Cancer — the dreaded c-word — is dreadfully common. In 2014 there were 356,860 new cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK, the equivalent of a new diagnosis every two minutes.
Experts state that 50 per cent of people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. In 2014, there were 163,444 cancer-related deaths, the equivalent of 450 every day.
Now let’s imagine an award-winning team of health care professionals. This team is specifically committed to final-days palliative care. Let’s say that all staff are evangelical, Bible-believing Christians. And they visit not only to bring pain-relieving medication, but also to love and, when requested, pray with patients and read the Bible.
Sadly, we might consider such fond imaginings to be the stuff of dreams, until we realise it’s the reality of Emanuel Christian Hospice, Oradea, in Romania today.
Emanuel Hospice was only the second of its kind in the whole of Romania when it began in 1996. It started with its founder, Marinela Murg, knocking on the doors of cancer patients discharged from hospital to die at home, accompanied only by a Christian doctor, a heart of compassion and a calling from the Lord.
Today it’s a 16-strong team of evangelical Christians, replete with doctors, nurses, social workers and a chaplain, who commit themselves daily to their God-given mission ‘to provide, in a spirit of Christian love, an optimal quality of life to patients diagnosed with cancer or advanced terminal conditions’.
It’s far from easy. A hospice, of necessity, pitches its tent in ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. To accompany staff on their rounds is to march in close and abiding proximity with death, which possesses an almost discernible presence as it wordlessly bides its time and waits to steal.
But with a Christian hospice there is also this other sense. It’s perhaps similar to a feeling that comes moments before the breaking of dawn or on the eve of certain victory. It’s a trembling anticipation that a wonder beyond words is constantly on the brink of happening there — last-gasp salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, let’s take a tour of Emanuel Hospice and its notable events during 2016.
Emanuel Hospice is known throughout Romania for its first-rate standards of practice. By no means are they a team of well-intending but inept evangelical amateurs. This was confirmed through a comprehensive and gruelling peer review in 2016. One of the Romanian government’s programme of inspections involved palliative care specialists combing through every aspect of Emanuel Hospice’s work. Success was essential for accredited status to be retained, without which patients could not be referred from local hospitals. And, with the Lord’s help, this was more than achieved.
Emanuel Hospice was awarded a Level A, 94 per cent approval rating. This was the highest of any home care provider of palliative services in all Romania. The importance of this for an evangelical Christian institution, islanded as it is in a Romanian Orthodox sea, can hardly be overstated.
The needof such competence in Romania is very great. A mere 8 per cent of the terminally ill receive the medical care they need, this figure crawling up from 5 per cent in 2013. Statistics and percentages, however powerful though they be, can sometimes veil the full harshness of the facts.
This became abundantly clear while sitting in the home of an Emanuel Hospice patient in April 2016. This modest apartment belonged to the patient’s granddaughter, who was only too ready to reveal the inequities of Romania’s health care.
Her grandmother had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and therefore classified as ‘palliative’. Such a categorisation would seem fair, were it not for the fact it was shorthand for being dismissed home and refused further medical intervention, even from an ambulance — at least, in the absence of money.
This resulted in bouts of extreme pain. On visiting the local hospital to remonstrate, the granddaughter was met with a wall of indifference, the sole exception being a nurse who discreetly followed her as she left the ward and recommended Emanuel Hospice.
The granddaughter’s gratitude was plain, as she described how contacting the hospice the following morning had resulted in a visit by the hospice doctor the same afternoon, for a treatment plan to be devised and commenced immediately.
Most touching as well was when Emanuel Hospice’s doctor, Simona Baliban, posed with the grandmother for a photo. The tenderness and condescension of our Lord Jesus was much in evidence as Dr Simona gently held her patient’s hand.
Opposition to such clarion evangelical testimony is guaranteed. All students of the Bible and followers of our Lord Jesus expect as much. The way this manifested itself in 2016, however, was particularly shocking.
Emanuel Hospice is in the process of constructing new premises. As the worksite is fenced off and guarded by a night watchman, it was a huge surprise when a trespasser set fire to a woodpile one night last September. Flames blazed fiercely, reaching 30 feet into the air, as the emergency services were summoned. The situation was soon brought under control, having failed to inflict any damage on the new building but having succeeded in causing shock and upset to all.
This conflagration gave visible form to the devil’s rage at Emanuel Hospice’s primary concern, namely the welfare of souls. The last 20 years have seen numerous patients, at least ten each year, make peace with the Lord in their final moments of life. And not all of them have been of pensionable age.
Perhaps the most moving story in the last 12 months concerned a 10-year-old Roma boy called Beni. His family were desperately poor, but Baptist Christians. Due to Emanuel’s staff providing transportation for the family, they were present to hear the diagnosis of Beni’s brain tumour and bleak prognosis that nothing could be done.
The following week Beni’s family communicated to the hospice that Beni had come to the Lord and wished to be baptised. Romanians advocate caution in such matters, preferring the mid-teens to an earlier age for baptism, but when later quizzed as to the origin of his decision, Beni indicated his moment of diagnosis and realisation there was no chance of survival.
The baptismal service was almost unbearable in its poignancy. The standard baptismal question was put to the lad as to how long he would serve the Lord. ‘Until death’ came the answer, again the norm in such settings, but now with awesome imminence.
Beni, blind from his illness, was led to the baptistry by Emanuel Hospice’s director, Marinela Murg. ‘Marinela’, Beni said, ‘How wonderful it would be if I went down into the water blind but came out seeing!’
Marinela later testified that never in her life had she wished more fervently for a miracle to happen. Strong words indeed for a woman whose own father had died of cancer many years before. And happen, of course, the miracle did; only not when Beni was immersed in water, but three months later when his young body was placed in the ground, his soul already in the Saviour’s embrace.
We await the day ‘when it shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?’
Emanuel Hospice, by the Lord’s grace, is currently bringing its unique blend of compassion and aid to 14 per cent of the terminal cases of Bihor county. The work has certainly seen its dawn, but is yet to rise to a midday height. Romania needs more.
A new hospice premises, as mentioned above, is under construction. Substantial funds for its completion are urgently needed, approximately £2.3 million, and also funding for running costs once construction is complete.
C. T. Studd wrote in his poem of ‘a rescue shop, within a yard of hell’. With Emanuel Hospice, one feels that such a shop has been sighted. The ticking clock of human mortality, the languishing toil of regrets and woe and the approaching terrors of eternal banishment are set against a last-gasp salvation through the person, work and name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
His work is truly wonderful in the eyes of all who see it. Emanuel Hospice is most warmly to be commended to all potential donors, whose hearts are touched by the Lord.
Adrian Carey-Jones is a pastor of a Romanian church in Bristol, and a trustee of Romanian Ministries (email@example.com)