After the kids left the camp, our team collected used sheets and towels from each room to help the venue staff, ate lunch and went for a walk through the village. Everyone who lives here is unemployed. Why? Because they all worked at a nearby precious metals mine that closed about five years ago. Nowadays they earn income by fishing on the Danube River and selling their catch to their neighbors and those who pass through the town. Every few feet along the main road through the village, we saw signs indicating fish for sale.
I noticed many large houses along the road. That raised a question: How can the unemployed afford them? I asked one of our staff, and he explained that the owners made their money when the United Nations placed an oil embargo on Serbia during the civil war about 10 years ago. He said they transported gasoline across the Danube to the Serbian coast and sold it there for large profit. The Serbian coastal authorities never tried to stop them because they wanted the gasoline. The money earned from illegal sales provided the funding to build these houses with no debt. Now the owners are unemployed, but at least they won’t lose their houses.
When I’m overseas, watching people interact in the normal course of their day is one of my favorite things to do. (Someday I’d love to have a camera with a zoom lens so I can take facial photos without them noticing). This elderly lady was sitting on a bench in front of her house, creating a table runner. She seemed delighted that we stopped to admire her handiwork. She explained that she was copying a model, as seen in the picture. Then she began talking…and talking…and talking, oblivious to the fact that we couldn’t understand the majority of what she said.
I strained to listen to her story and managed to pick up a few words because they sounded like French. By piecing bits and pieces together, I understood that one of her family members lives in Canada but she hasn’t seen him for a long time. Most of her family is dead and the government gives her little or no pension. From the looks of her house, she probably has no indoor plumbing.
Within a couple of minutes, tears filled the woman’s eyes and spilled down her cheeks. My heart broke for her. What do I do, God? I prayed. The answer came back, Pray for her. And so I did. I placed my hand on her shoulder and began praying aloud in English – that God would comfort her, provide for her needs and draw her to a saving knowledge of Himself.
Despite our language barrier, the woman seemed to understand. She pointed to the sky and repeated the Romanian word for God several times. Finally, when I sensed the time was right to leave, I kissed her on both cheeks according to custom and bid her goodbye. I walked away feeling guilty for my very blessed life and praying that God would show Himself to her in a tangible way.
Each time I minister overseas – especially in a country such as Romania – I struggle with feelings of guilt. My life seems so easy compared to some peoples’ existence. I never worry about having sufficient food or where I’ll lay my head. When I face medical issues, I see my doctor and have them dealt with as quickly as possible. I have family and friends and the freedom to stay in touch with them.
Others cannot imagine such a life. They’re fighting to survive. They have neither clean drinking water nor the luxury of hot showers. The lucky ones glean an education and then leave their homeland to work abroad and send money back to support their loved ones.
Today was my birthday. Meeting this woman and praying with her made my day special. I’ll face the next year with a renewed attitude of gratitude for God’s presence and provisions, and with a deeper burden to pray for the disenfranchised. “Thank You, God, for this special gift.”