My life path was about to change

We left before dawn. A few hours earlier a couple Irish journalists invited me to ride with them into the Carpathian mountains of Romania. It was early 1990. They were doing a story on orphans and adoptions (and how ‘baby-selling’ was becoming a flourishing business). Romania was just awakening after decades under Soviet control.

It was a rutted, dangerous road.  No street-lights of any sort. The four of us communicated in a mix of languages:  Romanian, French, German and English.  The taxi driver slammed on his brakes:  “Aici”- he shouted!  “Ici” – I confirmed in French.  “Da”-he nodded.  We were ‘here’.   We slithered out of the taxi.  It was cold…. And damp.  And dark.

We started our way over a hilly, rough meadow towards a small village, lit by the morning outdoor cooking fires.  We were about a 10 minute walk away from the first campground.

Little did I know my life path was about to change.

I had volunteered to ride ‘shotgun’ from Seattle to Bucharest to assure safe passage of precious cargo:  22 duffel bags filled with medical supplies and vitamins. Romania in 1990 seemed surreal. Like watching an old Humphrey Bogart movie.

We climbed a bumpy knoll, then descended towards the campfires. Off to my right (maybe 20 meters) I saw something in the choppy grassy pasture. It looked like a large doll, clothed in ragged clothes.  This was not a doll, but a small child, less than two years old. The image of her lifeless face still burns in my memory. How could this happen? Was she murdered? Abandoned? I did not sleep for the next two days. I still become numb when I re-live the moment.

Yes my life changed (or started to change) that day in Romania. I was now faced with a crisis. What did I really believe about life? I had been raised in a religious home, but most of my life centered on ‘me’, and living in my comfort zone. I remember reading:  “Pure (true) religion is this:  To care for widows and orphans in their distress…”. My mom had been widowed and my brother and I were fatherless at 13 and 10. We had it ‘hard’ (from an American perspective). I always had hope that if I worked hard and set goals, life would be ‘ok’. Now another perspective, another paradigm was opening to me.  Setting goals and working hard was not the complete solution to life’s harshness. Was I really willing to follow (and obey) the teachings of Jesus about ‘Loving God’ and ‘Loving People’. As Jesus asked:  “What if I gained the whole world, and lost my soul”? With “Baby Steps” and the help of some great friends, I changed directions.

It has been nearly 30 years since the shock of a lifeless child woke me up. Sadly, I have seen many similar tragedies. But hopeful tragedies. I’ll share just one. After more than a decade of helping orphans in Romania, my ‘one-man-band’ became a quartet, then a CHOIR. LIGHTSHINE was born in 2001. Partnering with others is the secret to caring for kids. By 2005 Lightshine was working in Peru. We brought many teams to help construct buildings and care for kids. In 2010, I was perplexed by the sullen, withdrawn pattern of a new girl at Torre Fuerte (an orphanage in Arequipa that we were helping to develop). Lightshine brought a team of 2 bi-lingual nurses. They decided to ‘chart’ the 35 girls.  They spend many days in one-on-one interviews; putting together histories, tabulating inoculations, and the like.

These angels from Washington State solved the mystery. Our withdrawn 7 year old princess had STDs (Sexually Transmitted Disease). We did more research – leading to the sad truth that her mom survived a life of hunger and poverty through prostitution. And mom made money by selling her little girl. We could not undue the past events of our princess. But we could walk with her to have hope and a future and to heal from her trauma. I could write a book of dozens of stories of ‘hopeful tragedies’. Cases of rape at 11 (giving birth at 12); suicidal teens (one I recall felt like a ‘mistake’ because her mom and dad were brother and sister to each other); trafficked kids; children dying or blinded from parasites in their water. Traumas and tragedies of all sorts.

After a couple decades of working directly with kids (primarily through developing homes for abandoned children) Lightshine has shifted gears. These past two years we have accepted invitations to provide TRAINING, TOOLS, and SERVICE to people and institutions who care for abandoned and abused children. We still assist private orphanages, but now our primary focus is on giving a future to the kids who live in governmental (institutional) care. Join us!  Add harmony and synergy to our choir!!  We need your voice!

-Paul Eklund