Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Place Where Compassion Grows

Matthew 4:18-25 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Friday and Saturday I visited a familiar place that was different than any place I have ever been before. It was familiar in that it was the place compassion grows. I have been there on other occasions. It is the place Jesus took his first disciples when he said, "Follow me." He took them to the place of human hurts and needs. He showed them that being in the midst of such needs is the place one goes when he follows Jesus. I have been there before.

But it was different than any place I’ve ever been. The medical clinic was set up in a small village outside of Lyantonde Town. Like the 4077th, five vehicles laden with supplies and twenty-seven people moved into Nakinombe (nachee-NOME-bay) and set up our operations at about 9:30 on Friday morning. The mud and stick church building was divided by ropes and bedsheets into a clinic with a triage area and four examining rooms. A blue plastic tarp spread its shade just outside the door for the registration and reception area. A screen shelter set up behind the church became the "evangelism room," where the gospel would be shared. A big, black ten gallon barrel with a spigot was set up outside for hand-washing. The back of the Toyota van was the mobile pharmacy. A mud pit latrine served as our restroom facilities. At the house next to the church a half-dozen women worked all day to prepare a single meal of matoke, posho, cabbage, rice, and beans for the group.

By 10:30 we were receiving the first of what would be 575 patients over two days. Business was slower on Friday (only 175) because of a funeral in the village. But it picked up the next day. We stopped registering patients at 1:30 PM on Saturday and began to turn people away. We continued to process those we had registered until 6:00 PM, and then we struck camp.

On Friday evening, after supper, when the sun went down, we set up a video projector and showed "The Jesus Film" to a crowd of two hundred or more, who sat on the ground and watched the movie until 10:30 PM, and then walked in the pitch black dark back to their huts.

We spent the night in tents, sleeping on the ground. The women’s tents were set up inside the church on the dirt floor that was covered with straw. They have no pews, so people sit on the floor. The men’s tents, and my family’s, were set up outside. The rocks under our tent floor were the size of my fist.

That was the setting and schedule, but I want to describe the experience. When the people began to arrive, they came in droves. They came with their disease and injury. Women came bearing their sick children in their arms and on their backs. One infant who had malaria was sent into Lyantonde to the hospital there, but the woman returned with the child’s corpse during the movie that evening. They came in the brightest colors you can imagine. Many came with deeply expressed gratitude for our being there. Women came out of their strong patriarchal culture and bowed to their knees before me, a man, a white man, to hand me their prescriptions. It was terribly uncomfortable. More so than the rocks in the bed.

I helped out in the pharmacy, mostly, where Melinda, Sally, and Jenna were the pharmacists, dispensing what the physicians had prescribed. People pressed into us with their needs and we gave what we had. Before the two days were completed, we were running low on supplies.

Pamm worked at the registration area, where patients were given a number and a piece of paper to carry through the process. Next they went to the triage area where their vital signs were taken and recorded and their complaint registered. Then, they saw a physician who examined them, diagnosed their condition, and prescribed treatment. They next went to the evangelism tent, heard a presentation of the gospel and received prayer. Thirty-five adult made commitments of life to Jesus Christ. Finally, they brought their prescription to the pharmacy to be filled. Once their prescription was ready, one of the medical students explained how to take the medication. Five hundred seventy five people went through this process with us in two days.

During all this, we had a flood of experiences. I walked across the road to a small mud hut. A medical student went with me to translate. We spoke with an old woman there, a Muslim, who was selling fried grasshoppers. Two Catholic women were with her. A couple of "born again" men were also there. We talked about God and his grace. She asked lots of questions about America ("Do you have tribes there?" "Do you have grasshoppers?") She expressed her gratitude to us for coming to bring healing to the people.

No one spoke much English in the village. Some of the children, who had studied in school could speak a bit, and enjoyed practicing it with us. A group of boys found Jenna enchanting. "Your daughter is beautiful." "How old does an African man have to be to come to America and look for a wife?" I could have gotten several cows for her had I wanted to. They enjoyed having their photos taken on a digital camera and then seeing their own faces.

A group of children gathered around the Toyota van on Friday evening to sing songs with Melinda, ask questions about America, and generally to be up close to a muzungu (white person, literally, "one who runs in circles"). This same group sat at Melinda’s feet during the film and wanted a running commentary: "Who is that man?" "Is that one Jesus?"

We finally left about 6:30 PM on Saturday. Men, women, and children lined the road and waved to us as we left. We left them with a few pills to rid them of worms, relieve their pain, and cure their infections. We left them with the good news that Jesus does know them, love them, and offer them life and hope. We left the village with a different view of the Baptist church that stood in their midst. Pastor Vianny and his wife Juliette will have their ministry strengthened. The church will have a chance to be more effective.

When we left we were spent. Our medical supplies were low. Our legs were tired from standing. We were dirty and dusty and hungry and sleepy. We had been to that place, that place Jesus takes his people, the place where compassion grows.

I tried to live as a person of prayer in the middle of that operation. Lacking both language skills and medical knowledge, I was in the role of "Radar" or "Klinger" to Larry’s "Colonel Potter." I could not do many of the things I would like to have done. So I decided I would pray for people as I walked among them or took their prescriptions and read their names. But that was a challenge. Things were so busy and hectic. I found compassion a difficult "feeling" to sustain. But I’m not certain compassion is a feeling. It is a response of obedience to the compassionate God who loves these people, who goes among them, and who says to us, "Follow me." I believe that the compassionate Christ was there, with those people, in the form of twenty-seven of his people who were willing to obey. Compassion sometimes takes the form of obedience.

Today (Sunday) I will preach in English without a translator at the University Baptist Church, Mbarara. This afternoon, Larry will drive alone to Entebbe to pick up Patrick, Diana, and Andrew Forrester on Monday morning at 5:30. Tonight Melinda, Pamm, and I will begin a Bible study with university students on understanding the Bible. Tomorrow’s activities are not all certain. We may purchase some lumber so that Adam Pepper and Andrew might build some benches for the church in Nakinombe. That would be a compassionate thing to do. Patrick will be speaking to a high school at 5:00 PM (10:00 AM Houston) or so (after having arrived at 5:30 AM on a long flight). Pray for him. In the evening we’ll be doing the student Bible study again. More later.



Anonymous said...

thank you for writing this

E.C. said...

May God continue to bless and protect you all. I pray that God will give you resurrection power as you minister in the gospel to the lost and dying world. Also as a result of your faithfulness that our church will be strengthened spiritually,and we all have a new zeal for the gospel. and will see great victories here at UBC . "To God Be The Glory.!