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How I Became a Romanian Grandpa - Part 1 of 5

Updated: May 23, 2021

(Originally included in Ken Shultz's 1997 Christmas Letter to family and friends)

The Romanian Orthodox Church has a tradition of keeping a list of all members of each church family at the altar of the church. Each time the priest prays at that altar, it is understood that he intercedes on behalf of every person whose name is on that list. In the tiny northwest Romanian village of Sarvazel, seventeen names have been added to the Beres family list. The priest used to pray for only Gheorghe, Viorica, Ghizah, Maria, Laura, Monica, Florin and Nicoleta. Now he prays for some strange names: Ken, Doris, Rick, Candi, Perry, Gretchen, and the rest of our family. Here's how that happened.

In early 1993, a young Romanian girl named Monica came to Round Rock Hospital for surgery. She was “rescued”, along with several other children, as seen above, from one of Romania's worst pre-revolution pediatric orphanages. She was brought to the United States for treatment for the severe effects of cerebral palsy, and it was the intention of the rescuer that she and the other children be adopted by American families to ensure a better life.

Not only had Monica never received adequate treatment for her disease, but the care in the orphanage was so impersonal that she, like most of the other patients, had never learned to speak her native Romanian fluently. When Round Rock Hospital sought out a Romanian interpreter to help them communicate with the child, the interpreter told them she was not speaking Romanian, but a kind of gibberish -- a combination of Romanian and Hungarian--which the children themselves had devised, using what language they had acquired before entering the orphanage.

Her surgery to extend her legs to improve her ability to stand and walk, performed only a few days after her arrival in 1993, was successful. During her recuperation, she stayed with a family in Austin, while a permanent home was sought for her. In the meantime, a gentleman from the church that was associated with Monica’s rescue, spoke in Chicago at the Church of Christian Liberty where our daughter Candi and her family were members. Candi and her family were there that Sunday and heard that there was still one more child that needed a home. Following the service, she and her husband, along with their daughters Alyssa and Bethany, mentioned to the gentleman that they were willing and able to take her. They began to pray that they would be able to adopt Monica. It took some weeks for the details to be worked out, but Monica came to live with them in the fall of 1993.

The family spent a fair amount of money with adoption agencies over the next couple of years in an effort to complete the adoption. Nothing worked. We all wondered why.

In early 1995, a letter addressed only to "Dear Doctor" reached them. In that letter, Monica's birth parents were asking, "What happened to our daughter? How is she doing? Did she have the operation? Is it possible for her to come back to her country? If so, when?" For two years the family had heard nothing of Monica's progress. Their letter ended with a postscript: "Tell our child that we love her and wait for her every hour." Until that letter arrived, Candi and her family had no knowledge of Monica’s family. They assumed she was an orphan.

Romanian friends interpreted the letter to mean that Monica's parents wanted money before they would sign a release. These well-meaning friends wrote to Monica's parents and told them that they should leave Monica alone and let her be adopted by the Christian family she was living with here in the U. S.

The parents replied with a second letter which said, in part, "All we want you to know is that we are people, too, and not [just] any people, we are Christians... We also have our faith, and in our prayers, we ask Jesus to be our Mediator to the heavenly Father and to help us." They went on to say that they "know it is hard to work with her [because of her handicap] but she is still our child, and we are going to go like Christ, up to the end."

Even after reading this second letter, Romanian friends expressed their belief that the family only wanted money. Candi just couldn't believe that and began to think a great wrong had been done to Monica and her family. Late last year, when she could take it no longer, she began to work toward sending Monica home. That is when we decided to become more directly involved.

We had already adopted Monica in our hearts. Our latest family picture shows her seated next to Grandpa Shultz. We could not understand why the family who had shown her so much love would now think of sending her back to her home country. That is when we were first shown her birth family's letters.

When Doris and I read those letters, we realized immediately that Candi was right. We did need to help get Monica back to her family. Through a mutual friend, we quickly made an appointment to meet with a missionary to Romania who happened to be visiting in the Dallas area. To our surprise, he also believed that Monica's family was interested only in money! Nevertheless, he gave us the e-mail address of a woman in Romania who might be able to help us.

I then wrote a letter to Monica's parents, informing them that she was living with our daughter. I told them that her surgery was successful, and she could now walk. She had also attended school and had learned to speak, read and write in English, even though at age 14 she was working at about a first or second grade level. We also sent them a picture.

We sent that letter to our new acquaintance by e-mail and asked her to have it translated and sent to the family, which she did. Then, she sent a message saying that she could no longer help us because she was moving to Austria. Fortunately, she gave us the phone number of Dan Lauer, Romania Program Director for Holt International Children's Services in Eugene, Oregon.

I phoned Mr. Lauer and sent him Monica's medical records and other information that we had, including the letters, which we had received up to that time. After consulting with his Romanian staff, he informed me that Holt would take the case, and work on reintegrating Monica into her birth family, if we would bear the cost, and if I would accompany Monica to her home. Things moved quickly from that point on.

Holt is a wonderful Christian placement service. Their social worker went to Sarvazel, Monica's home village, and did a home study with the Beres family. She concluded that there was good reason to believe that Monica could indeed be returned to her birth family.

