It was the fourth day of a children’s crusade we were doing with a team from Canada.
The week had been long and we had worked hard, doing everything from clown crusades, to youth ministry, to family visitation and even concerts in the city jails.
I picked up the crying child that was being dragged around by a little boy only about a year older, maybe 4 or 5. The crying one was clad only in a dirty t-shirt, his skinny legs and body caked in dirt. His face was filthy and the tears left streaks down his hollow looking cheeks. I started to turn away when I noticed the boil on his ear. Closer inspection revealed his body full of boils. Some just ready to burst, some bloody, some the puss oozing out. I was furious. I gently picked him up and set off to right this obvious wrong.
My feeling was anger- but a strange sense had come over me. The four-year-old took my hand as I carried the little one who was whimpering. Only a few streets away, I came to the door of a dark and very dirty home. I demanded to speak to the parents.
The neighbors, obviously surprised, called to the parents, laughing and shouting warnings that they were in trouble. A sickly looking young man came down the rickety stairs and tried to grab the child. I pulled away. I confronted him and he yelled. He shouted obscenities and cursed me and then turned shakily on his heel to enter the back room only a few feet away.
I gently let the child go and followed the father, who was now crouching on the floor. An old man drinking whisky was squatting on the floor beside him. The mother of the child was sitting on the bed, holding a very sickly looking two-month-old. It was so dark, so filthy. How they lived here, I don’t know.
I prodded and pushed and demanded answers to my questions. A quick look showed me he had just come from jail. I was thankful I knew the tattoos that branded convicts for life. He was startled that I recognized the marks and suddenly for a moment let his guard down but only enough to tell me he was wounded. He couldn’t work. He was in pain. He refused to show me his wound. He wasn’t an addict and he didn’t need any help. I smiled at the last comment. “I don’t approach people to help them. I don’t know why I’m here but I know you are dying. Your pride will kill you if you don’t ask for my help.” He turned his back to me with an arrogance and the room was silent. I closed the broken door behind me and left.
That night I couldn’t sleep.
The next morning I took vitamins for the baby and the child. I was coldly welcomed. We climbed the stairs to a dark room where his wife lay on the floor shivering, from a night of selling flowers in the rain, the baby quietly sucking on her dirty hands beside her. Death was in this home.
I once again asked to see his wound. After only a few minutes, he pulled the masking tape off his chest, just cotton balls acting as guaze… the infection seeping into the bones underneath was obvious by the swelling. The wound was as large as my fist… bloody and raw, right in the center of his chest. My eyes filled with tears. I looked at him closely. His cheeks were hollow, his eyes empty. He labored with each breath, his body clearly racked with pain.
The next day, I took him to the doctor to have a chest x-ray and blood work. His back was swollen… the infection seems to have eaten right through his chest. In the back of the van, he broke. Tears streaming down his face, he told how he was beat by the police until his sternum was broken. He was left untreated for 8 months then operated on by a doctor who left the wound open. He was given expired medicine and left to die. Somehow, last January he was released only to find his wife pregnant by another man. He could hardly walk, much less work. He was tired, scared, desperate for help. If only he could stop doing drugs… if only someone could help him. He hung his head and sobbed. Only 23 years old, he was a drug addict to “shabu” that everyone had written off. Every day he fought the voices telling him to steal. “But I want to change,” he whispered. “I’m ready to change. Please.”
He is upstairs, now. Laying on the floor curled up in a ball. I have seen people die. He has that look… of one that is hunted by death… but I am speaking life into him.
We have snatched another from the devil’s claws… BamBam accepted the Lord a few hours ago and joined our program. We have washed his feet and the DAVID boys have prayed over him. We have fed him and clothed him. We have given him medicine. We will see what the following days hold.
God has a plan for this young man.
The air is hot… unmoving. The heat of the day is nothing compared to the stillness disturbed only by the odd fan blowing on some. There are no voices. The whirring of an oxygen machine over in the corner, someone coughing weakly, a groan, lungs rattling with each breath sucked in… There is an eerie silence.
This is the tuberculosis ward where I had to bring BamBam. 30 beds line this ward, 20 on the other side of the divider. There are no sheets, no TV’s… All the men are sick… young and old… different stages of death… some unable to sit, some full of pussing wounds, some only breathing through the oxyen machines that stand quietly beside the beds… some are a grey sort of color, chests heaving, sucking each precious breath in…
Tuberculosis is an epidemic in the Philippines.
It is highly contagious, this is the only hospital that will take these patients. Medication does cure TB but the complications usually kill… pneumonia, infected lumps that break out all over… killing from within…
Nurses scurry about silently… double layer masks on… the priest waits in the foyer… his services needed regularly… last night 2 men died… in silence…
Everyone is just struggling to stay alive… one more hour… maybe one more day…
I walk in slowly. The traffic to get to this hospital is brutal… 2 hours. Smiling- looking carefully and purposefully at every patient as I walk to the very end… BamBam is lying on his side, curled up. His eyes sparkle when he sees me. I feed him, check his IV, change the bandages on his oozing chest wounds, wash his hands and feet, change his shirt. He too, is silent, but when we are done, he sits up and smiles. His eyes are no longer empty but they search my face… I smile and take his hand. I speak only words of encouragement, of hope, of faith… We pray together and I get ready to go. He asks me for a chess board. See you tomorrow and I walk slowly, again looking at every other patient… they are like living dead… but I smile… O Jesus…my heart quivers…
I hadn’t realize how shallow my breaths were in the ward, I take a deep breath and step into the bright sunshine. To breathe is no longer something I take for granted. Tears sting my eyes as I walk slowly to the van… I don’t’ know if this is the best place for BamBam and I don’t know if he will get well here. There is nothing sterile or clean… but I can’t keep him where there are children or other weak bodies…O God, I need a miracle…
God, keep our faith up. Just one touch, Father… Thy will, Lord… I pray with unmoving lips… my stomach in knots.
Another one died last night… 5 beds down on the right… I smiled at him yesterday…