Angels Among Us
The knitting machine I carried to Moldova last Winter was as long as I am tall. To me, it looked to be such a mechanical monstrosity, I simply couldn’t imagine anyone ever grasping its technical aspects. So I was surprised when one of our sewing teachers asked me to find someone to teach her and the children how to use it. And I was shocked to discover several weeks later that a villager brought in another machine, as she too wanted to learn.
Enters Alison Casserly. Actually, it was her mum who phoned the BBC to volunteer Alison. (Aren’t mums great that way!) Alison lives way up north – so far away that she is not able to hear the radio show. We chatted on the phone a couple of times and Alison was ready to come.
I felt badly as my limited knowledge of anything relating to knitting and sewing left me simply acknowledging that we had a machine and that was all I could tell her about it. So on blind faith, Alison prepared to leave her husband and children and travel thousands of miles to a heretofore-unknown smattering of ink on a world map.
As we chatted on the phone, Alison rattled off names of ‘thingys’ and ‘widgetygrubs’ and ‘whatnots’ that she thought she’d bring. All I could do was say that this sounded great. I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about! Alison was much too polite to point out that even a slug knows more about knitting than I did, but I’m sure she was thinking it!
Our first rendezvous was quite out of the norm. Alison and I had never met before the morning we boarded the flight. Whatever age you might be, there has to be a degree of discomfort with the idea of a stranger picking you up at 3:30 in the morning, taking you to an international airport and carting you off to a country that few have even heard of!
I sincerely felt nervous for Alison and as we headed up the M25, I found myself talking even more than usual about anything and everything. There were points when I felt I should just shut up, but in some ways, I was afraid she’d back out at the last minute and go back home.
During the flights, there were times when she was very quiet and I chose to let her reflect, uninterrupted, on the adventure that lay before her. As the tiny aircraft pulled up to the Chisinau airport building, I tried to read Alison’s face. What I felt I saw was a healthy balance of excitement and apprehension. Certainly an appropriate reaction to the experience, especially in light of some of the things she had heard.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget Alison’s words a full week later, when I asked her for her thoughts about what she had experienced. She was full of emotion about her profoundly powerful journey of self-awareness, and discovery.
I had to hold back my own tears as I listened to her. Alison had experienced what I find myself longing for each time I leave Moldova. She not only could see, hear, and feel the powerful sense of pride that exists in the hearts of Moldova’s children, but she was able to see hope in their eyes.
The children were perplexed that a perfect stranger would travel thousands of miles to come help them and ask for nothing in return.
Alison demonstrated a gentle admiration for them; for the fact that each and every child considered the education they are receiving as a gift; the fact they take pride in what they have, which by material standards is little or nothing. Instead, their measurements are in friends, the power of families, and community pride. And as Alison so poignantly pointed out to me, despite the fact the homes many of them live in would have been condemned in Britain, those homes are immaculate, the streets are clean, not a scintilla of trash, not a marking of graffiti, and not a single disrespectful young person.
We live in an addictive society where those who live their lives as sponges have the audacity to complain that the level of handouts they receive, their free homes, their free medical services and medicine, are simply not enough. When we offer money to Moldovan children, it’s like the Parable of the Talents. They’re humbled by the responsibility for which they’ve been entrusted. They want to find ways repay the trust you’ve invested in them.
I received an email from Alison this week. She was almost stumbling over herself with excitement, telling me about all the people she has shared her experience with, the plans she has for returning to Moldova and the creative ideas she’s developing to help the children achieve their goals.
Sarah Gorrell and the BBC helped me plant that small mustard seed of hope. Alison is becoming the Vine and Branch of hope for so many of our youth.
What a wonderful gift. Thank you Sarah. Thank you Alison. And thank you God for hearing my prayers.