In the busy-ness of life and the commutes that contribute to it being so, it’s easy to pass by people that are probably in need of some love and attention. Emily Johnson, a SSMF that serves in Kiev, Ukraine, shares the very poignant and convicting story of her taking the time to engage an elderly woman that begs daily in a Kiev Metro station.
Taking the metro (subway) has become a daily part of our lives. Considering the size of Kiev, the population, and that most people (including ourselves) don’t have a car, it makes sense that a huge part of living in Kiev is centered around the metro.
Actually, walking distance from the metro was one of our biggest considerations in finding an apartment in Kiev.
And, in case you’re wondering, we live a 27 minute walk from the closest metro station (oh yes, we have timed it!).
Given that we find ourselves on public transportation so frequently, we’ve started to recognize a few people who have the same commute schedule as us.
We’ve also started to recognize some of the people who beg for food and money near the different metro stops and inside the underground network.
Admittedly, I’m often in a hurry and pass by these familiar people that are begging; not because I don’t want to help, but because I’m running late or the subway train is about to leave the platform and I have to catch it (or else, I will be late).
As I was speed walking through one of the underground transfers a few days ago, I found myself racing down the stairs to catch my train, which was rapidly approaching, and ran right past a familiar face.
I’ve seen this woman at least 15 times over the past month, always in the same spot.
She sits on a wooden bench with one hand facing upward, silently waiting for money or food.
She’s an elderly woman, although it’s impossible to guess her actually age by appearance.
By looks, I’d say she’s in her late 70s.
I’d noticed her hands and ankles once before as I was passing by her. Her ankles always appear to be swollen and painful, maybe from kidney disease.
Her hands appear swollen as well, translucent and feeble.
Her thick wooden cane sits beside her, unused while she begs, but necessary if she tries to walk.
She always wears the same floral print scarf on her head, same brown knitted sweater, same long dark skirt.
Her skin, touched by age spots, and her eyes, filled to the brim with heaviness.
As I quickly ran past her to catch my train, I didn’t think anything of her at first, but then, my heart suddenly started beating faster, and my spirit felt grieved.
Many times, when I’ve passed her before, I have thought about trying to talk to her.
I would pray about it, and because the Lord wouldn’t put that urgency on my heart, I would simply hop onto the train and continue on my commute, not really giving her a second thought.
This day was different though. The moment I passed her, I felt an unsettled urgency.
I turned to Byron and Alyx (my daily companions here in Kiev) and told them, “I think the Holy Spirit is telling me to go talk to that woman begging on the bench. I think I need to go back over to her.”
I asked them to pray with me to make sure it was the Lord prompting me to approach her.
After we prayed, we walked away from the train and back to her bench.
The woman was very surprised to see us approach her, which made me wonder if she had much contact with the thousands of people daily commuting by way of the metro, excluding the occasional coin dropped into her hand.
My heart was still racing and I quickly realized that I had no idea what I was going to say to her, and not only that, but I had to say it to her in Russian, without preparation.
Side note – When living in a country that speaks a language foreign to you, doing simple tasks become daunting and, sometimes, impossible.
And, before tackling said tasks, I usually have to prepare myself for the task by doing power-stances, thinking through possible “speaking scenarios,” looking up vocab, and making sure I have Google translate on hand.
Well, I wasn’t prepared for this conversation at all, I was extremely nervous, I had no time for a power-stance, and there is never any cellphone service underground, so no Google translate.
I just looked at the old woman for a second and gave her a big smile, at a loss for words.
I started speaking to her by saying a simple “hello” – which I guess is a good way to start any conversation.
After the initial greeting, she pointed toward her ear and said in Russian, “I can’t hear very well, you need to speak loudly near my ear.”
I sat down on the bench beside her and she smiled at me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me closer to her, in a kind and encouraging manner.
I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t think because I was so nervous.
Finally, I said what was in my heart.
“Jesus loves you very, very much. Can I please pray for you in English?”
She smiled at me, said “thank you,” and gave me permission to pray.
As I prayed for her, my mind was filled with things I wanted to pray for, blessings I wanted to ask the Lord to give her.
It was a really cool moment for me because I could feel the Holy Spirit directing how I should pray for her.
Even though she couldn’t understand my prayer, because it was in English, I believe that the Holy Spirit was ministering to her spirit and giving her some level of understanding, or maybe peace.
When I was about to finish praying, I said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
She was so sweet, so gracious.
I told her, “God bless you”, walked to the train, and hopped on.
As soon as I got onto the train, I was so frustrated with myself.
–I didn’t ask her what her name was.
–I didn’t ask her what type of help she was needing.
–I didn’t ask her if she wanted to come to church.
–I didn’t ask anything at all!
But, at least I knew I was supposed to pray with her, and that was more important than answering any questions.
The next day, I hoped I could talk to her again.
When I got to the metro station that she begs at, she was sitting on her bench with her hand facing upwards, but she was fast asleep.
I didn’t want to disturb her, so I kept walking.
The following day, she was gone. I haven’t seen her since.
Since praying with her, I have felt myself feel overcome with a heaviness for many elderly people in her situation.
I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the elderly people back in Donetsk and Lugansk, struggling to survive.
I’ve been thinking about my neighbors in Donetsk, an elderly couple. The wife was 78 years old when the war started. Not only had she already struggled through World Ward II as a child and lived to eventually see the fall of the Soviet Union, but in her old age, is being forced to experience yet another war.
I have no idea if she’s still alive, but I pray for her and her husband often, and I hope you will too.
When I find myself drowning in these feelings of heaviness and pain, I know I can only keep going with the Lord’s help. And as I think about all of the need around me, all I can do is cry.
But, the Lord, who is always so gracious and compassionate, continually reminds me that His heart is always for the oppressed and the orphaned, and no need is too great for Him.
This is what Psalm 10:17-18 says:
“Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more. “
Now that you’ve read this, please, pray for the fatherless and the oppressed.
Please, pray for all of the elderly people suffering, especially those suffering in countries being devastated by war.
And please, pray for the woman on the bench