CHICAGO, IL (December 12, 2011) – Editor’s note: Advent is a season for both reflection and anticipation – celebrating the incarnation of Jesus while looking forward to the Messiah’s return and the kingdom of God in all its fullness. It arrives amidst the reality of a world filled with desperate needs, grief, anger and frustration. We find encouragement, however, in celebrating lives being transformed through our shared ministries, reminders of what is yet to come. Covenant News Service will publish occasional Advent reflections on ministry within that reality.
By Tammi Biggs
“Don’t get emotionally involved,” he said to me with an all-knowing look. Dr. Manno knew he was asking the impossible of me.
Her name is Jenny. She is seven years old and diagnosed with cerebral malaria. When I entered the room of the Ebenezer Clinic in Haut-Limbe, Haiti, she was unresponsive, burning up (with fever) and seizing. “She is your patient,” Manno told me. My job for the next two and a half days was to change the cold compresses, trying to cool her down every three minutes, and hold the tongue depressor in her mouth so she didn’t bite her tongue during the seizures. In my limited Creole, I somehow got the mother and grandmother to understand I would stay with Jenny so they could get a much-needed break.
That afternoon, they came back with a host of other people. One older woman kept giving me a cold stare. They tried to get me to leave for a while. I told them I would stay. I then realized the woman that gave me chills was a voodoo priestess. She was directing the mother and grandmother to give Jenny different liquids she had prepared. I stood silently praying for God’s protection – for Jenny and for myself.
The next day I arrived, and Jenny’s mom told me she had missed having me there. I made a special effort to spend a lot of time in the room that day. Her seizing had stopped, but she was still unresponsive. On day three, the mother told Dr. Manno and I that they were taking Jenny home. Manno explained to me the family thinks that voodoo was going to cure her. He explained to the family that our salvation and hope comes from God, not anything else, but ultimately it was the mother’s decision.
After Manno left the room, the mother talked to me for the first time in Spanish. She had never spoken Spanish with me, but in this moment she said, “Dr. Manno is mad at me.” I explained we were both very concerned. I went on to talk about the hope we have in Jesus Christ and our belief that Jenny’s only hope for life is for her to stay at the clinic. The decision had already been made.
I stayed in the room and helped bathe and dress Jenny. Afterwards, I prayed a prayer and blessing over Jenny in Spanish since I knew the mother understood Spanish. The grandma and mother thanked me for everything and I helped carry their things out. I choked back the tears as they loaded Jenny on the back of a motorcycle and drove away.
I got emotionally involved – there is no question. I made a decision, though. I may be the only “Jesus” Jenny and her family was going to see in those days. Some of you may be thinking, “what a strange Christmas letter!” But, as I meditate during this Christmastime on our Immanuel, God with us, I think of the risk Jesus took to come to this world. He was not always recognized and he certainly was not always welcomed. He experienced the pain of a world that rejected the hope he was offering . . . but he came anyway. What an immense sacrifice. What an amazing gift!
So, I get emotionally involved. Isn’t that our role? It sometimes means rejection. It sometimes even causes pain. But then there are times in which someone sees Jesus! So even though I get emotionally involved and cry in the quiet moments, when I think of Jenny, there’s only one thing I can say: I’ll risk it.