June 16, 2010

The Prescription

2010 1517 page17 capN A RECENT MORNING AS I RUSHED TO THE SUBWAY, I SAW HER: A THIN woman with wisps of white hair peeking out from a brown fur hat. She looked straight at me and said, “Help me, please.”

Panhandlers seem to be everywhere in Moscow: gnarled pensioners kneeling beside icons, pregnant women holding handwritten signs, grizzled men in torn fatigues dragging the amputation stumps of their legs through subway cars. Many work for organized crime and abuse alcohol or drugs.

Every time I saw one, I remembered Jesus’ words: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).*

After prayer and talking with my dad, I decided Jesus would become acquainted with those He helped, and point them to His Father. So I came up with a prescription: Ask for a name and prayerfully observe the response for clues about the person’s real needs. If doubts remain, ask a follow-up question, perhaps about why the money is needed. Finally, point to God as the reason for the encounter, parting ways with the popular Russian phrase, “May God go with you on your way!”

I soon became acquainted with the regulars on my daily commute to work. Anna, a gray-haired woman with fading eyesight, began to greet me with a squeal and a hug. Natalya spoke about her disabled 10-year-old daughter, Tanya, who needs an operation. Valery, a gaunt man with a white ponytail and a cane, once asked if I minded that he had bought a candle and said a prayer for me at his neighborhood Russian Orthodox church.

2010 1517 page17So on that morning when the unfamiliar woman looked straight at me and said, “Help me, please,” there was only one thing I could do.

“What’s your name?” I asked. “Anna.”

“Why do you need money?”

“I need to buy medicine.”

A drugstore stood just around the corner, and I invited Anna to walk over with me. On the way Anna told me that her doctor had prescribed medicine not covered by state health care. When she had explained that she couldn’t afford it, he suggested that she go to the subway station. “I had just arrived when you showed up,” Anna said, limping slowly beside me. She lifted her long dress to reveal a bandaged leg.

At the drugstore, the clerk found the prescribed pills while Anna stocked up on some other essential medication.

As we turned to leave, Anna said, “Every morning when I take this medicine I will think about you.”

Outside the store, Anna again offered thanks. “Thank God,” I said, giving her arm a slight squeeze. “Anna, may God go with you on your way!”

Turning away, I hurried toward the metro. But I stopped after a few steps. I felt an irresistible urge to look back. Anna had disappeared. I ran back to the store, determined to catch Anna red-handed if she was swapping the medicine for cash. Poking my head inside, I saw that the store was empty. Confused, I looked up and down the street. No Anna.

I turned to three people smoking nearby. “Where’s that old woman?” I asked.

“What old woman?” one of them replied.

Moments later in the subway I looked up Hebrews 13:2 on my cell phone, to see if it might provide an answer: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” I found the answer in the four-word text right before it: “Let mutual love continue.”

This is God’s prescription for inviting angels into our lives—to love one another at all times. Anna, Natalya, and Valery—they’re all angels.

*Bible texts in this column are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.

Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published on June 17, 2010.