Those who have ever heard of Romania likely know it for one of two things – gypsies and “Dracula.”
About a decade ago, Nate and Chris Belkstrom of Redwood Falls entered the world of Romania as missionaries and learned of a nation once dominated by hope that became one of the poorest and most politically corrupt nations in the world.
The Belkstroms, who serve at Living Word Church in Redwood Falls, first heard about Romania at a missions conference, and what they heard prompted the decision to begin a long-term effort that has the couple visiting each year for six weeks or longer to provide humanitarian aid and inspire workers to find their purpose in life.
Under Communist rule the nation began to fall apart, and its one-time ruler Nicolae Ceausescu literally bankrupted the nation financially and morally. The dictatorial ruler, who was executed along with his wife in 1989, lived a life of opulence, as is still evident in a building erected as his presidential palace.
“It is the second largest building in the world,” said Nate Belkstrom, adding it was the ruler’s vision to create the building to be the center of communism with him sitting in the seat as its leader.
The building today is used by the government, and offers tours to outsiders.
“When we take people with us to Romania one the places we take them is to the palace,” said Chris Belkstrom.
A two-hour tour only scratches the surface of a building with thousands of rooms. One of the main rooms in the palace is large enough for a helicopter to land in it.
While the ruler was overthrown nearly 30 years ago, the impact is still felt in a nation of poverty where more than 1 million Euros of government waste goes on daily.
According to Nate, the nation has a population of 22 million, but four million of those people actually live and work outside of the country in order to provide financially for their families.
“The problem is that many of those who left their families behind, who had every intention of returning one day, forget about all of that,” said Nate, adding that has led to the breakdown of the family.
Poor families that feel no sense of hope abandon their children who are left to fend for themselves. There are more than 3,000 children who live in the sewers of Bucharest, the nation’s capital.
Hopelessness is piled upon those who call Romania home, as there are 100,000 known addicts in capital city and just 25 beds to help care for them. Those beds are part of what is known as the Teen Challenge program, and the Belkstroms during their time in Romania spend time working with this organization that has demonstrated an 85 percent success rate of recovery for those who enter its doors and complete the program.
Chris, who is a nurse, spends time working to help people physically during her time in Romania, while Nate speaks to groups of people from those at Teen Challenge to others at places of employment about the importance of hard work and finding purpose in an effort to help change the mindset of the people and the culture of a nation.
“So much of what I share is so foreign to them,” said Nate.
Nate added the Orthodox Church is evident in the nation, but after atheism was emphasized for so many years it is only the “little old ladies” who go there.
Evangelical churches are having an impact on the nation, but with an estimated 98 percent of the nation not claiming any kind of faith at all, the challenge to help the nation find real hope is great.
That is why the Belkstroms continue to go back.
“We go because we believe we are supposed to,” said Nate. “We are seeing changed lives.”
The Belkstroms invite anyone who has an interest to make the trip with them to see the great need. Despite the corruption, poverty, overall sense of hopelessness in Romania, the Belkstroms said the people are wonderful and the nation has the potential to offer a lot to the world. It just needs to find its way.