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  • Writer's pictureMaria Whittaker


When I walked into Delia's yard, she was naked, sitting in a little green tub with a few, shallow inches of muddy water that didn't manage to cover her thin legs.

There were a lot of other things to notice in that yard, of course. This was not our first stop on the food route, and I had certainly already seen a poverty that defies description. Naked, dirty children with wild eyes, irredeemably tangled hair, and no shame. A home on the cusp of garbage dump that stunk to high heaven. Crumbling houses infested with cockroaches and dim with dust and years of caked on dirt. Delia's yard was no different. Overrun with weeds, littered with trash. Gaps in the fencing covered with discarded poster ads. Two other children, younger than Delia, equally caked in filth, running around. The youngest, a toddler, barefoot and diaper-less.

I could have noticed Delia's house, a few feet away. I err in calling it a house. It is a shelter, built of unevenly stacked cinderblocks precariously cemented together. It has a concrete floor, no electricity, no running water. It is a nightmarish place to imagine three children in, and yet it is Delia's home.

I could have noticed all of that, but I didn't. I could only see Delia. She was thin, about four years old, I guessed. Her hair was a matted cloud of light brown strands around her face. Her face was drawn and serious. But what drew me in, what I can't forget, was her eyes. They were beautiful eyes. But the sadness and dullness spilled from them like water pouring over the flat edge of a rock. A child's eyes should never look that way, should never look like the eyes of the homeless man at the end of the street and the end of his life. And yet Delia's eyes were two pools of suffering in a drawn four-year-old face.

I know this is a horrible, sin-stained earth, and yet how could four years in this life have ravaged such a little being?

We gave the family food and spoke to Delia's father and an unkempt, weeping woman who was their grandmother for a little while. We heard a little of their story, but I kept my eyes on Delia almost the whole time. She had a bad cough and watched us all with round, passionless eyes, never speaking a word. I couldn't discern interest, shame, excitement - anything really but that sadness imprinted on her retinas.

Here is a little of Delia's story. Besides living in the lowest kind of poverty, where dirt, heat, flies, and disease are members of the family, Delia suffers from a different, deeper wound in her heart. About a year and a half ago, her mother left the family to be with another man. The younger two are about one and two or three years old, probably a little too young to remember their mother, or what a mother is. But I imagine, by her eyes, that Delia remembers. Their father is uneducated and unskilled at anything in particular; besides this, he has work-related back injuries that make many jobs impossible for him. They live by running up huge debts at grocery stores and by the food provided by our soup kitchen. They live by surviving, day by day passing them by with no trajectory except that of growth. The children grow and outgrow clothes. They need more food. There is no future to look into, because they have none.

I left Delia with a heavy heart. Any humane person would have wished what I wished, to steal the children away and give them a better life. At least to wash them, comb out the tangles, dress them in clean clothes and have them sleep on a mattress that isn't crawling with vermin. And yet, powerlessly, I got back into the van and drove back to my comfortable apartment with a white area rug, air conditioning, plenty of food, and a closet-full of clothing.

I've been in situations like this before. I know I can't change the world. I know I can't rescue every child in these villages. The tragedy of Medgidia, of the impoverished community in Romania and Moldova, the sadness of this horrible world is greater than I can even begin to imagine. I don't think too much or too deeply to what is happening to the children in the dark, crumbling homes we drive past, what abuses, what hunger, what tears are shed. I can't rescue every child. And yet, I had been in Delia's yard. I had been confronted, face to face with her mournful eyes.

We can't save the world. But God confronts us with good deeds, prepared for us to walk in them. For me. For you. Maybe He has a plan, with assignments, and if we are all faithful to our particular assignments, everyone that needs to be saved will be saved. Today, I have Delia before my eyes, and I am struggling with words that serve me so poorly, to set her before yours.

I went home drowning in powerlessness and chose power instead. Oh, not my own. God's. I prayed for Delia and her siblings, that God would make a way that they are helped. Help me or someone to help them. To change their situation in some way or another.

And before the three days had passed, He answered in His mysterious way. I met Delia Monday. On Thursday, her grandmother unexpectedly passed away. Now, this woman's death wasn't my prayer, but it instantly changed the family's situation. Suddenly, the children no longer had a care-taker. Both they and their father were in complete shock and grief-stricken as the grandmother had only been in her fifties. The whirlwind of the wake and funeral overtook them. During the wake, the children came to my house where I planned to bathe them and give them some new clothes and toys, and mostly shield them from the terrifying ordeal of a crowd of unknown faces and the darkness of a death they cannot understand.

