I've been there before. I've worked in areas like it before. I've met people from there before. I know what to expect.
But as God leads me on His journey for my life, I am learning more and more that the poor and destitute are often kept that way because of the godly intentions of people such as myself. Furthermore, I grew up with the good Sunday School attitude: give to the poor, give to the poor, give to the poor.
No one ever told me: "Let the poor give back to you", "Receive with grace", "Jesus is found among the least. Accept Him."
During my 2nd trip to Romania in 2004, I cared for a little newborn — Marius. He was admitted to the hospital with severe malnutrition and dehydration. The doctor informed me that his parents were too poor to afford food, the mother couldn't provide breast milk, and she had been feeding this little tyke tea.
His skin was papery and loose around his bones. But he was a fighter and responded well to our touches and caresses. Like any other newborn, it took some time to adjust to being bathed, and it did my heart good to hear him yell when I placed him in the water!
Slowly but surely, Marius was nursed back to health.
Not only that, but Marius' parents came back for him. That was rare. Most children and infants we cared for with ROCK (Romania's Outreach to Christ's Kids) were abandoned rather than orphaned, and the parents simply disappeared. But as I sat rocking Marius in intensive care, I was told his mother and father had come for him. They were being counselled by a nutritionist and would receive some help from ROCK for food and clothing and parenting issues.
The mother, a robust Roma woman in a dirty ankle-length skirt and shawl, stood at the glass door and watched me. I saw the nurse whisper something in her ear. Immediately, the mother rushed in and took her son. She was weeping. I wasn't sure if she saw me as a friend or foe — the state ready to remove her precious boy.
The father spoke to the nurse outside briefly and, to my shock, the mother handed Marius back to me. My heart sank… they were not here to take him back. They were leaving him again.
As I held Marius, I stood at the window watched them cross the busy courtyard in front of the hospital. Thinking that was the end of it, I curled up in Marius' crib with my small charge and simply held him.
About a half hour later, there were Marius' parents once again. I was confused. They walked in, his mother's arms waiting to receive their son. I gave him over, the nurse watching carefully to make sure all was well.
… in a fluid rush of melodic Romanian…
… Marius' parents presented me one bottle of dirty pop. Pink Fanta.
They had spent what they had, according to the nurse, in order to offer me a gift for saving their son… loving on him instead of just leaving him alone in a crib… feeding him the correct food… being his mama.
In my upside down arrogance, I tried to give the soda back. I couldn't take it! I was taking their dinner! For all I knew, I was taking their rent! Who was I to receive such a lavish gift at their expense! But they insisted. The nurse told me it would be insulting not to accept it.
Without any words, I received that most bounteous of gifts and stared at it. With one last look at the small and beautiful family as they left, I was rooted to the ground. It wasn't supposed to be this way. I was the giver, not them! They had nothing to give! They were the receivers. I already had been provided for. Who was I to take more?!
I think on this experience as I ready myself for Vancouver. Jesus announces Himself where He will and through whom He will. I cannot be arrogant enough to believe that I and I alone have any kind of monopoly on helping the poor. In fact, to do so would continue to create the gap of poverty between the rich and poor, in more ways than can be seen with the naked eye. God forgive me!
One bottle of pop taught me that.
It ruined me.