Christmas is still a few days away, but DeAnn Sampley already has what she asked for.
Exhausted after returning Thursday from Romania, the Bakersfield College professor was utterly spent in the name of the one whose birth we celebrate next week.
It was just the gift she wanted.
It’s what she always wants when she goes to Romania, where she and her fellow short-term missionaries hold and hug abandoned kids of Bucharest until their arms ache. As a founder and former president of Children to Love International — the Bakersfield-based ministry outreach to Romania’s abandoned children — Sampley has made the trip to Bucharest a couple dozen times at least. Only this time was different.
Bucharest has changed some since CTL showed up 15 years ago, Sampley says. The many orphanages, for instance, are no longer called orphanages, but are known more eloquently as government care centers, where the city’s most impoverished families place children they cannot afford to raise.
On the upside, American missionaries are no longer needed to run CTL Bucharest, which is fully staffed by Romanians who minister each week to about 800 children in eight orphanages.
With the ministry’s day-to-day operations well in hand, Sampley and her team, including Wendy Wanner, a pediatric occupational therapist, were free to go where most Americans would fear to tread — the rehab hospital of a government care center.
It’s there the government houses some of Bucharest’s most severely disabled children and where, two years ago, Sampley met Daniel, a young boy suffering from hydrocephalus, commonly known as water on the brain.
“I was with him for eight straight days, from sunup to sundown,” she says. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Naturally, she just had to go back.
This holiday season, though, she went back with the prayers and generous support of Bakersfield College students, many of whom were motivated to help after a flier with a photo of Daniel — whose massive head dwarfs his tiny, 15-year-old body — was circulated around campus by one of Sampley’s sign language students.
“Students I don’t even know would come in and say ‘Can I give you $20?’” she says. “With the money we collected we bought baby food, soap and milk.”
Students and friends also collected trash-bags full of warm socks, beanies, scarves and mittens for Daniel and other abandoned children.
Sampley struggled to put into words what it was like to work with the severely disabled and parentless children of the rehab hospital.
“It was really difficult,” she says. “To see children in those circumstances is hard when we want to help and make sure they get the best care possible.”
But CTL is making a difference, she says. The organization is welcomed and respected in Bucharest and recently received full accreditation from the Romanian government — sort of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for nongovernment agencies.
Best of all, Sampley “was excited” to meet Kathy, Daniel’s new Romanian caregiver who will look after the boy when he’s moved to a new and improved facility.
“The timing was perfect for Wendy to teach Kathy some new methods of occupational therapy she can use with Daniel,” Sampley says. “Then, the new facility chose four kids from the hospital and Daniel was one of them. To me it was a God thing.”
A God thing. Always the best thing about Christmas.
These are Marylee Shrider’s opinions, not necessarily The Californian’s. Her column appears Saturday. Call her at 395-7474 or write firstname.lastname@example.org