Volonteering in Marghita changed her life!

My name is Sarah and what you are about to read is my story about what FCE has come to mean to me. I would prefer to start from the beginning and tell you about every single event that has led to me being who I am today. However, this is not a book, so I will keep it short. I think I have to briefly describe who I was before I got to know God in order to help you understand the two worlds that met when, in April 2004, I put my foot in Romania for the first time.

I had a very “country-style”upbringing with cows, haycart and kittens. The downside of this ideal life was that the 100 cows took most of my parents’ time so I spent a big part of my childhood together with my grandmother. Grandma was my comfort and safety. She was a Christian and built the foundation of what I know about Jesus today. Together with my grandma, I thanked God for the food and prayed an evening prayer every night. My grandpa died suddenly when I was three and when I was ten my grandma met another man and moved 450 km away from me. Together with grandma, my safety disappeared and my whole world was turned upside down because I felt abandoned and rejected. From been a rather easy-going and happy child, I slowly turned into a more and more angry child in despair. It didn’t get better when my parents divorced, the cows were sold and my relationship with my mother became worse and worse. My grandma died suddenly three years after she had moved away. My mother and I turned our sorrows against each other and the relationship got worse.

I started early to test the limits and I wasn’t more than twelve when I stole my first cigarettes and then smoked them just to spite. I also started to self harm and in some strange way I found it peaceful to watch my own blood flow. When I started high school, everything turned into a complete disaster. The little village school was moved into the city where I quickly made friends with many others just as angry and lost as myself. The situation at home also became worse. My mother and I couldn’t see each other without it ending in screaming and fighting. My friends and I were in constant contact with the police and social services. In school I was more absent than present; I smoked, drank alcohol and tried drugs.

After a rough time as a teenager I met Lasse. He came as a gift from above and became my secure haven during the three years we were together. It is with thanks to him that I am who I am today. Within a year, my grades had gone up, I started a college program to work with children and youth and the relationship with my parents had significantly improved. The anger I had been carrying around shrunk each day I was together with Lasse and when our relationship ended, I was a fairly harmonic person. The fact that Lasse was a Christian wasn’t anything I thought about during our relationship, but looking back I can see that God was present in my life even then.

It was during my second year in college when I heard about FCE for the first time. The girls in the class above me were doing a project to collect things to give to the Second Hand store ‘Open Hand’, which supports FCE’s work in Romania. To show their gratitude for the girls’ involvement, Open Hand financed a trip to Romania so they, with their own eyes, could see where the things they had collected would end up. When the girls came back, they talked about their journey and what they had experienced in Romania. I decided right away, I felt it in my entire body; I wanted to go there too! During the last year in college there was an eight week long placement which was the perfect opportunity for me to visit Romania. The fact FCE is a Christian foundation was nothing I reflected on, I assumed for sure that there would be others there who, just like me, were not Christians but still had the desire to help people.

I had to apply to the school board and then to FCE. Later on, I found out it was interesting that I was actually able to go because FCE had decided, just before I applied, that they wouldn’t let any more young people come on placement. God wanted something else so in April 2004, at 18 years of age, I got on the bus towards Romania, Marghita to be specific, for the first time.

I remember the feeling when I came into Herculane (the volunteer team house) for the first time. The whole ceiling was filled with hearts with different names on. In the room where I was supposed to sleep, a girl was sitting playing a guitar and singing. Immediately I felt that here, in this house with these people, there was love. Some days later I received an Easter egg with my name on.  The Easter egg was from Sofia, the daughter of Lars and Barbro, the couple who started the foundation. I had never met Sofia, she wasn’t there in Romania but had sent an egg to each volunteer. I was completely amazed. The fact that someone had thought of me, someone had taken time to prepare an egg for me too even though we had never met, that was too much for me. This was the first time I encountered God’s work in its most unselfish form, and it wasn’t the last time.

Soon I found out that I was the only one there who wasn’t a Christian. My background seemed to differ remarkably from the others and I felt a bit in the wrong place. I remember the first prayer meeting I attended. I have to admit that it scared me when all these nice people were totally into their prayer to the Lord. To pray together out loud in this way was nothing I had ever met before. When someone started to cry I panicked. Why didn’t anyone comfort her? I nudged the girl next to me and in a discrete way I pointed to the girl who was crying. The girl next to me smiled with a look that told me I didn’t need to worry about it and I quietly wondered if this maybe was some kind of a sect. I didn’t know much about the love to God and what it can do to people during prayer.

