|As the Executive Director of a Child Caring Agency, sometimes my job means doing a little investigating and public relations work. Our children sometimes come to us with little history and we need to uncover where they have come from.
But honestly, sometimes the things I do in a day seem I am in a movie. Here was one such day last week.
For years I have visited jails in the Philippines. Sometimes it is to see wayward boys, sometimes to see people in the community that were wrongly accused. Sometimes it’s for outreach and evangelism. Lately, it seems it is to see parents of children in my custody.
The justice system is a little different here in the Philippines and what you are charged with is often not what you did. You can spend 5 years in prison just waiting to have a sentence. The courts are so backed up. You can also be totally guilty and be let go after only a few months sentence because someone forgot to show up at court.
On this day, I am ushered past the 15 foot walls and guards in to interview again, a mother of 6 of our children. I am always startled when I see her. She is pretty. Her short hair neatly cut and combed. She is chubby, healthy looking. So out of place from where I know she is from and how her children were upon intake to us.
At the jail where the mother was held
She cannot read or write. Well, her name. But just barely. She tells me over and over that she was not a bad mother. She did everything she could just to take care of them.
I hadn’t asked her anything about her being a mother. And I don’t respond. I need answers to many questions. I need to know the history of these children.
When I ask her why at 4 years old, one does not speak, she tells me I am lying. When I ask her why the little one walks with a limp, she tells me nothing ever happened to him. When she tells me she never hurt her children but her neighbors framed her up, I ask her why. She says they were jealous of her. When I ask why the 3 year old screams in the night almost every night, she tells me he is just like that. When I ask why all the children are full of scars, she says it was her boyfriend’s fault.
the area where the children played, in front of their house..
the home of the children, where they were left by the mother
I stop asking questions. Maybe I don’t need to know, after all.
I have never been to jail and not left with a prayer over the one I have been there to visit. Today, I didn’t pray.
I leave angry at this mother for what she did to her children. But more angry at the partner who helped her abuse them and did not take care of her and beat her too.
I want to cry, I think. Mostly because the children she abused, I now care for every day. I have spent hours upon hours holding them when they cry, laugh, or scream through a temper fit. I have intentionally taught them that they can trust and they are safe. I have shown them that they are loved so much. When they wake up in the night with terrors, I hold them and sing to them. And sometimes cry tears over them as I pray their hearts would be healed. I have never seen such damaged children.
What horrors would drive a mother to hurt her children? Not just once. But over and over.
I have no answer.
Philippine General Hospital is one of the top teaching hospitals in the country. We have been referred a child with leukemia and I need to talk with social services and see the child for myself and assess him and how we could best meet his needs.
Sometimes what is written on paper is not really what is the true story and as I stood in the ward looking at the little boy,
His bones were brittle and had been broken accidentally. While they said he was aware, I don’t think he really showed regard for what was going on around him. He smiled yes. But only when touched or when he saw someone come near. More like an involuntary reaction. His hands were now stiff and unusable. He has a tube in his throat to help him breath. He has a tube in his nose so he can eat.
So I called for the doctor and after an hour discussion, I did agreed to take him. We were all on the same page. While he might recover from leukemia with weekly treatments, he would never return to a happy, normal little boy. His quality of life would be minimal. Very different than the referral stating a full recovery was expected.
If he would have been given continuous treatment, complications would not have happened to lead to this stage. If his father would have been responsible… But then I have never had to deal with my own child being diagnosed with cancer. And I have never been without a support system to help me deal with my children.
My heart heavy for the child, the father, and the other children whose eyes followed me the whole time I was in the ward.
What is your purpose here, God?
Missionaries of Charity.
Mother Teresa was an amazing woman. She is one of my heroes, actually. The home that is set up in honor of her name here in Manila, takes the “least of these”. But they must be bed ridden and have little chance of recovery. These children are mostly hydrocephalic and have very serious cerebral palsy.
photo from thomasiantriskelion.org site
It has been said to be a dark place. That they do nothing to help or push development. But really, when you look at their children, there is nothing to do to help their development. They need to be fed, cleaned, and loved until their Creator takes them home.
I think what the sisters do, in sacrificing their life to care for these children, is admirable. If I didn’t believe so, I wouldn’t have been able to transfer one of our children there. A decision I made from my desk. I had to.
He woke up as I called his name. He looked around. His eyes have always taken a while to focus. He looked well cared for. He was clean, his clothes nice and fresh. His teeth brushed. Even his hair combed. And my visit was unannounced.
The sister’s voice droned on and on about how they care for the least of these in the name of Mother Teresa. I went deep into my own world of flashing thoughts…
Did I do the right thing? Was I wrong to transfer him here? But how could we continue to care for him? How could we expect someone to adopt him? Did God understand I had to
How many times had my social worker and caregivers had this discussion. He was already growing tall, though he had no use of his limbs due to severe cerebral palsy.
He was heavy for my small, slightly built caregivers. He was male and we onlyhad female caregivers. He was requiring almost full time care and other children were being neglected. We were not set up for long term care such as he needed. We couldn’t afford to care for him. He wasn’t improving or developing on any level. Still very much an infant on all levels.
I had forgotten to tie my hair up and as I was leaning over his crib looking at him, and replaying the discussions in my head, I was surprised as his stiff little arm reached up and played with my hair.
Not once did he do this, but three times he touched my hair as though he knew me.
Are you okay, I asked him?
No one knows what he understands or not. No one knows what he sees, hears, or recognizes. But he smiled. And he ran his arm through my hair again.
I stood slowly, needing time to blink the hot tears away.
Thank you, sister, I said. I’ll come again. She smiled and hurried off to care foranother child.
The air hardly moved as I walked silently, alone, through the long, dark corridor.
I stepped into the sunshine and I had no answers.
So my mind and heart had little peace this day… but sometimes we must press on knowing that we do what we do for our God. We do what we do to the best of our ability and trust that HIS hand guides us and leads us in every decision and in every action.
God is still God even when we don’t have the answers.
He is only five.
He was playing while his mother was cooking hot soup in their squatter shack.
He saw a spider and tried to catch it… the pot of boiling soup spilled over him causing 3rd degree burns to 20% of his little body… Read more
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…