I was out visiting people when I stopped by the house where Nache lived. It was clear that we needed to get this kid to the hospital in the city, and that meant we needed money for transport for him and for his mom. But I didn’t have any money on me that day, there wasn’t any cash at the house, Steve & Godfrey & Emmanueli were traveling, and here I was in the land of no ATM machines. But just down the road was a church, and so I took off in shot to quickly see them. “They aren’t members of our church; we can’t help them.” I was devastated. More than devastated. It was hardly the answer that I had expected to hear, hardly the answer I ever thought I would hear, and had I had the time, I would have talked with them more about it and reasoned with them from the Scriptures. But it hurt me to hear their words. Who possibly could have taught them to think like that? While I knew without a doubt that God would provide a way for us to get little Nache to the hospital – I knew that -- and all I could think of was how they had so sadly missed a great opportunity to serve.
I remember the first time I met Nache. I saw him on the road – an emaciated 8-year old with painful shingles. Those big brown eyes of his just looked so sad. I had stopped the car to see who this little boy was, then I asked him where his mother was, and that was my first introduction into the reality of this little family living with AIDS. For years we transported him and his mom to treatment and now for the last 17 months since our clinic opened they have been able to get their the anti-virus medicines right in our village. But unlike the other kids, Nache always had a cough and he looked still ill. Lots of visits by doctors and many rounds of antibiotics didn’t change things.
Two months ago he barely made the walk to our AIDS clinic. I met him as he was vomiting and crying. He was crying because it hurt, And I remember that day in my heart I was crying too, asking God when this misery for Nache and all of these other kids living with the virus would ever end. If I had had the luxury to cry real tears I think I would have, but that was a luxury that I didn’t have. Nache needed a confident hand to put his hand in and so I had to smile and to offer him mine. Doctors who came from town eventually told me that, even if the regular sputum tests for TB kept coming back negative, that Nache almost certainly had TB. All we needed was an x-ray at the hospital in town to prove that his was a case of another false negative. Everything was free once he would get to the hospital, and his mother promised me she would take him to town.
But one week later I learned that Nache was still in the village – she had told me what she knew I wanted to hear, that she would take him to the hospital in town -- but she didn’t have any money that week. And that’s when I showed up again at their house, and I didn’t have any money either, and that’s when I walked over to that church building. You can’t help but see their broken house and the people living in it every single time you go to their church. No one could miss this emaciated boy! His racking cough. How could they miss it? Where are their ears? Where are their eyes? Their hearts? The day they told me to my face that they wouldn’t help him was the day that part of me died inside.
God did, of course, provide that day for Nache. He did in another way, using someone other than those who I was sure would help us. And I knew He would do that. And Nache did make it to the hospital where Nurse Neema took him under her wings and cared for him. They did start him on the TB meds and he was sent home. But when I went to his house to check on him, rather than a smile, once again little Nache was in tears. He had started to have strokes that morning and he had already started to lose feeling in one half of his body. I put terrified and hurting Nache and his mom in the car and drove them to my home. Msafiri stopped him from taking those medicines that clearly were producing a bad reaction in his body, and two days later the AIDS doctors from Mafinga changed him to another kind.
And now when I go to see Nache he is out playing. I can no longer wrap my fingers around his boney arm. (My test for how bad the emaciation is.) And this morning he and little Martin (an 8 year old adorable child also living with AIDS) showed up all smiles. Scabies and impetigo at least aren’t painful and can’t stop them from smiling, and yet the little ones needed medicine. How fortunate – I had exactly two bottles of the scabies lotion left in my medicine and recent guests of ours had left the antibiotics with me that little Nache and Martin needed for their impetigo. I smiled at His provision. My friends left medicines with me and in the process they got to be used to do something really good for these two little boys.
That brought me back full circle to wonder about the shallowness of perspective of the people in that little church in the village. What an opportunity those dear people had missed. They are good people, but somehow in all they’ve been taught, they’ve missed I fear some of the most essential of all the teachings we are to follow. Their church is holding outdoor evangelistic meetings this week – someone gave them loud speakers so the message is indeed being blared loud and clear. But their message would be even louder if they had showed people in the village the love of Christ instead of just talking to them about Christ. Recently Steve and the boys and I listened to a sermon about Jesus and his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had asked the disciples to stay alert, but they fell asleep. The pastor compared the sleepy disciples to the church today. Jesus is asking the church to stay awake, while it keeps falling back asleep. The pastor of course was speaking in generalities; he was speaking to all of us. He didn’t know about this particular little church here in this little village, where, as they sleep, they miss out on the great joy of serving those who Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 – those who are hungry and thirsty and in great need, those who Jesus calls, the least of these my brothers. When they missed out on the opportunity to serve little Nache, they didn’t know it but they missed out on the most incredible opportunity to serve Jesus Himself! If only somehow they would rise up from their slumber …
I lost 22 of my friends these past two months alone – five of them very young children to this merciless virus. There are times I feel at a loss as to what exactly to do, but I trust that the Lord who brought me here and who loves these people even more than I do will guide and direct and provide as always. I teach all day, and encourage my students to work with me in the afternoons and on the weekends, and through it all to keep on praying for a cure – and in the meantime to use all of us to be His hands and His feet to help as many people as we can. I want my students to understand that when we help the neediest, those who are hurting the most, those who are in despair, that what we’re doing are profound acts of worship. Sing in the choir, give of your tithes and offerings, share the Gospel, and grow in knowledge and in truth – but never miss an opportunity to do good unto those Jesus Himself calls the least of these. That’s what I want my students to learn …
In His service,