February 2024 LINK: CAR Edition

If you had “the legs” and the opportunity...

would you rather hike the Smoky Mountains with an enthusiastic guide or thumb through a coffee table book of glorious vistas? Would you rather sit around a bonfire with your buddies or hear a TED talk about the importance of connecting with others? The amazing difference between simply acquiring information and actually experiencing that same truth through relationship was a hallmark of Jesus’ life on earth. When asked where he was going, he invited folks to come along and see, initiating an incredible trajectory of freedom and transformation for a growing band of men and women in Judea. Those same principles of healing and change, rooted in relationship, can be seen throughout MLI’s Children at Risk ministries and is the focus of this edition of the LINK. We hope these stories and pictures will draw you in, allowing you to witness how God is using His plan for authentic relationship as an avenue for the outpouring of His transformative love, calling us all into a deeper relationship with Him and each other.

Bonfire at Alpinis Leadership Center

Relationships, Healing and Deborah House

Adriana (name has been changed, but whose story is true) is a young woman who spent some years at MLI’s Deborah House and is now 30 years old. She is happily married with 2 young children, enjoying rich relationships within her immediate family and her God, and is cultivating ever-deepening relationships within her extended family and community. But this has not always been so. At the age of 14, Adriana, who could no longer endure the aggression and abuse of her mother’s boyfriend, left home. She abandoned her family, school and everything that should have brought her safety, hoping to find a better way. After two years of living on the streets and in transit centers, Adriana, who was 16 years old by now, was entrusted to Deborah House, MLI’s specialized residential home for girls who have experienced devastating trauma.

Trying to hide her anger and grief, Adriana remained aloof from much of the life at Deborah House and the few words she would speak of her mother were filled with disapproval, pain and anger. But over her first summer at Deborah House, she slowly warmed to the activities and games brought by the visiting Short Term Mission teams and she even found herself participating! Softened by this interaction with others, she dared to open her heart and began forming friendships with some of her “sisters” at Deborah House, planting the seeds for rich relationships that continue today. This window of openness widened to include the Deborah House staff and the healing approach of her specialized counseling, and over time, her self-protective anger began to melt away. After two impactful years at Deborah House, she was able to leave Deborah House as a young adult, secure in the knowledge that she was loved by God and others. But God wasn’t finished with her yet!

Shortly before she was to be married, Adriana found the strength to reconnect with her mother, and she was able to meet her 3 sisters, ages 1 to 4, that had been born since she left home. She was thrilled to meet her younger sisters, but more importantly, and although not yet complete, the work of forgiveness had been started in Adriana’s heart toward her mother.

Sadly, her mother passed away in 2017 before she and Adriana could completely mend their relationship. Upon her mother’s death, the younger sisters were taken into Protective Custody and needed a safe place to live. In keeping with Adriana’s appeal on behalf of her sisters, and after several years of painful and failed attempts by the government to keep the young girls with their father, they were ultimately removed urgently and finally “came home” to Deborah House in August of 2021 to begin their own paths to healing and restoration.

Understandably, these young girls have deep wounds related to the years of abuse and neglect they suffered. Now aged 9 to 12 years old, those wounds are surfacing as hatred toward a mother that would/could not protect them, and ultimately, upon her death, left them entirely on their own. How deeply can these wounds be pressed into the hearts of these young girls, and how can healing fit in between hatred and unforgiveness? But through relationship, God had a plan. Who better to walk alongside them with deep knowledge and unconditional love than their older sister, Adriana?

Adriana’s family visiting with aunt and sisters at Deborah House
Family reunion at Deborah House

This past Christmas, after multiple updates by DH staff and regular phone calls with her sisters, Adriana, her husband and 2 kids were able to travel to Deborah House for a grand reunion. Her younger sisters had carefully purchased and prepared gifts for their “new” niece and nephew, and they all had the joy of being together as a growing family. For Adriana’s continued healing, God has provided a deepening relationship with her mother’s sister, who is making her own connections with the girls at Deborah House. Adriana’s continued investment in her sisters’ lives is the living proof and the active encouragement they need to discover that sincere forgiveness and profound healing is available for them. What joy and consolation to find this is all in keeping with God’s great plan to invite us into deep relationship with Himself and each other.

Building a Bridge of Friendship

A beautiful relationship is blooming between the girls now living at MLI’s Deborah House and a few high school girls from the Student Ministry at Mt. Bethel Church in Marietta, Georgia. The girls have met three times so far, and are getting to know each other through monthly Zoom calls. On a previous call, the Mount Bethel youth had a message of encouragement for the Deborah House girls taken from Psalm 139. Their message was that God knows everything about us, which means He is in control, and that means we need to fear no one and no thing.

