The morning after Christmas we all slept in, exhausted. Not wanting to welcome in Christmas visitors while we were still half-asleep, I kept our door and gate closed and locked. Mid-morning, though, I heard someone calling and peeked out a window to see a woman at the gate that I didn't recognize. That's not unusual, though. I've met a ton of people since arriving here and they all remember me because I am one of two young Caucasian women in this entire state, and no one forgets me even if they barely met me. I, on the other hand, can't remember anyone because everyone and everything is new and tons of people stop us to chat in public. My tactic has been to happily greet people as if I know exactly who they are and then hope that they will remind me if I am supposed to know them.
I unlocked our door and stuck my head out and yelled for her to wait a moment, and then scurried in and threw on actual clothes rather than pajamas. I went to the gate, shook the woman's hand, and unlocked it while saying good morning and hoping she would reveal who she is and what she wanted. I was also hoping she was not there for a formal Christmas visit, since the house was a mess and Isaac wasn't even out of bed yet.
Well, she only halfway helped. She apologetically recognized that we must be tired, but asked if Isaac was around. By this I deduced that she was not there for a Christmas visit, but I still didn't know who she was.
I dragged Isaac out of bed and we met her on the front porch awkwardly, still not knowing if we were supposed to know who this woman was. She began to tell us that she lived nearby and that she'd been to see a pastor friend of ours, who told her she should come see us. And then she dissolved into tears and told us a story of an abusive husband, being beaten and threatened on Christmas night, and taking her children and hiding at a friend's house because everyone (her church included) was afraid to confront her policeman husband. Her story was not totally unbelievable. The request for funds to get on tomorrow's boat to Java and the idea that our friend would send her to us to ask for money was, on the other hand, very unlikely.
Isaac walked off to call our friend and I sat there as she retold the story, eyes streaming. I just felt so helpless. Here I hope to be a counselor and I have no idea what to say. We are here to serve and yet.... it felt like there was no way to serve.
Last week, before Christmas, we heard someone had died. Three people related to our school community died this semester, and each time the community gathered and we were invited to multiple ceremonies. This day, though, I kept seeing village people walking back and forth in front of our house to the the married student housing in the back of campus, but that was it. No other word. And then, the next morning, I looked up as I was making breakfast to see a handful of people carrying a small coffin past our house, towards the burial grounds.
A child. Now we know. It's a family I've sat and talked to about their tribe, the Sougb. The family is sweet. The wife was pregnant when we got here. The child that died was four years old. He died just before Christmas. A few family members came from the village. Otherwise, life is going on for them.
I see them now when they walk past our house and I'm working in the kitchen. I ache and pray for them, and wonder about the child and his sickness. A four year old child, just down the trail from us. Did he see a doctor? Was he treated? If sick students came to us, could we can help advocate for them? But … what do we know? We don't even know the doctors here, or the hospitals, and we know so little about medicine I would hardly even know when to think they were being mistreated or neglected. Our organization is trying to find a nurse for our school from the West, and I long for that, for someone to send students to who can even just say, oh, this is serious, we must take this kid to a doctor.
Sometimes 4 year olds die. But I suspect this death most likely was preventable, and I ache because of it.
The woman crying on our porch was scamming us, and that soon became clear. When it became clear that we could see that, and when given a way to politely bow out, she skedaddled and we haven't heard from her again. Still, though, my feelings of helplessness remain. If someone came to me with that actual problem, would I know what to do, what to say? Do I know the local resources that she could be pointed to, do I know how to local church can help?
Part of my goals the next few months are to deepen our relationship with our local church so that I can take people there, to their leadership, so that they can help and we can serve in partnership, rather than putting on the image of the expatriate here to save the day and rescue all the people. For now, though, and so often in this work and in this stage of being new, I know just enough to feel helpless
It's a good thing that God is the one who does all things, and He merely uses me as needed. I – we- are dispensable. But so long as we are here, oh God, show us what to do, and how.