'Christianity' Magazine

[The following story appeared in 'Christianity' Magazine in March, 2005]

The Day I Learned About the Western Orphan

Ed Rosella talks to Andy Peck about a visit his wife made to a mental institution, which was to change their lives.

In 1998, my wife Karen and I were serving as missionaries in Romania. One day Karen went on an outreach to a mental institution for children. It was a horrible place! There were 300 kids, who, though I hate to say it, were acting like animals. They had bedsores, smelled of urine, and my wife's initial reaction was to leave quickly. After the outreach, she stopped by an area where the three-year-olds had been transferred. These were more subdued. She locked eyes on one child and that night couldn't get this child's face out of her head. She chatted with the director of the Christian orphanage, which we work with, who said they had space for another child. We could get the child transferred and at least give her a better life. She asked me: "Do you mind if I bring a baby home for a couple of days?" The child would live with us while awaiting the transfer.

Her name is Roxana. She had spent the first three and a half years of her life rocking in a urine soaked crib playing with her fingers. Doctors said she would never be normal. She had not been taught anything about life. She had very little motor skills. We taught her how to drink from a straw. She never kissed anyone, so when she kissed us she would bite our cheeks. She was angry and had fits for hours. She used to hit my wife every day. She never held a crayon, so when we gave her one she would break it to pieces in anger. She spoke just one word, 'food'. After two months in our home she began to speak 20 words.

We never saw Roxana as an orphan or mental patient. We saw her as one who was precious and valuable and made in the image of God. She had many issues to overcome, but she had a desire to live life as well. Even though helping her heal was exhausting, we also considered it a privilege that God would allow us to care for such a wonderful little girl. Our hearts were quickly being intertwined with hers. It became clear she was going to be our daughter.

Now, at the age of nine, Roxana has blossomed into a wonderful, caring little girl. She has recovered tremendously from the effects of the neglect she experienced. She still has many obstacles to overcome, but we will be by her side every step of the way.

When we adopted Roxana we learned she had a brother and sister who were also living in orphanages. God put it in on our hearts to bring them into our family as well. It wasn't a complicated decision. I figured if my brother and sister were in an orphanage I would want my parents to go get them, and that is what we did.

In 2001, we moved back to the U.S. I was soon to find out about a hidden crisis in my own country concerning orphans (foster children). I began to hear some of their tragic stories of abuse and neglect. Siblings are regularly split up. They experience a lack of stability and security as we move them from place to place. There is also a very real connection between the foster care system and drug abuse, crime, teen pregnancy, suicide, homelessness, etc… We also have our hidden mental institutions where we put some of our orphans. I was shocked to learn that America has over half a million foster children and in the UK there are 53,000 (awaiting adoption in England and Wales.)

As a western church we have forgotten our own orphans! I believe God is grieved over this. His reputation as the Father of the fatherless is not being honored. His call to the church for 'true religion' is being ignored. We send money to care for orphans in other countries, as we should, but we neglect our own. I believe God desires to work through his church to care for the most vulnerable in our society once again.

We give foster children medication, counselling, and group therapy to help them heal. These are fine, but I have learned it is through bonding to an adult that a child is healed. When Roxana felt safe, secure, and loved she began to blossom. It was through bonding that she realised she was valuable to us and to God. Now, she sees other hurting people as valuable and has a deep concern for their welfare.

My work with Eleos includes being a speaker at our 'Hands of Mercy' meetings. We are working to help restore mercy ministries within local churches. There is enormous untapped potential within local churches to bring healing to orphan children. The western orphan waits for the church to rise up with compassion, mercy, and an answer for their situation. I have learned that the gospel of Jesus Christ is so powerful that it can reach into the heart of the most hurt child and bring life. We as a church have their answer!