The night did not go as I expected. I planned to give them food. I wanted Delia to experience a real bath, with clean, warm water, and enough of it. I expected them to be excited to receive new toys. I expected children, and childish reactions. What Nate, who drove to pick them up, brought to my door was nothing like what I expected. They looked themselves, which is to say like little living creatures you might find after digging around in your dumpster for a good while. But they were coughing terribly and looked wildly terrified. Delia's brother, Ionut, who seemed a happy enough child the first time I met him, cried from the moment he stepped foot into my house and to about when he left. They refused food and kept crying miserably for their grandma and their father. I tried explaining she was in a better place, but there was no communicating with them. They were scared and confused and so, so small.

Getting them in the tub was traumatic for everyone. Even Delia, who had stoically refused to show emotion until now, broke down into wails. I had wanted to help them but I wondered if I was just doing more damage. They just wanted to go back to their father. I remember having a moment when I finally got Delia into the tub with Ionut. She is just about my nephew's age and size, and even looks a bit like him. Ionut is about the same age and size as my other nephew. And yet I remember looking at their young faces completely contorted with grief and terror, that they looked nothing like children at all. I couldn't see child. I could only see suffering.

The dirt in their fingers and toes just wouldn't go away, but the rest of them got relatively cleaner and with the help of an older cousin that had come with them, we got them into clean clothes. Still, they cried. I gave them toys, which calmed the atmosphere just a little, but not by much. At one point I went to the kitchen to get something and noticed the crying had stopped. They were excited by the toys, like normal children, just terrified by me. They felt comfortable enough with their cousin to slowly brighten up and analyze their treasures. I had wanted them to sleep at our apartment that night, but by this point, the cousin and I had decided that texting Nate to come back and bring them to their dad was the best course of action. So I tried to stay away as much as possible and let them enjoy their toys. And I was rewarded by seeing Delia, for the very first time since I had met her, smile.

The attention that comes from a family tragedy only lasts so long. The children and their father once again find themselves alone. They left my house looking a little bit like normal children. The missionary we work with, Sali Sabri, saw them the day after the funeral and told me they were back to being caked in dirt. They have nowhere to store clothes, after all, and wear them until they are unwearable. The church in Medgidia is building a farm to supply the soup kitchen and the father has a temporary job helping with that. Temporary, though, because the work won't last forever. The children spend the day being taken care of by his sister and return to their little hut at night.

Delia's father is desperate to get his children out of the hut, especially as the weather will get colder. The church is already too over-stretched to be able to help them. They are building a farm for the soup kitchen, in the middle of a church build in one of the villages, and also building a home for another woman in a bad situation who lost her children to the state and can only get the back if she has a home of her own. Delia and her siblings and her father are on everyone's radar, and yet no one has the means to really help them.

But they are before us. God has confronted us with this needy family and we can't turn our backs on them. Something must be done.

In brainstorming possibilities, Nate and I had the idea that we raise enough money so that Delia's father rent an apartment for a year while he gets back on his feet. Sali explained this won't work. Like most of the impoverished people in Medgidia, there is no upward trajectory. There simply is no work for someone unskilled and uneducated, with health problems to top it off. Their only hope is if the church can build them a house where they can at least be safe and healthy so that any money their father can earn goes to food and clothing for the children and to other living expenses. In a proper home, the children could be kept clean and healthy enough to be brought to school where they might have a chance at a better future. And even more importantly, they could be brought to church, where they might have a chance at eternal life.

We can't save the world. But God confronts us with good deeds, prepared for us to walk in them. For me. For you. Maybe He has a plan, with assignments, and if we are all faithful to our particular assignments, everyone that needs to be saved will be saved. Today, I have Delia before my eyes, and I am struggling with words that serve me so poorly, to set her before yours.

Some of the good deeds God prepared for us can be done individually. I do what I can and you do what you can, wherever we find ourselves. But maybe, some of the good deeds God prepared for us can only be accomplished together, by the body, not limited to the place we find ourselves but transcending it, crossing oceans and cultures and accomplishing miracles.

Today, I'm asking for help to raise money to build Delia a home. It's a start, it's not a finish. It won't heal her wounds; it won't bring her mother back. It won't be the answer to all her problems. But it's a start. It's the first step towards a plan of redemption and healing that I fully believe God has for this family, these three little children that are under His watchful care. His eye is on the sparrow, how much more does He have the very hairs on their heads numbered.

Then the King will say to those on His right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was a naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me."

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick and in prison and visit You?"

And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me."

M A T T H E W 25: 34 - 40

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

M A T T H E W 10 : 42

Click this link to donate to the GoFundMe set up in Delia's name. The goal is $15k which will go in its entirety to the family and towards the goal of building them a house. Thank you and may God richly bless you.

Carpe Diem!

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