Family Blessings, Part V

31 December, 2009

Roma children, Skopje, Macedonia, 2009.

Roma children. Skopje, Macedonia. 2009.

One of the greatest aspects of traveling is experiencing new cultures and customs (I could add cuisine to that as well). These differences expand my understanding of people and countries. Another enjoyable aspect is the discovery that there are so many similarities; similarities with different flavors, but similarities none the less.

One such similarity is the importance of family. This becomes the topic of this final Family Blessing series post. This image was taken while I was walking around a Roma community in Skopje, Macedonia. In most situations I can’t move unnoticed, especially in an area such as this Roma enclave. With my blonde hair and western clothes (and camera) I garnered a lot of attention.

These children were walking down one of the many small alleyways that criss-crossed the community. As soon as they saw me they wanted me to take their picture. I obliged them as they propped their younger siblings against the fence for a photo. However, this photo of them prepping their siblings for the photo was my favorite. The older brothers and sisters lovingly cleaned up their younger siblings for the photo. It is especially interesting since there was no expectation of their receiving a print for the photo. They just enjoyed that they were receiving this attention.

This is a cross-cultural similarity among all cultures, the love and care of the younger siblings by the older. Yet, a growing incongruity between this community and the one I left in the US was the fact that this group of kids walked about their community without their parents which showed a sense of security in this poor community that may be disappearing in the communities of the west.

In some ways, these small communities in the poorer countries I visit bring to mind what I imagine the US was like before this modern era of instant communication and the electronic segregation of communities that it has caused. We in the first-world are losing the blessing of 3-dimensional locational community in exchange for a 2-dimensional cyber community. We are exchanging a deep understanding of our neighbors and community for text-bytes of information of groups of friends, loosely grouped and hardly known.

The Christian community is an aberration to this trend, where community is still valued. In order to keep values in perspective, I believe that Christians need to visit other countries where needs are great and engage themselves in these other communities of believers. Through these experiences we not only gain a greater depth of knowledge of the world in which we live, we also gain a better understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Keep in mind that we are in the world solely by the grace of God, so live as instruments of his blessing to others.

© 2009 A Mission Proclaimed

A Mission Proclaimed is a federally recognized 501(c)(3). Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Just A Comparison

30 December, 2009

Redoni and mother, Korçë, Albania, 2006.

Redoni and mother. Korçë, Albania. 2006.

There are situations in which you feel uncomfortable, and there are those that are close to unbearable. This photo came from the latter. I visited Korçë covering the story of Ian Loring who had been deeply involved with the people of Albania since the collapse of the communist regime ruled for forty years by the dictator Enver Hoxha. (The Loring story is chronicaled in the book, Christ and the Kalashnikov. See links below.)

One of the many ministries operating in Korçë is a medical ministry that sends nurses into the community serving those without access to medical care. I rode along with the team as it visited Redoni and his family. I entered the small apartment where this family of four lived; Redoni, his mother and father, and small brother. Their home consisted of one room that was about 10 feet by 15 feet. The only furniture in the home was the bed where Redoni’s mother lay, a small couch across from it, under the only window in the flat. There was a hutch opposite the door we entered on which the nurse I was accompanying prepared compresses of honey for Redoni’s mother.

His mother had been paralyzed since the birth of Redoni’s little brother. The compresses were the only method of treatment for the horrible bed sores that festered as she lay confined to the bed. It was obvious that she was in considerable pain and discomfort and would painfully moan during the procedure to apply the honey compress bandages.

It was a situation that had me questioning whether or not I should be there. I asked the nurse if they truly approved of my presence there during these procedures. The nurse said the family welcomed my presence. I’m not sure whether the boys knew why I was there, but they seemed to enjoy this stranger and watched me closely as I worked.

At one point, Redoni moved closer to his mom and put his hand on her shoulder as she moaned in discomfort. It was the smile that he gave as he did this that was most telling. I had no way to know what he was thinking, but his smile seemed to say, “Everything is fine.”

I couldn’t help thinking this was a strange response to the situation I was witnessing. How could he be fine with this life in which he found himself? Then I realized this was my error by comparison. The scales over my eyes do more than just perjure my judgment of others, they also create false assessments of good, bad, blessings, and affliction. I was looking at this situation through eyes that prejudged the scene as pitiful. My standard of blessing with which I viewed the world was my experience in the west, the southern-California Christian culture. My standard should have been God’s standard.

If God’s standard is our measure, then all of our existence is rather pitiful, we are all poor, crippled, and wretched. Through that understanding comes a great blessing, when we see that our lives here are fleeting, vaporous. This is when we are liberated to see that our purposes should be God’s purposes; to visit the lonely, comfort the sick, feed the hungry. We can see that wealth is not happiness (quite the opposite), and the powerful are weak in proper comparison to God’s power through the meek.

