It is difficult for those who have lived through communism to tell their story. For those of us who have never suffered under its weight, it is a story that we want to hear, to get a sense of how oppressive life was. To hear these stories first-hand gives a voice to what the history books say.
Although the questions about life under communism are easily asked, the answers do not come as easily. Dr. Augustine 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." In 1989, an American missionary was visiting the government hospital where Augustine and Mihaela were working. Dictator Nicolae Ceausecsu, who had become increasingly oppressive, had just been executed. "I was so frightened," says Augustine. "We did not know what was going to happen. Will the secret police take over? We did not say anything to anyone."
But the American missionary was overjoyed at Ceausecsu's fate. "He said to us, 'Praise God, you are free!'" Augustine said. "But we did not know God, and we did not know freedom."
On January 4, 1990, Augustine and Mihaela went to this missionary's evangelistic crusade, located in downtown Pitesti. "It was cold, and there were no lights," Augustine remembers. "The military was standing outside with machine guns. The room was full." The Batis' did not come to hear the message. They came to be polite to the missionary. "But the message and timing was right," he said. "Everything was right. We finally understood who Jesus is." The tears begin to well up in his eyes as his mind begins to remember the details. He remembers being scared of the loud prayers of the Christians around him. Mihaela has never heard him tell that detail before, and the tears well in her eyes. "Nothing is a coincidence," Augustine says. "Everything is in His plan, and God is the architect."
The Dr. Luca Medical Center is the result of God's plan for Drs. Augustine and Mihaela Batis. Originally, they started their clinic in conjunction with a local church. However, when the pastor's vision for the clinic changed, Augustine 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 clinic 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 Augustine about the Dr. Luca Medical Center is their ability to establish 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," Augustine says. While the Medical Center has always been the main focus of their ministry, Drs. Augustine and Mihaela are expanding their vision. Both Augustine and Mihaela began their medical careers by providing community health training to 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," said Mihaela. "And the mothers were not breastfeeding. Instead of feeding their babies milk, they were using flour mixed with water."
For three years, the Batis' worked 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. Batis. "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.
As Dr. Batis continues to visit the villages, the people become less guarded. And the more he visits the village, the more he sees a need for lessons in community health. But in small discussions with some of the gypsy people, they are hesitant to take on such a task. "They don't understand how community health will help them," says Dr. Batis. "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. Dr. Batis is targeting the younger generation because the adults are hesitant to take on the task.. He is 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," he says. After the training, he plans to give the girls small amounts of medicines and supplies to take back to the village. He will then plan conferences to teach them more in-depth health care.
The hope is that the girls will open the eyes of the community to the needs 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 balance their diet and provide better nutrition.
In Valea Corbului, Dr. Batis has been working with a local missionary, Marian Balan, to provide the gypsy community with health care. While the gypsies are grateful for any acute care that is provided, they are wary about the teaching of community health.
Marian Balan has spent the last ten years working to bring the true Hope to the people of Valea Corbului. When he was 18 years old, he left his family to live as a homeless man on the streets of Pitesti. He found work in a factory and became friends with one of his coworkers. This friend invited him home for dinner one night, and Marian traveled by bus and walked a long mud road to get to his home. He did not know the bus would not return for three days. He also did not know his friend was a gypsy. He ate dinner that night in Valea Corbului.
For three days, Marian ate food that tasted terrible. He slept on a board placed atop two rocks. It was then he realized that by being homeless, the Lord had been preparing him for work in this village. "The food I ate was like the food I was digging out of the garbage," said Marian. "And the board I slept on was like sleeping on the street."
As Marian began talking to people about his faith, he found some open hearts. He grasped onto this encouragement and became bold in his witnessing. Soon, there was enough interest and committed people to begin having church services. However, the entire community was not excited about the church. The gypsies did not hurt their own people, but Marian was still an outsider. As he walked to church those first few mornings, he was beaten with sticks. Although he was hurt by the sticks, his spirit was not dampened.
The church is steadily growing in Valea Corbului. Many of the youth have come together to lead worship, playing guitar and keyboard. Their loud voices carry easily throughout the room and Jesus is glorified in that small community.
The community health concept is growing in this community as well. Staff from the Dr. Luca Medical Center has come to the village for medical screenings, interviewing each gypsy about hygiene and family history. There have been many cases of lice, scabies, parasites and ear infections.
To fight disease and provide encouragement to the community, the Luke Society helped build a well in the village. Not only is the well providing clean water for drinking, but also is being used to heat the church.
In the village of Paulesca, the Luke Society is also working in conjunction with the Christian organization, "Somebody Cares." Marianne Oprescu, one of the founders of the organization, says they are addressing the issues of smoking, drinking and gambling within the community. Families are given about six dollars per child per month from the government, "which is not nearly enough," says Oprescu. Even then, most of that money is gambled away.
The members of "Somebody Cares" have been encouraged by the partnership with the Luke Society. Marianne's husband, Florin, says, "Dr. Batis has been like a father to us. He gives us advice, and he also helps. Most people just give advice."
Besides providing medical care to the community, the Luke Society has also helped construct the building where the Oprescu's hold church and teach Sunday School.
Throughout the oppression of growing up under communist rule, and then teaching community health to impoverished communities directly after medical school, God has been preparing Augustine and Mihaela for this work. It is obvious to all that the Batis' have a passion for the work they do. As their eyes fill with tears of happiness when they talk about how they became Christians, their hearts also fill with happiness when they talk of the opportunities to share God's love with the underprivileged around them.