Couple reaches out to orphans in Romania

by Rachel Parker Dickerson

Missionaries Elvis and Katie Opris plan to open a children’s home in Romania, but for a few months they are firmly planted in Vilonia.

The couple met while attending Central Baptist College in 2007. Katie is originally from Dallas, and Elvis is from Romania. They married in 2010, and they have a little girl, Adrielle, 10 months, and are expecting their second child in September.

Katie said when Elvis came to the U.S., “He was here to study and then return because there was this work his family had taken over – a children’s home constructed in 2005. His plan was to go back and run it when he finished school. I already felt like the Lord wanted me to do missions in some capacity.”

The house is almost finished, with only interiors remaining, she said. It sits on 29 acres and will house 12 to 25 children.

“Most of the kids are in state orphanages. They are very densely populated. (The government wants) the kids in smaller homes. They don’t mind if they’re Christian based. It’s kind of an Orphan Annie situation. The people running the orphanages might take the money, and the kids might not get what they need. They might or might not train them in a trade. They might or might not finish high school, and by the time they’re 18, they might end up on the street.”

She noted Elvis interned at Soaring Wings Ranch, which takes in children who have been abused or neglected and places them in a stable family environment while teaching them life skills.

“We would like to model after them,” Katie said. 

Elvis explained some background information about Romania and the children he and his wife will care for.

“It is in Eastern Europe. The language is Romanian, which is one of the Romance languages. It has a democratic government since the 1989 revolution, and we are still in 22 years of transition. There is still a lot of influence from communism.”

The country just joined the European Union, he said. It is about the size of Oregon and located between Bulgaria and Hungary. The population is about 20 million, and the official religion is Greek Orthodox.

“Most of the young people are going into Western Europe to find jobs because the economy is not doing too well. I have cousins all over Western Europe,” Elvis said.

The children’s home will help care for Roma, or gypsy, orphans. The couple said gypsies are usually poor and often discriminated against in the country. Gypsy children are often abandoned because of poverty.

Elvis said, “Gypsies came out of nomadic tribes. They are all over the world. In the last 100 years, they are not typical nomads. They kind of settled. In Romania, during the communists, they were trying to make this ideal society. (Gypsies) were pushed toward the outside edge of town. A lot of gypsies were killed alongside the Jews during the Holocaust.”

The children’s home is in a village called Crizbav. It looks very American, unlike any other house in Romania, the couple said.  They are starting a bee farm at the back of the property this spring with 100 hives, each of which will have 60,000 bees. They will plant 5,000 acacia trees, which produce good blooms for honey, Katie said. They hope the honey production will help support the orphanage. American tourist attractions are nearby, and so they have also considered starting a dude ranch to support the home.

Katie noted, “We would like to do a private school as well. The public school system is really horrible, especially for minorities, like a gypsy. Since they are wards of the state, they want them to be in the state system. We hope to find a way to do a private school in the home.”

She said discrimination against gypsies is such that Romanian parents tell their children not to sit next to gypsy children because they are “dirty.” This treatment often results in gypsies not finishing their education and becoming unemployable, Katie said. 

“Ninety percent don’t graduate high school, and 90 percent are unemployed,” she said.

For the time being, the Opris family is in limbo, as they will stay in Arkansas until the baby is born. However, they are keeping busy raising money for the home with the help of their church, Grace Bible. As for their own finances, Elvis works as a contractor, and Katie has a photography business. The work that has begun continues to benefit the village of Crizbav while they are away.

 “The gypsy section of our village did not have running water before the orphanage was built,” Katie said. “His (Elvis’) dad worked with the mayor and agreed if (he would) let these permits go through easily, (we would) let people tap off these lines. Thirty-something houses got water. Also, with the construction, his dad hires the gypsies to work. We have a guard who is a gypsy. That’s his income.”