It was Monday. That doesn’t matter, but Mondays have the reputation of being, well, Monday – the day after a weekend, the day to return to the rigors of the work week. Kathy and I prayed, plopped into our car, and picked up a Haitian friend who wanted a ride to a place between our apartment and the hospital where we work.
As we left our abode, we splashed through our muddy side road and a mile or so later, emerged on the main road, turning toward our place of work. About another half mile or so, we started noticing more foot traffic and people amassing on the road. We entered high-alert mode as this seemed unusual as compared to normal.
Soon all traffic came to a dead stop. A large group of people, seemingly hundreds, were in the process of heaving large rocks and limbs across the road to make it impassable. Our Haitian friend who had come along with us told us to stay in the car and he would see what was happening. A short time later, from the roadside, he nonchalantly turned toward the car and motioned us toward the barricade. We crept forward through the crowd, quickly becoming surrounded by protesters on three sides, with a thick line of impassable rocks on the fourth. An argument ensued about whether or not to let us go through. One guy was saying “absolutely not”, as letting us go through would set a bad example, but the others, with the information that we were going to a hospital to try help people, started removing some large rocks to let us through. Eventually, we crept past the barricade, loaded our friend back in the car, and “gunned it” to get away from the potential violence. We dropped our friend off at his destination, and continued uneventfully to the hospital.
Upon arrival at the hospital, we were greeted with the news that none of our doctors could make it to work as all of the roads were blocked. We testified that yes, that was definitely the case. After some phone calls, we found one of our fill-in local doctors who could get through some back roads on a motorcycle and join us at the hospital. He was thankful for the work! The number of patients there was small, but those who were sickest found a way to make it in. The ER was packed, and the staff members who were there were working double-time to take care of those in dire need.
One of our nurses approached me and said she needed to talk to me about a patient. Usually this means that there is a situation beyond the scope of the hospital that needs attention. I met with her in the nurse’s station and she relayed the story of a mom with a 3-month-old child who had recently lost her home on an island near the hospital. She had several other children, but she did not feel she could also support this youngest child. Could we find an orphanage or a home for this, her youngest child, allowing her to focus on the rest of her children? She was continuing to breast-feed the child but felt the baby was old enough to be weaned and placed with someone who could give the baby a better life. “So”, continued the nurse, “what should I tell her?”
I was raised in a middle-class family in the heartland of the USA, and learned how to show Christ to the world in a small country church. I was taught that if someone needs help, you help them. Period. But, the overwhelming situation where weekly, sometimes daily, a person in dire need arrives in front of you and the funding and support necessary to help are not available was not something that was addressed in my smalltown upbringing. We already had rooms full of patients that the hospital was treating gratis, not to mention the fact that we are a hospital, and are not prepared nor equipped to administer programs for orphan prevention. I promised the mom that I would make some calls, and I did. I called missionary friends, the Haitian health department, some other staff at the hospital, and our community liaison. No one had funding or any solutions for this mom. In fact, one of the people whom I consulted had a situation similar to this and had turned away another mom and baby earlier in the morning. Feeling defeated, I offered a prayer to the mom, gave her a little money to get some food for that Monday, and with my head hung low, returned to the work of the rest of the day. I was left with a lot of questions regarding the teachings presented to me during my upbringing.
The day progressed. The local doctor and nurses remained, and I started calling to see if the road back to our apartment was unblocked. With some assurance, we were told to get back home, because for this moment, and maybe this moment only, the road was open. We saw a Haitian friend on the road who graciously gave us some food to take home, then we passed quickly down the main road, past the previous road-blocking pile of rocks, unmanned at this point, and back to our apartment.
I still have no solutions for the many people who approach us in hopeless situations. Saying “no” is a direct contradiction to the teachings of my formative years. We help some, but many we turn away. As the situation in Haiti worsens, the number of people in dire situations continues to grow. I still am not sure how to reconcile all of this in my heart. I know that Jesus could have healed everyone here on earth, but he didn’t. I know that Jesus said “the poor will always be among you” (John 12:8). I know in my head that not all can be helped, but frequently looking someone in the eye who is reaching out for help and saying “sorry, I cannot help you” is different than being able to help the “occasional” difficult situation presented to me during my upbringing.
The only thing I can grasp is that someday, there will be a place called “heaven” where all of this unfairness is behind us. That is the hope I pray that we can pass on to everyone who is in need—all of us in some way.
In that same church in the heartland of the USA, we sang an old hymn:
“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.
When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.”
That song takes on new meaning, as I look toward another Monday with another friend in need of hope.