Merry Christmas, Chi Rho Family!
Dear Sponsors and Friends of Chi Rho,
We recently returned from our regular fall trip to see the ‘kids’ and staff at the House of New Life in Constanta, Romania. This was a special visit; accompanying us were Pastor Gabe Gilliam of Saratoga Federated Church and Robin Shepherd, also a member who is helping us tell the Chi Rho story. While Hud and I have moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, we feel strongly connected to Saratoga Federated and especially to all of you who so generously make this ministry possible. We hope and pray that our mu- tual love and support for this mission will continue with you for many more years.
This trip, the kids and staff were the happiest and healthiest we’ve ever seen. I know I’ve used this description before, but honestly, they just keep getting better and better. We saw more smiles, more hugs and heard more laughter than ever before. Some of the kids who typically have been more withdrawn were visibly glad to see us (they do like the gifts we bring!). We be- lieve the loving, structured environment is the essential compo- nent in their growth and development, as well as their overall happiness.
What do we do when we visit the House of New Life? Like many
families, we play games, make art projects, look at their treasures
in their rooms, enjoy meals together, and just hang out. We also
talk to the staff about their work, their joys and their frustrations. Like any parent, they are concerned when health or behavioral issues arise, so we listen and try to encourage them. They are an amazing group of ‘mamas’ and nearly all of them have been with us since we opened the House of New Life in 1998.
This trip, we brought the final installment of handcraft- ed quilts from the Saratoga Federated Church ladies quilting group. Now every single kid has a lovely quilt from special friends in America. We also spent a great deal of time at the Holy Trinity Baptist Church, our longtime ministry partner in Constanta. They have a new young pastor who is eager to continue the tradi- tion of mutual support, encouragement, and hospitality between us that now spans 23 years.
While we were there, Gabe spoke at three worship services - Friday prayer service, Sunday morning worship, and Sunday evening family service. He always seems to deliver the perfect message to these dear friends, one of hope, encouragement, and unity, and he was so well received. Along with Gabe, Robin Shepherd accompanied us this trip. As a first time visitor, we appreciated her fresh perspective and unique observations as a gifted writer.
As you know, we remain fully committed to this ministry for as long as our kids are living. To that end, we will maintain our current support base as well as forge new alliances with other faith-based organi- zations. We also continue to actively pursue government support and local community advocates. We understand you have many requests and opportunities to give this time of year. We pray you may re- member our kids in prayer and, if it is within your means, that you would consider providing a monetary gift of any size. Your support makes such a difference in our kids’ lives and is a tremendous blessing to our staff in Romania.
Please visit our website, chirho-corp.org, for more updates on our kids and staff. You can also make an online donation there by clicking the Donate button. Or if you prefer to donate by check, we’ve enclosed an envelope for you to use (checks may be made payable to Chi Rho Corp). All donations are fully tax deductible and go entirely toward the care of the children.
Thank you again for allowing these kids to be a part of your lives. We wish you a gracious measure of the joy and comfort to be found in the One whose birth we celebrate this season. On behalf of the entire Chi Rho Board and “cu drag” (with love) for your partnership,
Cindy and Hud Staffield
Chi Rho Board:
Dan Byrne, Gabe Gilliam, Brittany Staffield Gonzalez, Greg Jamison, Ken Olsen, Cindy Staffield, Hud Staffield, Bob Tomlin, Gary Gillam
We are very sad to share that another one of our original House kids, Valentina, passed away this past week. Because she was of legal age and living on her own, we weren’t aware of her declining health. We learned the news from our friend Mirela, who is a nurse at the hospital where Valentina died.
Valentina was one of the initial children from Post Cura 3. She was orphaned by the time she was four years old and had been abandoned at the hospital with significant health problems. Though she was of our higher functioning kids, she was very sick because there was no access to antiretroviral medication. After Chi Rho took over Post Cura 3 and we were able to negotiate for these medications, Valentina’s health improved. While she lived with us, she had “sisters” (Laura, Florentina, and Ancuta), and “mamas” (Dorina and Anisoara). She grew into an independent adolescent and we were able to place her with a local foster family.
