This past Wednesday, Travis and I found ourselves at the hospital at the orthopedic surgeon's office again. This time with a two day old baby whose left foot was twisted and deformed and needed to be set in a plaster cast. While there we met a little girl with metal rods sticking out of her leg from a surgery that she had had five months ago after breaking her leg at school. Her leg had become infected around each rod, because they had been in her leg too long. Her parents could not afford the instrument fee for the surgery to remove the rods and the infection was now spreading all over her body. After hours of waiting, we talked to the hospital director who agreed that she must be admitted, put on antibiotics, and have the rods removed as soon as possible.
This was a typical day for us...Bring someone to the doctor, end up at the hospital for hours, and meet someone else in greater need than the person we brought. And the cycle just continues with each visit to the hospital. It pains me so much to see the poor not get the medical treatment they need, so even though this is not the ministry I dreamed of, this is the ministry we seem to do the most of lately.
The next day we went back to the hospital to check on the little girl to make sure she was getting the antibiotics that she needed. We were "accidentally" sent up to the third floor. As I walked up to the nurses station to ask which ward our little friend was in, I noticed that there was some commotion going on behind me. As I turned around, my heart sank. There were nurses performing CPR on a baby right in the middle of the hallway. There is no ICU, so patients needing special care and attention are placed in the hallway right in front of the nurse's station.
I immediately turned around and motioned to Travis and Olivia and the two other missionaries with us to pray. We all stood around that bed and prayed. We prayed and prayed and prayed for a miracle. We begged God to save this baby. All the great scripture quotes flooded my head as we prayed, "Ask and you shall receive, lay hands on the sick, whatever you ask in my name will be given, signs and wonders will accompany you..." I knew God was going to save this baby. That's why He sent us here.
After about 10 minutes, which seemed like years to me, the baby was pronounced dead. Right in front of us. Travis and the two other missionary men immediately knelt down by the bed and prayed over the lifeless body of that baby. I stayed back with Olivia and begged God one last time for one breath, just one breath, one movement, just one movement. But there was no movement, no breath.
I stood watching in disbelief. I think I went through all the stages of grief in a blink of an eye. I was in denial. Surely, God would not have sent us up here to watch a baby die. Then I became angry with Him for not saving that baby when we prayed so hard for a miracle. Then I tried to bargain with Him to just revive that baby. Wouldn't a miracle like that draw all these people around closer to You? Wouldn't that be an awesome way to take away everyone's doubt? I was just about on the verge of breaking down into a heap of tears when I finally realized that God was not going to bring this baby back to life.
But right at that moment I heard the most heart wrenching cry that I have ever heard---the cry of a mother for her baby. As I opened my eyes, I saw her sitting on the floor screaming for her baby. I looked around for the father who was just standing there next to the bed in disbelief. I waited for someone to comfort this mother, but no one moved. The dad was in shock, and the nurses had returned to their duties. The other by-standers just watched. That's when I knew why God had sent us to the third floor.
I sat down on the floor and held this mother as she screamed in my ear and cried on my shoulder. She clung to my clothes and sobbed a sob that I will never forget. After what seemed like an eternity, she got up and went to the bedside to see her baby and her husband took over. I didn't think that I could manage another moment there, so I scribbled my name and phone number on a paper and handed it to the doctor and left to check on our little girl who was actually on the second floor. Things after that seemed to just be one big blur.
We arrived at our regular Thursday night bible study and things were more chaotic then usual. The other two families that usually "run" it weren't there, so we were in charge of the night. Thankfully, the visiting missionaries had agreed earlier to share their testimonies and give the teachings. All we needed to do was set up and lead the music ministry. Isaac and Emily were leading the Praise and Worship that night for the first time. I was so proud of the two of them, but as they began to play and we began to sing about how great our God was, all I could think about was that poor mother crumpled on the floor of that hospital. And how my God had failed to show up that day.
The more we sang His praises, the more upset I got, the more I questioned what I was doing here in the Philippines. Jesus cured all kinds of people while on earth and raised people from the dead, then told His disciples in John 14 that they would do the same. He also tells them that whatever they ask in His name, He will do. Was my faith so weak that I was unable to be the missionary that He called me to be here? Was my faith in Him not strong enough to save that baby? But didn't He say if we had faith the size of a mustard seed that we could move mountains? Was my faith less than a mustard seed? So many scriptures ran through my mind and with each one came more questions? But ultimately they all came back to "WHY?"
