War in Ukraine leaves millions displaced
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God’s calling stirred in my heart and sparked an adventure

My introduction to Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) came in the form of a haunting DVD shown to me by a co-worker and good friend. Liz had been on a Christmas mission trip to Moldova with the organization and what she showed me quite literally stirred my soul and started a wonderful journey for my family and me…

I was a fifth-grade teacher at the time, had never heard of CERI, and to me Moldova was just a vague and distant former Soviet republic. But the faces I saw on that DVD haunted me and brought me to tears. The children were celebrating Christmas, but their eyes told a different story. Instead of hope and joy I saw a quiet resignation to a world of loneliness and loss. Once I saw the children’s expressions, I knew going to Moldova was something I had to do. God’s calling had begun. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that now – finally – I was listening. Five trips to Moldova later, my family and I have sponsored many children and youth through CERI, and it is not an exaggeration to say the experience has been transformational. Sponsorship has meant I’ve become a dad to not only my own biological children, but also to so many beautiful children in Moldova. What a fantastic job to have! What a wonderful opportunity to share God’s love with children and youth who have known so much rejection and despair! 

In Moldova, I’ve shared the simple joy of tossing a ball with a group of smiling children or passing out ice cream to eager hands and wide-open eyes. I’ve seen that same ice cream turn a malnourished little boy who could barely walk into a vibrant youngster dribbling a basketball almost as big as him. CERI sponsorship has allowed me to watch a teenager who once lived in a dumpster enjoy pizza for the first time, and to encourage that same young man to eat as many slices as he wanted, not worrying about being hungry for the rest of that day. One of my favorite memories is watching and listening to the kids squeal with delight as they colored their tongues with water flavoring I had brought from the United States. My Moldovan kids and I have visited monasteries and amusement parks. We’ve eaten chili dogs and birthday cake. We’ve visited nursing homes and old apartments, trying to put a smile on the faces of others while delivering much-needed hygiene supplies and food. We’ve visited the neglected graves of lost mothers and lost brothers, remembering a time when families were whole and worries were few. As a CERI sponsor I have held tiny hands and tiny cheeks, all the while feeling as though I held the entire world in my hands. These youngsters and I have laughed, cried, struggled and celebrated. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to tell girls named Veronica, Carolina, Valentina, Viorica and Anastasia that they are worthy, loved and cherished. They are God’s children! It has been an equal honor and privilege to tell boys named Dima, Vasile and Alexandru the same thing. CERI sponsorships can mean so much more than writing the occasional letter. They can mean spending time, sharing love, and fulfilling God’s mandate to “defend the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17). Through our sponsorships in all three CERI programs (Quality of Life, Transitional Care and Family Placement), we have come to love and know love in the most amazingly deep and impactful way. Many children have enriched our family with their lives and love. Through sponsorship we not only reflect God’s love but put our faith into action – we embark on a journey of discipleship that changes lives with its wonders. We come to know Him more and have the joyous privilege to share Him with children hungry for His love and ours. Please consider enriching your life beyond measure by sponsoring a child or youth through CERI. “He defends the fatherless” (Deuteronomy 10:18). We must also.

Richard Swallows

CERI Moldova Sponsor

Lucille Thomas contributed to this story

After four years of CERI mission trips and sponsorships, Richard and his wife Missy decided to create a nonprofit organization that would help Moldovan pregnant teens choose life for themselves and their babies – A Chance To Thrive International (CTI). CERI and CTI partner in their mission to provide life-affirming hope and help to Moldovan children and youth so that they live life to their best potential and achieve a lifestyle of resiliency, determination, hope for the future and faith in God.

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