, transforming individuals, communities, and culture. We are confident that God is using our Romanian brothers and sisters to heal and restore those around them. We know that God allowed us to be part of His work in Romania by coming alongside Smiles staff to encourage their spirits. Praise God that He will continue the good work from our time in Romania.

A new experience awaited us as we left for Budapest. Our one-day adventure began with a tour of this historic city. We were lead by a Hungarian tour guide, full of knowledge and passion to share the story and hope of her home. Hungary was often caught between countries and wars that broke down and rebuilt the country. Budapest is full of museums and statues that memorialize the bleak and bright spots in the country’s history. The city is proud of its freedom from oppression and opportunity to rebuild itself as a leader amongst European cities. Yet many minority groups need a genuine message of freedom in Christ since the government marginalizes the gypsy, gay, and Jewish population. Our team feels the weight of this oppression after entering into the suffering of the gypsies in Romania.

After dinner together, our team split up to explore Budapest. Many people took advantage of an evening cruise on the Danube. The gentle beat of waves against the boat and soft breeze allowed us to unwind after a busy day. We saw important landmarks such as Parliament and St. Mathias’ Church full of light against the night sky. Other teammates enjoyed the view from a glass enclosed Ferris Wheel set in the heart of the city. And most of us managed to taste the best ice cream; delicious flavors set on a cone in the shape of a flower. Although a quick visit, we are pleased and rested to set off for Vienna tomorrow.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

Our final day at the Smiles Foundation has come and gone. The group met together for our last debriefing in Romania joined by Smiles' staff, interns, and the other group from Northern Ireland working with the Foundation. We met to discuss not only the activities of the day per usual but also to process together the past two weeks in Romania. While most were missing our families back in the States, we had the privilege of spending our Independence Day with a Foundation that has dedicated the past 24 years to bringing its own independence to the people of Romania.

Today, our team divided into three groups. Dr. Keyes’ group returned to the penitentiary. Dr. Harris-Keyes and Dr. Arveson returned to Gepiu, the community center primarily used for adolescents and elderly. Lem’s group stayed at the Smiles’ Complex to work with 5 high school students from the Roma Gypsy community.

At the penitentiary, Betsy, Amanda, Beth, and Dr. Keyes gave a presentation on suicide prevention to an audience of social workers, prison administrators, and prison employees. After presentations, process groups led by Regent team members focused on the staff’s experiences with suicidal inmates; this included the warning signs of suicide and ways to intervene effectively. Ultimately, the team’s goal was to raise awareness of the warning signs of suicide, to reduce the number of suicides, and improve intervention protocol.

At Gepiu, Dr. Harris-Keyes' and Dr. Arveson’s group divided into two teams and provided individual counseling services to six individuals ranging from ages 15 to 80. Clients presented with a variety of mental health and psychosocial issues. Common themes within the elderly clients were sadness and loneliness; therefore, the team used Reminiscence Therapy to help clients focus on the good memories of their lives despite unwanted circumstances. Dr. Arveson’s group traveled to the local village and met with a severely disabled 19-year-old woman and her caretaker grandmother. Abandoned by her mother, the young woman could barely move or speak. Despite this, the group was able to see God’s love displayed through the commitment and love of a grandmother for her granddaughter. Dr. Harris-Keyes’ group used the Modified Sand Tray technique with two clients. The first client was a 15-year-old adolescent boy who had experienced great loss and as a result, displayed attachment issues. The second client was a 21-year-old young woman who came from an abusive home life and struggled with self-esteem issues. Along with using Modify Sand Tray to discuss the traumatic events within these two families, the team also taught the young woman breathing techniques, how to find a safe place, and thought stopping and blocking to help her cope with anxiety and negative thought patterns. Afterwards, the team met with two social workers to discuss particular cases, providing feedback and input on how Smiles can better serve these two populations.

Finally, Christi, Alexis, Christian, Mark, Jordan, and Lem presented on self-esteem to a group of 5 Roma Gypsy high school students. These high school students will be the first Roma Gypsies students to graduate from high school. The first student is just one year away. They have the odds, not to mention the Romanian and Roma Gypsy cultures against them. These students come from the Roma Gypsy culture that encourages them to ignore school, stresses their Gypsy background, and constantly conveys negativity. For example, these kids are told that since they are Gypsy, they will never amount to anything, they are stupid, they will not succeed, and they will never be accepted. Therefore, the presentation focused on self-esteem from God’s eyes and man’s. The team stressed how God sees us and how we see us, having positive thoughts, and utilizing our own self-esteem to help us cope and accomplish our goals and dreams. The team led processing groups and conducted individual sessions. The team was able to hear from the students about the incredibly unsupportive community they were born into, the struggles they have, the way their community affects them, their dreams and aspirations, and how they are going to accomplish them. The team believes in these students and will most definitely keep them in their prayers.

