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When Rich Meets Poor
One Christian's life-changing journey to Romania
Many Christians have read the Bible’s teaching on their responsibility towards people in extreme poverty and have chosen to get involved on a very practical level. In our guest blog, Ian shares his story of a visit to Romania and how it impacted his attitude to poverty.
“We knocked at the door of one of the very shabby cottages in Sarata. It was New Year’s Day and I was in this little, remote, village in Romania with a small group of English Christians and a large, lively, group of Romanian Christian teenagers.
“As I stood there with one of the teenagers holding a box of food we heard shuffling behind us. An elderly man appeared from a ramshackle barn. He let us into his ice-cold house and almost wept as we gave him the food. He then explained that he could not afford to heat even one room of his house, which is all most of his neighbours could afford. During the winter months, he lived in the barn where the warmth from his animals was all that let him survive the bitter cold. The food we gave him meant he could spend the money he would have used for food to buy wood so that he could live in his house for a while.
“This visit to Sarata was my first encounter with real poverty. When you see poverty and suffering on the TV news you know that in 5 minutes there will be something much less unpleasant to watch. Seeing these people face to face was a much more challenging experience. I will always remember the warmth of their welcome. I will never forget the smell of strange food and of large families cooped up in one room all winter. What affected me most, though, was the knowledge that they would probably be living in these appalling conditions for the rest of their lives. I knew I would soon be on a plane back to my comfortable home and could just forget my few days in Romania.
“It wasn't quite that simple though. Jesus says, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21). I realised I am not perfect and although I should want to be perfect I could not obey Jesus' command. Of course, I never said it to myself like that. It was more like, "It's not as if I have an extravagant lifestyle, and if I did sell it all it wouldn't make much money, and I have a responsibility to my family, it would be wrong to make them suffer, and…".
"At the time they didn't seem like excuses and as my memory of Sarata gradually fades I feel less uncomfortable about having a roomy house with all the luxuries we take for granted. BUT…..my time in Sarata has made a difference. I spend a lot of my time organising food collections for Romania and Moldova (an even poorer neighbouring country). I have moved to a house nearer my church so that I can become much more involved in the Sunday School work, the maintenance of the church building, and in the life of the church as it works to make a difference in my immediate community.
“Did my encounter with the poverty in Sarata change my life? Yes. Did it change my life completely? No. Did it change it as much as God wanted it to? Probably not. “However, it has made me a better and more active Christian and made me much more grateful for the luxuries I used to take for granted like running water, a warm house and as much food as I want. “I pray that God will never let me forget Sarata.”
“Did my encounter with the poverty in Romania change my life? Yes. Did it change my life completely? No. Did it change it as much as God wanted it to? Probably not. However, it has made me a better and more active Christian and made me much more grateful for the luxuries I used to take for granted."