Recently in January, these girls met for a third time, via webcams again set up simultaneously in a youth ministry room in Marietta, GA and in the living room of Deborah House in Giarmata, Romania. They continued to press into building authentic relationship with each other, even though they live on opposite sides of a big ocean and are separated by 7 hours time. They shared many laughs together this month as they got to know each other better by playing a time-honored game, “Two Truths and a Lie”. Many of the Romanian girls impressed the Deborah House staff with their detective skills, reportedly easily picking up on the lies because of the way they were spoken- fun was certainly had by all! 

Friends in Marietta, GA

Friends in Romania

The girls at Deborah House are excited about these monthly meetings and enjoy connecting with girls their own age. In the words of Fivi Danalache, MLI’s Children At Risk Coordinator, “All children, but especially the girls at Deborah House, need to feel loved and that they mean something to someone. It is special to know when someone wants to see you regularly, wants to get to know you, and that you are valuable to someone. Advice and encouragement coming from girls their own age has a greater impact than if the same things were said to them by an adult. Teenagers have their own language and way of communicating!”

We know that God continues to do extraordinary things even through ordinary games, laughter and Zoom connections. We are encouraged and challenged as we watch these young women in Romania and the US pursue each other in mutual love and friendship, teaching us all what real relationship can mean.

A Word from MI Knoxville

Relationship is at the heart of who we are at Missio International, too. I’m so grateful for the folks that God has called alongside me here in Knoxville…Kenny, Shelby, Kristi Kelly and Ashley, not to mention the encouraging and FUN friendships shared among our fabulous board members!

In Romania, Emil and Lorena (and so many others) feel just like family as we have all worked together, celebrated together, prayed together and cried and laughed together through the years, binding our hearts together and deeper in Christ.

Thanks for taking the time to read this LINK and check out what God has been doing through the Children at Risk Ministries. Please consider yourself cordially invited to join us on this life-changing adventure with God.

Lauren W. Clevenger

MI Knoxville Team

Look who's headed to Romania!

The Refinery Christian Church – AZ

Christ Church of Oak Brook – IL

First Baptist Church of Clinton – MS

Mount Bethel Church – GA

West End Assembly of God – VA

Created For Relationship

I believe God created us specifically for relationship. We’re built with an innate desire for it. And one of the beautiful things about God is that when something is important to Him, He will manifest it in our lives in many ways, impressing its importance onto our hearts as He makes us whole.

Growing up in a close-knit family, I nevertheless experienced the growing pains referred to in my family as “the teenage disease”, and boy, did I have it bad! This stage also coincided with hurtful and confusing circumstances in my life that were outside of my control, leading me to blame the ones I loved the most. This was hardest on my mom since we had been so close. As I was nearing the end of my senior year, my mom, who had been to Romania the year before, asked me if I would like to go with her this year. It would mean I would miss the last two weeks of school, but I said, “Yes, of course I want to go!”.

I think going so young was exactly what I needed to relate to the girls at Deborah House. My problems back home seemed insignificant compared to what so many of them had experienced. It was important to me that they knew how much we cared about them, but more importantly, how much their heavenly Father loved them. I remember we were painting a border around one girl’s room and she wanted hearts all around. In one of them, she asked me to paint “Jesus”, because Jesus was in her heart. I was amazed that despite all her hardships, she had been able to find a relationship with Him.

One of the many impactful people that I met on that trip was Lorena Rusovan, director of Deborah House and now Executive Director of MLI. She was a light in the girls’ darkness, graciously showing them what love and relationship were supposed to look like.

Now I can see that trip was an intentional gift from God not only for me personally, but it initiated healing in my relationship with my mom. I’ve since returned to Romania many times and have remained close to Lorena and others instrumental to my journey. We have taken my nieces, sisters, and aunt, extending love for Romania throughout our family. God has been good to us, and I now find myself back home, working at my mom’s company and coming alongside her and my sister at Missio International, working towards a common goal: Building relationship with God, family and the people of Romania.

Laura Burrell

Missio International Board Member

Laura (left) with her mom Lois Rosenberry (center) and Lorena Rusovan on 2023 visit back to Romania

Prayer Points

  • Full restoration & healing for MLI ‘s Lorena and Lili
  • Resumption of Moms’ School parenting program offered by Back to School Ministry
  • Harmony ministry’s invitation to help develop a psycho-educational program for incarcerated young women at Buzias Educational Center