We believe that in some ways, our higher functioning kids have greater challenges than those living at the house. Unlike the kids at the house, who have significant mental disabilities, they can think abstractly and they often struggle in forming a sense of identity and self-worth. Now young adults in their twenties, they are making their own life choices. Tragically, the trauma and many losses they suffered in their earliest years have led many down self-destructive paths. This was true for Valentina. After a time, she stopped taking antiretroviral medications, and she was forced to return to the hospital in very weak condition. It was then we learned of her passing.
One of the hardest parts about our work is knowing we can’t save every life we touch. We can only love and care for these children while they choose to be with us. Most importantly, Valentina was known by us and by the Lord, and her life mattered. We were privileged to serve her.
We are mourning the loss of our dear Costi, one of our original House of New Life kids. We found Costi (“Tita”) in 1992, when he was a toddler living in Post Cura 3. Like the rest of the children, he was confined to a crib, and suffered from malnutrition and scabies.
With much love and care from the staff at the House of New Life, Costi grew into a happy, fun-loving boy known for his bright blue eyes and big smile. For more than 20 years, we knew and loved him, and he brought joy to everyone who met him.
Like most of our kids, Costi had health complications that he endured his whole life. This last year was especially difficult for him, but even through his pain, he encouraged everyone around him with his sweet countenance. He also liked to draw, and in a recent visit with his pastor, he showed him some of his drawings. Pastor Sami explained that many of them had religious content, that Costi loved to talk about his drawings, and that was his way of talking about God and Jesus Christ.
Now his body is free from disease and limitations and he is joyfully in the presence of his Maker. For those of us who remain behind, we are joyful for the life we got to share with him and we look forward to that day when we will see him made new. We are grateful for everyone involved in the Chi Rho ministry who gave Costi a life he would never have had otherwise.
Santa Claus made his annual appearance at the House of New Life! Ligia describes the day:
Yesterday Santa Claus visited House of New Life and we had a warm and fun atmosphere. You will see the children waiting for the Santa and to receive gifts. Part of the children and staff prepared some carols to sing to Santa before receiving the gifts. Please enjoy the pictures!
Thank you for your support and love for these children! God bless you! Merry Christmas!
We are so excited for Christmas! Our tree is up and Mari, our special educator, helped us make our own cozy fireplace to gather around. Even Tudi, our cat, seems pretty convinced. We hope Santa feels welcome to come visit us!
December 1 is also World AIDS Day. A few of us went down to our local city mall park to mark the occasion, where some other NGOs were also gathering. There we ran into one of our original kids from the orphanage and one of our foster moms. It was so encouraging to see our friends and many others taking a moment to remember this important day. Prior to the revolution in 1989, poor health practices and a government reluctant to acknowledge the disease prompted HIV/AIDS cases to skyrocket - particularly among orphans. In fact, by the year 2000, 60% of Europe’s pediatric HIV/AIDS cases were registered in Romania, mostly in infants living in public institutions. The majority of those cases were located in Constanta, where the House of New Life is located.
Today in Romania, the most primitive health practices have been discontinued and antiretroviral medications are more accessible for children and young adults. The shame and stigma around the disease has also diminished, although not completely. The generation of children who were infected as infants are survivors today.
Today we had a visit from Mr Bocai’s wife, who brought us gifts of new bed sheets, towels and socks. Mr Bocai was the former mayor of Ovidiu. We love the pink and blue colors for the girls and boys! We’re very grateful, God is good!
Putting a bow on this trip. We made the last rounds of visits to foster families, and then stopped by the infectious disease hospital to see our kids’ pediatrician. She specializes in complex pediatric cases and she said of all the kids she sees in Constanta, ours are the most resilient and best treated. She attributes this to the high level of care they receive at home, including a good diet, therapies, consistent administering of medications, and lots of love!
