Together we can heed the call to a ministry of care and justice.
One of the things that helps me keep my ‘heart of compassion’ open to those around me who are suffering and in need—is to think about what it would be like for me to experience what they are experiencing, to be in their shoes, to experience life from their perspective—to ‘trade places’ with them. What if I lived where they lived—far from clinics and hospitals and doctors and pharmacies? What if I had no money for care? What if I had no one to help me? Nowhere to turn. What if that was my son or daughter who needed help? What if that was my mom or brother or sister who was so in need? How would I want others to respond? What would I want others to do for me? How would I want others to treat me or care for me?
In the story of the Good Samaritan, at one point, after the wounds were bandaged and dressed, the injured man (who had been walking from Jerusalem to Jericho) was loaded onto the back of the donkey belonging to the caring and compassionate man from Samaria (who had ridden on the donkey on that same road). In other words—they traded places.
When I constantly remind myself to simply ‘trade places’ with those suffering and in need around me, it helps keep my heart soft and open and compassionate, it helps keep my words kind and my hands gentle—whether I am in a small mission hospital in remote Africa or in my neighborhood in Houston.
The songs we sing here at this small mission hospital are mostly hymns—written many, many years ago, now sung here on the banks of the Zambezi river in the beautiful Lunda or Luvale languages. As we sing these songs, it brings me back to my childhood. Because, in an old feed store turned into a church, surrounded by 90 people who loved God with a passion, these same hymns became the songs of my childhood.
The words of these same hymns were the first words I learned to use to express my thanksgiving and praise and worship to my Heavenly Father. I still can see Brother Dearmon leading these songs with his hand going up and down to the rhythm, his wife Ruthie often accompanying on the piano. And I can still hear Brother Curtis Bell singing with such zeal and conviction. And I remember so vividly and so often being in the car with my dad and when there was a lull in the conversation, he didn’t turn on the radio, he simply began to hum the melody or sing the words to these very same songs. It was if these words were intricately woven into the fabric of who I am. And they will always be there. And they will always have a special memory and meaning and significance to me.
So this morning, as I heard the melody of a song now sang in a much different language, instantly and without any effort whatsoever, the words came up out of my memory…no…more out of the deep and hidden fabric of my soul…
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory every,
‘Till my ransomed soul shall find,
Rest beyond the river.
Two weeks ago we were doing an emergency surgery late one night when Gift—the nurse on duty—urgently came to the theatre door and told us a young lady had just come to the hospital and that she was very sick and needed our immediate attention. She lived in one of the many small villages on the west side of the Zambezi River across from Chitokoloki. Several days earlier she had a miscarriage and day after day since, she had continued to bleed. She had passed so much blood that she was barely able to stand, she was much too weak to walk. She realized that she desperately needed help. Her concerned family and friends loaded her on to the back of an ox cart and after several hours journey through the deep sandy paths, they made it to the river—long after dark. They then helped her into a small dugout canoe—16 inches across and just a few inches deep—and they paddled her across the crocodile infested waters of the Zambezi late that night. Finally, they reached their destination as they carried her on a makeshift stretcher up the steep one kilometer bank to the hospital.
I finished the emergency surgery I was doing and quickly went to assess her. She was cold (it is winter here in Zambia and it gets very cold at night) and wet (from the trek across the river) and shivering and in shock. She was SO pale. Her hemoglobin (should be 12-15gram) was 3 grams. Her blood pressure was barely recordable. Gift quickly took a sample of her blood to the lab for a cross-match for transfusion.
I remember so vividly that she had no shoes on her feet. And her feet were calloused and scarred from her life of daily toil. And every swirl and crevice and ridge of the soles of her feet were darkly stained with the soil from around her home and village. In the bright light of the operating room, the contrast of her pale skin and the swirling dark patterns made her feet look beautiful—almost like a work of art.
I did an ultrasound and saw that we needed to operate to stop the blood loss. By then the operating theatre was clean and ready, so we moved her there and covered her with blankets and attached her to a machine that blows warm air under the blankets in order to try to bring her body temperature up. Julie Rachel (one of the long term nurses) started big IV’s, Allison (another nurse) helped Kyombo (works in theatre) get the instruments ready for surgery. Meanwhile Victor and the lab team brought us 3 units of cold blood. Three of us took a bag and tucked them under our arms next to our chest to try to warm them before transfusing them. Within an hour we had given her two units of blood and a third one was slowly dripping in. Her blood pressure was now 100 mmHg, she was nice and warm and I had done surgery and was able to stop her bleeding.
As we waited there in the theatre after surgery, I couldn’t help reflect on what I had just witnessed and the image that was now before me. A young lady so desperately ill. Concerned family and friends who courageously brought her for help. Gift, who had so quickly and accurately assessed her when she was admitted. Victor, who had left his home on this cold night to come to the lab to make sure she had blood. Kyombo and Alison and JR who were tired from working all day, never hesitating to offer their services and help.
Now, this lady is warm and her blood pressure normal and the blood transfused and the bleeding stopped and blankets are piled on top of her and she is surrounded by people who have tenderly and compassionately and expertly and expeditiously cared for her. All in the Name of, and for the sake of Jesus—our Lord and Savior. There is no doubt in my mind…this pleases His heart greatly.
When I was sick, you cared for Me. Matthew 25:36
A few days later, she crossed the Zambezi again in the small dugout canoe. She trekked hours through the sands to her village and home. She smiled broadly as she was embraced by grateful family and friends. And she wore no shoes on her beautiful feet as she made her journey home.