*The following story is told with some liberties to the actual story and the names have been changed.
The rooster crows. Again. Now a third time; that’s the signal. You sit up in your hammock and your calloused and cracked soles slide to the floor. That gritty, powdery sensation on first touch gives way to a slightly damp feeling as your weight descends on your points of contact with the literal world. It isn’t because you keep a dirty house, it is because your house is made of dirt. Walls, floors, all dirt.
You pick up one of two shirts you can claim and pull it on with a sense of pride. #10, Corinthians jersey. Your dad and your uncles moved here from São Paulo to start a tire shop when you were just a boy. They brought their fandom with them and instilled it in you since before you could walk. All of your neighbors are Flamengo fans, but it doesn’t bother you to be different. For one, it is your heritage; something you couldn’t influence that watered this seed in you of belonging to something bigger. But differently, you also chose to follow this team. Its fan base proudly boasts of the moniker “the faithful.” Wearing the jersey reminds you of a different kind of fidelity, that of your heavenly father to you as his child. You hesitate just for a moment before you walk out the door, knowing what lies ahead of you today. You will need to rely on that faithfulness now more than ever.
You exit the house alone into the abruptness of the warmth the sun has already been busy preparing this morning. Your daughter and youngest son are staying with their cousins, just on the other side of the soccer field, which sits just off the highway. Is the guy going to show up? Does he really have enough cash to buy it? If he does, is it my responsibility to worry about where the cash came from? You decide it doesn’t matter today because how the money will be spent is all that matters. Your son needs treatment, and who knows for how long? Selling your motorcycle is the only thing you own that would bring enough money to continue his treatment, for now.
The images of last week keep playing in your mind. 7 days ago, on the very sand field you are crossing now, you watched as a car, driving way too fast, swerved to miss a pothole veering into your 10 y/o son who was standing on the roadside. If only he hadn’t decided to play that day. If only his friends would have already arrived. If only the driver had been paying attention. If only the state had kept up its promise to care for the roads. If only it wasn’t the rainy season. You try to shake off these thoughts that torment you as if they were embedded in the smell of the coffee that wakes you up in the morning and that are ever-present in your head when you lay down at night. But you can’t escape them. If only the “if onlys” would stop…
We met this man’s wife today at the Children’s Hospital. When I entered the room she was putting a blanket on her son, who just last week was a vibrant budding Corinthians fan, but who now can only respond occasionally to stimulation by opening his eyes. A breathing machine, IV medications, a feeding tube, a catheter - just a few pieces of medical equipment that 8 days ago seemed so foreign to this family from the interior of the state. Today, she is still wearing the same cotton dress she arrived in. Who knows if she has been able to shower or brush her teeth or run a comb through her hair? She still has a glimmer of hope in her eyes that he will get better. After all, God is faithful. He will be with her and He will heal him, right? I can’t help but suspect that next week, when we return for the bi-monthly Thursday worship service we have been privileged to participate in, they will still be here. I also can’t help but picturing him lying in the “prolonged stay” room, with her sitting in her new home, a chair, by his side when we are here a few months from now as well. She will be friends with Aline then, a woman whose daughter Juliana has been in that room since she was born over 4 years ago. Aline is a strong woman who has long ago moved into the acceptance stage of grief, not that she doesn’t oscillate out at times as anyone would. But she has found her place there now, determined to help the other families whom she now lives with in the same room. Her positive spirit and her heart expressed in the way she sings “Deus é Deus” (God is God) on Thursdays is truly inspiring. Or, maybe this young family will be placed next to Fernanda, whose son Davi, though he is alert to everything around him, is unable to move or speak and does not have much hope of getting out of there any time soon. Fernanda is so sweet, so attentive...so stressed.
A majority of the families who are stuck at the hospital are here because they are, well, stuck. Their children are sick or injured and need long-term care. Home health, a rehab center, a long-term care facility, or at least the equipment to bring to their own homes and care for their children themselves are what many of these families need. They also need a hug and a shoulder to cry on. The hospital they are in is a city hospital which does not have unlimited resources. Most of these families are from the countryside, dropped off by an ambulance at the door because this place is the only hospital for hundreds of kilometers, perhaps the state, that accepts pediatric emergencies. The Federal and state hospitals have closed, leaving a tremendous impoverishment of medical care in our state. Families who live on farms in dirt houses have no financial means to afford the treatment their children need. And so they stay, and they are stuck, at the hospital.
James 1:27 tells us that “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This list is not intended to be exhaustive. It is intended to reveal the heart of God. Many times in the Bible God responds when he “hears the cries” of the oppressed. His heart breaks for those who have been outcast, whose plot in life is suffering, who are poor and needy. Jesus’ eyes were always looking to the margins of society. As Christ followers, ours should be searching as well. Searching for someone to care for in the name of Jesus: to give a cup of water, or a bag of clothes, or a set of watercolors, or that hug.
I can’t wait to see how the Bible study group responds when Vitoria, one of the members who went with us today, tells them stories about our experience and challenges them to consider ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus through their giftedness to these folks in need. I can’t wait to hear their ideas, and see their talents come out as we try to make a difference for the glory of God. We cannot solve all the problems at the hospital, nor can we fix these situations. But we can be present, and we can do something. And we can be faithful with the things that have been given to us in the name of the One whose faithfulness to us is beyond reason!
I wonder if Aline, when she sings “Deus é Deus” realizes that she in some ways is what God is “doing” in the lives of others who share the prolonged stay room with her? I wonder if Fernanda knows that her faithfulness to Davi is a mirror that reflects the image of God’s faithfulness to us? I wonder what the effect of these two women’s faith will be on the woman we met today. Will they be her points of contact with the spiritual world? Will we? I absolutely pray she never gets to find out, and I absolutely pray that she does. I certainly left today with a renewed charge: to be the answer to someone’s prayer! I left encouraged to be “the faithful.”
"To God be the praise…
If God does, He is God.
If He does not, He is God.
If the door opens, He is God.
But if it closes, He continues to be God.
If God does, He is God.
If He does not, He’s still God.
I do not worship Him for what He does.
I worship Him for who He is.”
(Music (in Portuguese) here: https://youtu.be/JPqitveFAGo)