I am en route home from my fourth trip to Kurdistan. Kirk and I went with a total team of seven to perform what turned out to be a total of 20 pediatric heart catheterizations. The week was utterly exhausting, but this is nothing new. The continual “do not grow weary in doing good” lesson is not one that the Lord has yet chosen to release me from. This is a personal struggle those of you who faithfully read these updates have heard about from me before and I really, honestly, have no desire to write about it again. However, there was a moment on day two when I was happy and relieved that we finished in the cath lab relatively “early” (about 7:30 p.m.) and I began anticipating an “early” dinner and bedtime. I went to join Kirk in the screening room. He was just meeting a family with a tiny baby who actually happened to be about one-year-old. I remember putting the picture together in my mind as I saw him. By size, I would have assumed the child was a couple months old. But he was desperately holding onto his pacifier, a skill that revealed he was, in fact, much older. In order to examine him, he needed to be undressed, so I climbed up on the examining bed with him and his mom to help. Undressing him revealed a very scrawny baby breathing very fast, immediately betraying the fact that he was in cardiac failure. This was one of those moments of clarity where, once again, I realized how blessed I am because of where I live.
I do not see children like this in the U.S. because they are diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion. I did nothing to deserve or influence my being born in the U.S., where health care resources are abundant It was simply a gracious gift of God. Likewise, this family did nothing to deserve or influence their being born in Kurdistan. I saw very little joy in this child’s life. He seemed simply miserable. He allowed me the gift of consoling him by rubbing his cheek and showing him a toy. I was mesmerized by him. He desperately needs heart surgery. I honestly don’t know if he’ll get it before he dies…or if, actually, he will survive the attempt. There’s a Chris Rice song that goes through my mind: “How did I find myself in a better place? I can’t look down on the frown on the other’s guy’s face. ‘Cause when I stoop down low, look him square in the eye, I get a funny feeling, I just might be dealing with the face of Christ.” As I was consoling him, I got to stare into his deep brown eyes. Matthew 25:40 says “to the extent that you [do} it to one on these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you [do] it to Me.” When that family left, both the mom and her sister grabbed both my hands and kissed me twice on each cheek. We performed no procedure or gave any great hope. I think it was simply because we demonstrate love and worth to this suffering baby that they love so much. We ended up staying past ten that night screening children. You look into the eyes of the need, which is endless, and you find the stamina to go on.
I read a great book one of the four flights home. My friend Allison Cabalka, who’s been with us on two of our trips to Kurdistan but not this one, gave it to me. It’s called “The Scent of Water: Grace for Every Kind of Broken” by Naomi Zacharias. For me, it was not just an eyes-well-up-with-tears book, but a tears-run-down-your-face book. I loved it and highly recommend it. In it, she processes a lot of the suffering she has seen in the world in the context of her Christian faith. I can relate to a lot of what she has seen, describes, observes, and concludes. One line, in particular, resonated with me: “Once you have been made aware, you have a responsibility to care.” This reminds me of Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.” I thought about this verse a lot this week. We took care of 20 kids this week. We barely scratched the surface. Over 120 more were screened. You know you have to go back, because the need continues to be great.
Naomi Zacharias had another observation I could relate to. She landed in London after serving in the Middle East. She had spent much of the time there with her face covered as she served in refugee camps. When she landed in London, a man in the airport ran into her, looked her in the face, and apologized. This was such stark contrast to her weeks being invisible that she was shocked. She writes her conclusion better than I could, so I have to quote it:
“I wanted to recognize freedom, to honor it, to realize what it offered instead of blazing through unaware and on a mission to retrieve, always, something else. I could not give it to [the families I had served]. I could honor them by not taking it for granted, but I couldn’t present it to them. Not alone, and not in a day. Of course, they didn’t even ask me to do that. They just asked me for [something simple]. I would start there, but not settle for it. Respect and freedom were always worth fighting for. I’ve seen American aid workers respond to the absence of it elsewhere with contempt for the freedom that is present in our home county. But guilt or resentment for the voice I did have certainly wouldn’t help anyone. I could, however, use this voice to try to make a difference. Again and again.”
The re-entry into the free, Western world from the places we serve is always striking. More and more, I understand the value of this gracious gift we call freedom. I have been blessed with my place and station. It is a gift from God. What I do with it is my responsibility. From me, to whom much has been given, much is required. Now that I have been made aware, I have a responsibility to care. May the Lord continue to provide so we can continue to bring hope and relieve suffering in the places He calls us to go.