Why am I here? Why did you send me to the third floor? Why did you not save that baby? Why did you let my child witness this baby's death? Why should I believe? Why? WHY? WHY? And while all of these questions are racing in my head, the screams and cries of that mother still rang in my ears, and the vision of her on that floor still burned in my eyes. I was mad at the nurses, the doctor, the other by-standers who just walked away like nothing had happened. I was mad at myself for not having enough faith. And I was mad at God.
I went home that night and cried myself to sleep. I cried for that mother as I thought of her going to bed that night without her baby. I cried for my lack of faith, for my lack of trust, for my unbelief. I cried because I felt that the God I had given up everything to follow had abandoned me when I needed Him most or worst of all didn't even exist. I have never felt so alone and empty in all my life.
I woke the next morning to my phone ringing. It was an unknown number. My heart sank as I realized that the events of the previous day were not a dream and that it would be that family on the other end of the phone. "Dear God, if you are real, give me the words to speak." I answered to hear a man's voice on the other end asking if I was the one from the hospital. I muttered out a "Yes." Then he asked if we could come to their house and meet with them. Again, the word "Yes" came out of my mouth. He gave me directions, and I hung up the phone.
Later that day, we took our two good friends, Ricky and Irene, with us and made our way to a neighboring town to actually meet this couple. We prayed on the way for God to give us the words to say, the courage to say them, and the strength to stand. We arrived at the uncle's house where the couple was staying and entered the living room to find the baby laid out on the coffee table. I had told myself that the baby would be there because I had already heard stories about the hospital sending deceased babies home in a box. But I was not really prepared to see it laid out that way right when we entered the house.
We all knelt down beside the body and prayed. I prayed again for God to give me the words that needed to be said. But again words were not needed, the young mother sat next to me and hugged me. She held my hand, and I wrapped my arm around her shoulder. We sat like that for awhile. Then the owner of the home explained to us that the baby's name was April Jay, he was one year old, he had had pneumonia, and his parents were so poor that they couldn't afford to bring him to the hospital. And by the time they found enough money to go to the hospital it was too late.
I didn't think my heart could break any more than it was, but to think of the suffering of this child, of this mother, of the poor around the world, it crumbled to pieces. Knowing that your baby is sick and dying, but not having enough money to get the help that could save their life...I can not even begin to imagine how that must feel. As a mother, there have been numerous times that I felt helpless when my children were sick, but never have I experienced the helplessness that this family felt. And the little bit of faith that I had found again earlier, quickly vanished.
All the way home I couldn't think of anything but how much the poor of the world suffer. A mother is about to bury her child because she couldn't come up with enough money to get to the hospital. Doesn't the bible say that "God hears the cry of the poor?" Then came all the emotions again. I went from being sad and heartbroken to mad and angry again. I was mad at the government. I was mad at our world. I was mad at all of the rich of the world who have no idea what suffering really is. I was mad at myself for all those years of turning a blind eye to the reality of the poor. And I was mad at God again.
Throughout the next day, I tried to pray. I tried to read my bible. I tried to find answers. I tried to mustard up the smallest bit of faith.
On Sunday morning our family, along with Ricky & Irene and their family, piled in the van to make the 45 minute trip to the chapel for the funeral. I still didn't really understand God's plan or why He didn't hear our prayer and the cry of this family. I was strictly going for moral support and nothing else. But God had other plans, of course. During the ceremony, I was called up to give the funeral "message" aka the homily since there wasn't a priest available. Are you kidding me? I was the least qualified person in that room to give a "message" from God about this particular situation. "OK, Lord, you better work a miracle now."
I stood up and walked to the front of the chapel praying for words of wisdom. I introduced myself and our family and told of how we came to meet this beautiful couple. Then all these crazy things started coming from my mouth like "God put me there on the 3rd floor for a reason, that His plan is always better than our plan, that He can bring so much good from suffering, that He uses tragedy to bring us closer to Him, that He does hear their cries, that He wants them to completely turn their hearts to Him, to trust Him completely, etc."
These were all the things that I had known and believed a week ago, but had buried down in the bottom of my heart the past few days. When I sat down, I realized the "message" I gave was exactly what I, myself, needed to hear. God was speaking through my mouth directly to my heart. He was answering all my "Why's?" and reminding me that He had not abandoned any of us that He was right there in our midst through it all. He told me that He does hear the cry of the poor and that's why He sent me---to be His shoulder that they cry on.
It was so humbling to think that He chose me for this great mission. He sent me, with all my faults, with all my failings, with all my doubts, with all my sins, to be His hands and feet and His shoulders. But not only is He calling me, He is calling each one of us to be the body of Christ here on earth to all those we meet: the sick, the suffering, the poor, the rich, the old, the young.