From East Texas to Eastern Europe With Love

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In November of 2008, Diane Stone stepped into a sparse but tidy supply closet in the recreation room of an East Texas group home and stumbled across a couple of plastic looms. Nearly eight years and 2,400 hats later, she and nine other women have knitted their way across the Atlantic Ocean, connecting two organizations in the BCFS system in a meaningful way, and most importantly providing warmth and compassion to orphans in Eastern Europe.

Diane has served as a day program leader at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), a residential community for adults with disabilities, for almost a decade.

When she first found the Knifty Knitter looms, Diane thought, “Maybe the residents could learn how to make hats with these!”

In the first year of knitting, Diane’s group created 200 hats. The number has grown every year since, reaching 370 hats in 2015.

All of the hats are sent overseas and distributed to orphanages in Moldova in Eastern Europe every December by Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), the international branch of BCFS.

Remarkably, BVT has not had to purchase yarn for any of the 2,400 hats they’ve created since the knitting group began. According to Diane, volunteers collect trunk loads of yarn donations from their churches. Arts and crafts have always been a part of BVT’s day habilitation program, but it was important to Diane that the residents “use their time and talents to serve others, and feel the joy that brings.”

By making hats, BVT meets a very real need. Not only are Moldova’s winter temperatures gravely cold, but utilities and energy resources are scarce. It is difficult to keep buildings warm when the sun goes down, so the children can wear BVT’s knitted hats all hours of the night and day.

When the first batch of hats arrived in Moldova, the CERI team sent a report back to Tyler, Texas, thanking BVT villagers profusely. Eight years later, tears still well up in Diane’s eyes as she remembers what they told her.

“The kids don’t ever get a choice in what they wear,” she said. “They just wear whatever they are given.”

But, in this case it was different! CERI workers laid out the hats, with their brilliant array of colors, almost as many shades and patterns as there were hats, and let them pick!

“The kids didn’t know what to do. Orphanage workers had to take them by the hand and show them how to make a choice.”

Diane’s knitting group has expanded to become an official class at BVT. But the core group of nine knitters continues to meet every morning, sharing life and ministry with each other. “We are just one big family here at BVT,” Diane says. “I have never been anywhere with an atmosphere like this.”

Community service has always been a part of the lifestyle of BVT residents and day program participants. Staff and residents are involved with Meals on Wheels, the East Texas Food Bank, Jesus Closet Clothing Ministry, and other local nonprofits. Expanding their local volunteer efforts to have a global impact was a logical – and inspiring – next step.bvt2

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Casa Dulce Casa

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Many of the youth and young adults CERI serves in Moldova face a constant struggle to meet their basic needs – their living environment is often unstable, food is sparse, and hand-me-down, ill-fitting clothing and shoes do little to protect them from the cold, harsh winters. Moldova is one of the poorest nations in Europe, and the primary source country for victims of human trafficking, where impoverished youth in this former Soviet republic are especially vulnerable.

In 2011, responding to the plight of homelessness facing young adults in Moldova, CERI opened two transitional apartments, one for males and another for females ages 16 to 23 years old. In these apartments, CERI provides free, safe and stable housing to young men and women who are at a dire crossroads in life.

While living in the apartments, the young adults participate in CERI’s Transitional Care program which provides case management, education and career services, counseling, life skills trainings, medical treatment referrals, volunteer opportunities and more. The CERI apartments house 10 to 12 young adults at any given time who are working towards earning a college degree or completing a vocational training program so they can find a job and transition out to live on their own.

As part of this unique program, a Christian mentor lives in the apartment building with the young adults and serves as the “parental figure” who encourages, supports and guides them. The mentor helps them build their life skills by teaching them how to prepare healthy and affordable meals; how to budget and save money; how to keep their apartments clean and organized; and proper personal hygiene practices, among many other things. The mentor also organizes a weekly Bible study group which just recently completed the book How To Love God and Our Neighbor. Through this book, they learned practical ways to show love and cultivate healthy relationships by looking to God as the supreme example.

“The living conditions [in the CERI apartments] are very good. I like the meetings with the girls,” says Nadejda, who currently lives there. “Usually we cook together. We have an excellent mentor. She is a good example for us and every day we learn something new from her.”

Through the support of faithful donors, CERI is able to provide essential services to vulnerable youth who could have easily fallen victim to unconscionable suffering and abuse, but thankfully are now in a loving environment, breaking a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and hopelessness.

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Healing From the Inside Out: Cristina’s Story

By Ecaterina Babin

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Cristina was born in Moldova, the youngest sibling of four older brothers. Her mother was addicted to alcohol and became increasingly violent and abusive as her drinking worsened. She brutally beat Cristina, while her father did nothing to protect her. Her father neglected Cristina and her brothers, staying away from home as much as possible to avoid the harsh reality that his family was suffering.

Cristina’s mother died of a cerebral stroke in 2009. Even though Cristina has traumatic memories of her mother, she still misses her.

When she was 12, Cristina started having health problems. She had surgery on her appendix and later began experiencing epileptic seizures. She developed a spine tumor — all the while, her father showed no interest in helping her get critical medical treatment. Cristina was put on medical disability and spent most of her time in the hospital. Despite that, she managed to finish middle school with good grades.

After undergoing another surgery in 2011, Cristina found herself with no money or permanent place to live. A woman who worked at the hospital told Cristina about Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), the overseas division of BCFS. Cristina wanted to start a new life and get an education, but her dreams felt hopelessly out of reach. In the fall os 2012, she asked CERI for help.

Cristina spent the next three years in CERI’s Transitional Care program, which privides case management, access to education and vocational training, financial literacy and life skills training, and guidance on how to avoid human traffickers that run rampant in the region. CERI helped place Cristina in a Christian center where she started going to church, and ultimately professed her faith in Christ. Soon after, she was accepted into the Christian University to study social work.

Things were finally looking up for Cristina! She enjoyed her college classes, and had a new church “family” to encourage her — but she was still very ill. She was hospitalized several more times that year, and ultimately underwent radiation therapy.

Today, she has a clean bill of health; she feels much better and believes that God has healed her.

Cristina is in her third year of college and going to class in the evenings. She is a member of New Testament Church in Chisinau, Moldova, where she serves in their Sunday school program.

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