The children's names in the following story have been changed for protection.
Elena's arm tightened defensively around her sister's thin shoulders. Alexandra's shoulders were always bent forward in self-preservation. Her arms were crossed and wrapped around her stomach, clutching her sides in fear.
It was an usually warm winter in their rural village in Romania, but both girls shivered and tugged at their meager outerwear as they hurriedly followed the social worker down the walk leading away from their home and their father.
Their eyes were hollow, revealing the emotional numbness they had both erected to deal with their father's violent alcoholic raging and abuse.
Elena cast a furtive glance over her shoulder at the house as they left. It was the last place they'd seen their mother before she passed away just weeks earlier. The girls had been too terrified since her passing to truly grieve her loss.
Later that day, the girls stepped onto the property of ITMI's Casa Dorca Orphanage in another nearby village, Prillipet, Romania. They hadn't stopped looking over their shoulders since they left their home.
They feared their father would follow them to beat them some more.
At first, the girls were afraid to go outside. They looked fearfully down the country road that runs past the Orphanage, sure that any minuted they'd see the figure of their father stumbling toward them.
A look at the country road running next to Casa Dorca from its windows.
One of the rooms for the children at Casa Dorca.
Both girls experienced the warmth and safety of Casa Dorca. Several of the older girls helped them transition into their new life. One made sure they never missed a meal. Another told them everything they'd need to know about the new school all the children attend.
Elena and Alexandra began to feel like part of the family.
And as the days passed, their father's figure never darkened the road to the orphanage. They began to feel safe.
Ionel Iovescu and the Casa Dorca staff work hard to create a familial environment for the children. They feel they belong. So much so, that many come back to visit as adults.
Ion and the staff work hard to make Casa Dorca a familial place.
How do Ion and the staff keep 23 kids busy while they aren't in school?
Ion admits, "it can also be challenging to keep a large group of children occupied for 3 weeks in the winter."
Normally, they would spend time playing and sledding in the snow. Disappointingly, the abnormally warm weather didn't bring snow during December. But it did offer an extended opportunity to play soccer!
"I think we would all rather go sledding though!" Ion comments.
Throughout December the children from Casa Dorca also participated in several Christmas church services.
"It’s always a special time of year when we focus on the birth of Jesus," Ion writes.
For Baptist congregations in Romania, Christmas is largely spent in church fellowship. Casa Dorca's had church services in the morning and evening on Christmas and again the following day.
Some of the Casa Dorca kids played in the mandolin orchestra, sang songs for the congregation, and all received gifts from the pastor that he gets from an American charity.
The kids have their favorite Christmas carols and some of them love to sing in front of the church. Their favorites are the Romanian versions of Joy to the World and Angels We Have Heard on High as well as a Romanian original that translates to Oh What Great News!
Visitors from Bucharest Give Back to Casa Dorca
The impact Casa Dorca has been making in the lives of young people for years is well illustrated by what happened at Casa Dorca after Christmas.
Denisa (name changed) lived at Casa Dorca when she was a girl. Now grown and married, she returned Casa Dorca after Christmas with her husband and a few friends. They drove 7 hours to visit Casa Dorca from their home in Bucharest.
They came to spend time with the children and celebrate New Year's Eve.
"It was a joy to have them," Ion says.
An alumni returns to visit her Casa Dorca family.
What is a New Year's Celebration like at Casa Dorca?
The New Year’s Eve celebration is typically an all-night ordeal here in Romania, " says Ion.
Casa Dorca had many friends over to celebrate.
At 11pm everyone paused. They put down their games.
To pray together for the New Year.
After praying, it was outside for a fun firework display. The younger kids went to bed soon after midnight, but the older kids stayed up all night with the adults playing games.
"It was a great time together," Ion reports.
Back to Normal Life
As school resumed, so did the activities of normal life at Casa Dorca. The first snowfall had come and gone. The Casa Dorca kids did get their sledding!
Casa Dorca children thrilled to get to sled over their break from school!
"Just like children anywhere in the world, it’s a difficult transition at first. In a house full of 23 kids, a change in the daily routine brings tensions and grumpy moods, but after a week life was back to normal," Ion describes.
The staff is thankful to see some improvement in academics for some of the kids who needed it.
Ion adds, "However, some of the younger kids are very far behind in mathematics and they lack the motivation to catch up. Please pray that all of the children would see the value in learning and be intrinsically motivated to keep on pace with their classmates."
For many of the children, return to their routine includes involvement in the services of their local church and in the church's orchestra. Several love to sing special numbers and read verses aloud. Those who aren't musically inclined serve by running sound or video systems.
Casa Dorca children are involved with the services in their church.
Ion and the staff are thrilled for several of the children that are involved with the church orchestra. They are learning the importance of being part of something bigger than themselves.
The staff also knows that any artistic expression is helpful for the brain to overcome past trauma and emotions that many have to work through.
We Couldn't Serve These Children Without Your Support
We close with this message from Ion:
"As we head into the new year, we want to thank you for your continued prayers and support.
It is through our family of financial supports and prayer warriors that our work with the children is possible. We pray that God blesses you richly in this new year and that you grow in the joy and grace of Jesus Christ.
All of us at Casa Dorca want to thank you for your continued support as we jump into 2018.
We ask that you would pray for God’s blessing on another year of serving children here at the orphanage.
It is our desire to not only meet their physical needs, but also their emotional and spiritual needs. Only through prayer is the latter possible because it is the work of the Holy Spirit through us."