Wednesday morning my alarm went off at a much too early hour, 4:30 am…. I woke up half an hour early to spend a little time praying for the big day we had ahead of us. As I walked upstairs around 5:05, I saw a very abnormal sight, the ship was awake. The ship doesn’t really come to life until about 7:00 am, but not this morning. People were eating. People were drinking coffee. Everyone was dressed so nicely. Many were praying and many were anxious. It was quite. It was calm. It was peaceful. Yes, it was very early so we were all a bit tired, but that wasn’t what created the incredible calmness and peacefulness that surrounded us.
Wednesday was Screening Day. The biggest day of our 10 month field service in Congo. It was the day we were going to provide so much hope and healing to so many. It was the day we were going to so quickly fall in love with so many beautiful faces. It was the day we were going to create the biggest smiles. It was the day we would see disease and sickness in a way most people can’t even imagine. It was the day we were going to see why we do what we do. It was the day we were going to see Jesus in way that can’t be described. It was the day we have all worked so long and hard for. Without this day, all that we do over the 10 months in each country wouldn’t happen.
6 days later I’m still trying to process the day to be able to write this blog. I’ve talked with fellow crew mates who experienced exactly what I did on Screening Day. I’ve talked with fellow crew mates who experienced different things on Screening Day. I’ve talked with family from home about Screening Day. I’ve talked to Jesus about all my emotions and thoughts from Screening Day. Still, I have yet to conjure up the accurate words to express my perception, my thoughts and my feelings of Screening Day.
I was stationed just inside the gate. I was to escort ever patient who came through the gate to the pre-screening station. Once they were told a joyous; “yes, we can help you” and given their piece of gold, a laminated card to see the appropriate physician, I was to escort them to the next station. I was so excited to have this job. I was going to be able to greet every patient who walked through the gate. I would get to hold, cuddle and love on every baby that was carried through the gate. I was going to be able to smile, shake hands and use my terrible french with every man or woman who walked through the gate. I would be able to see every smile as we said, yes, we can help you or yes, mama, we can help your precious baby. I had the biggest smile on my face cause I knew I had the best job for Screening Day. What didn’t cross my mind as I was thinking about the amazing job I was going to have for the day was the dreaded words “no, I am so sorry, we can’t help” or “no, I am sorry, mama, we can’t help your precious baby” I would hear again and again… I was so prepared for the glorious word, yes!! but I was not prepared for the heartbreaking word, no… All I envisioned for Screening Day were smiles and tears of joy because, yes, we could help them. I imagined laughter and hugs. I imagined freedom healing and hope to flow in abundance.
The gate opened around 5:30am. I was fortunate to have Bill Foley (amazing leader and an amazing man of God), Diana (she is just simply one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met) and KJ (my very dear friend here on the ship) at my station. Having the three of them there I knew this day was going to be amazing. People started flooding into the compound. Cleft lip, yes, we can help that one! Club foot, yes, we can help that one! Facial tumor, yes, we can help that one! Blind, yes, we can help that one! Goiter, yes, we can help that one! Burns, yes we can help that one! So many we could help and I knew it even before they made it to the nurse. So many smiles, so many tears of joy, so many happy mamas and so much hope was seen on all those precious faces. I was on such a high, in complete awe of having the opportunity to be apart of this.
Then a father walked up with his child in his arms, wrapped up in a blanket. I still had a smile on my face cause the only thing I could imagine under that blanket was a beautiful, sleeping baby with a club foot, a cleft lip, a burn, bowed legs, some sort of tumor or another deformity that we could easily fix. As I reached out and took a hold of and kissed the tiny little hand sticking out from under the blanket, mama pulled the blanket back just enough for me to see the beautiful face underneath. I didn’t see a cleft lip. I didn’t see a tumor. I didn’t see a burn. I didn’t see any deformity. My smile faded and tears filled my eyes as my heart broke in that moment. I looked back at the father holding this sweet child and the mama standing next to them. Their eyes were both filled with so much pain but also with so much hope. All I could do was hold this beautiful child’s hand even tighter and with my other hand I gently touched her face before kissing her sweet cheeks.
Cerebral Palsy, this beautiful child has Cerebral Palsy… I’m not a Registered Nurse or a Physician or anyone who can make medical decisions for patients but, I do know that there isn’t anything we can do. I knew the next words these hopeful parents were going to have to hear were, no, I’m so sorry, we can’t help your child. I knew they were going to be heartbroken and devastated. I knew this child’s face was never going to leave my mind. I knew these parents faces were never going to leave my mind.
