It was as though time stood still for a moment as my eyes focused in on a little angel sitting on a blanket in the middle of our AIDS day crowd. Her emaciation was frightening, but her bright eyes and calm spirit caught my attention. Over 300 of my friends who are HIV+ had already gathered outside our clinic waiting for the doctors and nurses who were supposed to be coming from town. And that’s when we got word that they wouldn’t be coming from town because they couldn’t get any fuel for their vehicles. That meant we were “on our own” – and it would be a long, long day for Msafiri and Dicta seeing all of these hundreds of people without all of the other doctors and nurses. The miracle of us even having this beautiful building, the miracle of having our own students Msafiri and Dicta to help all of these people in such a caring way, the miracle that all these people were alive! Easy to daydream surveying the whole huge crowd of people. But there was this little girl sitting there all by herself in the midst of it all. No one claimed to be her mother or relative as I asked around.
I remembered that it was early in the morning that I had been told that a lady had collapsed in the forest while walking to the clinic. This precious little 2 ½ year old girl was almost certainly her daughter. Someone, it turned out, had picked her up and carried her up the hill and dropped her off, and now here she was, sitting quietly on a blanket in the midst of all of the hustle and bustle of the chaos of our AIDS day. Later, when the mom, weeping in agony, was carried through the huge crowd, I watched Msafiri step right in to take care of her. I remember teaching him English years ago, a scrawny little kid back then, and now there he was dressed in his white coat with his stethoscope around his neck, stepping through the crowd to tend to this woman. Her high fever and arched back and pain indicated it was probably meningitis and so he quickly gave her a high power injection. Her face was so contorted in pain I couldn’t make out if I knew her or not. Christina, one of my friends who helps out with everything now, quickly became the baby’s mom for the day, carrying her everywhere on her back, as she pitched in with the rest of the gang of volunteers helping Msafiri and Dicta take care of all of those hundreds of people.
As I sat at the computer that night helping to input data, it suddenly all came together in my brain. The woman was Agnes! She was in such pain she was unrecognizable. But she was the dear woman who had stopped by my house just before Christmas to tell me that her four-year old had just died. She told me she couldn’t stay long, she was on her way to the hospital, that others were carrying her little 2 ½ year old who was sick, but that she just wanted to let me know. And the baby she was talking about that day just before Christmas was the one she was trying to bring to the clinic today.
When it all “clicked” in my brain, I decided I would go the next day to find Agnes and to see her and her baby. I finally got to her house. There are levels of poverty, and Agnes’ situation is truly at the bottom. No blanket, no soap, no clothes for her children, not even any food at their house. Her life is unimaginably difficult. What would I possibly do if I were her? Despair wanted to wash right over me. But all I could see in her was her dignity and her deep love for her children that seemed to crowd everything else out. Poverty and AIDS had not robbed this mom of her soul. When she had come to my house before Christmas, her calmness and presence of mind in a bad situation had struck me. I remember asking myself how would I handle a life like hers. And now here I was again seeing a woman who by anyone’s standards should be overwhelmed by the death of her child and her own sickness which dragging her relentlessly lower and lower into poverty. And yet she was a woman of dignity and strength. I so admire her.
We will, of course, do what we can to help Agnes. Her baby will get food. We’ll get the child’s blood work taken to Mudabulo on Tuesday. We’ll find blankets, clothes and food for the rest of the kids. It’s difficult, impossible even, to make it all better. But what everyone here sees and feels is that it is, for all of us who get to be here, a privilege to get serve Agnes, and all those like her. This is what we are teaching our students and this is what we love seeing them come to understand. My heart is full of gratefulness to all of you who helped us build this clinic. I’m thankful for all of you who helped us build our schools so that Msafiri and Dicta and so many others would even get the chance to go to school. I appreciate all of you who pray for more workers to join in this work with us. And I want to say thank you to all of you who keep on praying for my friends here! We enter the new year thankful we get to be a part of what He is doing in these villages. It is far beyond what we could have ever imagined possible when we started.