Every time I tell the story of the Gypsies and New Life Church, I begin by saying, “I never planned to go to the Ukraine because it seemed like a cold and damp place.” I am sure I will find it that way when I go back for the third time this winter.
My involvement with North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Relief Ministry goes back to Williamston, N.C., during the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. It began with a feeding unit early one morning. It continues today.
In the summer of 2010, twice in 2011, and twice already this year N.C. Baptist Men provided medical care and relief teams to a considerable Roma Gypsy population. The Roma have been pushed to the edge of society for so long it has become their home. They are tougher than we are. Their ruddy complexion and hard hands tell an unspoken story. I do not know many folks [who] could live like they have. I am always amazed to see smiles and laughter spring from such a desperate situation. I have been blessed to be part of the hope and the healing for these people.
In 2005 I enrolled in EMT continuing education classes at the local community college. I had joined the N.C. Baptist Men International Search and Rescue Team and I wanted to learn a skill that would be useful.
It was a long and winding road, but one traveled by others before me. As a student you are trained academically and emotionally to deal with illness and trauma. I was being prepared for my mission.
The medical training and the EMT certification put me in a position to go with the first Baptist Men team into Haiti after the earthquake. I could not have planned to be used by God in a more powerful way. Our team was amazing, and so were the people we worked with. It was on a canvas of desperation and hopelessness that God did his best work in Haiti. We were the colors He used to create a brighter day for so many, and His artwork continues to take shape. You are always changed after experiences like that.
I had been asked to go to Ukraine once before with some friends I had met on mission. I was not able to accept the invitation then, but God was working.
Earlier in the spring of 2011, I opened an e-mail that indicated that a medical team was forming and needed a pharmacist, an EMT and nurses to go to Ukraine. God was still working, because you see, my wife is a pharmacist. I had always wanted to be able to go on mission with my wife, and here was this opportunity. God is awesome!
With God going before us, we prepared for our mission in Munkacs and at New Life Church. The team came together, and we were able to secure the medical supplies that we thought we would need. We took a lot of supplies but the most important thing we carried with us was love.
It was love that carried us past the whitewashed houses and the grape arbors to the end of the road. We found the Gypsies where the road turned into dirt and dung and trash. Women and children with aimless expressions became animated at the sight of the vehicles. Others continued to stare as if to say, “so what.”
Their dilapidated homes soaking in the sunlight that beamed through holes in the roof and walls, the same holes through which the rain and the icy winter wind would soon blow. Their animals have that “I’ve been kicked before” look. It was in that place at that time that God continued his work with us and the Gypsies.
The stories of their lives were revealed as we listened to their hearts beating and touched their weathered bodies. If we needed further understanding we were blessed with wonderful young people who translated and worked beside us.
We laughed and cried and cared for them and for some it was the first time anyone cared. God revealed himself to them as he accomplished his perfect will through us. I could not have planned any of this. God is great! His timing has always been perfect.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column has been updated since it originally ran in N.C. Baptist Men’s promotional material. If you would like to join N.C. Baptists serving around the globe through N.C. Baptist Men, contact 800-395-5102, ext. 5599. Visit baptistsonmission.org. His wife, Mary, was featured in the May 26 issue along with two other women for their involvement in Baptist Men.)