Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Walkin' the line between faith and fear"

These past two weeks have been two of the most challenging. There has been a combination of things that lead me say this, which include short bout with a stomach bug, tough cases at the clinic, and missing family and friends. Thankfully, I’m feeling much better and have a little more perspective with which I can look back at those situations. At the clinic, three cases in particular have stood out. Ones that have caused me ask a lot of “Why is this happening?” questions. One involved a three-year-old boy who was for all intents and purposes abandoned by his mother. For two weeks he passed between relations who live at Itipini. When we heard about his situation at the clinic, a social worker was contacted, he received a much-needed bath, some new clothes, and treatment for his ringworm. He’s now gone to stay with a grandmother out of town, but seeing this little boy toted around and talked about like an object rather than a child was difficult. When he left, more of his personality had started to come out and he was playing with the other kids, but I know his future is still very uncertain. I also realize he is one of many children like this at Itipini, in Mthatha, and the world.

Another case involved a woman in her late thirties who has AIDS. She was carried in one day on a stretcher, severely dehydrated and unable to stand. Ben, another volunteer, and I took her to another clinic to receive IV fluids. We brought her home at the end of the day, but the following morning as we drove into Itipini, we were stopped by people telling us she had suffered seizures in the night. We took her to the emergency room, along with her sister. Seeing her and how poorly she looked was scary. I don’t think there’s another word for it. Walking out of the emergency room, I honestly thought she might die. We have since received word that she has gone with another sister to a hospital closer to her homeland in another part of the country.

Finally, this Thursday a young girl, an older woman, and a tiny newborn baby came up to the clinic just as we were packing up to leave. After talking with Jenny and Sister Dorothy, we learned that the young girl of just thirteen had been raped and had just delivered the baby a few days before in the hospital. They all came back Friday to open a new file for the baby, talk about breastfeeding, and how they were all doing. All three of these lives have changed dramatically.

I still have no answer for the “why” questions for what is happening in the lives of all these people. I have been able to see some hope in all three situations though, in that there appear to be family members who are there to help--a grandmother, sisters, and a mother. These individuals have also showed me how important our work at Itipini is whether it’s getting people to the hospital, counseling new mothers, offering a hug to a little boy, or being present with people during times of great pain. We’re doing what we can as best we can, and that is something.

To help balance out these difficult experiences at work and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m thankful to hear updates from family and friends. Conversations, meals shared together, and listening to some good music here at Bedford have also been very welcome. Plus, as you’ll see in some of the pictures there have been many happy times at Itipini too-- including the futbol team posing with their new jerseys, checking out new books in the library, and lots of playing. These have been challenging weeks. Ones that have shown be moments of great pain and love.

Thank you for reading, and peace be with you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Do what you can."

Outside of my rondavel there is a plaque. It was put up in memory of Dr. Chris McConnachie, who came to South Africa over thirty years ago with his wife Jenny, to begin the work that would become African Medical Mission. One of Dr. McConnachie's, or "Prof's," favorite phrases is inscribed on the plaque. It reads, "Do what you can." At the beginning of my third month here in Mthatha, I'm beginning to more fully understand this statement. At times the level of poverty, lack of resources, high rates of HIV and TB that we see daily at Itipini Community Project seem overwhelming. I try to remember Prof's words when I start to feel as if there is little I can do to make a difference. I also keep Micah 6:8 with me, He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” These are two phrases that have been on my mind lately, and I hope stay with me through the coming year. They bring me comfort, but also push me to act and learn from others.

I have also been thankful for the community of volunteers that live here at Bedford and from others working in Mthatha to do what they can. The picture I’ve posted is from one of our Wednesday night dinners that occurs weekly at Jenny’s house. This is a time for good conversation, great food, and to talk about how things are going in our lives. These gatherings and others like them are highlights of my weeks here. They also remind me that, “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are folk just like me, and I mean to be one too” (Hymn 293, BCP).

Happy All Saints’ Sunday!

Hope this finds you all doing well, and thanks for reading.