A medical need serves as an opportunity to witness God’s power in a young student’s life.
It was a few weeks before the spring semester ended when an East African student stopped by as I was re-oiling our rustic mahogany front door on a Saturday morning. I knew John’s (not his real name) older brother was injured in a motorcycle accident the week before, so I put down the oil cloth and invited him in. His brother was not doing well, and doctors gave two choices: amputate his leg or try to save it. The operation to try to save the leg was expensive. John’s family had made him the functioning elder of the family (their father had been killed in the Genocide), and he was frantic with worry. Now it was his decision to “take the operation,” (as he said) and save his brother’s leg, or amputate it. It was a $2000 question.
Those of you who know me well know I like to fix things and save the day. I thought I could raise the $2000 from friends in the US, but I stopped and asked myself, was that the best solution?
In our training to serve here, Dr. Daryl Whiteman talked about being open to a “power encounter” when the power of God is made visible through people working to do what they know to be impossible.
When I told John how God could make a way, I wasn’t just speaking platitudes, I believed God wanted to use this situation to do something interesting and powerful. Yes, it would take a miracle and involve a whole lot of people, but maybe God had larger ideas. More than the net worth of his family, $2000 was a theoretical number hardly even imaginable to him.
John was looking for someone to donate the whole amount, but “how realistic is that?” I asked, implying to him that it wasn’t going to be me. How could you raise that kind of money, I asked. So we began dividing $2000 into smaller amounts, and I asked, do you know 20 people who could each give $100? He knew three. How many people do you know who could give $50 (he would need 34). We kept dividing up what was left until we had an array of manageable units of different amounts that friends and family could give if he asked. Now that he had a plan, we prayed over it and agreed to meet later, and John left to collect phone numbers.
Over the next few days, he used my phone to call friends and family, ministers and politicians, really anybody in Rwanda he knew. I talked to faculty who knew his situation, and together the campus community collected what we in the church call a love offering. At the end of the week, he had raised pledges to cover about one-third of the hospital bill, and combined with the love offering, had raised over at half of the hospital bill, enough to proceed with the operation. He sent the funds home via other Rwandan students going home for the summer, and they gave it to his family.
In their excellent book When Helping Hurts, authors Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett write about three stages in any crisis: relief, rehabilitation, and development. They are distinct stages in any crisis, each requiring a different approach to aid. In the case of the injured leg, the relief stage began right after the accident and lasted until the patient was stabilized. We entered the story in the rehabilitation stage; after relief had been provided and how to move on to healing needed attention. Rehabilitation is thoughtful, built more on relationships than immediacy, and the book explains that the worst thing someone could do wanting to help a situation is to offer relief when rehabilitation or development is needed. Too often, our first instinct is to provide relief.
When I returned to campus in the fall, John stopped by my office one afternoon. Truthfully, I expected him to ask for more funds, but instead, he wanted to tell me about his brother. I could see his excitement as he told how his brother’s leg had healed, and even better, that it happened because the community came together to help pay for the operation as if there were two miracles. “I never would have believed this was possible,” he said eagerly. “I know God can do anything!” I was proud of him, and what he had done, and told him so, but he shrugged off my praise and said it was God who did all these things, and through it all, he learned that all things were possible.
I think about how close I came to doing the wrong thing, (calling a few friends and arranging a wire transfer to pay the hospital bill). It would have defeated the eventual outcomes: both a healed leg and the honor he earned in the eyes of his family and community, the trust he learned to place in God, and the excitement this miracle provided to him. Money can’t buy those things, but it certainly can steal them, I thought.
At the end of our training, Dr. Whiteman used to remind us “… with the best leaders, when the work is done and the task accomplished…” he would pause, and then with a sly smile say, “the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.’”
Quote attributed to Lao Tzu