If you’ve followed this blog over time (October and November 2013), you’ll remember a desperately ill boy, named Jonah. Jonah was flown from a remote region of Samburu to Kijabe with end stage tuberculosis.
The infection had eroded through his spine, causing complete paralysis from the waist down. He went through a very difficult hospitalization, including three surgeries, one of which was complicated by cardiac arrest. Miraculously, he survived this ordeal, and was able to return to his village and the loving arms of his mother. He never recovered from the lack of oxygen to his brain during his cardiac arrest, however, and required assistance for feeding and all his activities. Sadly, I received an email last week that Jonah had died in his home in Samburu.
Jonah’s short and difficult life reflects the daily struggles of so many in Africa. In reality, Jonah died from poverty, which led to malnutrition, which weakened his immune system, which allowed the devastating infection to take over his precious little body.
And so this is the struggle….an adversary so large and powerful that it’s easy to lose hope. Easy to think that our puny effort is too small, that children starve and die of infections, and wars break out, and relationships fracture, no matter how hard we try.
But this would miss the point entirely. The point was never that what you or I do is enough, or sufficient, or even begins to scratch the surface. We are small, we are broken, we can make little difference, no matter how hard we try. The point, I think, is this: we live in a broken, fallen world, where this type of suffering and loss is a constant reality. Our choice is to succumb to the darkness, or numb ourselves to it, or, on the other hand, to embrace and be the light the world so desperately needs.
Through a long searching journey, I’ve come to believe that the outlandish story told in the bible is true: that there is a God, that He created and loves us, and took on earthly existence so He could enter history and redeem this world. His entrance into space and time set up an irreconcilable conflict, between darkness and light.
The Bible says “the whole world lies in the power of evil” (1 John 5:19). That’s a dismal thought. We live in a world ruled by evil, so what’s the point of striving for goodness, for light, for an end to suffering? If we live in North Korea, what is the point of resisting Kim Jong Un? If we live in a world dominated by materialism, what is the point in living simply? If children get sick and die before they can enjoy life, what is the point in expending tremendous time, energy, and money to try to save just one child?
The point is this: the battle is a worthy one, and we don’t fight alone.
The Gospel of John begins with this poem:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
“The Word”, in Greek, Logos, refers to Christ, and is the root word of logic, or order. So you could paraphrase this poem to read, “In the beginning was order…” So the Christian world view is that this world is meant for order, not chaos. Health, not suffering. Peace, not violence. Relationship, not isolation. Christ came into the world as the light, and the darkness cannot, and will not, overcome it.
The good news is that we get to choose sides, choose our commanding officer. As the great Canadian sage (and lead singer of Rush) Geddy Lee said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” CS Lewis, former atheist and one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, described it as “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
By choosing the light, by choosing to be servants of “the rightful king”, our puny efforts become part of a larger effort to make this suffering world a little more like the kingdom of order it was created to be.
So how does Jonah fit into all of this? Is it God’s will that innocent children suffer and die?
I don’t believe so. I don’t think I’d much like a father who’s plan included the suffering of his children. Rather, I believe our Father loves us so much he gave us choice, allows us to reject Him, allows the human race to choose pride and this broken world over servant-hood in His kingdom. But like any loving father, he looks for opportunities to intervene in our suffering to spread His light despite the darkness of this world.
So if I am to believe in this God, I have to believe that He suffered with Jonah, and with Jonah’s mother, as Jonah became sick and died. That he loves us so much he came into our world to suffer with us. Compassion: com-with, passio-suffer: to suffer with. I believe God suffers with us, shows compassion for us, as the darkness descends. And one of the ways He shows compassion is to find ways to shine light in the darkest of moments.
Jonah’s life touched thousands of lives. So many people have themselves responded with compassion, with prayers, with support, and with donations so generous that many others have been able to be treated at Kijabe. Here is a statement of some of the very poor patients who came to Kijabe for care, and had their bills simply written off by compassionate donations to the vulnerable orthopedic patient fund, all because of one six year old boy.
One of those being helped by the Vulnerable Patient Fund is Ben Moyie. “Moyie” (moy-yeah) is Ben’s name, but also a swahili outcry of grief. I don’t know why he was named this, but it sadly portrays his life. Ben grew up in an area well known for demonic practices, with an alcoholic father, in abject poverty. He noticed a mass on his left thigh when he was about 12 years old. His family background made it very difficult to get to a doctor. He was eventually seen, and had a biopsy, which showed a benign tumor of his femur, or thigh bone. This continued to grow, and he again had a biopsy done two years ago. The tumor was very large now, but again the biopsy was benign, or non-cancerous. Because of the size of the tumor, he was advised to have it removed. This was far beyond the means of his family, so he did not have the surgery. When the pain became intolerable at age 18, he finally appeared at Kijabe, alone, ten hours bus ride from his home near the Indian Ocean. The tumor was shockingly large, making removal very difficult.
Tragically, by this time, it had transformed into a highly malignant tumor known as osteosarcoma. The only hope for a cure was amputation, through the hip joint.
Understandably, Ben fell into despair at this news. He asked to be sent home to die. He withdrew, refused to speak. The team of doctors and chaplains came again and again to his bedside to pray with him, to talk with him, to suffer with him.
Ann noticed that he had only one light shirt, with holes all over it. The nights at Kijabe are cold, and the hospital has no heating. Ann gave him one of her sweatshirts from the Justice Conference to keep him warm at night.
Amazingly, this somehow turned a switch in Ben. He felt loved, he knew he mattered, he saw a ray of light. He decided he was through with being sick, being in pain, being hopeless, and asked that we go ahead with the amputation.
Ben has been in the hospital since January, is now healed from his amputation and hoping he can be fit with a prosthesis. He’s now 19 years old and hopes for as normal a life as possible. Despite the size of the tumor, there is no sign that it has spread outside of the leg, so we pray for a complete healing.
To be able to walk, Ben will need a very special prosthesis, one rarely made in sub-Saharan Africa. A prosthesis that fits onto his pelvis, with two artificial joints. I’ve talked to the prosthetic specialists here at Kijabe, and they are up for the challenge. With donated artificial joints, the leg can be made for about $3,000, a fraction of what it would cost in the US. Even this reduced amount, however, would represent about four years income to Ben’s family. They would have to sell their ancestral land to buy the leg.
I would like to invite you to donate to the Kijabe Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patients’ Fund. Our church has created a secure giving platform which allows you to make a US tax-deductible donation to help Ben and others like him. There’s no middle man, no administrative cost, your donation goes into an account, and then directly to the patient’s bill. If you are moved to help Ben, you can use the link below to make your donation. You can “Pay as a guest”, and select “Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patient’s Fund”, and we’ll put your donation to work immediately.
Thanks for showing compassion, for “suffering with” these most vulnerable men, women, and children.