Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The People you meet

At the wedding I attended on Sunday, I met a woman - close to my age, I think - who has been in this country for 3 years, sent by her church to be a missionary on her own. And so she came, sensing God's call in her life, and here she has worked to open and run a home for the elderly. If you had seen some of the conditions in which pensioners here live, you would well understand why there is a huge need for such facilities. I was impressed by this lovely British lady, whose love for God was obvious and whose dedication to her task is exemplary.

In the course of this summer, our team is hosting over 150 short-term missioners. Each outreach begins with a day of orientation for the visiting teams. Last week as we guided a large group through the cross-cultural sensitivity seminar, team-building games, a seminar on ministry with children in Moldova, and an introduction to our mission organization, I was impressed with the calibre of young people who have come. I was especially pleased to talk with a Dutch family who have come here with their two children, to give them a different kind of summer vacation. How wonderful to meet Christian parents whose desire for their children to grow and learn is walked out in sacrificial service to others as a family. Their children will never forget this experience.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Forgotten Places, Forgotten People

First of all, I want to wish everyone a very happy Canada day!! I hope that my Canadian friends have had a wonderful day of celebrating the beauty and peace and freedom and prosperity of such an incredible country. Canada is worth celebrating. I understand that better each day.

Today I was thinking and speaking of Canada even as I enjoyed the beauty of Moldova, appreciated its people, and grieved for its deep sorrows.

I travelled with a colleague to the little village of Pripiceni to visit a summer day camp being conducted by our local ministry team from Rezina. After spending the morning with the children at the day camp, I went together with two of my team members to visit an elderly lady who is bedridden.

We were guided through the village roads and forest paths to a dilapidated house in the woods. We had to wade through shoulder-high undergrowth to reach the front dooryard of the house.

Let me share with you this lady's story so that you can weep with me and pray for God's mercy on her and so many others like her in Moldova.

Efemea is probably in her 60's and she has a husband and two sons and several grandchildren. One of her sons lives and works in Russia and she doesn't hear much from him at all. Her other son was married but his wife died after the birth of their second child. Efemea cared for the one grandson but the other one was severely handicapped and he has been cared for by another family. Efemea also cared for the two children that her son had by his second wife because that wife left her husband and children. So for probably eight or so years this woman raised these three grandchildren, even though their father was not around much and often drank too much. Her husband also is alcoholic. And her son right now is in prison. But three years ago Efemea had a stroke and was paralyzed, unable to leave her bed or to care for her grandchildren. Social services took the children away and now two of them are staying in an orphanage in the town where our local ministry team lives. I think the other child is living with a family. Efemea was left virtually alone in this isolated house, uncared for and even physically abused at times by her son when he was drinking. She developed horrendous bedsores and it was only recently that some sisters from the local church began to visit her, clean her, bring her food and care for her. The wife of the local orthodox priest also comes and cares for her regularly. Efemea might possibly be able to go to a home for seniors where she could be better cared for but if that happened, the little pension that she receives would go to the care facility and her husband would not be able to stay in the house where they live, as her pension helps to pay for that.

And so she remains in unthinkable conditions, lying alone day after day and thrilled to have visitors come to encourage her. When we arrived she was very happy to see Aurica and these foreign visitors who came with her. She wanted a song and we sang a song to the Lord. She asked Aurica to tell her a story and she shared a missionary story that the children had heard at the day camp. We reminded her that God loved her and that He would never ever leave her. But I have to confess that as I stood by the bed of this helpless woman and tried not to think about the unpleasant smell that had accosted us as we entered the room, I couldn't help thinking that maybe God had left. Quite honestly, if I were that woman I think it would be easy to believe that God had abandoned me. Her children had left her and her grandchildren had been ripped from her arms and her health had been lost and she was alone. And as I thought angrily about her children who had left her in such conditions and didn't care for her who had raised and cared for them, I thought of my own mother.

Although physically my mother's conditions are much much much better, she also feels alone and possibly sometimes abandoned. But hopefully she knows that her children love her and sees that we have done what we can and are continuing to do what we can to care for her. Knowing that in spite of that she still feels lonely, at the same time I am feeling angry at the children of this poor soul before me, I sense my own responsibility to return home and be present for my mother in her old age.

I want my mother to know that she is loved and respected and appreciated. But I also want Efemea to know that she is loved - if not by her family, certainly by God. My eyes took in the dark dinginess of the room, the grubbiness of the bedding, and the brokenness of this suffering friend. We told her of God's love for her and faithfulness to always be with her. And although it would be easy to doubt that, who but God could move the hearts of those who came regularly to care for Efemea? Because of the Lord, she did have people who, out of love for Jesus, also loved her. I understand that as we stood in that forgotten place with a woman forgotten by many, God was present. "I was sick, and you visited me." said Jesus in Matthew 25. The One who bore our sins and carried our sorrows identifies with all who suffer. Today we visited a broken, sufferning woman and Jesus was present. Thanks be to God.
There are many more stories and realities very similar to this one. Care for the elderly in Moldova is desperately lacking. Through our mission we help churches to provide meals for seniors and to take food parcels. I'm glad we are able to do something. But for every one that we help, there are many more who remain forgotten and isolated and believing that God has abandoned them. Only when God's people show up are they likely to begin to understand the presence of Jesus in their suffering and the redemptive power of our living Lord.