We asked one of our missionaries serving in healthcare in a creative access location to share about their experiences.
Living where I do can break my heart as I witness the reality of significant suffering in many ways; the desperation of those escaping war and its associated trauma, a vulnerable wife at the mercy of a husband divorcing her on a whim, or the ever-present risk of accidental injury where the first place to stop is the police station so the family can determine a level of compensation before the patient is taken to hospital.
“If Allah wills”
In all cases of suffering, the response taught by the religious leaders would be that this is a test to be endured and that even acknowledging pain and sorrow would be an instant fail. People will often quote, “If Allah wills” but the reality is this comes from a place of desperate fatalism, rather than with any expectation of grace and compassion being shown to them. Life circumstances mean that there is little expectation that anyone is going to help in these situations, and there is very little trust between people.
“In all cases of suffering the response taught by the religious leaders would be that this is a test to be endured…”
Christ of comfort
Personally I have found much comfort in times of suffering, or in walking with those suffering, by thinking of how Jesus himself walked with people in times of sorrow. He demonstrated great compassion alongside his power, and the comfort that he is indeed able to sympathise with us. Whilst I absolutely desire to share in speech the truth of who Jesus is with those I live among, challenges arise even as I try to speak of help and hope to people who have little experience of either. It is difficult for people to ask for help when they see their situation as a test that ultimately affects how Allah might choose to accept them. It is almost impossible for them to demonstrate grief and offer comfort to another, though they clearly do sorrow.
Christmas is not celebrated in this culture. Few people recognise the date, let alone what it signifies. Those who have worked with us for years acknowledge that we celebrate, though they rarely join in and won’t accept gifts out of fear they will be seen to be agreeing with our beliefs.
New Year celebrations are frowned upon, because it is not an official Islamic holiday. This last year, a few hotels hosted celebrations, but since there is a new law stating that no gathering can go on past a curfew, they were all closed down by the military police before midnight.
A woman is absolutely unable to give her own consent for an operation. Either her father or husband must do so. Unless she needs a Caesarean section, in which case she needs both husband and father to sign. Without signatures there can be no surgery, even if mother and baby might die.
So in my professional role in the hospital, one of the biggest ways I can demonstrate Jesus’ care for them is to be reflecting him more in how I respond with compassion to them in their sickness. I can also show his care in using my medical knowledge to treat people, and that can be especially true when we as a surgical team can offer specific operations that few others are either able, or care enough, to do. The team of local doctors and nurses I work with know full well I do this, even though imperfectly, in Jesus’ name. Occasionally we can have discussions about what motivates such work. Most recently we talked about caring for vulnerable people whilst looking at a newborn baby, but referencing texts speaking of the care of widows and orphans.
Our ultimate hope
One of the sweet developments I have seen in the practice of those I work with has been to see them show compassion; this plays out in explaining why we should operate, the possibility of hope, and, when we cannot help, to truly encourage the families to grieve over their losses. These are huge steps in this culture, and whilst they can only begin to point to the absolute hope found in Jesus, they do reflect a shift in some cultural practices which we pray will lead to a greater seeking of help, found ultimately in Jesus.