Part One: Darkness
On Monday, instead of taking my usual Sabbath, I went home visiting with Leah and Mama Askofu and Mariam. (Don't worry, co-workers, I took my Sabbath yesterday instead.) We had a few families that we were planning to visit, but we have so many kids living close together out in that neighborhood that we ended up visiting several additional families, as well as meeting other parents along the way. All of the children were in school, as they should be, but we had valuable time with their families.
One of the unexpected home visits was to the family of a boy in our program called Saddam. Saddam's older brother has made a previous appearance on my blog, as he is the blind young man who sings so beautifully in the choir. His name is Chimanga. As we left the home of Timo Chidwele, we met with Saddam's mother. She is a very petite woman who is partially paralyzed on her right side. Her arm is almost completely useless to her. I see her often at the church, and greet her and Chimanga, but I'd never been to their home.
As we approached the house, the grandmother greeted us from her home next door. We entered the 10x15 foot room that the mother and her sons live in, and greeted Chimanga. He seems to spend most days sitting in the tiny, dark house, doing nothing. He had dressed very carefully in the much-worn suit he had received from the women in the church, and identified both Mama Askofu and Mariam from the sound of their voices, much to their delight. We sat down on the double bed that all three of them share, and immediately the mother burst into tears. Her mother appeared at the door, and I could tell just from the tone of her voice and the effect her words had on Mama Chimanga that she was being unkind. Sure enough, Mama Askofu politely but firmly dismissed the grandmother and murmured disgust at a woman who would mock her own paralyzed daughter and blind grandson.
Mama Chimanga shared, through tears, the difficulties of their life. While she talked, Chimanga carefully put on a tie, his favorite hat, and one sock, but failed to find its mate. I fought tears of my own imagining the difficulties of a young man with such obstacles, sitting every day in the dark, mocked by his own grandmother, unable to change anything for himself. Yet, this young man has hope in him, hope that is beyond human understanding. He smiles often, and gets great delight from small blessings. He was shining in that dark, stuffy room.
That hope and life has died, almost completely, in his mother. I didn't understand much, but Mama Askofu confirmed what I felt. This woman was on the edge of despairing, on the edge of being consumed with bitterness. I shared a bit that God put on my heart about how Naomi had found herself in a similar position, and had changed her name to Mara, meaning bitterness, but that God did not abandon her. Leah prayed, and all of us, save Chimanga, were wiping tears away as we exited the tiny room to the still-mocking glares of the grandmother.
The family had not eaten that day, and had nothing to prepare for later in the day, so Mama Askofu asked Mama Chimanga to meet us at the church so that we could find some food for her. In the meantime I gave her a bit of money, less than a dollar, to get a few things to eat. As we walked on to the next place, we planned for how we could find work around the church for Chimanga to do, not for pay, since there's no money for that, but at least to give him some hope and encouragement. We began planning to use his talents in working with the children's choirs and writing music, but all of our plans seemed very small in comparison with the desperation of their lives. My parents sent me some additional money this month, so Leah and I are hoping to buy some food for their family and a few other things that they need, and are planning some meetings to see if there are ways we can help them generate an income.
Part Two: Death
Last night I was on my way to Mama and Baba Askofu's home with them and their daughter Grace when Mama received an urgent phone call from our friend Shomary. Shomary is the driver for the church, and he's been a friend for several years. Mama cried out for Baba to stop the truck, and we whipped around and sped to the hospital. Shomary's 3-year-old daughter, Halima, had been hospitalized for malaria, she said, and Shomary was very upset. We arrived at the ward where Halima had been admitted and jumped out of the truck. As soon as Baba Askofu rounded the truck, a woman nearby screamed his name and fell over. It was Shomary's pregnant wife, being supported by her sister-in-law. Baba stood to one side talking with Shomary's brother, while Mama talked to the wife. Grace and I stood by Mama, holding hands and turning alternately from watching the prostrate, weeping woman to Shomary, alone nearby with his head in his hands, also sobbing. I didn't need a translator to understand that the precious little girl had died.
Grace and I climbed into the back of the truck so that there was room to drive Shomary and his wife and sister-in-law to their home. When we arrived, the family members rushed to the truck, having had no news of Halima. The grandmother screamed out, where is the girl?, at which Shomary's wife nearly collapsed again. Soon the all-too-common sound of grieving filled the air as relatives and neighbors heard that Halima was dead.
Baba took us home, then returned to the hospital to help them receive the girl's body for burial the next day. Shomary and his family are Muslims, but they welcomed the pastors who quickly made their way to Shomary's home to sit with the family and help with preparations. The funeral is this afternoon, and the staff of the church will all attend, although only men are allowed to attend the actual burial.
I wish these situations weren't so common. I wish that there was an easy way to help families like Saddam's. I wish that malaria didn't kill so many children under the age of 5. I wish this world was different.
I have to take a lesson from Chimanga. There is hope in the face of darkness and death. There is hope that doesn't come from the circumstances, indeed, it comes in spite of the circumstances. I can wish all I want, and dream of the day when there is no more poverty, no more disease, and no more despair. In the meantime, I cling to hope that there is purpose in all of this tragedy, and that there is opportunity for the peace and love of God to penetrate even darkness and death.