Last week I spoke about the saints, some of those saints are still on our pillars. How they paid forward the generous gift they had from God by giving away their lives to what God called them to do. As we are part of the Body of Christ with those saints, may we follow their lead and pay it forward.
Consider the words of Jesus today from the Gospel of Mark:
Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers…It’s not about appearances but so often, that is how we judge. We look to the external, but God looks deeper…
But after watching a widow throw in two small copper pennies (the widow’s mite), Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had…"Appearance alone, the widow paid little, but she paid more deeply that the rich. If we only look at appearances, we often miss the unsung heroes, those without whom, events would not have shaped up the way they were. Sometimes, it’s the least likely, whom we need to remember and honor.
As we remember our veterans this Wednesday, I want to introduce you to Augusta Chiwy (pronounced CHEE-wee). She died in August at her home near Brussels, Belgium. She was 94 years old.
Most of us have never heard of Augusta Chiwy. But she was one of the true heroines of World War II. Countless American soldiers who were wounded in the Battle of the Bulge owe their lives to her. She appears briefly in Stephen Ambrose's book Band of Brothers. British military historian Martin King traced her to her retirement home and documented her story in his book The Forgotten Nurse.The quiet dedication and generous service of Augusta Chiwy and women and men like her mirror the "mightiness" of the widow's mite that Jesus exalts in today's Gospel.
Augusta Chiwy was born near the Rwandan border in what is now part of Burundi. Her father was a veterinarian from Belgium; her mother was Congolese. The family moved to Bastogne when she was nine. She planned on becoming a teacher, but turned to nursing when the war began.
When she was 23, Augusta was working as a nurse in a hospital in the Flemish town of Louvain. In December 1944, she was visiting her family at their home in Bastogne, she began to help with the wounded with her uncle who was a doctor. One night, John Prior, a young Army doctor from Vermont, knocked on the door. He was desperate for help. The battle had begun and he was alone in a makeshift medical aid station.
Augusta immediately went to work at the station. At the time, black nurses were not allowed to treat white soldiers - but the doctor got around the regulation by reminding wounded white soldiers that Ms. Chiwy was a volunteer - and added, "You either let her treat you or you die."
During the siege, the station's ambulance driver was killed. Augusta and her friend, Renee Lemaire, put on Army uniforms and drove the ambulance to the front and back. Because they were wearing Army uniforms and not nurses' garb, they could have been shot had the Germans captured them.
The two women combed the battlefield, often coming under enemy fire, to find the wounded in the deep snow. As Ms. Chiwy retrieved soldiers from the front lines, the doctor joked that her five-foot frame enabled her to dodge mortars and heavy machine-gun fire. She replied. "Those Germans must be terrible marksmen."
On December 24, 1944, around 8:30PM, a German bomber dropped a 500-pound shell that landed next door to the aid station. According to a column in a Belgian newspaper, the aid station was demolished. Ms. Lemaire managed to evacuate six soldiers from the burning building, and died while she attempted to save a seventh. Renee and 30 wounded American soldiers died that night. Augusta herself was blown through a wall in another building, but survived.
The siege at Bastogne ended two days later, the day after Christmas, when the Fourth Armored Division broke through. Several hundred American GIs owe their lives to the young nurse who worked at the two aid stations for more than a month.
After the war, Augusta married a Belgian soldier. They had two children. Augusta went on to work in a hospital treating patients with spinal injuries. She rarely spoke of her wartime experiences.
Sixty-seven years after that horrible winter, Ms. Chiwy was honored by the Belgian government. “Men lived and families were reunited due to your efforts,” She said simply, "What I did was very normal. I would have done it for anyone. We are all children of God." [The New York Times, August 25, 2015.]
In exalting the gift of the poor widow, Jesus wants us to realize that, in the economy of God, numbers are not the true value of giving. It is what we give from our want, not from our extra, that speaks of what we truly value, what good we want to make happen, what we want our lives and world to be.
In the Gospel scheme of things, it is not the measure of the gift but the measure of the love that directs the gift that is great before God. May we pay it forward with such love in our lives, for we are all children of God. Amen.