An African Parable…

Pezinho (Peh-zeen-yoo) left home just after dawn on a cloudless, warm, Saturday morning, ready for his familiar trek to the village of his parents.  It would take him all day, so he carried a small, scrubbed oil jug filled with quissangua, the local drink made with ground corn, sugar and boiled water, and a few stems of sugar cane.  He passed the familiar Cavango Hospital about mid-day, greeting many people along the way.  He knew everyone, and they knew him.  There were many, pleasant brief stops and conversations to catch up with friends and families.  A couple hours later, he smiled as he drank the last of his quissangua and turned off the well-traveled path and onto the narrow and rocky way to his parents’ village.  Only three or four hours to go…

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After just a few strides, a guttural groan reached him from the brush and weeds, just off the road.   He approached the sound cautiously and found an emaciated man, about thirty years old, covered in flies, urine and feces.  The man looked extremely dry and could only speak a few words at a time, with difficulty, through his parched tongue and lips, but Pezinho was able to gather from the man that he had been on his way to the Cavango hospital because of a long illness, had laid down to rest, and could not continue.  He had left his home with his brother, who was also ill, five days prior and they had both become weakened and confused, and lost.  His brother reluctantly went for help on his own and had not returned.  He had been lying there for two days.  Several people had stopped and given him directions to the hospital and tried to offer encouragement, saying, “It’s not far!”, “Almost there!”, or “You’ll make it!” and continued on their way.  Some others passed by but he couldn’t call to them.  A few saw him and turned away.  He was quite a sight!

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Distraught, Pezinho knew the man wouldn’t survive the cold, winter night ahead.  Should he try to carry him or should he go and seek help at his parents’ village or just go directly to the hospital, with or without him?  The man was too weak to be carried.  He decided to return to the small hospital and seek help.  Darkness fell, but Pezinho zig-zagged through the “mata” and made it to the hospital in a couple hours. Because it was the middle of the night by the time he arrived, a guard woke the night nurse and Pezinho explained the situation.  There was no one to go with Pezinho but the nurse wondered if Pezinho could carry a stretcher back to the man and find someone to help him carry the man on the cot.  He assured Pezinho that they would be waiting for him when he returned.  Pezinho thought it was a good plan.  When he described the approximate location of the sick man, the nurse said he knew the area and offered an alternate route back, suggesting that Pezinho could arrive more quickly and avoid the small mountain and river that he had traversed on his way to the hospital.

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Pezinho embraced the idea of shortening his return and followed the nurse’s directions. starting back on the unfamiliar path.  After a couple hours in the dark, he was glad to see the sun rise, but it was not where it should have been.  In fact it was in the opposite direction of where it should have risen!  He had been somehow walking in exactly the opposite direction of the sick man and was now quite lost.  He thought of his folks, who would be worried, as he should have slept in their house last night. Pezinho had no idea where he was.  And the man…  How was he?  He asked the first people he saw for directions and they pointed out to him, with certainty, which path to follow…

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Another hour passed and, severely thirsty, Pezinho sipped from a dirty stream.  After about thirty minutes his insides began rolling, only to empty profusely and completely from both ends fifteen minutes later.  Then again, and again… He had bleeding blisters on his hands from the heavy stretcher.  His shoulder was raw from the straps. His abdomen was burning and his bottom chafing with every step.  Two more hours of interrupted walking and Pezinho heard voices.  A small village appeared over the next rise and a small group was gathered under a Mango tree with heads bowed and eyes closed.  They didn’t see Pezinho approach, but he stumbled up to them and collapsed.  The group attended to him and he explained everything, from the dying man to getting lost and now having no idea where he was.  He needed help!  They gave him some of their water, but it promptly came back up.  The leader of the group expressed his heartfelt sympathy for Pezinho and gathered the faithful and they laid hands on Pezinho and prayed long and passionate prayers for him, asking God to heal him and show him how to find his way.  The leader told the group that prayer was their highest priority and the most they could do for this lost and hurting man.  They would trust God to help him and the dying man.  A couple from the group led Pezinho to a path that they assured him would return him back to the familiar main road, prayed for him again, told him with kind smiles to stop back if he needed anything more and invited him to join their group again anytime. 

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Pezinho felt encouraged but, after a couple more hours, he knew he was still lost and no closer to the man in the bush.  A passing group of young men and women listened to Pezinho’s plea for help and they told him they could help him more than anyone!  Firstly, they knew which path he needed to take to return to the dying man in the bush.  They emphasized that Pezinho had become lost because he received errant instructions and made poor choices and they could help him if he committed to following their “true” instructions.  They sat down and began to explain to him the directions, where to turn and, especially, where to not turn.  They also explained some general principles for journeying in the wilderness and shared that, if he followed these guidelines, he would avoid getting lost or hurt again. They emphasized that he could trust their instructions.  Pezinho was encouraged again and started out, trying his best to follow their instructions.  He found, however, to his dismay, that to follow their instructions, it was necessary to always look at his own feet, count his steps and analyze his course, so he was constantly falling and bumping into low-hanging tree branches.  He soon realized that he needed to keep his eyes either up or on his feet and he decided to abandon their instructions and, instead, keep his eyes looking up and outward.

