I knew snow was white and was cold. After all I spent my early youth in blizzard-prone southeastern Idaho and attended BYU in the winter. But the closest Joyce and I got to the stuff from 1966 until we landed in Romania on a two-year mission in 2007 was seeing it on TV news reports.
That’s the sacrifice you make when you live in Orange County, California.
A different story in Romania. For two whole winters we rode buses and street cars and no-heat trains. And we walked in the slush, on the ice, and in heavy snowfall—putting 5+ miles a day wear on our shoes.
No cars for missionaries in Romania!
What we did have were warm clothes and a comfortable, sometimes overly warm, apartment on the sixth floor of a cement apartment building patterned after the communist-era so-called blocs. Blocs—an apt name for both the bland façades and the let’s-make-everybody-the-same mentality that spawned these uglies.
It was a December morning, and just the evening before, our daughter in Spokane Valley, Washington, emailed us that I received an unexpected commission check from an insurance company I worked for before our mission. It was large and would easily pay for two to three months of our mission. We were grateful. God was with us.
Then Joyce called me over to our apartment window.
She pointed down at the two garbage dumpsters that served our complex. By them in the snow sat a little woman in rags. She was next to a tiny fire made from some paper and cardboard she had salvaged. The temperature was in the teens, and she was eating her pittance while trying to keep from freezing to death.
It took me all of a second to decide I was going to break the mission rule about not giving to beggars.
I dressed quickly and took our rickety elevator down six floors. I walked across the parking lot to where this woman sat and handed her three ten lei bills. She just stared at them, and as I walked back to the building she crossed herself.
All the way up in the elevator I thought about the surprise commission I received—hundreds of times larger than what I gave this woman. I came into our apartment with its warmth and furnishings and food and kitchen range and oven and refrigerator and bathroom and hot and cold running water and bedroom and comfortable bed and me dressed in a warm overcoat and waterproof shoes—and I sat down and sobbed.
I wept because I knew that this woman and all of the countless ones like her in Romania and throughout the world are children of God. Just like me. I wept because I knew I had absolutely no right whatsoever to take or use for myself more of the bounties of this earth than what was sufficient for my and my family’s needs. And for the longest time the tears fell as I realized how poorly I was doing here.
The picture of this woman in her penury and suffering has been indelibly imprinted on my heart and conscience. I don’t want to ever again forget that my time, my talents, and everything I have been given don’t belong to me. And as a steward, I’ve a ways to go.