An organic movement of people drawn to see the weak and vulnerable with God's eyes, and respond by faith with practical love.

Friday, January 11, 2013

We Could All Use A Friend

In October when Nichole and I traveled to Dom Veternik mental institution a report by a human rights group had just come out. In it they reported on the condition of residents in several of Serbia's mental institutions. The report was not a great one. I read parts of it before arriving in Serbia, and it had intimidated me.

Initially the report cast a shadow over our visit to the institution. I'm sure the director and staff were understandably concerned at our arrival. While at the first meeting they were perhaps cautious, I believe they soon realized they had nothing to fear from us. During the entire visit the staff was warm, open, friendly, and generous, and I hold them in high regard. 

As I've had time to reflect on our visit, the report, the staff's response to the report and to us, one thing stands out to me. Everyone wants to be understood. As we talked with the staff, nurses, and teachers it was clear that they are very aware of the needs of their residents. They don't pretend not to have problems, and they want the best for the people they care for. They didn't have to say so, we could see, the report had hurt them.

I agree and I disagree with the group's findings. Certainly some of their concerns for the residents listed in the report are a reality. Many of the immobile patients don't receive enough stimulation or nutrition. The amount of staff is not sufficient for the amount of residents, especially given the severity of many of their needs. There are certainly children that would thrive in a home setting instead of an institution. Though I don't think the staff of Dom Veternik would disagree with those evaluations. And Some of the findings of the report I didn't personally find to be true at all.

My main problem with the report is that it painted the staff in a poor light, it wasn't an offer of understanding and friendship, it was an accusation. I don't find that kind of accusation to be helpful and I regret it being made. Life is hard, Dom Veternik isn't to be blamed for the limitation of funds and staff, and the government is changing and working to improve the condition of the entire country. I just don't think pointing fingers at short comings is helpful.

I'm sure the motivation of the human rights group was to protect and help people with disability. I have no doubt they have seen horrific things around the world. But I believe something is most beneficial when it helps everyone involved, including the staff.

What is helpful is an offer of friendship when challenges and problems are found. You can tell people to change or you can help them to, there's a world of difference between the two. 

There are pictures I took at Dom Veternik that I won't post online, they are too raw. There are pictures I never took at Dom Veternik because I couldn't bring myself to dishonor a person in such a vulnerable state. But there was love I have no problem championing and shouting about.

In the face of lack and difficulty we saw creativity, compassion, grace, and hope. Men and women see their jobs at Dom Veternik as more than a job, they are the residents family. On a floor that held some of the most fragile people, I saw joy and love in the form of a nurse that I will never forget. It was obvious that the staff works hard to give the best life possible to their residents and have employed some creative means to do so.

The staff is intimately aware of the difficulties of providing sufficient care for hundreds of needy people. It has to take a tole on them physically and emotionally. Instead of holding up a list of what is not enough I would rather applaud their efforts and join them in friendship to offer the support they need.

Everyone wants to be seen, to know that they matter, to know they aren't forgotten, and they are understood. Everyone can use a friend. That's our next goal for Dom Veternik, to make sure the staff hears loud and clear from us that we appreciate them and we're their friends.

We welcome your participation in this big task! Would you pray for us as we continue to walk through the doorway of friendship with the staff of Dom Veternik. We have some ideas of next steps and will tell you more about them as they unfold! It's going to take a good deal of resources and planning, we'll let you know how to help in the near future!


  1. I so resonate with much of what you are saying. Having spent time in Eastern Europe, I visited two orphanages one bi-weekly and the other one just once. One was run by people who truly cared (but lack of money, staff and resources made it difficult) and the other one was run more like a business as it was the only place for the people of the small village it was in to find work at. As Americans for us to point fingers and point out problems in a world that is so different from ours isn't helpful nor wise. We should listen, understand and try to help instead of degrading. Being negative never helped anyone! I left a part of myself with those children I loved, many of them struggled with mental issues from lack of love and touch- they were developmentally behind. I am so happy that you are doing this friends!! I pray! I support! I confirm! Go girls!

    1. Thanks Steph for that affirmation and encouragement! Sometimes from a distance things appear black and white but up close the two merge into many shades of grey. I'm thankful for friends who celebrate and champion, especially on days that the task seems so huge!

  2. Unfortunately, we've become a nation of finger pointers.What if instead of pointing a finger we lent a hand, the hand of Jesus? It would be amazing to see His kingdom come alive."on Earth as it is in Heaven." I am honored to be a part of this.

    1. It's so easy to look for people to blame. I love that mercy never asks people to pay for an offense, never asks for an explanation. Mercy bends to heal. Yay for God sized dreams coming to life! Glad you're part of the journey!


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