Sometimes, one impulsive decision can alter the course of your life forever. For Camas resident Heather Radu, it came shortly after she graduated from high school in Portland.
In 1990, 18-year-old Radu embarked on a mission trip to Romania to help orphans in the war-torn country. She shared photos and stories with her parents, Ron and Jan Beazely. The family made the life-changing decision to adopt an orphan, and gave Radu power of attorney.
Radu went through the adoption process and brought her sister, Hannah, home to Portland to meet her new family. It could have ended there.
“At the time, I wanted to be an actress and move to Hollywood,” she recalls with a chuckle.
But Radu felt a strong calling to do more.
“God put it on my heart to help the orphans,” she said. “I was overwhelmed by the struggles people were facing there, especially the babies.”
So after visiting briefly with her parents and the newest member of their family, Radu got back on a plane, not to England, where she was attending college, but to Romania.
Making a difference
The orphanages were overcrowded, unsanitary and filthy, and the smell of urine was overpowering. Many infants would lie in their cribs, crying day and night with no one to hold them.
“I knew I could help other people adopt these children like we had adopted Hannah,” Radu said. “I didn’t think of the ways it would be difficult, because I could make a difference.”
With the help of her parents, she started an adoption and orphan care ministry called All God’s Children International, which took her all over Romania and Bulgaria throughout much of the early 1990s. To date, more than 2,000 children have been adopted.
“The message I want to get across is that everyone can make a difference,” Radu said. “I want people to do good things just because they can.”
During the first seven years of All God’s Children, Radu and her family worked with government-run institutions. However, after seeing the conditions of the orphanages firsthand over the years, a decision was made to provide better facilities. In 1998, the first Hannah’s Hope Orphan Care Home was constructed in Romania.
“We wanted to give them a better life and a place to call home,” she said.
In 2000, Radu traveled to Guatemala to work on adoptions there.
“The Lord used this trip to open my eyes to the great need in this country and what I could do to help,” she said.
In 2001, Radu founded her second orphan care home, Hannah’s Hope Guatemala, later renamed Dorie’s Promise. She moved there soon after with her then 8 and 5 year old children, Ryan and Lauren.
“We lived there for four years and loved it,” she said. “At one time, both of my kids spoke fluent Spanish and still talk about when we were there.”
To date, more than 400 children have been adopted from Dorie’s Promise. In 2008, Guatemala ended international adoptions but the orphanage remained open.
“Children who come here receive a level of love and care that far surpassed any government standards, and we give each child the hope for a future and a life forever changed,” she said.
Radu noted that all of the children come from traumatic circumstances. Most have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused, and lived in garbage dumps or on the streets, begging from strangers to survive.
“None of them have come from anything resembling a healthy environment,” she said. “The look on their faces when they see Dorie’s is indescribable. We have adopted a holistic approach to orphan care that turns orphanages into homes.”
Radu added that children at the orphan care home receive loving and nurturing guidance, through which trained professionals in the fields of pediatrics, education, social work and child development provide children with the emotional, educational, physical and spiritual care they need to become fully functioning adults.
Spreading the word
In 2009, Radu launched Forever Changed International, an organization dedicated to rescuing orphans, and giving them a home and love.
As part of her ministry, she travels across the country speaking at churches, schools, youth groups, and other locations, seeking funds and volunteers to support her ministry.
“We have 300 to 400 people per year come to Guatemala and participate in mission/service trips,” she said. “Not everyone is comfortable coming as part of a church, and that’s fine. Kids need help no matter what someone’s faith background happens to be.”
This past winter, several women from Camas traveled to the country to help build homes for local women in need.
“They weren’t part of a specific group,” Radu noted. “A friend of mine, Lisa Ackerman, put the word out and organized a trip, and they had a blast.”
Radu’s vision for the future of Forever Changed International is to expand current homes and start new ones in Romania and Bulgaria.
“When I look back now at the decision I made at 18 to get back on the plane to Romania, I had no idea how much of an impact it would end up having,” Radu said. “We have helped 3,000 children find homes and ended up birthing two organizations. I am just so happy that I stepped forward and took a chance.”
She encourages everyone to follow their dreams.
“Whenever people follow their passions, great things can happen,” Radu said. “The best part of life is giving.”
To learn more, visit www.foreverchangedinternational.org or call (360) 836-7626.