Hilton Team visit Romania: some reflections (1)

Official camp photo

Last week, a  team from Hilton Church were at Casa Harului in Romania, helping run a camp for young Romanians with Down’s Syndrome.  We were following on after a team led by Mike and Laura Robertson from the Barn Church – it was great to meet the Robertsons.

Here’s the official team photo, showing  the campers, their parents, the Romanian team whom we worked alongside, and the Hilton contingent – Jonathan, Susie, Charlie and Angus; Liam Morrison, Fiona Waite, Cailean Morrison and me.  Hannah Whillis is also at the Casa just now, and came to meet us at Timisoara airport when we eventually arrived at 5am!  During a very busy week, we saw lots of evidence of the love which pervaded the camp.

Official camp photo

Each day began with prayers at 8am; breakfast at 9am; Bible story, crafts and games for the campers from 10am-1pm – we looked at a series of Bible characters who ‘Trusted God’ in difficult circumstances; also 10am-1pm – activities for their parents; lunch at 1pm; 2.30pm – team meeting; 3.30pm – siesta time, but there was usually lots to do; 5pm – crafts; 7pm – evening meal; 8.30pm – evening worship.

Hannah and Anna*

Here’s a photo of Hannah Whillis with Ana Vlad, who led the Romanian Team working alongside the Hilton Team at the Casa Harului.  Hannah spent a whole year at the Casa in 2016/17, and has been there again for several weeks this summer. She speaks Romanian, it seems to me, as fluently as a local person; one of our Romanian friends described her as ‘half-Scottish and half-Romanian.’  She is at ease with herself, and with Romania and its people.  Ana is another absolute star. She had put together the Romanian team – about twenty young people, many of them teenagers, who were largely connected with her church – and led them throughout the week. She also led sessions and singing; easily built relationships with campers and parents. I saw her in action supervising the toilet cleaning team when it was Cailean and my turn to help with this – she is a born leader.

And she has only just left High School! This is the second year she has led the Romanian Team, but she has been attending the camps since childhood. About a decade ago, her parents took into their home someone with learning disabilities, and Ana was inspired to help people in that situation. There isn’t much provision for special needs in Romania, but there can be state funding available to help with local initiatives.

After the summer, Ana enters university in Cluj – there she plans to study psychology with particular reference to people with learning disabilities.

Young people like Hannah and Ana – and Fiona and Liam and Cailean – didn’t got to the Casa to ‘have a good time’ or ‘gain experience’, but because they were motived by a God-inspired love to make a difference.  They remind us that the future course of individual lives, and of history is not inevitable. We build the future. We make the difference. There are things waiting to be done which only we can do.


Casa Harului


Here’s the Casa Harului complex.  The name, incidentally, means ‘House of Grace.’   The house on the top left is where Mia Medrea and her sons live; the central block houses the kitchen and eating/meeting area and some accommodation; the block on the right is the male dormitory, and the female dormitory lies behind.

There was a Scottish influence lying behind the Casa’s inspiration:  Mia Medrea told us that after she and her husband Bene came to the UK following the collapse of the communist regime in Romania, they were taken to visit a project in East Lothian which gave support and employment to people with learning  disabilities, and this focussed their resolve to do something similar in Romania. Under the communist regime, people with learning disabilities did not appear in population statistics – they were moved to out-of-town institutions, where the level of care was often abysmal. But there was a deeper inspiration, which I’ll describe in the next post.


Casa Name Board

Here’s the welcome board which greets you when you arrive at the Casa. I love the drawings of children, heading upwards, reaching for the sun.

Mia grew up on the Casa site: her parents had a house further up the hill.  When she was a child, an ‘underground church’ met at their house. The communist regime had resolved to impose atheism, but it also recognised the benefits in maintaining order of having a compliant church.  Hence the regime worked in partnership with Eastern Orthodox church leaders: the church was allowed to exist, but there was state control over what could be taught, and agents of the regime attended services. If you wanted to speak freely of Jesus, and worship in freedom, you had to meet in a clandestine way, with sever consequences if you were caught.  People from the surrounding area and the nearby city of Deva  (pronounced ‘dayvah’ – see, Hannah, I remembered) made their way to Mia’s family house in the middle of the night, and left before dawn. Mia told me about the day she was judged old enough to be told that the parcels she was moving into the cellar contained smuggled Bibles in Romanian.

But Mia’s mum had a vision. A vision of a big house, full of children, worshipping God together. It sounds as if this was a God-given vision which it fell to Bene and Mia to bring to fruition.

(John Dempster)


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