By Michael Shaul
We are constantly slammed with the temptation of comfort. Not that comfort in and of itself is evil, but I am talking about the kind that keeps us from seeing and experiencing the pain found in the lives of those right outside our door.
In the same way we insulate ourselves from the harsh heat and bitter cold of the outside world, so our flesh leads us to turn our back on the world’s crying heart.
One would think that this particular temptation would die with the move to a third world country. I won’t deny that gratefulness is generated quickly when you’re surrounded by a people whose success is marked more by survival then by keeping up with the Jones’. But even in this environment, my heart needs to be continually broken afresh.
Allowing yourself to be undone by someone else’s desperation may sound a bit morbid, and to routinely seek a broken heart could be called masochistic. As radical an idea as it may seem, I’ve come to realize it is a must in my life. I need to live in brokenness, and sometimes the only way to get there, is to seek it out.
In the darkness my eyes burst open. A frantic voice woke me out of peaceful slumber and my body tensed with a preparedness to fight (a reaction acquired over the years of living in a land where theft and violence are common place). I ran to the window to find a friend Doris standing on the street below looking up with anguish written all over her face. As I shuffled down to the street, my mind jumped from possibility to possibility. Did something happen to one of her four precious children? Was it her father who had been sick or maybe her brother? Whatever it was, her voice told me it was bad.
The words that fell from her mouth were inaudible at first. The only way I could think to react to her choked up speech was to wrap my arm around her. She needed the stability as her crutches shook under each arm (Doris has only one leg, losing the other to cancer years back). Finally, it was made clear that Manuel, her husband and my friend, was in trouble. Her mood made everything urgent, and I tried to calm her down as the panic was taking over.
After explaining the situation to Kristen and stuffing some cash into my pocket, I was on the motorcycle driving into the chilly night.
The E.R. at the public hospital is one place to find brokenness. The metal which had cut through the rubber tips of Doris’ crutches made for a click-step pattern as we hurried past suffering souls clustered in the corridors. Finally, we made it to a large room shared by seven patients and their families. Manuel looked bad, Doris began to cry hysterically, and I stood wondering what do to.
After a while I was able to grasp some of what was happening. Manuel had lost all feeling in his foot and the swelling and numb sensation was crawling up his leg. It was turning black and getting worse. Medical studies were necessary, but they could only be done in the capital which is three and a half hours away. The Doctor had carefully made it known that cutting off Manuel’s foot may be the only solution. This thought mortified Doris. Eventually it was made clear that whatever was going to happen would have to wait for the morning to come seven hours later. Again, I tried to calm down an understandably frantic wife, prayed with Manuel, and promised to come by at dawn. Returning home, a sickening feeling sank deep into my stomach; what would the morning hold?
How could it be? What insane reason could there be given for why an already impoverished family would be cut down to four crutches and two legs? It just doesn’t make sense. I can’t accept it. But I have to.
The next morning they were off to the capitol and I had little to offer other than a few hundred pesos and a weak promise to do anything I could. Not once did the phone ring with an update on their situation. I could only wonder at what was happening. A few days went by and Doris showed up again at the door along with Esmeralda, her 11 year old daughter. My mind couldn’t grasp what she said; it was too matter-of-fact. “They cut off his leg, I couldn’t stop them.” Esmeralda colored in a book sitting next to me on the couch. She was quiet, sad. I wondered if she had the same blankness in her thoughts as well.
Survival was a struggle for this family even when the father had two legs. Kristen routinely cleans their house on Saturdays. Sifting through the piles of week old dishes, she discreetly discards spoiled leftovers shared by rats, cockroaches and the four kids. Before he lost his leg, Manuel would leave at six in the morning, looking for someone to hire him for the day. Usually he’d show up fourteen hours later with nothing to show for it. But when he did land a job, food was there. What now?
Manuel came back from the capital only a few days ago. The stitches and drainage tubes are all intact. During our visit his face forces a smile, and I look back and forth between the two parents of this house. Kristen stays outside, too overwhelmed and upset to face them right away. Two pairs of crutches leaning against the wall, two downcast pairs of eyes. Four kids to feed and raise, a run down house full of dirty laundry and dishes, and a pair of legs between them to get it all done.
I try to get to Manuel’s heart, to find out how he REALLY is doing, but the conversation stays shallow. It will take time.
For now, we are doing our best to make sure the family’s needs are met while we pray and ponder about a longer term solutiona skill he could learn or a job he could do sitting downsomething. We are broken for this family and are calling out to the Lord knowing that he alone can restore. More than anything we want them to know and experience HIS love to know HIS provision and rest and to trust fully in HIM. We want their hearts to be healed.
This situation has made us cling to the LORD so much. Our faith is being stretched and deepened as we seek to understand how and why something like this could happen.
Brokenness is not an easy thing. It is painful and sometimes down right confusing. But in it, we find the richness of Christ’s redemptive power and the promises of a loving Father who remains faithful and true no matter what. In it, our relationship with God moves away from shallowness and into the depths. It is a good thing.
Don’t run from the world’s hurt. And don’t run from your own. In the midst of it, you will find the heart of God.
Michael was born in Omaha, NE, where he was raised in a Christian home. He was exposed to missions and a higher call to life in Christ while on a missions trip as did his wife, Kristen, who is from the Atlanta area. After each separately left everything behind to serve in Mexico, they were married after two years of working together. They now serve in the Dominican Republic where they are com
mitted for life to see His Kingdom come to the island. You can follow Michael’s blog here.