Her husband was killed in the collision, and because Maria was driving the car, her daughter blamed her for his death. She no longer wanted a relationship with Maria, and threw her out the family flat that she’d just inherited.
All at once – in the midst of her grief and distress – Maria found herself homeless.
"I was devastated,” Maria said. “I’d spent all my life taking care of my daughter and she just threw me away, threw me out of our flat. “I had relatives who I’ve supported in the past – but no one offered me any help.”
Maria, 66, has lived most of her life in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. She once worked in electrical design, specialising in power stations. In 1990, the year after communism collapsed, she was made redundant, and she and her husband started up a small business that they ran together.
When Maria became homeless, she would sleep on a bench in the park at night, or under the balconies of blocks of flats. During the day she would gather plastic bottles for recycling, receiving a tiny amount of cash for them. Despite being shy and self-conscious, she overcame her shame in digging through rubbish bins to find what she could.
Her lowest point came when she fell in the snow and broke her leg while gathering plastic bottles. It was the most difficult period of Maria’s life. She was lonely, hungry, unable to move, and utterly desperate. And in the midst of a crisis like this, there continued the everyday emotional and physical sufferings Maria regularly experienced –the humiliation of being viewed as worthless by society; the struggle to preserve any sense of self or dignity.
What kept her alive was her faith in God, a faith she had found thanks to Street Mercy – a homeless project run by Mission Without Borders (MWB) in Sofia.
At Street Mercy, a Bible reading is shared before the meal is distributed each day to the
homeless – and there are Bible studies too, which Maria took part in. As she heard the
gospel and found out what Jesus had done for her, she came to understand that God
would not leave her despite the difficulties she was going through, and she firmly
believed that God had a plan for her.
Every day Maria would wait for Street Mercy’s white bus to arrive, not only so she could
receive her warm soup and bread, but also because she looked forward to talking to
Anna Atanasova, MWB’s Street Mercy coordinator. She knew she could always share her
troubles with her and Anna was always ready to hear and to help in any way possible.
Maria said, “The warm soup saved my life, as well as the warm clothes, the shoes and the
medicine when I needed it.
“The coat you gave me was like a thick quilt. It preserved my life when the temperature
fell below zero during the winter.
“But most of all,” she added, “My heart was touched by the care and love you showed
…story continued below