Below Sr. Mary Joachim's most recent letter. She is a member of the organization Fundacion de la Misericordia, the charity that Mission Mercy actively aids. In the letter, she describes her experiences and the work involved in aiding the poor in the Somali region of Ethiopia.
A New Year, and a new resolution to try to keep you up to date with the happenings” of the mission, here, on the Frontiers of the Gospel.
We have had one of the most amazing celebrations of Christmas, that I have ever had, one that I would like to share with you, in the hope that the incredible light of the Gospel that we are privileged to experience so tangibly, may be yours too!
Waiting to be seen
Our parish priest, Fr Christopher, had the idea for us to spend Christmas doing medical work in one of the places that we have done Summer children’s and medical camp before. It is about 80 Kilometres away from the Mission, which sounds close by, I am sure, to most of you, but it is 80 Km of desert “roads”. On a good run this can take anything from three to four hours driving, and on the many occasions that we get lost or find that the road has been cut off for irrigation purposes, or even just “disappeared” it can take a whole lot longer……!!!!
We tried looking for a doctor, but it was not possible, the great thing was that we had two volunteers coming, we found a good, well seasoned nurse, and we coordinated with the local authorities to have some from there to work with us, and set off on Christmas Eve with both cars laden down like beasts of burden, full of the medicine that we had been able to buy, thanks to the generous donation from Trinity Catholic School, UK.
On Christmas Day, after a solemn Vigil Mass, Midnight Mass, and then Mass of the Shepherds in the early morning hours, we set out to begin the medical camp.
The school where we prepared our “clinic” in two rooms which were set aside for this purpose, was busy with children attending their lessons, no one knew that we were coming so we had time to set up the pharmacy and “consultation” areas, whilst arranging our volunteers in the “triage” section. Our translators stood by and slowly people began to trickle in….Twenty or so people, the first morning.
In the afternoon, about thirty; St Stephen’s Day brought a crowd at the gates as we arrived, and people just kept on coming.
Mother’s carrying babies, with other children trailing along beside them. They came from far and near, and as the days drew on more and more donkey carts were in evidence. The simple faith of these people, who placed their lives in the hands of total strangers, was 9humbling. They did not demand, they just accepted to wait for a “ticket” to enter, and then to be seen.
The donkey carts brought people in terrible conditions, some really close to dying, some more in need of encouragement. Some, especially women, just plain exhausted from the task of multiple childbearing and heavy manual labour. They dragged themselves up the steps to the room where they could be seen, and told their complaint without any emotion, malnourished, anaemic and tired; they challenged us to give more than “just” medicine, to try to give them hope, to bring a smile to their faces. I have never met so many women who suffer so deeply, yet with so much dignity and grace. It is taken as a part of life.
A young girl was brought with a terrible infection in a breast. At just fourteen years of age, she had given birth to her first child, 40 days ago. Her juvenile face was marked by deep suffering, and when after a few days of treatment the nurse decided to lance the wound, releasing floods of pus, her only cry was that we should stop since she was hungry and needed to go home!
Sometimes the patients we attended to moved quickly along with only minor ailments, and we were able to approach the crowds outside the gate to look for those who were in worse condition and bring them in. On one such “foray into the breach”, after we had somehow made order in the mass of humanity that we faced, as we turned to return to the clinic having selected those we considered the most needy, I caught sight of a woman who was just standing there, jostled by the others.
Expressionless, she seemed not to be even aware of where she was. I approached her and she opened up her shawl revealing the terribly malnourished child she had been holding. Hardly bigger than my outstretched hand, this premature child was already 40 days after birth. Malnutrition was the only “illness” we could detect, when we sat her down and asked. Little “Maryam” after a fee her to feed the child
The little girl sucked hungrily and healthily at the breast, her tiny bony jaw moving quickly. With a translator we were able to discover that this woman had no idea of how she was to take care of the baby, she went to work in the fields, after feeding the child in the morning and then fed it on return at lunch time and then again in the evening! She stayed with us for the rest of the afternoon, with us reminding her to feed the child at intervals. We told her to come back the next day so that we could make sure that both of them ate. Little Maryam, as I called her, was like a bird, all bones and veins. Her chances of survival are very slim.
One morning, on the way to our “clinic” we saw a donkey cart with a very thin woman on the top…Fr Christopher stopped the car so that we could find out what was going on…I recognized Genet, a woman I had visited before, when we helped her return to the Anti Retroviral Therapy from which she had defaulted. Genet had no money to pay her rent and so was being put out of the little room that she had been living in. In a moment we had paid for her room and promised to return from the clinic to her later.
Mother of Maryam
Keeping a record of everything
That evening, Fr Christopher went with the nurse and they tried to find a vein for IV fluids. Fr Christopher, realizing that she was dying offered her the sacraments. It was absolutely breathtaking to watch this woman be conditionally baptized (although she said she was orthodox there was uncertainty as to whether she has actually been baptized), she was confirmed and received the Eucharist!
There in that humble mud room, with the makeshift light Fr Christopher had put up, mingling with the candle light beside her mat, all we could do was adore the Lord who,
brought us to this woman at this moment of her life when she had no one except her young daughter, who struggled alone to wait for her death. I believe that Bethlehem opened its doors and took us into the stable. We knelt around the “cradle” of this dying woman and adored the God who took possession of her heart in this ‘eleventh hour’. Genet herself was conscious and followed the prayers which we tried to translate, she prayed, she repeated little prayers, she looked at Fr Christopher as he stretched out his hand in prayer over her. She kept repeating to us that she had us, and our prayer, what else did she need….All that was missing that night was the sound of the angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest”. Genet went to sing the song of the angels herself, in eternity, two days later. Christmas was truly a feast of God speaking to our hearts, through the wounded and broken humanity that he brought to us with such intensity in those days.
On the last day, there were so many people who came to see us, it was impossible to see them all, and anyway the medicine had dwindled to almost nothing. It was heart wrenching to have to refuse people. We had seen more than 400 people in those five days, the tip of the iceberg.
Seeing people desperate for healthcare, struggling for survival in a harsh and hot climate, has been an invitation to learn to be less preoccupied with my own “cares”, to count my blessings, and to cry out to God for help for my brothers and sisters who live in conditions below the dignity which is theirs as human beings and even worse, below their dignity a as children of God
This town has no doctor, we were called to a woman who had been in labour since the day before, she had been bleeding profusely, it was her seventh child, we needed to take her to the health care centre, no IV fluids, no antiseptics, nothing that was necessary to help her. It was decided to send her the 80 miles we had travelled to this town she needed to go back to. The rough, and, at times, brutal journey in the back of a land cruiser brought her to the hospital, but with a dead child….
This Christmas, I think that Jesus has once more, brought home to me the reality of the suffering of the poor, the frustration and incomprehension they endure, and that, on a daily basis. Yet this is what Jesus has taken on Himself; in becoming Man, accepting to suffer all the consequences of the sufferings of everyman. At the crib of the poor we serve, this year, I have discovered a new gratitude, and wonder for the gift of the Incarnation, and sing “Glory to God in the highest,” with new fervor.
Once again, thank you for all the prayers, which keep us able to serve in the mission, and for the financial contributions we receive for the poor. Every little helps, and as Mother Teresa said, “God is infinite, and so when we give something to God it becomes infinite!”
May God bless you all in this New Year, a year of His Mercy,
Sr M Joachim