Meet Ruben and Sara two Roma children born into poverty, with little hope of breaking the cycle.

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“We thank God for the way He’s changed things”.

 This article features Valea lui Stan, an overlooked Roma community where job prospects are few and most people live in poverty. Mission Without Borders partners with a church here to follow out Jesus’ command – "As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34b)

Valea lui Stan – Stan’s Valley – is a beautiful place in Romania, surrounded by green hills and rich woodland. Once a prosperous area because of its gold mines and lumber work, Valea lui Stan is now known for its high unemployment and poverty. Most of the people who now live here are Roma, trying hard to scrape together a living in a community where transport links are lacking and prospects are few.

Ruben, nine, and Sara, three, live in Valea lui Stan with their parents in a house given to the family by their grandmother. Although the house is still under construction, the two rooms they are using are well furnished and clean. Finishing off the house and decorating it seems a long way off, as both parents are unemployed and money is scarce. In the meantime, the house has no toilet, and the family fetch water from the village well. 

Like the family home, the village itself lacks amenities. There is poor sanitation, with rubbish rarely collected by the authorities, and often dumped in the river that runs through the community, creating a health hazard for inhabitants. Children like Ruben and Sara have no playground and often play amongst the rubbish. Transport links into town are nonexistent, making it difficult to take up work there, with villagers relying on the few people who have cars if they need to run an errand there. 

Ruben and Sara come from a large extended family and are close to their cousins and relatives, who all live close by. Everything happens within their closed circle and they know little about life or people beyond Valea lui Stan. Both children are happy and playful and Ruben likes school. 

The "I love maths and I want to become a computer programmer," he said.

 His sister doesn’t talk and uses sounds to communicate. “We never took her to the doctor,” her mother said. “It didn’t occur to us, considering she’s developing well physically.”

Ruben and Sara’s father works at whatever odd jobs he can get in the area, earning small amounts of money here and there. He wants to work as a truck driver, but hasn’t been able to secure a job. In the summer, their parents collect berries and sell them. The children’s allowances from the state also contribute to the family income. 

The "I wish I was able to get a job somewhere," Ruben and Sara's mother said. "I'm willing to do anything. I used to work as a maid in a hotel in England, but decided to come back home."

"Folks living here are doing their best to overcome their situation,” said Marius, a staff member working for Mission Without Borders (MWB) who supports families in Valea lui Stan. “Many go abroad to find work or some of them will even beg on the streets for a few months in countries like Sweden, leaving their children behind. In this way, some of them have managed to build modest houses, but because they have no stable income, it’s hard for them to keep up with all the expenses that are needed. In some houses, you get more than one family sharing, to make it affordable.

“The authorities say they want to develop the tourist trade here in the hope of drawing in visitors and help the community and neighboring towns – but progress is very slow and in the meantime, many people are feeling increasingly hopeless.”

In Romania, Roma people are still frequently referred to with the derogatory word 'tigani' (gypsies) instead of the more respectful 'rromi' (roma). Racism towards the Roma is built into Romanian speech, with most adults growing up hearing their parents say things like, “If you don’t do as I say, I’m going to give you away to the Gypsies!” or telling naughty children, “You’re fighting like Gypsies”. The word “Gypsy” is sadly used as a cuss word. Because of the stereotypes surrounding them, many Roma people don’t have a chance as they and their communities are endlessly viewed as inferior, even by those authorities or institutions that should defend their rights. This discrimination is part of the reason why so many Roma communities are marginalised and not integrated with the rest of Romanian society. 

Because they have been cut off for so long, their access to health and social care and even education is an ongoing challenge, and their children are born into poverty, with little hope of breaking the cycle.

In this Roma community, however – with its poverty and uncollected rubbish and its close-knit Roma families – stands a church. Across the street from Ruben and Sara’s home, it is a beacon of God’s kingdom, where all are one in Christ Jesus, and there is no room for discrimination.

The church is right across the street from Ruben and Sara’s house, and their maternal grandfather is a presbyter here. MWB helped finish the building by providing roofing materials and paint, and partners with the church in sharing the hope of Jesus with the people here. To a community that has been forgotten, viewed with contempt, and discriminated against, MWB reveals the truth found in Christ, that every person in Valea lui Stan is made in the image of God and loved and valued by Him. And through the local church and the Mission’s support, Valea lui Sta is already being transformed by the gospel. 

“Having a church right here and being able to share about God with our people has made a huge difference in our neighborhood,” Ruben and Sara’s grandfather said. “Before we had the church, there was a lot of lawlessness going on, but we thank God for the way He’s changed things and how quiet our community has become. More than a hundred people have been baptised and started attending church, and many others are open to the gospel. Even people who aren’t attending church like to bring their children to church to be dedicated.”

Marius said, “I’m very impressed by this church and its ministry, and how much they love investing in the people of this community. For example, for a while now, a group in the church has been giving out doughnuts to all the children going to school.”

Despite its ongoing problems, Valea lui Stan has come a long way from where it was when Mission Without Borders first stepped in and partnered with the church. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34b) Jesus told us, and in this community, we are seeing the power and joy in following out this command.

“As MWB staff we have been really involved in the community of Valea lui Stan,” Marius said. “The pandemic restricted a lot of what we could do. But over the years, we have run summer camps for the children here and worked with many families on their journey to self-sufficiency. It’s been a huge blessing for these children and families to receive monthly practical help in the form of hygiene supplies and food, and we have also provided furniture, school supplies, clothing and shoes. 

The emotional and spiritual support is always done with much care and love for the people here. The Christian input built into all our activities is suited to the needs of the children or adults attending, and we teach them what the Bible says – that they are loved and cherished, no matter what.”

“We are overwhelmed by the MWB’s care and compassion towards our community,” Ruben and Sara’s mother said. “The clothing, food, toys, school supplies, camps, children’s activities, and emotional and spiritual support we receive are always so appreciated and we’re incredibly grateful. 

Thank you for all your investment into our children’s future. We pray that their future will be better than ours because of great people like you, willing to sacrifice what you have to serve others. We pray blessings over you and your loved ones and the churches you are part of."




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