Down Mercy Road
So we all will go
Down on Mercy Road
Where the nations stream
Where Your healing flows
--from Pilgrim's Prayer by David Riefenberg on the Some Call it Mercy album
Stories of modern day Samaritan encounters:
caring for the least, lowest, and most broken people
[ BY VICKI PENWELL ]
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS... I'd like to especially thank my wonderful husband for all your hard work in typesetting and publishing the small book version. You always make me look good. Thanks to Ramona for helping me edit. Deep appreciation to all who have supported our work financially. Dana, Dr. C, Bridg, Cheryl, Mel, and all my other co-rescuers in Alaska, I could never have gone all over the world if you hadn't covered for me-thank you. Pastor Jack, you caught my vision for medical missions early on and gave me the courage to run with it-I am forever grateful. My Philippines teams (past and present), my Mexico team, my Mission School staff and all my students-you guys are my heroes, out there doing the stuff. Diane and Raquel, thanks for walking beside. Thanks to Janet Ditto and the primary health care department at University of the Nations for your inspiration and influence over the years. My rap on the good Samaritan is largely borrowed from you. David and Carlin and Ernie and Linda, thank you for helping me find that place where worship and mercy meet. Finally, a special thanks to Pastor Dale and the staff at Vineyard Northeast. I love and honor you all so much. You have changed my life by believing in me and trusting me to carry this vision forward. May I never disappoint that precious trust.
DEDICATION... To my father and mother, who taught me unconditional love and always told me I was born for a purpose; and to my husband Scott and sons Zachary, Ian, and Sean who have put up with the inconvenience and loved me anyway. To the King and the Restoration of His Kingdom!
C O N T E N T S
Island of Love
The Samaritan Strategy
We Are His Hands
Prostitutes, Pimps, and Addicts
Death Unto Life
A Cool Drink
Bread for Heaven
Power for Healing
Never for Nothing
The Least of These
What Can One Person Do?
© Vicki Penwell 1995. Any part of this work may be used without permission if it will advance the Kingdom.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
"On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. 'Teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?'
'What is written in the Law?' he replied. 'How do you read it?'
He answered: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
'You have answered correctly,' Jesus replied. 'Do this and you will live.'
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'
In reply Jesus said: 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
'A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
'So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
'But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
'He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
'The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. "Look after him," he said, "'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have."'
'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?'
The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.'
Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'
--Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)
My journey down the Samaritan road began in Alaska in the late seventies. My call to follow Jesus and my call to medical missions were synonymous, though I did not at that time understand all it would eventually mean. Professionally I trained in midwifery and later primary health care for the third world, as my vision for Christian service expanded beyond borders to include the whole of God's world.
In the years since I first heard the voice of Jesus calling me to the nations, I have traveled on four continents. These journeys have taken me circling the globe on a track with stops not always easy to relate to.
My introduction to the third world was brutal and difficult. I witnessed heart-wrenching scenes of dying babies, of pagan sacrifices and child prostitutes, twisted and maimed beggars, and war-ravaged people with hopeless eyes. In spite of the horror, I knew right away that these were the people I wanted to spend my life on.
I have considered it a great privilege to care for the needy, bind up the injured, heal the sick, and teach medical missions to people from dozens of different nations. It has been given to me to stand guardian over the process of birth; to be a protector of life; and to fight disease and death. I have felt the kingdom of God come to earth with every newborn baby's first cry, every comfort given, every life transformed by His healing touch.
Having drunk deeply of God's mercy, I have sought to spend my life sharing the living water He offers to all who thirst. I have determined to walk like the Samaritan, who considered it a priority to stop and rescue along the way.
Through this book it is my desire to try to relate a few of the stories, and to share this twofold truth: that God is loving and merciful beyond all comprehension; and that we live in a world where multitudes are literally dying for lack of someone to bring that love and mercy to them.
If we can see what God sees, let it break our hearts, and then allow our brokenness to be poured out by Him, we can bring Jesus to the needy in a way they can touch and feel. Are we willing to risk it all to follow Jesus wherever He may lead? Who will be His hands, His feet, His voice to 'the least of these' if not us?
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
I S L A N D O F L O V E
"For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall."
--Isaiah 25:4 (KJV)
The boy lay in the dirt at my feet, thrashing about wildly. His severe convulsions shook him over and over, throwing him backwards onto the ground, teeth clenched, eyes rolling helplessly. And while he convulsed, his mother beat him about the head and yelled at him in an angry, high-pitched voice.
I was in an urban ghetto in the Philippines, holding a makeshift health care clinic. For the better part of the morning we had been treating illnesses, passing out antibiotics and cough medicines, weighing babies, and washing and dressing wounds.
Abruptly, this small boy, maybe seven or eight years old, burst upon my attention, snatching it away from the endless lines of mothers holding their sick babies. A crowd gathered around the boy to watch. After a moment or two the seizure gradually died down and left the boy crumpled up in a twisted heap on the ground. The tropical noonday sun beat down mercilessly on him as he lay, filthy and confused. Saliva dribbled down his chin, mixing with the dirt and turning to mud. Again the mother began to hammer blows down on him while attempting to pull him up by the arm, incensed that he couldn't cooperate.
Suddenly I found myself kneeling in the dirt beside the boy, begging her to stop hitting him. With unexpected tears springing to my eyes, I scooped the boy up in my arms, thinking only to somehow get him to safety, get him to shade, to comfort him in some small measure. Renchi, the Filipino pastor who had brought us there, followed me, and together we found a chair under an overhang and I set the boy down. Still in a stupor from the effects of the seizure, he leaned against me, and as Renchi began to question the mother in her dialect, and then to pray over him, the full weight of his head came to rest on my cheek.
