A group from High Point Church traveled to Málaga, Spain and North Africa for a 10-day trip where they provided women’s health education and reusable menstrual hygiene kits through Days for Girls and worked with Diez42, a community center serving refugees and immigrants.
The following article was written by Dietrich Gruen, one of the members on the trip.
“I can never carry anyone else’s bag,” Sue said, apologetically, after Ty grabbed hers and schlepped it across one more interminable airport terminal. Then she rebounded playfully, “But I can help carry their baggage.”
Carrying another’s “too heavy” baggage or burdens—that fulfills the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2,5). That also typifies our 10-day vision trip, October 23 – November 2, and, dare I add, life together here at home. In Málaga (Spain) and North Africa, we educated women on menstrual health and provide free reusable menstrual pad kits made by “Days for Girls.” Six groups of 20-30 women across four cities and two continents delighted in receiving our home-made-with-love kits. Others caught the vision and will offer the same education and kits to yet more people in weeks to come.
Why do this? you may ask. In 140+ countries where Days for Girls operates, girls who can’t afford sanitary pads may be forced to stay home from school during their menstrual period. Missing five days a month, every month for years, means they fall behind the boys and don’t graduate. Not graduating, women are systematically held back in society. Our reusable menstrual hygiene kits help alleviate this huge burden—at least for 3-5 years, if properly cared for.
Hunger is another obvious problem, which we help with. The European Union is lifting this burden for refugees, but they need partners on the ground to help distribute the food, track distribution, and extend other resources. Hence the founding of Diez42—a city-wide community center living out Matthew 10:42, “giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.” Volunteers from area churches and seven NGOs unload the semi-trucks and vans full of food one day; then, for two days, we host 200+ client families among the refugee community.
Refugees in Spain depend solely on this free food—up to 63 lbs of produce per family every week. Without proper documents, refugees can’t find work to buy food—except in the greenhouses, who force desperate refugees into hard farm labor for low pay—then string out that process of documentation for three years.
How to survive during that 3-year waiting period is a burden too much to bear for some: While we were there, one hopeless woman threw herself off a 3-story building on the same block we are working. Such suicide attempts call attention what else these collaborating churches and NGOs provide besides food: social services, job training, sewing classes, English conversation, counseling and prayer. Many suffer “secondary trauma” from getting hands and heart so involved in the lives of these hurting people.
One of our own, Adrienne, gets too close to the action and a pallet of food lands on her toe. Upon seeing this, a former nurse jumps out of the food lines to address the toe with cleansing, cauterizing meds, gauze and bandages. Others provide footrest, support and companionship. We all pray for healing.
Caring for Adrienne, head to toe, provides a microcosm to see the Body of Christ in action. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it”—the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 12:12,24-26). Hence, a lost toenail for one is felt by all. A body abused in sex trafficking causes us to cry out to God in shared pain. A refugee who loses her housing or his job and fears deportation—that stirs us to intercede and act as one. There are no little people, no unwelcome people in the faith communities we observed. Not just the Christians caring for Muslims, but the Muslims hosting us. We are the stranger in their midst, and they made us feel so welcome.
God hears and provides someone to carry the burden every time we cry out to him—Tori as a nurse for Adrienne, Ashlyn to sub for Adrienne as lead presenter, Lynn with meds and other first aid for one and all; Anon to diplomatically and heroically stop one fierce brawl that broke out between clients; Ty, Mark and Kory to safely navigate narrow passageways and scary roundabouts; Laura to keep—and flex—our schedules on time. Exhaustion, physical and emotional, is common to our team and bonds us in many ways, in prayer and support. Where we see God is working, we join in common cause there to help lift burdens. Such burden-bearing bears witness to Christ in a world of hurt. When one part suffers, we all suffer. When we part rejoices, we all rejoice.
Rev. Dietrich Gruen is Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus and Bethany Presbyterian of Randolph.