The scene played out as it has so many times before – a late night phone call and I jump into the van and race toward that little slum and the people that my heart so loves. People step out of the street as I bounce and bump through the dirt road – if you can even call it that. I park and jump out in only the light of the moon, expecting the worst. So many times, it has just been too late to help.
This time, something is different. I can see the woman who is sick, the one they have called me about. But instead of lying alone on the dirt per usual, she has been placed on a mat and is covered with a blanket. Neighbor women – my friends – stand all around her and Scovia puts a cup of water up to her lips. She sips. She is very sick, but stable now, and I whisper thanks.
I ask questions about her illness and her family, and women turn to go get her husband. Moments later they return, one holding her child, another carrying a basin, blankets, soap and some food – all the things needed for admittance to the local hospital. I briefly think that I haven’t even asked her to bring them. A weary looking husband follows, and without missing a beat, Angelina volunteers to accompany her to the hospital to care for her through the night and Sarah steps forward offering to babysit.
“Thank you for calling, Lillian,” I squeeze her neck tight, “and for helping her.” She doesn’t hesitate and says it so simply, “The praise belongs to God,” and she slips into the night.
It isn’t until after I have slid the van door shut and jumped back into the driver’s seat that the full weight of what has just transpired hits me. My mind flips through the recent scenes, the faces of all these people who have captured my heart. For the first time, the only thing these friends needed me for was my car. They had done everything else themselves. In this place where child sacrifice and alcoholism are more common than friendship, in this place where consideration for a neighbor is so foreign because one must protect herself at all costs, right here in this place God was changing hearts.
They had done everything they could to help. They had kept her warm, hydrated and comfortable while they waited. They had gathered her things, encouraged her family, carried her children and shared of their time and their resources. They had loved so well.
Tears of praise streamed down my face as the van jostled back out toward the hospital. I wanted to stand on the roof and shout it into the dark, loud for all to hear, but instead whispered to the only One who made it possible: The people of Masese are learning to love their neighbors. Are loving their neighbors.
The praise belongs to God.