Local nonprofit Children to Love International was founded in 1993 as an outreach of Laurel Glen Bible Church to the orphanages in Romania, but over the past 25 years, it has grown and evolved into something much bigger than its humble beginnings.
After traveling to Romania in the early 1990s and seeing the devastating conditions children were living in, local educator DeAnn Sampley organized a group of volunteers from Bakersfield, returning to the orphanages in May 1992. As a result of those first few trips, five children were adopted locally.
Since then, Children to Love has continued to expand the reach of its ministry and began partnering with Berachah Children’s Home in India in 2008, Mercy Childcare Ministry in Uganda in 2013 and Future for Children in the Ukraine in 2017. Working with local partners serving within their own cultures and communities, they fight against the trafficking of children and systemic poverty, while offering life-changing opportunities to suffering children and at-risk families through education, economic support and social intervention.
While the original team was made up primarily of special-needs teachers, over the years, volunteers have included high school students, college football players and people from all walks of life.
Children to Love partners with several colleges and more than 20 churches throughout the U.S. that support their vision through short-term trips, internship programs and financial support.
“In the past year, 130 people went on trips to all four countries,” said Victor Popa, Children to Love program director.
A native of Romania, the mission of Children to Love is close to his heart.
“I was abandoned when I was 3 days old and lived in an orphanage for 18 years. When I was 8 years old, living in a boy’s orphanage in Bucharest, Children to Love came to our orphanage and built relationships with us. I made wonderful friendships.”
After leaving the orphanage, Popa finished high school, then earned a B.S. degree in social work and sociology. As a brand-new Christian, he did an internship program with the Children to Love ministry in Romania.
“The ministry supported me through college,” said Popa.
After graduating, he joined the staff in Romania and worked there for several years before moving to the United States to pursue his master’s degree in business administration.
“I am where I am because of Children to Love and the many people that supported the organization,” said Popa.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the theme of Children to Love’s upcoming event is Grace Upon Grace.
“John 1:16 talks about God’s grace,” said Popa. “(It exemplifies) how far we have come as an organization (and) all of these wonderful ministries we’re engaged in. We wouldn’t be able to do without God’s grace.”
Olive Knolls Church will host this year’s event on March 19, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. It will include a silent auction, special music and a gourmet dinner catered by Hodel’s. It will also feature speakers from ministry partners in the four countries Children to Love serves.
The event is a celebration, as well as a fundraiser, to help Children to Love continue its outreach.
Tickets are available online at www.childrentolove.org. The cost is $30 per ticket or $200 for a table of eight. ￼