Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Photo: ©Rita Willaert
Brad comes from a farming background in country south-west Victoria. He has a strong passion for the unreached people of the world and for spreading the truth of Jesus Christ. His wife Andy is an artist and a teacher and similarly holds Jesus’ longing for the lost close to her heart. Together they have two vibrant children, Hunter and Belle. The Kirkwood family serve with SIM Australia in Niger, West Africa.
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We live beside a public hospital. There are always many people strewn about under trees out the front, waiting for family inside. The morgue is also attached to the hospital. The average life expectancy here is 57 years compared to Australia’s 83+.
If you are sick here you need to purchase the medicine you will be administered before it will be given. You need to pay up front for any tests or even to be seen by the doctor before it happens. No money, no doctor (or any medical care). Lots of people are just waiting because they don’t have the money to see a doctor. They have come in from out of town, have phoned family and are waiting, hoping that someone will arrive having sold something to raise the money needed. It seems that for many, no one ever comes.
The old ute / pickup that is used to transport the mat wrapped bodies, the day after death, to the grave site, are often not accompanied by a single mourner. Life here is difficult and can end with little fanfare.
Yesterday I received a call from my friend, the man who sells us fruit. His eleven-year-old daughter was very ill, his wife was out of town at a wedding, and could I come in the car and pick them up because she needed to go to hospital.
When I arrived the girl was very sick. She had no strength. Her father carried her to the car and we drove to the hospital. We carried her in and took our place amongst the dozens of very sick people waiting to be seen. When we finally were seen we were sent to the paediatric area. There we found countless mothers trying to comfort very sick children. Some were limp. Others frantic with fever. There was one doctor.
When I say hospital, think of something from the 50’s. Everything tired and tiled, very dirty, stray cats, not one piece of modern equipment, empty vials and used needles, bandages and IV drips scattered everywhere. When we were seen to, it was decided they needed to test for meningitis and malaria because of the fever. My friend went to pay the bill.
As I waited with the girl, the doctor motioned for me, amongst the other crying infants in the room to brace the girl because he was going to do a lumber punch. I knew what he was going to do because I had it done once in Australia. It was excruciatingly painful. It required cleanliness and precision, and yet here we were, in a crowded, dirty room, one doctor, and I, and he was about to stick a needle in her spine.
The process was extremely distressing. After several minutes no fluid could be extracted. He pressed the same alcohol soaked swab that he used to clean her skin, onto the area to stop the bleeding. I continued to brace a feverish and extremely distressed girl, a strange white man that she had met once, as she called over and over for her mother.
I prayed over the next hour for her that the fever would go. I prayed every way I knew. I prayed until I was emotionally spent. There was nothing else I could do.
Finally after many hours we were told that she had serious malaria. Reluctantly my friend asked if I had any money. The medicine was expensive. As much profit as he might see in several weeks from his business. I gave him what he needed and the medicine was administered. Many hours had passed. I was tired, hungry and thirsty, but how must he and his daughter be?
I was upset that night. Why had God not responded to my prayer? What could I do to help the mass of sick people? Why had God brought me here if not to bring his presence and change at a time such as this?
The next morning I went to see my friend. He told me that the fever had lifted. We went and visited his daughter. Her mother had returned and was by her side. His daughter was weak but the fever was gone. She just wanted to sleep.
When we returned to the street we met our other Muslim friend who had come looking for us. He chastised us for taking a shortcut through the morgue, much to the amusement of the friend I was with. As we sat and talked the second friend spoke up in English. He said, “We can see you are a man of God, you gave when there was nothing in it for you in return. You care for people who you hardly know. Only someone who truly knows God would do that. We thank you.”
It was a humbling statement and one I wasn’t expecting.
I still struggle with the last couple of day’s events. I still find it difficult to know that every day hundreds of people come to that hospital, many leaving no better than when they arrived. Many leaving in a mat in the back of ute. Certainly almost all leaving not knowing that there is a God who loves them, no matter what the outcome of their illness.
The small gift is to know that people see when you love them. They see the difference from the world around them. The profound thing is that even though my friends don’t believe that God is love, when you love, they attribute it to knowing God.
May our God of love, continue to reveal Himself to those around us. Even though we are weak, He is strong. May His love spread through this land like a wildfire.
By Brad Kirkwood
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