A Child’s Choice

Activated - - NEWS - Anna Per­lini is a co­founder of Per un Mondo Migliore, a hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tion ac­tive in the Balkans since 1995. By Anna Per­lini 1. http://www.pe­run­mon­domigliore.org

It was 1996, and our fam­ily had just moved from the safety of Italy to a some­what still trou­bled and un­sta­ble post-war Croa­tia, set­tling in a large apart­ment on the out­skirts of Ri­jeka.

Our neigh­bors—a mix of refugees, wid­ows, and el­derly rel­a­tives car­ing for chil­dren whose par­ents had died or left to find work—had all gone through trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences as a re­sult of the tragic con­flicts that had only re­cently ended.

Ivan lived on the floor be­low ours. He wore a patch over one eye, he couldn’t hear well, and he also suf­fered from ex­tremely strong headaches due to a piece of shrap­nel in his brain that the doc­tors couldn’t op­er­ate on.

Ivan had a wife and two daugh­ters, but it was easy to see that he was find­ing it chal­leng­ing to ad­just to fam­ily life. He was no longer the strong man beam­ing in the pho­tos in his liv­ing room, but a bro­ken sol­dier suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD), who spent most of his time car­ing for his kids or look­ing pen­sively at the hori­zon.

My youngest son, Jeff, who was five at the time, was a bit scared of our neigh­bor—and I wasn’t sure what to think my­self. I re­al­ized that I never re­ally spoke to Ivan, due to my lim­ited knowl­edge of Croa­t­ian at the time, but also be­cause I didn’t know how to face such ob­vi­ous suf­fer­ing.

One day, I ex­plained to Jeff about what our poor neigh­bor was go­ing through and the rea­son he wore a patch. I taught him to say, “Molim za vas,” “I’m pray­ing for you” in Croa­t­ian, and sug­gested that he say that to Ivan the next time we saw him.

I will never for­get that mo­ment the next time we met Ivan, when this fierce-look­ing man bent down to hear what a small five-year-old whis­pered in his ear. Then he straight­ened, and I could see tears trick­ling down his face as he whis­pered “Thank you.”

From that mo­ment on, Ivan and Jeff be­came good friends, and we of­ten vis­ited to sing songs, read God’s Word, and sim­ply keep him com­pany.

Ivan passed away not long af­ter. He had been strug­gling with a lot of health prob­lems and dis­cour­age­ment, but in his fi­nal years he found so­lace and com­fort in Je­sus.

Jeff is now a grown man and a fa­ther him­self, but I still fondly re­mem­ber that day God worked through my lit­tle boy to help re­place fear with love.

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