Then we said our goodbyes at the house; already the kids are counting down the days to Christmas Mari and Ligia surprised my folks with some neat photo boxes, then it was off to the airport, which was thankfully a much less eventful drive than on the way in. We had a wonderful trip, and I’m looking forward to going back. Now time to bounce back from jet lag!
Already halfway through the trip, and time is flying by! We’ve packed in a ton so far. On Monday, we visited an adult day center which is run by some friends of ours. They provide activities for people with a range of mental and physical disabilities, as well as counseling services for their family. In Romania, it’s still a stigma to have a disability and there are very few organizations that offer services to these individuals and their families. This group does really great work and they’re very busy.
On Tuesday, we met with a county official who works closely with the public services administration. We’ve known her for many years and she’s become a friend. On this visit she had good news for us: there’s a strong possibility new legislation will pass to give more money to NGOs like Chi Rho. In her words, the government is realizing that groups like ours can provide the same services they do, but are “twice as effective and half as expensive.” We’ll know by early next year if the legislation is approved. Later, the house had a surprise visit from the mayor’s wife and a children’s choir. They brought homemade pastries and sang traditional Romanian songs. Our kids had a blast, and it was great to see the local community reaching out to them.
Today we visited our foster kids and their families. Hands down, this was the best part of the trip for me. I got to share all the old pictures I had scanned this summer of the kids when they were just toddlers (before we took over the house). For a lot of them, it was the first time they had seen these pictures. We were all pretty teary!
“We arrived in Bucharest on a snowy, windy Saturday. Sanda, our head of foster care, arranged for a driver to pick up my parents, our friend Gary, myself, and our mass of luggage. The weather was unseasonably cold and the roads were extremely icy. On the two hour drive to Constanta, we passed four rolled cars and narrowly missed a 10 car pile-up right behind us. We fishtailed twice but managed to get through before the authorities eventually closed the highway. Thank goodness for Providence, ballast and a good driver!
"Today was our first day at Casa Viata Noua. We met with Ligia, our house administrator, Sanda, the mamas who were on staff that day, and the kids. Years ago, the kids usually had one of two reactions to visitors: they either cowered in fear of strangers, or they would wildly mob them, starved for love and attention. Now they receive visitors with interest and restraint. They are always excited to see my parents, whom they love. They also know it means receiving presents from their sponsors!
Among the goodies we brought were some beautiful quilts, handmade by ladies at my parents’ church. These were big hits. We had lunch with the staff, then looked at some old pictures I’d scanned of my dad’s early visits to Constanta, going back to 1992. It was amazing listening to the mamas recall memories of their kids from years ago, especially of ones who moved away or died. What they do is so much more than a job to them - it is a calling, and they truly love these kids.
"In the afternoon, we went shopping for gifts for the foster kids. Carrefour is a French-based shopping center in Romania; it’s basically a Target. Tomorrow we meet with some local county officials, then later in the week we visit all the foster kids. More updates to follow!
Every September, we spend a week in the mountains in Sinaia, about 200 miles northwest of Constanta. It’s one of the high points of the year for our family. We love going for walks in the fresh mountain air and the annual fall festivals are so much fun - lots of dancing, clowns, and delicious foods. We came home happy, well fed, and exhausted :)
New computers and printers have landed at the House of New Life! Ligia, Vero and Mari manage House budgets, the kids’ medication schedules and therapy programs. The new equipment replaces machines that were 10-12 years old. Thank you to everyone who generously gave to support these ladies in their work and the kids at the House. You made this happen!
Cristi, one of our foster kids, has a special prayer for us:
Angel, my little angel,
God gave you to me as a guardian.
All the time be with me, and
Teach me to do the right thing.
I am small, but you make me big,
I am weak, you make me strong
Always be with me,
And keep me from evil.
Today we received a wonderful donation of clothes and shoes from RHM, a Romanian NGO group. We unpacked the new shirts, hats, and shoes and everyone got to pick out ones they liked. Clothing is a continual need for us, but God always finds a way to fulfill it. Thank you to the donors, to RHM and to God for bringing us together!
Mari, our special educator, is always finding fun ways to help us practice our fine motor skills!