The intensity of that moment took me completely by surprise. It was as if the weight of the utter hopelessness of poverty, sin, and disease descended on me. This boy's existence, living in a wretched, stinking slum, no chance of ever leaving, afflicted with a debilitating infirmity that caused these violent convulsions, and then, to be beaten and abused with each episode, was more suffering than I could bear to contemplate.
Renchi prayed in the dialect. I wept bitterly, uncontrollably. As I knelt there with that dirty, battered little head resting against my face, I experienced being ripped apart inside by the very depths of compassionate emotions. Jesus was visiting me with his heart-His broken, bleeding heart.
Then something miraculous happened. It was as if God himself came down and lifted us out of time. I felt like we were transported upward and entered the very throne room of Heaven. For one brief moment in time and space, the slum no longer existed, the pain and filth and disease did not exist, and we, this child of suffering and I, received comfort straight from the Father's heart. In an ocean of anguish we discovered the existence of His island of love.
I have no doubt that to know Christ is to share in His sufferings, to feel what He feels, and to have our hearts broken by the things that break His heart. He calls us to join Him in the filthy, comfortless places, so that He can pour cleansing and comfort through us.
When we do, the Kingdom comes. It comes on earth as it is in heaven. It came to an obscure slum in Asia because a few of us were willing to be Jesus to the poor. For however brief a time, through us He provided a refuge from the storm for one small boy.
T H E S A M A R I T A N S T R A T E G Y
"'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.' Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'"
--Luke 10:36-37 (NIV)
The story of the good Samaritan is familiar to most of us. Like the travelers on the road, we too are challenged to respond when we see a neighbor in need. But we may ask, "Who is my neighbor?" I believe God wants to show this parable to us in a new light, and to challenge us with an understanding of modern-day applications.
We are living in a time when satellite television, jumbo jets, and computer networks bring the once-distant world to our doorstep. We can turn on the news in our living rooms and watch as people of different nations and diverse cultures play out their daily dramas for all the world to see. We can fly off and in a few hours land on the other side of the globe.
How do we respond when we find ourselves facing a world overwhelmed with wars, poverty, drought and famines, ethnic hatred, genocide, and moral collapse? How did Jesus respond to human suffering?
The story of the good Samaritan is a picture of mercy. Jesus is saying to us, This is my Father's heart-go and do likewise. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. And then go and love your world neighbor as yourself, with God's love, with God's mercy.
The Samaritan was drawn to the side of the beaten traveler by God-given compassion, not by any hope of personal or monetary gain. He was not motivated by a need for gratitude or earthly recognition. He gave what time, skills, resources, and money he had, to bring about healing and recovery for a man he didn't know.
Jesus said go and do likewise. To be rescuers we have to go looking for the hurting with our eyes open, and not shrink from the darker side of the road. We have to be where the poor are. My friend Raquel has been all over the world on mission trips using primary health care to serve the poor. She has been in Thailand, the Philippine Islands, Jamaica, and on the Amazon river in Brazil. Once somebody asked her why she went to the most beautiful and exotic places on earth and always seemed to end up on the local garbage dump!
In every poor city of the world people actually live on the garbage dumps, picking a meager living from other people's trash. I have seen exciting ministries started on garbage dumps. In one we actually saw a church grow up as a result of our medical outreach. But this is also a good metaphor for where many people live spiritually. We need to pick them up, and take them somewhere wholesome, somewhere clean.
The Samaritan knew how to meet people's needs, and did not shrink from touching the wounds. Looking at the story from a practical perspective shows the wisdom of the Samaritan's actions. Wine was probably the best available antiseptic and cleansing agent for open wounds. Oil was a practical pain reliever, having quick-acting analgesic properties. Bandaging continues today to be an important means of preventing infection and speeding healing. Even the fact that the Samaritan transported the man to a place where he could receive proper care while recovering shows his understanding of what it takes to restore health and wholeness.
As God's people, we must understand that the Father's heart is broken each time one of His precious sons or daughters find themselves in the hands of the thief, and are left beat up, naked, wounded, and half dead alongside the road. What we must also realize is that His heart is equally broken each time someone steps around, steps over, and walks on by one of His children in need.
How God longs to use us to demonstrate to a lost and dying generation His character and His father's heart. He knows and cares deeply about our needs. He meets us in our places of hurt and weakness, and works through others who have His heart to minister physical and emotional healing.
Having received mercy, we can do no less than to go and do likewise.
W E A R E H I S H A N D S
"For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living."
--Psalm 116:8-9 (NIV)
I lay in my bed, unable to sleep, my mind strung out on emotions. Two weeks earlier I had come to the Philippines to run Gentle Hands clinic, a small maternity home for the poor in Manila. The missionary couple who started the clinic had returned to Canada on furlough for a year. They had been faced with the necessity of shutting down the entire ministry, until God called a few of us to carry on the work. We responded by putting together a team, raising the operating budget, and traveling across the ocean to meet the need.
We delivered on average one baby a day at Gentle Hands. It was a common occurrence for the wretchedly impoverished mothers to experience problems in childbirth. As midwives we dreaded malnutrition more than anything, because nothing complicates childbirth like not enough to eat during pregnancy. It seems as if every calamity that hell can conjure up is visited on the nutritionally-deficient mom and her stunted, frail little babe within. Especially at risk are the mothers who have already borne too many children, too close together. Their overworked and exhausted bodies have no chance to recover before the next pregnancy comes along.
Before the existence of this free maternity clinic, most poor mothers in the area delivered in the slums, with no trained birth attendant to help them. Others managed to borrow enough money to deliver in the charity hospital, where staff were overworked and often uncaring, and conditions were deplorably unsanitary. Either way, many of their babies died, and sometimes the mothers did too.
Statistics report that in the Philippines one mother dies in childbirth on average every six hours, while one newborn baby dies every five minutes.
