Rome has had record snowfall this month — not hard to imagine in a city that only gets a dusting every quarter of a century! A few inches of snow, combined with days of ice, shut down the city. A driving ban and canceled buses left us with only the subway and food from our own kitchen to bring to the homeless Afghans camped out behind the train station.
With the help of some other workers in the neighborhood, we made some creative “stone soup” and carried it in thermoses on the subway.
The guys were more than thankful, as it had been their only meal in below-freezing weather and basically no shelter. We, too, were thankful for the loaves and fishes experience, but our little offering felt painfully small in light of the needs.
Since taking pictures in the tent encampment is not usually advisable, we want to share some of our mental pictures with you:
* Imagine 60 or 70 boys and young men, huddled together sipping their soup and tea from plastic drinking cups. Several of them make a point of expressing heart-felt thanks on behalf of the group for their only meal of the day.
* They are wearing cast off clothing: some with nice jackets, others with just a sweatshirt… and one boy with bare toes hanging over the edge of the ill-fitting sandals on his feet. A couple of Italian women arrive with some clothes to donate, sensing the urgency of the situation. Chaos ensues as Tim and the others help “organize” the distribution. Many are pleased at the chance to add a dry layer, but sadly there were no shoes for the boy with bare feet.
* We recognize one boy from our sports outreach last summer. He was full of life and enthusiasm as he played soccer with us in the heat, always alongside his best friend. Today he is standing by himself, leaning on a wall and chewing on some kind of narcotic leaf in an effort to dull the pain. His friend has moved on, and he can’t hold a conversation. The others just shake their heads and say he’s “crazy.”
* One man with almost perfect English spouts his story, angry about the bombs and political tug-of-war that have destroyed his country. He says, “I can’t go back, but I can’t stay here. They won’t give me documents, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I’ll just keep wandering for the rest of my life.”
These were a few of the wounded and lonely faces at the station on Saturday, but for all their uniqueness — each precious one made in the image of God — they represent a constantly renewed stream of the forcibly displaced who have passed through this same place for years. Only God can meet their deepest needs, but in the face of the overwhelming pain we want to be present with them in His Name. We choose to not look away.