Maya approached Valentina with a loaf of white bread after the worship service.
“Valya, please take this”, she said, holding out the loaf.
Valentina, 40, looked at the bread hungrily. She hadn’t eaten a crumb in more than six months. It was impossible to find bread on store shelves in Sukhumi, capital of Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia. It was 1993, and a months-long armed conflict between Georgian and Abkhaz forces had resulted in a major food shortage.
“Take this, please”, Maya, 45, said again, still offering the bread. “This is from me to you”.
Valentina slowly shook her head.
“I can’t take this from you”, she said. “You need it just as badly as we do”.
Maya began to cry.
“Please, take this”, she said. “You walked so far to help us. This is a gift that I want to give you, but you are refusing to accept it”.
“OK”, Valentina said, finally relenting. “But let’s cut the bread in half. You take half, and I’ll take half”.
The women divided bread with a knife from the kitchen of the house church, where about 40 people gathered regularly to pray and read the Bible under the leadership of Valentina’s husband, Pavel Dmitrienko, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.
Moments later, Valentina and Pavel left the house and started the 9-mile (15-kilometer) trek back to their home.
Valentina smiled as she thought about the bread in her purse. She looked forward to enjoying it with a simple soup of barley and water that evening.
“I will make soup, and we will eat it with real bread”, she said.
Pavel returned her happy smile. He also wanted to eat the bread.
Partway home, the couple met an elderly woman on a bridge. She was thin, and her clothing was filthy. She looked at Valentina.
“Daughter”, she said with a wavering voice, “would you happen to have a piece of bread?”
Valentina immediately removed the half loaf from her purse and presented it to the woman.
“Yes, I have, dear Grandmother”, she said. “Please, take this”.
The elderly woman wept as she accepted the bread.
“Thank you”, she said, tears streaking her dirty, wrinkled cheeks. “I haven’t eaten in three days. You’ve saved me from death”.
Valentina and Pavel continued on their way home, joyful smiles lighting their faces. They were happy that they had been able to sacrifice their precious bread.
“We gave the one thing that we wanted most of all to the grandmother, and saved her life”, Valentina, now 65 and pictured left, said in an interview in her home in Belgorod, Russia. “It was a real sacrifice—and it made us happier than ever before”.