Kidstown International

Eight Hours Outside Bucharest

A story by C.R. Roberts.

Eight hours on a bus from Bucharest to Lupen, deep in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. We pass hay stacked in high, conical ricks. Autumn roses stand crimson in gardens and chicken-wire corn cribs sit on the upper floor of outbuildings. Pumpkins grown fat rest heavy in fields criss-crossed with withered vines. Every quarter-mile a house is brightly painted: in mustard or plum, lilac, persimmon or the pinkish-purple of a fading bruise. Roofs are curved tile, shakes, tin.

Sheep, cows and goats graze the stubbled cornfields. A horse-drawn cart passes, its wheels cracking the gravel scattered on the road. Laundry dries from the balconies of an eight-story concrete apartment building in a town we pass. We follow a meandering river and the higher we climb the more swiftly the river runs.

We are met by Cristian, a young university student married to Cristina. Cristian is the son of Vasily, 56, and his wife, Lucretia. Vasily (Vas-ih-lee) and Lucretia founded and operate Case De Copii Children’s Home in Lupeni.

Pictured: Vasily and two orphan girls at the Case De Copii.

Vasily and Lucretia were both orphans themselves, raised in Romanian state orphanages. At dinner Vasily tells us the story of his childhood. Someone had asked why he founded the children’s home. He explains….

He and his brother had nowhere to live. He was 5. The state orphanage where he was placed contained 1,200 children. He and his brother found Christ and they suffered for their belief.

Heads shaved, clothes identical, all of the children were easily identified if they left the orphanage compound. When Vasily and his brother would walk to a church three villages away they were sometimes reported by suspicious townspeople as obvious runaways, and police responded. Nor were the boys welcomed by the people of the church – whose orthodox beliefs did not directly correspond to what Vasily had learned from the small pocket Bible he kept hidden from monitors back at the orphanage. The national leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, had little patience with faith.

Vasily had no family but for his brother. He was ostracized by the other orphans and regularly punished both physically and emotionally by orphanage officials, punished for years because of what he believed. He had no one to call mother or father. The church cast him away.

We’re having dinner and he tells a simple story that brings tears to our eyes, a story of survival and the strength of faith. He had kept the story to himself until 2009, the tenth anniversary of the founding of Case De Copii.

Pictured: Vasily and the orphans of Case De Copii.

So that’s why he founded the orphanage, you see, he said, because he wanted to give children someone to call father, someone to call mother, and other children to call brother and sister. I get up from the table and walk over and give him an awkward hug.

After dinner we all drive to the home and meet the children, 18 of them, from 14 years old down to maybe 5. When Vasily walked in they gathered around him, embraced him, met his smile with smiles and laughter of their own. We played a few games and stayed for maybe a half-hour. The next day we will all drive with the children to a Transylvanian castle, and there’s talk of a trip to McDonald’s along the way. But don’t tell anybody. It’s a secret.

C.R. Roberts is a retired journalist from Tacoma, Washington. After studying at the University of Washington he moved to England, and upon his return owned a small business dealing in rare coins and stamps. Later, following a 30-year career as a columnist and business writer at the Tacoma News Tribune, he retired to a life of volunteerism and has made several trips with Kidstown to Romania, India and Nepal. He personally sponsors two young men in Romania.

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