Where was kindness?

Where was kindness?

It’s easy to focus only on the big picture of things – and when I do it’s hard not to be happy about the hundreds and hundreds of people who are alive today because of the work that we are doing here in Tanzania to help the widows and the orphans and those who are sick with HIV/AIDS. But Jesus talks about hunting after the lost sheep, about scouring the house for the lost coin, and that draws me back to remembering that every single person is important, and that even though I can rejoice with the truly amazing work that is happening at our clinic and the good things that are happening in these villages, I have to also grieve with even the one person who we lose …

And that is why I find myself wondering where was kindness, an encouraging word, a hug or a pat on the back for dear sweet Margaret when she had gone down to the cancer hospital in Dar es Salaam? In those dark moments, wasn’t there anyone with something to offer to her that could have swung her back from her pit of despair?

I had worried about sending Margaret to Dar to get a biopsy for the cancer eating away at her nose. She was one of my dearest friends living with AIDS, but she has spent her whole life in the village and that big city was a frightening place for her. The city is a dangerous place for anyone, but especially for someone like Margaret. Anything can happen to people like Margaret when they end up in that place. So I sent her with Doto, who was already getting radiation therapy there at the hospital in the city, plus I gave her a phone so that she could keep in contact with people, and I gave her money to get her there and back.

It was during her trip to Dar that I returned to the States. I had a nagging feeling in my heart that this just wasn’t going to work out. We had helped her for over seven years and I always enjoyed visiting with her. I really found myself loving her. The hole digging through her nose had even stopped for a few years and then after years of leaving her alone, it started again. She was a hard working widow, a mother of five and truly a beautiful basket weaver. I always enjoyed being with her.

While in the States, I couldn’t help but think of her. And then I got the sad word that she had died. The cause, they said , was that she had “lost hope.” I just couldn’t “get it.” How could she have lost hope? And what exactly did they mean that she had “lost hope”, and how did that mean that she had died?

Once back in Tanzania, I started visiting those who needed follow up. I went to see Doto who had accompanied Margaret to the hospital. Although he was quite ill with pneumonia, he practically jumped up to tell me the news about Margaret – that she had killed herself at the hospital in Dar. I was shocked. She was to go that morning to start cancer treatment. The day before she had been told by the doctors that they would “choma” her at the cancer hospital. Now I know what that that is what they mean when they say that a person will undergo radiation treatment, but literally it means that a person will be “burned in a fire.” The fear of what she didn’t understand and the stress of it all was just too much and this precious soul decided to give up. I wish there had just been someone with a kind and encouraging word, maybe a pat on the back, or even an explanation of a relatively easy treatment?

The shock that one of my friends would choose this step was overwhelming. There was a part of me that was ready to wrap things up and say “enough is enough” and that I just can’t bear the pain of this place anymore that wrenches my soul so often. To fixate on the 99 sheep who aren’t lost requires no pain, no sacrifice and it doesn’t hurt – there’s only joy there. But seeking after and longing for the one sheep who is lost hurts. It is filled with the unknown, and I am again reminded that it is not always crowned with success.

During Margaret’s seven-year long journey with HIV/AIDS that she and I walked together, she came to meet the Great Physician. My hope remains in Him and in Him alone. My service to Him will continue on even if so much along the way is heartbreaking. And that is what I want my students to understand as they also get involved in serving Him. I don’t want them to believe that they are only to serve when it feels good. I don’t want them to believe that they are only to serve when success is easily grasped. I don’t want them to believe that they are only to serve when there is no pain. They need to know that if they are going to serve, and serve lovingly, that their lives won’t be only full of joy. There will be, for them, the painful days as well.