Redoni had the smile of a child unburdened by such pointless human assessments of afflictions and the blessings. He had the smile that we should all seek which evidences our faith and trust in God to meet our needs in any situation in which we find ourselves.

Information on Ian Loring:

© 2009 A Mission Proclaimed

A Mission Proclaimed is a federally recognized 501(c)(3). Your support is greatly appreciated.

A Stop Or A Way

28 December, 2009

Roadside chapel, Lamur, Belgium, 2009.

Roadside shrine. Grand-Leez, Belgium. 2009.

Near Grand-Leez, Belgium, where Rue Henri de Leez connects to Rue du Pont des Pages a small shrine sits beside the way where it has stoically received prayerful travelers for hundreds of years. Belgium is and has historically been a Catholic country. Seventy-five percent of the population align themselves to the Roman Catholic Church and small religious icons and shrines can be found in homes, courtyards, and throughout the countryside.

This small shrine was erected here beside this narrow country road centuries ago by persons unknown. The eyes of God have not missed one traveler who has entered in to petition God for need or blessing. This object of religion effectively illustrates a point of distinction between religion and a relationship.

Most modern Christians prefer to consider their faith a relationship rather than a religion. Obviously there are religious components to faith, but for Christians it is the personal relationship with Christ rather than observance to ritual that defines their position. Therefore, the need for objects of religion diminishes greatly.

This small shrine was a stop on the way, a step off the path, a momentary pause dedicated to God and worship. Which is a metaphor for religion in general. However, a relationship with Christ is the essence of our path, not a stop on the way. He is the Way.

The Christian faith is dynamic because we travel our paths with God. Yes, we take time to step from the path to dedicate time to quiet prayer and worship, as we should. Yet, when we depart again on our journey we don’t turn from God with his blessings and continue on our journey alone, rather we take His hand as He leads us on the way. Therein is all the difference.

© 2009 A Mission Proclaimed

A Mission Proclaimed is a federally recognized 501(c)(3). Your support is greatly appreciated.

An Intersection

27 December, 2009

Roma Boy, Skopje, Macedonia, 2009.

Roma boy. Skopje, Macedonia. 2009.

Dashing between moving traffic this boy runs from car to car begging from any that were stopped by the traffic lights at this intersection. I had passed through this same intersection a day earlier in a taxi having just arrived at the Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje, Macedonia. The passenger window of my taxi was open and the driver warned me in broken, barely intelligible English to hold on tightly to my camera bag that sat on my lap. He then pantomimed how these Roma boys would grab and run with anything they can snatch from open windows.

My driver yelled obscenities at the young boy who approached my window. At least I assumed they were. Obscenities seem to depend more on the manner of delivery than the actual phonetics. So, if these words were not obscenities, they were certainly delivered like them.

This was not a situation in which I enjoy being placed. I was in Skopje as a Christian photographer covering mission work, and the last thing I want in any mission situation is to be defined by a class or position, i.e., the “haves” in hostile opposition to the “have-nots.” That is exactly what happened when the driver yelled at the boy seeking a handout.

As it turned out, this intersection separated a Roma ghetto on the northwest side from the United States Embassy on the southeast side. The Embassy, a huge, imposing complex intended to be the heart of US political influence in the Balkans, sat on a hill overlooking the Vardar River. The Roma ghetto sat below in the physical and metaphorical shadow of the Embassy. I learned later that this Roma enclave was the same section wherein the missionaries I came to visit had their ministry.

The missionaries of the International Mission Board (IMB) had set up a home where young school children would come to get a filling meal during lunch from school and where elderly Roma men could gather to socialize. Every day dozens of local Roma children would eat, first the younger children and then the older students would enter in a series of waves organized by grade level.

After the lunches were served, I went out with one of the mission workers to walk around the community. During the walk, amazingly I found myself in the same intersection where I had the unfortunate experience a day earlier. This time however, I was not among the “haves.” I was on foot. I was with the “have-nots,” a preferable situation. I was now an observer on the side of the children begging change as cars moved by in a myopic parade.

Many cars driven by Embassy workers crossed the intersection on their way to the compound; routine having effectively inoculated them from connecting with the faces of want that wandered this intersection daily. High on the hill the people of the Embassy tended to their work as political entities serving the needs of states, whereas on this side of the intersection the IMB missionaries tended to the needs of the hungry children. I knew I was on the side of the intersection where God wanted me as this boy dodged cars; wondering why I was on his side.

© 2009 A Mission Proclaimed

A Mission Proclaimed is a federally recognized 501(c)(3). Your support is greatly appreciated.