Although the questions about life under communism are easily asked, the answers do not come as easily. Dr. Augustin Batis says, "I find that my mind is trying to reject the memories of over 15 years ago. What I remember is that everyone had something to eat. Everyone had a roof over their head, and we could thank the government for that. As children, we went through school in order to make a strong communist country. Our personal dreams were allowed just in our dreams. As a child, I remember I had food to eat. I don’t remember its quality, but we had it."
When Dr. Augustin and his wife, Dr. Mihaela, were assigned to Pitesti after graduate school, they saw a great need. And when God sent an American missionary to Pitesti to ultimately lead them to know Jesus Christ, it became obvious that He had a plan for their lives. It was the corrupt government health system that led them to the idea of starting their own medical center.
Originally, they started their clinic in conjunction with a local church. However, when the pastor’s vision for the clinic changed, Augustin and Mihaela felt God calling them toward something different. In January, 2000, the Luke Society, along with Christian supporters from the United States, provided funds to build the Dr. Luca Medical Center. The center goes beyond the usual Luke Society clinic by offering specialty care, including pediatrics, internal medicine, cardiology, psychiatry, ophthalmology, gynecology, neurology and general surgery.
What excites Augustin about the Dr. Luca Medical Center having established the clinic without succumbing to traditional bribes that have plagued most post-communism endeavors. "The Dr. Luca Medical Center has shown that Christians can stay true to their values and be successful," Augustin says.
While the Medical Center has always been the main focus of their ministry, Drs. Augustin and Mihaela are expanding their vision. Both Augustin and Mihaela began their medical careers by providing community health training in small towns and villages in Romania. They were both assigned to an area that had an unusually high infant mortality rate. "The children there were dying of pneumonia and diarrhea," says Mihaela. "And the mothers were not breast feeding. Instead of feeding their babies milk, they were using flour mixed with water."
For over three years, the Batis’ have been working to improve life in the rural communities, and their hearts are still drawn to those struggling to survive. Now God is directing them toward the gypsy people in Romania.
The plight of the gypsy people is distressing. Their lives began as a transient people, moving from country to country. Even though some of them have settled near Pitesti, they are not welcomed, and they certainly are not "at home" with the way they live. Because of their poverty-stricken lifestyle, they are considered second-class citizens. Gypsy villages are separate from any towns or cities. The roads leading to and going through their villages are not paved and are deeply rutted by their horse-drawn wagons. Their homes are mere one-room shacks. Although the gypsies are not welcome in most social interactions, they are content to be separate.
"They have a very different subculture," says Dr. Augustin. "They are not open to outside help, and they are very tied to their traditions." If a gypsy community does open up to outside help, it is not without suspicion. And suspicion has been encountered in the two gypsy villages in which the Luke Society works: Valea Corbului and Paulesca.
As Augustin continues to visit the villages, the people become less guarded. And the more he visits the villages, the more he sees a need for lessons in community health. But in initial discussions with some of the gypsy people reveal that they are hesitant to take on such a task. "They don’t understand how community health will help them," says Augustin. "They are so accustomed to not having anything or any help. They think they will always be in the same situation. They have no hope."
While he understands their feelings of hopelessness, he is determined to provide the education they need to better their lives. Augustin and Mihaela are targeting the younger generation because the adults are hesitant to take on the task. They are hoping to be allowed teenage girls will be allowed to go to the Dr. Luca clinic to be trained as community health workers. "I want to encourage them to help their own people," Augustin says. After the training, he plans to give the girls limited amounts of medicines and supplies to take back to the village. Later, he intends to organize conferences to teach them more in-depth health care.
He hopes these girls will open the eyes of the community to see the need for clean water, ditches along the roads and most importantly, latrines. "We need to teach them to build a latrine with inexpensive materials," Dr. Batis says. "We need to show the community that it can be done and that it can be helpful. It needs to look nice and be efficient."
There is a plan to educate the boys in the village as well. Dr. Batis is hoping to send boys to a farm to learn how to grow fruits and vegetables. Planting gardens in the gypsy communities would provide food to balance their diet and offer better nutrition.
Over the years, one can see that growing up under the oppression of communist rule, attending medical school, and teaching community health to impoverished communities, are all ways that God has been preparing Augustine and Mihaela for this present work. It is obvious to all that the Batis’ have a passion for the work they do. Their eyes fi ll with tears of happiness as they talk about how they became Christians. But it is their hearts that are filled with happiness as they speak of opportunities to share God’s love with the underprivileged around them.