Compassion for the Sufferer

I accompanied a very ill friend on a medical evacuation by plane from Juba to Nairobi with AMREF.  She was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of Nairobi Hospital.

Every system of her body was fighting a war against a host of invaders – parasites, bacteria, and fungi.  The medical treatments to help fight those off cause more damage to other organs.  The medical treatments equally invaded her body  – chest tube through the ribs into the lung sac, breathing tube from mouth to her lungs, central line under the collar bone to a vein, catheter into her bladder, feeding tube through the skin to her stomach, tracheotomy tube through a hole in her throat, naso-gastric tube from nose to stomach, blood draws by needle into every vein in both arms, lumbar puncture needle into her spinal cord to get a sample of fluid, and it goes on. My heart asks, “Why?”  What is the good in the end of this suffering? 

A few months earlier, I had the privilege to stand next to this friend during a time of worship with other Christian expats in Juba.  Her worship drew me close to our God with her, and God started telling me about how much he loves her and all the things he loves about her and has planned for her, her purpose in her current influential job, and how he prepared her for it.  It was such a beautiful expression of love for her, and he downloaded it into my heart so that I could share in his love for her.  That prepared me for loving her through a few of (what I hope to be) the darkest moments in her life, and maintaining hope for the things God told me she would accomplish.

I am forever changed by witnessing her suffering and feeling extreme compassion: caring for this sick sufferer, hearing her whimper in pain, seeing in her eyes how scared and alone she feels, struggling for breath, unable to move in weakness, tubes from everywhere, needle prick bruises all over her arms.  She is naked and her hair is a greasy mess.  How can I show her dignity?  How can I relieve her worry, her pain, her confusion, her suffering?

The small, still voice said, “Compassion is the highest calling.”  I will expend myself for her sake.  I understand better what the nurse in Mozambique meant when she said she would expend herself unto death to care for the malnourished babies of HIV+ parents.  She wouldn’t take a holiday because of her compassion for God’s suffering children.  I thought it was foolish, and now I feel the same.  If it were my choice, I could easily give up everything to stay with her through the suffering until she is well and healthy.  I’d go anywhere and do anything.  It feels holy but exhausting.  It is what Jesus did.  He stayed to the end, full of compassion for His brothers and sisters, the people of His Father’s kingdom.  He expended Himself to the last breath.  And He was glorified.

It was difficult to leave her there in the hospital, even knowing that others would visit her and care for her.  In the airport, waiting to catch my flight to return to Juba 3 long days later, the weight of the compassion, the strength I’d had, the weight of the hope I maintained, all came crashing, collapsing, imploding into itself in my heart.  I should have let it all out but I held it together through the flight, through dinner, through socializing at the team house, through the night, through the early flight in the morning to the field site in Maban County, through work, and through life.  I buried it under all the other traumas I’ve sustained of witnessing evil in this world.

She is now recovering and has quite some rehabilitation ahead of her.  Please pray for full recovery!


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