Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Encounter at the River
Edna and I just got back from the river where we often go for walks together in the evening. We had an encounter that left us completely broken inside and still unable to fully process what had happened.
It began when we noticed a couple with a little girl who seemed to be arguing. They appeared to be intoxicated which isn't an uncommon sight. What was unusual was the punch that the man threw that knocked the young mother to the ground. He followed it by kicking her in the face and leaving her crying and bleeding on the ground. He scooped up their daughter and then headed home.
Edna and I both stood watching as several people passed this girl on the path doing their best to avoid her. All I could think of was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I was actually watching the story unfold. No one on the path or around us offered to help. We went to her and Edna offered her some wet wipes to wipe the blood from her face. Through tears, she thanked us and began walking in the direction her husband/boyfriend had gone.
I had a feeling that there was something else we should do for her. We caught up to her as she stumbled barefoot down the rocky pathway. We asked if she needed help to get home and again she thanked us, but declined. I still felt something bad was about to happen to her, but I didn't know what. I convinced Edna that we should follow her to make sure she makes it to where she's going.
From a distance, I noticed that a man along the river had taken an interest in her. We watched as he seemed to be stocking her and watching to see where she would end up. Our suspicions were confirmed when she sat down along the pathway in some tall grass that hid her from view. He began to make his way towards her, looking around to see if anyone else was watching. Edna and I both met his eyes and stared him down until he decided to change course and head quickly back down the trail where he had come from. His intentions might have been to rob her or worse, but our accusing gaze seemed to change his mind.
The girl decided to make her way back on to the pathway, but managed only to loose her balance and fall face first on to the gravel sustaining several more cuts and now a mangled lower lip. Edna took her by the arm and led her to the grass where we proceeded to clean her cuts and stop the bleeding in her mouth. We couldn't help but notice other signs of abuse, a black eye, healing cuts, and several burns that looked like they had been made with cigarettes and lighters.
As she sat crying on the grass and in obvious pain, she asked if we were Christians and then she asked us if we would pray for her. She told us that her name was Darina and that we could call her Darinka. She told us that her name meant "God's gift". She said that she was 23 years old and that her daughter was 2 1/2. She said that her husband/boyfriend (the Ukrainian word for man is also used to refer to a husband so we don't know if they were married) was a bad man. My heart broke as I looked at some of his handy work on her body.
We asked if she had some place she could go, but she didn't and she didn't want to go home either. There is a hospital near our home so we convinced her to walk with us towards it. Her lower lip was in obvious need of stitches and the many scrapes and cuts on her shoulder and elbows needed to be cleaned up. We slowly made our way back down the river making sure that she didn't take another fall.
The whole time, people kept looking at us as though they couldn't understand why we would want to help this bloodied and abused woman. They seemed to look at her with no more pity than they would a stray dog. I've seen people in Ukraine come to the aid of people who have been injured or have fallen down, but somehow the fact that this woman was drunk and most likely a heroin addict as well, made her something less than human in their eyes.
We had made it to the point where we had started and only had a short distance to go when suddenly a blow from a fist landed across her face knocking her to the ground and again causing blood to flow. I stood in shock as her husband/boyfriend repeatedly beat her in the face while he held her by her hair. I grabbed him by the arm so that he turned his attention to me.
He began yelling about how she had a child at home that she needed to take care of and added lots of words that I won't translate. I told him that she needed to go to the hospital and that we were trying to take her there. I asked him to please take her himself, but he said she didn't need to go to the hospital and as if to punctuate the point he backhanded her spraying blood across her already swollen face. I pleaded with him to stop and to look at her injuries.
Men that hit women like that are always cowards, and he was no exception. I could tell that he was afraid of me, but he wouldn't back down. He asked me if we were friends as though to ensure that I was going to let him take his woman home without a fight. I just looked at him with disbelief. He then pulled out a knife from the waistband of his pants. I looked at the knife and then I looked at him in a way that said he was pathetic and better off using his knife to peel an apple. He sheepishly put the knife and away. Then I did something that even surprised me. I extended my right hand and he shook it. I looked him in the eye and said, "I'm a Christian".
His rage then seemed to subsided a little and what was left of it he again turned on Darina as he forcefully took her back the way we had just come. Edna and I both looked into her eyes and saw that they were pleading with us to help her, to save her. She had trusted us to take care of her and while we had walked with her, her mood had lightened considerably. We had given her hope, and now we watched helplessly as her eyes begged for us to rescue her. There were at least 20 other people around us, but we were the ones she looked to in desperation. We stood there silently until she was out of sight. Life around us continued as though what had happened was just a passing curiosity. We did the only thing we could do at that point, we sat and prayed for her.
I know domestic violence is a huge problem here, but I was shocked to see it so openly in public. I was also angry and saddened that not a single person offered to help. I know that Edna feels the same as I do. We did everything we could for Darina, but I have never in my life felt so utterly helpless to prevent human suffering. If God can give us the strength to overcome, I believe He can also give us the strength to concede defeat or at least my perception of it. I pray that He grants peace to Darina and the strength to overcome.
"We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you." Psalm 33:20-22