When adoptions from Romania came to a halt a few years ago, there was a bit of noise from the U.S. adoption community and probably a probably a flurry of articles in the press. But by now, the plight of Romanian orphans has dropped off nearly everyone's radar. I've wanted to blog about Romanian adoption and Romanian orphan care in the past, but I haven't had time to do the research, and I don't have any first-hand experience. So I was thrilled to receive a prayer letter from some old friends, Joshua and Laurel Louk, who have recently visited orphan facilities in Romania and plan to go back to work with orphans after raising support from churches in the U.S. (Joshua and Laurel's personal ministry blog is http://thegospelinaction.com.) After reading the Louks' letter, I contacted Joshua and asked whether he would give me an interview. He graciously consented.
I'm breaking my interview with the Joshua Louk into two parts. Here's the first.
Tell us a little about yourselves.
I received a B.A. in Bible and an M.A. in church history. My wife, Laurel received a B.S. in public relations journalism, an M.S. in counseling, and an M.A. in church history.
We met during our undergraduate years at Bob Jones University. After completing my M.A, I moved to Korea where I taught in a Christian school for three and a half years. Laurel taught English and Latin in the U.S. until we were married on May 26, 2006, after which Laurel joined me in Korea for my final year of teaching.
We returned to the United States in July 2007 and joined Biblical Ministries Worldwide (BMW). After our acceptance with BMW, we took a three-week survey trip to Romania and are now preparing to return as career missionaries.
Where are you headed, and how do you plan to get there?
The Lord seems to be directing our paths to work with Baron and Joyce Howerton in Lugoj, Romania. The Howertons are missionaries sent out by Tri-City Baptist Church, in Independence, Missouri. They planted Bereea, a small but growing church, three years ago and have been praying that the Lord would send a couple to assist their work by helping to train church members to minister to Lugoj’s abandoned children.
While visiting with the Howertons, the church, and other orphan care institutions in Romania, we came to believe that we are the ones God is sending to assist the church in Lugoj. We will begin visiting churches in January to raise both prayer and financial support.
Can you tell us about orphan care in Romania?
Sin, bureaucracy, selfishness, and apathy have made orphan care in Romania a confusing and disgusting mess. Some private orphanages and group homes provide needed care in a loving, healthy manner. But most state institutions (orphanages, group homes, baby hospitals, and even foster care) are abysmal. The government imposes confusing, contradictory, and even damaging restrictions and regulations on both the private and public institutions. These restrictions make it difficult to truly help the children. Ironically, in one way these restrictions can work to the advantage of gospel preaching groups. Because most care-givers in the system are so over worked, they welcome groups offering Bible club/studies, mentoring/discipleship, and camps to the children, simply so that the caregivers can take a break.
What are the Public Orphanages like?
Think of the odor and filth of the worst nursing home that you can imagine. Now blend that stench with images of an unsupervised prison, and then know that some of the public orphanages are worse. When we first entered, many of the young children kids jumped on us, desperate for attention. Most of the workers seemed not to care for the kids at all, leaving them unattended and unloved as the workers sat drinking coffee or smoking while chatting among themselves. Those who did care for them were utterly incapable of giving the kids the attention that they needed. The conditions were so abysmal, we were not permitted to take pictures.
In addition to the obvious external problems, we were also informed that sexual activity and abuse is rampant in the orphanage. The younger children are systematically abused by the older ones (most of whom were also abused when they were younger). The adult workers, aware of the problem, do nothing to stop it and are sometimes involved themselves. The lack of care for the orphans permeates beyond the orphanage walls into the whole society. For example when a volunteer reported that one of the workers had molested a minor under her care, Romanian social services dismissed this as a problem by rationalizing that the caregiver was divorced and lonely. She still works there. These orphanages are unquestionably strongholds of the devil.
Not all of the orphanages were as bad as the first one we saw. But even in the better ones, the children were desperate for attention and largely left to raise themselves.
How about the Public Group Homes? Are they better than the Orphanages?
Thanks to western pressure, the government of Romania is gradually attempting to close down some of their huge orphanages, replacing them with group homes. Unfortunately, many of the same problems migrate with the children and workers to their new location.
The state group homes vary greatly in quality according to the character of those put in charge as parent figures. A few of the parent figures treat the children under their care with the love that a normal parent would show his or her own children and do their best to create a situation somewhat resembling a natural home environment.
However, many other house parents make an obvious distinction between the orphans and their own children and have basically turned their government-provided home into a mini-orphanage. Another problem with this system is that many of the group homes are run by the same people who once staffed the orphanages. None of the public group homes that we visited were run by Bible believers, so obviously the biggest problem is that no one is telling these children about the Savior.
And the Private Orphanages? Are they better?
The love and care that was shown to the kids at the private, Christian orphanage we visited (it housed 22 children) was admirable. The people there pour themselves out for those kids and most workers are Christians. But it is incredibly draining to give so much of yourself to so many for such a prolonged period. And the children in the orphanage obviously wanted someone they could consider their mom or dad.
What about the Private Group Homes?
These homes are staffed almost exclusively by Christians and organized to be as much like a natural home as possible. The private group homes were the healthiest institutional organizations that we saw. The kids were generally well behaved and well loved. But even in the best of situations, we saw problems that we believe can only be avoided through having a parent-child relationship.
I've heard before about babies just being left in cribs in hospitals? Is that really true?
Abandoned babies, younger than two years old, are not allowed to be put in orphanages or in group homes. They must be put in foster care. This might seem to be a sensible directive. Unfortunately, the number of abandoned babies exceeds the number of foster families, and those babies who do not go into foster care are simply left in baby hospitals.
These babies, who would otherwise be learning, exploring, and developing, spend the formative first two years of their life alone in a crib like an animal in a pet store without the hope of a loving home. Few Romanians foster and even fewer adopt. When we were in Romania, seeing and leaving the babies in the hospital was undoubtedly the most difficult thing we did on the trip, and perhaps the most difficult thing that we have ever done in our lives.
What prevents these children from being adopted by U.S. citizens through international adoption?
In a logically flawed attempt to gain EU membership, Romania placed and currently maintains a moratorium on the foreign adoption of its abandoned children. The EU told the Romanian government that to gain EU membership, the country would have to take care of the its orphan problem, but instead of finding ways to protect its abandoned children by placing them in loving homes, Romania put together a political gymnastic routine that attempts to conceal and deny the existence of the problem. For example, many orphanages have been renamed Social Service Centers, and because the children in these centers house are no longer in an orphanage per se, Romania feels the freedom to remove these abandoned children from its orphan roster. The director of a private orphan foundation shared with us that he was at an event where a government official announced that there were no more orphans in Romania. This came as a shock to him since he cared for so many of them on a regular basis. Obviously, such ridiculous statements are not really fooling anyone. But the government uses these falsehoods and plays the part of the ostrich, failing to take actions that would serve the interests of the children better.
So basically any solution has to be done inside Romania. Is that right?
Yes. There is a group of United States senators attempting to persuade the Romanian government to reverse its moratorium. But there have been no signs that Romania is ready to change its stance. Therefore, help for these orphans has to come from either Romanians or from foreigners with permanent residency.
Wrap up: In the second part of this interview, I talk to Joshua about his and his wife's personal plans for ministry to Romanian orphans – and also about what American Christians can do for children in Romania.