Letters from the Field: A summer inspired by faith, hope and love in Romania

By Andrei Enache, SPOC Youth Volunteers Ambassador

At the end of his third year of college of Honors in Business Administration, our Romanian-born, Canadian-native, Andrei, decided to dedicate his summer giving back, helping out and enriching his humanitarian experience by volunteering at Saint Paraskeva Orthodox Charity sponsored projects sites throughout Romania. In this blog series entitled “Letters from the Field” we are happy to share Andrei’s personal reflections and experiences.

The following excerpts are Andrei’s first-hand testimonials, rewritten for an online audience:

June at St. Onufrie, Romania

Andrei’s first days at St. Onufrie were full of joy and gratitude. He shared this with us.

“My first meeting with Fr. Visarion I was hugged and embraced as if by a grandfather I hadn’t seen in ages. With warm eyes, a continual smile, a jolly composure and a long white beard he reminded me of Santa Claus. This man was overflowing with love for people that it manifested itself in the form of physical contact.

Physical contact is a big part of accommodating to life in Romania in my first week back. For instance, people kiss each other on the cheek when arriving or departing, men are always throwing around handshakes wherever they meet, and I can’t prove this last one, but it seems that the average distance that people stand from one another during a conversation is smaller.

Physical contact is therapeutic. Certain chemicals tied to bonding are released when people physically connect with one another. This comes natural to children too, but it’s been debased by Western society. I remember in grade school I kept hearing about the ‘hands off policy’ (At the time I didn’t know what ‘policy’ meant so I thought that policy = friend). When physical contact comes from an uplifting feeling of love for your neighbor it’s a sign that the soul exercises dominion over the body, not the other way around. The problem is that today physical contact is used as a means of destroying the soul.

I’m thankful to God for a reminder of what it means to be human. This is the Romania loved and protected by the Most Holy Mother of our God”

At the end of his second week on site at St Onufrie, Andrei wrote back saying:

“I was probably the only Ivy student who was not recruited last semester and I don’t regret it. Volunteering at St. Onufrie is the same as working at God’s start-up. Here are three management lessons I’ve learned so far:

1) Change yourself first: Following Fr. Visarion around is basically the same as shadowing a CEO. The first few days were tough since this man doesn’t know the meaning of fatigue. He works hours similar to investment banking hours but doesn’t get paid millions of dollars per year; his treasure is in heaven. People listen to him because they love and respect him. Even with the best strategy and managerial skills nobody will follow you if you haven’t given yourself fully to God. By living a life pleasing to God, you allow Him to carry out His will in you. And when you allow God to act in this way, everything flows naturally. Not only is your own life beautiful, but people around you will pick up on your peace and joy.

2) Have a core team: A company is a group of people gathered together to achieve a specific aim. At St. Onufrie a nucleus of ten people drive the project to completion. Even though they have full-time jobs and full-time families, our last meeting lasted from 8pm to 1am. There’s an entrepreneurial feeling of ‘lets get this done’. Interestingly, it’s both a marathon and a sprint. One week out from the “Hram” – a commemoration of St. Onufrie and an open house of the property including activities for kids – the sprint begins. A list of attendees needs to be made and invited, rides arranged, food ordered, posters made, property cleaned, etc. Team members make a few phone calls and their friends and family show up with their sleeves rolled up.

At the same time it’s a marathon in that the scope of this project extends beyond our lifetimes. Perhaps in three years the administrative house and church will be completed. This is just the beginning. There’s the possibility for more houses, or a hospital, or a school to be developed as well – only God knows. I’m confident that God will arrange for future inflows of money, materials, food, equipment, whatever is needed, but it’s our job to keep fighting through the temptations to quit– and there are many.

3) Network effects: One of my jobs was to put together a list of volunteers to be invited to the Hram. In column E – ‘observations’ I could tell what each person contributed: construction materials, books, money, time, a corporate sponsor, etc. Looking at the big picture I could see a beautiful mosaic of God’s creation. My point is that it doesn’t matter what or how much you contribute – we’re all equal anyways – but that it’s important to give all that you can. I think this is what makes each volunteer a hero. This said, there’s a place for you too. Come and see.”

At the conclusion of Andrei’s third and final week, he shared with us these lessons:

“I’ve had the blessing to be part of the June 12th festive celebration of St. Onufrie, according to the Orthodox Calendar, as the patron saint of this orphanage. The event began with an Akathist to the saint and fundraising event, in the form of an art exhibition. During the art exhibition when Fr. Visarion announced the donations received in the last two years from St. Paraskeva Orthodox Charity my heart was filled with warmth. It felt like St. Paraskeva was there with us in the room. Romanians abroad have demonstrated their love for Romania in an incredible way.”