I was born and raised in Medias, a small town in the heart of Romania, under the harsh communist regime of Romania’s cruel dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Despite our extremely harsh living conditions and the constant cloud of suspicion and persecution we lived under as Christians, my childhood memories are full of love, joy, and laughter. God blessed me with wonderfully loving, caring, God-fearing parents and, as the youngest child and only girl of four, I was also blessed with three lively older brothers.
In my early years, my family and I lived in a small one bedroom apartment situated between two orphanages. Soon after I turned eight, through a supernatural move of God, the Communist City Council granted our family a 3 bedroom house. One year later tragedy struck my family when my mother and father were in the bathroom and our hot water heater exploded causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns on both of them. 14 days later, while on my way to school, on April 7th, 1983, I received the horrible news that my father had passed away. Just two short weeks after his death, my oldest brother Nelutu, weakened and disabled after years of suffering from the debilitating effects of extreme muscular dystrophy, could not handle the tragic loss of our father and he died of a broken heart in my mother’s arms.
When the explosion happened I remember it felt as if our entire lives had been blown to pieces. Finding a way to continue on was incredibly difficult for all of us, but particularly for my dear mother. However, watching the way she stood unwavering in her faith through those very dark days is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. In spite of her overwhelming grief at the loss of her beloved husband and oldest son, I saw her take hold of God’s hand and say, “Ok God, where do we go from here? Lead me! Show me how to parent my heart-broken and terrified children all alone. Lead me, Lord!” And He did! I remember hearing her every day and night praying for me and my brothers and waiting on God for help. Although our circumstances were very hard and I grew up with very few clothes and very little food, we never went hungry and God gave us His strength and always carried us through.
Then, when I was 17, tragedy struck our family again when my precious mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the youngest child and only daughter, her care and nursing went to me. For one year, I did all I could, both physically and spiritually, to help her win the battle but in August of 1992, when I was just 18 years old, I lost her to the horrible disease and she went to be with my dad and brother in heaven.
In 1996, when I was 21, God lead me to Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Budapest and then YWAM Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where I found a family, I found myself, and I found my purpose and destiny. God began to put dreams in my heart that were far bigger than I could have ever dreamed or imagined.
I have been in full-time ministry for almost 16 years. For several years I served as a staff counselor and then director for YWAM’s one year discipleship training program. I have also worked in leadership training and development, while also serving on the ministry leadership team.
Finally, on December 31st, 2007, we brought our beautiful 8 month old baby girl, Emma, home with us! She is the apple of our eye and a moment by moment reminder of God’s amazing power of redemption!
As a result of all the Lord taught us through our difficult and complicated adoption experience, God began to open doors for us to minister to adoptive parents and their social workers. I was also moved to begin translating an excellent and much needed book in Romania regarding attachment between adoptive parents and their adopted children.
By the grace of God, when I look back on my life, I do not see the hardships, loss, and tragedy, but instead I see the way that He cared and provided for me through it all with His never-ending faithfulness, goodness, and incredible love.
First family portrait after the accident
My oldest brother Nelutu
My brothers and I getting baptized
My mother and father signing their marriage certificate.
Just a week after her passing, my two brothers were called to fulfill their one-year mandatory military duty in the Romanian army and I was left completely and utterly all alone. I was lost and full of fear, bitterness, and anger. How could God have done this to me? Where was God? Where was His goodness? How could this horrific tragedy be good? I was devastated! Although I was drowning in sorrow and grief, I had no choice but to find a way to carry on, to figure out what life was about and find a way to provide for myself.
Although in the years that followed I had many conversations with God where all I did was yell at Him, He gently led me, provided all I needed, and put people in my path that loved me and showed me His goodness in the midst of my heartbreak and hardship. Through them I learned that although I don’t always understand the “why” of these hard things in life, my circumstances do not determine or change who God is.
In 2002, I went for training in California where I met Aaron,
and we were married one year later. For several years we went through many hardships and struggles in our marriage, that ultimately led us to an extremely painful breaking point, but God, in His unfailing love and supernatural strength, saved us from this devastation and brought us both tremendous healing and restoration. Each and every day I thank God for the miraculous work He did to restore our family. Today we are experiencing the joy of God’s true design and purpose for marriage! It is more fun and fulfilling than I ever thought possible!!
After several painful years of struggling with infertility, in 2006 we began a long and difficult journey of adoption.
The STAFFORD Family
LIVING WELL Romania
-Helping to bring God's restoration to Romanian families
A ministry of Youth With a Mission, Cluj-Napoca, Romania