Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Sick and the Stranded

Well, whoever would have thought that a volcano in Iceland would affect my life in Moldova? But there you go - stuff happens and people's lives are affected.

It was another Thursday evening. I had spent the day hosting some new friends who had come from the UK. Wendy is a doctor, and along with her daughter Emily, she came to see the realities of life here in Moldova, specifically in regards to medical care, and to offer whatever help she could. So we had spent the day with the dynamic Sora Sveta visiting an elderly home and then a hospital. I was pretty tired from translating all day but I had also offered to host our British students for supper that evening so we were making plans to head out for pizza, as I had not prepared anything and had no groceries in the house. Then someone told me that one of our Moldovan students had passed out that morning while leading worship and she was still not well. Would Wendy have a look at her? So Wendy did and we decided that in the morning we should take her to the clinic to get some tests.

Then just before we went for supper, I received a phone call from a member of the Transit team, who had flown home to England for a wedding and was due to arrive back that evening. "My plane is delayed," she said. "Why?" I asked. "A volcano erupted in Iceland and all the flights in Britain are grounded," was the astounding response. "What???!! Are you serious?" I was disbelieving at first, but now, a few days later the whole world knows how disastrous volcanic ash can be to the airspace commonly used by airplanes. Last time this particular volcano erupted it wasn't a problem. Of course, that was 200 years ago. New inventions: new problems.

So, the last few days have been spent with intermittent phone calls, texts and e-mails related to Amy's being stranded in Britain and also Lilian doing all he could to avoid being stuck in Germany, where he was attending a conference. Now for him, and I wonder how many others, there is another question involved. That is that he, being Moldovan, needed a visa to go to Germany. His visa was going to expire on Monday and the possibility of a return flight before then was not looking promising. If he doesn't return before his visa expires, he will get a black mark in his passport and it could affect future efforts to obtain visas. So there's no waiting around for flights. He's on a train on his way back to Moldova. Instead of a 2-hour flight, he'll be riding the rails for 2 days. But I wonder what happens to other people who get stuck because of volcanic ash and have no options to enable them to get home before a visa expires. What happens to them? Oh - we Canadians have it so easy when it comes to travelling freely!

Anyway, before the evening was out we had another phone call related to our sick girl. She seemed worse - so our evening was cut short for Wendy to return and help her out. The next morning was spent also caring for her and eventually sending her to a clinic for some tests. Albina, one of my people, spent her day accompanying the young woman to the clinic. We're still not sure of the exact problem but it's probably some kind of infection that was causing a fever and for which she will have an antibiotic.

So, just briefly, to go back to our visits on Thursday. Together with Sveta, who is a nurse who often helps our team in any way she is able, we went first to visit a seniors' residence and then to a hospital. The seniors' residence is run by the state and is one of the better homes for the elderly in Moldova. Sveta goes there regularly with some other women to visit people and share about the love of Jesus. She took us first to meet the director and to get permission for us to see the place and visit some of the patients. This is a new director and he was very welcoming and helpful and sent us off with a head nurse to show us around and answer our questions. We visited people who are still reasonably mobile and then we went and visited in the section where people with far less mobility were cared for.

At the bedside of one really old lady was an Orthodox sister who was caring for her - feeding her and reading to her on a regular basis. We chatted with her for a bit and then the others left the room just ahead of me. Before I left the sister said, "She wants to bless you. Lean your head down." As I did so, the lady reached up with her very shaky hand and placed it on my head. She then held out her hand to me and the other lady said to kiss her hand. I did so and although this is not my religious tradition, I sensed a holiness in the moment and the presence of the Lord in a way that brought tears to my eyes. The sister said, "You are very honoured to have been blessed like this." And I felt it was true. I thanked the woman sincerely and left the room feeling a sense of wonder at what had just happened.

In another room there were a couple of old men playing cards. One of the men had no legs and the other one got up and left when we asked if we could take their picture. Interestingly, the man with no legs didn't mind at all. I made a mental note of the fact that the cards they were playing with were very tattered. I have several decks at home that a good Baptist in Moldova probably shouldn't have. Maybe I'll give them away...

Another gentleman we talked to loves to write and recite poetry. We were asking him about how things were in the residence and whether he was content here. He said he was very grateful for the day he came there and that he had a poem about it, which he started to recite. I think it was about 4-5 stanzas, most of which he totally remembered and all of which expressed appreciation for such a place to live, where his needs are cared for. (If you had seen some of the conditions of the elderly living alone in this country, you would know how right he is to be thankful.) We thanked him for sharing the poem, and with that encouragement he launched into another one. It was obvious by the expressions on the faces of our guides that this could be a looooong visit. We gently extricated ourselves from further recitations and made our way to visit some others.

Once our tour was complete we returned to the director's office and he ushered us, together with the medical chief of staff, into a conference room. He wanted to hear our feedback and to respond to any questions we might have. The medical director was also curious to ask some questions about medical facilities in the west. I did my best to translate but wasn't always totally following as she kept forgetting to stop for translation. One of the things that was interesting to hear regarding staffing - in England, Wendy shared, the ratio of nurses to patients would be about 1/6 or 8. In this facility, the staff/patient ration is more like 1/22. I couldn't really say what it is in Canada as I know we do have a nursing shortage but have no idea what the ratio is. Maybe somebody can enlighten me. Of course, it depends on the kind of facility too. The other interesting thing to hear is that since the communist party is no longer in power, the new government in Moldova is making some very promising changes that will affect medical care. There is a vision for change that only requires the finances to make it possible. For example, in touring this seniors' residence there were parts where renovations obviously had begun but probably had been started a long time before as it was clear that nothing is currently happening. Lack of funding is a very visible reality in Moldova.