Without saying a word to my team, I had to step away for a moment. I didn’t have it in me to escort this family to the next nurse because I knew what I would see and I didn’t feel I had the strength inside me to watch that happen. I was finally hit with the realization that we can not help every single person that walks through the gate. I was hit with the realization that this was only the first of many hopeful faces turned into faces filled with tears and brokenness because we couldn’t help them. In all the excitement I was feeling leading up to this day because all I could think about was all the people we were going to be able to help, I never gave much thought to the ones we would have to turn away. In a matter of seconds I had to get it together. I had to put that smile back on my face and I had to continue with my hand shakes, cuddles, broken french and hugs. I had to continue to love each and every person that walked through the gate. I had to not only dance down the sidewalk with the ones we said yes to but I also had to wrap my arms around and listen to the ones we said no to. I couldn’t pick and choose who I showed the love of Jesus to, I had to show the love of Jesus to all of them.
Because of the way I was feeling I didn’t want to speak with too many people here on the ship because I didn’t want to sound negative because it seemed as though every single person was so excited about Screening Day. Everyone was so happy that we set a record for the biggest Screening Day in Mercy Ships history. Everyone was just so incredibly happy and I didn’t feel happy. I spoke with loved ones from home and as much as I love them, that didn’t help too much either. What we do here is so hard to explain and accurately describe so it’s very hard for those who haven’t seen with their own eyes to understand. As I expressed my broken heart because I could only think about and remember all the patients we had to turn away, I was told things such as “you can’t save the world, Lisa” or “why don’t you go to med school so you can physically help every person” or “this is just how the world is, Lisa and it’s impossible to solve the worlds problems” or they tried to come up with every solution when in all reality, there isn’t one. This only broke my heart even more. Why did I feel as though I’m the only one feeling this way? Why can’t I be happy that regardless of the number we had to turn away, we still scheduled , 1,326 for surgery or a follow-up visit? Why am I questioning what we do here? Why am I so angry?
As I’ve continued having these questions for 6 days now, the Lord keeps bringing a scripture back to me:
Jeremiah 29:11 says this;
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This scripture is the only thing that has brought me peace. I still have yet to find understanding but that’s OK. I have peace because as much as I want to help every hurting person I see, God has his own plan for that individual. For some, God has chosen us to be the ones to help them, but for others he has different plans and I have to trust in that. I felt as though we had taken hope away from so many because we couldn’t help them but Jesus clearly tells us that he has plans to give us hope and a future. That is what I have to trust in.
I’m never going to forget the face of that beautiful child or her mamas face or her fathers face. I will probably always have a sadness in my heart for them but I’m also always going to have trust in God to take care of that child. I’m going to trust in God to make sure that child is always loved and taken care of. I’m going to trust him to continue to give mama and papa the strength to care for their child. I’m going to trust him to provide everything that beautiful child needs. I’m not only going to trust in him for just that one family, but for every single person we had to say the heartbreaking words “no, we can’t help you” to.
As I was just about to post this blog, my dear friend shared some very encouraging words with me and I felt they were so fitting to include. She told me that it’s easy for anyone to be happy with the patients who are told yes. It’s easy to share in the joy the patients have when they are given hope. It’s easy to dance down the sidewalk with them. It’s easy to smile and share in a joyous hug. However, it takes special people to be able to share in the pain and devastation when a person is informed that there is nothing we can do to help. It takes a strong person who has also felt the same emotions to be able to love these people the way they need to be loved in that moment. My life hasn’t been the greatest or the easiest. I’ve faced traumas. I’ve been greatly hurt, physically and emotionally. Although it may not have been to the extent of some of these people, I know how it feels to suffer because of things that have happened to me that are completely out of my control. I know what loneliness, betrayal and hopelessness feel like. Because of this, God new I would be the perfect person to walk with the no’s. He knew I would be the perfect person to wrap my arms around them, look into their eyes and allow them to see and feel that I do know how they feel and I am sharing in their pain. He knew that I would be able to give the love they needed in that moment of hopelessness. So as hard as it is to not be angry and bitter because of all of the no’s. I have to believe that with each ‘no’ I was able to embrace and love on, God used that moment to allow these people to feel and know His love. These people may have walked away without the medical care they needed, but they also walked away knowing Jesus’ love. It might not have been the hope they came for, but they still walked away with hope.
So, although my heart is still heavy and full of sadness, my heart is also filled with joy for the ones we did say, yes!!! to. Thankfully, I was able to watch our first patients walking on board on Sunday. These we can help! These lives we can change! These we are able to provide hope to! These are the ones that brought so much joy to myself and all of my crew mates. These are the ones that made Screening Day a success. These are the ones I get to walk beside as their lives are transformed and healing, hope and joy fill their hearts. These people are the reason why we do what we do.