Mehai (not his real name) is fifteen, although he doesn’t look like it. His body is twisted by what I imagine must be cerebral palsy. He lives in a small, two-room house in rural Romania with his mum and dad, four brothers and two sisters on the outskirts of Brasov. No running water, toilet or gas supply. A bare bulb for light and a wood stove for heating and cooking. The three beds, two sofas, a fridge, a cupboard, sideboard full of ornate glass, wardrobe and a TV are the only furnishings.
Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting him with Antonia, one of the social workers from Hospices of Hope, an organisation Bessels Green Baptist Church supports. I had taken my camera, but to ask the family for a photograph seemed wholly inappropriate. Besides, the image of his smile, as I held and stoked his hand, will remain in my memory for years to come.
Antonia’s English is limited, but it’s better than my Romanian, which is only three words. In the car driving on to the next visit we talked; from what I can understand she has been helping the family obtain the correct certification to access what little state support there is available. We make another five such visits before returning to the hospice for a late lunch.
Today, on the drive from Brasov to Bucharest, we stopped at King Carol I’s summer residence. It’s staggeringly ostentatious and full of gold, marble and carved wood. The king had imported the finest materials from all around the world. Apparently, he was permanently concerned with his prestige and that of the dynasty he had founded. His wife, Elizabeth, claimed he even ‘wore the crown in his sleep’.
Throughout the tour of the castle I couldn’t get over the stark contrast between this and the poverty I had witnessed the day before.
It reminded me of a parable Jesus told.
“The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
“Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
“That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”
Speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”
Luke 12:16-19, 15, The Message
Christian Aid have a fantastic motto, or mission statement: We believe in ‘life before death’. It’s an idea that seems equally applicable to Antonia, a Hospice worker, providing end of life care, working with a family to help them make the most of life – no matter how limited the options may seem from the outside.
I found myself pausing and reflecting on the question, ‘where is real life found?’ In the gypsy home or the king’s castle? In opulence and splendour, or a gentle touch and a smile?
You can find out more about the work of Hospice of Hope via their website. http://www.hospicesofhope.co.uk/ or by visiting the tea shop in Otford.
Grace and peace,
(image: Hospices of Hope)