From the bookstore, we walked up the stairs where somebody was cooking. It wasn’t something out of the ordinary for me to see people cooking at church. Most of the protestant churches in Romania had a full kitchen in their buildings. A few more ladies welcomed us and we were invited to sit at a table. “It is our pleasure to offer you dinner,” the pastor said.
I knew the food was scarce in China, but these sweet ladies had put together a feast in our behalf. We were thankful and humbled by so much sacrifice.
We shared about how we became Christians and connected immediately when they heard about me being born in a communist country. Nobody asked me how I immigrated to America. I knew that was a forbidden subject. They talked about their husbands being far away working on construction sites. They saw each other twice or three times a year, when the government gave them short vacations for particular national celebrations. The wives worked in the city and took care of the child, and of the parents of both sides.
There was no retirement in China. Elderly people who couldn’t work anymore had to be sustained by their only child.
After meeting with this lady pastor for a few days, I asked her what would be the best way for us to help her and her church, if that would be possible after our departure. “We need a soup kitchen for elderly people. Our church serves a meal of rice every day to a small number of sick and old church members, but the need is great. It is so hard to see many of our brothers and sisters going to bed hungry. We try and use our own money to keep them from starving, but the burden is too heavy.”
That was a terrible situation. At least in communist Romania the government paid a small retirement to everybody who worked in a factory. The peasants were disadvantaged and received about $3 per month, yes, $3 per month after they retired, but they lived with family members and most of their modest basic needs were covered.
To be old in China was getting ready to die from starvation.
Then the pastor continued. “Ah, if we could open homes for elderly where they would have a clean bed and three meals every day, that would be a miracle.” I knew she put herself at risk when she opened her heart about such subject. Because the government was already right and took care of its own. That was the slogan. But the reality was this, if you were old or sick and couldn’t work for the society anymore, you were discarded.
Our hearts ached.
While still in the building, we needed to visit the restrooms. They were on the third floor and we followed a lady who carried a bucket of water. “The running water doesn’t work. It never worked,” she timidly said, and was translated by our interpreter. The woman opened a door to a long room with many stalls, maybe eight. Clean and old. We used the restroom and managed to scarcely flush it with water from the bucket.
“Do you have a youth ministry?” one of us asked before leaving. The ladies looked at each other and let the pastor answer. “No. Our government doesn’t encourage children and young people to come to church.”
We were ready to leave and knowing that we would visit their church during next assembly. Outside, the two men waiting for us were still smoking.
-to be continued-
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