Tomorrow, we leave the Smiles’ Complex, traveling to Budapest and Vienna for a time of rest and relaxation. We do not, however, leave the Smiles Foundation unchanged. We leave the Complex changed by the faces, names, and stories. We leave the Complex changed by the love, dedication, and devotion of the staff to the people of Romania. Finally, we will leave knowing one thing for certain: smiles are cross-cultural. Smiles need no translators, no explanations. They tear down walls and bridge gaps. The people of Romania have brought to us more smiles than we could have ever imagined, and we are confident that more smiles are yet to be discovered. Freedom is coming to the people of Romania, specifically the Roma Gypsy people. It will take time and effort. Nevertheless, the Smiles Foundation has a clear vision, and it all starts with a Smile.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Our days are quickly coming to an end and now we stand with just one day left to continue making a difference one person at a time. Today one group marched into uncharted territory where Smiles had yet to go, the penitentiary. The eagerness for the group to learn was evident from the start. Dr. Keyes and Mark presented on PTSD with adults. Our time only allotted for two group sessions, but the members soaked up every minute of it. The three groups each talked about how receptive the group members were to learn different techniques that they had never been exposed to.  Deep breathing, safe place, the shield, and tapping were among some of the techniques that were taught. The members included people from various backgrounds of counseling from school counselors, prison psychologists, police psychologists, parole officers, and private practitioners. After our time with the group sessions, we took a tour of the penitentiary. The inside of the penitentiary was just as surprising as the outside was. Throughout the walls there were paintings hand made from inmates that were incomparable to paintings from professionals, they were absolutely beautiful. Painting is not the only talent the inmates have with their hands, they are also very skilled with crafts and make things such as jewelry boxes and small boats. There was also a beautiful church filled with paintings. Surprisingly the inmates that were getting ready to be put on parole played a key aspect in helping us with transportation of one of the members of our team with a wheelchair.

The other group was at Rapa where they had the opportunity to do a VBS which entailed drama skits as well as praise and worship. Our team also rolled up there sleeves got into the kitchen and cooked lunch for the community. Upon arriving there the group had just a few minutes to prepare the lesson for the VBS and the skit; our group as a whole is quickly learning the skill of thinking on their feet and jumping right in without hesitation. Along with VBS this group also had an opportunity to work with families individually and provide counseling support. Each environment that we have been placed in has made us keenly aware that what we have to offer is enough. Today the adults got an opportunity to be part of the arts and crafts and embrace being children again. At the young of 16 or 17 some of these adults already had a couple of kids, forcing them to grow up quicker, but today they had a chance to laugh and use as many stickers as they wanted for their crafts! It’s small differences like these that go a long way.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 2

July 2
     Happy Birthday to the Smiles Foundation Missions Centre! We celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the Mission Centre today. Smiles staff, interns, translators, thee Northern Ireland Team and the Regent team gathered for a celebratory dinner and balloon launch this evening. We thanked God for His provision of the Mission Centre (which has housed over 3000 people since its’ inception) and the work God has done and will continue to do through those who stay here. After dinner we worshipped together in Romanian and English, heard a message from Smiles founder Kevin Hoy, and a presentation on the Gepiu elderly project. The universal experience of celebration, gratitude, and worship bridged our cultural differences.
     During our daily debriefing later in the evening, Mel shared a story of the universality of love at the Tileagd gypsy community. Kim’s team visited Tileagd today. Mel and Ketlynn spent time with a 10 year old boy who shared a story of being beaten by his father and being witness to abuse of his mother. As the boy talked, he slipped his hand into Mel’s. They sat together and shared the pain for a few brief moments. Mark shared another story from the  Tileagd about a boy with  a reputation of aggression. Last week this same boy had learned a deep breathing technique from a Regent team member. Mark saw this boy get shoved by a peer. The boy held the offender to the ground in retaliation, but then turned away, took a few deep breaths and walked away without inflaming the aggression.
     Dr. Keyes’ team went to Child Protection Services in Oradea today where he and Cheryl gave presentations on Child and Adolescent Trauma. The team also trained the CPS workers in several practical techniques for their work with traumatized children. They led  groups and practiced  the use of stones, stories, and puppets. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The very burdened CPS workers were grateful for new and useful ideas of helping their clients.
     Lem’s team went on family visits in and around Oradea today. They met with a single mother and her 13 year old son with physical disabilities. At the next home they met a woman who lost her young adult son last year. Team members taught her a safe space technique to help her find comfort In her grief. This woman’s adult daughter also lives in the home. She has a severely disfigured face as a result of a genetic syndrome. Her spirit was full of joy. Team members  engaged her through the stones technique. Lastly this team visited a single mother and her two boys. Her ex-husband’s alcoholism has ravaged the family’s financial and emotional well being.
     It was an intense day in many ways. We shared the universal experiences of both pain and hope.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Last week our trauma teams went into the homes of Smiles’ beneficiaries in order to hear their stories. Today our focus was on presenting trainings to local organizations. These presentations offer education to help create awareness and/or offer preventative measures to address specific needs within the community. Our teams went to a nursing home, Child Protection Services, and the University of Oradea. The Romanian professionals at each location are bright and knowledgeable about their fields. They possess a passion to care for people, which motivates them to work long hours with little compensation or recognition. The staff was eager to learn new ideas for working with their clients.

The team at the nursing home taught the staff about self-care. They explained that using positive statements makes a difference in our ability to follow through on commitments to ourselves. For example, team members shared that saying, “I will try to . . .” keeps people from achieving their goal whereas making a positive statement by saying, “I will . . .” opens up neurological pathways that allow us to achieve success. Although the staff was in disbelief that such a simple change would make a big difference, our trauma team used an activity to model the effectiveness of positive statements. The staff was surprised at the power of words but realized how this could improve their well-being.

The team at Child Protection Services noticed a lot of frustration and burn-out in the staff. Many of these psychologists and social workers have been in the field for over 10 years. Helping professions are relatively new so there’s few resources or trainings to equip and support workers in the field. Some staff called themselves “victims” whereas others identified themselves as “pioneers” for their profession. We spent time talking with the workers about the importance of self-care, specifically what strategies they currently use to refresh from their work. We also affirmed their work, that it has value and that they are making a difference.

Team members at the university worked with counseling professors and students, training them how to process trauma with children and adolescents. The team taught a specific technique using stones in therapy. Staff and students saw potential with this technique to generate deeper interactions with clients. They were eager to put this new skill into practice. Trauma team members felt rejuvenated by sharing their knowledge with their Romanian colleagues.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Today we held training for the Smiles staff at the Smiles compound. Unlike most days, where we pile into different vans to head out to our assigned destinations, we were able to stay at the Smiles compound while the staff came to us. One significant issue here in Romania is the accepted abuse of alcohol; due to this, our training was on substance abuse with a heavy focus on alcohol. We also presented on Quality of Life afterwards.

After presenting the first round of material, we split into groups to really begin to dialogue about the issues the staff faces around alcohol, the cultural differences, and to begin to start thinking of creative solutions to such an overwhelming issue. It was clear the population Smiles staff work with deal with alcohol abuse regularly. The group conversations were powerful to hear. Our team was able to hear a new perspective, dialogue about our own encounters with alcohol abuse, and to hear the additional struggles the Smile staff faces on top of the already daunting problem of alcohol abuse. 

A main theme that was heard throughout the day was the churches in the area do not help or accept church members who are alcoholics. The Christian members are shunned and turned away. The churches were not an ideal place for an alcoholic anonymous group because the staff believed there would be no confidentiality, no acceptance, which would be no help. For our team, hearing this was a challenge. We are coming in, as a Christian University, partnering with a Christian organization, into a place that views Christians as non-accepting creating an additional barrier for all of us when trying to help. In Romans 15:7 it says "Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory." This verse is something we cannot simply say to the church and community here in Romania, but it is something we have to actually demonstrate by our actions and our words. Our team gained a lot of insight from today's sessions and a greater appreciation for the already hard working, amazing Smiles staff. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Yesterday I witnessed a colleague share a grounding technique with a severely traumatized victim of domestic violence at Smiles Foundation's safe house. The technique reduces symptoms of trauma by connecting the person to the here and now through all five senses. As our client practiced this technique of self-care, her intrusive thoughts and anxiety symptoms clearly lessened. We encouraged her to continue taking time to calm her soul to facilitate her healing. 
To take time out for our own self-care is a critical part of our counseling work here as well. Today we took time to rest, play, and process so that we will be better equipped for our work over the next several days. God blessed us with a variety of activities to enjoy. Some of us spent time experiencing the city of Oradea, about 5km from where we stay in Cihei. Others chose to travel a distance to visit the Medieval Castle Corvin in Transylvania. Another group spent a relaxing day at the nearby Baile Felix resort, featuring hot thermal water fed pools and spa. While still others took the opportunity to drive through the countryside to the foothills of the Apuseni Mountains for a tour of the magnificent Pestera Ursilor (Bear Caves).
I asked my colleagues for images, sounds, feelings, scents, and tastes that grounded them to the here and now of the day. Here is some of what they experienced:

  •          the textured landscape of the countryside, marked by patches of fruit tress, vegetable gardens,           sunflower fields, hand-reaped fields of hay, and rows of corn

  •      the varied styles of Oradean architecture from the flowery Art Nouveau to cement Brutalist;                 reminiscent of the array of political and cultural forces in Romania over the centuries.

  •        church bells chiming the Romanian national anthem at 1:00, beckoning Romanians to pause from         their work with hand over heart.

  •       the backdrop of Romanian chatter everywhere we go.

  •       the rough texture of the crumbling stone brick courtyard of a Medieval castle, briefly connecting life      across seven centuries.

  •       the soothing thermal water massaging and melting stress 

  •      the samples of honey from different flowers, offered via toothpick by a Romanian grandmother at the   open market.

As the sun sets and the evening air stills, the smoke of the wood burning water heater at the Foundation lingers in the air. This smoky smell has become symbolic of the onset of nighttime rest...another blessing of God to replenish us for the work ahead.