Ruth and her mother at St. Damien Hospital.
As we celebrate with joy the season of Christmas, and are delighted to be given gifts in beautiful wrappings, in truth the biggest gift we can possibly receive is witnessing how God is working all around us, to make a wrong world right.
The bible speaks of the birth of Christ as the end of the reign of darkness, as a time of mercy and forgiveness, as a time when the lion and the lamb will live together in peace. This new age of blessing will be ushered in by a tiny child.
While working as a doctor last Saturday with Mother Teresa’s Sisters in their clinic, in downtown Port au Prince, I mustered up my strength for the usual array of terrible wounds, advanced illnesses, and harsh sufferings of these very poor people.
Late in the morning, when the last people to be consulted were coming into view, I caught sight of a 5-year-old girl who was remarkable for her wide open gaze. From a distance, she made me chuckle, as her expression made her seem so curious and bright. Her name is Ruth*.
But when Ruth was finally in front of me, it was a different story. I noticed that her wide opened eyes were fixed on me, but she could only barely see me. Her eyes did not move freely, rather she turned her whole head to try to look at something. I suspected deficiency of vitamin A, which often causes this loss of vision and then total blindness. Looking at her closely, she had signs of other vitamin deficiencies as well. For sure, because of where and how she lives, she was also host to parasites and amoebas that robbed her of nutrition, and that her depressed immune system made it likely she has tuberculosis.
Her illness is of human making. She is sick because of unfairness, because of social and economic unfairness. Poverty is of our making, not of God’s making.
Her uneducated parents cannot find work, and so good food, clean water and seeing a doctor when you are sick, are all impossible luxuries. When you live among the poorest of people, in filthy and crowded slums, the door to life closes tight against you, and marks you with the stigma of poverty.
In trying to help Ruth, treating the parasites was the only easy part.
For complex reasons related to her family, Ruth could not be admitted to our St. Damien Hospital. Yet she still urgently needs injections of vitamin A, and now this would be an enormous challenge. So would be her treatment of tuberculosis.
I slipped into sadness as I considered that even if we are able to give Ruth all the right medicines, we cannot change the economic circumstances of her life, of her poverty, which is finally the cause of her illness.
As I looked for solutions to the deeper layers of Ruth’s problems, I felt like someone trying to untie a massive knot in a string, yet never quite finding the loose end, from which to begin the untying.
Ruth’s life is tragic, and trying to unravel what is wrong reveals even more levels of wrongness.
The Christmas message is just this: it is God himself who chooses to enter into every level of these tragedies, in order to work salvation.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18)
God wants Ruth’s eyes to see.
So do I.
I want those bright eyes to see:
To see me,
To see her mom again.
And I pledge by the holiness of Christmas that we at NPH Haiti will find every way to make this happen. I hope that Ruth will come to the outpatient clinic at our St. Damien Pediatric Hospital for folllow-up for her TB and vitamin A injections, though this depends on her mother.
The very last person to see for the day was Madame Moise. She is, amazingly when you think of the poverty in which she lives, a glowing and gracious woman of 79 years.
I had seen Madame Moise just a few weeks before. She came because she also was nearly blind. A quick flash of my penlight across her eyes showed thick cataracts.
I had sent her to a friend in town, an eye doctor, to have the cataracts removed.
And now, this friendly, pleasant woman, whose life has been as far from easy as any of us could possible imagine, was here to thank me, and to look me directly in the eyes. She studied my eyes, my face, my hands, and she thanked me again, saying “I was blind, and now I can see again, thanks to you.”
It isn’t really thanks to me.
Alright, maybe it is a little bit.
But it is really thanks to God “in whose light we see light itself.” (Psalm 36:9)
This is my Christmas gift to you, introducing you to these two amazing Haitian women. One is very young and the other very old. For both, because of their poverty, their best shot at healthcare was in a crowded clinic, in the market at Croix des Bossales, in Port au Prince. They shine like two diamonds against the dark background of poverty. They have fallen into my hands, and by extension, into yours.
Who can miss what is happening here, and how God is working wonders through us?
“We have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. And of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14)
Thank you for your faithful help to all of us at NPH, in all the countries where we work, for all the children in our homes, and those who come to us for help.
Merry Christmas and God bless you and your families in the new year!
We are happy to report that since the time of this writing, Ruth’s mother has brought her to the NPH Haiti St. Damien Hospital for outpatient treatment for TB and for vitamin A injections.
*Name changed for privacy.