Before leaving the residence the director ensured that we should see the program room and as we entered we met a lady who also was eager to tell us her story. First of all, she showed us the photo albums she had put together, all organized by year showing all the programs that she had organized for the residents. She herself was a retired teacher and at age 80 is living in the residence and making herself useful by organizing all kinds of programs, from concerts to choir recitals to Christmas programs. She was very positive and very enthusiastic and encouraged me to come and enjoy one of their concerts sometime.

As we left, my doctor friend told the medical chief that she had brought some medical supplies and medications that she wanted to give them. They asked if she had brought any adult diapers, which is a huge - and of course constant - need. She went out and bought several packages and gave them, along with the medical supplies, to me to take over to the seniors' home next week. How humbling to be able to help, even in this small way.

Afterwards we went to visit a hospital but it was not quite such a successful visit as we couldn't find the director to get permission to visit the wards. So we walked through and Sora Sveta, in her bold and loving way, sat down and started sharing Christ with a woman who was just sitting waiting for an appointment. We heard her life's story, and her troubles and Sveta shared some literature with her and lots of encouraging words about the love of God and the need to pray and to believe. Sveta has no fear, and her faith and her smile and her encouraging words seem to leave even the most troubled person with a smile on their lips and - hopefully - new hope in their hearts.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Oh dear - I have become so lazy about my blog and I must apologize. There always seem to be a hundred other things to work on at the computer... or, I confess, play. Yes, I do spend more time than I should playing mindless games just to unwind.

Of course, I have had a few things on my plate, such as preparing to lead a Bible study at our DayCentre workers training conference, and now preparing a study on 2 Timothy for the leadership level of our Challenge into Missions course. With huge recruiting needs on our team, I have also been spending time in corresponding and connecting with potential new team members and meetings to discuss how we will deal with upcoming vacancies on the team, including my own.

Last week we prepared to welcome two teams who were arriving on the same day. One team - the Transit Challenge team - have been driving across Europe in a van and were coming to spend a month here in Moldova, being involved in various types of ministry. On the same day in which they were to arrive there was a Swedish team of 25 young people flying in to Chisinau for a one-week missions experience. Our team had been preparing to host these groups and in particular my department was responsible for the logistics and program of the Transit team.

On a rainy muddy Thursday evening, just as all the Swedish kids were walking in the door of the mission centre, informing us that 14 of them had NOT received their luggage upon arrival at the airport; at the very same moment I received a text message that the Transit team had been turned back at the border because of some problem with documents for the vehicle. A moment of crisis and panic that gradually unfolded into problem-solving mode as various people lent their wisdom and help to deal with both situations. With several phone calls and lots of prayer the Transit team were successful in obtaining the necessary documents and successfully crossing the border on their second attempt. By Saturday, the Swedes' luggage had arrived and was picked up by a fellow team member and safely delivered to the group who by now had gone to the south. It was one of those situations in which our team all pulled together to help handle the crises and everyone went the second mile to ensure that our guests were cared for. As stressful as such times can be, it is always satisfying and encouraging to see the generosity expressed by my team members in their dedication to the Lord.

On Friday, after a long day of delays, I travelled with the Transit team in their van to visit our Local Ministry Team in the north of Moldova. It was great to visit our team there and also fun to see the two teams working together on some practical work to help and encourage the church there. I came home on Saturday and on Sunday the team presented some children's programs, as it was Easter Sunday.

Dana and I and others on our team were involved in providing orientation and later debriefing and evaluation for the Swedish team, who spent their week building a playground in a village in the south of Moldova. Meanwhile our Challenge into Missions students have been out on outreach and they will be returning this weekend for another week of study at our mission centre. At the same time we will be hosting another visit from the Bus4Life, a big bus that goes around to different villages and presents programs, sells books and does outreach in various communities.

It is definitely a busy time and in the midst of all of this I am becoming more and more aware that I will be serving here for just 4 more months. Can this be possible?! It feels like the time is already beginning to fly.

Even more imminent, however, is the impending arrival of my third grandchild. I was not really planning to go home for this event and was actually beginning to feel kind of depressed about it one morning on my way to work. As I travelled in the mini-bus, wondering why I was feeling so low I made the decision that yes, I will go home for the coming of the baby, even if I couldn't afford it. The Lord gave me a wonderful peace in my heart upon making that decision. That evening I wrote a note to my missions committee asking if anyone could donate some airmiles to me. The next morning I received a response indicating that a woman in my church would be happy to give me her airmiles - enough to cover my trip to Canada, all the way to Kamloops!! I waited for April 7, Marah's birthday, to tell her the good news - that was her birthday present. And I think she is as happy as I am about it!

So now I am starting to sift through my belongings so I can take home a load of things with this visit and not have to get rid of so much or deal with so much stuff at the end of August. Moving house isn't so easy when all you can take is a 50 pound suitcase!!

So, dear friends - and especially Inga :-) - this is what I have been busy with lately and why I have been blogless. Meanwhile, spring is arriving in Moldova and Easter has come and gone. The Lord is risen! Hristos a inviat! In adevarat a inviat. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!