Lately, I have come face to face with the reality of how short our years. How important it is to let love motivate our thoughts, our actions, in this broken world. Compassion means ‘suffering together’ … yes, but do I choose where, when and to whom I activate my compassion? Do I value and respect those whose misfortune make them appear less important? It must be love that opens the door to the unexpected where brokenness has created a sandpaper experience; there are few (if any) velvet experiences which ever reach my desk. Days are busy with between twenty to thirty emails outlining devastating issues. At times the reports/case files are overwhelming and I wonder ‘why?’ when I read: ‘Who will care for my children when I am gone; it’s not fair; why me?’. In between the lines I identify lonely hours of utter emptiness, longing and disappointment.
Yesterday was one of those days, my mind was churning. Last evening in our quiet time, Hamilton read a passage from I John: 3. (his latest publication, which is ongoing). Verse 18-19 challenged me to write to you this morning. ‘Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence’. No one will ever love me with such wholeness as Jesus; therefore, I must ‘clothe’ myself with active compassion, to share the good news of God’s love. The Lord redirected his steps on many occasions, healing the leper, the blind, the lame, not forgetting the little lambs, when he lovingly said: ‘Suffer the little children to come …’ I must not choose my friendships but be willing to serve the friendless.
During the past few days, a carpet of Dandelions has covered the surrounding fields, I smiled, remembering gardening days in Holywood, how ‘carefully’ Shirley would pull these pretty yellow flowers without ever successfully securing the root. Or the carpet of tiny white daisies where children spend hours forming a daisy chain for Mummy. Not flowers to grace a vase but flowers with deep roots reminding me that my roots must be deep in order not to be dislodged by circumstances or situations.
I received a video clip from Gabi of a lone figure distributing food parcels during the Easter weekend to the elderly village ladies in Suceava. I asked the name of the foundation or person, the response melted by heart. ‘The Merciful Samaritan’ … need I say more? This weekend the doors of Iochebed had to open as a priority for women who are desperate to survive. During the past two months there is no work owing to the lockdown of the city. Those from Roma villages have no identity, therefore no contract of employment, resulting in no State benefit available. Single mothers, unmarried girls with unwanted pregnancies needing love and a listening ear. (M) (29) unmarried, sixteen weeks pregnant has chosen to keep her baby. She was made redundant once the pregnancy was known, now she has no income and is anxious as to how she will manage to provide the necessities for a new born: cot, pram, food, clothing.
Twenty-minute counselling sessions provide guidance and comfort during this time. Ladies are told of the love of God and assured they are not alone and that we as a team in Iochebed will offer food and provision as Unto Him. (B) attends a Pentecostal Church; she is married with two little girls aged three and four months. She contacted Iochebed on line, telling her story. She lives with an elderly, ailing mother who cannot be left unsupervised. Her husband does not work and must be isolated from the family; she receives no money from him at all. Her baby and little girl were hungry and the elderly mother required medication – an impossible situation as there was no money in this humble home.
Iochebed Centre is a counselling centre for crisis situations of unwanted pregnancies. Women in emergency situations will be able to keep their baby with financial support. In special cases we have provided a Heating Stove, Washing Machine, Fridge. We are not a Humanitarian Centre but when the poor come, we cannot ignore their cries for help, close our eyes and our ears. Emotional aid is free, Financial aid is a provision from the Lord.
My telephone consultation with Monika ignited cherished memories from past months. The love birthed in my heart for these precious people, the mysterious opportunities I never imagined, feeling the security that every moment, every need I faced was guarded and guided through all the darkness of uncertainty. Romania, Hungary, Moldova, all differing in language, the prayer of faith has become my language as I remember those I love. Romania, once known as the ‘Breadbasket of Europe’ now a place where several families walk miles from their village to receive one loaf of bread from fifteen loaves donated for the hungry by a local baker. Life is cruel for many with little or no love ever shown. I ask the Lord to give me a kind and gentle heart toward ‘ALL’ who come, to show tenderness of spirit and acts of kindness, remembering that what we do, we do as ‘Unto Him’. A few who came this week, begging bread: A young mother, raised in an orphanage, her young husband has had to have his foot amputated after a tragic accident in the forest. Another distraught young mother with seven children, her husband suffering from Paranoid Schizophrenia, who has had to be committed to a specialist care home. Seven little mouths to feed? Her eyes filled with tears as she received food parcels. Others struggling to survive, where the small wages they earn far outweigh the rising food costs, state-imposed costs for heating, water, electricity. A new family just entering our two-year programme consists of a single parent family, a mother and a teenage daughter. The mother is divorced owing to the husband being an alcoholic. The income is insufficient to pay rent, bank loan, food, medication, utility bills and other necessities in order to survive. Winter brings freezing conditions in Romania; the lady had no boots and no money to buy a pair. After two months of walking in old shoes unfit for the cold and icy conditions, she managed to purchase second hand boots.
