I returned on Friday from my 9th trip to Korah Ethiopia. My good friend Kathleen and I were team leaders on a medical missions team where we set up a mobile clinic in Korah and at the boarding school in Shashamane. Our team consisted of 21 members. We saw and treated over 150 patients a day.
In my mind, mentally I thought this trip would be similar to the other times I have been in Korah. My eyes would be opened to a different way of life, and as I grew in relationships with my friends in Korah, and learned from them, God would guide and direct where we could work together to improve lives and share the love of Jesus. Together we would work to make changes for the good in Korah, in the 'here and now' and the Eternal. As with most who enter into Korah the blessings received, far outweigh the blessings we leave behind. There is much to be learned from Korah.
Generally, I'm not a crybaby while in Korah. I'm able to contain myself and not let my emotions overtake the moment. With God's help, I have been able to be in the moment, without being overcome by the moment. Until this trip I remember just one devastating moment in Korah where the floodgates opened and tears fell uncontrollably. It was the day a 14 year old girl hung herself just 3 doors down from the shelter. She had been sick for a week, and thought she would not recover. it's always been at night when I return to my bed, and I let my emotions go and give way to the gut wrenching thoughts and pain of all the 'what if's' and the 'why God?' questions that come from being submerged into Korah, and that's when the tears fall.
This trip was not like that. Numerous moments during this trip I found myself unable to contain my emotions. My body and my mind gave into the sadness and depths of despair, and a never-ending ache overtook my soul. It was like I was in a dream. And this was a trip that was like no other.
On one of the evenings in the beginning of our trip, as our team sat in the gathering room of the guesthouse, Kathleen and I asked each team member to summarize their feelings about their first day in Korah in one or two words, and then again at the end of the trip we asked them to share what their first word was at the beginning of the trip and what their word was now, after spending 10 days there. It was interesting to hear how team members words changed from words that expressed sadness to words that expressed joy and happiness. To my surprise my words went the opposite direction. My first words were something along the lines of reunion and joy. My last two words were
Yes, those sum it up accurately. Complicated Desperation.
Korah is difficult to understand and I wonder if there will ever be a way to fully understand or analyze it. Korah is made up of a million different moving intricate parts. Recklessness is obvious and arises out of the despair, which is most evident when you start to focus on scars that have formed on the skin of the residents and they begin to share their personal stories of how the scars came into being. Heart scars which affect relationships are tanagible, and surround you everywhere you go in Korah. Korah is a perplexing place, and the more times you visit, the pieces begin to fall together, and the more you think they are falling together you realize that only the surface has been scratched and there are a million more pieces that need to be investigated.
Complicated Desperation. I felt it pierce so deep into my soul this trip I wasn't sure if I'd be able to come out on the other side. I wasn't directly involved in the following situations, I was just a bystander present in the moment.
It was one day in clinic, toward the end of the day. A mother brought her young daughter into the clinic. The baby lay limp in her arms. She was brought to a team members station, a pediatrician and surgeon from Uganda. As Dr. Arlene examined her the diagnosis was not promising. The young mother began to share the history of this small baby, my heart quickly dropped, I could feel the weight of this mothers agony on my shoulders, and my spirit fell hard. The baby, now two years old, had reached all the normal milestones by the age of 1 1/2. She was walking, talking and crawling. Then just 6 months ago the baby had a fever, and quickly began to regress to the point she was now. Unable to sit, walk, crawl or do anything on her own. She lay in her mothers arms just as a newborn baby. As Dr. Arlene continued to examine her she felt the baby had contracted meningitis, and this was the reason for her decline. But as the examination and conversation continued something much closer to home was revealed. This baby also has hydrocephalus and fused sutures. Her 'sunset-eyes' were a tell-tale sign that her inter-cranial pressure has begun to increase and most likely she has started to have headaches similar to a migraine. Her head circumference was much to large for her age. As the doctor listened to her heart is was quite clear that she also had a heart condition. My thoughts immediately went to Juddah and the day that I first held him in my arms and realized that something was not quite right with his head. And then to his diagnosis day of hydrocephalus and fused sutures. And then to the day when the doctor at the Ethiopian hospital told me to 'let him go' they can't do anything for him. like in a movie where you see your life flash before you in fast forward. This baby was a lot like Juddah. And now here we as a team we are in the presence of a two year old with the same condition as Juddah, and we have nothing to offer her. NOTHING. Not even a hospital or doctor to refer her to that could offer the possibility of a future. Nothing that will help her baby get well. Nothing that will help her baby survive. Nothing that will help reverse this horrible condition that has overtaken her little body. Nothing to bring back the little girl she remembers just 6 months ago. Questions ravage my mind, not solutions.... Maybe if the baby were younger? maybe if the baby didn't have a heart condition. Maybe if the baby had been born in the USA. maybe... but maybes didn't and don't matter here.... we have to live in the facts of what is, not in the maybes of what could have happened. I felt as tho I couldn't breathe, I can't even begin to imagine how this mother of this fragile baby continues to courageously go on. The moaning and tears that came from this young mothers belly were indescribable.
