It’s the smile that first captivated me. It’s ever-present. And it’s powerful to melt hearts.
Nicoleta snuggled into my lap as we listened to the story of Stephen at Kids Beach Club. She did her best to pay attention, even with the distraction of Hawaiian leis, nametags, treasure chests, and her little sister Bianca sitting next to her. Her hairstyle was far too familiar – I had seen it on countless orphans in third-world countries as an easy remedy for a lice breakout. And her clothes were tattered and dirty. But that smile. Oh that smile.
The story of Stephen taught about courage – about being brave in the midst of hard times, about being an overcomer in Christ. I looked at Nicoleta and her sister. Neither really understand the meaning of the word “courage,” but both live it every day. The girls and their siblings live in Nevrincea, with a mom and a man who now does his best to care for them. It’s unsure if he passed away or walked away, but their father is no longer around. The oldest sister, a teenager, is now caring for a baby of her own. Dana, the middle sister, has special needs. Bianca, the youngest, rarely talks and doesn’t stray too far from her sisters. Nicoleta is the rare gem – she’s open and talkative and happy. She shines.
It’s a rare and special gift to meet Nicoleta and her sisters. They live at home only during the summer months. During the school year, they are taken to a “placement center” – or children’s home – to ensure they receive an education and proper care. I try to wrap my head around a yet new description of the word “orphan,” and the tears fall. That “if only I could take Nicoleta and her sisters home with me” rush sweeps over me, but I know the answer. They are social orphans. I’m called to be family – whatever that looks like. And for them, family looks like transformation of the village of Nevrincea. It looks like food and clothing. It looks like clean water. It looks like education programs. It looks like the Gospel – lived out every day.
Now it’s my turn to understand the meaning of the word “courage.” It’s my turn to be brave and be bold for Nicoleta and her sisters. Working with Red Page Ministries and the House of Joy, I believe transformation can happen. As I watch my team from First Baptist Church of Levelland fall more deeply in love with this village, I know change is coming. It’s already begun.
And that makes me smile. Just like Nicoleta.