Death was like a wolf, always baying at the door, and at times we were forced to fight with our whole arsenal of medical weapons and skills. It was a war-us against the statistics. Usually we won. For the time we were running the clinic our infant mortality rate was four times lower than the nation as a whole, and we had no maternal deaths. But even when we won, the battles wore us down, drained us, as we poured out everything we had to save the mothers and children.
Now it was two in the morning, and I couldn't stop thinking about the events of the previous evening. Elena and Fidela were friends, both from the same impoverished barrio. They had gone into labor a few hours apart. After giving birth, both of them had come closer to dying from postpartum hemorrhages than I ever hoped to see.
Hours after the crisis was over, when both mothers and babies were finally tucked safely into bed for the night, I went up to my room. When sleep refused to claim me, I finally got up and put on some music. The Vineyard song "Lord of the Poor" began to play, and as I listened, it became my prayer.
Lord of the Poor
God of the weak and helpless ones
Stretch out Your arm
And be a safe refuge for the ones
Who have no hope at all
Arise Oh Lord and have compassion
On the poor and needy ones.
* Lord of the Poor by Brian Doerksen, taken from the Jesus Alone album, Langley Vineyard Music. Used by permission.
Suddenly I was sobbing as the words in the chorus, "Arise Oh Lord," repeated over and over. My heart was breaking for the people around me: for the mothers who sometimes didn't survive what should be the most natural of events; for parents who wouldn't choose names for their babies until days after the birth because so many died young; for all the fatherless, weak, and helpless ones with no hope at all. I was weeping this song out as the deepest intercession to the Lord.
"Arise! Do something! Have compassion!"
In the midst of my anguish, the still quiet voice of the Lord came to me and said, so gently, " I have arisen, and you are My hands."
God rarely tells us what might have been. Perhaps He knew how desperately I needed reassurance that I was in His will. Just before I came to run this clinic, some people whose opinion I valued had questioned the validity of mercy ministries like this. Now, in the middle of the night, in the middle of my pain and intercession, the word of the Lord came to me. He spoke to me of the two mothers resting peacefully downstairs, with their newborns beside them in bed. For Elena it was her seventh child; for Fidela, her ninth baby. God revealed to me that 16 children would have been orphaned that night alone if the clinic had been closed as planned, if these two mothers had not received medical intervention, if I had not obeyed the call to come to Manila.
"I have arisen, and you are My hands." It was a heavy, heavy word.
Through that experience I came to understood a little better how His mercy works, and the role our obedience plays in it. Jesus uses us to advance His kingdom here on earth, as channels through which He can intervene in what might have been. We are His hands.
Each one of us has different gifts, different callings. But for all of us it is the same-we must obey revealed directions whatever the cost, going when He says go, staying when He says stay. Like Isaiah I yearn to be willing:
"Here am I. Send me!"
P R O S T I T U T E S , P I M P S , A N D A D D I C T S
"But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
--Romans 5:8 (NIV)
Katherine was a hooker, the madam of a local house of prostitution in Fairbanks whose history could be traced back to Alaska's gold rush days. She first came to our clinic pregnant with her fifth child. Her ex-husband, who she claimed was a member of the Mafia, had custody of the older children.
We prayed much for Katherine during the time of her pregnancy, and following the birth. We talked to her about Jesus on occasion, and she listened good-naturedly. But somewhere after her six week postpartum checkup we lost track of her. Our worlds didn't cross. And eventually I forgot about Katherine.
One day four years later, as the staff gathered to pray for the patients coming into the clinic that day, a wave of intercession hit me for Katherine, though I hadn't even thought of her in years. I found myself praying desperately for her, asking God to protect her, to spare her life. It was a strange experience.
Two weeks later, out of the blue, Katherine walked through the door of our clinic. Overjoyed to see her again, I told her of my unusual prayer two weeks before, and asked her what had been going on. With an odd look on her face, she pulled down the collar on her blouse and showed me her neck. An ugly red scar ran from ear to ear. She told me her pimp had tried to kill her two weeks ago. Her Doberman attacked him as he attacked her, throwing him off balance, and the knife didn't go as deep in her throat as intended. The police arrived, shot the dog, hauled the pimp off to jail, and called an ambulance for Katherine. They told her it was a miracle she was alive.
Not long after that I met Sheila. Sheila was a seventeen-year-old prostitute, addicted to crack and seven months pregnant. After her prenatal appointments I would encourage her to stay and talk, and she would tell me stories that wrenched my heart.
Sheila was what I call a throwaway child. Her parents were divorced. Sheila used to go home at night only to find herself locked out because her mom had a man sleeping over. Eventually she ended up on the streets.
The crack addiction had come before the prostitution, as it often does. In fact, she told me how she and her friends used to jeer at the hookers, hating everything they stood for. What Sheila and her friends didn't realize was that they were powerless pawns in an evil game being played out on the streets. Singled out by Katherine's pimp, befriended and given free drugs just until she needed them, Sheila was easy prey. She told me the first time Katherine approached her about hooking, she cursed her and sent her away. But by the next day, desperate for the drugs she was now hopelessly addicted to, Sheila felt she had no choice but to agree. She began to sell herself. Of course Katherine and the pimp were right there to take their share of the profits.
As Sheila's still-girlish body expanded with the pregnancy, she found her customers more and more loathsome. She told me once that she would often just lay there and cry the whole time, and wonder what kind of man could find any pleasure in that. She stayed pretty stoned most of the time to be able to handle the shame and repulsiveness of what she was doing. On the morning she went into labor, she was already high.
After meeting Sheila and learning how she had been coldly, calculatedly seduced into her iniquitous profession, I had a hard time with Katherine. Whereas before it had been easy for me to love her, now I found it impossible. I didn't want anything to do with her until one day, while praying, I heard the Lord whisper, "If you don't love Katherine, no one will. You are the only one I have praying for her. You are her only hope."
Jesus is calling us to love even the unlovely. In this wicked and perverse generation, He puts people in our paths that have no other hope, so that we can be Jesus to them.
Through mercy to a couple of prostitutes, God began to give us more inroads into enemy territory.
Sheila landed in jail for a while after her baby was born. God touched her deeply during that time, as we visited and prayed with her. I felt like I should go to the crack house where she lived to check on her baby, who was being cared for by her boyfriend while Sheila served her time.
Sheila's boyfriend was a huge black man named Tilman. He did drugs, had been kicked out of the army, and was once charged with rape, though the charges didn't stick and Sheila insisted the girl was a hooker. I considered Tilman a very scary dude, but my concern for the baby overrode my fear. I took my pastor Jack along as a bodyguard.
The amazing thing was that when we got there I found that Tilman liked and trusted me. He told me later it was because I had been so kind to Sheila and helped her have their baby. He invited us in.
These are the kind of doors that mercy can swing wide open, doors that couldn't be pounded down any other way.
As we shared Jesus with Tilman that day, I could see his heart was melting. A week later, he was a bystander at an attempted robbery, and was shot in the leg. It was at that point he allowed Jack to come and pray with him.
The kingdom came to a broken-down crack house on the south side of Fairbanks because Jesus had taken on a face and a name for some prostitutes, pimps, and addicts.
N I G H T T R A I N
"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God."
--Luke 12:6 (NIV)
I had another encounter with a prostitute a year later, on the other side of the world. I was traveling for a few weeks in Thailand and Laos, and at the time I was more than a little tired. My mind was frayed around the edges from all the things I had seen and heard the previous few days while doing health work up in the mountains with the rural tribes.
On this trip we had stayed with primitive tribal people. The local missionary told us they were so superstitious they killed twin babies. They believed one was an evil spirit mimicking the real baby. Unsure which was which, they killed them both at birth. Even though we had come with medicines, the people had sacrificed a pig to their gods while we were there, the pagan solution to sickness in the village.
We had come down out of the mountains and boarded the train in Chaing Mai, in the northern province of Thailand. It was a night train, taking eleven hours to arrive in Bangkok. The train was old and rattled and had open windows you could lean out of, and I remember feeling like a character in a Victorian era movie.
Across the aisle sat a couple. The man was Caucasian, somewhere in his mid-thirties; the girl was Asian. I realized she was very young, barely into her teens. She looked terrified. Her eyes reminded me of a frightened rabbit.
I knew more than I wanted to by then about the culture in Thailand. The village girls from the northern hill tribes often ended up like this. Often a father sold his own daughter for the money she could bring home. Foreign men on vacation bought girls not just for a night, but for a week or two, to travel with them, cook and wash their socks, and to meet their other needs at night.
Assessing the whole situation at a glance, I wasn't even kind. I voted him creep of the year.
As the train pulled out, I couldn't help feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the enormity of sin. To me, this couple became a microcosm of Asia, where sex crimes against children are rampant. I felt utter rage at a culture that would force this beautiful young child into this exploited situation.
I felt like all the evil of the whole world was pressing down on my heart. I could easily have cried for all the sin and sadness in the world. Tears poured from my soul that night on the train to Bangkok, but they only made it to the corners of my eyes before the wind blew them away.
I heard the voice of the Lord say, "Pray for them." And as I began to pray, God showed me how much He loved them both. He showed me that His heart was broken too, both for the sinner and the sinned against. My anger began to melt.
I tried to talk to the girl, but she spoke only Thai and I spoke only English. It was easy enough for my traveling companion and I to strike up a conversation with the man. He was willing to talk freely about himself. He told us he was Australian, on a two-week vacation. He had picked up the girl in Chaing Mai. No, he didn't know how old she was, and he couldn't talk to her either. But, he told us, he had forged papers for her and planned to take her all the way back to Australia with him illegally. We realized he selfishly intended to buy some relief for his lonely, friendless existence. Whether the girl knew about the plan, much less agreed to it, was impossible to say. She was a poor tribal girl with no rights. As we rode along, she sat silent and stone-still, eyes cast down.
Undaunted, my friend began to share the things of God with this man. In a gentle, compassionate way, he told him of the hope of salvation that is found only in Jesus. The Australian was eager to hear, and asked lots of questions. Eventually, after a couple of hours, the conversation wound down. Out of obedience to how the Lord was directing us, we finally told him that we both felt God wanted us to warn him that what he was doing with the girl was wrong, and that he would be caught. He listened, but shrugged it off.
Almost immediately, as if on cue from some unseen director, two armed Thai policeman came up to the man on the train. They demanded identification from him and the girl as they questioned him harshly. Then they led the couple away.
We waited, wondering at the drama that was unfolding before us. When the man returned, he was visibly shaken. He told us that the police were going to take him into custody when we got off the train the next morning in Bangkok, and charge him with falsifying documents. He was busted, and he knew it. Astounded, he asked, "How did you know?"
Now God had his attention. He was like a lost and frightened little boy, caught with his hand in the cookie jar. My hostility toward him was gone. Sin had a face, and it was just humanity in need of salvation.
In time the porter came and pulled our chairs into berths for the night. I climbed into my high bunk, and for a long time I lay there in the dark, feeling the rattle and sway of the rails rushing away beneath me. I thought of the girl, who I could only pray for, and the man, who had heard the truth in love. It was all in God's hands now.
I didn't sleep well that night on the train. My thoughts were as disheveled as my clothes when we disembarked at 5:30 in the morning.
As we climbed from the train, suddenly the Australian appeared to say good bye. He told us he had paid off the police sometime in the night. He was going to leave the girl in Bangkok and go home alone. We shook his hand and his last words to us were, "I promise to think about everything you said."
I thought that was the end of the story, until a year later when I received a postcard from somebody named Raymond in Australia. I didn't know who it was at first. He said he had done like we said and accepted Jesus into his life. He was going to a great church, and thanked us for everything. That was all.
And the girl? I never knew what happened to her. I can only pray that against all odds she too came to know the God that rides the night trains and watches over tiny fallen sparrows like her.
I know a Christian woman in Bangkok who has a ministry to prostitutes. She runs a Christian halfway house for any girl who wants to quit, where they can learn a respectable trade. I went with her one night on her rounds through the red light district. I had never seen so much evil in one place. But this one lady had a vision of what God could do through her to change the world. She was a rescuer, advancing the Kingdom one girl at a time. I like to imagine that maybe she found the frightened young prostitute from Chaing Mai, and rescued her.
D E A T H U N T O L I F E
"He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy."
--Psalm 72:4 (NIV)
I stood in the corner of the delivery room. It was my first day volunteering in this teaching hospital in the Philippines. I was supposed to just observe, not do anything yet. In the opposite corner young student nurses gathered awkwardly around the body of the baby they had just been handed. The delivery had been rough and traumatic for mother and child. Born with no heartbeat or breath, the baby now lay, bluish and lifeless, on a cot against the wall. The nurse in charge looked over at the doctor, who was still attending to the mother, but the doctor said nothing. Stillbirths were a common event here in this hospital. But I knew this baby had had a heartbeat in labor.
Sensing the uncertainty and confusion in the room, I pushed my way through the throng of a dozen or more nursing students to reach the corner of the room and the baby. I knew unless I did something fast, it would be too late. Maybe it already was. The baby had been born some minutes before. In my own practice, when a baby was born bad like this, I began working on him right away, using oxygen and resuscitation equipment this hospital didn't have. They had no neonatal support equipment at all in the delivery room. I had only my hands, my own life breath, and prayer. I silently asked the Lord to help me bring life where there was now none.
I wondered later, was this the prayer of faith to raise the dead? I don't know. I only know that as I worked over this pitiful little scrap of humanity, pumping the tiny heart over and over with my fingers, blowing softly into the limp lungs for what seemed like an eternity, God gave me a passion to defeat death. Inside my heart were birthed desperate prayers, and they tumbled upward with each breath I breathed into the flaccid body. Suddenly, in this place of frequent death, He gave me faith for life. He overwhelmed me with a sense of His value on this child that lay lifeless before me. In sharp contrast to the acceptance of death all around, He gave me a will to fight.
Eventually, as I continued to work on the infant and plead with God, I felt the heart jump to life on its own beneath my fingers. The tiny lungs heaved and expanded, and a weak cry gave notice that life was there, that life could still prevail against impossible odds.
Recently, God reminded me of this scene, and several others like it. As He ministered to me, He played in my mind a film of all the pitiful, starved little bonsai babies I had helped bring to birth in Asia over the years. Born to mothers too young, too worn, too hungry, many were delivered with difficulty; some, like this one, were delivered clinically dead but revived through our care. God showed me once again the infinite value He places on each life saved. I was overcome with the awesomeness of the work He has called me to. And as the Lord took me deeper and deeper in the Spirit, I began to weep tears of brokenness and repentance. As I was visited with a fresh revelation of His heart for people, His love and compassion, my love paled in comparison. I was ashamed of my pride in my own selfish human love. All I could say was, "Lord, forgive me. Let me truly love who you love, how you love. Give me your heart."
This is a dangerous prayer. The consequences of asking God for His heart are enormous. It means that we will begin to realize how incapable we are as humans of really loving like God loves, and only then can He begin to love through us.
A C O O L D R I N K
"Whoever is kind to the needy honors God."
--Proverbs 14:31 (NIV)
In the provincial hospital where I worked in the Philippines, I saw the poor abused everyday. Terrible things were done to them. Sometimes they died from their illnesses and sometimes from the rough treatment. Babies were delivered around the clock, at the rate of about one every hour. In an eight-hour shift I would rarely see the doctors wash their hands. I saw women lifted onto delivery tables that were still smeared with the blood of the last patient. Women in labor were berated for being dirty and ignorant. I saw cruelty, neglect, and verbal and physical abuse.
One day a very poor woman from the provinces was brought to the hospital, in labor with her eighth baby. It was dead inside of her, and a poisonous infection had spread throughout her system. A lifetime of suffering and grief were etched on her face. Though only 28 years old, she was missing her front teeth, and her whole body appeared worn and spent. The doctor angrily told her she was stupid to have so many children, and it was all her fault that now she might die, too. She was burning up with fever, and had no money to buy antibiotics. Hospitals in poor countries don't provide any drugs or supplies; you must buy your own, and if you can't, you receive no treatment.
She was put on a bed in the far corner to labor alone. After the doctor left, I went over to her and offered her a cup of water, gently lifting her shoulders to help her take a sip. As long as I live I will never forget the look on her face. To me it was just a small kindness, a drink of water! But her response utterly broke my heart. It was as if I had done something wonderful and unbelievable. Her gratitude was totally out of proportion to the deed. I realized then that she had spent a lifetime deprived of kindness.
Hours later, the poor little dead baby was finally dragged from her body, and she lay close to death herself. For three days she clung to life by a thread, delirious with fever from the infection that raged unchecked. I went to see her every day, and though she wasn't coherent, I prayed for her. One the fourth day, to my amazement, she was sitting up in bed when I came, and with smiles and tears asked me to pray with her to receive Jesus as her Lord. She told me He had come to her in her delirium as I was praying the day before. She knew it was He who had healed her.
Can the church give up her mandate to care for the poor? Can we assume they will be taken care of somewhere else if we don't, or won't? Where is the mercy, the compassion that has to accompany physical healing? Without it, people will not be made whole, even with the very best medical care.
I believe that people cannot show mercy if they have never received it. That is why we see so much inhuman behavior toward others. A kindness given is love with its most human face.
B R E A D F R O M H E A V E N
"In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock."
--Nehemiah 9:15 (NIV)
Elva was an expectant mom who came into our free clinic in Mexico last summer. While assessing her vital signs, we realized she was showing classical signs of shock-rapid thready pulse, low blood pressure, and dizziness. We could find no reason for the unusual symptoms, but upon questioning her, we found that she had not eaten since breakfast the day before. There had been no food that day for her nine children either, some of whom now sat passive and listless in our waiting room. We fed Elva and her family that day, and soon after we began giving away eggs, milk, beans and rice to our patients as a regular supplement to our medical care.
Our church in El Paso has a food bank in a community nearby where many poor families live. Needy people come and are given fresh, nutritious food without cost. Most importantly, they are treated with dignity and respect. Our church has a vision for the King's banqueting table being laid here on earth.
We trained members of the church to begin a simple Road to Health ministry. During the time we give out food, we weigh the children under five and monitor their progress on growth charts, which the parents bring back each month. Underweight children can then be singled out for special attention. The parents are given basic health teachings in both English and Spanish.
Recently I talked with a couple who have given the past seven years of their lives to being trained in agriculture so they could do something about world hunger. When they first sensed the call to missions, they wanted to be prepared to really make a difference. They purposely chose an agriculture program at a southwestern university so they could learn in the same arid, desert conditions in which much of the third world lies. They left home, jobs, family, and security to commit themselves to learning a methodology by which the poor could grow all the nutritious food they need in a small space.
I was amazed by this couple, by their steadfast determination over the years, no matter what the cost, to spend themselves on behalf of the hungry. Why is this kind of thing so rare in the church today?
I remember a story Tony Campolo told in his book Ideas for Social Action. It is meant to shock us, to wake us up from our apathy. He started by saying that Jesus calls us to move beyond a desire for personal piety to a desire to help others, especially the desperately poor. To show the contrast between these two emphases, Tony told the story of a bright young student he had once heard address a Christian college chapel service. The student opened by saying, "Last night, according to U.N. statistics, approximately ten thousand people starved to death. Furthermore, most of you don't give a shit. What is worse, most of you are more upset with the fact that I just said "shit" than you are over the fact that ten thousand people starved to death last night. That's what I want to talk to you about-your morality."
In our self-righteousness we somehow think we are not responsible for a sinful, overpopulated world. Yet the Bible says in Ezekiel, "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." (16:49)
To be a Christian is to be unable to tolerate the things that God finds intolerable, to hate the things He hates. The Jesus of the Bible beckons us to change a world in which 500 million people suffer from malnutrition and ten thousand die every night. He calls us to leave our false gods of materialism, greed, and success, and join Him in living out the life-style of the Kingdom. He is the Bread of Life. Jesus said when we minister to the very least of these, the hungry, cold, naked, and poor, it is really Him we are feeding, warming, clothing, comforting. The mystery of the gospel is this: in being Jesus to others, we find Jesus ourselves.
Poor people exist in every community-we need only look for them. Sharing our food with the hungry is one of the simplest yet most powerful ways to model the heart of God.
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
--Isaiah 58:6-12 (NIV)
P O W E R F O R H E A L I N G
"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death."
--Revelation 21:11 (NIV)
It was midnight, and once again I found myself up to my elbows in someone else's blood. At times like this I wondered, "What am I doing here? Why did I think I could come to the third world and do anything to help the poor?"
This woman had come into our Manila clinic moments before, in advanced labor and bleeding profusely. We were fighting for two lives, as we rushed to put in an I.V. line, give oxygen, find the cause of the bleeding and stop it, and arrange for an emergency transport to the local hospital. We knew the chances of getting the baby out alive when faced with a prebirth hemorrhage of this magnitude were next to nothing.
Another midwife was listening to the baby's heartbeat through a fetal stethoscope, tapping out the familiar beat with her finger. It was getting weaker and slower as the minutes ticked by, as the life blood drained away, robbing the baby of vital oxygen. Finally his heartbeat ebbed away altogether. I looked up as my friend stopped tapping out the rhythm. It was gone.
Still I worked frantically to staunch the scarlet flood that was unstaunchable. We all knew we were in danger of losing the mother, too. She was already so compromised by a lifetime of neglect and starvation.
I cried out loud to God, begging Him for life, begging Him to help us. Everyone in the room was praying aloud, desperately. It was not a time for quiet, religious prayers. I was so afraid, so helpless. We were already doing all we knew to do medically; we needed a supernatural intervention.
And in His infinite mercy, God moved. He moved in compassion and saved them both. We still don't understand how, but as we prayed the fetal heartbeat came back; a healthy baby girl was eventually delivered.
All whom God calls, in whatever profession or capacity, must study, train, and discipline themselves towards excellence in their given profession. As a health care worker, I believe very strongly in having superb skills and top-rate equipment and medications. It may often mean the difference between life and death. Yet let us never forget that even our skills, talents, and knowledge are a gift from God. Though secular health professionals may deny this, life is ultimately in the hands of the Lord. We have no power in and of ourselves as human beings to save lives, or to save souls. Our dependency must be in Him alone.
When Jesus died on the cross, it was not merely so we could go to heaven someday. He wants to use us to be the agents through which He can change the world. When we make ourselves available, He will put us in situations where He can move in power through us. We must be willing to die to ourselves so that others may live.
N E V E R F O R N O T H I N G
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die."
--Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NIV)
In working among the poor, we have to be willing to have our routines and our comfort zones stretched. Their needs are always so pressing, so urgent. There is no safety net for them because survival-wise they live so close to the edge.
I was downstairs eating lunch one day in our Philippines clinic when a young man and woman walked in the door, carrying a baby wrapped up in blankets. They told us their son had been born four days earlier, at home with no trained attendant. I leaned over casually to peer into the blankets.
The tiny infant had the dreadful grayish-yellow hue I had come to recognize when death was imminent. He was severely dehydrated and shriveled up like a wizened old man. Diarrhea was draining his little life away minute by minute. "Oh Lord, help me," I whispered.
Baby Lloyd turned our lives and schedules upside down for days. Around the clock we treated him, pumping a steady flow of oral rehydration solution through a nasal-gastric tube straight into his stomach. Another life and death struggle was on.
That time we won. But Herbie we lost, and I still grieve for him.
Herbie's mom turned our lives upside down, too. Cherrie was five months pregnant when she appeared on our doorstep late one night, brought under cover of darkness by her parents. According to them, Cherrie had shamed the family by becoming pregnant without a husband. They wanted us to hide her there until the baby was born. Her father was adamant that she get rid of the baby before she would be allowed back in their home. We didn't even think twice-we took her in.
In the Philippines, many if not most of the poorest people were not legally married, but they lived as common-law husband and wife. This was because weddings cost so much money, and also because there was no legal divorce and remarriage. A teen pregnancy like Cherrie's, without even a common-law arrangement, was shameful, as it was culturally and economically not feasible for a mother to raise a baby without a family support.
For days Cherrie cried constantly. She had been twice rejected-first by the baby's father and then by her own father. We shared with her often about the love and forgiveness of God. She was treated like a member of the family. By the end of that first week, Cherrie decided it was fun living in that house/clinic with all of us, and her bright smile and infectious laugh replaced the tears. As the months passed and she grew round with child, we loved on her, nurtured her, and provided her with an ideal diet and environment to grow a healthy baby. She came to accept and love the heavenly Father that loved her.
When Herbie was born, his young mother sorrowfully released him for adoption, as her parents insisted. But Herbie, though he was born healthy, never thrived. In the baby home awaiting adoption, he picked up one infection after another. I went to see him in the baby home, and I was frightened for him, because I could discern that he had no will to live. This sounds strange but it was as if he was grieving for a mother he'd never known. As I looked at him, well taken care of physically but failing fast, I guessed that he had a broken heart. We prayed hard for Herbie, but I think I knew in my spirit he just wanted to go home, and that God would allow it. At four months of age, he died.
I felt so inadequate. We had set out to rescue the ones doomed to death, and with Herbie we had failed. We had done everything possible for Cherrie and her baby, but it was not enough.
There are no guarantees when we pour our lives out for others. When we love without visible return, we have to know that it is never for nothing. Sometimes there are victories, sometimes defeats. I've watched more than once as a miniature coffin was carried out of a slum or garbage dump where we were ministering. But as Amy Carmichael once said, if the devil has anything to do with the death of a child, his worst only sends the little life far out of his reach forever. They are in the arms of a merciful Father, who alone can promise no more tears, no more pain, no more rejection forever. That comforts my heart.
T H E L E A S T O F T H E S E
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
--1 John 3:17-18 (NIV)
Rhona was nearly dead when we found her, a three weeks old infant in the final phases of starvation. Weak, limp, and unable to move a muscle, she had spent the first weeks of her life in a darkened hovel amidst squalid slum conditions in Manila. She had never eaten, except the few drops of milk or water her parents occasionally dribbled down her flaccid throat
Her parents had given up. They had other hungry children and no money to pay a doctor. I learned later that Rhona was an unwanted child. As is all too common in places of extreme poverty, her mother had attempted to abort her during the pregnancy, using the primitive, crude methods known by despairing women in the slums.
Rhona was a survivor. She had survived three abortion attempts and three weeks of starvation and neglect. Now it was the morning of her 23rd day, and Rhona was barely hanging on.
That morning, myself and a few of my team had come to this squatter barrio to talk to the captain about setting up a health clinic. As we wound our way through the narrow, cramped maze of cardboard, tin, and scrap lumber houses, I heard a woman calling my name, asking me to please come and see her neighbor's sick baby.
The house she led us to was little more than a gaping hole in the wall that ran down the backside of the camp. Open sewers drained through the constricted walkway leading into the shoddy dwelling. I waited outside. I could hear the neighbor's insistent pleading inside. At last a woman reluctantly emerged and placed Rhona in my arms.
The infant child was dying. Her physical presence in my arms was as light and insubstantial as a feather. Ribs protruded, wrapped in loose folds of ashen-gray skin. Tiny arms and legs dangled helplessly from her diminutive, wasted body. Breathing was labored and shallow, and her sunken eyes were the only part of her body she could move. Rhona looked up at me and made contact. In an instant, I knew that this ordinary day had just turned extraordinary.
I fell in love with her in that moment. Though I didn't expect Rhona to live more than an hour or two, we rushed with her back to our clinic.
I remember briefly thinking as we hurtled through the streets of Manila in a taxi that I could just drop her off at one of the charity hospitals. No one would ever question that decision, no one would blame me. It was so tempting to just do that, and give this awful responsibility to someone else. But I also knew that if I did, she would die. I had worked in hospitals in the Philippines and seen the conditions. I had seen the attitudes much of the medical staff had toward undervalued human beings, and Rhona certainly had no value by most standards. She was at the very bottom of the social order-a mostly-dead, unwanted baby girl from an impoverished slum. Without a family member to stay in the hospital with her, she wouldn't even get basic nursing care. I was fairly certain that she would die anyway, no matter what I did, but against all odds I knew that I had to try.
Back at the clinic we inserted a narrow thin tube down Rhona's nose into her stomach, and gave her tiny amounts of milk every 15 minutes. We knew that too much food at once could throw her into cardiac failure, she was so severely dehydrated and starved. She was dirty and had staph infection all over her body, and on her foot was an infected boil the size of an egg.
My son Ian and two other friends' children from Alaska were living with us in the Philippines that summer. Ian, Tabitha, and Brandon were instantly enamored with the pitiful little girl we brought home, who looked and acted more like a rag doll than a baby. With Q-tips, soap, and water they spent hours cleaning her sores, then rubbing in antibiotic ointment. It was so touching to see how gently and lovingly these eight-year-olds cared for the tiny, pitiful baby.
Tabitha asked if I thought we should pray for her, and when I said, "Of course," she prayed like this: "Jesus, please don't let Rhona die until she is a grandma. Amen."
I thought of the scripture about caring for "the least of these." There couldn't be many that would fit that description better than Rhona did right then. As the kids prayed I was visited with a deep sense of God's heart. He placed value on her, infinite, eternal value.
I tried as kindly as I could to explain to the children that in spite of their ministrations and prayers, there was a good chance she wouldn't live through the night.
But Rhona did live.
We fed her through the nose tube, every few hours, day and night. I carried her down my shirt close to my body for warmth for the first few weeks, because she had no fat layer to regulate her temperature. As she got older we carried her everywhere in a sling strapped against our bodies. At night she slept on one of our beds. Her parents, who had obviously given her up for dead in the beginning, refused to come and visit her, and abandoned her into our care. I knew instinctively that Rhona needed love as much as food.
For the first few weeks Rhona was too weak to cry, and after that she just never picked up the habit. She was always smiling, seeming happy simply to be alive. Every one of our missionary team members in the Philippines acted as if Rhona was their very own special baby. She must have been the most loved and pampered child on the planet. Any one of us would have adopted her if complicated national laws hadn't prevented it.
For months Rhona could not hold her head up, and her facial muscles refused to coordinate a sucking effort. She couldn't drink from a bottle until she was eight months old. At first the concern was that she would be brain damaged as a result of the early starvation, but little by little she made progress. We massaged her, exercised her arms and legs, talked to her, sang to her, played with her, and loved her.
At the end of our time running Gentle Hands clinic, we asked our team's kids to write down what they liked best about living in the Philippines, and they all said, "Rhona!" My teenage son Zak, who loved her deeply, wrote this about Rhona:
"When I was in the Philippines several things made an impact on me, but none as great as a small little girl so weak and malnourished she couldn't even suck a bottle to survive. Her name is Rhona. She enchanted me with her smile, moved me with her charming personality, and amazed me with her cheerful attitude. Every morning I would wake up early and go downstairs to see Rhona grinning from ear to ear. Sometimes I would be in a terrible mood, and as I would walk by her playpen and accidentally look down to see her look up at me and laugh, I would forget everything and pick her up."
Rhona's story captured the hearts and imaginations of our supporters back in the States. Hundreds of people followed her progress through our newsletters and through articles in the Fairbanks Daily New Miner. She became the symbol of all we hoped to accomplish among the destitute-one big rescue that made a difference forever.
At a year and a half old, Rhona was chosen for international adoption and went to live with a Christian family in Canada. Her new family wrote to me recently that she is an exceptionally smart, beautiful, and robust little girl, fond of laughter and boisterous play. Firmly grafted into a permanent haven of nurture and acceptance, Rhona has every chance now of growing up and eventually becoming that grandma Tabitha envisioned.
W H A T C A N O N E P E R S O N D O ?
"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'"
--Matthew 19:14 (NIV)
Jesus loves the little children. We sing about it, we teach it to our children, but do we really believe it? Are we willing to be a Samaritan to our global neighbor's children?
Gabriel Mistral, a Nobel Prize-winning poet from Chile, wrote, "We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made and his senses are being developed. To him, we cannot answer 'Tomorrow.' His name is 'Today.'"
Were you aware that forty thousand children under the age of five die every day? Do you realize that in two days time more children in the underdeveloped world die than all the Americans that died during the entire Vietnam war? If we think of these sufferings at all, we tend to consider it an inevitable tragedy, a cause for sorrow but not action.
What would happen if we faced the fact that their suffering is a result of our indifference, neglect, and misplaced values? Would it stir us to change?
Poor people are under a barrage of oppressing forces, including lack of knowledge. Their worst enemies are hunger, poor hygiene, impure water, and a hopelessly low standard of living. One million babies die each year just because their mothers have been wrongly led to believe that bottlefeeding is superior to breastfeeding. Several million more little ones each year die from simple diarrhea and treatable respiratory illness. Their immune systems are severely compromised by a lifetime of malnutrition, rendering them helpless against infection. Somewhere around one million young women die every year in the third world while trying to perform their God-given gift of bringing forth new life.
It is our recognition of this unacceptable situation that motivates us to run two health care training schools through the Vineyard School of Missions.
Until recently, people believed that you needed eight years of medical school to be qualified to meet critical health needs. But the reality is, with only six months of training in our Primary Health Care School, Christians could actively prevent over 95% of the deaths now occurring among children. In just 15 months we can train highly skilled and qualified midwives for service anywhere families are in need. If other caring people would team up with us and send money to fund primary health centers around the world, we could work together side by side, goers and senders, health workers and financial sponsors, and the tragic loss of life could be stopped. All we need is the will.
One thing I like about the Samaritan was that we don't even know his name. He wasn't a doctor or religious leader. He wasn't rich or powerful. He was an ordinary man, a nameless, faceless person who God used to show His mercy.
In Philippians it says that Jesus made Himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant. He is calling us to do the same, to strip ourselves of any titles, reputation, false pride, or wrong motivation and lay it at the cross. Emulating the example He gives us, we can then give our time, talents, and money to the rescue effort.
My prayer is that it will not be said of us that we allowed our apathy to hinder the little children from experiencing His kingdom here on earth.