Meanwhile, on June 8, 1997, Monica made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and was baptized at the Church of Christian Liberty in Chicago. She was given a Romanian Bible and a Certificate of Baptism.

On June 11, moving day for us, she flew to Dallas-Ft Worth, where she was met by our other son-in-law, and spent the next three days with her American uncles, aunts, and cousins. On Saturday, June 14, she came to Waco, and we were able to introduce her to our new churches on Sunday, June 15, as I preached my first sermons in my new charge. Then, on Monday, June 16, Monica and I boarded a British Airways jet for Bucharest. For the first time in more than four years, Monica Beres was on the way home. Just forty-eight hours later, including a twenty-for hour layover in Bucharest, she was there.

We arrived late at night, and Monica was shocked and frightened when--even before she could loosen her seat belt and get out of the car--about ten strange people gathered around the car and began to hug and kiss her and speak to her in a language she could not understand. It turned out they were all family: her father and mother; an older brother with his wife and daughter, several aunts and one grandmother. They later explained that they hug and kiss a lot, because they never know whether they will see one another again.

As we began to get acquainted, the parents--through our interpreter--thanked me for the love Monica had received from our family and announced that they have adopted me as their grandpa. They asked if I would mind if they called me "Bunico". Needless to say, I am honored.

Monica's village is, quite literally, at the end of the road. It is in the far northwest section of Romania known as Transylvania; the region made famous by the Dracula stories. The road leading into the village ends there for all practical purposes. The village has no school; no public transportation in or out, no police department; no medical clinic; no stores or shops, and no public administration. The only public building is a Romanian Orthodox Church which has a service only every third Sunday.

The villagers all support themselves by farming--mostly by hand, though Monica's family does have a team of horses. Only one villager has a tractor, and the other villagers are not envious of him because it costs too much to operate. No one in the village owns a car as far as I know.

Monica's family, like most others in the village, is quite self-sufficient. They produce almost everything they need on their own land, which amounts to just under twelve acres. That doesn't sound like much, but they are not able to farm it all themselves, so they rent two acres out.

They have a cow, several sheep and pigs, geese, ducks, and chickens. They even grow their own sugar cane and raise their own sunflowers for oil. The only food they buy is butter, salt, and salami, which they are able to get during their monthly trip to the village of Tășnad, some 16 kilometers (about 10 miles) away. For other needs, such as clothing and housewares, they make one trip each year to Carei, a small city that is 38 kilometers (25 miles) away.

They have little need for cash, so the sale of the small amount of tobacco and milk, plus an animal now and then, usually provides enough. They feel truly blessed. Last year, they boasted, their family took in one million Lei. Based on the exchange rate which I received in June, that amounts to exactly $133.33 for the year. But they really are rich. They understand the blessings they have received from God and have learned to value the things that are truly important.

The more we and our children discussed what was happening and worked on the arrangements for Monica's return to Romania, the more we became convinced that the Shultz family was being led by God to undertake a personal mission to the Romanian people, through the Beres family. We began to pray, asking God to help us see how we might be able to strengthen the Christian Church in Romania. We decided to use my trip with Monica to gather information on how we might be able to be used in that way.

Knowing Romania to be a poor country, I had taken extra cash and clothing along to leave with her family. I ended up bringing it all back with me--not because I didn't think they were needed, but because they saw no need, and I did not want to insult them. Realizing that our perception of those material needs was somewhat exaggerated, I asked God to show me a real need that we could meet. The answer was not long in coming.

When we showed Mrs. Beres the Bible which Monica had been given on the occasion of her baptism, she was impressed. It was the first Bible she had ever seen in her own language. She held it lovingly for a while, then turned to me and said, "We know this is Monica's Bible, but may we read it sometimes?" I decided then that not only Monica's family, but others in the village as well, would have Bibles of their own.

That determination only intensified when the social worker who was with us, told me what Mrs. Beres had told her about a certain man in the village. He opens the church on the Sundays when the priest is not coming and reads to the villagers from a prayer book that he found somewhere. We agreed that he would probably read from the Bible if one were available. I committed myself to seeing that he, also, would soon have a Bible of his own.

Ramona, the social worker, then explained that she, too, had never before seen a Bible in the Romanian language. I soon learned that many of the Christian staff of that wonderful Christian children's agency had never had access to the Scriptures in their own language.

As I write, Bibles are on the way to all those individuals, along with some extras for Ramona to distribute wherever she sees the need. A lady from the church Monica attended in Chicago, a native of Romania, has just returned to her home for a visit. We arranged for her to take 28 Romanian Bibles with her to Monica's home. That same church and both churches on my new charge, Service Memorial and Sparks Memorial United Methodist Churches in Waco, and a few individuals have contributed enough to meet the cost of buying and shipping those Bibles.

The last report we had from Monica indicates that she is learning the language and she and her family are making progress at becoming a true family again. As for me and my family, we thank God that we have had the privilege of being a part of that process. Then too, for our family, the added blessing of making the word of God available to persons who might not otherwise have a Bible in their own language, makes our joy complete.

Oh, but we're not through yet. Ramona recently sent me a message by e-mail that included this statement: "I discovered some [other] ways you can help the people from Romania, and I will write you a letter with the details . . . God bless you for everything you do!" I can hardly wait to see that letter!

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