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Pezinho continued on, keeping the morning sun to his left and, several hours later, he heard singing.  He rounded a bend and saw a small group gathered together and singing beautifully, in a nicely constructed adobe building.  He walked in and was motioned to the side to wait until the song ended.  Then, one of the group approached Pezinho and quietly told him that they were worshipping God and that this was a sacred time and not to be interrupted.  They invited Pezinho to worship with them, not inquiring about him or his needs, but telling him, rather, that nothing was more important than worshipping God and that he could bring his needs to God during worship and he would experience God in a life-changing way.  But Pezinho was weak, hungry, thirsty and tired and, because of his urgency about the man he was trying to help, he simply couldn’t join them.  He had to get back to his friend!  Friend? It was interesting to Pezinho that he had so briefly interacted with him, didn’t know his name, but now considered him his friend… As he was walking away, he heard a mom tell her young daughter that so many people are preoccupied with life’s problems and don’t take the time to gather and worship God, and that nothing was more important…

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His burdens were becoming too much.  The stretcher seemed to now weigh five times what it weighed during the night.  He needed sleep, water, food and accurate directions.  His feet were blistered and legs covered in blood and cuts from hammering through saplings and roots.  The man would die if he failed to return!  Was all his effort wasted?  Pezinho was passing people in the woods all the time, yet he was far from home, unknown, and he felt completely alone. He was so discouraged that his flawed efforts had probably failed the dying man in the bush.  He trudged on.  Would anyone help him?  All the confident instructions he had received up to this point had not helped him or the dying man in the weeds!  Many passed him, few inquiring about him or his journey.  Several kindly said they wished they could help but were unable.  Everyone was so certain and about their “true” directions, though a few said they simply didn’t know.  Who could he trust?  Did anyone care? His “track record” up to this point wasn’t promising.  When he asked for help, he was often animated, so many people avoided him, some laughed at his concern for some strange man lying in the weeds, and others just thought him “different” and dismissed him.  One woman turned her head away from him and his appearance and odor, telling him sternly that he should return home to those in his own village and family. She quoted a cultural proverb to him about neighbors and stomped off, shaking her head.  At one point Pezinho slumped against a tree and wept, asking God to help him find this man and to help his friend survive until his return.

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Soon thereafter he encountered a gentle, leathery older man who invited Pezinho to sit with him and rest.  Pezinho explained his situation to him and the man listened and advised him that he was not in any shape to continue.  He was sick, exhausted, thirsty and he needed to rest.  Pezinho shared about his urgent concern for the dying man.  The man said that Pezinho must care for himself first and, then, when he was strong and sure, he could care for others.  Pezinho sat for an hour, listening to the man’s wise counsel, but realized pretty quickly that this man’s advice might help him learn how to improve his own life, but his words would not benefit the man he was seeking to help.  His friend was dying!  He got up and respectfully departed.

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Several people on motorbikes sped past him during the course of his journey, but most were preoccupied with their affairs and didn’t seem to notice the haggard man Pezinho had become.  He had walked out of his shoes and his clothes were torn, his arms and legs bloodied.  He flagged several on motorbikes to directly ask them to help him get back to this dying man and they all assured him they would return and help him as soon as they completed their tasks.

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Late in the afternoon, he passed a crossing he knew he had seen earlier.  He was walking in circles!  Ridiculously large and exhausting circles!  He needed help, a guide, anyone, to get back to that sick man lying in the dirt!  He couldn’t do it alone.  It was afternoon, scorching, and his hunger and thirst painful.  But how much more his friend is hurting!  He found just enough strength to get up and keep going.

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A barefoot teenager with rags for clothes crossed in front of him and Pezinho called out to see if this teen had heard of his village or that of his parents, to perhaps find his bearings again.  Night was falling.  The teen looked over Pezinho and, without a thought, lifted the stretcher from his shoulders and asked what else he needed.  The lifting of the cot and the teen’s enthusiastic interest were both such welcome relief!  They sat and talked and Pezinho shared his story and his concern for this man in the bush.  The teen chewed on some grass, listened intently, asked questions and thought it all through.  Then he rose to his feet and said he had a few friends who might help and took off running.  He was back soon with several others.  They washed Pezinho’s macerated legs and blistered feet, put ointment on his hands and shoulders, divided amongst themselves the meager food and drink they had brought with them, and started out, together.  Several carried Pezinho’s stretcher for him, distributing the weight between them.  They said they wanted to help Pezinho, but also wanted to help the man who was the focus of Pezinho’s passionate concern!  Only a couple hours later they reached the path where Pezinho initially found the man.  It was now completely dark again, with scarcely a moon… could he recognize in the total darkness the place where his friend was lying?  What was his name? He called and called. Had he returned in time?  Was the man still alive?  Pezinho was afraid of what he might find.

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They finally heard a moan and the four of them found Pezinho’s friend in exactly the same place and state as when he had left him.  No worse, not good, and now covered in mosquitoes.  Pezinho finally asked the man his name and his “friend” lifted his feeble hand and, with a weak smile, introduced himself as Eliseo (Eh-lee-zeh-oo). The teens had no idea about a hospital but Pezinho said he could lead them there, if they would join him.  They gave Eliseo some quissangua and a few bites of simple food, cleaned him up as they had Pezinho, placed Eliseo on the cot and carried him several hours to Cavango, not allowing Pezinho to help.   They arrived uneventfully and Pezinho, once again, woke the night nurse.

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Eliseo will receive treatment for severe Tuberculosis, along with his brother, who had arrived the previous day, but was too weak to return to Eliseo. They are both expected to fully recover during two months of inpatient care at the hospital, followed by further treatment over several months.  Pezinho reunited with his family after a couple days at the hospital to treat his severe intestinal infection and to have his feet, hands and legs bandaged.  The teens (Pezinho and Eliseo never got their names) left quietly after dropping them at the hospital, without fanfare or even a good-bye…

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