Andy and Tresha, another IM couple, picked us up and drove us nearly three hours to their place of ministry. Together with Claudia and Tony, a Romanian IM couple, they run The Joshua Project – a care center for teens with HIV/AIDS. This ministry enables these young people to enjoy life and introduces them to Christ by loving them as He would. I don’t think my life will ever be the same.
The care center – a remodeled house – operates like a drop-in facility three afternoons each week. Twelve teenagers showed up today. In some cases, they travel up to three hours by bus to spend a few hours at the center. These kids are hungry for love and acceptance.
Our IM coworkers with a few of the teens who participate in The Joshua Project.
Tresha explained that the stigma of HIV/AIDS in Romania is huge, mostly due to a lack of education. People are extremely fearful and uninformed about how it’s transmitted, so they handle those who are ill like modern-day lepers. For example, sometimes parents leave their small sick children on a garbage heap. School-age children are not allowed to attend school or work. Some receive treatment through donations from other countries, but most don’t receive necessary medications because of financial constraints. When they die, the government typically buries them as paupers in unmarked graves. That is, unless they’ve been a part of The Joshua Project. “They’re forgotten in life,” says Tresha. “I won’t allow them to be forgotten in death, too.”
The disease is spreading rapidly in Romania. Years ago, children were vaccinated using the same needles. Some of these kids had been infected with HIV by their mothers at birth, or had received bad blood transfusions in the past, but no one knew they were now carrying the deadly virus. Sometimes women receive infected blood during surgery and they unknowingly spread the virus to their husbands. Men contract it as a result of having sex with prostitutes.
The method of contamination varies, but the result is the same. People become ill and eventually die. But in the meantime, this project is determined to help these teenagers live life to the full. Today, Claudia, a professional counselor, led them in a painting project. Bowls of popcorn, peanuts, and Snickers bars were devoured. Gene shared a devotional about God wanting to be our best friend through life’s ups and downs, rather than being a distant God who sits far off in the heavens oblivious to what’s happening in our lives. Then Tresha and Claudia invited whoever wanted to pray with them or us as we stood at one end of the room. Eleven teens rose to their feet and came to us. What a precious time of prayer and singing together.
As the afternoon passed, the kids warmed up to us. They challenged us to play ping-pong with them, and they enjoyed my taking pictures of them. When five o’clock rolled around and it was time to go home, they stood in line to hug us and have their pictures taken with us. Then they hung around the foyer not wanting to leave. They asked if we will return someday. Our answer was, “Yes. We’ll come to your teen camp in September.” How could we say anything else? These precious young people, rejected by society for a disease they carry due to circumstances beyond their control, need Jesus. The only way they’ll find Him is through His people showing them His love. We want to be a part of this.