Each day that passes seems to bring even more pain for precious families where little ones long to see their ‘Daddy’ or hear his voice again. My dear friend Sister Neil has just contacted me to say that two young fathers have died. One father (40) was suffering from terminal cancer, leaving two adorable little girls. I remember visiting with them and remarking on their amazing eyes and smile. The other family is new to our Casa Grace programme; the father suffered from Liver Cirrhosis owing to an alcohol addiction – a little boy is looking for his ‘Daddy’. We take so many things for granted. Today is all we have.
I will never forget the day I first met (A). A young mother with three children all sitting on the floor of a sparsely furnished room within a house accommodating ten families. One bathroom, one working kitchen between ten families. Totally alone, (A) had to place two of her three children in a Hungarian Orphanage for eight years. I asked: ‘Why did you give your children away?’ I still hear the reply as tears ran down her cheeks: ‘Because I loved them’. Her honesty staggered me, so much so, I decided immediately to launch ‘Give with Your Heart’.
Many of you will remember the story; A and her children were reunited and supported by Casa Grace. Sadly the home burned to the ground causing her to lose everything. Now settled in a two roomed rental and working hard cleaning stairwells of communist flats, (A’s) world is shattered. She was diagnosed (several months ago) with cancer. Chemotherapy has been unsuccessful and surgery was to have taken place on May 05. All treatments, surgeries are cancelled owing to COVID-19. She is overwhelmed with worry and is fighting to live for her three children. She is from the Orthodox persuasion and needs to find the Lord. At present ongoing enquiries are continuing to locate a surgeon in and around Romania who would be willing to perform the necessary procedure. Pray the Lord will provide the finances to go forward and that through these days she will come to know the Lord as her Saviour.
Estera called me yesterday; our friendship is precious, yet as we talked friend with friend, I could feel, in fact, almost touch her concern as she expressed the pain in her heart for our patients. My dear friend Elizabeth is anxious as her beloved husband John is very weak, John has been Elizabeth’s carer since she was diagnosed with cancer many years ago. Their humble home is filled with love. Estera and I visit to be a blessing, yet as John and Elizabeth sing from the Psalms, we are the ones who receive the blessing. (B) is a young man (early twenties) suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, his grandfather was one of our Hospice patients until his death. His mother tends him day and night but is now physically and mentally exhausted and in need of support. A gracious family, open to the gospel, yet they do not know the Lord. On Estera’s last visit they requested prayer. (A) a lady in her sixties, is suffering from terminal cancer. A very precious lady who has cared for her grandson Luca since birth; she is really his ‘Mummy’. Owing to her declining health, Luca is now living with his birth mother. A is alone and feeling abandoned and is finding the parting from Luca unbearable.
(V) (44) lost her young husband in a fatal car accident, leaving her to raise her two little girls alone. After many years she remarried, but has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is no longer responding to treatment. Her time is short and she is struggling to face the reality she may only have days remaining. (Mr.C), suffering from Pulmonary Cancer with Brain Metastasis, a lovely gentleman always clearly moved by our scripture readings from the Word of God yet remains unsaved. A matter of concern as his condition is worsening day by day.
Restrictions in Romania remain. Before venturing outside, one must be in possession of a special paper provided on line by the State. On visiting a shop, pharmacy you are tested for COVID-19 before entering the store. The teams of Casa Grace, Emanuel Hospice and Iochebed face decisions in the lives of others. They serve with active compassion; their dedication is unshakable.
I have tried to share the secret corners of my heart, real people with real need of salvation and healing. Remember my friends who give their time in serving the poor, the dying, the homeless. May they know a sense of the nearness of the Holy Spirit covering and protecting them and may they see rewards for their labour of love. Personally, I find the task of reading the varying case studies extremely painful. At times as I reflect on my patients, orphans, down syndrome, disabled, abandoned babies, unwanted pregnancies, the desperately poor and desolate, Cigid adult orphans, I see it as my ‘Goliath’ and I am unable to overcome this giant alone. Whether I am faced with a relational or overwhelming challenge I must realise that if it does take a mountain to bring me to my knees, I must be willing to bow my knee. I can be a Samaritan, filled with compassion, or I can be one of those who simply passed by – my choice.
I close with the words of John Baillie:
‘When the way seems dark before me, give me grace to walk trustingly;
When so much is obscure to me, may I be all the more faithful to the little I can clearly see;
When the distant scene is clouded, may I rejoice that at least I can see the next step;
When what you are is hidden from my eyes, let me hold fast to what you command;
When I do not understand, may I remain obedient;
What I lack in faith, may I make up for in love’.
Shirley, May 25, 2020
42b Bernice Road, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim. BT36 4QZ.