This was the first UNSPONSORED site we visited on this trip and the difference was astounding. These children showed visible signs of malnutrition – yellow eyes, discolored skin and hair, distended bellies. They were literally in dirty rags and they were a kind of dirty you have likely never seen. There was absolutely no sign of hygiene. They had open sores on their bodies that were oozing with infection. They had to walk FAR to find water (although they had a water pump nearby that had been broken for months…we were able to give them $80 to fix the part so that the 5,000 people in the camp could have water again - $80!!). To say that sponsorship makes a difference is a gross understatement.
Children were shaking our hands while kneeling on the ground. It felt so strange to have someone literally bowing to me. They were shy at first…some ran away from us crying. I’m sure for some of them it was the first time they’d ever seen a white person, so I can only imagine what must have been going through their mind. There was a major language barrier since no one knew English. We had several people with us who translated and I have to say that as cheesy as it might sound I found that love truly transcends any barrier. I was able to give smiles, hugs, back rubs and sing with the kids. We taught the kids to sing “Jesus Loves Me”…Sarah and I led the song and hand motions while they repeated the words. Rita then translated to the children what they were singing. That was SO important to me. More than anything on this trip I have just wanted to communicate and show these children that their Father in Heaven loves THEM…He knows their names. While I might have encouraged them momentarily ultimately they need to know that there is a God in heaven who cares for them and walks with them always. I want them desperately to know the truth of that. People come and go and will disappoint them, but as Lamentations says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to end”.
So, I left them praying for that truth to be planted deeply in their heart. But now that I have seen their situation I am responsible for more than that. These people are in DIRE circumstances and situations. The fact that there were children running around with gaping wounds in their head with no means to care for it just devastated me. I pictured my little girls running around in pain and with festering sores and infection while I stood by helpless to do anything. I cannot imagine that being the norm like it is in Ngariam.
So, as I was taking all of this in, one of our team leaders asked my friend Sarah and I if we would be willing to go help an older woman they encountered. Of course we went. I had no idea what we were walking into. This woman’s name was Mary Ida and she was elderly. We were told that as some of our team members had been walking through the village they encountered this woman lying literally face down in the dirt. They actually thought she was dead until they saw her head move. There were other village women walking by her yelling at her to pull her dress down because parts of her body were exposed. This woman was not able to move and was receiving no compassion from the people around her. Since the guys didn’t know if it would be appropriate to help her they went and got Sarah and I.
As Sarah and I approached her my heart just broke. There she was lying in the dirt – literally a pile of skin and bones. Her bones were protruding from her skin. Part of her toes were gone. She had gaping holes where her toes met her foot. Her legs and hands were swollen. Her hands had wounds and sores on them. She laid there blinking at us. Our travel partner, Rita, asked the women around her what her story was. Apparently she suffers from jiggers which are worms that make their way into her feet. They have left her with infection which has made it almost impossible for her to walk because of the pain. Her hands suffer from something similar. Her husband is dead as all are all her children. Her son’s widow tries to care for her as she can but has no resources to give her what she really needs. She said Mary was traumatized by all the loss in her life and the fact she is alone.
The first thing we did was pray for her… we asked for God to be present with her and to bring her comfort and peace. We then asked if we could move her into her hut so we could care for her. Apparently her hut was in disarray so they led us to another hut that literally had nothing in it. It had a thatched roof and a dirt floor. Two women from the village picked her up and carried her into the hut for us. We only had one pair of gloves so Sarah said that she would be the one to actually tend to her wounds. We only had a first aid kit with us so we laid Mary on the floor while she groaned in pain. We had a bottle of water which we gave her to drink. I’ve never seen someone gulp water down like that – she was SO thirsty. We had a bowl with water to lift her feet into. Sarah gently washed her feet which were bleeding and covered in flies…the whole time Mary was crying out in pain. It was probably the most heart wrenching thing I have ever been a part of in my life. Sarah kept saying, “I know, Mary…I’m sorry it hurts…I’m just trying to help…God help Mary”. After Sarah washed her feet we treated them with anti-bacterial ointment and wrapped them in gauze to protect them as best we could. It was just a bandaid on a much larger problem but it was all we could do. We did the same for her hand which had open, festering sores.
I wanted to cry through the whole thing. I wanted to turn and run. But I knew that Jesus would be right there where we were doing what we were doing. He was using us to wash her feet, to hold her hand, to bandage her wounds, to whisper words of comfort, to say her name, to pray for her. I felt God’s presence in that little mud hut – it was palpable.
And you know what? When we finished Mary looked up at us and actually smiled then laughed. She laughed. Here was this lady that literally could have been left for dead in the dirt with the African sun beating down on her LAUGHING! The way that she looked up at us when we were finished is something I will NEVER, EVER forget. I think I saw Jesus looking back at me.
One of the things I wanted most of all from this trip was to glimpse God in a new way. I glimpsed Him today in Mary. We probably spent 30 minutes with Mary today and they may have been some of the most important minutes of my life. As badly as my heart hurt for Mary I know God’s heart hurt for her so much more than mine. He felt her pain and loved her so much He sent us to her on this day to love her, to touch her, to BE Jesus to her.
I really can’t put words to what I feel in my heart right now…it’s simply overwhelming – overwhelming that God allowed me to be a part of Mary’s life today…overwhelming that there is such suffering in the world while this would be unthinkable in America. But I’ll save that as well as what I saw with the children in Ngariam for another post. For now, I just want to be in this moment.