I recently traveled to Romania, where Buckner International enables churches to give shoes and socks to orphans who live in group homes. Meeting these children to give them humanitarian aid was amazing. Considering the country is less than 20 years removed from the dictatorial reign of Nicolae Ceausescu, it is all the more remarkable.
I was especially moved by a day care center in Tiarnevi sponsored by Buckner in cooperation with a local church. It is for children of Roma descent, known to many as gypsies. It is a huge step for a church there to reach out a group of people that are impoverished and almost universally despised. It is a history and legacy that goes back centuries in this part of Europe. Old prejudices die hard, but I witnessed small steps in the right direction.
The building is located in the middle of what can only be called a slum. It was given to the day care center by the mayor and city council. They warned about failed efforts to the Roma people in the past. This would be no simple task.
A group of people from Athens, Texas, provided $150,000 to renovate the second floor. The first floor was given back for offices to the government; including the police. In this neighborhood having police nearby is a stroke of genius.
The children came to school poor, dirty, malnourished and woefully behind in their studies. They ran in fear the first time they were to be bathed. They had never seen a tub, much less a hot shower. They could/would only eat bread for the first couple of days. The new shoes and clothing they were given stayed at the day care, lest they be sold or stolen. This all began last September.
A child that could not speak now speaks so well that I could not pick him out of the group. Children who could not read or write now do both. They are learning Romanian and English. I found them to be bright and alert and inquisitive. The results that occurred in seven months were phenomenal.
When we took them outside to play, the local children caused a riot trying to get to these children. They also wanted the cowboy hats, bandanas, stick horses and sunflower seeds that we had bestowed on the 25 children from the day care. Many of our people were horribly disheartened that every child could not get in on the fun. The children hung on the fences. They cried and even begged to be a part. One of our people said strongly: “I don’t understand people that don’t let everyone in!” It was difficult to watch.
They can’t let everyone in, because these children need structure and discipline and nurture and love and attention. You can’t fix a ghetto overnight. That would be the hardest part of the job for me. Who gets in and who doesn’t? I wondered aloud about the discrepancies of the society.
Then I was reminded of the discrepancies in my own city. There are also children who can’t read or write in Houston. There are children very near me who do not bathe, either. Why was it so easy to see the needs in Romania and miss them in my town? It was easy to think that the Baptist church there needed to work through their prejudices; but am I naÃ¯ve to think that there is not prejudice in my church as well?
These people have chosen a good work. It is a hard work. There are now two questions to answer:
What will we/I do to continue to help these people?
What will I do to help the people in ghettos in my town?
Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston.
Ed Hogan is a public school teacher and ordained Baptist minister who lives in Houston, Texas. He served previously on the EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors.