The people come for a reason. They are desperate, and they have come to seek the only one who can help them. Their poverty is indescribable. So many are seriously sick. They have been battered by witchcraft, corrupt and immoral leaders, huge frustrations and disappointments, broken homes and a meager economy. Their living conditions and prospects for the future seem hopelessly bleak. But that’s why we are here. We preach Good News, a perfect savior, eternal hope, a Kingdom of love, peace, and joy that cannot be taken away.
-Reckless Devotion, Heidi & Rolland Baker
Our hearts have been heavy since Tuesday. It’s been heavy with sadness for the tragic state that many of the children are in on Mount Elgon. But it has also been heavy with love for the Lord and all of the children that we encountered that day. We were blessed with the opportunity to do God’s work and to serve and show love to those who are oftentimes deemed unworthy. With a group of about 25 other missionaries, we spent Tuesday helping to treat and fix some physical ailments that the kids who live in remote villages on the mountain suffer from. There were so many emotions that flooded into our hearts this day. Sadness for these poor children and seeing them in pain as their feet were cut open, heart break knowing their ailments could be prevented with the right care and cleaning and all the work that were doing today was only a temporary bandaid over a much bigger problem, frustration at the government for not having a heart after their own people who are suffering and in so much need, disappointment knowing we only had so many hands to help and shoes to give out and the 300+ children waiting to be seen were going to have to be turned away because of our schedule and limited supplies, readiness to do God’s work wherever He needed us, and most of all immense love for everyone we encountered that we knew they were desperately hungry for.
Each child that walked through our doors were terrified knowing that they were about to go through so much pain. Some of them were terrified just by the color of our skin and the language barrier, everything was so foreign to them. We were terrified knowing that God was taking us out of our comfort zones, but as the first child walked in we prayed that God would give us the strength we needed to get through this day and to impact these children the most we could. God was guiding our steps and us giving the power to do His work.
Sarah and I started off cleaning and checking children’s’ skin for rashes on their bodies and ring worm on their heads. This tiny girl I treated had a rash covering her entire body, which required me to lather her with antibiotic ointment. She seemed so scared and unsure of what was happening to her. She watched me put the ointment on her skin and tears were in her eyes. I began to sing a song in Swahili to her to comfort her and let her know I was there to help. Being there in that moment with this little one is something I will never forget. To see her suffering and sick and me being there to show her love and help her heal, I could feel God preparing me for bigger obstacles later that day. She listened to me sing and I prayed over her as I gave her the medicine on her skin. For what came next there are no words.
Removing the jiggers takes a long time depending on the severity of the case and we were washing feet faster then the team was removing jiggers. There was this heaviness on my heart knowing if only there were more people cutting the jiggers out more children could be seen. I looked outside at the line of children that wrapped around the building and I had to take a step back and catch my breath to keep from losing myself to tears. In that moment of overwhelming desperation I felt God tug on my heart. I knew I could do something to get the line going faster even if it meant only by a few children.
I walked into the clinic room and got a surgical gown, gloves, scalpels, forceps, Betadine, and peroxide and sat down to work on my first child. I had never done anything like this before and wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I had only been around jigger removal once and I was just comforting the child as someone else cut at their feet. I took a deep breath and said a short prayer for God to give me strength to do the task at hand. As I looked up I saw a little boy with tattered clothes and a terrified face sitting in font of me. His name was Mercy; he looked just as scared as I felt so I had to try to be brave for the both of us. I smiled at him and gave him a sucker to distract him as I pulled out my scalpel. I braced myself for the worst as I looked over his left foot. I thanked God because it seemed pretty clean, only one or two spots that needed attention. My first patient was going to be easy. I took the knife to the areas that needed attention and he barely flinched. We seemed to make a pretty good team, me not wanting to hurt him and obviously him not wanting to be hurt by my blade. Once that foot was finished I looked over his right foot and my heart sunk, I had to try and fight back tears. The realization that this boy had been walking around with a hole in his arch of his foot from the jigger larva living on his flesh, for what looked like several months, made me want to hold him and hug him and tell him everything was going to be okay. I knew he was going to have to go through a lot of pain to remove the rotten flesh and larva that was living inside his foot. I looked up at Mercy and I smiled as best I could. I turned his foot so he could see what I was seeing and tried to tell him to brace himself. His face became stern and strong as if to say he was ready. I knew this would be a long process to remove and it was going to be very painful for the both of us. I began my first Incision into his rock solid flesh and tried to breath and keep a steady hand. He was so brave and didn’t move an inch. I heard wincing every once in a while and I kept looking at him after every cut to see how he was doing. He was such a champ. About half way through however Mercy started to kick his foot and cry. I think the general shock was wearing off and the pain was setting in. The more he kicked the harder it was for me to see and have a steady hand. I kept counting to him, in Swahili, to tell him when I was going to cut and how many more larva I had to remove, but the pain was getting the worst of him.
Sarah had been helping care for another boy by holding him as Helen and Pastor Sam worked on his feet and was finished so I called her over. She sat on the chair and placed Mercy in her lap. Tears ran down his face as pain was rocking throughout his body. Sarah strained to keep Mercy still and did her best to help the process go smoother. I showed Mercy his foot and all I had done to it, the hard part was over. His heal needed some attention in some larger spots but not as bad as what we had just accomplished together. I counted to him, told Sarah to do her best to keep him still, and started on his heal. As I cut he kept kicking and kicking. I did my best to not cry along with him and to be strong for the both of us. The poor boy had to have a third of his entire bottom of his foot removed and had been sitting there for over an hour. It was obvious that on the last incision I had to do he was beyond finished. Sarah was sweating as she tried to use all her strength to keep him still, He was sweating both from the pain and from straining to fight off Sarah and I and tears flooded down his face. All I wanted to do was love on him and hug him and tell him he was all better and we were done but I couldn’t. I had one more spot to cut. Mercy had no more strength in him to finish, the stern statue of a boy that started off was now a hurting, weeping, child. I said, “Moja Bili, Tatu” to him and tried to make my last cut. I got most of it off but he made a giant kick and I knew he was done. I put down my knife and said Sowa (Okay) to him to tell him I was finished. The last part was the peroxide on his wounds to kill all germs and help prevent future infection. I felt like I was torturing him. I gave him a smile showed him the bottle and said “Brace yourself, it will sting,” and made a face so he knew it would hurt. He prepared for the worst and I began to spray. With every drop that hit his wound he cried harder and my heart hurt deeper. There was nothing I could do to take away his pain, no matter how badly I wanted to. I grabbed bandages and wrapped his feet. As I finished I couldn’t help think, what if all I did was cut open his skin and more larva would find its way in, or worse what if all that I just did became infected because he had no way to clean it and he would get sick from having an infection in his foot? I Stopped thinking, I knew the enemy was telling me lies, I just healed this boy from a horrible infestation and spoke truth that his foot would heal and become whole again because God loves and cares for the weak and the hurting.
God guided my hand through the entire process, every incision, every tear, every moment of weakness God stood by me. He was my strength through the entire thing. Without Him I could not have done anything, but with him I became someone who could heal others and impact a sick child’s life. I couldn’t help but think of Gods sovereignty and faithfulness to his sons and daughters and how blessed I was to be able to be His hands and feet at that moment in time. As God was filling me up with His love and peace again after being drained the next child sat at my seat and was ready for me to work on her feet. God continued to guide my hand on her and the next five children I tended to. I will always remember this day as a day God gave me to lean and learn from Him as He showed me how to love deeper and how to stretch my dependence on Him. I was realizing more and more my own strength was not going to get me through this day. And the more I relied on Him I could do anything. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Throughout the day, I switched from job to job, hopping in where someone was needed. I began with treating children’s ringworm and rashes with ointment. There were a couple of them with rashes all over the entirety of their bodies. I spent about 30 minutes putting ointment on one young girl’s rash which had spread all over her head, neck, chest, stomach, and back, and that was when it first hit me. I was taken aback by a flood of emotions due to how much these kids, specifically this one young girl was suffering. I couldn’t even begin to imagine. I still can’t. Shortly after I treated her, I treated a young boy with mud so matted into his hair and his scalp, I couldn’t tell at first if his head was covered in scabs or mud. When I realized it was mud, I couldn’t tell where the mud ended and his scalp began. I tried my best to wash it out, but there was only so much I could do with water and a sponge. That was incredibly frustrating to me. I just wanted to give him a bath and scrub out his hair with shampoo. It required such an easy solution, but I didn’t have the means to do it. It was something that was so easily preventable as well. If only someone had washed his head on a regular basis, then he wouldn’t have had mud caked on to the point of discomfort. That was a reoccurring frustration for me throughout the day. So much of what we treated: rashes, dirtiness, jiggers even, is easily preventable. They just need access to basic things like clean water, soap, and shoes; things that I was/am aware some people lack, but nevertheless I take for granted in my own life.
After that, I moved on to my next job and without a doubt the hardest job I did that day. There was one young boy that Mama Hellen had been working on for an hour to remove the jiggers from his feet. He was screaming and crying and in so much pain that he wouldn’t hold still so that she could continue working. Pastor Sam was holding the boy trying to comfort him and keep him from moving, but he was struggling to keep the boy from squirming, so I went over to help. I held the boy’s upper torso while he laid his head on my chest. I held this boy, who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, while he was sobbing and cringing in pain, while Mama Hellen worked to cut jiggers out of his feet with a scalpel. It took 5 of us to hold him still.
I can’t even begin to explain.
I wanted to start sobbing with him. I wanted to tell Mama Hellen to stop. I didn’t want him to be in that much pain anymore. But I knew that if she didn’t get the jiggers out now, they would cause him more pain in the long run. They needed to come out. She worked on him for another half hour. All the while, I held this screaming boy’s head on my chest and did my best to comfort him and distract him from the pain. She didn’t even try to remove the jiggers from his hands. Two of his fingers were permanently bent because of them, but after having worked to remove the jiggers from his feet for an hour and a half, I think everyone was done and just ready to give the kid a break from the pain.
As soon as I finished holding him, Kylee asked me to come hold a boy that she was working on. His name was Mercy. While I sat and held Mercy, while Kylee removed essentially the entire middle part of the bottom of his foot because it was covered in jiggers, he didn’t say a word, he tried his hardest not to flinch or move or make a sound, but he had a steady stream of tears running down his face. He was trying so hard to be brave, strong, and tough despite being in so much pain. He was trying his best to let us help him. That’s what I had to keep reminding myself of as I sat there and held Mercy: we were helping him. It sure didn’t seem like it with blood dripping from his feet and with him silently weeping. It seemed like we were just hurting him and making it worse. I really struggled with that. I hated seeing him in pain. I hated seeing all of the children in pain. It was a constant battle between wanting to just stop – to stop cutting out the jiggers and to stop making the children cry – and reminding myself that that’s what was necessary. We needed to help these kids, and in order to do that, we needed to get the jiggers out, and that involves causing them a little pain and that involves making some of them cry.
This internal battle continued when I was helping Patience. Patience has been on my heart and on my mind consistently since Tuesday. The sound of her crying will not leave my head. She’s a young girl, no more than 10 years old, and she has an abscess on her foot. I sat with Patience and held her as Darla, one of the other missionaries who is a surgical nurse, worked to drain it. Every time Darla even touched Patience’s foot, Patience screamed out in pain. She was shaking. The abscess wouldn’t drain, so we ended up having to just put a thick wrap on her foot and hope that her abscess would drain soon on its own. I carried Patience to get shoes and socks, and then I carried her to find her parents; Pastor Richard accompanied us. When we got outside we discovered that Patience doesn’t actually have parents. She has never known her father, and her mother passed away. One of her relatives, who is young herself, takes care of Patience the best she can, but it’s hard, especially because Patience can’t walk well on her foot.
I had to go sit on my own for a little bit. It was all I could do to keep from crying. I was angry. I was angry that despite our best efforts, we couldn’t drain Patience’s abscess. I felt like we did nothing for her. Sure she got a new pair of shoes, but what good does that do? She can’t even fit her foot into a shoe. I was angry that in addition to having the abscess, she doesn’t have parents to love and care for her. She doesn’t have parents to help try and keep her healthy or to take her to a doctor to get her foot fixed. But more than being angry, I was sad. Sad seems so cliché though, and I feel like it doesn’t do what I was feeling justice. I can’t explain how much my heart hurt for her. I started praying. I hated that I was angry and I knew that I just needed to re-center myself. I needed to spend time with God, after all, He was the reason that I was there. He’s the reason I’m in Kenya. He’s the reason that Patience walked into my life and He’s the reason that I was so affected by her and her story. I opened my Bible app on my phone, and it opened to Psalms 56:3.
“I put my trust in you: In God, whose word I praise.”
I trust that my entire day at the clinic, all of the hard things I witnessed, all of the people that I met who had such a deep impact on my heart, was for a reason and I trust that God will help me to help them, to serve them, and to make a difference in their lives.
With every breath I breathe, with every song I sing, I want to shout it out
Lord I am listening to every word You speak. I’ll go where You will lead.
To love the least of these is my greatest offering.
-All sons and daughters