Guest post: My Visit to the House of New Life, by Brittany S Gonzalez

Dad and I came to visit the House of New Life this past April. It had been quite some time since I’d been back - 14 years! - and I wanted to join him on this particular trip and see how everyone was doing. 

We arrived Constanta on Friday night, April 25. We spent two days before in Zurich to rest and adjust to the time change before flying onto Bucharest. Sanda, our head of foster care program, picked us up at the airport and drove us to Constanta, a two hour drive east of Bucharest. We had a great dinner together at Restaurant Scapino then checked into the Hotel Dali right on the Black Sea. How things have changed since I was last in Romania!

Saturday morning, we went to visit the House of New Life (‘Casa Viata Noua’ in Romanian, or CVN for short). It’s about a 20 minute drive outside of the city, and is located in a quiet residential neighborhood. The house itself is a single story yellow house, with a big yard, a garden, a patio covered by an arbor, and a view of a lake. Inside, I was struck by how homey it felt. Chicken soup bubbled on the stove. Kids’ artwork covered the walls. Soft, blanket draped couches invite you to sit and visit. All the kids and staff were waiting excitedly to meet us. For me, it was emotional meeting the kids again in person after 15 years. Seeing them so happy and healthy, knowing all the terrible things they endured in their childhood, brought tears to my eyes.

That evening, we had dinner with Ligia, our house director, and her family. Their friendship, hospitality, and amazingly good food were just the right medicine for jet lag.

On Sunday, we attended the Holy Trinity Baptist Church. Holy Trinity was the church we first partnered with back in 1992, when World Vision invited members from Saratoga Federated Church to visit the orphanage. Dad had been asked by the head pastor to give a sermon about why God calls us to serve in our community. We also showed a video of volunteers from Saratoga Federated helping at the homeless in downtown San Jose - check it out here (password: sfchud). In the evening, we spoke at another church - a new offshoot of Holy Trinity - about CVN and why we serve there.

Monday began with a visit to Casa Soarelui, a short-term care hospital for the terminally ill, mostly cancer patients. There aren’t many places in Romania that offer this kind of support, so Casa Soarelui is always full. Then we went to the house to visit the staff and kids, and to give gifts which Mom always packs for every visit. Our mamas, cooks, educator and director all loved their gifts (especially the See’s Candies!) and the kids loved their bubbles, stickers, chocolates and coloring pads. Everyone missed 'Mama Cynthia’ and they were delighted to see her likeness in me. Later, we had dinner at the home of the head pastor of Holy Trinity Baptist, where we talked about how Dad’s sermon was received, and how our churches can continue to work together.

On Tuesday, we drove out to visit all of our foster kids. These are kids who used to live at the house, and are now living with families in and around Constanta. Sanda heads up our foster care program, and manages placement, follow-ups, and outpatient care our kids may need because of complications with HIV. The families and kids all know her well, and they have very good relationships with her.

As we drove from one home to another, I was touched by how well and happy the kids were, and how much love and pride the families have for their foster kids. Altogether, we visited nine kids and their families. One girl, Tanu, I remembered from my last visit in 2000. She had been abandoned as a baby and classified as ‘irrecoverable’ by the state because of her medical history. She was put into an orphanage and confined to a crib. When Chi Rho was founded and took over that orphanage - now the House of New Life - she recovered and was our very first child to receive a foster family. She now lives out in the country with her family, and has grown into a beautiful young lady. She is busy taking agriculture classes, and she was very excited to show us her beehives, orchard and greenhouse full of vegetables. Her family adores her, and she them. 

On Wednesday, CVN received visitors from an organization called Youth With A Mission, whose visit happened to coincide with ours. A group of American college students came to play with our kids, sing songs, and lead them in other fun activities. YWAM is very active throughout Eastern Europe, and our staff has done a great job at staying connected with the organization and inviting them back for visits as much as possible.

That afternoon, we went to visit one of our foster kids who has been in the hospital recently. Hospitals in general are not pleasant places, but this one during the late 1980s and early 1990s was truly a house of horrors. Today, the hospital is less frightening than it used to be, but knowing its history, it still gave me chills. Our boy, whom we’ve known since he was a toddler, is a sweet guy with a great big smile. When we walked into his room, he lit up and was so happy to see my dad. I excused myself to the hallway outside and sobbed. As of this writing, his condition remains very serious. We are comforted knowing his foster family is with him, along with his friends. Sanda and Ligia make regular visits to the hospital, and share updates with us about how he is doing. 

On Thursday, Romania celebrated May Day (May 1), a holiday and kickoff to the spring and summer seasons. The kids and staff celebrated May Day with barbecue, sidewalk chalk, flower arrangements, and games. That night, we had a wonderful dinner at Cornel and Grati Vlagea’s home. The Vlageas are longtime family friends and members of the Holy Trinity Baptist Church, and are always very kind to host us for dinner whenever my parents are in town.

On our last day, we visited the House one more time to say our goodbyes, then we attended the evening church service at Holy Trinity. Our last dinner was with Ligia and Sanda at - of all places - McDonalds! Because of the holiday weekend, the city was packed with tourists and all the no-smoking restaurants in the entire city were completely booked up. So we showed up in our Sunday best at the Constanta McDonalds on a Friday night, and laughed through the whole meal. Then it was Saturday morning, and time to leave.

 It was a very special trip for both my dad and I. I’m looking forward to going back to Romania in October!                                                           

~ Brittany Staffield Gonzalez, 5/16/14