Monday, January 11, 2010

The Modern Leper

I just finished reading "Everybody Wants to Change the World, Practical Ideas for Social Justice".  It was a good book touching on a number of justice issues. It provides the reader resources for how they might get involved in implementing positive social change, from a biblical perspective.
Chapter 7 entitled "The Sick and Disabled", particularly impacted me.  This chapter focused on the AIDS epidemic and as I read, I learned that Worlds Aids Day falls on December 1st. This is an issue very close to my heart, having seen the affects of AIDS first hand in Africa and just recently returning from serving in the AIDS hospice in Cambodia. In fact, my mind immediately started to crunch the numbers, trying to establish when it was that I was in Cambodia.  I quickly realized that December 1st was the day my mind was held captive on the long bus ride back to Thailand, as I worked through copious scenarios, trying to establish, if and how I could continue to serve those I met in the Poi Pet AIDS hospice.  With offer and opportunity, I  felt compelled to remain in Cambodia serving at the hospice.  The connections I made there were powerful, the stories unforgettable.

Before I share a personal story, let me establish for you some facts. I looked up the UN Global report on Aids which is issued every 2 years (2008) and found the following. An estimated 33 million people were living with HIV in 2007. There were 2.7 million new HIV infections and 2 million AIDS-related deaths last year and of those 500,000 were children. "In some regions of the world entire villages have been decimated in places where parents, teachers, administrators and commerce leaders succumbed to the disease."  I witnessed this first hand in Malawi, where children living with AIDS were orphaned because their parents had succumbed to the same disease.  This left a population of the very young and very old.  Where the very old would take care of the very young, until they themselves passed on, leaving children raising children.

AIDS is not just a 3rd world issue.  In North America approx. 1.2 million people are living with AIDS. In 2007 alone, there were 54,000 new infections and 23,000 deaths.

Such a significant decimation of human life and yet since the diseases' sinister inception, many maintain the same attitudes of those in the days of Jesus who responded to the lepers  with  "unclean! unclean! unclean! "Clear the way! Don't close enough to touch them or you yourself may becoming infected! Yet Jesus held the hands of the lepers.  He touched them, soothed them and comforted them."

This was my blessed and privileged experience in Cambodia to care for the least of these. It was at the Cambodian AIDS hospice that I saw first hand and got to live out the calling that Mother Teresa so eloquently demonstrated, coming alongside those in need, the oppressed and dying. Enabling them to live with hope and die with dignity. Galatians 6:2-3 reads "Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed.  Share their burdens and so complete Christ's law.  If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived."    

While the patients could stay at the rudimentary hospice free of charge they had no food or company, unless a friend or caring person would drop some by. I only saw one visitor for one lady the week I was there.  So we would go to the market each day to get them juice and food. I  had the privilege of praying with them, sitting with them, getting a cold clothe for their head when they ran a fever, making them laugh, hugging them and loving on them.

During my week there, I made a connection with each lady.  One woman was very sick, I did not think she would live to see the end of the week.  She had contracted AIDS from her husband, a Cambodian police officer who had engaged in a number of extra-marital affairs.  We prayed for and over her and by the end of the week, she had enough strength and energy to get out of bed and walk. 

There was another young lady named Lee Lee, who I became quite close with. She is 30 years old, though to look at her you might think her much younger.  As I understood it, she came to Poi Pet when her boyfriend got work there, and either he forced her to or she felt she had to, begin prostituting herself.  She had 7-8 boyfriends which is how she contracted AIDS.  When her boyfriend found out he left her alone in Poi Pet.

Some days she seemed to have lots of energy, especially in the mornings.  In the evenings however, she was a completely different person, no energy and in such pain that she would whimper.  She could not stand on her own without my help to get her to the washroom. 

Lee Lee asked me by making a cross with her fingers if I was a Christian, to which I replied yes.  The verse  John 13:34-35 immediately came to mind “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." We prayed together and I prayed that if she did not have a personal relationship with Christ that she would come to know the love, grace, and life saving power of our heavenly Father. We continued our time together over the week singing Jingle Bells me in Canadian her in Kamir.  I taught her how to say each of our facial features in English.  I massaged her arms and rubbed her back.  I tried to bring her as much comfort as I could. The night before we were to leave we were blessed to have Selah join us as an interpreter.  She informed me that Lee Lee wanted me to stay and that she loved me.  This pretty much broke me, because that morning all my heart felt compelled to do, was stay and serve in the clinic and village churches until she and the others I had connected with passed on.  I told her I loved her too. As we were leaving that evening, a woman beckoned Selah and I aside from our group. I came to understand that she was the nurse at the hospice. She spoke to me through the interpreter, explaining  that they and the girls would benefit from my staying and serving in the clinic for 3 months, which only just continued to rip my heart open.   

The next morning we had to leave. Before we did, we stopped into the Aids clinic to say goodbye and drop off more food and juice for each of the ladies.  The doctor was in that morning and it was then that I realized just what a connection I had made with Lee Lee. The doctor was putting in an intravenous, causing Lee Lee great pain.  I could see her forearm swelling up as he forced the liquid into it and I thought something did not seem right, but I am no doctor, so I held my tongue. One of hospice volunteers came by and was fiddling with the IV, it was apparent it was not right.  At the doctors instruction he began to remove it, Lee Lee writhing in pain as blood began to spew out her arm. At this point I got up from her bed and went to the doctor, emphatically pointing towards her, speaking in a language he did not understand, wanting him to realize this is not okay.  Like a mother coming to the defence of a hurting child, I was not even conscious of what I was doing, but someone was not meeting the needs of someone I had grown to care for and that was not okay.   

I never did give much thought to the fact that she had sold herself to men. I was not concerned about the fact that she had Aids when I hugged her, when she would kiss my cheek, when blood was coming out of her arm.  Lee Lee was my friend, she was a child of God and she deserved LOVE!  I left Lee Lee, the other girls, the Aids Clinic and the villages of Cambodia that morning but they are forever in my heart and prayers.

We are advised in James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  Now that does not mean that everyone needs to go half way across the world to do it - unless God is calling you to - and He may be.  You can live it right where you are. My question is "are you?"  Who is your Lee Lee? Even here in Canada God has blessed us with Lee Lee's, people who are forgotten, dismissed, oppressed, lonely, hurting and dying.  Saved yet or not they are God's children and unless they experience the love of God through us, and  are extended the same love, grace and mercy that was graciously given to us then they may be lost forever. 

All the programs, all the Sunday morning services, all the churches in the world, mean nothing if we are not loving and serving others to God's glory.  Sermons don't save - programs don't save.  It's the word of God in action that draws people to Christ.  Love of God and Others will redeem the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment