“So these people are Pentecostal, right?” Jim whispers to me after the service.
“Um, no. These people are Afrikan“.
A tiny little schoolhouse of a church, yet there were a couple hundred packed inside. The half dozen teenage girls swayed and belted their Mampruli songs toward our front seat. A pastor praised God for his faithfulness.
Zach didn’t last the full two hours (a short service here;) So Jim took him outside. I could see them run after a few of the local kids past the open windows. How I envied that cool air. Eventually the open windows were clouded by outdoor guests leaning into every one of them.
We had come with the American ordained pastor/homeschool dad and his OB/GYN wife and two girls–I sat in the front of the truck while the rest took their Sunday best to the back for a bumpy half hour ride.
When Jim came back into the room, there was no room for him on the front bench, so he plopped Zach in the remaining space and kneeled on the floor ahead of me. Though he didn’t see it, the drummer trio giggled at him. What was he, a western man, doing on the floor? Quickly a space opened up beside Zach. Don’t know where that space came from, but there was space.
A few words of English were spoken as the pastor for the day was the homeschool dad that drove us. He told us not to worry, it really would be a half hour sermon, because he was delivering it. He spoke of Peter, afraid when the boat nearly capsized, afraid when he was called to walk on water toward Jesus. He spoke of his own experience fishing the day before, seeing a boat just across the water, he’d hoped to walk out to, until he saw the crocodiles coming his way. The pastor spoke of not being afraid when God calls us to something.
After the service, we had our family Christmas photo taken in front of the neighbouring huts. I saw a toddler crying, surprised that no one went to console her. So I walked to pick her up. As she turned, she burst into frightful tears, eyes wide with terror. Who was this washed out lady? Everyone just laughed at her.
The children approached me and I asked their names. Naturally, few could tell me, because few had any idea what I was saying. One boy would prompt each child in their local dialect what I was asking. They would then tell me their names, their ages and want to shake my hand, sneak a touch of my funny coloured hand.
As a middle aged woman held her arm to walk, the ninety year old woman giggled as she held out her hand to shake mine too. And the half dozen fifteen year olds that sang and danced up front, they’d shared a bench with Madelyn and her new American friend Sarah-Grace by the windows–they nearly threw themselves at me to shake my hand. Was it a dare?
On peds rounds today, the other doctor rounding with Jim told him that he had to go to the OR for an amputation. Jim’s line became much longer.
One woman was moved up to the front of the line sitting a foot away from us. Her five month old son, cachetic. He did not look healthy. I wanted to photograph as Jim unwrapped the stethoscope around his neck. I paused. Somehow, it didn’t seem right.
The mother, wet tears down her face. The father standing beside her, concerned, in his stoic kind of way. I came around to put my arm around her as everyone watched me. This is not what is done. I did it anyway.
I sat down. There were no words. Just an energy I received from them that told me I should leave the camera in my lap and put my hand on her arm after her husband passed the folder to Jim. The infant was admitted within the last hour. Query pneumonia? Clearly the child was malnourished for a long time. I stroked his head: warm, rough and fuzzy.
Jim suggested there were no noticeable respirations, no heart sounds. He turned to the nurse, who looked unconcerned, expressionless. “Tell her that her baby is very unwell“.
Jim would tell me later that he would be biding time, hoping to be certain that what he thought he was seeing was really happening. That the baby was in fact dead. That he wouldn’t say so, then the baby burst into tears or gasp for breath. In his mother’s arms still, Jim performed two finger CPR and listened again.
“I am sorry. Your baby has passed.” She knew. Her eyes were wet. She said nothing.
I did my western best not to burst into tears, rather bite my lip hard and breathe deeply while I winced and cried.
They’re not Pentecostal. Well some of them are. And some of them are Catholic and Baptist and Muslim. Mostly they are Afrikan. God must be faithful. They must not be afraid. They must continue to rejoice. God is good.
Signs of encouragement are plastered on the hospital walls, in English and Mampruli. They are expressive in their joys because these people must repeatedly face their tragedies.