I wanted to share with you one night’s simple medical visit. Deanna Bergen is one of the long-term missionaries here. She regularly visits people in their homes, especially if they are ill. She helps with medical advice, purchase of medicines, and arranging doctor visits. She has a beautiful pastoral and service gift that flourishes in this setting. I join her when I can, especially if it sounds like I may be able to offer some advice. A man came to Deanna’s home and asked her to come and see his wife and Deanna asked me to join her. We went about six blocks away to a neighborhood with small, wooden houses roofed with asbestos tile, packed together along a dirt road. There was sewage in the side of the street as we climbed out of the car. The people were all sitting outside their homes on benches or simple chairs. A naked two year old was playing in the dirt yard, kicking a ball around, tumbling around on the ground. The house we entered had a cement floor and the “patient” was lying on a simple bed. They had an electrical wire hanging overhead, to which a fan was connected, blowing on the patient. A dim light bulb also hung from the wire. She was sixteen. She had a C-section, her second, nine days prior. Earlier in the day, she had a fever and now noted drainage from the incision. She said her pain was not improving. Her family wanted to get her back to the hospital immediately. They had seen a doctor earlier in the day and he had said “nothing” to them. After a brief interview and exam, I saw their concerns as quite reasonable. It was late in the day and my advice to them was that they return to their surgeon the next morning. They were grateful for the advice and we laid hands on her and prayed for God’s intervention.
I don’t think my words adequately describe the setting, for it’s the setting which makes this whole scene most impressive. Post-operative patients anywhere have concerns and insecurities about their experience. Surgery is a totally unique experience and fosters fear of the unknown. Friends and family become “Job’s counselors”, intending to help but often causing more distress. Pain is never easy to deal with and here Tylenol is the only pain medicine prescribed for post-op pain. And then there’s this setting, common in the tropics. The house was an oven, with NO circulation of air, except for the small fan. The girl was lying on a bed with only a rag for a wound dressing. The environment was so unclean. The air smelled of a mixture of sewage, smoke (from burning charcoal for cooking), and trash. The light was dim and the sounds were of children playing and loud conversation. The concern evident on the family’s faces was sincere.
Time stood still for me as I walked out of the house. I just have not processed global reality yet. I continue to be blown away by the living conditions here, and the realization that over half of the world’s people (billions) live like this. Throughout history, almost all people have lived like these people or in more challenging conditions. It leaves me weak and somewhat ill. I don’t understand so many things. I don’t understand the suffering and the difficulties these people face. But I also don’t understand the genuine smiles on the faces of most of the people that I meet, who live and work in these same conditions. I am beginning to appreciate, however, the role of contrast in God’s world. I understand that without pain I would not appreciate what it means to be pain-free. I also understand that without experiencing the profound emptiness of living apart from God, I wouldn’t appreciate God’s amazing grace and affection toward me. I know that without the heat of a tropical day, I wouldn’t appreciate the coolness of a tropical evening. Contrast is one of God’s effective teaching tools.
I also understand that love’s beauty is most profound in a setting of need and brokenness. God loves touching the broken. He delights in speaking to those hurting. The Bible is full of illustrations. Every church is full of living examples. Each ugly situation, each hurting person represents an opportunity for God’s touch to be seen and felt. Each also represents an opportunity for God’s people to step into the pain and the ugliness and to love those hurting. In this lies hope. Hope in the marriage of God’s people to need. To local need and to global need. Hope in this opportunity, not in understanding, and not in prosperity. I’ve seen (and experienced first hand) prosperity foster a busyness that creates blindness and deafness to needs, our own and those of others. I used to pray for prosperity and see value in it. Now I see more value in difficulty and in the opportunity it provides for someone to step in and love, help, and comfort. I used to think that hope involved resolution of the difficulty, and, although God sometimes does bring resolution to affliction, the hope in Jesus is APART from the pain and can be found WITHIN the season of suffering. Relationship with Him so fills and so changes a person that difficulty and affliction become trivial in contrast. Even death loses its ability to cause fear and pain. That’s cool! Hope in suffering. Peace in turmoil. Joy in difficult to understand circumstances. Perhaps nothing glorifies God more than one having hope and peace while in circumstances that would normally cause despair. These are the miracles that clothe God’s children as they draw closer to Him. These miracles are most impressive displays of power from beyond the boundaries of this “seen” world. This world is so full of pain and brokenness. This world is so full of opportunity for God’s people.
Deanna saw this girl four times that week. She was treated for an infection and improved readily. The last time Deanna stopped by, the girl had tears in her eyes as Deanna left. Deanna asked why and the girl said she wished it was her mom coming to her and helping her. She sincerely expressed heartfelt gratitude for Deanna’s help. She and her husband said they were definitely coming to Deanna’s church that Sunday. Even a little love changes things and changes people. This is one example of many here of how Jesus uses broken people to touch broken people with His healing love.