How can I tell you about this trip? How can I tell you about Africa?
I could start with Saturday. It was the hardest day.
I could tell you that just one other member of the team and I went to a hospital like I’ve never seen before. I could tell you I saw beds lined up two feet apart, mothers who’d just had a C-section recovering together, 10 beds to a section, crowded together with their families because nurses don’t administer care, they just administer meds. You bring your own medical supplies, your own food, your own sheets for the bed. The nurse who led us around was very pleased at how many beds were empty and then they told us they’d discharged 22 patients that very morning — a number higher than the empty beds. She was so happy no one was on the floor. Lord, have mercy.
I could tell you about the kids I saw in the pediatric ward, all of them (ALL of them) with malaria, lined up on benches to get their IVs connected, a few with IVs in their hands, several in their heads, and a couple in their necks. An IV in a child’s carotid artery because the veins in their arms and heads are too collapsed to get a line in. Christ, have mercy.
But the thing that really wrecked me, the sight that I will never forget, was the boy in the nutrition center.
These are children who are starving (“wasting,” they call it). Children who can’t keep food down anymore because their bodies have gone so long without. Their mothers learn how to nurse them back to health, then take them home and hopefully the cycle doesn’t start again, but it probably does, because it starts with just plain not enough food to feed all the mouths.
There were two mothers sitting under a huge tree on mats, trying to feed their two babies. They looked hopeful. Their children looked like they’d make it.
But sitting right in front of us as the nurse was talking, there was a boy whose face looked at least 4 or 5 but whose body was the size of a small one-year-old. He was sitting all alone on his mat, no one around him, the nurse wondered if his mama was somewhere nearby but for the moment he was all alone.
He sat vacant, drooling, grinding his teeth. Maybe he was also handicapped, but I didn’t think it when I was there. I thought he just looked wildly hungry. I looked at the nurse as she was talking for a while, because he was hard to watch.
Then I heard a whisper: Look at him. Look at him until your eyes burn.
And so I muscled my eyes back to the place where he sat, and it got worse. His head started weaving around, his eyes going into spasms. I kept looking, swallowing the lump in my throat, blinking fast. I whispered a prayer for mercy, whatever that meant for him. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
I said in my heart, I won’t forget you. Your life matters. I will remember you.
From the time we walked up to the nutrition area to the time we walked away, no one had come to help him. I didn’t help him. I couldn’t. I walked away with weak knees and a weaker promise.
I will remember you. Your life matters.
When we got back to the rest of the team, I climbed into our van and cried for an hour. My tears remained right there on the surface the rest of the evening.
I could tell you to do something for these children. I could encourage you to sponsor someone, to give aid, to come here and help, to follow your anger and find your passion and do just one thing, but I didn’t know how to help this little boy, and so I don’t know how to tell you to help, either.
There are things we can do, but is it ever enough? Or maybe God was doing something bigger. Maybe he was gently letting me know that I can’t do it alone, and I can’t fix it with one trip to Africa, or twenty, and even one organization doing good work isn’t enough for all of it. None of us will be able to solve all of it. But seeing what I saw means I can’t do nothing.
I will remember you. Your life matters.
I know Jesus loves that little boy desperately, and maybe that’s the whole point. In this whirlwind of a trip we saw a lot and some of it blurs together and taking a step back to take in all the need we saw in a single trip can be overwhelming. But maybe shining a spotlight on one little boy is the point. That every single life matters, and that Jesus has promised that little boy that he will never leave him and he will never forsake him, so even if he looks forsaken I can have faith.
I can join in his work, I can look until my eyes burn, I can hand over my heart to be broken over and over and then maybe I’ll begin to glimpse the Father’s heart, so that where there is hate and brokenness and pain, I can work with Him to sow love and redemption and healing.
It’s not up to me. But in letting me see that boy, God lets me see part of his heart, and He didn’t have to. He invites me to join in his redemptive work in this world, one life and one hurt at a time, but I can say no.
But saying yes to God? Glimpsing more of his heart and letting go of my concerns for a little while? It will always be worth it. It will always change me — not break me, but transform me into more of the woman God saw in me from the beginning.
And so even now, halfway home with thoughts slowly transitioning from African time back to my normal life with my babies, even though my eyes still burn and my weak promise still stands, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed.
In other words? Love wins.