As I entered the compound, I noticed two cliques of women. I had come to see how the clinic staff were killing the day. Olive had already found her place with the teenager of a clinic worker. After the initial resistance, she was quite content to sit in his lap and watch the other little children play amongst the sorghum chaff. I chose one group to approach and greet first, unaware that I had walked into a storm. After the perfunctory greetings, I was told that Patricia, a clinic nurse, had just received word about a death in the family. They didn’t know who or how or what was going to happen next. They were waiting until she was more composed to ask those questions. I didn’t wait long to slip into the neighboring conversation. I found a spot on the mat beside Patricia and listened, trying to sort out the situation, explained in a mix of three languages by five voices, intermittently refrained with, “Why? How could he control me like this?”. The deceased was her mother-in-law, an unusually dear relative who the husband had been taking care of for six months in their village many hours away. She had been struggling with serious organ failure since June. The family had done everything they could – including expensive treatments in the city and special cure-all doctors. But now, the matriarch had passed. Patricia had received word from her sister-in-law who had recently been to visit the ailing patient, returned home with her husband in the city and was now being called back to the village for the burial. Patricia’s husband had advised her to come by Friday to see his mother and then ran out of airtime and the call died. It was Tuesday. It was unclear if he had known or was keeping the worst from her, as is often the case when there is fear about how someone will handle the news or if they are alone when they receive it. Patricia didn’t appreciate the concern and was ramping up anger toward her beloved as an expression of her grief. Patricia’s baby was on injections for malaria having been troublingly ill all weak. This only added to her sense of helplessness. The ladies consoled her with the truth that only God knows when our moment of death will be, to be strong for the travel and to support her husband. I encouraged her to carry love in her heart beside her grief, not anger; to mourn together in unity rather than stirring up regrettable division. Within two hours she had made plans to depart early the next morning, bought more airtime, and steeled herself against the requirements of a burial where family and neighbors all descend on the bereaved expecting to be fed and housed, but also keeping vigil against self-harm and the darkness of loneliness in loss.
Another day, another friend. I don’t know her age. Her national ID says 24 years old, but that was for election purposes. Longole’s frame is slight and development still adolescent. She has been weak and often struggled with anemia since I met her. And yet, she is faithful, undemanding, has a beautiful smile that shines when it breaks, and has washed our clothes by hand for eight years. “How is the leg?” has become my routine greeting. She’s had an infection in her left shin for over a year. I now forget the original cause, possibly a hoe from working in the garden or maybe just a bug bite that she scratched with dirty fingernails. No matter, it has become her constant companion. I kept telling her to go to the clinic, to keep it clean, to do something! She’d smile and assure me that she would, and then wouldn’t. Finally, it was throbbing in the night, weeping puss and causing her to thrash in her sleep. Her father got involved and we succeeded in getting her to the clinic. Unfortunately, due to its overextended stay, it now requires months of antibiotics, daily wound cleaning (imagine a steel brush across tender, open flesh), and vigilance. The wound improved, shrank and cleanings reduced to every two days, then three, then once a week. She skipped one return visit and uncovered the wound at home. Before long, a new infection picked up residence in the as-yet unhealed wound like a demon returning to a swept house. She cried when I told her to go back to the clinic, and once again pulled the trick of telling me she would and then finding every excuse not to. I had to surprise her by cancelling work one day and informing her father who also insisted she go back. I began adding the admonition, “Persevere!” to my farewell.
Another day. Another friend. I’ve known Joyce since our visit in 2010. She’s been involved in the church since before the first communion service. I had volunteered to teach the women’s bible study and another had volunteered to be my translator, however when I asked when we could meet the time kept getting pushed back, changed and I knew she would not come. So I sought out Joyce and asked if she would teach with me. We met together on Saturday afternoon, read through the passage in both languages, talked about what it told us about Christ and people, and how it should change us. We then shared our own personal prayer requests and I asked about her children, many of whom have wandered far from the Way. When the time for the study came, we divided the teaching. I asked questions. She added comments and insights when the group fell silent. We tentatively shared the responsibility of translating into our mother tongues when the other taught in their own, both shy at our inability to find the right words. The group helped us with tricky translations and corrections. The passage was in Mark about the Gentile woman asking Jesus to heal her daughter from demons. Jesus inferred she was a dog in the kingdom and she humbly accepted if only she could taste the crumbs from His table. It was a beautiful reminder brought to life in present company that Jesus came to save all who believe in Him. There were fifteen of us, educated and uneducated, mothers and singles, Karimojong and Wazungu, a mix of language abilities and maturity in the faith. Everyone shared. I went home so exhilarated I was practically bouncing. I had feasted deep and long with my sisters in Christ, profoundly humbled and thankful for such a life-giving sliver of the eternal feast.
This is the kingdom of heaven, the walking beside, the knowing, being known and making God known. These are the God-given interactions that break down barriers to the gospel and build up the church. They are why we are here. We work and live and love here, sometimes in dramatic ways, but most often in small mundane or simple ways with the church visible and invisible. Pray that we will continue to have opportunities to shine Christ, that we would be bold in the gospel and meek in everything else. Pray for these ladies to know the comfort of the Lord, His healing hope and steadfast love.
Praying for you all! May God be with you!
So glad that you were able to encourage these sisters in the Lord! It is wonderful how God uses us and then gives us the joy of being used by Him! Praise God!!!
It’s all about people isn’t it?! The mundane everyday interactions.