By MICHAEL HARRISON
Monsters are real in the Transylvania region of Romania. Albeit they are not bloodthirsty vampires, as described in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, they are real nonetheless. These monsters prey upon street children who live underground in city sewer systems. Some monsters are sex-traffickers who kidnap orphans and employ them as prostitutes. Other monsters target children for their internal organs. The organs are surgically removed and sold for profit on the black market.
Once the breadbasket of Europe, Romania now abounds with poverty and hunger. There are nearly 100,000 abandoned children in state-run orphanages and another 10,000 are on the streets because families are unable to meet their needs. The majority of these families are the Roma people (commonly referred to as “Gypsies”). They belong to the lowest class in Romanian society, and orphans are considered the lowest members within the class.
It is into this world that Dr. Nathan Merrill, of Taylorsville, and his wife, Anca, prayerfully waded. Anca was more than familiar with the plight of orphan children because she grew up in a state-run Romanian orphanage. Anca knew that children are required to leave orphanages in Romania upon reaching their 18th birthday. She also knew that most of these newly pronounced “adults” do not have a solid education, nor do they possess viable job skills. And Anca knew the grim future which lay ahead for most of them.
As a medical doctor with a heart for ministry, Nathan began traveling to Romania in 1996 on mission trips. There he met his future wife, Anca, working in a Christian children’s home in Sibiu, Romania. When the home had to close in 2000, Nathan and Anca came alongside the orphans in order to protect them from exploitation. They assisted them in finding living accommodations, in gaining employment; and they guided the children spiritually with the aid of a local church.
Later, after they were married, Nathan and Anca began accepting orphans into their home. Since that time, their mission, now operating as Finding Hope Ministries, has grown exponentially. Finding Hope received state approval to house 12 children in the Merrills’ home in Cisnådie [pronounced chiz-nah-dee-yah]. With help from generous benefactors, Finding Hope would eventually acquire two more residences with approval to house 12 children in each. Today, all three houses — named Hope House, Luca House, and Anchor House — are filled to capacity. The Merrills have plans for additional properties in the U.S. and in Brazil. A project is already underway in Alexander County for a children’s home here. Longer range goals involve expanding into Greece and India.
In addition to operating three children’s homes, the Merrills have expanded the scope of Finding Hope Ministries. Recognizing that the source for many of the challenges they face is in the Roma community, Finding Hope is meeting the issue at its root.
In addition to planting a church in the gypsy village and funding its pastor, the ministry has built several homes. They have upfitted many more homes and even constructed a much-needed bridge for the community.
Aid to Ukraine
With the advent of the Russian invasion into Ukraine, Finding Hope Ministries discovered that, due to their geographic proximity to Ukraine and Nathan’s network of contacts, it was in position to assist with humanitarian aid. Nathan and volunteers have made several trips across the Ukrainian border with deliveries of food, medicine, mattresses, and other supplies. On return trips, it is not uncommon for the group to transport refugees, including orphans, out of Ukraine. Within Ukraine, the aid is coordinated and administered by churches that assist refugees who are making their way to the border.
A Divine Mission
Nathan and Anca believe that God has divinely placed them in the perfect place to be His hands and feet in that part of the world. But they quickly acknowledge that very little could be accomplished without the generous support of their ministry partners, especially churches and individuals in and around Alexander County.
On a personal note, I had some familiarity with Finding Hope Ministries and the Merrill family before visiting them in Cisnådie this year. But the magnitude of the ministry’s operation was eye-opening for me. It is amazing, not just to me, but even to Romanians, all that is being accomplished by Finding Hope. And to think that this soon-to-be global operation had roots in Taylorsville, well, it’s a tremendous blessing of which we can all be proud.
Finding Hope is a certified 501c3 charitable organization. To partner in this ministry, simply make a tax-deductible donation by mailing a check or money order to:
Finding Hope Ministries
PO Box 309
Taylorsville, NC 28681.
If you would like a representative of Finding Hope to speak to your church or organization, please contact Kevin Powell at 828-514-2719 or Mike Harrison at 828-352-4131.