Keena a team member who was sorting and distributing clothes to patients was busy picking out a new set of clothes to give to the mama for her baby. She had several new outfits picked out ready to give her. As Keena handed them to me, I couldn't help but think that we were giving the mama new clothes that her baby would be buried in. Oh, sweet Jesus, please don't let my mind go there. But it did. Most likely this baby will not survive to her 3rd birthday due to her heart condition, hydrocephelus, the povety and the infections she will acquire from her surroundings in Korah. Dr. Arlene wrote out an extensive report to a doctor we have a connection with at Brooke hospital in Addis. The doctor there may be able to prescibe some medication that would help slow down the production of CSF fluid. And help with some treatment that would minimally prolong her life. Due to this babies age and progression of her condition there is no hospital who would even begin to entertain the idea of lifesaving treatment for her. And the tears fell. Uncontrollably and unstoppable.
We had nothing. WE HAD NOTHING. But we serve the one who has everything. Our Jesus has everything. So we prayed over and with this mama and her baby. We gave her some Bir to purchase formula for the baby, and to cover the costs of going to Brooke hospital. I hugged her hard not wanting to let her go. It was apparent from the deep sorrow that fell from this mothers eyes she was well aware that the prognosis was not good.
We walked together out the door, hugged and said goodbye. I quickly went to the one place where in the past I felt comfort. Just around the corner was the little house where I first met Sarah and Juddah. I went and sat on the the big stone at the corner of the house. The place where in the past I had felt the presence of the Lord so firmly, so securely, so clearly. This time I went there questioning the Lord... and crying out from the deep dark part of my soul along with the crying came anger!....Why Lord? why would you choose a small baby to endure such pain? Why would you let so many conditions fall on her that could not be fixed? why couldn't she be younger to be a candidate for surgery? why must she regress in front of her mama? Why can't the sickness and poverty just go away?.... why, why, why..... and then in the way that He always does, his voice became so clear.... 'I watched my son endure the cross, I know the pain, fall into me.' I sat head hanging between my knees listening, and waiting.
As I returned to the clinic, sitting at Dr. John's station was another mama, holding a much older boy. This boy was obviously having seizures, every few minutes, and it was a desperate uncomfortable thing to witness. The suffocating heaviness of the moment fell on me, before I could even begin my questioning of the Lord, I heard his words from just seconds before.... 'fall into me,'... and so I did.... I fell into Him. This boy was quite a bit bigger, maybe eight or nine. Again it was an irreversible condition, and the questions for the Lord were the same.
A few days later, I visited a 15 year old at home while she was in the end stages of labor. She had been having contractions for the last 2 days. She had come into the clinic when her labor began and our doctors examined her. The next day she went to the hospital to be checked and they sent her home. She returned home to labor on her mattress on the dirt floor in her hut. Grandma by her side, with family members just on the other side of a curtain that served as a divider and giving her little privacy. No drugs to ease the pain, no preparation for the birth, no infant classes prior to help her thru the first weeks of being a young mama. She was 15 and about to become a mom. Later in the evening I returned, there lying in the bed on the floor beside her was a beautiful baby boy. The new mom had her back turned to the baby, and had no interest in cuddling or bonding with the baby. For now the baby lay sleeping unaware of of his situation. We talked and I admired the precious little boy. We hugged said our goodbyes. The next day my friend went to visit mom and the new baby. When she shared what she had witnessed, again my heart broke and questions arose. The young mom was still lying on her bed with her back to the baby. While my friend was there the baby began to cry and was obviously hungry, my friend suggested to mom that she feed the baby. While the new moms shirt was soaked with breast milk she had no interest in feeding the baby or even holding him. The grandma and the mom both encouraged my friend to take the baby, to bring the baby back to America. Why Lord? why? and the tears fell again..... and His words became clear.... "fall into me"
This was a different trip for me, I was a crybaby while in Korah. The desperation so apparent, the complicated nature of Korah was so 'IN MY FACE' there was no time to rest and regroup and center myself in-between the new situations that arose.