"O joy that seeks me through the pain
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
and feel the promise is not in vain -
that morn that shall tearless be"
I have struggled for several weeks to put down in writing the myriad emotions that have descended upon our mission here. Our mentors and forever friends the McCoys left a career of ministry in PNG last month and I felt I needed to honor that. We have some new physicians joining us this year and it has been exciting to see where that will go in the future. And with it all the daily triumphs and tragedies of working in the highlands of Melanesia.
This post was supposed to be a positive reflection of Bill's more than 30 years of medical service in Africa and here in PNG. So on our last call night we performed what we thought would be our final surgery together. Esther came to take pictures of Bill, who attended my birth 36 years ago, performing a C-section with me. Those pictures will not be seen, though, because like so many unfortunate times before, our interventions for this young family were unsuccessful and while Doris survived, her baby never took a first breath. As Bill and I despondently washed our hands after the case, he said, "it makes me realize that the work isn't finished."
Bill's legacy is palpable in this place. There are not (yet) plaques with his name on them, but the enduring compassion that he poured into the lives of people continues in those of us that refined our own ministry alongside him.
While I have learned innumerable medical pearls, I have grown the most in my ability to feel the comfort of Christ in situations that seem unbearable. There is no way to teach this. Only through fire can something like a persevering faith be refined. There are few doctors in this world that possess those skills ... and those scars. Those that do must often put on an armor that allows them to see a stream of tragedies without becoming paralyzed. But the thick skin can be reopened, and must be at times.
Two days ago one of our new doctors and I stood around the trolley carrying the charts for our pediatric patients, deeply discussing how we approach all of the suffering we encounter. There were a few simple ideas I could come up with ... journals, exercise, reading scripture ... because the truth is there is no anesthetic for grief.
As if on cue, later in that busy clinic day, a young man I have known for a few months came to see me with his grandparents. He bears the name of my own son and he thinks he is about 8 or 9 years old. He was born with HIV and while his family has taken great care of him, the reality is that he is approaching the end of his short life expectancy. It became clear that he was no longer responding to my care, and had developed a cardiomyopathy from a combination of his longstanding HIV and the drugs used to treat it. I excused him to the waiting area and told his grandparents that I would try to make him as comfortable as possible, but that he would likely die within a month. The three of us ... William, Mary and I ... clasped hands and I prayed as I often do for the peace and comfort of Christ in the face of a certain, yet tragically preventable, death. I held it together until they left to collect some pain medicine and diuretics at our pharmacy. Then I went to sit on the stone wall of the hospital, cry, and look over the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the mountains. A five minute respite before returning to the long line of patients still waiting to see a doctor - some of them for the first time in their lives.
As Bill and Marsha departed PNG our mission family honored their dedicated service here in a special evening of fellowship and sharing memories and stories. I was grateful to hear these words that night and they give me strength to continue a journey, through times of suffering, to that tearless morn:
"I have many times felt overwhelmed by suffering and death. However, feeling overwhelmed is not the same as being overwhelmed. If I were to count the cost of waging war on suffering and death, and my ledger was the sum total of my gifts, my strengths, my courage, and whatever other resources I might possess in myself, the result would be catastrophic. Death wins by a landslide. But that is not my fight, not my war. Christ Jesus faced suffering and death and overcame them. They still spit and fume, but they shall not have the last word. The last word belongs to Christ.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19). Our response to suffering and death, very real and formidable enemies, is the test of everything we as Christ followers hold to be true. There can be no such thing as “gospel” or “good news” unless that news addresses death. Thankfully, it does. And therefore, so must I."