After a day or so it was time for me to go to Casa Alba, the orphanage where I was going to work during my time in Romania.  At Casa Alba the children were divided by age in different rooms. Since I couldn’t speak the language I was going to work with the youngest children. Each room had a door with a small window. I remember it like yesterday, the feeling that spread like an explosion through my entire body when I looked in through the window for the first time and saw the little girl who would change my life forever. In the pink room, which was the room where the youngest children lived, there were four babies at that time, all younger than a year. She was one of them. During the eight weeks I was in Romania I spent so much time with her. When I wasn’t working, I brought her with me to Herculane. She was a happy and determined little lady and the time in Romania passed quickly as she took most of my time. When I think of those weeks, I remember especially the nights she didn’t want to sleep. It was as if she had to seize every minute when she had someone’s full attention and then she didn’t have time to sleep. I remember walking back and forth in the little living room with her in my arms, afraid that I would bother the other volunteers sleeping in the room next door. The feeling that spread through my body every time I looked at her was immense. I had never had such a strong feeling for anyone or anything before. The other children also affected me, each with their own story. I gained perspective on life and the problems that had taken my energy before faded away. When my time as a volunteer was over, I was in despair. How would I be able to leave the little girl that I had just got to know? I remember putting her down on the mattress at Casa Alba, turning around and leaving. I had tears running down my face all the way back to Herculane and I promised myself that I would come back soon. It didn’t turn out that way, but I didn’t know that then.

Back in Sweden again, I finished college and started to work in childcare. In the summer I started limping, the limping slowly became an increasing pain going out into my right leg. In Autumn 2005, the situation was unbearable and many times I had to seek help for the pain in my back. In 2006, just as spring was beginning, I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a form of cancer in the skeleton. The tumor was in my hip, about 10 x 10 cm and was in a place where it wasn’t possible to operate. The future didn’t look bright when I, at the age of 20, got my first dose of chemotherapy. The treatment went on for a year. Because the tumor wasn’t operable, I was on the maximum dose of chemotherapy, the maximum dose of radiation and the year ended with a stem cell transplant where I got my own stem cells back. This treatment is, by far, the worst thing I’ve ever been through. The chemotherapy made me feel very sick and very tired. Through the years many people have asked me how I coped. It’s when I hear that question, I talk about Romania. I tell them about Romania and the wonderful people I met there. I tell them about how they showed me who God was so I knew where to turn to to get strength during the times when I just wanted to give up. I tell them about her, the little girl, who in spite of her young age had to go through so much, and this all by herself. I tell about how brave and strong she was and despite her story, she smiled at me every morning when she woke up. I talked about my longing to see her again. I had to survive because she didn’t have anyone else who cared for her, no mother, no father. My situation wasn’t bright, but I prayed to God that I would see her again and in February 2008 I was on my way back to Romania. I didn’t have much hair on my head and my bag was full of penicillin.

In my head I had pictured it so many times when I had been sitting with my head over the toilet during feverish hospital nights, how I would once again look through the window of the pink room and see my little girl there. The feeling I had when I stepped in through the door at Casa Alba again was unbeatable. Of course, my little girl didn’t recognize me after such a long time so it took a few days to win back her trust. But it was that first night, when once again I could hug her goodnight that I knew for sure that God existed. Actually I already knew that but this was what I needed in order to leave all doubts behind me. I thanked God for listening to my prayer, for showing me his love, for helping me through the trials life had presented and I thanked him that I was able to experience this day that I had dreamt about for so long. I thanked God for life, and I still do.

In the summer of 2009 my little girl was adopted. By that time I had made several journeys back and forth to Romania and to her. Even during this time, God was with me and gave me the opportunity to keep in touch with her parents. This year it is ten years since I came to Romania for the first time and I have had the privilege to go back and see my girl again. She has a wonderful life and my love and gratitude to our Lord had no limits when I saw her playing with her brothers in her own family.

To adopt some time in the future has been a strong desire since God showed me the orphans. It was also through knowing this that I managed to get through an education at the university.

I promised myself that if God once again would let my path cross with a child whose mere existence makes my heart overflow with love, I will not only have the emotional availability but also the economical possibility to take care of that child. This year I have had the opportunity to bring my fiancée here. It was to incredibly important to me to show him what it is that has shaped me into the person I am today.

Looking back I can see how amazing God’s plan is. He knew what He was doing when He sent me off to Romania that first time. Today I am healthy and feeling good. It will take ten years before I get declared healthy, so I’m not there yet, but I’m well on my way and with God’s love and strength I will manage the challenges life offers. I can’t in words explain what Romania and the work of FCE have meant to me and to many other volunteers, children, youth etc. It has given me so much knowledge, love, trust and faith. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Marghita 20th of september 2014

Sarah